20 Dhul-Qa’dah, 1663
The desert winds blew the hot sands about in a gentle wave. Clouds of dust rose from under the galloping hooves of the three horses that carried their riders, clad in white and brown garments, through the desert. As they neared the sandy cliff, the foremost of the riders brought his horse to a stop and the others followed suit.
He peered over the edge into the humble city down below, a town hidden in the desert mountains. Modest buildings of baked clay topped with woven sheets as coverings and tents filled the valley. There were trees of varying size and stature lining the city streets, most notably a pair of palm trees tied together in an X shape standing tall and proud at the very centre of the city, marking the city’s most generous well. Also lining some of the streets were several little market shops, offering various products and services to the public.
Out in the city’s further limits there were patches of green and brown plants and vegetation. In this area, many of the town’s folks brought their livestock to graze and feed. The numerous gates and pins spread out nearby would hold the animals in the owners’ possession and near their homes until it was time to be fed or slaughtered. It was a simple lifestyle down there, albeit trying in practice. But today, that humble city would be one changed. Indeed, today was a day for great change….
Zubayr rode into town, he and his companion eager to return to their homes. It had been a long time coming, after a difficult and tiring journey through the vast deserts and dry wastelands, through the lifeless towns and dangerous trails. However, they’d braved it all, taking the quickest shortcuts to arrive in time, and by the Mercy of their Lord, they had. Zubayr was pleased to have arrived hours before the night of his sister’s wedding.
“As-Salaamu Alaikum,” Zubayr greeted his family as the wooden door was opened to him. There inside stood his mother, Atiyah, his older sister Raihanah along with her four children, and from the backroom of the house three voices could be heard. Zubayr was welcomed in by his mother and sister with hugs and smiles before kneeling down to greet his nephews and nieces.
The first to come was the oldest child, an eight year old named after his father, Adil. He had the same blue eyes as his father and the curly brown hair of his mother. At his side came the second oldest, six year old Hadia, with her wide brown eyes and beaming smile. She was joined by her toddling little brother, three year old Ismail. His messy curls were of a brownish-blonde blend, a near perfect mix of his parents. The only child whose appearance was an exact blend was the very youngest, baby Nasira, who rested in her mother’s arms. From the blondish-brown hair mix to the unique pattern of her eye color, with the left being blue and the right being brown, she held a perfect mix of their most prominent features. Even in the thinness of her lips like her father, but the extra skin on her procheilon like her mother, there was a perfect balance.
Zubayr greeted all of his nephews and nieces with a kind smile and the oldest three hugged him. He turned to Raihanah, asking to hold Nasira, the one child of hers he hadn’t met until now. As he took the baby in his arms she began to tense and stir until she peeped her eyes wide open. Raihanah knew what was coming and soon Zubayr found himself taking an earful as Nasira wailed out in tears. Her cries echoed through the house as Zubayr awkwardly tried to soothe her, to no avail.
“Here,” Raihanah said, stifling her laughter at her befuddled younger brother. She took the child into her arms and rocked her gently until the crying stopped and the tears ceased. “Don’t feel too bad,” she said to her brother. “She seems to cry around any man besides her father. Even our father can’t hold her for long without an earful.”
“I received more than an earful,” Zubayr said, wiping a bit of drool from his shirt. “Those cries were like a stake being driven into my brain; I think I’m getting a headache.”
“Come on,” Atiyah laughed. “It wasn’t that bad. You used to be far worse as a baby, you know? And you’d cry and cry with no clear reason, just wailing your little lungs out and driving your sisters insane. Especially Asiyah.”
“Hm, well, I think I’ve had my fill of crying then. I’m used to loud noises being on the battlefield, but this, this was torture.”
“Ah, Zubayr,” a voice entered the room. “Ever the exaggerator.” Zubayr turned to see his adoptive sister Amatullah standing at the back door. Being non-mahram, she was covered up in a simple brown abaya and black hijab. Her older sister, Amatur-Rahman, and eventually, the bride-to-be, Asiyah, joined her and they all entered the room. Amatullah and Amatur-Rahman stood to the side in their coverings while Asiyah came over to hug and greet her younger brother.
Zubayr smiled briefly as he embraced his soon-to-be-wed sister. She was the spitting image of their mother, save for being a few inches taller and not quite as large in size. She teasingly patted Zubayr on his head as if he were still a young boy and laughed. “Glad to see the biggest crybaby ever could make it to my wedding,” she joked.
“Well I couldn’t miss another wedding,” Zubayr replied, removing her hand from his head in a bit of mock annoyance. “The last of you to get married ran away with her new husband while I was out in another expedition.”
“Qamraa’ didn’t run away,” Atiyah sighed. “Of course she would move with her husband when he left to Madinah; what else would you expect?”
“Well they could’ve waited; I was only a month’s journey away. It’s been years since I’ve seen her now.”
“So go and visit her; her husband is quite nice actually.”
“Really? Who is he anyhow? What does he do that he had to move to Madinah?”
“His name’s Yahya, and he’s a merchant.”
“Then why’d he go to Madinah?”
“To take care of his aging parents like a good son.”
“Or have Qamraa’ do it like a maid.”
“Honestly, is this how you like to think of your brothers-in-law?”
“No, Aadil and I get along fairly well. Isn’t that right, Raihanah?”
“I don’t know,” Raihanah said with a smirk. “There was that time you gave him a black eye.”
“WE WERE TRAINING!” Zubayr shouted in defense of himself. “And that was ages ago.”
“Calm down,” Raihanah laughed. “I’m just messing with you. Of course you two get along well. Who couldn’t get along with Aadil? He’s so-”
“So, so great,” Asiyah cut in sarcastically. “We know, we know. For years and years you’ve pined over him and now after years of being married to him you’re still mesmerized by his presence. Honestly I thought the novelty would have worn off by now.”
