Chapter Three: The Garden of Lusts
I watch the first rays of sunlight shine through my window. Those emerald eyes kept me up all night, thinking. About whose they are or what they could mean, but I have absolutely no idea. Maybe it’s just the aftermath of not getting enough sleep and those eyes mean absolutely nothing. If that is the case there is no better way to forget them by starting my day with an early training session.
Before getting dressed I freshen myself up with a cloth and a bowl of water set on my desk. I put on black pants, a grey robe with a hood, and brown boots. Lastly, I strap on my leather armor around my wrists and waist. After putting my variety of weapons in place I pull up my hood and head out to the arena.
Under a pleasant morning sun, I walk the grounds towards a giant sand-studded ring, framed with a jet black steel rim. Surrounding the ring are tribunes carved in white stone. This ancient arena is the center-fold of our training to become full-fledged Assassins.
Our basic training consists of all types of combat. The first one is fighting with bare hands. After that, we get to try out as many weapons as we want until we decide which ones we prefer. Personally, I always felt most comfortable swinging a sword and a simple dagger. Very direct weapons, with plenty of room for variation.
Walking up towards the arena I notice our Master is already present. He stands on the outside of the ring looking in, which can only mean one thing. New recruits. I take a seat on the stands and observe.
Two trainees are fighting each other in the ring. One of them clearly has the upper hand. He grins as he taunts his opponent whom he just knocked down to the ground. The young boy trembles in the sand, unarmed, and backed up against the rim.
From what I saw I admit the victor has potential. But arrogance seems to be his biggest problem. Fortunately, Al Beri noticed this also. His stern voice echoes through the sky.
The arrogant boy casually lowers his sword and looks up clearly satisfied. His smile quickly fades when he sees the gruff look on Al Beri’s face.
“Tell me boy, have you ever fought someone you considered an equal?”
“I will defeat anyone who dares fight me, Master.”
Al Beri nods. “Then you won’t mind if I’d choose another opponent?”
“I’d like nothing more Master.”
Immediately, he turns to me.
“Diran. Please show new recruit Sef, how a real Assassin fights.”
I nod before getting up to enter the arena. Teaching self-righteous little brats a lesson is just one of those things I can never refuse.
A sly smile spreads across Sef’s face. Before I can take out my sword he runs towards me, roaring as he does. I catch his strike just in time and knock his weapon out of his hand with one twirling motion. Stunned, he pulls a dagger from his belt and cautiously steps in a circle around me.
When he thinks he’s out of my sight he attacks from behind. I clamp his arm under my armpit, knock the dagger out of his hand and lash out, elbowing him in the face. He staggers and looks at me, wiping blood dripping from his nose. Careless he charges at me pulling a short blade. Without effort I grab his wrist and extend my leg, making him trip over it. When he’s down I twist his arm behind his back and press my own blade against his throat. His blade drops and he surrenders.
I let him go abruptly and he remains, exhausted with his face in the sand. Al Beri nods at me and smiles.
“Never underestimate your opponent, and choose efficiency above strength. As Diran just demonstrated very well.”
Stepping out of the arena I hear laughter behind me. I turn to see Asad, one of my Assassins brothers, walking up.
“Haha, you sure put that arrogant little brat in his place. Let’s celebrate!′
I smile and pat him firmly on his shoulder. “Good to see you too brother. But actually, I was going to...”
“...train, to get those sagging muscles back in shape I bet,” he says and pats my chest. “C’mon brother. I haven’t even seen you since you got back. You can’t spare a second of your time for your best friend? I’m insulted.”
“A second is never a second with you, brother.”
He pauses then shrugs and laughs. “True, but you should also know better than to argue with me. So c’mon, let’s go.”
I sigh and quickly grab hold of him, pulling him down into a tight headlock.
“Is it so hard for you to fear me just a little bit?”
Asad laughs and squirms trying to pull himself away from my grip. “Never!”
After wrestling a bit I let him go. He stands in front of me poking his finger in my chest.
“I see right through you, brother. Deep down you’re the biggest softy I know.”
I smile at him, amused by his sense of humor. Asad is the one person that keeps me on my toes, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
He clenches his arm around my neck and smiles.
“Glad to have you back safely brother,” he says, then drags me along with him, towards The Garden.
Walking through the large hallway of the fortress we reach a glass door that leads to our garden. As we enter, two beautiful young girls dressed in white offer us each a golden cup. The cups contain a mixture of red wine, opium, and hash. This drink will eliminate our inhibitions should it be necessary or wanting.
Asad accepts and gulps it down, as usual. He likes to imagine himself walking on air. I on the other hand refuse, seeing as I rather know exactly what goes on around me.
The Garden itself is a true paradise with bright green grass. Centered in the middle lies a giant oval-shaped pool with pure water. All around are orchards with dangling fruits like juicy apples and pears. Also fresh figs, dates, and even mangoes and other fruits that do not usually grow here.
Several rivers meander across the terrain between the trees, but none of them filled with water. There’s a flowing river of honey, even one of milk, and a waterfall of red wine.
