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The Sands of Time

Don't believe everything your eyes show you...

By Gabbie SpeirsPublished 7 months ago Updated 5 months ago 16 min read
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The Sands of Time
Photo by NEOM on Unsplash

The sand dunes tower over each other, making it impossible to see where they may end; each varying in a shade of sand colour, shadows dancing across the horizon. The ball of light in the sky was dropping below the tallest dune, glistening in the distance while the closest hills seemed to get darker before my very eyes. The sheer amount of teeny, tiny grains of sand it must take to fill this desert is completely unfathomable, incomprehensible. I would not like to be somebody who would have to count them all.

I turn my back on the arid scene and walk towards the noise and light, Mirajah, still somewhat full of sand; the clay bricked buildings nowhere near as tall as the dunes in the distance but still tower over most of the wooden stalls in the marketplace in the centre. Everywhere I look, I see the townsfolk buying their goods and selling the items they make to sustain their families and homes.

At the back of the city is the palace, where the Sultan lives with his three children. The Sultan's wife died when they were all young; nobody really knows the true story of her passing, so there are rumours flying around of course. Some say that she was having an affair with the Vizier and was caught by her husband and beheaded, others say she passed in her sleep. The truly strangest story I've heard is that she was abducted by blue creatures in the night, taken into the dunes, never to be found again.

All I can remember is seeing a closed casket at her funeral, which my Pa said was strange but didn't make too much of a fuss about. Ma was too busy crying to say anything. She worked for the Sultana consort and was very fond of her. Ma was one of her handmaidens, one of the ladies who looked after her every need every day; Pa was one of the Sultans personal guards. The Sultan and Sultana were very kind to their staff, we had our own lodgings on the palace grounds and they gave Ma and Pa days off for celebrations like birthdays and anniversaries.

When the Sultana passed, the Sultan was so kind as to keep Ma on as a handmaiden for one of his daughters, seeing as Ma knew her quite well and Princess Huda specifically requested it. The princess had grown up with Ma being around the Sultana and had helped in looking after the youngest child.

The other two royal children, Princess Lina and Crown Prince Zayn, were younger than Huda but still were just as sweet. Huda was the oldest, being in her twenty third year, then Zayn, who was in his twenty first year. Lina was in her fifteenth year. The Sultan had brought them up to have compassion and a hard-working mentality, giving them royal jobs from early-ish ages. They would join in meetings regarding the city and the people, give opinions when old enough, and going to other kingdoms for meetings.

When the Sultana went on trips, Ma always went with her. Me and my brother always hated her leaving, but we knew we had to help Pa by selling the fruit from the garden at the market for extra income. Not that we didn't live well, but my little brother always wanted to travel. And travelling costs money. Kareem was fascinated by all things foreign. Whenever Ma or Pa came home from a new land, they brought him maps and trinkets to fuel his imagination.

“Now Musa, what would you like from this trip?” they would both always ask me the night before they left. I could never come up with an answer. My interests were scrolls filled with fantastical stories and folklore, swords and animals. I couldn't ask for them to bring me back livestock; we had nowhere to keep them.

Well, there was one other thing I wanted, but I knew I couldn't have. It was forbidden, as the son of slaves. It didn't stop us, but it prevented us from being public with it. I was her personal guard, so I was always posted on the inside of her door. As soon as her handmaidens left, or when she walked the palace grounds or the city, or when she took her trips, I was by her side. I knew she loved me as much as I loved her.

I had walked back into the house after sitting in the silence of the desert to Ma and Pa arguing. They very rarely argued, so something big must have happened.

"Is everything okay?" I asked softly, almost hesitantly.

"Musa, hello son. Yes, everything is fine." Pa answered.

Ma rolled her eyes, "So we're going to start lying to him now Mo?" she turned to look to me, "Musa, my treasure, you are getting older and still have not married. You are almost into your twenty sixth year, do you want the women to think there is something wrong with you?” Ma looked concerned, worried, almost panicked that I would never settle down.

I thought about how I felt about Huda, about the reciprocation of feelings, and wanted to come clean. But I couldn't. The Sultan could have me exiled or killed for consorting with a princess. “I will Ma, I just need it to feel right.” I wasn't lying, if I was to wed, I would need to feel stronger love than I do currently. “I don't want to wed for the sake of wedding. I know you and Pa did, and you grew to love each other, but times are changing. Arranging weddings isn't as common in the last ten years. I just want to make sure I love whomever I wed. is that okay?” I felt a tear touch my cheek as I said the words.

