Read The Forgotten Tale Of Larsa Online
Authors: Seja Majeed
BLUEBIRD PUBLISHING HOUSE
First published in 2014 by Bluebird Publishing House
© Seja Majeed 2014
Design © Anna Dittmann 2014
The Forgotten Tale of Larsa is a Registered Trademark.
The right of Seja Majeed to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Printed in the United Kingdom.
I would like to thank Almighty God for giving me the imagination and strength to write this novel. There were times when I thought You had abandoned me, but now I realise that You were just waiting for the right time to answer my prayers. I am eternally thankful and grateful for every blessing You have given. More than anything, I am thankful for every hardship You have tested me with; because of them I have learnt my strengths, overcome my weaknesses and grown wiser in order to face the challenges of tomorrow.
I would like to thank my mother, who embodies so many traits of my character, Larsa. I want you to know that your pure love, resilience and bravery through heartache, hardship and war inspired me to create Larsa in the first place. You are truly the most inspirational woman I know and I am so proud to call you my mother. I wish I could repay the sacrifices that you have made for me, and our family, but I know that I cannot. You are my backbone of courage. I love you always and pray that I make you proud.
I would also like to thank my father, who told me endless stories about kings and emperors when I was a child and hugged me when I felt hopeless about myself and the world. You gave me wisdom and nourished my humanity. Thank you for making me hot chocolate when I wrote through endless nights. I will always cherish our late-night discussions on philosophy, religion, politics and science. Your love has always kept me warm from the cold winds.
I would like to thank my best friend and loving sister, Zukreat, who stayed up every single night reading my long chapters, suggesting plot lines and helping me improve my narrative with her imaginative ideas. There were times when you fell asleep over the laptop in the evening hours, but it is because of you that this book has come alive. You kept on telling me to persevere when I was ready to give up: I owe to you the survival of my dreams. Thank you for always being there for me.
I would also like to thank my loving brother, Mohammed, who always believed in my novel and never questioned it for a single moment. Every day I used to ask him whether he believed that ‘my life would change’ and his answer was always the same: ‘Yes, it will.’ Those words made me carry on when I was in the grip of despair, keeping me optimistic through every endeavour. Thank you for always being my guardian.
I would also like to thank my elder brother Hayder for taking an interest in Babylonia and Assyria when he was a teenager; it is because I was able to borrow your books as a child that I developed a fascination for history. Thank you for your curiosity.
I would like to thank my grandmother and grandfather, for always praying for me and wishing the best for me. I truly miss you and wish that you could have seen the publication of my book. I love you very much and am thankful for your constant support. I miss all the times we sipped tea together, sharing wonderful stories.
I would like to thank my publisher, Bluebird Publishing House, for their belief in my book and their support; my copy-editor, Jane Hammett, developmental editor Michael Faulkner, proofreader Sarah Nisbet, jacket designer Scarlett Rugers, graphic artist Anna Dittmann, and my loyal friends Nadeem Afzal, Bakyt Orazgaliyeva and Hina Syed for supporting me on this journey.
Finally, I would like to take this moment to thank two people who I never met, but who have shaped me to become the person I am: my beloved uncles, Helimi Fadel Al-Taki and Naeem Fadel Al-Taki. I have written this story for you. Every tear shed, ache felt and hope breathed has been to try to preserve your memory for the years to come. Although I cannot undo what has happened to you, I hope that this tale may remind the world of the sacrifices people like you have made to protect and uphold the freedom of others. You are the pillars of freedom, willing to sacrifice yourselves when our world is weighed down by the hands of oppression. Thank you for your love, courage and sacrifice.
Dedicated to the memory of my uncles,
and to all the innocent lives lost in my beloved homeland, Iraq
My father once said that a man’s freedom is worth more than the price of gold. Freedom cannot be bought, sold or given, he explained; it can only be respected as a birthright. I didn’t understand what my father meant until this very moment; I was the princess from the Garden of the Gods who had become the slave of an emperor. As I sat on my enemy’s horse, weeping openly, I remembered Marmicus. With each breath I took, I pictured his eyes, which were as deep as an ocean, and his lips, as shapely as the hills of the desert. I remembered the way he had looked into my eyes as we lay together for the last time. That night, I saw his happiness and sorrow painted across his face.
Although he had longed to shield me from the barbarity of war, it seemed that I had fallen victim to a far crueller fate. I had lost everything. Everything except my memories …
Sitting silently upon a lavish throne made from pure gold was the Assyrian emperor, Jaquzan. He was no older than thirty-five, but he possessed an aura of great maturity, as if he had lived a life that had spanned an eternity. In his hands lay life and death, and beneath his feet an empire that stretched as far as the horizon. Jaquzan had the body of a man but the power of a god: kingdoms survived only by his permission and mortals lived only by his kindness.
‘The Dark Warrior has arrived, sire,’ said a guard, nervously, as he approached his master.
‘Allow him forth.’
The Dark Warrior entered the chamber, his lips curling upwards in an arrogant smile.
‘I have brought you what you wanted, sire. I made sure it was specially crafted to your liking.’ Nafridos bowed before his cousin, and commanded his slaves to open a velvet sack he had brought as a gift.
