Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Firuzeh's Story II

Firuzeh finished putting her books and homework away from her calculus class while she got out her alchemist books. Normally, she would have been very cautious in making sure Laleh couldn’t see them, since one of the tenets of being an alchemist was in keeping it a secret; thankfully, her roommate was still in her room, sulking and whimpering from her spankings she had got for lying to an Ostaad. It’s her own fault, the young woman sniffed to herself, and maybe this will teach her not to go picking on other people, like she had been caught picking on the Djinn-touched, Olgun. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting on her to change however, Firuzeh thought ruefully. Some people never do, no matter how bad the consequences.

As if thinking of her caught her attention, Laleh called out from her room, “Firuzeh! Firuzeh I need you! Please!” in between bouts of sniffling.

Sighing deeply, the young alchemist finished putting her books and parchment away in her knapsack before she stood up and responded. “Yes, Laleh, what is it this time?” Firuzeh said through the curtain, muttering, “You big crybaby,” to herself under her breath.

“It really hurts and I think it’s starting to swell! Can you come in and rub some ointment on it? I can’t really reach it,” Laleh said, sounding as pathetic as a ‘blind’ one-armed beggar whose head turned as all the pretty girls walked by.

That’s because your ass is so big, Firuzeh thought as she sighed once more and went over to the center table, locating and picking up the jar of soothing cream. One of the other students on their floor, a medical student, had seen Firuzeh helping her limping roommate down the hall and offered them the ointment, claiming it would help ease the pain. From the way Laleh was behaving, the alchemist was of the opinion her roommate should have taken up acting as a career. There was no way it hurt bad enough to justify the caterwauling she was doing!

“Firuzeh, did you hear me?” Laleh shouted out, and it took all of Firuzeh’s strength not to shout right back, though there was a lot of teeth grinding and fist clenching going on.

“I heard you, Laleh, just had to grab the cream off of the table!” Firuzeh announced as she pushed through the curtain into her roommate’s room. The young woman was naked from the waist down, lying on top of her sheets with her head on her arms, choking back sobs. Since she had no shame, this wasn’t the first time that the young alchemist had seen Laleh nude, and more than likely wouldn’t be the last.

Lifting her head off of her arms, Laleh cried out, “Oh, thank E’laa’hi you’ve come! Please, rub the ointment on it,” she said, slightly wiggling her rear. As many times as Firuzeh had dreamt about touching her roommate, none of them involved spreading ointment on her ass after she had been punished for being a bully and a liar. This is how you choose to answer my prayers, the young alchemist thought bemusedly to the Divine, but naturally enough there was no response. Sighing again and praying that it didn’t become a habit, Firuzeh knelt down next to Laleh’s bed and opened the jar before scooping out some and plopping it on the hurt rear.

“Ooh! It’s really cold!” Laleh said while shivering, and for once Firuzeh agreed with her. It wasn’t really cold, of course, but it definitely had some kind of numbing agent in it, and within seconds of rubbing it in Laleh’s offended bottom looked less red and swollen. Maybe I can put in on her lips and it will stop her from talking, Firuzeh giggled softly to herself. The only problem was, it also left her hands feeling numb, which would definitely affect her ability to perform alchemy in class. I adore you, dear friend, but you are a pain in my…Firuzeh couldn’t finish that thought before she started laughing uncontrollably, rolling around on the floor while Laleh tried to demand what was so funny, obviously upset by her friend’s laughter.

“It’s nothing Laleh, really. I was just thinking how funny it was that the ointment made my hands numb also,” Firuzeh reassured her friend once she got under control.

“I don’t see why that’s funny, Firuzeh,” her roommate sniffed haughtily. “I also don’t see why you have to attend your night class when I am obviously in need of care. You are always such a good girl; blow off class, just this once, and take care of me.” Laleh had leaned on her left arm so she could face Firuzeh and was laying it on thick, pouting and trembling lips under eyes that still held some tears in them.

If it hadn’t been alchemy class, there was a good chance that Firuzeh would have stayed behind to help her roommate out, boyfriend or not. After all, it wasn’t like he was here taking care of his girlfriend. No, he had went out to see that bard at the meykadeh as Firuzeh had known he would. Dara may be many things, but thoughtful and caring weren’t two of them. But bringing that up again would have set Laleh’s waterworks off once more, and as much of a spoiled self-absorbed brat as she was, the young alchemist had no desire to hurt her roommate.

“I’m sorry, Laleh, but I really need to master those latest sets of formulas. You know how important calculus is to us pharmacists!” Firuzeh said, her volume increasing to override Laleh’s protests. “I’ll be back before the ointment wears off and I’ll put some on before we go to sleep, I promise.”

Realizing that her words were having no effect, Laleh flumped down on her arms and finally gave up protesting after one last indignant, “Fine! Just go, then!” Resisting the urge to pat her roommate on the head like the petulant child she was imitating, Firuzeh just stood up and pushed past the curtain back into the main room, remembering to grab a spare cloth and trying to get as much of the ointment off of her hands that she could. After accepting that she had done the best she could, the young alchemist turned down the light on the oil lamp and grabbed her knapsack and headed out the door, making sure she locked the door behind her.

