Sandsnake

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         Why have you come? the voice whispered through the hot, desert air.
         It sounded like a sand-snake whipping its body across the tawny waves. I felt the tendrils of a foreign consciousness brush my mind and I slammed my mental walls against them, willing my face to remain impassive. The blue room was filled with sand, twisted in drifts and curls like a frozen ocean. I could feel the grains shift beneath my boots as sweat ran down my back beneath my tunic.
         “I come seeking wisdom, oh Voice of the Desert,” I replied, raising my voice to keep it from shaking.
         Are you now a fool? the voice lashed the air.
         I tried not to bristle at the insult, but my hand strayed to the curved scimitar at my waist. There was a sound like the clatter of hooves on stone that I realized was laughter from the disembodied voice.
         “Would a fool ask for wisdom?” I asked, taking care to pull my fingers away from the hilt of the half-moon blade. “A fool would ask for riches or luck or the pleasures of the flesh.”
         You do not desire wisdom, the air seemed to grow perceptibly colder. You want Truth.
         “I wish to find answers,” I said.
         You ask much, son of slaves.
         “Born of slaves I may be, but I have never felt the shackles nor the lash. I am of the sand, and of the sword,” I felt the walls shudder slightly and broke off, panting.
         I was not to lose my temper. The Ghaiib, the unknown, the Unseen Ones, do not appreciate outbursts of human emotion. I must tread lightly. I waited for the shuddering to stop, for the sliding bits of sand to settle. The sound reminded me of the hourglass in my saddlebag outside, the sand slowly dribbling, unchecked as time passed.
         Haidar you are named, the lion of the sands, the free son of slaves, there was amusement in the voice…in the voices.
         What had originally sounded like one voice to me now broke into different voices, all speaking as one but with different tones and cadences. They were here: the Ghaiib. They named me. My master told me they would, that I could not keep my name hidden.
         “I am,” I said, straightening my shoulders.
         For generations my family’s names had spoken of servitude, desperation, and loss. I was the Lion, I was free. At least, I would be if I kept my mind shut and dd not let my mouth run away with me. I half-smiled as I heard my master’s echoed reprimands, felt the ghostly touch of his wrinkled hand softly cuffing my rebellious head.
         You wish for answers though you twist your words and thoughts to ask for wisdom. We do not give such things lightly. Better had you asked for gold or power, better you asked for revenge.
         “To ask for those is to ask for death. If I asked for gold, who can say whether a band of thieves would set upon me? If I asked for power, who is to say it would not rot me from within? If I asked for revenge, who can say those I wronged would not invoke their same right for vengeance?” I could feel the Ghaiib plucking at my thoughts again, trying to find a crevice in the walls I erected.
         You betray yourself, little sand Lion, the voices became a hiss and I took a step back involuntarily. You are already wise beyond your few years. Your life is but a speck of dust, part of a grain of sand to us, but even so, you already possess that which you claim to seek.
         A shiver ran over my flesh as the blue wall in front of me shimmered like a mirage, shuddering like a spent horse. A doorway opened in the wall and I saw beyond it doorway after doorway—all open, all leading to rooms filled with mounds of sand. This was what my master wanted. I knew without looking that the doorway behind me was shut. I would not be leaving the way I came.
         I had to duck under the lintel in front of me to pass through the door and in that moment I almost felt the weight of the masses of sand pressing down on me. Though a strange light flickered through the rooms, mirroring the moon I knew was rising, I was miles beneath the desert. If the Ghaiib guessed my true purpose, they could send it all crashing down upon me, drowning me in the golden waves. Walking over the mounds of shifting sand made the sweat run down my face; I could almost hear it sizzle as it hit the floor. Above, the sands were cooling, soaking in the silver light of the moon. Here, they grew hotter with every step. I knew it was the Ghaiib’s touch on my mind that made the heat rise, that made the very air seem to scald my body, but I kept walking, climbing through the doorways that opened up before me the further I went.
         I came to a room where the sand was flat and smooth, as though someone had drawn the edge of their knife against it. The thunder of my blood in my ears was the only sound, though I knew they were here. A shimmer at the edge of my vision almost made me turn my head, but I kept my eyes forward in case I was mistaken and another doorway appeared.
         Haidar, the whisper came from all directions.
         It was caressing, like the tone my mother used when I was ill, but their minds battered at mine with the force of an army against fortified city walls.
         What do you wish to know, seeker of answers, searcher of truth? the voices were mocking and rang against the stone walls like the clanging of a giant gong.
         The walls around my mind dropped and I pushed out with everything I had, feeling my consciousness wash over theirs with the force of a flood along a river bank. I sank to my knees in the sand.
         “I would know everything you know,” I said, opening my eyes.
         The cloth that had covered my head lay on the ground, bright white against the sand. I must have ripped it from my head as their minds sought to overwhelm mine. My long, dark hair was in my mouth and several strands of it clung to my fingers. I pushed it back and got to my quaking feet.
         “I am Haidar,” I said to the empty air.
         My parents named me the Lion, a name no woman should rightfully bear. They gave me a man’s name and a man’s strength of will. I kept my true self hidden from the Ghaiib and, as my master taught me, I saw through the veil to the Unseen. I felt something shift in my brain as the stolen knowledge searched for a place to settle. I stilled my thoughts and concentrated on my breathing.
         When at last I felt the captured consciousness meld with mine, I saw the possibilities of a thousand lives and a thousand ages to come.

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14 thoughts on “Sandsnake

  1. Breathtaking, it kept me on my toes, rooting and cheering, with a hint of fear for the character, The names and the scenery are very creative and beautifully described, I could imagine everything in my head, aswell as feel everything from what you wrote.

  2. Dang, that’s just awesome. I really had a good time reading this story. It was very captivating, and the picture you used as a headliner is fantastic! Thanks for sharing Wanderer! 🙂

    • Thank you so much! I’m happy to hear you liked it—I hoped I could create something that wouldn’t put such a gorgeous picture to shame. Check out the other photos when you get a chance (the link is at the bottom)!

  3. What an imagination you have — and you clearly have literary references that I am not familiar with, and I enjoy reading something so unfamiliar to me. I know they are vastly different, but for some reason I was reminded of The Neverending Story, and Atreyu consulting the oracles. The voices in my mind, for some reason, were that of Gammorrk from that same tale. Well done, darling.

      • Ah, geez… I can perform that movie — I can’t believe I didn’t think of that — I got dragged to that movie two weeks in a row while I was in England (boy, it’s all coming up Halesowen today!)
        Kazeem was obviously less than worthy (which gives me a perfect segue into asking if you’ve ever heard “Gilbert Gottfried reads 50 Shades of Grey”?

      • It’s one of my all time favorites. I also did a little George RR Martin piracy.

        I have not! I haven’t looked up any of the “So and so reads 50 shades” I will look that one up first!

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