Nasir and Maarika Chronicles
By James Mullins
First Edition October 12th 2016
©2016 James Mullins
Editors: Lee Jenkins and Doug Cree
Published in association with Longinus Industries
All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously
August 1^st^, 636 Arabia Province, Byzantium
Nasir squinted as he looked down the road. He was trying to identify a group that was approaching the border post he was in charge of. In front of him was a rutted road of dirt leading into the heart of Arabia. The winding rock strewn path was surrounded by cliffs on both sides and represented the only known way through the Sarat Mountains into the Roman Empire in this region. The border post behind him consisted of a wall across the mountain pass that stood about six feet high. The wall, crumbling in places, looked like it had been built back in the time of Emperor Trajan some 500 years prior. A parapet about three feet high, also made from crumbling stone, allowed the soldiers to stand behind the wall and look down on whoever was on the other side. Built into the wall was wooden door that had seen many decades of use. The sun had faded the door to an almost white color.
Behind the wall on the Roman side was the beginning of the Roman Road that stretched from the Arabian border to the port city of Aqaba. To the right of the road was a crumbling building front built into the cliff face where Nasir and his garrison of nine soldiers spent most of their time when they were not on duty. As Nasir watched, the group make steady progress toward him he thought to himself, “Probably another caravan of goat herders looking to trade skins and cheese for Roman tools, or maybe they bring some herbs and spices. Nasir’s face broke into a smile at that thought, “If that’s the case I’m going to need a bribe to let them into the Empire.”
Nasir barked a command at his nine men who were all engaged in a game of dice on the ground behind the wall, “Look alive you sluggards companies coming.”
The men stood up and helped each other put on their leather armor. The leather was cracked and faded from too much time in the Arabian Sun. Once they were finished with their armor they each picked up their spear and old style square shield. The shields were a hap hazard mix of shields from various units dating back to roughly the 4th Century. Faded Latin letters on the shields proclaimed the unit that they were originally used by such as the Legio X Fretensis and Legio XII Victix. Without a word they took their positions on the wall trying to look intimidating.
Nasir walked inside the gate, shut it, and barred it against the approaching caravan. He stepped up into his position just to the left of the gate and remarked, “Odd, caravans usually do not have so many people with them.”
Piran, one of Nasir’s men remarked, “Maybe they bring slaves for the market?” This statement elicited several lust filled noises from the other men.
Nasir replied, “Aye, that would be good, I could use a good hump right now.”
As the caravan drew near, Nasir noticed that many of the people kept glancing back over their shoulders with a nervous look, “I wonder what’s got them so frightened?” Nasir asked to no one in particular.
Another of Nasir’s men, Shidfar, answered, “Perhaps they are worried about someone catching up to them?”
Nasir pondered this answer for a moment as he did so the lead camel and people walking around it drew near enough for him to read their facial expressions and said, “Look at their facial expressions the lot of them look like they’ve seen a ghost, perhaps something even worse? I’ve never seen so many terrified faces in one place before.”
As they approached the wall Nasir cleared his throat and then said in a loud, deep, commanding voice, “Halt, What business do you have in the Empire?”
An older man in his mid-fifties walked to the front of the group. The keffiyeh wrapped around his head was composed of red and white squares. His flowing white robes where of an expensive cut of Egyptian cotton, “Greetings soldiers of the Empire my name is Waqi and I speak for this group.” He gestured with both of his arms to indicate the people standing behind him. The group consisted of several camels whose backs appeared to hold all of the worldly possessions of the people. Many of the keffiyehs worn by the men were of different colors and patterns indicating that they were not of the same tribe. The colorful keffiyehs stood in stark contrast to their flowing white robes. The ladies, wives and daughters of well to do families, wore dresses made of Egyptian cotton that were dyed festive colors. The less fortunate ladies from poor families wore cheaper fabrics, such as homespun or wool. These were either an undyed dull gray color, or varying shades of tan.
Nasir responded, “Well met, Waqi. I ask you again. What business do you have in the Empire?”
Waqi’s shoulders slumped a little and he replied, “A horrible plague of demons has struck our homeland. We request asylum within the Empire.”
