Weight of the Heart

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Chapter Twelve: The Scarab

When the sun has risen, Sef, Asad, Malik, and I meet up by the stables to ready our horses for departure. Al Beri instructed us to leave for Egypt as soon as possible. Our mission is of an urgent matter, therefore he will only send out his best, most trusted men. Some of our brothers have been missing for a while now and our scouts have finally discovered their suspected location. Our job is to free them and bring them safely home.

Medina and Seferi, Malik’s wife, have come to say goodbye to their loved ones. This journey will be a long one with no possible way of knowing when we will be able to return home.

Malik pulls away from his embrace with Seferi.

“Finish up your preparations. We leave in ten minutes,” He firmly instructs, keeping his eyes on me.

Leaving to go on a mission with Malik is not something I look forward to. He likes to be in control, but that does not mean that he knows best. Which for him is hard to understand and admit.

Team efforts are usually not my thing, unless I have Asad and, since recently, Sef by my side. We have proven to work well together, and I trust both of them with my life. They are bonds not easy to find.

Sef gently pats the flank of his brown steed before mounting his saddle. As the youngest member of our team, he seems the most eager to leave.

“I am ready if you all are.”

Asad has a hard time letting go of Medina. This is the first time since they are an item that he has to leave her for an uncertain amount of time.

Medina looks up at him with tears streaming from her eyes. Embracing her tightly, he speaks soft words to her ensuring her he’ll come back safely. I have never seen my brother this torn and would not even be surprised by him saying he will not go. But he is an Assassin, and this is what our women have to deal with.

I tie up my last bag onto Berlo’s back and look around to check if I haven’t forgotten anything. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a woman, dressed in a long white dress, fitted tightly around her body. A gold headband is worn in her dark brown hair which is hung loosely over her slender shoulders. Looking up I see it is Lusia, holding a gold-plated object in her hands.

As she is greeted by my brothers leaving the stables with their horses, I quietly stand, crossing my arms, and wait for her to speak.

“…I am sorry for running away last night.”

Letting her words sink in, I nod appreciative of her apology, and grab Berlo’s reins.

“Well…thank you for that,” I say and start leading Berlo out of the stable.

Frowning she stands before me blocking my way.

“Is that it?”

“Should there be more? We kissed, and you ran away without a single word. I think it is pretty clear that it was a mistake.”

“I did not mean to run.”

“Did you mean to stay then? Because I have to admit, I do not understand the intentions you have.”

Ashamed, Lusia looks down at the ground fiddling with the thing she is holding in her hands.

“I gave you a chance to go home, and instead of telling me what you want to do, you kissed me and ran off. What am I supposed to make of that?”

“Well, maybe just that. That I do not know what I want…”

Her emerald eyes gaze up at me and I feel myself crumble seeing her upset. Berlo notices also and nudges her with his snout making her smile, and strokes his nose.

Sighing I motion towards the thing in her hand.

“What is that?”

“Oh…nothing, it’s just something I wanted to give to you.” She softly says and hands me a gold necklace with a pendant I always see her wearing around her neck. On it is an image of a scarab beetle with some inscriptions in a language I cannot read.

“Okay…what is it?” I ask confused eyeing the ancient-looking thing.

Lusia chuckles and puts her hand on the amulet.

“It is a scarab, for good luck.”

“How does a beetle ensure good luck?”

“I grew up with stories about the ancient Egyptian gods. The scarab is connected to the God Chepri, who provides us each day with a new sun.”

She takes the pendant from me, placing it around my neck.

“So should you find yourself to be in a situation you think you cannot escape from, this amulet will give you strength to rise again. Just like the sun does every day.”

I pick up the pendant from my chest and spin it in the light of the sun.

“Powerful little thing…”

Realizing she is giving me a gift to ensure my protection, fills my body with a pleasant warmth as it makes me believe she seems to care about my life. It is a feeling I am not familiar with seeing as I mostly live to undertake dangerous things until eventually, I hope to die for a meaningful cause.

“I realize you might think it is silly…you can give it back if you want…”

“No…” I say and look into her doubting eyes. “…I really appreciate the gesture. Thank you.”

Relieved she smiles, placing her hand on top of it. Her thumb caresses my chest.

“Just make sure you wear it around your neck, close to your heart as instructed.”

I place my hand on top of hers, pressing both our hands and the pendant against my heart.

“Instructed by the Gods, or by you?”

She smiles.

“Both…at least with this I am sure you will return safely.”

Still holding her hand, I release Berlo’s reins tilting her chin with my other.

“I have something to give to you too,” I say making her look at me surprised.

Releasing every hold on her, I pull out my identity blade from a sheath on my weaponry belt. I look at it and sigh before handing it to her.

“This is a blade we all receive at our initiation. Our initials are carved into them, as a way for our bodies to be identified should we ever die in battle.”

“Then, will you not need it?” She blurts out and I stare at her amused.

“I like your confidence in my Assassin skills.”

“I did not mean it like that…” she says as her face reddens. “…but isn’t this mission dangerous?”

“Yes. But so am I.”

I grab her hand making her take the blade.

“It is owned by me, so I know it will protect you should it be necessary. Hopefully, it will not…”

She takes it, pressing it close to her chest.

“I will not go anywhere without it.”

“Good. Because I will either have to die without a name or find you to get it back…”

Gazing deep into Lusia’s eyes, I stroke a lock of hair away from her face and cup her cheek. “…and I really want it back.”

She chuckles and places her hand on top of mine. My insides tingle when she gently strokes her lips against my fingers.

Red flags keep popping up each time I look at her, but I cannot seem to keep myself from wanting her.

