A bird turns to ash
She was suffocating. It was pressing in all around her. It filled every nook and every cranny in the two-room house. It flowed and rolled and swelled pushing at her and tugging at her brain. Gasping, the young girl, no more then ten, sat up from her mat. Her arm reflectively reaching out to swipe the bad omen away. But she couldn’t as you cannot swipe away something that is not there. She blinked sleep from here eyes. As she did when she was asleep, she could feel the presence all around her. She threw off her blanket and stood, looking around.
It was quiet. She had never heard such quite before. It was loud as it was silent. It was stifling as it was distant. It was not right. There was no whisper of fabric, no hollow cling of their wooden bowls. There was no sweet hum coming from her mother, but then again there had not been many moments the past few months for sweet humming.
The buzzing sound from the market came through the shutters in her room. Stepping around the basket of herbs and produce that also called her room their own, her bare feet made soft patting sounds on the exotic colored rugs her mother had made herself.
Stepping past their little kitchen the young girl stopped at the sight of a bundle of fabric on another mat. Giving a little yelp, she ran and dropped in front of the prone figure. She reached out a shaking hand and turned the figure over. Tears welled in her eyes. Her mother lay cold and prone.
But still breathing- barely.
“Mother,” the girl whimpered, stroking her mother’s hair. It still felt a soft as cotton.
“My darling daughter.” Her mother coughed, “hush now. It will be ok.”
“Let me go get a doctor, Yuma,” the girl started to stand. She started to look around their humble home. They had no fancy rugs, no family heirlooms cast in gold, no jewelry. They had just used the last of their money her mother had received from selling her weavings. She could sell their food. They were on their last of their provisions. Soon they would be out.
“No, my flower.” Her mother, Abiha, said. “There is nothing a doctor could do for me now. I accept my fate. We knew this was coming.” She stroked her daughter’s cheek.
“I am not ready. Please don’t leave, Yuma. Please, I need you.” Tears started to fall down her browned cheeks. She wanted to be strong. She had been strong for so long. She begged her god to spare her mother. She tried to be good.
“Now I need to tell you something, I do not have long.” Abiha coughed.
Her daughter stood and fetched her a bucket of water. Lifting the ladle, she gently lifted her mother head and trickled some water into her mouth.
“You should save- “
No!” Her mother shouted taking her by surprise. She gripped her daughter’s hand and looked her in the eye. Blue looked at green. “I need to tell you this. I’ve kept it in my heart for way too long. I need to know you will be ok once I am gone. You need to know the truth. Your father- “
“My father?” Alaria furrowed her brows. She shook her head. She knew little of her father. She knew only she had her father’s black hair and same blue eyes. When she would try to ask her mother, she would still and her eyes would like distant. She would then shake her head and turn away. It was always the same that soon Alaria just stopped asking. She always kept her curiously but knew it may never come to bare fruit.
“You must understand I only wanted to protect you. If anyone was to find out...” she trailed off.
“What Yuma?” Alaria asked moving forward. “Why would I need protection?”
Her mother sat up. Pain flashing in her eyes. She cursed as her nose started to bleed crimson. She stood on wobbly legs and put her hand on the wall to steady herself. Alaria knew her mother was sick. She had known for months. She had seen the changed, but at this moment, with her mother swaying and knowing the end was close she could see the total impact the sickness has had on her.
The fever came fast, robbing Abiha of her strength. From a strong woman to thin as a child, shaking and pale, the transformation couldn't have been any crueler. The sickness showed no sign of shifting, no hint of lifting.
“They are coming! You must go. You must hide.” Her mother said with a frightened tone.
Alaria had never heard her mother frighten before. Not when she found the lump on her side. Not when she found another bump on her neck. Never in her ten years.
“Who is coming?” she asked as her mother ushered her to their back door that led out behind their house and down the alley. She caught her mother by the arm as she stumbled.
“There is no time for answers. I wish we had more time. I don’t know how they found us. I knew they were here. I knew they were looking. I was so careful. If they find you...” she hauled the door open and Alaria could here now what her mother must had heard. Shouting from men with rough voices and commotion in the street.
“Let me stay with you. If they are going to do something to me,” she paused, “They will do something to you. Come with me.”
Her mother pulled her to her chest hugging her tight, her voice rough with emotion, “ I told you my darling girl my time is here. I knew it. I am ready for it. I would only slow you down. This way I can give you your best chance. I am only sorry I could not be there to see you grow into the women you are. One day you will know the truth of your father and of yourself. When that times comes, I hope you can forgive me.”