Nasir frowned, “Entry into the Empire is not free. What do you have in payment?”
Waqi replied, “Alas, due to the haste of our escape we were unable to bring our coin.”
Nasir pointed at the goats, “Yet you had time to bring your livestock with you?”
Waqi sighed audibly, “Unlike the coin, they had legs that enabled them to depart with us in haste. I offer you two goats for admission into the Empire. Fine animals from the herd of a chieftan.”
Nasir paused and looked at every member of the group. His eyes fell on a very attractive female. She had raven black hair and her dress, simple homespun, was of a light grayish color. When their eyes met she had the faintest upward curve of her lips, “Was she smiling at me?” Nasir wondered to himself. Her simple dress, lose fitting dress failed to disguise the ample curves underneath it, “I must have her.” Nasir thought.
Nasir said, “The Empire has plenty of goats. What need do we have for more? We are simple soldiers alone, and in need of warm companionship; however our rations are simply fare so it would be nice indeed to supplement them with goat flesh. Five of the beasts should be sufficient.” Nasir then pointed at the woman, “And that woman as my slave.”
Waqi gasped in shock at this steep price, “We are simple folk and must start over with nothing more than the clothing on our backs and what we carry with us.” He then turned and pointed at the woman, “Maarika, is like a daughter to me. As such I cannot in good conscience sell her to gain our admission. I respect the soldiers of the Empire who labor so hard to keep its borders secure. Such hard work must indeed build quite a hunger. I offer you three goats for admission into the Empire.”
Nasir thought to himself, “The old bastard probably has designs on bedding her himself.” He then said, “I appreciate your generous offer; however service is a lonely affair. We require companionship so that we may remain sharp and focus on our duties of protecting those within our borders. In the spirt of friendship and the hopes that your people can quickly become productive members of the Empire I require but two goats and the girl.” Pausing for a moment he added, “This is my final offer. Refuse it and you can turn around and face whatever you are running from.”
Waqi defeated looked glum, “You drive a hard bargain but I see that further argument is pointless. Very well I accept.”
Nasir, now smiling, replied, “Excellent, bring forth the goats and Maarika and we shall open our gates to you.”
Maarika’s face went white and she sank to her knees. Waqi walked over to her and talked with her for a minute. Nasir could not hear the words being exchanged between the two. Maarika finally nodded, got to her feet, and walked to the gate. Waqi then picked out two goats and led them up to the gate. He handed the lead for each goat to Maarika and backed away.
Waqi said, “Here is your price. Please open your gates to us.”
Nasir directed his men, “Unbar and open the gate. See that the goats and the woman are secured. Then let them through.”
The men did as Nasir bid and the group marched through the gate. They continued on without another word. Once the last of them were through the men closed and barred the gate. Nasir turned and watched as Waqi’s group slowly made their way up the road toward Aqaba. When they disappeared he turned and looked at Maarika. She stared back at him defiantly.
Nasir walked up to her and sniffed, “You stink.” He gestured at the building, “Follow me I’ll show you where you can bathe.”
Maarika’s defiant glare softened and she said, “A bath? With actual water?”
Nasir smiled at the question, “Aye, from the look of you it’s been a long time since your last one.”
Maarika replied, “A bath with water is an unaffordable luxury amongst my people. It is true what they say about you Romans, rich beyond imagination.”
Nasir chuckled, “So it would seem.”
He led her inside the structure. The first room had nine cots in it belonging to Nasir’s men. Underneath each cot was the worldly possessions of the cot’s owner. The next chamber held Nasir’s bed, a chest, and a desk with a chair. The sound of bubbling water could be faintly heard coming from the chamber beyond. Nasir lit a lantern and then led Maarika into the next chamber. The next chamber was a natural cavern. In the center of it was a small pool of water. At the far side of the pool, water seemed to bubble up from a crack and flow into the natural bowl of the pool. The pool then emptied into a small crevice that flowed off into the darkness in a downhill direction.
Nasir gestured at the pool, “You can wash in the pool and clean your dress too.”
Without waiting for a response Nasir turned and left the room. He gently shut the wooden door behind him and walked out of the building.
