Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Olgun's Story II

Out of all the people that Sheikh Io could have brought along to accompany them, Firuzeh was Olgun’s second-to-least favorite, her obnoxious roommate Laleh holding that dubious position. But, unlike that empty headed twit, the Guran’nash knew how to show some manners, and so she kept her mouth shut…though she did have to bite her tongue a few times as the Aryan asked their Deva leader annoying questions like “How long will we be gone?” or “What do I need to bring with me, since I didn’t know we were going on a journey?” Pathetic.

“Do you have ants in your pants, Shaagerd Olgun?” Lahahana leaned down to ask her, his whispering voice like buzzing honeybees.

Staring up at him in confusion, Olgun answered her Sha’ir mentor slowly. “No, honored Ostaad…why do you ask?”

“Because,” he continued, “if you fidget any more I must either assume that is the problem, or that you must visit the water closet before we set off. So, which one is it?”

Blushing with embarrassment, Olgun lowered her head. “Forgiveness, Ostaad Lahahana, but it is neither. I’m just anxious to get going, and…”

“You have no fondness for Shaagerd Firuzeh, yes?” he simply said, waiting for her nod. “Unfortunately, she will be our travelling companion until this journey is done, my best student. So, it is in all of our best interests if you try to work past your animosity. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, Ostaad Lahahana,” Olgun said, trying hard not to pout. She was a grown woman, and grown women didn’t pout. Well, not usually. The Guran’nash had heard tales of women using pouting and other feminine wiles to get men to do their bidding, but the affairs of the heart were much more confounding than trying to pacify an immortal Elemental spirit and getting it to listen, so she chose to focus on what she was good at and ignore the rest. Besides, she hadn’t seen a male Guran’nash since she left her father and came to school here, and the idea of kissing any other race –all of them so much taller than she was- almost made her chuckle. Almost.

“Honored Sheikh? What about our classes? How will we be excused from them, and will it affect our graduation?” Firuzeh spoke up, and Olgun perked up in anticipation of the answer. Finally, a good question from the girl! Maybe there was hope for her yet, the young Sha’ir thought.

“I have been given permission by the Raees that our journey will serve as a final exam for you both, both of you being final year students. Honored Ostaad Lahahana will be on hand to instruct Shaagerd Olgun in matters relating to being a Sha’ir, and I will be able to answer any questions you may have about alchemy, Shaagerd Firuzeh.” Sheikh Io said while tapping his foot impatiently. He must have been a mighty hunter at some point, Olgun mused; now that he knows what his quarry is and assembled his hunting party, Io will brook no delays in pursuing it.

“Forgiveness, Sheikh Io, but what do you know about alchemy?” Firuzeh’s question made Olgun look at the young female Aryan with new eyes, as the expression went. I don’t know if I would have the bravery to question a sheikh about his knowledge, the Guran’nash admitted to herself, and I consider myself a very brave individual!

Instead of being offended, Io’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “While I can’t say I was ever what you would call an alchemist, in one of my previous lives I adventured with Jābir ibn Hayyān while he tested some of his theories that he would later use in experiments.”

Whomever this person was, hearing the name had a profound effect on Firuzeh. “The father of modern alchemy!” she exclaimed, and Olgun understood why the young Aryan female was breathless. After all, if she had ever met someone who had known Bora, the original Guran’nash who had received the gift of being a Sha’ir from their Djinn masters she would probably feel a little awestruck as well. But, unless there had been a Deva who had once been of her people –and as far as she knew, that had never happened- it was unlikely she would ever get that chance. For once in her life she felt jealous of an Aryan, and Olgun didn’t like the feeling at all.

“Indeed,” Io continued, unaware of the roiling sea of emotions going through Olgun. “He loved to teach, so as we went around with him perfecting some of the ideas that he would later go on to present to students, he taught me as much as I was capable of learning. I’m not saying I’m on the level of an Ostaad, like Lahahana here,” and here the sheikh gestured towards the Efreet, who bowed at the honor, “but I shall do my best to help you along. Besides, your Ostaad said you were his best student, fit to even teach a class if he was so indisposed.”

“He really said that?” Firuzeh turned bright red, and that feeling of jealousy reared up once again in Olgun’s gut, which was ridiculous. After all, hadn’t her Ostaad told her on numerous occasions that she was the brightest and the best Shaagerd he had ever had the pleasure of teaching? Why should she care if that annoying female Aryan heard the same thing? Suddenly, it dawned on her why she was feeling this way, and Olgun didn’t like the clarity the knowledge brought.

Since she had come to Gundishapur University, the Guran’nash had been forced to work twice as hard as the other Shaagerd to make her way through this giant sized world. She had asked for no special treatment to be given to her, and would have refused it if it had been offered. How Olgun had counseled herself on those nights when it seemed almost unbearable was by thinking how she was the smartest student at school. But, it wasn’t that she was the smartest at the whole University, she was just the smartest Sha’ir. It didn’t seem like much of a difference, but it stung just the same.