Brushing my fingers through her hair I slightly grab it and lean in for a kiss. Just before our lips touch, Malik trudges in yelling.

“Unless you wish to lose a limb, Assassin, I suggest you join the rest of us seeing as we should have already been gone. NOW.”

I glare at him before resting my forehead against Lusia’s, running both my hands desperately through the sides of her hair.

“I must go…” I say yet I find myself struggling to let her go. Every fiber in my body wishes to hold her, just for another minute, but this mission cannot wait any longer.

Not without effort, I let go and step back grabbing Berlo’s reins and leading him out of the stables. After mounting him I look down at Lusia and place my hand on the pendant she gave me.

“Be careful.” She says, still pressing my identity blade close to her chest.

Firmly I nod and look over at Asad, who struggles, even more, to let go of his lover. Finally, he’s able to and reluctantly mounts his horse.

Lusia immediately puts her arm around Medina trying to comfort her. Asad gives her a grateful nod, blows another kiss, and forces himself to look away.

I glance at Lusia one last time and am rewarded with a radiant smile. Never before have I left on a mission with a heart as heavy as this.

My brothers urge their horses and I follow them straight through the entrance gates towards the smoldering desert.

*****************************

After crossing the desert for about ten days, we finally arrive in Cairo. A beautiful, thriving city with streets overrun by all kinds of people.

Our horses are left in the care of merchants who run a stable by the city gate. After paying them we decide to split up in pairs. Malik and Sef will go meet up with our contact, while Asad and I explore the city.

Walking the streets for only a few minutes, Asad grunts while grabbing his stomach.

“I’m starving. Can we not eat something first?”

From my bag, I pull some leftover dry bread and hand it to him. He looks at it as if he has never seen anything like it in his life.

“…seriously?”

“We are not here to enjoy ourselves, Asad. We must complete our mission. Preferably sooner than later. Do you not agree?”

“Of course I do, but why hurry when we do not even know where to start?”

“After Sef and Malik have returned we will know more. In the meantime, you and I must prepare and get to know our way around here.”

Ignoring his objections I inspect the city as thoroughly as I can, making mental images of important hiding places and convenient short cuts.

Grumbling Asad tears a piece of bread with his teeth. His eyes widen when we arrive at the local souk.

It is a lot bigger than the one in Alamut, reaching almost as far as the eye can see. Colorful tents are set up with herbs, meats, shoes, jewels, and all other things you can think of.

Stubborn, Asad walks over to a stall where meat is being roasted, returning with a giant drumstick and his mouth full.

“Oh brother…you MUST have a taste, it’s delicious!”

Like a starving pig, he tears a huge chunk from the cob of meat then holds it out to me.

“I am good, thank you. Can we get on now?”

Feasting on his meat Asad and I cross the market. Music rings in our ears when walking up to a centered place where a crowd has gathered surrounding a group of five girls dancing for money. All of them wear different color skirts, belly’s bare, and have see-through veils covering their faces. One girl has long dark brownish hair and is dressed in red, looking exactly like Lusia the first time I ever saw her in Baghdad. Instinctively, I grab hold of the pendant she gave me.

The girl in red winks when she notices me staring, releasing me from my thoughts. Annoyed with myself, I turn to Asad.

“Let us go, brother. We need to head back to meet up with the others.”

Leaving some coins for the street dancers, Asad nods and walks after me.

At nightfall, we arrive at the inn right by the city gate, where Sef and Malik are already sat waiting inside with a jug of beer. The city is a lot different from Alamut, where at this hour most people would already be asleep. Here there is still a lot going on after the sun has set. Traders take care of their business and people just looking to dance, drink and have a good time. The music, gamblers, and other turmoil are welcome distractions while Malik informs us with the news of our contact.

“We have our location. It is a ruin located in a semi-abandoned corner, east of the city. Surely there will be some security present.”

I nod putting my cup down.

“So we must observe our location first. Getting to know what we are getting ourselves into.”

“Yes, we will take turns watching the place in pairs. Once we have found our way in we are able to free our captive brothers.”

Sef sighs sitting with his arms crossed.“Will we be able to succeed with just the four of us?”

“We are Assassins. We can do much alone, but even more so when we work together. Considering everyone does what they are told.”Malik says, pointing his last words to me.

I raise my cup to him.

“I will do what is best for my brothers. Even for you Malik…”

He nods, looking away as he sips his beer.

“…but only because I was told to do so.”

Snorting, Asad fails his attempt not to laugh and holds his hand covering his beer-filled mouth. After swallowing he clears his throat when noticing Malik’s glare on him.

“Now, now, let us keep it cozy brethren. We still have a long way to go before you can get at each other’s throats again. This is not the time.”

“Indeed…”Malik says chugging the rest of his beer down.“…let us sleep so we can leave bright and early.”

Offended he stands, followed by Sef who shares a room with him at the inn.

Chuckling, Asad gulps down his beer then slaps my shoulder before standing up.

“You heard him brother, bright and early. And seeing as you could not help yourself to taunt him, you know he will make it even earlier than that.”

Sighing I empty my own cup and walk with Asad to our shared room.

As I lay down on the semi-comfortable bed, I think about our mission. So far we have a vague location, no sense of who captured our brothers nor do we know if they are even still alive. If we wish to tread carefully, there is still much for us to be done before we can even think about returning back to Alamut.

Grabbing hold of the pendant Lusia gave to protect me, I inspect it carefully. An emptiness gauges a small hole in my chest when I think about her. It is a strange unfamiliar sensation, being on a mission with the thought of having something I wish to go back home to.

With the pendant still in hand, I close my eyes falling into a deep sleep. Lusia’s heavenly face is the last thing on my mind.

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