Nasir headed back outside and located the cook, “Oshnar, slaughter one of the goats for tonight’s dinner. I want to show our new guest a good time.”
Oshnar said, “Yes boss.” The other men let out lustful sounding laughter.
Tajvar in a teasing tone said, “You know she is our slave. You do not have to court her.”
Nasir smiled and said, “True, but it’s much more satisfying to plow a soft field that willing yields to your plow head than a field that is hardened and rocky.”
All of the men within earshot laughed at this. Nashir headed back inside and went to his room. The door to the spring room and the rest of the cavern was still closed, “Good I hope she takes a good long time to get all of that grime off of her. I hate filthiness.” he thought to himself. He approached his bed and pulled up the mattress. The mattress was a well-worn cotton sack filled with hay. He rummaged through his possession for a few moments and located what he was looking for, a bottle of wine. He blew the dust off of the bottle and set it by the closed door to the spring room.
Nasir then laid down on his bed and shut his eyes. Falling asleep he was awoken when Maarika opened the door. As she made her way across the dim room with the lantern that Nasir had lent to her the sounds of her wet feet made slapping noises on the stone floor. She did not notice Nasir lying in the bed and was startled when he spoke.
Nasir stood up and walked over to her. He took the lantern from her hand and held it up as he walked around her and inspected, “You no longer smell like goats and camels.” he said smiling.
Maarika smiled back at him and said, “Thank you lord for the wondrous treat. That is more water than I have ever seen in my life. Is it common in the Empire to bathe in this way?”
Nashir replied, “Yes, in the larger cities we have entire buildings dedicated to holding water to clean yourself. These buildings are called bath houses. Some of the larger pools hold a hundred times the water that my little pool holds.”
Maarika gasped at Nashir in shock, “I cannot even imagine what so much water would look like.”
Nasir looked down into deep black eyes and smiled, “Care to join me for dinner?” He held out his arm to her as he finished the question.
Maarika smiled again, “Yes! I haven’t eaten in days. Not since…” Her voice trailed off as she thought about the horrors that befell her tribe. Then she started weeping.
Nasir stopped turned and look down at her, “Its ok, you are safe here.” He then wrapped his arms around her as she sobbed into his shoulder.
Nasir held her until he felt her calm, “Come let’s eat.” Maarika smiled and they walked out of the building. As soon as they stepped outside the amazing smell of goat meat sizzling on a spit hit them. Both Nasir and Maarika’s mouths started watering at the smell.
Nasir said, “Wait a moment I’ll be right back.”
Nasir went back to his room, grabbed the bottle of wine, and two goblets and headed back outside. He held the bottle up and said, “Can’t have a fine meal without something nice to drink.”
The two walked over to the fire pit. Oshnar greeted the pair with a smile. He was missing several of his teeth. Nasir led Maarika over to the cliff face on the other side of the fire pit. There was a large stone that jutted out of the cliff. Nasir sat down on the rock and pointed to the other half. Maarika got the hint and sat down beside them.
Oshnar brought over two plates. Each plate had some green vegetables that had been grown in the post’s garden. On top of the bed of vegetables was several choice pieces of goat meat.
Maarika squealed in delight, “I have never had such a feast before. I’m almost glad that bastard Waqi sold me into slavery. He was probably angry I refused to lay with him.”
Oshnar looked at Nadir and winked, “Don’t forget about your wine boss.”
Nasir thumped himself on the head with his hand, “Of course.”
Nasir took out the two goblets. He placed one in Maarika’s hand and set the other on the rock where he had just been sitting. He took out the bottle, removed the cork, and filled each of their goblets.
“To new possibilities.” They tapped the two goblets together and took a sip.
Maarika’s face lit up, “This is amazingly good!”
Nasir smiled and replied, “I’m glad you like it. It’s from a region of the Empire called Cappadocia. The wines from that region are unusually sweet and flavorful.”
The two of them ate and enjoyed their meal. Maarika spoke of her time growing up in Arabia with her tribe and Nasir talked about growing up in Arabia Province and the circumstances that led him to join the army. They were of the same people but two very different worlds. As the evening progressed Maarika rested her head on Nasir’s shoulder and he put his arm around her. Finally, Maarika stood grasped Nasir’s hand and led him toward his room.