When she turned around after having locked up, Firuzeh was barely able to stop the shout she had been about to let out. Standing there, waiting patiently for her, was the Sheikh that she had seen earlier today. The young alchemist believed that the Raees had called him Io. “Good evening, Sheikh Io,” she said to him, bowing with her right hand over her heart. “I’m sorry, but you startled me. I did not expect someone of your stature to be waiting outside my door. Wait,” she paused in her apologies, “were you actually waiting for me?”

“I was indeed, Shaagerd Firuzeh. Please, if you would allow me to accompany you to your class, I would be most appreciative.” He gestured forward with one arm while holding out the other for her to take. Normally, strange men waiting to walk her to class would have caused all sorts of internal alarms to go off inside Firuzeh’s mind, but this was no ordinary man. Not only was he a Deva, but he was also a sheikh! And not the creepy kind that she had sometimes heard of, but one who seemed sincere and devout. Plus, there was no way to refute his offer without causing major offense to him and major shame to herself. Smiling at him, Firuzeh took his arm lightly and they began to walk towards the exit of her building.

“How did you get past the building’s guards that make sure the students are safe?” she asked before blushing slightly. “Never mind, honored sheikh, I’m guessing they let you pass.”

It was his turn to blush slightly. “Forgive me, Shaagerd Firuzeh. I had simply asked the guards if it was all right for me to accompany you to your night class, and they said there should be no problem with that.”

Frowning slightly, Firuzeh turned her head to watch Sheikh Io as they walked. “I pray that this doesn’t cause offense, honored sheikh, but why did you want to walk with me to class? As far as I know, we’ve never met before today in the hallway, and even then we didn’t say anything to each other. Did I do something wrong?”

“Not at all,” he laughed softly while patting her arm in a comforting way. He almost reminded her of her Amu Fereydun, in that he made her feel at ease, and so without completely letting her guard down Firuzeh tried to relax as they walked together down the hallway and stairs and out of her building, curiosity growing stronger with each passing moment.

Once they were outside he seemed to be taking his time to find the right words, but after a minute Io spoke up, making sure his voice didn’t carry beyond them. “Do you believe in destiny, Shaagerd Firuzeh?”

The question caught her off-guard. Like most Aryans, she was a firm believer in E’laa’hi - but nowhere was it mentioned that the Divine had a plan for individuals. Her people were very proud of the fact that, for good or for ill, they decided their own fate. However, since Io was a Deva as well as a sheikh, he probably held a very different view of destiny, since he was blessed (or cursed, she admitted with a shudder) to be born again and again. At least, that was what she knew of the rare and elusive people that were Io’s race.

Making up her mind about how she would answer him, Firuzeh said, “I believe that I am responsible for my own actions and choices, for better or worse. I have heard that in some of the far off lands they subscribe to the notion that everything they do has been predetermined. If that is so, what is the reason for living?” She hoped her bluntness would not offend him, but she knew of no other way to be when someone asked for her opinion. Let others hem and haw when asked for honesty; she found it more offensive to lie to someone just to spare their feelings.

Luckily, Io didn’t seem to be perturbed by her answer at all, instead giving that soft laugh that he had made a short time ago. “It is always refreshing to meet someone who doesn’t pander to my ‘delicate feelings’ and thinks for herself. Well done, Shaagerd Firuzeh. Your instructors should be most proud of you.”

“No,” he continued after a second, “what I’m talking about isn’t having every moment planned out for your life. Because you’re right, that doesn’t seem like living at all. I’m talking about that feeling when you meet someone or hear something, where all the nerves in your body light up at the same time, your skin gets tight, and you feel like E’laa’hi is pointing out that this moment –when you’re experiencing it- is important with a capital I. Have you ever experienced that, my dear?”

Once he started to speak of how it felt, Firuzeh couldn’t help but remember not once or twice but thrice she had felt that way. The first time had been when she had devised her own experiment back home and it had went off successfully; the second time had been when her Amu had confided in her about his true profession and how she had the chance to learn it as well; and the last time was recently, just today in fact when she had watched that Djinn-touched trounce her roommate and they had been overseen by the Efreet Ostaad. Everything that Io had described had happened to her in those moments, and it made her stomach clench up slightly thinking of it. “Yes, honored sheikh, I have felt that way before.” She really didn’t want to elaborate, and since it would have been rude of him to pry thankfully Io left it alone.

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s because I am a Deva or a sheikh or maybe because I am both, but today I experienced that feeling not only when I met you and your roommate when I was walking with the Raees, but later on when I met with the Ostaad Lahahana and Shaagerd Olgun.”

Hearing that the scary Efreet and the little Djinn-touched were important didn’t strike Firuzeh as bad as hearing Io had that feeling when he saw her and Laleh. “Honored sheikh, do you believe that Laleh is important as well?”

