The waves at the Pandatric Beach were mellow and benign, barely making any impact on the ragged rocks that stood sentinel against the havoc that could be wrecked any instant. The sun was a weakened force in the evening sky, and some stars were pushing through the hazy clouds to stake their place on the horizon.
Shehzaad sat at the edge of the water, feeding shells and pebbles to the docile waves. He seemed lost and his eyes were glazed over, as if he were recalling a past event. It had been almost a week since he had met with the Royal Oracle, but the memory of the meeting was still as vivid in his mind as if it were yesterday.
She had sent him the summons a long time back, but Shehzaad had found himself incapable of facing her then. The pain of separation and longing had blinded him against all and sundry, and he had cut off all roads that led to any past acquaintance.
The oracle, Sheiba, or Ilahi Bi, as Shehzaad fondly called her, had been an unwavering supporter of his love for Mehzil. She was the one who had foreseen his fascination for her before he had even met her. In spite of the tragedy that had unfolded five and forty decades ago, Sheiba had been confident that his love would blossom into one of the greatest fables of their times. But Shehzaad no longer believed her. The pain inside his chest had reached a crescendo, and his tears had all but dried out. He could not bear to look into Sheiba's calm gaze and be lulled into a false sense of hope.
But something inside him had prodded him to visit Sheiba a week ago. Once inside her dilapidated shack, abounding with her crystal balls, miracle powders, intoxicating potions, and fortune-revealing cards, Shehzaad had felt suffocated and trapped by the incense and balms. He had rushed out into the chilling air of the Tazlans and had stayed there until he felt a hand grip his shoulder.
"I know it still pains, my son. But there will be an end to this tragedy. A happy end."
Shehzaad turned at the sound of the soothing words and knelt on his knees before the ancient-looking woman. He sobbed into his palms, not ashamed to express his pain before her. It had been too long since he had allowed his tears to flow freely, but now he could not stop them.
"Hush, my boy. This pain is not a stranger to you. Accept it. Embrace it. It will only make you stronger." Her words, though softly spoken, held such power that Shehzaad locked his gaze with hers and willed his tears to cease.
Having unburdened himself, he held a hand out to the woman before him and led her to a large rock near her home. He helped her seat herself atop the rock and then sat at her feet, his hands clasped together in his lap.
"You haven't said a word since you have arrived, but I know that you must be wondering why I summoned you here. Yes, I could have easily come to the Royal Palace but I thought it prudent to shield this meeting from the probing gaze of your grandfather."
"I understand your concern, Ilahi Bi, and I am grateful that you always give me precedence over Ozil."
"So, you still continue to address your grandfather by his given name. I may accept your rage as a necessary means for strengthening your character, but your grandfather does not concur with my opinion. You have to stop disrespecting him in this manner, Shehzaad. You were taught better than this."
Seeing her serious expression, Shehzaad pursed his lips and bent his head down.
"So, why did you call me here, Ilahi Bi?"
"I have a story to tell you. A prophecy, really. I saw a vision several moons back, but I was only recently able to fathom the meaning of it all. When I did understand what the spirits were telling me, I thought it appropriate to let you know. Without knowledge of what I am about to say, you shall be lost. No one shall suffer more than you, and of course, your family. So it is best that you hear me out."
"No, boy. Not now. I know that you have lost faith in the ancient powers of the spirits, and in my abilities to prophecy. But I beseech you to hear me out before you close your mind to the endless possibilities of this universe. Remember your younger self, the one who held such admiration for the occult. Just listen to my story and do not interrupt."
Having given her orders, Sheiba pulled back her feet and sat cross-legged on the rock, as if readying herself for meditation. She placed her palms, facing skywards, on her thighs and closed her eyes.
"I know that you are aware of the history of our glorious land of Parzenia, but before I disclose my dream to you, I would like you to listen to this tale once again. It is one that you have been told countless times, but I think that when you hear it from me, it shall have new meaning for you.
A million suns in the past, there was no order in our lands. Several tribes and a myriad of clans inhabited these parts. The Tazlans were home to the Hamood and Sheejan tribes, and the Nahzan Plateau was teaming with a dozen humble clans. There was no rift between the natives, but they seldom interacted with one another.
Some decades later, there came a thick cloud of dust from the East, welcoming in its wake, the Zehmras, the Lochans, the Patakas, and the Casbans. They were nomads, with no place to call home. They brought with them domesticated cattle, sheep, goats and horses, which was a novel concept for the natives. They were also very laborious and worked from sun up to sun down. Although they did not practice agriculture like the natives, they were adept at making handicrafts and cloth from the barks of trees.
The pale skin of the nomads was an even more wonderous sight for the brown-nosed natives. Their new ways of life and living were an enigma, and their culture a mystery. The natives were at first wary of these beautiful intruders, but slowly warmed to them and their folk lores and tales. Living in peace and harmony, these tribes began cultivation and harvesting, and also tried their hand at new arts like pottery, candle-making, and weaving. They learned a lot from each other and soon the nomads shed their identity as such and became a part of the land.
However, the one thing that was lacking was a unifying force that would hold together these diverse clans and tribes. There was no supreme ruler, and no common laws to bind the people. This led to a lot of chaos and anarchy as the number of inhabitants increased year by year. The tribes followed their unique customs, and cared not for the rules of the other tribes. Quarrels turned into spats, and spats into fist-fights. Before long, the land of Parzenia was battered with tales of war and blood.
