As she rode through the bush path that would lead her to a quiet place where she yearned to be, Fatima’s impulsive nature took the better part of her. Her mind was blurred with visions of Umar and Aisha making love. Her tender heart couldn’t stand Umar loving someone else; yes it made her jealous. She didn’t blame Umar for any of these, she hated herself for pushing him away. How would she ever live with herself knowing that Aisha was the worst kind of man for Umar? She could not confront Umar about the witch of a woman because Aisha had something over her head. She also didn’t want to push Umar away from her, so she decided to keep things to herself. What if she took this chance and ran away? What if she left Israar, never to return again? Wouldn’t that be better for everyone, especially Umar? He would have freedom to chase after his love interest without feeling bothered about her presence. Her sisters wouldn’t miss her, especially Laila whose heart had been bought by Tanko. Nobody would miss her.
The horse suddenly broke into an extremely wild race as if it sensed Fatima’s plan, but it was only nervous. Usually, Fatima could read horses behaviors and reactions. But since her mind was clouded by pain and jealousy, she failed to notice that her horse was nervous. The animal could sense the danger that lurked behind, but Fatima couldn’t. The horse continued to run wildly until it had little energy left. Luckily, it stopped at the deserted Brook of Maris.
Fatima couldn’t describe the warmth that filled her whole body as she stared at the waters quietly gushing out from the ground. There was a ravine close to the brook, and it was filled with wild water lilies. She was reluctant to get down from the horse; she could sit upon its back and stare at natural scenery before her. She released the breath she had been clinging onto like her last, and stepped down.
“It’s just me and you now…” She smiled and stared down at the horse.
The animal neighed and shifted uncomfortably but she didn’t read anything. Fatima fetched a ribbon from the pocket of her dress and curbed her wild curls into one. She hummed a sad barn song as she neared the brook. She thought of taking off her clothes and having a little wash, to calm her nerves before returning to the ranch.
“How cold…” She smiled and dug her feet into the water.
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Fatima sat upon the grass and closed her eyes. Was Aisha really worth all her troubles? Was Laila right about her being selfish? True, Umar was a good man, if not the best in all of Israar. But she would be a horrible person not to tell him the truth about Aisha.
It was the loud scream from the horse that cracked her eyes wide open. The animal was wounded from the sharpness of its scream. When Fatima jumped to her feet and whirled, she found her horse on the ground, wounded from a deep stab. She gritted her teeth and stared at the lifeless animal. She searched the environment for any unholy presence but she couldn’t find any trace.
“No!” Fatima screamed and rushed to her horse. Tears poured from her eyes as she wept for the animal. The ranch was jut recovering, and this was one of the best horse breeds they had. What would she say to her sisters? They would blame her for working against the progress of the ranch.
“I must go back!” She wiped her face.
“Not yet…” A voice returned in a manner that sent chills all over her body. Slowly, Fatima raised her head to meet with the cowboy that had followed her from the ranch. Her heart skipped when she stared at his cold blue eyes. They had haunted her back at the ranch.
Fatima sucked in a deep breath, not knowing what to make out of his presence.
“Ibram?” She called out the name he had given to her.
A devilish gleam flashed in his eyes. His eyes were devoid of feelings, of soul. They were hollow and meaningless. Fatima became afraid.
“What are you doing here?” She asked when he failed to answer his name.
The cowboy shrugged.
“To administer justice to all those who stand in the way of the order of Israar,” He replied, before lowering himself to his boots.
Fatima scoffed, “What are you talking about? What justice? What is the order of Israar?”
He didn’t answer, until he had finished pulling all the seven daggers from the place he had hidden them. Fatima’s death would be shameful. As instructed by the order, he was to mutilate her; chop each part of what made her whole until she had nothing left.
Fatima began to move backwards when she saw the knives in his hands.
“You do not have to be afraid of me Fatima. I promise to make this quick. I do not know you, but my spirit likes you. I don’t intend to make you suffer, you treat your workers well.” He bellowed into the air, knowing very well that they were far away from human abode.
A new wave of fright took over Fatima. Why would anyone want her dead?
“You say yourself that I treat my workers well. Why would you want me dead? I haven’t offended you, and my sisters haven’t too. Why do you want to kill me?” She died a thousand times as she watched him flip the knives into the air.
Ibram shrugged, “This isn’t about your sisters. I don’t have any answers for you. You must remain silent for justice to take place.”
“No. You have to tell me the truth. Whom did I offend?” She barked at him. Even when death was imminent, Fatima was a strong fighter. She watched carefully to know if she could overpower him or if she could run. From the way he played with the knives and from the scars on his fingers, Ibram was experienced with knives. She would make for a run if she got the chance.