Jaquzan’s expressionless face suddenly flickered with a trace of uncharacteristic human emotion; a careful observer would have seen his pupils dilate like those of a wild creature finding its prey.
‘Bring it to me.’
The slaves rushed to him, bowing like the soulless beings they were as they timidly offered him the sack. Jaquzan was an unpredictable creature of uncertain, and dangerous, moods; no one could ever tell what he was thinking, or anticipate his next move. Jaquzan slowly removed the white linen covering from the orb-like object he clasped in his hands. His cousin was right – the gift was one of a kind, truly something of a rarity. At last, he possessed the jewels of Persia and they were far more glorious then he had ever imagined.
‘You have done well.’
‘Only well?’ said Nafridos, adopting a playful tone as he watched his cousin stare at the gift, his patience finally rewarded with the things he had desired for so long.
‘I tried my best not to disfigure his face too much, but his squirming made it an impossible challenge. You should have seen him beg for his life – it would have made you laugh.’
The emperor sneered. At last, the centre of the world had finally fallen at his feet. In his hands was a powerful jewel that had once commanded the legions of the Eastern hemisphere. Jaquzan glared at the severed head of the young King of Persia. His skin was covered in dried blood and had turned tough like leather. The face of a wealthy man rotted in the same way as a poor man’s. His black tongue hung off his thin lips like a dead animal’s. Jaquzan showed no sympathy for the king, who had clearly been tortured before he was butchered and decapitated.
‘What were his final words to you?’
‘The same as every other king I have slaughtered for you. “Kill me, but spare my family from death.”’
‘Is that all?’
‘No. He said, “I am Persia. I am the centre of the world. Today we both shall die free.”’
The Dark Warrior grabbed a chalice and poured himself some red wine to celebrate, before settling down upon a sumptuously carved and decorated divan, luxuriating in the extravagance of the Assyrian palace. War was a wearying game, and the only pleasure Nafridos ever derived from playing it was at night, when his skin was bathed in cool water by his concubines. This was not to say he did not enjoy it: he revelled in the business of butchery; it was his one purpose in life, something at which he was very good. Over time, Nafridos had developed a reputation for ruthlessness. The people called him the Dark Warrior with good reason: whenever he left the battlefield, every inch of his body would drip with blood, such that his skin appeared black.
‘When will your war against the world end?’
‘When there is only one god on earth, found in me …’
Nafridos laughed loudly.
‘I see your harshness grows by the day.’
‘It grows at the same rate as my tolerance,’ replied the Assyrian emperor. A cruel smile cracked his sculpted face as he imagined the world falling at his feet.
‘Then with the bones of your captives I shall build temples in devotion to you!’ the Dark Warrior roared, as he lifted his chalice into the air to toast the Emperor of Assyria …
Princess Larsa possessed a beauty that was rare and unearthly; it attracted the eyes of men and the envy of women. Her eyes were large and brown, and her skin white, and soft as silk.
Sunlight flooded through the open windows, warming her youthful skin. She could hear the birds singing beyond the palace balcony as they always did; they were the first to wake her, just before her servants came to her bedroom. A new morning had arrived, bringing with it a new duty, something for which Larsa felt unprepared. She dug her face into the pillow, wanting to hide away from the bright light, her arms stretching out as she tried to rid herself of the haziness of sleep, but her hand unexpectedly hit something: someone was sleeping beside her. Larsa woke up with a burst of happiness spilling through her: it was a joyous surprise.
‘You’re home! When did you arrive?’
‘In the early hours of the morning. I didn’t want to wake you. You looked so peaceful sleeping.’
‘You should have woken me! Next time I’ll command you to – it’s the only way I can be certain you will.’
Marmicus laughed at her forceful, though touching, reprimand. Of course, she was right: it was the only way he would accede to her request. He had been watching her sleeping, gazing at her beautiful oval face and waiting for the moment when her almond eyes would open to see him lying beside her. The more Marmicus looked at her, the more he realised how much he had missed her company. He brushed her fringe away from her eyes.
‘Your eyes become more beautiful with each new morning.’
‘Then stay here, and I shall never let them wander over other men.’
Marmicus laughed aloud. He loved the childish things she said sometimes. Only he had the pleasure of seeing her act like this; everyone else saw a façade of royalty.
‘Are you trying to make me jealous, Larsa?’
‘Is it working?’
He leant in and kissed her tenderly, his lips softly brushing against hers. The tight feeling of war disappeared altogether. Larsa put her hand to his chest, feeling the intense beat of his heart against her palm as they kissed, but the thought of him leaving her again made her stop.
‘What’s the matter?’
He could tell she was worried about something: it was unlike her to draw away from him like that.
‘Every time you leave, I feel that my heart sails away with you. I hate being alone here without you. I don’t know what to do with myself when you’re gone.’
‘I’m here now – you don’t need to worry about me.’
‘I know you are, but you’ll leave again, and I’ll have to wait for you. I wonder how I’ll cope without you. I may have inherited my father’s throne, but I’m afraid I won’t lead my people the way he wanted. I don’t know anything about power or war. All I know is that I love my people – that’s all.’