No matter where he looked, there was nothing to see but an endless ocean of glittering, golden hills. The rays of the sun streamed down upon the desert, having no mercy for any living being.
As soon as the words crossed his dry, cracked lips, they immediately scattered in the desert wind, the same wind that cruelly scratched his skin with its millions of sand grains.
Hot, so hot…
“Somebody help me, please..!”
He desperately clutched the body of the girl he had followed into the desert, whose spirit had already left her body.
“Brother!” a faraway voice sounded.
He wanted to answer, but the pain grew stronger and stronger, until there was nothing but its white-hot existence.
“Help me!” he screamed, squeezing his eyes shut, desperate to get rid of the scorching heat. “I’m on fire! Help me, please!”
The wind embraced him. He thrashed around, but it wouldn’t let him go.
“Wake up, my love!”
He opened his eyes. The embrace of the wind became two soft, gentle arms cradling him. The heat of the desert became the cool air of his bedroom at night. The face that had been a stranger’s moments ago became that of his beloved mother.
“You were having a nightmare,” she said, smiling gently. “Padusha tried to wake you, but you were far gone.”
His brother stood at the end of his bed, staring at him with big eyes.
“It wasn’t… real?” he breathed.
His mother shook her head.
“It seemed so real. The heat, the pain…”
“What were you dreaming about?” she asked.
“I was out in the desert,” he whispered, barely able to hold back his tears. “I was lost, yet I could hear Padusha calling out my name, but I couldn’t answer him because I was on fire and… and..!”
Tears were streaming down his cheeks now. His mother hugged him close.
“It was only a nightmare, my love,” she said softly, in that special way only she could to calm him. “You’re safe now.”
She held him in her arms until his shoulders stopped shaking. Then, she reached into her pocket and took out a flower.
“This flower only grows in the oasis of Esfaan,” she said. “If you can smell its scent, it means you’re home and that you’re safe.”
She held the flower in front of him, so he could smell it. It smelled of early mornings in the oasis and of his mother’s hair. She then carefully put the flower on the night stand beside the boy’s bed and rose to her feet.
“Will you be able to sleep now?”
She smiled and nudged Padusha towards the door.
“Good night, my love,” she said as she opened it. “Nothing will ever hurt you. I will always keep you safe, my sweet Esfandiyar, prince of Esfaan.”
Queen Amu Darya quietly closed the door and after another deep breath to take in the flower’s scent, Esfandiyar fell asleep, safe and happy.