Tribes turned against neighbouring tribes, and clans bled into oblivion. Horses, which were once a mode of transport, began to be used for passage of tools of war and for inflicting pain. The lush grass of the Dahroob plains carried the stains of blood and tears, and the Tazlans weeped aplenty into the Lodha river. Terror abounded in the land where peace, harmony and joy were the only residents.
When the devastation had exceeded beyond imagination, the elders of the tribes met together one summer's day, with peace in their hearts and a prayer on their lips. They decided that it was imperative to pay tribute to the Great Sorcerer, Rukhsaan-e-Meer, and to repent for their sins. This was the only way to please the mighty Lord and to save Parzenia from the wreckage that had been inflicted upon her glorious land.
A balmy night, fourteen days and nights after the meeting of the elders, was agreed upon for the congregation to gather and sing praises of the Lord, and for begging for forgiveness. A large fire was lit in the heart of Parzenia, and several sheep were brought forth by each tribe and clan for the ritual of sacrifice. Hymns, chants and paeans resounded in the quiet darkness, punctuated only by personal grief and remorse.
After the praises of the Lord had been sung, the first lamb was brought to the alter for the sacrificial ceremony. Just as the High Priest of the Sheejan tribe lowered the silver-coated athame over the neck of the quivering animal, there was a vivid burst of colours from the ceremonial fire accompanied by a loud bang."
Sheiba paused for breathe at this point and relaxed her posture. Shehzaad, who had been sitting at her feet with his eyes closed, slowly looked up towards her. "Isn't there more to this story?"
"Yes, there is, my boy. Just allow my old lungs to capture some air inside them."
So saying, Sheiba once again straightened her back and reverted to her earlier position.
"As I was saying, there was a loud bang that shocked all the people gathered in the clearing. All eyes turned to the riot of colours playing out among the blazing licks of the ceremonial fire. There was a reverence in the eyes of those present, and a fear lurking behind their widened irises. From the glowing flames arose a magnificent man. His robes were liquid gold and his raven hair flowed down to his knees. He stood proudly in the inferno, and smiled at everyone.
"My children, I am pleased with your devotion and the remorse in your hearts. You did waver from the chosen path, but have still managed to find a way back to me. However, I do not wish for any more lives to be lost in pursuance of the malice amongst you. From this day forth, you shall all live together in peace. There shall be no difference in the laws that govern you and the penances that you will have to suffer when you violate them. You shall carry proudly the names of your tribes, but only to regale your progeny with your customs and traditions. You shall be brothers to each other, and I forbid the spilling of blood on this land. You shall have a Commander, a King, if you please, who shall be your Overlord. He shall be my representative, and you all shall serve him as you would serve me. In a day's time, you will notice that a castle will be standing where this fire burns, and in that castle will reign your first Overlord. His family shall carry on this legacy, and nothing and no one shall be allowed to soil the Royal Lineage. From now, my children, you shall pray to your King, and whence you shall do it with all your heart, you shall be divinely blessed."
So saying, the Great Sorcerer vanished from sight. From that day forth, lands were assigned to the tribes and they were allowed to govern their lands according to their will, but under the watchful eye of the Overlord. And I know that you are aware of who the first Overlord was. Your ancestor, Sheer-i-Aleem. The Overlordship has been running in your family since countless generations, as you very well know."
Having narrated the entire story, Sheiba opened her eyes and looked towards Shehzaad. She extended her hand towards him, clasping his hand in hers when he leaned forward. "You must be wondering why is it that I am telling you a tale that you have heard innumerable times. Here, my boy, is my answer to your unspoken query. I know you are angry and heart-broken, and that the loss of your love has been devastating for you. But I want you to let go of this fury, especially when it comes to the resentment you harbour towards your grandfather. What he did must seem sinful to you, but for him it was but a duty."
"Ilahi Bi, please do not defend Ozil. I shall not hear another word in his favour. I have my doubts about his Royal Obligation that forced him to take such a drastic measure against my beloved. How can it be a King's duty to inflict harm on his subjects? How...."
"My child, this is the reason why I told you this story. You have heard it on many occasions, but never understood it. When the Great Sorcerer gave his commands to the common folk of Parzenia, he was clear in his intention that the Royal Lineage never be soiled by any member of the tribes. Ozil was under an obligation, as Overlord of Parzenia, to severe your ties with Mehzil before your bond grew stronger and imperiled the entire foundation and future of our glorious land."
Shehzaad, awe-struck by this revelation, stared at the oracle with wide eyes. Never once in his self-imposed exile had he thought that his grandfather could have been forced to take the step that he took. He got up from his sitting place, touched Sheiba's feet and loped towards the Royal Palace. The only thought in his mind was to make amends for his actions. He had a lot to apologize for, especially when it came to his grandfather.
Just as he neared the gates of his abode, the tear-streaked face of Mehzil swam before his eyes. Stopping in his tracks, a wave of desperation and disappointment swept over Shehzaad. Sensing his need to be alone, he headed to the beach, where he knew no one would disrupt his solitude. He spent a good part of the day with the waves thrashing against the cliffs and rocks, and then retired for the night in a cottage nearby that he had been using for a long time now.
Maybe he could talk to his grandfather later. There would be time enough, he thought to himself, since he was cursed to spend eternity without his love by his side.
And this day, when he sat on the beach, remembering that day a week ago, Shehzaad still felt tremors run down his spine, and a deep sense of loss pervade his entire being.
"We can never be together Mehzil. Never." , he thought, and threw another pebble towards the lapping waves.