Some of what she was feeling must have been written on her face, for Lahahana put his massive hand on her shoulder and turned her away from Io and Firuzeh. “The achievements of others do not diminish our own, my dear.” The Efreet said as he kneeled down next to her, his head near hers so they wouldn’t be overheard. “And if you hold onto this resentment, it will devour you from the inside out until the bright inquisitive student I know is gone and in her place is a bitter, jaded individual. Please, don’t let go of who you are for something as trivial as jealousy. It isn’t worth it.”

“Thank you, honored Ostaad,” Olgun whispered, waiting until he had patted her shoulder and stood up before wiping the tears from her eyes. Just my luck, she thought bemusedly, I’m approaching a downward cycle of my moods right before we set off on an important journey. This will make traveling with me so much fun for the others!

“If everyone is ready,” Io raised his voice slightly, “then we should make our way to the stables. I have arranged for transportation for all of us. I’m assuming everyone here knows how to ride?” the Deva asked as Olgun turned back around, composed once more. They all nodded, though Lahahana did raise his hand. “And yes, honored Ostaad, I did manage to procure a Drake for you to ride, since I know your size makes it uncomfortable for normal horses to carry you.” Drakes were large lizards that were bigger than horses, and with nasty temperaments that only the Efreet seemed to be able to handle. The grateful look her Ostaad shot the sheikh helped ease some of the anger that Olgun was feeling.

“And for you, Shaagerd Olgun,” Io said, turning to face her, “there is a mountain pony that was conveniently available. E’laa’hi must be looking out for us.” He smiled after he said it, taking any potential sting out of his words. Olgun could ride a normal sized horse if she had to, though it would be quite an uncomfortable trip if she did. Mountain ponies were prized by the Aryan that lived in the higher elevation for their smaller size, their nimbleness, and their endurance. Being given one, at least for this journey, was quite an honor indeed as their owners didn’t like to part with them for less than 100 qiran.

“You honor me, Sheikh Io,” Olgun said to him, bowing in gratitude, and found that she meant it. The Deva smiled back and gave a little bow of his own, and the diminutive Sha’ir began to believe that maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad after all, even if she did have to share it with Firuzeh. After all, it wasn’t like she had to talk to her the whole time.

Gesturing that he meant everyone to come in close, Io waited with open arms as his three companions approached, and then he did his best to wrap his arms around Firuzeh and Lahahana. Olgun made sure she held onto her Ostaad’s and the Deva’s legs, having no desire to be embraced by the Aryan. Just because she was trying not to be jealous of the alchemist didn’t mean she had any desire to be touched by her if she didn’t have to, after all.

After making sure they were all touching, the sheikh lowered his head and began to speak. “Blessed E’laa’hi, I believe that you have graced me with the sight to restore balance to Padeshahi and to know who would make the best companions. May our journey be favorable and may our hardships be no more than we can endure, for our cause is just. Thank you for your bounties.” Both Firuzeh and Lahahana repeated the end, while Olgun just muttered something nonsensical which didn’t seem to raise any alarms among the others.

This was quite an unusual occurrence! Normally, as far as Olgun knew, most Aryan practiced prayer in the privacy of their own domiciles. Religion was something that every person did in their own way. It almost seemed odd that an Efreet would have joined in, but then the Guran’nash remembered that his people were originally Aryan, so it made sense that he would still follow their belief system.

But, she reminded herself, sheikhs are living proof of the divinity of E’laa’hi –at least to the Aryan- so if a sheikh wanted to gather his traveling companions together and lead them in prayer, it wasn’t the oddest thing Olgun had heard one of them doing. And it was a lot more responsible than some of the stories she had been told about how some sheikhs gambled, drank, smoked, and caroused with any number of willing or unwilling individuals.

Nobody had bothered to ask if she was comfortable praying together like they had done, though to be honest if they had Olgun would have said yes. After all, none of them needed to know that like every Guran’nash she had known her whole life, when they offered prayers it wasn’t to some indescribable entity. No, it was to their fled former Djinn masters, hoping that one day they would return and lift them up from this life of drudgery and dementia.

“All right, everyone, let’s head to the stables!” While not exactly a shout, Io’s raised voice snapped Olgun out of her imagining and they all began to walk. She had learned long ago to walk fast enough to keep up with the bigger races, but it was still satisfying to see the look on Firuzeh’s face as the Guran’nash not only kept up, but passed her by to walk next to the sheikh. I’m just full of surprises, Olgun thought, so you best be careful what you think you know about me Aryan. More than likely, you’re wrong.