“Hey, don’t be jealous,” Raihanah teased her sister. “I can’t help it. Besides, you haven’t exactly been aloof about marrying Ateef either.”
“So his name’s Ateef?” Zubayr cut in. “Finally some information.”
“You haven’t heard anything about your future brother-in-law?” Amatullah asked, baffled.
“No,” Zubayr replied, almost like he was chiding his sisters and mother for not informing him. “Not even his name was mentioned in the letters. Everything about all of this has been very vague and secretive.”
“Well, it was for a good reason,” Atiyah answered. “In the wrong hands that information could have been harmful.”
“Harmful?” Zubayr queried, raising an eyebrow at his mother. “How can a name be harmfu-”
“Because Ateef is the Amir’s son.”
“What?!” Zubayr snapped, turning towards his sister before quickly catching himself. He immediately apologized for the disrespect to his mother before turning back to Asiyah. “You’re marrying the Amir’s son?!”
“Mmhm,” she nodded sheepishly. “In just a few short hours, mind you, so I really should be getting prepared now. Nice seeing you, thanks for coming. Salaam now.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” Zubayr said catching hold of her wrist before she snuck away. “How? Why? When? Do you understand what this means?”
“Zubayr calm down,” Asiyah said, shaking her arm free. “Marrying Ateef is nothing I can’t handle. Besides, Father already gave his approval and the nikah is tonight. You should wear something nice to the ceremony; I don’t want to be embarrassed like in the old days.”
“Hey, I am not, nor have I ever been, embarrassing.”
“Please, you were the most embarrassing and annoying little boy ever. But hey, the past is the past, time to forget all of that and move on to my sweet new life. I’m getting married and I’ve only got a few hours to get ready; so really now I must get back to that. Thanks for coming for my wedding Zubayr, I’ll see you tonight In Shaa Allah.” She patted his head once again and made her way towards the back with Amatullah and Amatur-Rahman following suit after bidding salaams to Zubayr as well.
Zubayr sighed and turned back to his mother and oldest sister. “So where are the others?” he asked.
“They went out to the Masjid an hour ago,” Atiyah answered her son. “You’ll see your father soon enough. For now, it’s been a while, why don’t you sit and visit with us?” Atiyah sat down on some cushions on the floor and patted the seat beside her for Zubayr to sit. Zubayr smiled and happily obliged, sitting down with his legs crossed and finally relaxing after being gone away so long in battle. His sister and her children came around to sit as well and upon request from young Adil, the child most familiar with him, Zubayr began to tell stories of his journeys and such to pass the time…
It had been a few hours since Zubayr had returned home and he’d left out from visiting with his family to go to the Masjid. After completing his prayer, Zubayr ran into Raihanah’s husband, Aadil, and began to chat with him as they headed back to the house. “Everything’s been good, Alhamdulillah,” Aadil answered Zubayr. “As you know we recently had another baby and she was born as healthy as ever, Alhamdulillah.”
“Yes, I’ve met her,” Zubayr replied. “She’s got the lungs of a warrior with that scream. Her cries are still ringing in my ears.” At that, Aadil laughed and patted his brother-in-law on the back.
“After going through that with the older three, I’m quite used to it. Actually though, Ismail wasn’t much of a crier; he was very…shy you could say. Although he was a messy one; ruined quite a few good thobes and even a few documents and letters of mine with vomit. It’s funny to see him now and his reactions to the new baby. He’s almost as surprised as you whenever she starts crying and making noises.”
“I can’t say that I blame him; it’s amazing that someone so tiny could be so loud.” Once again Aadil laughed, his blue eyes smiling with him. Zubayr shook his head with a smirk.
“You’d be surprised,” Aadil said, thinking back on many of the surprises he had as a father. “Just wait until you have your own.”
“Hmph, not too certain on that. War, I can handle; crying babies day and night? I’d be driven mad.”
“Nonsense, you’re just not used to being around anyone but soldiers. Being a medic, I’m used to being around wounded soldiers, ill women and children, and such. But having a family has been a lightness and a blessing, a brighter side to it all. The family atmosphere is a great joy and definite relief from the stresses of life in these times. Now that you’re back, perhaps you should consider getting married yourself.”
“This is the second time I’m hearing this; but I don’t quite think I’m ready. In any case, for the time being, I need to seek out my father about the man who he’s marrying my sister to.”
“Ateef? Why? Is there some concern? I can vouch for his good character and adherence to the deen if you’re afrai-”
“It’s not that. It’s a different matter, but I really should speak with my father about it. I came here thinking you were with him.”
“I was. However, before Asr came in, he and Ateef had some matters to tend to before the wedding and I decided to stay here and read some Quran instead of tagging along.”
“Oh, so he’s with him now then?”
“Yes. They went to speak with Abu Najeeb. Ateef is buying some sheep from him to slaughter for the wedding meal tonight and they had to go ensure everything was being prepared according to Asiyah’s requests. Your sister is quite picky you know?”
“Hm, yes. Though I wish she’d been pickier and chosen another man. For her sake, I will go and speak with him.”
“Well I’ll be heading back to the house to see if they need anything.”
“Alright,” Zubayr paused, shaking Aadil’s hand. “As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.”
“Wa Alaikumus Salam.”
Aadil and Zubayr parted ways, with the latter heading through the town to seek out Abu Najeeb’s small lot of land. Various thoughts raced through his mind as he tried to formulate some idea of what to say. It wasn’t that he wanted to break up the wedding or stop his sister from marrying whomever she wanted, but as her brother he was feeling protective of her. If he felt something, like this marriage, wouldn’t be in her best interest he was determined to speak out, even if only to raise thoughts before any actions were taken.