In addition to a beautiful landscape, The Garden also provides us with a fair amount of beautiful girls. They are meant to entertain us with singing and dancing, but also fulfill all of our other needs. Whether emotional, spiritual, or physical.
As I look around I see Lorena on the other side of the garden talking to a, very interested, young Assassin. Asad catches me looking and grins.
“Seeing as she is the only girl here that meets your standards, you better be quick before that kid takes her away first.”
“Lorena has already been with me last night.”
Asad looks at me incomprehensibly. “So you can’t enjoy her for another night?”
I laugh as he shakes his head in disbelief.
Dragging in the smell of fresh air, Asad looks around eyeing the scantily dressed girls walking all around us. He loves this but I do not as much. The girls here are very popular and go with every man who asks for it. For me, Lorena is the only exception, but one to tread lightly with seeing as she’s developed romantic feelings towards me which I do not return.
“How was Bagdad? Was your mission successful?” he asks.
“It was,” I say, and for a vast second my mind wanders thinking about Lusia. The girl I brought to Hakim for aid.
Sometimes I forget just how well Asad knows me. He likes to pry until I tell him everything he wants to know. Which I usually end up doing.
“Ramza was there.”
Asad looks at me stunned.
“I wanted to kill him, but I couldn’t. Right before he came barging in I saved this girl and needed to get her to safety. So I had to leave it...”
“That’s...surprising. But it’s good you did brother. One thoughtless attack on Ramza could’ve killed you.”
I shrug. “So?”
Asad punches my shoulder with anger written on his face.
“He dies, you live. We’ve agreed. We kill him together.”
My brother is right. I did make him that promise. But honestly, I don’t care what happens to me. As long as Ramza takes his final breath.
“I’m sorry brother. You’re right.”
I see the doubt in his eyes, but then his look changes and shifts towards something going on behind me.
Glancing over my shoulder I see a group of young Assassins strutting towards me. All of them are new recruits, led by the arrogant boy from this morning, Sef.
Curious about what they want I turn around and face them. Sef abruptly stops before me and I observe the situation. Each new recruit has their hands clenched into fists and look expectantly at their leader. I straighten my shoulders and see Sef immediately growing a little smaller. Still, he makes the mistake of opening his mouth.
“You made me look like a fool. But now I’m an Assassin too.”
He says it like it gives him permission to challenge me, but on the contrary.
I remain motionless as I watch each movement made by him and the rest of his crew.
“I am not intimidated by you,” he says, but a shudder in his voice proves otherwise. He’s arrogant and too stubborn to walk away from a situation that could clearly get him in trouble. I admit he has guts, but at the same time, he’s also pretty stupid.
“Any form of aggression inside the garden is forbidden, boy. So I advise you to be smart here.”
Sef laughs and turns to his friends. “See? I told you he’d be scared.” He speaks loudly making some of my colleagues turn around and watch. This is exactly what he wants. To make me look bad in front of my brothers.
“I’m offering you one more chance to walk away. For your own good.”
As I turn my back I see Sef lashing out. In response, I grab his fist with one hand and squeeze just hard enough to make his knuckles crack. He winces and tries to pull back but I have him stuck in a tight grip. I let loose when I hear a stern voice calling out.
“What goes on there?!”
It’s Malik, our Master’s right hand, and therefore higher in rank than any of us. He walks up and looks from me to Sef who is still rubbing his painful hand.
“I am sure both of you are well-informed with the rules of The Garden. NO aggression allowed. Even a rat can remember that with its tiny little brain.”
“Yes, I know,” Sef says with arrogance, and that’s his next mistake. Malik pulls a dagger from his belt, pressing the blade against his throat.
“Stop it, Malik,” I say and take a step closer. “You’ve said it yourself, no aggression.”
Malik doesn’t appreciate my interference and turns to me. “Know your place Assassin.”
“I’m just reminding you of the rules. The Master would want you to give the proper example which right now you are....well, not.”
Without breaking eye contact, Malik puts his dagger back into its sheath. He takes one last look at us before leaving the garden. I turn to Sef who seems embarrassed.
“Thank you... That man is crazy.”
I take a minute to look at him and see his arrogance suddenly fade. It’s a façade, which he feels he needs to put up for some unknown reason.
“If you want to fight, take it up with me in the arena,” I say.
Sef sighs deeply and I could swear I see a glimpse of fear in his eyes. That means he’s getting smarter, so I decide to reach out my hand to him.
“But if you want to learn, I am willing to help you.”
Confused, he looks at me and hesitates before shaking my hand. There is no point in us begin divided. Together we can achieve much more.
After talking to Sef for a while, Asad and I decide to take him under our wings. To guide him to be the best Assassin he can be and hopefully become a great asset to our Brotherhood.
Asad turns to me when Sef leaves to hang out with his friends.
“Great...now we’re taking care of a little boy.”
“It’s okay. I’ve been doing that ever since you came into the Brotherhood.” I say and nudge him with my elbow.
Asad raises his eyebrows. “You were, and still are, just one year older than me you know.”
His response makes me laugh. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Malik hurrying back towards me.
“Diran, prepare for a new mission.”