“Shut up!” He barked loudly and closed the distance between them. He was not a fool. He had known that her large eyes were on him, calculating when he would make a mistake. He couldn’t afford to fail the order. He required his promotion and freedom.
Fatima was about to run when she fell into the water. Her neck hit a rock, and the pain numbed her from moving. The cowboy had her where he wanted. There was no time to waste.
“Ple..ase.” Her lips moved softly in plea. Her limbs had shut down, but her mind was wide awake.
“I am sorry Fatima, but I am just a prisoner like you. I have to do this to set myself free.”
He stepped into the cold brook and squatted close to her body. The sight of her blood ignited the killer in him. His eyes were filled with cold rage. Flashes of his torture as a child poured into his mind. He recalled the cages, the lashes, the cutting…and many things that would haunt him forever.
Angrily, he clung tightly to a dagger and raised it. It landed on her belly. Fatima was too weak to scream, but she could feel the pain, and the hotness of her blood. He fetched a second dagger to proceed with the order’s signature killing, but it was too late. Abdul had just stepped into the scene.
“Stop!” Abdul jumped down from the horse and quickly took his sword out. He advanced towards the killer with it. He and Rahib had been right about the word on the vellum! Fatima was the next to be killed, of only she had listened to him.
Ibram froze. He had made a mistake! He had been caught.
“Stop right there before I plunge this sword through your evil neck!” Abdul let out curses into the air. Ibram obeyed. He stepped out of the water but with the knives still in his fingers. Abdul was very close, and could kill him because he stood at a vanatage point.
There was only one way to escape. Failing the order meant death by dishonor. He had rather have an honorable death, than to grant the order power over him.
“Who sent you?!” Abdul marched close.
Ibram didn’t answer. He dropped six knives on the ground and held onto the seventh.
“I answer to no one.”
Before Abdul could say another word, Ibram fell to his knees and slit his throat.
“No, no, no!” Abdul threw his sword to the ground and rushed to stop him, but it was late. Ibram had busted an important vein. He died from excessive bleeding. Seeing that he had lost the assassin, who would have proved very useful to the investigation, Abdul rushed to someone that was more important to him.
“Fatima…” he called out with tears in his eyes.
He was not a perfect man. But he couldn’t bear to see her in pain. He had a chance to save her, but he had failed. If Laila, Faiza and Umar knew that he had sensed that Fatima’s life was in danger, they would blame him for this.
“Please don’t give up…” He carried her body from the water and lay her upon the grass. He placed his head on her chest and found a little relief when he realized that she was still breathing, albeit weakly.
He needed to get her to safety. He also needed to take the boy’s body from the brook of Maris. As he carried Fatima’s unconscious body towards his horse, Abdul was more determined to find all the members of the order and slay them one after the other. Abdul was completely covered in discouragement. Fatima was bleeding profusely and there was no time to stop the bleeding. What if she failed to survive the ride?
Well, his fears were calmed when another horse showed up at the Brook.
“Abdul!” Umar called out.
When he saw the body on the horse, all the joy in him died. Umar was shaken by the sight of Fatima.
“No!” He wailed and sat on the ground.
“She is not dead but she will be if you don’t get her out of here.” Abdul announced. Safely, he tied Fatima’s body to the horse, then rushed to where his sword was. He handed it to Umar.
“Be safe. Take her to my castle and don’t tell anybody what has happened until I return.”
Umar nodded and mounted the horse. As he rode away, he swore to find those behind this attack on his best friend. Fatima was very innocent and peaceful, she would never hurt anyone. She didn’t deserve this. As he rode, he wondered why Abdul asked him to keep things to himself. It seemed like his brother had known that Fatima’s life was in danger, he hoped not.
Now that Umar was away, Abdul rushed towards Ibram’s body to do some searching. He checked the boy’s pockets but there was nothing. He was about to give up when he thought of checking the boots. When he did, he found vellum, just the size of what he had seen on the other man’s pocket (Ali).
Without reading it, Abdul knew Fatima’s name would be inscribed on it. Now there was a new problem to solve. There was a new puzzle to break. Who wanted Fatima dead? Why did the person(s) want her dead? How long had they been plotting? How was Fatima connected to the order?
Carefully, he packed the knives and placed them in his pocket. Abdul had to find the answers. The assassin had killed himself to prevent talking about the order of Israar. This proved that the order was highly secretive.
As he bounded the body to the horse, he thought of Ali’s widow. The woman had promised to meet with him later at the Brook; he hoped this would be possible. He needed to get to the bottom of this. He was ready to lay down his life just to find those behind the killings in Israar.
To be continued…