When they arrived in the room Nasir closed and barred the door so that they would not be disturbed. He then retrieved another bottle of wine. They toasted their new found friendship, fell into the bed in each other’s arms, and made their connection much deeper. Nasir awoke in the middle of the night to screams and dull thumping on the door. He thought about telling them to go away but the alcohol he’d drank prevented his tongue from properly working. Giving up he let the darkness take him.
Nasir awoke to the sound of Maarika splashing in the water of the spring pool. She had left the door open between the two chambers. He got up and walked into the spring room. Maarika was floating in the pool with a smile on her face.
“Good morning,” said Nasir.
Maarika looked up at him and smiled, “Good morning. Do you think I’ll ever get used to this much water?”
“Wait until you see the sea.” said Nasir.
“What’s a sea? I’ve never heard the word before,” asked Maarika.
“The sea is a giant body of water. It’s as large as the open desert in Arabia.” replied Nasir.
Maarika rose from the pool. Nasir’s gaze took in her body. She glanced down, smiled at him and said, “Looks like you’re hungry for more than food.” As she finished speaking, she winked at him and started giggling.
Nasir stepped into the pool with her, held her close and said, “Indeed.”
As they kissed they heard a dull thump on the door, “What’s that?” Maarika asked.
“Probably one of my men wondering if you’ve murdered me in my sleep. I usually rise a lot earlier than this.”
“Well, you’re not quite used to getting so much exercise after the sun sets I think.”
Nasir smiled put his hand on the side of Maarika’s face and kissed her. The door thumped again a little louder this time.
Nasir yelled, “Go away, I’m fine!”
Whoever was on the other side of that door began banging on it. The mood broken Nasir yelled, “What the hell is your problem? Go away!”
This didn’t seem to help and the thumping continued. Sighing in disgust Nasir went into his sleeping chamber and put his uniform on, “This had better be really damn important. I told you to go away.”
Nasir pulled up the bar on the door and the door immediately was flung open. Startled he fell backwards onto the stone floor. In an instant a horrible apparition leaped onto him. The thing’s teeth kept biting repeatedly as it pushed toward Nasir’s throat. Soldier’s instinct instantly took over and Nasir applied all of his strength to stop the thing from biting him. He tried to fling it off of him but it had vise like grip on his shoulders.
Maarika, still nude, ran into the room and screamed at the site of the creature on top of Nasir. It appeared to be one of Nasir’s men but something was horribly wrong with the man. It looked like one of those things that had destroyed her tribe. She looked around the room desperate for a weapon to use against the thing and help Nasir. Her eyes fell on the wine bottle from last night, laying discarded on the floor. She grabbed it and smashed it down onto the creature’s head. The wine bottle broke in half and pieces of glass rained down on Nasir’s face. The thing seemed to pay it no mind and continued trying to bite Nasir.
Maarika, noticing that the broken bottle, still in her hand, had a jagged edge, plunged it into the top of the thing’s head. Without a sound it went limp and stopped trying to bite Nasir.
“Thanks. What the hell happened to Shidfar? Is this one of the demons you spoke about?”
Maarika answered the question sobbing, “Yes.”
Nasir muttered, “Bloody hell! I wonder if this has happened to all my men?” He shut the door and barred it again, “Help me with my armor.”
Maarika nodded dully and helped Nasir buckle on his armor. Like everything else at the outpost the armor was very old. It was a suit of legionnaire banded mail that dated back at least a couple of centuries. Though old, it had been well maintained. The leather and many of the buckles had been replaced over the years and there was not a spot of rust on the entire suit.
Nasir inspected the suit. Satisfied he buckled his Spatha to his waste and grabbed his shield. He handed his dagger to Maarika and said, “Stay in here.”
Nasir unbarred the door and stepped into the barracks room. What he saw horrified him. Blood was splashed all over the walls. In the middle of the floor was a pile of bones that used to be a person. Bits and pieces of flesh were still attached to the bones but they had been mostly picked clean. Flies buzzed around the room and it reeked of death. The door outside had been closed and barred as well, “How did that creature get into this room?” he thought to himself.
