My True Face
The young woman heard her name being called softly. She peeked her head out through the tent flap and almost hit her brother in the stomach.
“What is it? Are they here?!” she said, equally quietly so as not to disturb Atara, who was still asleep.
“Yes, they’ve come, but I can’t identify either one of them positively. They’re both wearing full veils.”
“Maybe they’ll come back this way so you can get another look at them.” Hadassah replied.
Ibrahim snorted. “Not likely.”
“Well, one can hope.” His sister countered.
“I suppose.” He relented.
The next fifteen to twenty minutes was spent silently. Each of the two siblings stood staring off toward the rock spiral in the center of the great camp, watching for more movement coming from the base of the rock. They were rewarded for their patience when the two new arrivals came back their way, this time on horseback.
“What are they doing?” Hadassah whispered.
“How should I know?” Ibrahim said. “Wait. They’re turning east. There’s nothing out there but desert.” He watched the women ride out of the camp, then something else caught his eye a few minutes later. A third person, also on horseback came riding after the Guardian and her companion.
“Something’s not right here.” Ibrahim whispered to Hadassah.
“More ‘not right’ than it already is?” she said with a raised eyebrow and a tiny smirk.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”
“Oh no you’re not. I’ve already had your daughter wander off on me, and look at what she walked into.” Hadassah scolded her brother. “I’ll not have you stumbling upon a nest of Lucifer’s minions – not on my watch.”
“But it isn’t your watch, sister. It’s mine.” He said smugly. “Stay here.”
“Alright, but if you’re not back by dawn, I’m telling father about where you’ve gone, and he will come after you. Just because God has shielded us from assault thus far does not mean that we are invincible.” She reminded.
“Don’t worry about me, Hadassah.” He said, more confidently this time. “I’ll be back.”
“Be careful.” She said as her brother turned to leave.
“I will.” He whispered back before setting off at a run across the sandy ground.
The night fell quickly. After what seemed like an eternity of slogging through sand, Ibrahim came upon what looked like the remains of a city. The houses were torn down. The walls looked like they had fallen long ago, and sand was piled up against a number of the walls. A few smaller piles of sand looked suspiciously like they were hiding smaller structures.
The young man also discovered three horses, two parked very close to a strange looking design in the sand, the other one tied to a rock just inside the ruins, out of sight of the first two horses.
Ibrahim had heard a rumbling sound a little while ago, and the ground had begun to shake. Nothing violent, but ground-quakes in this area were highly irregular. Perhaps something in or around these ruins had caused it.
Thinking his answer lay within the ruins, Ibrahim began to pick his way through the collapsed and crumbling buildings.
A very long half hour later something again disturbed the quietness of the night.
Ibrahim was walking down a sandy alley, poking his head through windows and doors, looking for anything out of place.
The ground started to shake again and an awful grinding sound assaulted his ears. It seemed to be coming from over where the horses had been left. He ran as quickly as he could over the shifting ground. His feet lost purchase a few times and he went tumbling, but he always managed to pick himself up quickly and continue his urgent journey.
He reached the edge of the ruins just in time to see something that boggled his mind. So this was what had made the earth groan and shake. A great door in the ground was standing wide open. The top of the door jutted out into the sky, opening like a lion’s mouth. The ground stopped its trembling and rumbling.
As Ibrahim watched from the ruins, the two veiled women he had seen earlier came out of the opening and walked straight over to their horses. If the two had taken a moment to glance back over their shoulders, they might have seen the third person exit the opening and quickly dart behind a conveniently close boulder. Then, the strange door closed, leaving only the odd markings in the sand to denote its presence.
The Guardian and her companion started to lead their horses towards the ruins. Ibrahim darted back down the street he was watching from and into the abandoned walls of a partial house. It was not perfect cover, but it should be enough to hide him in the darkness.
As he crouched behind his chosen hiding place he heard a single set of footsteps padding quickly through the sand, but on the other side of the abandoned house. He froze, not wanting to risk discovery. As the person passed on the opposite side of the house, Ibrahim caught a glimpse of them in the light of the full moon. Dark skin and a spiritist’s garb caught his eye.
“What’s Nyot doing here?” he asked himself. “Was she the third person?”
Not ten seconds later the two women passed by the house, this time on his side of the structure. They were speaking in something akin to Arabic, perhaps a local dialect. Their pace was slow; they seemed in no hurry to get to wherever they were going. Something else about the pair caught Ibrahim’s eye and he watched them continue on down the deserted sandy street. Their horses were unmarked, but on each saddlebag he could just make out the shape of the head of a bear adorning each one.
Ibrahim looked up at the moon. Judging that he had been gone only a couple of hours thus far, he decided to follow the women for a while, just until he could find out some of what was going on here.
Sneaking from building to building, Ibrahim tracked the women through the ruins, all the way to the center of the run down city. There, to his surprise, he found a completely intact and habitable building. It looked like it had been recently repaired, and there was candlelight glowing softly through the open windows. Ibrahim even thought he could hear the crackling of a fire coming from inside the building. The warmth of the candle and fire contrasted bitterly with the coldness of the desert night and the moonlit darkness that enveloped everything outside the house.
Now pressed up against one of the walls of the repaired house, Ibrahim could see everything that happened in the main room through one of the small windows. He was careful not to be seen by any of the occupants of the strange building.
Within the house, the Guardian’s companion started talking to Nyot, asking her why the house was not completely ready yet, to which the spiritist mumbled something about having to dig a stone out of her horse’s hoof. The liar. Nyot, it seemed was not supposed to see whatever lay beyond that strange door. However, the inquiring woman asked no more questions after that.
