Chapter One: The Eagle
With these instructions, I enter the city gates of Baghdad.
After a few long days of walking through the smoldering heat of the desert, I leave Berlo, my horse, at a stable for the animals of travelers. Here he can feed, drink, and regain his strength until we return back home.
An old woman stands by the local well, struggling to pull a bucket of water to the surface. I take the rope from her. “Here, let me help.”
Soon the bucket stands on the edge of the well. The woman smiles.
“You seem like a good young man,” she says as she fills a cup and hands it to me. “Here, looks like you need it more than I do.”
Parched as I am, I drink the cup and thank the woman as I hand it back.
“You don’t seem to be from around here,” she states and skillfully pours water into a narrow jug, leaving just enough for me to freshen up my face.
“What gave me away?”
She smiles and pinches my cheek. “I would’ve remembered a handsome face like yours.”
Her boldness makes me laugh.
"Could I ask for you to send me into the direction of the palace, please?”
“Oh, you’ve been invited to the Caliph’s grand feast?” She asks.
I smile as a pull up another bucket to refill my water bag. “Well, I do have a surprise for him.”
After the old woman gives me directions, I thank her once again and set off to my destination.
The Caliph’s palace is a gigantic white marble building, with golden columns and domes on the various towers. By the entrance gates stand about a dozen guards in black uniforms with veils covering their faces. Large groups of people flock to them, all dressed in their finest evening wear.
I peer at the guards, knowing there is no way I’ll pass them without an invitation.
Off to the side, a lonely watchman lurks at a sensual street dancer who beckons him to come closer, giving him a little show. Grinning I walk towards the man and shoulder bump him firmly from behind. He turns and curses before coming after me.
I accelerate my pace and lure him into a deserted alley where I hide in the shades. As soon as the watchman passes, I grab both sides of his head and snap his neck. Quickly, I change into his uniform and make my way back to the palace.
The veil of the tagelmust hides my face, so none of the guards seem alarmed when I pass them to the courtyard.
For a moment I am blinded by the light of the sun, reflecting off a gold fountain standing center of the square. Tables are set all around with delicacies served on golden plates matching the decadent wine cups.
Belly dancers in colorful robes are scattered all over, pleasing the eyes of many men and women as they are mesmerized by their beauty.
A veiled girl, dressed in red, dances on a white pillar right in front of me. She moves in a graceful manner making it almost hypnotizing to watch. I don’t realize that I am staring until suddenly, I find her eyes catching mine.
At that moment I hear an announcement saying our host, El Sibar, The Caliph of Baghdad, has finally arrived to join his party.
El Sibar is a mad dictator, who single-handedly forces his people into poverty. He sows fear by letting his men torture them for the whole town to see when they refuse, or cannot afford to pay him.
It’s taken us over a year to get this chance to take him out. The magnitude of his personal security was the only thing holding us back. The Caliph is extremely fat. He can barely take one step forward, let alone fend for himself. That is why he constantly surrounds himself with at least a dozen trained safety guards.
The music stops and cheers erupt when twelve slaves carry the Caliph on to the courtyard in a solid gold carrying chair. They place him down at a table in the front of the square.
Behind El Sibar stand a series of guards, wearing the same black uniform I borrowed from one of their helpful colleagues.
El Sibar thanks his guests and gorges his food as if he’d been starving for days. Grease runs down his chin as he uses his teeth to tear flesh from a bone. When the guests start eating as well, I see an opportunity to strike.
I take a deep breath and walk past the tables towards my target. Slowly I guide my hand to a dagger, skillfully hidden in my belt. As soon as I stand In front of the Caliph, I draw my weapon and pierce it straight through his throat.
Blood gushes from the wound and he looks at me, astonished by my presence. Drops of blood hit my face as he struggles to breathe and suffocates when blood starts filling his longs.
A woman screams and I see guards coming at me with swords drawn.
Leaving the dagger in place I turn and run the other way. I jump on tables and climb a wall where I can pull myself onto a balcony. Once I get up there I enter the palace and zigzag my way through corridors until I have shaken my pursuers.
Hastily I enter the next door I see, and swiftly shut it behind me. Not long after, I hear rumbling in the hall and nervously hold my breath. Luckily, the guards pass by.
Relieved, I stand from the door and notice that I am not alone. My eyes gaze over the faces of a dozen young women in obscure clothing who stand looking at me. I put my index finger on my hidden lips and observe the rest of the room.