I saw Ma shed a few tears with me, while Pa shook his head in defeat. “Oh, son. We will never force you to wed if you do not wish to do so. Jannah, I'm sorry. I shouldn't try to force the situation.” Pa said sincerely to his wife. They embraced each other, then dragged me into the middle of them.

I left them dancing in the kitchen together and went into the sleeping chamber I shared with Kareem to see him going over his maps for the hundredth time. He didn't even realise he wasn't alone until I slunk into my bunk, making more noise than I intended to.

“Dear Allah, Musa. You scared me. Please warn me next time you want to creep up on me.” he tried to compose himself after jumping out of his skin.

“But that, dear brother, would defeat the point of creeping. Besides, I didn't mean to. You are always so engrossed in those pieces of parchment.” I retorted.

He waved his hand as if to concede the fight, not taking his eyes off one particular map.

“What are you looking at? Where is that land?” I enquired, curiosity getting the better of me. I enjoyed learning about some of the far off lands that Ma and Pa had visited, as some of the stories I enjoyed to read come from inspiration from some of these places.

“This land is called Shajahra, and is supposedly next door to Iraqqu, but I can't find it on the larger map.” Kareem pointed to the map of the peninsula, pointing out the lands he spoke of, but it was nowhere to be seen.

I had never seem Kareem look so confused. He furiously flitted between pages and his eyes were almost about to roll back in his head from so much movement. I decided to let him carry on and tucked myself into my bunk and settle into a peaceful sleep.

I dreamt about Huda, as usual. About what I wished our life would be, how many children we would have and that we would grow old together and live our beautiful lives together. We had three girls, who looked exactly like their mother; long, dark brown hair with coffee coloured skin and freckles dotted sparsely across their beautifully round faces. The incredible saucer-like eyes as dark as the night sparkle with stars. They even laugh like their mother; the most amazing sound I had ever heard.

I awoke in the morning, before sunrise as usual, and washed and dressed before standing by her side for another day. As I arrived at the palace, I noticed more guards than usual in the entrance to the Throne Hall. There are usually only one or two stood either side of the door, but today there were at least a dozen.

Our uniform had stamps on the shoulders of our armour so we could tell who we protected and our status. The Kings Guard also wore different colours – dark blue – than the rest of us, who wore dark green. These men in front of me were wearing red, a colour not worn in this kingdom.

One of Huda's handmaidens spots me as I turn to walk the stairway to her chambers. “Musa, I'm sorry. Her Highness is in the Throne Hall. The Sultan requested an audience with her alone a few moments ago. I overheard from some of the kitchen staff that there was a Crown Prince who arrived early this morning asking to meet her.” Luckily, this was the only handmaiden who knew of mine and Huda's secret. She was Huda's best friend, really. Kaya was unfortunate to have been born into a “lower” family, but had all of the grace of an aristocratic woman. She had helped arrange moments for the two of us to steal so we could see each other away from the prying eyes of the family and the court. A true friend to the both of us. She wouldn't tell me this unless there was some evidence, which was right in front of the entryway.

“Did another man enter before or after her?” I asked, dreading the answer but keeping a stern face. I couldn't let my emotions get the better of me now, especially when the guards of a potential suitor were nearby.

Kaya did nothing but nod, giving confirmation of what I feared most. Her father wanting her to marry to secure the peace in the region. We both knew she couldn't stay secretly mine forever and that she would have to wed eventually, or risk losing everything telling the truth. I couldn't let her do that. I had nothing, I couldn't keep her comfortable in the life she was accustomed to, and no matter how many times she told me she only needed me and a roof over her head, I just wouldn't do that to her.

The guards surrounding the door suddenly parted, the entryway opened to the Sultan exiting the room with his personal guard on his heels, the Crown Prince following behind with his own personal security sticking like glue to his sides and then Huda, without her guard because I was on the other side of the door trying to keep myself together in front of everybody. The Sultan turns, kisses his daughter on both cheeks and, without a word, turns back and walks away.

“Come.” Huda says quietly as she approached me, and I followed. As always. She took Kaya's arm and walked up the winding stairway to her chambers with me close behind wondering what was said and how soon I could be reassigned if needed.