The Guardian and her companion started conversing in Arabic again, ignoring Nyot as she further straightened up the room.
Ibrahim continued to surreptitiously watch the goings on inside the house. Nothing of any interest happened for a while, until the aide went outside and came back into the house carrying one of the saddlebags. She offered it to the Guardian.
The woman – still frustratingly veiled – reached into the proffered bag and withdrew a small silver statue. As best as Ibrahim could tell, it was a… bear? But that didn’t make any… sense… Or did it? Something clicked in his mind – a memory from the distant past, something from his childhood. When he realized the significance of what he was seeing, he quickly sneaked away from the house and back out through the ruins.
“I sincerely hope that isn’t what I think it is.” He thought to himself as he set off back through the desert to his family’s campsite.
“I never thought I would have to think about that thing again.” Simay said quietly after Ibrahim had explained to her what he had seen.
“Is it the same one, mother?”
“There was only ever one, my son. I watched my mother take it from the Temple of Artemis Diana in Ephesus when I was a little girl. It is undoubtedly the same one.” Simay turned to Iskender who was sitting beside her. “What concerns me more than the reappearance of the statue is this door in the ground. Did you get the chance to see what was inside it?”
“No, unfortunately not. I only arrived in time to see them come out.”
“The best thing we can do now is wait.” Iskender said.
Ibrahim sighed and looked down at the sand.
“I know it seems like that’s all we’ve been doing lately. I don’t like at any more than you do. I’d much rather be out there ‘doing something,’ but that’s not what’s best for now.” Iskender continued.
“I know…” Ibrahim said, the reluctance evident in his voice, “I just wish that there was something that we could be doing – something besides waiting and watching.”
“Never stop praying that God’s will be done in all of this, Ibrahim.” Simay encouraged her son. “He knows what He’s doing.”
Ibrahim nodded, looking a bit less edgy, “I’ll tell my sister and daughter.” He said before leaving his mother and step-father.
When her son was out of earshot, Simay turned to her husband. “He can be impetuous at times.”
Iskender laughed. “So can we all. He’ll be alright.”
“You don’t think it’ll get him into trouble in the mean time?”
“I never said that.”
Simay raised an eyebrow. “So you think he will?”
“You aren’t concerned about him?”
“Sometimes trouble is the best teacher a man can have. When he gets into something that is too big for him to handle on his own, he will learn to depend wholly on God for direction. Thus far, Ibrahim has not come across many things that he cannot handle by himself – with a small bit of help from family at times. He is still trying to rely on himself too much.”
“You’ve seen all that in the short time they’ve been with us?” Simay asked.
“It’s been about half a year since we all set out together.” Her husband replied.
“Has it been so long…?” she whispered. “Time goes so quickly…”
“Too quickly.” He said, wrapping an arm around Simay.
More time passed. Infuriatingly long weeks; hot, dry days; cold nights; the occasional foray back into the ruins to look in on the Guardian – whose identity had yet to be entirely confirmed – and her companion passed. On none of his excursions out to the ruins did Ibrahim get the chance to see the strange door open or close again. The entire camp was quieter than the desert at midnight.
For this reason, it startled everyone when one day, nearly three months after the Guardian and her companion arrived, someone came galloping through camp on a black horse, for no obvious reason, heading towards the rock spiral.
The whole camp, previously settled, started to stir. Because they were on one of the far edges of the camp, Iskender’s group did not notice the frenzy until a few hours after the stir had begun.
Their nearest neighbors came to share the gossip about the strange rider. Rumors were spreading rapidly. The word was that he was some sort of messenger, though no one could figure out from whom he brought his supposed message.
Things only got stranger when the Guardian and her companion came riding in from the desert as well, heading quickly for the landmark at the center of the pilgrim camp.
It was mid afternoon by now, just past the hottest part of the day. The harsh light made onlookers’ eyes hurt if they stared out into the sand for too long. Because of the sun’s fierce rays, and the resulting less-than-ideal visibility everyone in Iskender’s group was entirely caught off guard by the loud voice that seemed to permeate the entire area.
“Look to me, summoned ones.” It boomed. “Look up!”
A collective gasped issued from the thousands of mouths owned by those standing in the valley as every head turned upward. Then a deep silence overtook the place, stemming from a mix of fear, awe, and surprise.
“What is that?” Atara ventured.
“I have no idea…” Hadassah answered, her gaze riveted on the spectacle.
Simay had a horrified look on her face as she stared up at the gigantic veiled face that was floating in the sky above the camp.
The voice continued, seeming to come from the face. “You have all been called here for a reason.”
“You have been chosen to begin your lives anew, in a place far away from here.”
“A place where no one will ever hunt you, or persecute you again.”
A half-hearted cheer arose from portions of the crowd.
“You will be free from tyranny.” The voice continued. “Free from religious wars. Free from the petty squabbles that your governments have imposed upon you all.”
A few more people voiced their support – after they had shaken themselves out of the haze they had withdrawn into upon seeing the strange sight.
“You will be the seeds of an entirely new world!”
At this, most of the camp enthusiastically applauded.
“I am known as the Guardian of Diana – the one who called all of you here. I have remained hidden behind this veil thus far because I wanted to remain anonymous to you. But now,” the Guardian grasped the veil and ripped it off of her face, “I show you my true face, so that you may know me.”
Beautiful, curly, red hair cascaded down past the woman’s shoulders, and dark brown eyes gazed down at them all.
The face of young Seda floated before them, framed by the cloudless desert sky.