When he arrived at the less than humble home of Abu Najeeb, one of the town’s few wealthy shepherds, he sighed. Abu Najeeb’s wealth came from the fact that he wasn’t merely a shepherd, but a merchant as well and his products were mostly foreign and exotic items that many would squander their small wealth to purchase. Though he was a generous man, often reducing the prices and such for the sake of the customer, Abu Najeeb still sold high quality merchandise and it was expensive nonetheless. Even his sheep were a rare breed, and had a price to match. It was no surprise then to be finding Ateef, the Amir’s son, here to purchase meats and whatever else he needed for the wedding.
As Zubayr approached the large home he heard the bleating of a sheep from out back. He walked around the outside of the home and headed to the back fences where his eyes fell upon a small field with lush greenery and two very hefty sheep. He saw three men huddled around, trying to capture one of the animals. When Abu Najeeb looked up, he greeted Zubayr with salaam and immediately waved him over. Zubayr made his way to the gate and stepped inside.
“As-Salaamu Alaikum,” he greeted them all.
“Wa Alaikumus Salaam,” they replied.
“You are just in time,” Abu Najeeb smiled. “We’re just about to capture this one here and take him away for the slaughter.”
“You’re only slaughtering one?” Zubayr asked, knowing there would be many guests at the wedding feast.
“Do you not see this sheep? You only need one.” Abu Najeeb spoke truly. Zubayr turned his eyes towards the large beast across the way. It stood nearly to his chest level, and was more than twice the size of any sheep he’d seen before. Its coat was a soft, clean, wool of whitish color with swirls of light brown and streaks of black. Despite the wool, it was clear the majority of the sheep’s size came from the meat on its body, and it would certainly be enough to provide for the evening’s meals. Zubayr gave a nod of agreement and Abu Najeeb smiled.
“That sheep is large enough to feed several families for several nights,” Abdul-Hakim laughed. “I wish we’d had a few of those on the last march out east; it would certainly have provided well enough for our army.”
“Yes well, you’ll be dining on one tonight and I hope that should be enough for you then. I’ll have my wife help out with the cooking and you will taste what you could only have ever dreamed of. The meat is more tender than you could imagine, and very savory when prepared with the right seasonings. We’ve freshly imported spices for your cooks Ateef, so this may be the best meal you’ve had since leaving Madinah. Maybe even better.”
Ateef chuckled at the statement. It was then that Zubayr actually spared him a scrutinizing glance. Ateef was the middle son of the Amir Muhammad ibn Abdul-Muhaymin. He was nearly 30 years old but his features were still that of a young man. He had olive brown skin with a few pock marks on his otherwise blemish-free face. His beard was full and black, extending just below his neck at about two fistfuls. He had dark green eyes that held a sincere and yet mysterious gleam to them. He was a fairly tall man, with at least a head over even Abdul-Hakim who himself was slightly taller than Zubayr. He was neither muscular nor scrawny, and he didn’t seem to have much excess weight either. A smirk played on his lips as he stroked the thin mustache above them, imagining the meal he would be enjoying soon, and more importantly, the wife he would have.
Zubayr unconsciously gave a squinting glare before his attention was taken away by his father. Abdul-Hakim patted his son on the back and welcomed him home. “Alhamdulillah you made it,” he said. Zubayr smiled to his father and shook his hand before being snatched into a tight hug. “Word has spread of your victories, Ma Shaa Allah. Allah has blessed you with many successes in pushing back the Kwaadi in those lands. You’ve succeeded where I’ve failed, Alhamdulillah. As a general and as a father I am quite proud and in admiration of your accomplishments. Were we not already feasting to celebrate Asiyah’s wedding, we would certainly feast to celebrate your victory.”
“Yes Ma Shaa Allah,” Ateef spoke up, his voice perfectly matching his appearance. “I’ve heard of your accomplishments as well. It is quite an honor to wed the sister of such a brave general; being related to you and your father by the bonds of marriage is a privilege I can only be thankful for.”
“Concerning that,” Zubayr said, turning towards his father. “I will need to speak with you actually.”
“After we have caught this sheep,” Abdul-Hakim answered. Zubayr nodded and the men turned their focus to the graceful animal that stood meters away, chewing on the grass beneath its hooves. “Let’s move in.” Abdul-Hakim, Abu Najeeb, and Ateef began slowly creeping towards the sheep, not wanting to alert it. Zubayr stood up to tie up his thobe, lest it impede his movements. When his thobe was all rolled up and he was ready, Zubayr joined the others as they formed a crescent ring to box the sheep in.
The sheep looked up from the grass and panic set in. He was nearly surrounded, with no escape but the back gate. When he began to dance about, the men closed in faster. In desperation the sheep bleated loudly, only to have its called echoed by the other sheep who were safe across the way. The men crouched and marched closer and closer until the sheep decided to make a run for it. He turned tail and ran for the gate, but Zubayr, ever the hunter, sprinted after it and leapt out, tackling the beast down to the ground. For someone who’d been so scrawny as a young boy, he’d grown into quite a strong man, and he wrestled the sheep down until he’d subdued the beast and there was no more fuss.
The others came over laughing and congratulating Zubayr on his capture. Abu Najeeb and Ateef took hold of the sheep and Abdul-Hakim helped Zubayr to his feet. Zubayr dusted himself off and patted the large animal on the back. “What do you feed this thing? I would think this sheep has eaten another sheep!”
