Ghazal preens his coal black feathers, a runt of a roc, though still immense, and my bosom friend. We sit on the sandstone cliff face above the blossoming desert oasis, my abaya whipping in the dawn’s wind.
“Habibi, you are lost in your mind again,” Ghazal sings, looking out at the goats that climb the acacia trees and eat leaves too high up for ants to dream of. “Rani, look – the griffins come flocking to feast on fresh meat. The phoenixes are rising – feel the stirring of djinn on the winds. The world awakens, but you are in dreamland, writing of rajs and whirling dervishes and saqis, of the love between man and immortal. We must eat more than your pretty poems. Come, mount my back, let us hunt.”
I smile up from my airy perch on a boulder and pack my quill, ink pot, and notebook into my camelskin bag alongside a quiverful of arrows and my rosewood bow. “You are right, Ghazal. What would I do without you, dear one? Though you are my wings, you keep me grounded. Let us get breakfast.”
I fasten the stirrups along his beak and secure the saddle at the downy ridge where his feathers fan out along his neck. Ghazal is my bonded pair, my means of surviving this flourishing backwater of Lotan, a land of spirits and ghosts and so many gossamer stories. I found him as a small girl in my father’s kingdom, and I rode him away from my forced marriage to a cruel raj of death and decay to this hideaway in the desert, seeking the sweetness of freedom.
I mount Ghazal and pull on the reins. We jet into the sky and the sylvan virginal dakinis sing of Paradise as they sit on clouds. I can hear the hum of djinn far below at their markets at the bottom of the cliff we make our home, and by now the goats are falling to the griffins in purple and blue and scarlet blood. Some djinn ride camels and herd phoenix flocks, scouring the sand for gems and lost treasure, for I live in a place where many people come to hide things, but the spirits take all.
My midnight black beauty of a bird finds a leopard hiding in a hollow by a watering hole. I aim my arrow and loose it to pierce it through the heart. Ghazal strikes with his beak, a sharp snap of the neck, then picks up the cat in his talons. Another leopard falls. Two are enough meat for both of us to be made into jerky for later and breakfast for now, and the djinn always love their skins, which we can sell for fresh fruit and more ink for my poetry.
I skin them later at our wind worn hut and Ghazal helps carry the hides down to the djinn market. We buy pomegranates and Ghazal swallows them in his gullet whole. I use the husks to perfume my roc down pillow, and that night, as the Milky Way stretches out like a sleeping woman, I sing my poetry to my angel of a bird and we dance by a campfire, bellies full, hearts aflame.
I never wanted to be a princess anyway, and I was born for the wild lands, where spirits roam and true poets find inspiration. My couplets and verse are carried by dakinis on the wind, by peris who come in caravans rich with silk and saffron, and I am growing quite famous in the human world, or so the djinn tell me.
Rani of the Ruins. Queen of Poetry. Roc Rider.