Challenge Two...Mature

Her hands were caressing the lush grass, as she softly mouthed the words of a romantic folk lore. The view before her eyes was breathtaking. The Tazlans rose majestically, the waves in the Yahkoob Ocean gently clashed against the cliffs, and the trees in the nearby orchard groaned under the weight of the succulent fruit that they bore. But it was the companionship of Shehzaad that made everything more glorious. Sitting beside her under the aging oak tree, he was sketching something on a yellowing parchment with a block of charcoal. He never allowed her to see his creations before he had completed them, and was very finicky about that. Just to tease him, she always made a big show of peeping towards his parchment.

Mehzil and Shehzaad were in love. It had been nearly a decade since Mehzil had first thrown an apple at Shehzaad in the middle of the common market. Not having known his identity, she had struck him on his shoulder when he had accidentally bumped into her. Since then they had been the closest of friends and had gradually become enamored by one another. 

But they had kept their blossoming love as far away from the eyes of their families as they could. Mehzils' father was the leader of the Zehmra clan, and Shehzaad's grandfather was the Overlord of Parzenia, the land of a hundred clans and also the Warlord of the Sorcerers. They knew that if Shehzaad's grandfather got wind of what was brewing between them, he'd immediately decree that Mehzil's clan vacate their pastures, and relinquish their castle and the privileges of being a part of Parzenia.

So, on this divine summer's day, they sat together as they always did, near the Lapchka Forest. The birds were chirping, the sun blazing down upon their napes, as a gentle breeze alleviated the warmth of the day. Suddenly, Peeran, Shehzaad's brother came running into the woods as if a thousand devils were chasing him.

"Shehzaad. Pasha is looking for you. He says that the palace guards saw you leave with Beeran's daughter and head into the woods. They are going to tell Grandfather."

Jolted from his position and upending his parchment, Shehzaad rushed towards his brother and made him repeat every word of what he had just said. Shocked and scared, he took hold of Mehzil's hand and pulled her towards himself. He kissed her on her forehead and pushed her away.

"You have to leave Mehzil. You don't know about Grandfather's wrath. He will be furious when he comes to know about us. Leave for your castle, Mehzil, and warn your clan of the impending doom."

"But Shehzaad...."

"No, my angel. You have to leave." Taking off the ring stamped with his family' coat of arms, he pressed it into Mehzil's palm. "Take this before you go. This will be a token of my commitment to you, and a reminder that I will return for you if tragedy befalls us today. But you have to hurry. Just go"

Mehzil's tears ran down her cheeks as she clutched the ring to her heart and then flew into Shehzaad's arms.

"Talk to him Shehzaad. It's not going to be as bad as you think. God willing, everything will be favorable. Just come for me as soon as you can. I will wait for you."

Giving her a last glance, Shehzaad bounded in the direction of the palace with Peeran following him. Reaching the palace, he headed straight to the Royal Chambers, and seeing the door ajar, stepped beyond the threshold without waiting for permission to enter.

His grandfather was standing beside the ornate fireplace which was ominously emitting smoke, as if the embers had just been doused with cold water. He seemed to be in deep thought, as he did not acknowledge his grandson's presence. Shehzaad walked hesitantly to where he stood, and mentally decided on his course of action.

Standing behind his grandfather, Shehzaad cleared his throat to signal his arrival in the room. "Grandfather, is something wrong? Your presence is amiss in the Throne Room."

Ozil turned to face his eldest grandson with a solemn expression. "Is there something that you want to tell me Shehzaad?"

"No...I...No Sir."

"Then it seems that the palace guards are no better than gossiping housewives. Coming to me with false, disgraceful rumors about you. They have some stern lessons to learn. Summon Pasha. Tell him to bring the guards before me."

Shehzaad stood transfixed to the spot, unable to move a muscle. Maybe it was time for the truth to unfold. He knelt before the elderly man on one knee, and said to him, "Sir, I have something to tell you. Something of utmost import for me and also for our family. Do I have your permission?"

An angry grimace marred Ozil's face but in a soft tone, he said, "Yes, my son. You do."

"I am in love, Sir."