The men all laughed as they began heading towards the house. Abdul-Hakim would be doing the slaughtering and so he and Abu Najeeb were at the forefront. Zubayr paused for a moment before placing a hand on Ateef’s back and asking him to wait. “I need to speak with you,” he requested. Ateef agreed to it and the others headed on to go and slaughter. Ateef respectfully turned his full attention to Zubayr, the younger soon-to-be brother-in-law he hadn’t been fully acquainted with yet.
“Is there something you need to say?” he asked Zubayr, noticing a bit of hesitance in Zubayr as he stood before him. Zubayr sighed and crossed his arms, a stern look coming over him as he looked up into Ateef’s face.
“As a matter of fact, yes. What are your intentions with my sister?”
“Asiyah. For what purpose are you marrying her specifically? How do you even know of her? And what do you intend to do with her after you’ve married her? Will you be returning to your home in Madinah?”
“I… Well, yes, I am only on visitation here. In another month or so I will be returning to my father’s side. Is this some concern to you?”
“Yes, very much so. Now, I have no personal qualms with you, and so far I’ve only heard good things of you, Ma Shaa Allah. However, I don’t know that it is best for you to marry my sister. You are the Amir’s son, and it is no secret that he’s been grooming you to be a candidate as his successor when he passes. This fact makes you a possible target for any enemies wishing to harm the Muslim empire. What will become of my sister then if she is in a faraway land with you and you are attacked by some enemy or envious person? I am concerned for her safety, that she may become a target along with you if she chooses to become your wife.”
“This is your concern? Akhi, you needn’t worry at all then.”
“Why not? Is it that you would have guards to protect you and her? Or that you will live in a fortress well-guarded? What then if you shou-”
“No, we shall not have personal guards, nor will we reside in some lofty garrison.”
“Then what do you mean I needn’t worry?”
“Exactly as I said, you needn’t worry. If something happens to her, your worrying will be of no consequence. If she is meant to be ha-”
“Do you think this is a game?” Zubayr asked, grabbing Ateef by the beard and glaring at him fiercely. “Asiyah i-”
“Zubayr!” Abdul-Hakim exclaimed, standing only a short bit away from his son. Zubayr gritted his teeth and released Ateef at once. “What are you doing?” his father chided him.
“We were just having a discussion,” Ateef said with a friendly smile towards Abdul-Hakim. “Nothing to worry about, just a brother concerned for his sister.”
“Zubayr what is the meaning of this?”
“I…he…,” Zubayr sighed. He couldn’t think up any response to his father that would justify the scene that had just unfolded. He’d lost his temper over a small matter and acted harshly. “My apologies,” he muttered to Ateef, who simply nodded and smiled. Zubayr turned towards his father, who glared at him with a stern look and one eyebrow raised, still expecting an answer. Zubayr sighed once more before opening his mouth to speak, only to be cut off by his father.
“I assume your worry is concerning who Ateef is?”
“Yes. I don’t think it would be in Asiyah’s best interest t-”
“Fear Allah. What do you think attacking your brother will do? Will it ward off some harm from him and your sister? Do you think that worrying and such will protect them from some danger? Fear Allah and remember that He, and He Alone, is in control of everything! If some trial or affliction is meant to come to them, it will come, whether you worry or not. And if Allah wishes even death to come to Asiyah, which it will come anyhow, then it will come, whether she is married to Ateef or any other man. Whether she remains unmarried or not, this will not stop the Angel of Death from taking her soul when it’s time, so then what are you doing harassing Ateef because he wants to marry your sister?”
Zubayr had no reply. His father gave a stern look before shaking his head and calling them to the front where Abu Najeeb was waiting with the sheep. It turned out that the sheep was too large for them to handle alone, and they needed help. Abdul-Hakim had come to gather the two when he found Zubayr yelling at Ateef. The men now headed to the front and put aside the little spat to go and deal with the sheep and other preparations for the wedding that would take place in a few short hours, binding the two families and their fates.
Hours later, it was at last time for the wedding to begin. It wasn’t long after Maghrib that everything had been set out in the valley under the few stars that emerged. There were four overlapping canopy tents, green in color with gold lining, spread out for half of the guests. The other guests, those who were male, were kept separated outside of the curtained tents. They were seated on fine green carpets with fanciful designs. The setting was illuminated by the flames of sixteen tall standing torches neatly lining the outside of the rugs. There were burning candles and oil lamps whose brightness radiated through the tents, making a display of the dazzling designs on the curtains.
The food had yet to be served among the guests; however it was already prepared and ready to be distributed between the two sides. The savory aroma of roasted lamb, spiced rice, and a vegetable potato stew wafted through the air, dancing into the nostrils of the guests with its alluring scent. There were platters of bread, freshly baked and still steaming. For drinks there would be water, milk, and a variety of fruit drinks, mostly special blends of fruits Ateef had specially purchased from Abu Najeeb. However, the drink most in demand would be the town’s classic favorite, a chilled milk, date, and honey blend.
The food, however, would have to wait until after the ceremony was completed. Most of the guests had gathered and things were just about ready to begin, except for one issue: the bride had yet to show. Just before Maghrib, when she was meant to set out for the ceremony, Asiyah had decided to remain behind and see to it that every single detail of her appearance was perfected. She’d said she wanted a perfect wedding, and couldn’t have one without the perfect appearance. And so she stood within the house, along with her sister Raihanah who held her baby Nasira as she waited to leave.
“For the last time Asiyah,” Raihanah groaned, having gone impatient with her younger sister. “Your hair is fine, your dress is fine, your face is fine; everything is fine. What’s not fine, however, is being late to your own wedding.”