As we reached the doorway, the two guards open the entry and we walk inside, hearing it close behind us as Huda lets Kaya's arm go and sits on her sofa while patting the seat next to her for me to sit with her. I took it, like the dutiful guard and wishful lover I was. I had an aching in my chest, an aching I've never felt before and never wanted to feel again.

I knew what was coming.

“Musa, my heart. I wish I could've given you some warning about that meeting, but Father called me to it so suddenly I didn't have time to ask Kaya to deliver a note. I am sorry. The Prince Malik arrived so suddenly and abruptly that even Father didn't have warning.” she looked at peace, and her voice wasn't wavering or breaking. Was I wrong about the meeting? Or did she know this would happen for long enough she is genuinely at peace with this... I can't call it a decision, because it isn't. I know it's an order. To defy the Sultan is to risk execution or exile. “Prince Malik is here to ask to wed me. He has been ordered by his own Sultan and Father to marry before his thirtieth year.”

I sat there in half disbelief and half anger. “So, is that it? Do we... stop now?” were all the words I could muster that moment. My chest felt tighter than ever, I could feel my heart beating all over my body.

Huda suddenly closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, while a single tear dropped from her perfect eye down her beautiful cheek. I instantly brought my hand up to wipe it, a habit I knew I would need to break. She opened her eyes, “Yes, Musa. I am now engaged to be married to Prince Malik.” Her delicate hand took mine in hers and enclosed her fingers through mine. “You will always have my heart, but I cannot have yours anymore.” her lips kept moving but my hearing stopped working, I could not hear anymore of what she had to say. My heart had shattered into a million pieces and my body ached.

I wriggled out of her grasp, stood, in half a mind to walk out of the doorway. “Must I remain your personal guard?” I asked as I took one last look at the love of my life. The smell of vanilla and tobacco lingered in the air from her perfume oils. Allah, she smelt so good.

“The Prince will provide new guards when I move. I will be gone in the next day or two.” she responded, her voice cracked slightly for the first time. “Father has said he will find you a new position here in the Palace. He would not be happy if he lost such a loyal guard.”

I wasn't sure what to say next without being harsh, so I stayed silent. I merely nodded my head and took my place at the doorway. A statue; unwavering, solid marble on the outside but on the inside I was falling apart. I was an active quarry on the inside. Pieces of marble falling everywhere. I kept my composure outwardly while the Princess and her handmaidens packed her belongings away in trunks, stealing glances every so often.

After a few hours, there was a voice outside the doorway. I didn't recognise it, so I assumed it was the Prince, coming to tell the Princess, Huda, it was time to depart. I opened the door and one of the guards outside announced Malik as he made his way inside. He stood mere feet away from me, and the Princess made her way over, curtseyed, and offered her hand. There was a large velvet box in the hand behind his back. One could assume what that could be.

“Princess Huda, a pleasure.” he bowed gently, kissing her hand. My blood boiled inside my veins at this sight, at somebody else pressing their lips to my love. “I am here to let you know that I must head back home, but that you can stay if you need more time to pack. I come offering a gift as an apology for my sudden departure.” he brought the box from behind his back, held it in his left hand and opened with his right. I couldn't see what was inside, but it made Huda's eyes light up. She thanked him as he lifted it out of its packaging and goes behind Huda as she lifts her hair.

A necklace.

He places it in front of her while she looked in the mirror beside me as he clasped it to her neck. A beautiful emerald and ruby collection. Her hand brushes against the precious stones and gold settings as she admired her new adornment.

“I'm very glad you like it. It's a part of our Crown Jewels. There are other pieces that would become available to you after we wed. They would look spectacular on you.” the Prince smiled as he bowed to take his leave.

After they exchanged their farewells, I closed the door behind the man and went back to my statue stature from before. Huda was still looking at her new necklace in the mirror while her handmaidens went back to packing. She looked at me, possibly expecting to see me hurt, or angry. I tried to keep my expression as vacant as I could, which was a struggle with her so near. She winced, looking down at the floor as if she was feeling enough hurt for the both of us.

“I'm sorry.” she whispered as she walked away.