“I forgive you.” Alaria sobbed not wanting to let go, “I always will. But I don’t understand.”
The sound of the men was getting closer. She could smell smoke.
Her mother gave her a shove out the door, “Go! They are coming. Run and don’t look back. I will always be with you. “
Alaria stumbled into the street and watched as her mother slammed the door. One could not even tell there was a door unless one looked closely. She heard her mother pushing baskets across the door to block the door. She knew her mother said to run. She knew she should run and hide, but her feet would not obey. Crouching low, she shuffled stepped to the window and peered in.
She watched her front door fly open and wood splinter as the door hit the wall with a force. She watched a trio of men fill the doorway. Their shadows hulking and big. Behind them she could see the flicker of orange and see grey smoke wafting into the house. She took in their weapons they gripped in their hands. She stared at the blood dripping from them.
There was stillness on both sides. If hatred was visible the air would have been scarlet. Then suddenly movement, her mother was knocked to the ground. Alaria put a hand over her mouth the keep from screaming. Her other hand gripped her shift tightly. The brute in the middle who had swung at her mother smiled. His teeth were crooked and yellow in color. He was middle aged and was bigger then his brother in arms. Scars like veins crossed his face making his left eye swollen shut. He stepped closer.
“You know we would find you it was only a matter of time. Did you really thing you could hide from him, dearie?”
Abiha spit blood and pushed herself to her feet. Her left cheek already pulled in from the sickness was turning purple. She forced her back straight and stood tall.
“I did not think anything.”
“You know why we are here. Now hand the child over.”
Alaria blinked. Her. They wanted her. But why?
“There is no child. I lost it at birth and buried in the sands.”
The man bought his sword up and leveled it at her chest,” sources say otherwise. We are ordered to bring the child with us and deliver her to the sire. We were told to kill you.
“You will not find my child. You may search the whole city. You may tear down every wall, but you will not find my child. She is too much of her father. If he was still alive and he knew of this he would have your heads. Do what you will.”
The man laughed a cruel laugh, “Tell me for I always wondered how a whore like you caught the eyes of a man like that. I heard he left you waiting on the street a child in your womb. How he sat telling his men how an easy conquest you were. If he cared for you do you really think he would have left you here in the slums?”
“He knew of his child. He did not leave me to cross the desert myself. He loved me. He would have come. I know it. His father must have found out. He must have trapped him. Same as how his father sent you men to take my child now.”
“But that’s where you are wrong, eahira,” he spat the slang for a working woman. “it was him who sent us. It was your love who sent us to get the child. It was your man who told us to kill you.”
The man lifted something from his pocket and tossed in on the floor It was a pouch made from leather with a serpent on the lip. “is this not his signal?”
Her mother did not move but her pallor went white. “It must be a ploy...”
Alaria gasped and her foot knocked over a vase on her foot. The guard pulled up short. “What was that?”
He signaled the man on his left, a thin man with a mustache, “Check on that. It may be the child.”
Before he could move, Abiha reached the broom behind her and swung connecting with the sting bean. He staggered back shock on his face. The heavy man raised his sword and used the handle to knock Abiha down.
“If you’re watching child prepare to see your mother die. We will find you. You won’t be able to hide. Where will a child as young as you go? How will you survive?”
Abiha met the man’s eyes and smiled, “I have hope. She will survive. You will not have her. I believe her father to be the man I know. He will honor my death. He is not the one who ordered this. He loved me. I know it! He will not let his child become a pawn in your kingdom’s games!”
With that Alaria watch the sword fall and her mother’s head fall. She reeled back. Her vision coming narrow. She clutched her chest. Not knowing if she wanted to cry or yell. She spied one of her old daggers her mother had trained her with. Telling her a lady must always know how to fight. She could face the men in there. She could avenge her mother.
No. She could not. Not now anyway. She needed to heed her mother’s final wish and run. Latter she would avenge her mother. She would figure out why her father sent men to kill her when her mother seemed so sure it was a trick. She would figure this puzzle out a piece at a time, but first she needed to survive.
“I’m sorry mother.” She started to run. She ran and ran not stopping. She slipped into the bazaar and halted. Bodies lined the street. Smoke came from the market stalls and fire crackled in the distance on the bastion. All these people dead because of her.
“Girl!” she looked behind her to see the man who killed her mother.
Wide eyed she turned and begun to run again. Using her small size to duck and weave between the stalls.
The heaven opened and rain started to pour making it grey with fog and smoke.
That was the last anyone saw a young innocent slip of a girl with tears on her face and fire in her eyes. She had been transferred like a phoenix reborn. Her only mission now to avenge her fallen mother.