Covering their exposed bodies, the women quickly step aside as I pass. They seem scared but it is not of me, seeing as I have no interest in them.
I walk through the room towards a spacious balcony. There is a roof that runs underneath making a perfect way for me to escape the palace and get back to the desert.
Before I leave I glance over my shoulder. Strange noises are coming from a room right next to me. It sounds like a girl pleading.
“No, please… Please! No...”
Followed by the voice of an impatient man.
“Hold that whore!”
A terrified scream sends chills down my spine.
Some of the girls look at me expectantly, but what happens in the harem is none of my concern. I need to get out of here and get myself to safety. Especially with the guards still after me.
Another scream hits me to my very core. As I look into the frightened eyes of the harem girls, my gut conquers my mind.
Steadily I walk towards the door and shove it open. Two robust men are standing over a girl. She’s bruised all over and tied to the bed with ropes around her wrists. One of the men holds the girl’s leg while the other is bent over her with his pants down.
Disgusted, I grab the foul rapist by the neck and drag him along, smacking his head against the wall until I hear the cracking of his skull.
As he drops to the ground, the other dirtbag runs towards me with his sword drawn. I grab his armed hand, dive under his arm, and twist it. Then I drive his own weapon through his stomach.
He gasps his last breath as I turn the sword before pulling it out. His body falls back against the wall, leaving a trail of dark red as he slowly slides to the ground.
Breathing fast, I turn to the girl and realize I saw her at the Caliph’s party. The belly dancer in red.
I use another dagger to cut the ropes from her wrists. Before I turn to leave, she tightly grabs my hand. Her voice is hoarse as she pleads.
The girl clings to my sleeve and struggles to keep her eyes from rolling back in her skull. I suspect she might have been drugged before she was taken here.
This delay is taking up too much of my time and I know the guards are still searching for me. I take another look at the girl and for some unknown reason decide to take her with me.
Sighing at my own stupidity, I wrap de girl in satin sheets and take her in my arms before heading towards the balcony.
As I reach the railing, the entrance door bursts open. I turn and find myself looking straight into a familiar face that usually only comes in my nightmares. My body trembles with hatred.
I want to charge at this monster and slash his head off with my sword. But when I go to reach for my weapon I realize I’m still holding the girl, and I need to get her to safety.
Grunting, I jump onto the roof below the balcony and start running. Climbing is not easy without the use of both hands, but I hold the girl firmly until the last stretch. Watchmen shoot arrows when I venture a deep jump into the desert sand. The girl is released from my grip and hits the ground. I quickly crawl towards her and notice she’s unconscious.
Swiftly I pick her up over my shoulder and run towards the city gate where Berlo is nervously neighing and waiting for me.
I throw the girl over his back and urge him to leave the city as soon as I touch the saddle.
We are a long way from Baghdad before I decide it is safe to stop. Night has already fallen and the temperature is dropping fast. No pursuer will try to find us this far away in the desert, nor at this time.
Carefully I lift the girl from the back of my horse and lay her down in the cooled sand. I unwrap a blanket tied to Berlo’s back and take a seat beside her covering us both underneath the warm fabric.
Strands of long black hair cover the girl’s bloody face. I stroke them back so I can take a look at the damage she’s suffered. Her left eye is swollen. She has a cut on her lip and bruises on both jaws. The friction of the ropes caused scarlet burns around both her wrists. Some of her fingernails are broken. Seeing this, I don’t even want to think about the damage done to the rest of her body.
The air becomes cooler and I wrap my arms around the girl, pulling her flush against me to keep us warm. Suddenly she wakes and tries to punch me away. Calmly I grab her hands and try to get her to look at me.
“Calm down. I am not going to hurt you.”
Anxious she looks around until she realizes there’s nobody here but us. A relieved sigh escapes her lips and I feel her body relax when I caress her cheek. “Don’t worry. You are safe with me.”
The girl struggles to keep her eyes open and starts dozing off again. I gently push her cheek to get her attention.
“Can you tell me your name?”
Her eyes flutter as she whispers. “Lusia…”
“It will be a long night, Lusia. Get some rest, and I will provide more help tomorrow.”
Soon, she slips into a deep sleep and I decide to do the same. As soon as the sun shines over the sandy hills, I will take her home to Alamut for aid.
I pull her fragile body close to mine as I wrap us both into the blanket. Before I doze off I lay my head on top of hers.
She smells like wildflowers.