I have another story excerpt for you. First, though, congratulations are in order: our patron Tobias is now a married man. I hope matrimony brings him infinite joys and doesn’t distract him too much from his writing ;). As writers we hope to find understanding partners who will tolerate our erratic behaviour and our unique strain of artistic madness, but I have always found that my writing is at it’s most prolific when my romantic life is at it’s least eventful. I am sure, however, that Tobias and Alayna will be able to find a suitable compromise – and I wish them all the happiness in the world.
To celebrate the occasion, this week’s story is actually a response to the scene challenge that Selayna set for you earlier in the week. Read on for my own personal take on the theme of “a wedding gone wrong”…
Farashak, the-fulfiller-of-wishes, was an understanding god. This was written in the Tasperad, the sacred book, and everything in the Tasperad was true, so Esfad believed it without question.
Even so, Esfad had feared that Farashak would not be very understanding about his daughter’s wedding. A boy named Jawed from the city – an underfed scribe, apprenticed to a rug merchant – had made Sasra very sensible of his affections for her, and she had accepted his suit. Which was all fine and good, as far as Esfad was concerned, apart from the fact that Jawed was one of the sun worshippers, and his family expected a wedding which their Sun God would smile upon.
Sasra had said that she didn’t mind what kind of wedding she had as long as it still meant that she could live in the city afterwards without being called a loose woman. Esfad had protested, knowing that his own parents would have forbidden such a thing. But Nira, his wife, had reminded him that he was not his parents. He knew that he lived in changing times. The sun worshippers didn’t burn copies of the Tasperad anymore. They let simple herdsmen like him worship Farashak in peace. Why shouldn’t Sasra marry one of them? He had finally relented, and now there they were. In the desert, near on oasis. Perched on benches beneath a huge red tent, with Sasra’s tribe sitting on one side and Jawad’s family on the other. There was no ill-feeling between them. Earlier that day, Esfad himself had joined all the men from both families in the sun worshippers’ ritual of hammering the tent-posts into the sand, and they had all bathed happily together afterwards. All was smiles. Sasra and Jawed stood in the centre, with the sun cleric towering over them and speaking of doom. Despite the strange ceremony, Esfad was gripping Nira’s hand tightly in his, and welling up with pride. Sasra looked more beautiful than even he could have imagined.
The dowry, of course, had helped to ease his conscience. Esfad was sure that Farashak himself – lord of tricks – would be shrewd enough to let his own daughter marry an unbeliever, if he stood a chance of gaining sixty cows from it. Esfad was so happy for his daughter that he feared he might weep, but part of him was itching for the ceremony to end, so that he might go and check the hooves of his new heifers without causing offense. Thankfully the cleric was coming to the end of his long diatribe against worldly sin, and reaching the part of the ritual where the lovers would proclaim their vows. Esfad settled his thoughts and began listening again to what the cleric was saying.
“Sasra and Jawed stand here clothed in the trappings of wife and husband, but they stand naked in judgement before the all-pervading gaze of the Sun God! Who can see through all vestments! All disguises! All untruths!”
Esfad pursed his lips. From all that he had heard the cleric say, he did not much like the sound of this severe, all-knowing Sun God. Esfad much preferred Farashak, who enjoyed wine, played cunning tricks, and couldn’t see through Sasra’s vestments. Or if he could, it did not say so in the Tasperad.
“This so being,” the cleric continued, with fire in his voice, “if there is deceit or hesitation in their hearts when they speak their vows, the Sun God will see it clearly, and in his ire will strike them down instantly with righteous fury!”
Esfad could not help but see that his daughter’s choice of husband seemed suddenly quite frightened by the cleric’s words. Sasra reached oud to hold the man’s hand.
“But before this, if any of the Sun God’s children have reason that Sasra and Jawed should not be bound in union, let them speak. And if there is malice in their heart, let the Sun God strike them down with even greater fury!”
“I have reason,” said a voice.
Gasps filled the tent, and all heads turned towards the back of the crowd. Esfad flew to his feet and stared back over the rows of guests, scouring them to find the voice’s owner. Nira tugged at his arm to pull him back down, but he stood as firm as a tree.
The man who had spoken was old and frail, wearing dirty rags, and hunched over a staff that was a foot too small for him. At any other time Esfad would not have wished any harm upon a crippled old stranger, but this crippled old stranger had a mocking smile on his face that made coals of anger glower in Esfad’s belly. He felt the strong urge to bury his fist in that face.
“What reason?” Esfad spat.
“Don’t get angry, Esfad,” Nira said.
“Sasra is one of mine,” the old man said, calmly.
Esfad looked to his daughter. She looked back at him from beneath her veil with baffled amusement in her eyes, as if she thought this was a bad joke and she was waiting for it to become funny. Jawed stood beside her looking feeble, like a startled lamb. It was clear to Esfad that neither of them knew the old man.
“How, one of yours?” Esfand replied, struggling against Nira’s iron grasp.
“It is simple,” said the man, calmly. “Sasra was beholden to me in her birth rites. She cannot be given away without my blessing.”
At this fresh outrage Esfad tore himself free of his wife’s grip and strode over to the old stranger. “Sasra was beholden to Farashak in her birth rites, and Farashak alone!” he yelled, “No-one else!”
“Esfad, please!” Nira pleaded, leaving her seat.
Esfad talked over her. “She was never beholden to some mad old hermit,” he growled, coming close to the old man. He wanted to shove the frail stranger to the ground, and break his staff over his knee, but he feared that the shock might kill the man. “Be gone,” he said, instead. “She is not beholden to you. Unless you want to tell me that you are Farashak?”
The old man renewed his thin smile, and the anger drained from Esfad’s face. He noticed with dawning horror that the old man had different-coloured eyes, one fiery green and one deepest indigo. Just as was described in the Tasperad.
Esfad threw himself down in the sand, kissed the old man’s sandals, and begged for forgiveness. Farashak, the-fulfiller-of-wishes, laughed with delight, and mused over whether he should grant this particular request…