Steeling himself for another attack Nasir lifted the bar and leapt back with his Spatha drawn. After about sixty seconds, convinced that there was no immediate danger, he approached the door again. He put his ear up against it and listened. He heard nothing but the faint whisper of the wind. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He then stood to the side of the door and opened it.
The door opened with a creaking noise. Nasir raised his Spatha above his head waiting to strike anything that came through the doorway. Nothing did. Finally he cautiously peered around the edge of the door frame. The horrors he saw outside made him vomit. This attracted the attention of another one of those things. Hearing the noise of Nasir vomiting it charged towards the doorway. It was Oshnar, transformed into the same hideous thing that Shidfar had become.
As the creature charged into the doorway Nasir brought his Spatha down onto the thing’s neck using an overhead stroke. The sharp edge of the Spatha cleaved into the creature at the base of the neck and didn’t stop until it exited at the opposite thigh. The two halves of whatever it was fell to the ground with a dull splat noise.
The part of Shidfar that had the head attached to it reached for Nasir’s leg with its one arm. Grabbing his shin, it tried to pull itself closer. Disgusted Nasir plunged his Spatha into the top of Shidfar’s head. Shidfar stopped moving.
“What the holy hell happened to you Shidfar? How did you survive being cleaved in two?” Nasir said.
Maarika, hearing Nasir’s voice, opened the door, saw the mess, and screamed. Nasir ran to her and shushed her, “Please, there may be more of those things out there. They seem to be attracted to sound.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just…” Maarika couldn’t complete her sentence.
Nasir took her into his arms and whispered, “Its ok, you’re safe.”
He led her back into his sleeping chamber and said, “Stay here. I still need to see what happened outside.” She nodded dully in response.
Nasir once again walked out into the barracks chamber. This time he walked directly across the room, stepped over Shidfar’s corpse and went outside. As he stepped outside he held his shield up in a defensive position and drew his Spatha. The outpost had become a house of horrors. The bones of the rest of his men were scattered around. Blood was everywhere.
Nasir muttered, “What in God’s name?” He walked around the compound. The gate was still in place baring access to the Roman side of the wall. He stepped up onto the palisade and peered out into the pass. Nothing but stone cliffs, the rutted dirt road, and the gentle warm wind blowing up it from the heart of Arabia was on the other side of the wall.
Finding nothing still alive he went back to where Maarika was hiding. “Everyone’s dead,” Nasir said.
Maarika gave Nasir a hug and said, “What do we do?”
Nasir replied, “I must warn my Kentarches about these things.”
There was nothing left in the larder except the flour they used for their daily bread ration. All of the food that had been prepared, was gone. Maarika got a fire going in the outpost’s oven and baked some bread for their journey. While she did this Nasir gathered up what water skins he could find amongst the possessions of his dead men and filled them using the spring. Provisioned for their journey they set out to warn the Empire about this new evil.
Thank you for reading the first episode of the Nasir and Maarika Chronicles. I hope you are enjoying the story and continue on to Episode II.
The Nasir and Maarika Chronicles are based in the Byzantium Infected Universe which also includes the short story Jibreel’s Curse and the full length novel Scourge of Byzantium.
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Nasir and Maarika are of one people but two worlds. Nasir grew up inside Byzantium's Arabia Province where his family prospered. Head filled with the stories of military glories, he decided to turn his back on the family business. Now in command of a remote outpost on the border of the Arabian Desert, his life will forever change when an unspeakable evil emerges from the desert. Maarika grew up in the open deserts of Arabia. Her family struggled to survive as they moved from place to place to find the sustenance needed to keep their small herd of goats alive. Her life was destroyed when they came, their appetites insatiable. Forced to flee she hopes to find safety within the borders of the Roman Empire. Nasir and Maarika will be brought together by tragedy that will forever change both of their lives. This is their story. The Nasir and Maarika Chronicles are set in the Byzantium Infected Universe which starts with the shorty story Jibreel's Curse and continues in the full length novel Scourge of Byzantium.