Io snorted, such a normal derivative sound from one who was supposed to be holy that Firuzeh had to put her hand over her mouth to contain her laughter. “No my dear, that young woman is, how do you say, fluff from a dandelion. She’s pretty, but there’s nothing of substance to her, and any kind of pressure would just blow her away.”

“Oh, that’s good.” After saying that, the young alchemist turned bright red from embarrassment. “That is, what I meant to say, is that…I, well, I’m not saying…”

The sheikh threw his head back and laughed, which only made Firuzeh’s shade of red deepen. It got so bad that he had to stop walking and leaned over, hands on his knees, until he caught his breath. Finally, a minute later he stood up on wobbly legs, wiping the tears from his eyes. “It’s good to let out the stress now and then, wouldn’t you say?” he asked her, but not trusting her voice Firuzeh only nodded her head. Once he got himself under control, he held out his arm again and Firuzeh took it before they continued their walk.

“There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your hard work and accomplishments, Shaagerd Firuzeh. I’ve read your transcripts, and you are nothing short of brilliant. No, while I’m sure your roommate is a decent person, I doubt that she will amount to much of anything once she finishes her schooling. Probably be married and pregnant within a year of graduating.”

“Can you see the future, honored sheikh?” Firuzeh asked Io breathlessly.

“Hardly, my dear. I’ve studied human behavior for centuries, and while there’s a chance I’m wrong, I very much doubt that I am. E’laa’hi has a place for all of us in Padeshahi…hers will just be in the back, fading into obscurity.”

“And mine?” she barely let Io finish before asking.

They stopped walking and he turned to face her, his intense scrutiny making her slightly uncomfortable. “You, Shaagerd Firuzeh, will have a destiny beyond these walls. How far you choose to take it is up to you, but you are bound for more than teaching, I can tell you that. Your soul is like a newborn foal, yearning to be racing out in the world. Take the time to listen to it sometimes, you might be surprised what you find.” His smile at the end was so full of grace and simple spirituality that Firuzeh almost felt he should be glowing softly. The moment passed after a few seconds, but it felt like something she would carry with her the rest of her days.

“Ah yes, we are here.” Io’s words broke the spell that she had been under, and Firuzeh looked around with concern.

“Honored sheikh, this isn’t my alchemy classroom. I believe this is the Sha’ir classroom. I am not a Sha’ir,” she told him with confusion written all over her face.

“I’m aware, my dear. However, you will not be attending your alchemy class tonight. Or more than likely, for quite a while.” Io’s face light up with a mischievous grin, and Firuzeh was sure that in a previous life he was probably quite a scamp and a troublemaker. Reminds me of someone else I know, she thought bemusedly as images of her brother’s bratty grin flashed through her mind. They would probably get along quite well.

“I’m not sure I understand, Io,” she spoke up, only belatedly realizing she had dropped the honorific. Firuzeh was too concerned to feel shame, however.

Before he could answer, the classroom door opened up and Ostaad Lahahana and Shaagerd Olgun stepped out, doing their best to move quietly. For a large fellow, he can be stealthy if he so chooses, Firuzeh regretfully admitted. And of course, the Djinn-touched was petite in stature already and so moved along quite silently. “Honored sheikh,” they both said, bowing slightly right hand over heart, before straightening up and sizing up Firuzeh. For once in her life, she wished she could disappear.

“What’s she doing here, Sheikh Io?” Olgun asked, a sneer on her lips. “I’m sure she rather be stuck being her roommate’s nursemaid.” Firuzeh felt her cheeks flush once more, this time with anger, and she opened her mouth to fire back a retort.

“That’s enough, Shaagerd Olgun,” the Efreet chastised the diminutive student, and now it was her turn for her cheeks to flush with embarrassment. “I’m sure the honored sheikh has a good reason for bringing her along.”

“I do,” Io admitted, stepping forward so that three sets of eyes were on him. “She’s a part of this, I can feel it. Plus, she’s an alchemist, which will prove quite handy in the days to come.” As aghast as she was at having her secret revealed, Firuzeh couldn’t help but stand up straighter as newfound respect blossomed in the mismatched pair’s eyes. “And don’t worry, Shaagerd Firuzeh, the Raees has given me written permission to take you out of classes for the time being.”

“May I ask what we are doing, Sheikh Io? And why all the secrecy?” the young alchemist felt that she had earned that much information from him.

“Simple, my dear. We are being secretive because our quarry has eyes and ears everywhere, and I don’t know who I can trust. As for what we are doing? I’m afraid we are about to do something that very few people have attempted before.” Answering the unspoken question in her eyes, Io went on. “We go to hunt and kill a sheikh.” Olgun and Lahahana must have known this already, for they barely reacted to such momentous news. Firuzeh, however, was barely able to swallow past the giant lump in her throat. You wanted adventure outside the University walls, she admonished herself, looks like your prayers have been answered.

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