Saying that, Shehzaad stopped and looked up towards his grandfather. His aristocratic features were now twisted in anguish and his eyes blazed like a thousand suns.

"Then they were correct. My own child has betrayed my trust. It is Beeran's daughter, isn't it?"

"Yes, but...."

"Enough!" Recomposing his expression, Ozil turned back towards the fireplace, his fingers emitting red sparks, and his back rod-straight.

"I will have none of this disgrace. I will not tolerate such insubordination from my own family. Beeran will have to suffer for this. I will not allow his daughter to bring shame upon our name." The harsh words were said in such a cold manner that Shehzaad visibly flinched on hearing them. 

"Grandfather, please. Hear me out. I..."

He was silenced by the raised hand of Ozil, which burned red. The veins in his wrist were throbbing, and the muscles of his forearm were corded and taut. 

"I will wreck their land. Make them starve for even a single drop of water. They will see all that they have lost but will not be able to regain it. I will make them rue the damned day the girl was born."

Plunging his reddened hand inside the hissing embers of the fireplace, Ozil began to chant something in the language of the ancient texts of Parzenia. An incantation so horrifying that it hadn't been uttered in the eons-old history of this glorious land. The embers burst into crimson flames and the palace walls began to tremble. Shehzaad was thrown off balance on the carpet, and the ground underneath him began shaking violently.

The entire land of Parzenia felt the tremors of the spell. Unaware of the happenings inside the palace, the people began rushing for cover. There was uproar in the markets, and angst in the households. Women called out for their children to come inside. The very land underneath their feet began to crackle and shudder. 

But the brunt of the overlord's anger was worst felt in Dahroob. On the other side of the Lapchka Forest, the Zemrah clan sat huddled together in the castle grounds, as they saw the ocean lurch towards their pastures, devouring their crops and sweeping away their cattle in its ferocious belligerence. The skies were speckless and clear, in complete contrast to the ravaging land and water.

The trembling was so violent that the earth had to lay open her bosom and relent to the unforgiving onslaught. The cracks in the surface widened, swallowing entire houses and kilns. The lashing winds clashed against the proud trees and wiped off their very existence. Even the mighty Tazlans cowered and shook in despair. Their snow crowns were dislodged and a thick puff of white could be seen near their summits.

The plains of Dahroob cracked open and the fissures expanded under the pressure of the roiling land. The green pastures were transformed into barren terrain. The screaming cries of the women and children seemed to echo over and above the sounds of the shuddering, spitting land. 

And just as suddenly as it had begun, the trembling ceased.

From the newly created chasms around the Dahroob territory, there arose a blindingly-white facade. It appeared to the eyes of the awed people to be a glass or crystal enclosure of sorts. It rose higher and higher until it seemed to reach the very heart of the heavens. The land was split into two. Dahroob was isolated from Parzenia.

But the people could not fathom the implications just yet. Some bemoaned the loss of their livelihood, while others frantically searched for their loved ones. A child gone missing, a husband not back from the fields, a mother still in the marketplace.

There was bedlam everywhere the eye could see. The pride of the land, the Zehmra Castle looked to be swinging from its hinges. The entire east wing of the castle was gutted, the grounds ripped open, and the stables and sheds torn apart. The stone wall appeared to have been cracked beyond repair, and in places the inside of the castle was plainly visible. 

However, this was not the end of the misery of the Zehmras. The worst was not yet known to the people. Beeran and his wife, Mumrat, were dead. 

Mehzil sat dazed and silent at the base of the stairwell where her parents lay lifelessly. Her brother, Mehmat stood beside her, his head in his hands, disbelief etched across his handsome features. His eyes showed his agony and his lips uttered not a single syllable. He crouched before Mehzil and lay a hand on her shoulder, as if to shake her out of her stupefaction.

"Mehzil. Mehzil." His voice was cracked and his words choked up by his despair. Seeing his sister in this condition, and his parents without a breathe in their bodies, Mehmat was unable to speak properly. Again he called out to his sister, willing her to cry or to address him. He just wanted to erase the vacant, haunted look from her eyes.

And then she looked into his eyes and whispered, "I killed them Mehmat. I killed them."


The End

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