When he noticed Olgun walking next to him, Io didn’t look surprised at all. He just gave her a smile and a friendly nod and continued his walk in silence. Finally, she blurted out a question, immediately regretting at and snapping her hand over her mouth belatedly. “Are you sure that you need someone like…her, honored sheikh? What can she actually DO?”

If he was offended by her presumptiveness, it didn’t show on his face. He just continued walking along while he studied her, and for once Olgun wished she could just fade away invisible. Supposedly, there was an off-shoot of her race in a far off land that could do just that if they felt threatened, but she didn’t believe that any more than she believed tales of multiple gods and believers who could channel their faith. Ridiculous bedtime stories.

“Tell me, my dear, do you actually know what an alchemist does?” Normally, when people used the term ‘my dear’ it made Olgun feel tiny and childlike, which usually infuriated her. However, she got the feeling that when Io said it, he meant it in a caring way, so it didn’t leave her offended. Most peculiar.

Shaking her head to clear the mental cobwebs, Olgun answered him. “They just mix potions and medicines, right?”

He laughed softly before responding. “No, that’s a pharmacist you’re thinking of, which a lot of alchemists use as a cover for their true work. An alchemist does mix potions and whatnot, this is true. But what they really use it for is for defending their allies.”

“That can’t be right!” Olgun said, forgetting for a moment who she was talking to; when it dawned on her, she flushed red, but she still believed in what she had said.

“It’s true, my dear. I know, you may not think to look at her that she’s capable of something like that, but let me tell you: if we were ever beset by enemies, there’s nobody else I would want in my corner guarding me than an alchemist.”

Olgun pondered that for a few seconds. “What about a fighter, or one of those really strange Psywarrior, or a magi? I thought that all sheikhs had magi that were sworn to them and drew strength from your bond with E’laa’hi?”

That took Io aback for a bit and they walked along in silence for a while. Finally, he went on. “While it is true that a lot of sheikhs do bond with a magi or two –or a dozen, in the case of my brother- I prefer people having free will around me. I want to know that they do what they do because they think it’s the right thing, not because I have commanded that they do so. Does that make sense?”

“I guess so,” Olgun grudgingly admitted. She didn’t think she would have the will to not make people do her bidding if she had that kind of power. But then again, she wasn’t a sheikh so she didn’t have to worry about it. For just a second, thoughts of how Sha’ir bonded with Elemental companions flashed through her head, but she quickly dismissed them. After all, a Sha’ir had to negotiate with an Elemental spirit before they could bond with them, and the spirits took some of the power they got for their Sha’ir masters and set it aside, eventually growing in power themselves. They didn’t care if they had to be bonded with a mortal for a few decades; they were immortal, and what was that small amount of time to someone who would see eons?

“Here we are!” Io announced, and Olgun came back out of her head to see that they had indeed made it to the stables. A few of the groomsmen were there, making sure their mounts were saddled up. The Sha’ir could see that they had saddlebags and they appeared to be full. The sheikh had really thought of everything, she admitted to herself. Well done indeed.

Stepping out of the shadows walked the Raees himself, and the three of them bowed deeply at being honored with his presence. As he stepped up to Io and they began to talk softly among themselves, Olgun was surprised to hear Firuzeh speak up quietly from beside her. The Sha’ir hadn’t even noticed her stepping up next to her side! “If I didn’t know any better, I would say that they used to be intimate,” the Aryan said.

Olgun took a closer look at the two men, one in the prime of his life and the other into his sixth decade, and snorted. “Highly unlikely. Look at the huge age difference! Besides, they’re both men, and the Raees has never acted like he was interested in men before.”

“I don’t know…maybe in his previous life Io was female. They’re not bound to one gender in between lives, you know.” Firuzeh said it with such authority that Olgun snorted once more and rejected what she had said out of spite.

“Even if they are, it’s none of our business. We all have more important things to worry about, don’t we alchemist? Maybe you should see to keeping us all safe from brigands and spend less time gossiping about somebody else’s sex life.” And with that, the diminutive Sha’ir brushed roughly past the Aryan and went over to her mount. She spent a few moments calmly brushing her pony’s nose and whispering comforting words into her ear, getting her used to her touch, voice, and smell. When she felt the mount was calm enough, she climbed up and sat down, hoping that she had remembered enough not to be saddle sore the next day. “I shall call you Aynur,” she whispered to the pony. It meant moonlight in her tongue, and with the patches of white spread throughout her black coat, the name fit.

Finally giving the Raees a hug, Io left his friend and came over to the rest of them, quickly going over his mount and getting into the saddle. With the ease he had done so, this must be his own personal mount. “Are we ready?” the sheikh asked them.

“I haven’t ridden in months, but yes I’m ready honored sheikh,” Firuzeh spoke up from her house, and Lahahana also agreed from his drake, who he was still establishing dominance over. Not trusting herself to speak, Olgun merely nodded.

“Well then, let’s ride!” And with that, the party of four took off into the night.

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