“Yes, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for perfection elsewhere,” Asiyah retorted, pressing the side of her dress trying to smooth out a tiny, hardly noticeable wrinkle on it. In matching the theme of the settings, Asiyah’s dress was of a silky, green color with fine golden embroidery. Also adorning the woman were two gold bracelets on either wrist, a silver necklace from her mother and two emerald earrings gifted to her from none other than her husband-to-be. Her straightened, raven hair reached down to her shoulder blades, where it was gathered into a small green band, leaving an almost pointed tip reaching out.
Asiyah rubbed over the wrinkle once more before Raihanah sighed loudly. “It is fine,” she spat, stressing every syllable.
“Okay, okay; don’t kill me with your venomous tongue. I’m done. And now,” Asiyah said, pausing as she reached for a black scarf to drape over her hair. “With this, I complete the perfection, and Ateef shall feast his eyes upon a truly elegant beauty tonight. Oh wait – ugh, not perfect, not perfect. I cannot wrap this to cover myself without messing up my hair. This is not perfect.”
Raihanah slapped her palm to her face and shook her head at Asiyah. Before she could complain to her about her complaints, there was a knock on the door. “Who’s there?” Raihanah asked.
“Zubayr,” came the reply.
“Enter.” The younger brother of the two women entered the room with his brow furrowed. He, however, received strange looks of his own. Being a warrior, Zubayr typically dressed in rugged clothing that wasn’t exactly presentable; and even at home he preferred a more modest style. However, for his sister’s sake, he’d chosen to dress up on this occasion. He was wearing a bright, white thobe with red embroidery designs on the sleeves, shoulders, and chest areas. Atop his head sat a spotless white turban, wrapped in such a manner that one end was left to hang wide and low like a cape down his back while the second end was as a typical turban tail, the length of his arm. He’d even forgone his dusty boots for a pair of clean, black sandals.
“Ah, for once you took my advice,” Asiyah sighed. “At least one of us looks nice.”
“Wha-” Zubayr began before Raihanah cut him off.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Asiyah is just nervous and so she is obsessing over everything being absolutely perfect.”
“Nervous?” Zubayr queried, his left eyebrow shooting up. “What’s to be nervous about? You’re getting married, not going into combat.”
“Ah, poor, naive Zubayr,” Asiyah sighed pitifully. “Never quite understanding. I remember my days of youthful ignorance. Young, single, and mi-”
“And you’ll be remaining single through old age if you don’t get a move on,” Zubayr cut her off.” Maghrib was over an hour ago and we’ve been expecting you. You’re keeping everyone waiting but soon the people will grow impatient. Mother’s worrying brought me here, but you’re obsessions will drive the others away.”
“Calm down, I just want everything to be perfect for Ateef when he sees me.”
“If he ever sees you,” Raihanah muttered under her breath.
“Fine, fine, let’s go. Let’s go now.” Asiyah wrapped the black hijab over her hair and moved to the door. She opened it snappily and Raihanah gladly walked through. Zubayr sighed and followed her out, with Asiyah quickly taking one more moment to fix up her hijab to be ‘perfect’ before heading out as well. Zubayr escorted his sisters through the town and remained at their side until they neared the place of the wedding. Asiyah and Raihanah departed to the women’s section and Zubayr took his seat amongst the men. As his father was set up front near Ateef and the imam who would be performing the nikah, Zubayr ended up sitting beside his brother-in-law Aadil. The children were with their grandmother on the women’s side, save for young Adil. He was just about to greet his uncle eagerly when his father shushed him as things were about to begin.
The imam had just finished a casual conversation with Ateef and he was laughing and smiling as he arose to stand before the congregation. Zubayr’s eyes first glared on at Ateef, before they shot over towards the women’s tent where he knew Asiyah was seated at the front. It still bothered him a little to know that his sister would soon be tied with Ateef, and thusly put in harm’s way. Still, he had no proof for this and would have to remain silent on the matter. Besides, it was a little presumptuous to assume that she would be put in danger just from marrying Ateef.
Zubayr shook his head at his own overprotective worries, turning his attention back to the imam and the audience in front of him. As the imam spoke, Zubayr noticed a slight gleam of light on his face. He first assumed it was merely the light from the moon or something, but given the position of everything, it that was impossible unless it be a reflection from somewhere. Without thinking much about it, Zubayr’s eyes began to scan the settings for what could possibly cause a reflection to shine on his face. His search turned up no results and he quickly grew bored of it before turning his head back around to the crowd. That was when he saw it. The blade.
Seated one row behind Ateef and Abdul-Hakim, there was an unfamiliar man wrapped in a brown themed garb with a ghutrah draped over his head, its shadow concealing the top half of his face. He sat with his palms at his side, held in loose fists. Below the right hand the light seemed to reflect, with a small white spot gleaming between his fingers. Zubayr’s well-trained eyes could easily detect the small knife concealed in his hand, despite the sand covering a part of it. An assassin, he thought to himself. He looked to Ateef knowingly, and when he turned back to the assassin the man was sitting up as though he would make his move at once.
Zubayr sprang into action, jumping from his seat and startling a few members of the crowd. “Assassin,” he called out as he leaped through the rows, closing in on him. The man, exposed, gripped his knife tightly and jumped from his seat to make his attack. Zubayr dove for the man even as he watched him swing out the blade at his target. The crowd became panicked at once as Zubayr tackled the assassin and the two began a scuffle right before the imam. Two other similarly dressed men emerged from the crowd, wielding knives and blades of their own to attack Zubayr.
Immediately Abdul-Hakim and Ateef, as well as a few others, came to his aid. Aadil stood from the crowd, sending young Adil to the women’s side in a hurry. “Go,” he said pushing the boy through the chaotic crowd. “Find your mother and be safe!” Before the younger Adil could get far he was swooped up by another strange man from among the crowd. It seemed as though the three assassins had other numbers hidden among the audience as well. Aadil clenched his fist and swung hard, punching the lights out of the man who held his son. The boy was dropped and Aadil grabbed his hand, swinging him towards the tents of the women to get him through.