The rest of the evening was a haze. It all seemed to happen in slow-motion but oh, so quick. I decided to take a few moments to myself in the gardens of the Palace. I walked mainly in circles around the fountain, deep in thought of our bodies entwined, the smell of her lavender scented hair mixed with the oils she wore on her wrists, of my fingertips running down her naked spine and how I felt the prickles of her skin under my touch, of how her lips touched my shoulders and how soft her voice was in these moments. I grew angry. I felt a little bit of anger towards her, for actually accepting another man to wed, another little bit towards the Prince for having the gall to travel here to ask her, but it was mainly towards myself, for not being a better man. For not encouraging us to run away together.

As I shook my head to discard of the thoughts, I heard the sound of trunks being moved and placed into a carriage. I turned to see some of the Palace staff loading Huda's belongings away while she hugged her siblings goodbye. It was unlikely she would return regularly, as once she was wed she would begin duties for her new kingdom, her new family.

I tried to turn to walk away so I wouldn't be spotted, but she noticed more quickly than I anticipated. She said something to her siblings, then walked toward me. I almost stopped breathing, just like the first time I saw her all those years ago.

She stood before me and, just as beautiful as always, curtseyed and offered her hand. I took it without thinking, pressed my lips to her delicate fingers. She took a small step closer, hand still in mine, “Thank you for being there for me.” she spoke the words in a normal volume, to subvert prying ears. Then, unexpectedly, she whispered, “I wish it were you. I don't even like emeralds and rubies.” Then, in a normal volume again, “I must go now, it takes a day and a half to get there, I wish you the best with your new position.” I bowed, she curtseyed, and she left.

I took a few more moments in attempt to mend my broken heart before going to speak to the Kings Guard regarding a new position for tomorrow. After gathering my thoughts though, I was approached and summoned to the Sultan himself. I followed as we approached the Throne Hall, I saw Pa standing at the Sultans side. I walked towards to throne and knelt before his Majesty.

“Musa, rise.” the Sultan spoke. His royal turban adorned in gold and diamonds, glistened in the candlelight as his white silk kaftan shimmered with a golden glow. “I know this must be difficult, to see the Princess go so suddenly. I know you cared for her.” Musa panicked briefly, but realised the Sultan couldn't have known and only meant I cared for her as a guard would. “You have been loyal to my daughter, and my family, for many years. As have the rest of your family, and with this, I extend you similar loyalty. You may choose your next assignment.”

“Yo- your Majesty, I have no words.” I really didn't, because the position I wanted would never become available to me.

“You do not have to decide immediately, you may take the evening. Report to your Pa in the morning your choice, and you shall have it. I thank you, for your loyalty and devotion has given me peace of mind with my oldest daughter.”

“Thank you, your Majesty. I appreciate the opportunity.” I bowed.

Pa walked over and walked me out of the Throne Hall after the Sultan had bowed his own head; a motion I have only seen him do to two other men, neither of which servants.

I made my way outside of the bounds of the kingdom, away from eyes that could stare and ears that could listen to the sounds I was inevitably going to make once I placed myself in solitude. I forced my mind to think about the task at hand; deciding what new position I was to take in the Palace. Should I join Pa and protect the Sultan? Should I protect either the Crown Prince or the younger Princess? Should I just quit and tend the market stall with Kareem? So many questions swirled my mind and I found it straying to imagine Huda once again. I tried shaking her perfect face out of my thoughts, but it was too difficult to stop. The more I saw her, the more I felt my chest ache.

I kept walking towards the sandy hills in the distance and I could've sworn I saw a carriage. A carriage that looked eerily similar to the one Huda left in earlier in the day... Then, as it got closer and closer I realised it was the same one. Surely it can't have dropped her off so quickly? Why is it returning?

A woman exited the carriage and started running towards me, “Musa! Musa!” she cried out, tears streaming down her face as she arrived in front of me. “I'm so sorry Musa, I can't leave you. I can't wed anybody else, not while I feel this way about you. I want to be with you, forget traditions and rules. It's you. It's always been you and always will be.” she threw her arms around my shoulders and I wrapped mine around her waist, pulling her deeper into me.

I walked into the aridness, hand in hand with Huda. Moving without any haste, any care in the world, we left everyone and everything behind. Suddenly, she dissipated through my fingers, whooshing away in the air. Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.

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About the Creator

Gabbie Speirs

I write fantastical short stories that keep you coming back for more

Engish writer, world lover

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