The man got to his feet and Aadil soon found himself in a scuffle of his own. Meanwhile Zubayr had managed to get the blade away from the head assassin and was now using it in defending his father from another assassin. The man swung his blade down and caught hold of his fist, keeping the blade from his face. With his left hand Zubayr brought the blade around and slashed the man’s arm before stabbing it backwards into his face. As the assassin fell over in screaming agony, he dropped his weapons and clutched his face. Zubayr tossed the small knife he held to his father and picked up the longer knife of his defeated enemy.
He turned to see much fighting going on amongst the crowd, realizing that many of the guests were in fact unfamiliar to him and were enemy assassins who’d infiltrated the wedding to kill off Ateef. “Protect the Amir’s son,” Zubayr ordered the people. “And get all the women to safety!” Even with Ateef being the primary target, Zubayr knew the assassins wouldn’t mind a few extra casualties. He had to ensure everyone’s survival, especially his sister and the other women and children.
As the fighting continued, young Adil scurried over to the women’s tents. He pushed through the fleeing crowds of women and their children, searching for his mother. He was nearly crushed in the stampede before being snatched aside by Raihanah. “Are you okay?” his mother asked with urgency. He nodded in the affirmative and was bombarded with more questions from his aunt, Asiyah.
“What’s going on over there?!” She asked with a shout. “Is someone attacking Ateef? Is everyone okay?!”
“Mmhm,” Adil replied quickly. “Dad and Uncle Zubayr are fighting the bad men. Even Grandpa Abdul-Hakim is fighting them!”
“Abi’s fighting? Okay, he’s a retired general, he’ll be fine. How’s Ateef? Did they hurt him?! If someone harms him or ruins my wedding I will rip their hearts out and stomp on them!!”
“Asiyah, calm down! We need to get everyone to safety while Zubayr and the others fight off the attackers. Help me find Ummi and get everyone away from here.”
“No, you and your kids go. I have a feeling I know exactly where Ummi is and I’m going to join her. Those punks aren’t going to get away with ruining my wedding!”
Raihanah sighed; her sister was going to be stubborn as usual. They were both more than capable of holding their own in a fight, having been raised by a strict general who made them learn to defend themselves. Still, it would have been safer had Asiyah left the matter to the men and returned to the main town with the other women. Then again, she wasn’t the other women, she was the bride-to-be and she was furious about having her wedding being interrupted. It was time she did something about that.
“If you’re going,” Raihanah said, shuffling the baby aside to reach for something. She handed baby Nasira to Asiyah while she lifted the hem of her abaya and pulled out a forearm-length blade strapped to the side of her leg. “Take this.”
Asiyah and Raihanah traded what was in their hands and Asiyah admired the blade with a smirk. “You still carry this around?”
“That’s what we got them for, protection.”
“Be safe over there.”
“Tell that to those men; no one threatens my future husband and walks away!”
“Alright, we should be off.”
“Wa Alaikumus Salaam.” Asiyah turned around, the blade gleaming in her right hand. She gripped the handle tightly with both hands and drew a deep breath. She reminded herself what she would be doing this for and with no further thought she took off running from the tents.
The scene was chaos. There were so many men from among the secret assassins that it was a wonder no one detected them before. Nonetheless, Zubayr, Aadil, Abdul-Hakim and the others all fought against them to protect the target. Ateef himself was also involved in fighting, having strongly refused to be a mere bystander hoping to be saved.
Asiyah stepped onto the sand and witnessed the clashing of blades and the pounding of fists into faces. All of the men, armed and unarmed, were engaged in the scuffle. Deep in the fray, there was however a woman, short and round. She looked unthreatening, but alongside her aging, ex-general of a husband, she was dealing the enemies a troublesome deal. Armed with a blade from one of the assassins, testament to her capabilities, Atiyah bint Abu Masaih sliced away and fought against the assassins.
An assassin came for her swinging downward and she met his blade with an upward slash. Locked in a temporary power struggle, Atiyah stepped forward knocked the man back with her shoulder. As he stumbled backward she brought her blade down and sliced down his chest. The man fell to the ground and Atiyah was ready to move on victoriously when another assassin came from behind to seek revenge.
The assassin was stopped dead in his tracks when Abdul-Hakim came to the defense of his wife, slicing right through the man’s neck. He kicked the lifeless body aside and stood beside his wife. She gave him a thankful nod and they went back to fighting. Asiyah rushed over to her parents, dodging attacks here and there.
“Asiyah what are you doing over here?” Atiyah asked her daughter.
“I came to save my wedding,” Asiyah replied as if she wasn’t in the middle of a battlefield. “Where’s my Ateef?!”
“Ateef?!” Abdul-Hakim asked, turning towards Asiyah after punching away another assassin. “Forget about him! He’s a man; he can handle himself.”
“So can I; you raised me to. I’m strong enough to be independent, and secure enough to be united with a husband. I chose Ateef and I’m not about to let some punk assassins ruin my perfect wedding.”
“Fine,” Abdul-Hakim gave in. Now wasn’t the time to argue with his daughter. “You two stay here and handle things, I’m heading in to find the main assassin and end this!” Atiyah and Asiyah nodded in agreement and Abdul-Hakim took off into the crowd of fighters. The two women barely had time to speak a word before more assailants came charging after them.
Ready for action, Asiyah gripped her blade and swung for a skull. The assassin parried the attack and swung a punch that knocked her back. “You didn’t think that I would show restraint because you are a woman, did you?” the assassin hissed at her. “It makes no difference to me whether I am fighting a woman or not.”
Asiyah took a step back and turned her face back around with a smirk. Wiping blood from her mouth she looked to the man and spoke. “Fighting a woman?” she spat. “More like fighting like a woman; you’re weak!”
“You will eat those words!”
“No, you will eat my fist!” Asiyah and the man charged for one another, blades at the ready. The assassin held a longer blade, and he would use this to his advantage. But Asiyah was skilled enough to handle this. When he struck out the length of his blade she ducked and dodged to the side. She slid her blade beside his, stepped within range, keeping herself from his reach but having him within hers. The man tried fruitlessly to reach across and grab hold of her but she brought a fist to his jaw and punched him away.
Before the assassin regained his composure Asiyah was swinging her blade wildly after him. He quickly shook his mind aright and deflected the attacks. After a strong parry that had Asiyah thrown off balance, the assassin reached into his back pocket and pulled out a few small throwing knives. One, two, three, off they went. Clink, clack, cut, Asiyah was struck.
Holding her shoulder where the final blade had cut through, Asiyah looked at the man with anger. “There’s blood on my dress,” she said, gritting her teeth and stressing every syllable. “I am going to bury you!”
She rushed forward as the assassin reached for more miniature throwing knives. He had no time to spare before her blade came thrashing at him. He dropped the knives and got to defending himself. Asiyah was wild and on a rampage. The assassin could barely protect himself until- schink!
Atiyah’s blade stabbed straight through the spine of the man fighting with her daughter. She withdrew her blade and the man stared straight ahead, mouth agape. The sword fell from his hands and he choked up blood as Asiyah walked over to him. She slapped him across the face with the back of her hand, the sound loud enough to hear despite the chaos going on around them.
“Hmph,” she said, looking down on him as he fell to the ground, a red mark on his paling face. Asiyah had no time for snide remarks or any celebration as she and her mother were soon surrounded by more assassins. It was as if they were swarming from the mountains like insects. And like the vermin they were, the assassins would be exterminated.
In the midst of the fighting, Abdul-Hakim had just caught up with Zubayr. Together, with Aadil and Ateef the men were taking on several assassins at once. The head of the assassins had escaped their sight and currently hidden amongst the chaos. Zubayr kept an eye open for his emergence, awaiting the moment that he would spring out to take down his target.
It wasn’t long before that moment arrived. Zubayr had just taken down another enemy, after being cut down the back, when he turned around and noticed the shady warrior sneaking through the crowds. His enemy detected, Zubayr set his sight on ending things. He sliced to the right and he sliced to the left, clearing the way as he ran through to face the head assassin. When the man leapt out straight for him, Zubayr planted his feet firmly and blocked the incoming attack.
He threw off the blade and gritted his teeth, staring down the leader of the assassins who’d crashed his sister’s wedding. Without a word, the two lunged at each other. Their swords collided in the air, up high, down low, slashing and crashing. The assassin was speedy and light, while Zubayr was firm and unshaken. Their blades clashed and sparks were flying into the sand, glimmering brightly in the dark of night.
Zubayr swung downward with his blade but the attack was parried. He brought the blade up swiftly and swung from the side but the assassin ducked beneath that and jabbed his sword forward. Zubayr quickly side-stepped the attack and spun around to swing again. The man dove over the attack and rolled over onto his feet. He swept Zubayr down and instantly rose to his feet.
Zubayr fell onto his back before kicking back up and getting to his feet to continue fighting. He swung in an upward slant and his blade grinded against the blade of the assassin, shooting more sparks onto the material rugs nearby. It wasn’t long before the sparks of their clashing lead to the start of a small fire. Still, the two warriors let their swords continue the dangerous dance, both intent on finishing the other off.
Zubayr wiped the sweat from his brow in a hurry, hoping only to prevent it from reaching his eyes and blinding him. In that moment of exposure Zubayr had been vulnerable, and his opponent took full advantage of that. The assassin kicked up sand to blind Zubayr, then dashed in for an attack. Fortunately, Zubayr had shielded his eyes from the sand and was perfectly capable of seeing the incoming attacker.
He struck out his blade and forced the assassin to change his course, having to dodge to the side or be stabbed in the torso. With the assassin beside him, Zubayr quickly switched the blade into his other hand. He swung his blade across and when it clashed with the enemy sword, Zubayr brought his fist straight through and punched him dead in the face. The man stumbled back and Zubayr jumped up to kick him in the chest.
Landing on the ground, Zubayr readied his blade for another attack. He stepped forward to strike again before the assassin surprised him with fusillade of small throwing knives. Zubayr deflected the blades, or what he could of them, and gritted his teeth as a few got past his defenses and cut into his clothes and flesh. Ignoring the pain, Zubayr stepped forth to take down his enemy.
Realizing the futility of his tiny knives, the assassin decided on another approach. He dove to the side just before Zubayr swung his blade down on him. He threw a handful of knives at Zubayr before rolling over and getting to his feet. From under his cloak he pulled out a short blade that was wrapped in a brown cloth. When the blade was unsheathed there was a gleaming moisture clinging to its edge. The assassin smirked as he eyed Zubayr carefully.
“One small cut is all it will take,” he said to himself. “This ends now.”
“Yes, indeed,” Zubayr replied as he sprinted over, gripping his blade with both hands. He leapt over the wall of fire that’d grown between them now and he landed beside the assassin. His sword tore through the air as he sliced at the assassin. Once again their blades collided and the force sent sparks flying, with the twang of energy reverberating through the swords and the hands that held them. When the swords collided for the second time shortly thereafter, a drop of the liquid poison on the assassin’s blade flew off, splashing onto Zubayr’s forearm.
Zubayr roared in pain as the acidic poison sizzled on his flesh, leaving its mark. The assassin held a mischievous grin, knowing full well the extent of damage his mysterious poison could do. The blades slid apart and were lifted into the air before crashing into one another again and again. The assassin fought with both blades in his hand and Zubayr watched carefully to keep an eye on the blade with the acidic liquid dripping from it.
In his efforts to avoid the poisoned blade, Zubayr left his defenses lowered for the other blade. He was hard-pressed to defend against two swords coming from every different direction. He suffered a cut here, a slice there, but he never lost sight of the poisoned blade; it was too risky. Just as it seemed that the assassin held the upper hand, Zubayr found himself being aided by the very man he was fighting to protect: Ateef.
Ateef burst onto the scene full of energy and determination. With a long blade in hand, he stood opposite of the assassin after blocking an attack meant for Zubayr. “Ateef?!” Zubayr called in surprise. “What are you doing here? Get out of here foolish man, I can handle this myself.”
“You are a skilled warrior,” Ateef complimented him. “However, I will not leave my brother-in-law to fight alone whilst I am around. My marriage to your sister means more than just a union of us two. Now, together, let us defeat these cowardly assassins!”
Zubayr gave no argument. His face was stern, blood and sweat trailing down to his beard. He gripped his blade and spat to the side. “Fine.” Ateef held a smile briefly before turning to the assassin with a glare. The steely eyes of the wicked assassin held a piercing gaze as he fixed his view on Ateef and Zubayr together. He spat and muttered something to himself about the mess he’d gotten himself into. His fist clenched around the handles of his two blades and he leapt out for the two men.
His blades danced through the air in a fluid motion, paralleling each other as he attacked both men at once. Zubayr and Ateef defended themselves from the slashing blades, with Zubayr facing the poisoned blade. After deflecting it aside, Zubayr stepped in to attack. The assassin spun closer towards Ateef and raised both blades vertically to block his attack. When he noticed Ateef readying himself to attack, the assassin jammed his elbow backwards into his chest.
Ateef coughed as he stepped back, clutching his heart. Zubayr stepped forward to slice down but his attack was met by the two blades yet again. Ateef came up behind the assassin but before he could strike him down the assassin pushed off Zubayr and turned around to kick him in the stomach. When he turned back to Zubayr the assassin kicked a leg out for his side but was blocked by Zubayr’s forearm. With that attack failed, the assassin brought his poisoned blade in his left hand around to slash at Zubayr’s face.
Fortunately, Zubayr managed to catch hold of his wrist just before the blade reached him, though two drops of the burning poison splashed onto his face, leaving their marks on his right cheek. Zubayr winced in pain but kept on fighting, driving his knee up into the assassin’s side before head-butting him backwards.
The assassin blinked away the spots in his vision just in time to see Zubayr rushing in to finish him off. He braced himself for contact only to have Ateef swing a blade down at him from behind. He spun around just enough that the blade sliced down his back but didn’t cut deeply. As Ateef stumbled forward from the force of his attack, the assassin spun around and reached for his shoulder, swinging him towards Zubayr.
The two collided but Zubayr quickly recovered and continued his charge. He was joined by Ateef shortly after and they teamed up against the assassin once again until they were wearing him down. Backed up against the edge of the fire, the man became more and more desperate. Just as well, Zubayr and Ateef became more determined to finish him off.
Their fighting was fierce; both were now landing devastating blows on the assassin while his attacks were of minimal damage. It appeared he would be defeated, just not as soon as the two could wish. In an attempt to finally end him, the two men moved to strike him at the same time. The assassin, however, was not to be outdone yet. Just in the nick of time he managed to dodge both attacks simultaneously and parry the blade of Zubayr, deflecting it towards Ateef.
Ateef dropped to the ground, having been sliced across the stomach. The assassin smirked before turning towards Zubayr. Never did he expect that instead of facing the man whose blade he’d just manipulated, he would turn and see an enraged woman swinging a fist to his face. Asiyah had stormed the scene and stepped in place of her younger brother just in time to knock the assassin back five paces into the flame.
The men yelped and yowled at the burning of his flesh before emerging from the crackling flame. His hair and clothing singed, the man stared down Zubayr and Asiyah with a vengeful glare. His breathing was loud and heavy as he fixed his sight on their vital areas, preparing to target them for a quick and final takedown. He raised his blades and made ready for his attack, then suddenly- he fell over on his knees.
The assassin kneeled in defeat, two small throwing blades plunged into his chest. His eyes were wide in surprise when he looked on, beyond the two siblings to see a third sibling approaching the scene. Raihanah had returned to the scene, wearing a rough black abaya and hijab with some loose armor from her dad. Even Zubayr and Asiyah turned around in shock at this.
“You didn’t think I’d miss all of the action did you?” Raihanah replied nonchalantly. The two still stared in astonishment. Raihanah sighed. “What? The kids are safe and I wore armor. But I wasn’t about to let some assassins kill my brother and sister, or her husband-to-be.”
“That reminds me,” Asiyah said, turning towards the dying assassin. “Why Ateef? Hm?!” The man gave no answer. Asiyah breathed heavily through her nose as she was about to step forth to force an answer from him. Zubayr stuck out his arm to prevent her, then proceeded forth himself.
After disarming him, Zubayr snatched up the assassin by the shirt and looked into his face. “Why have you come here?” he questioned him. “Why did you target this man? Who paid you?”
“Hm hm,” the assassin muttered, chuckling to himself. “Foolish man, I would never reveal the name of my employer. I will, however, say this: the Amir’s son was not my target. I had a larger pay for someone else.”
“Wh-who?” Zubayr asked, the same question that was on the tongue of all the others.
“Hmph. My target was…you.”