(Picture found on Pinterest)
I have taken ideas from different cultures and folklore to create this fantasy piece.
A woman waited nervously by the door. It was well past sunset, and still no one had arrived. A cool darkness had spread over the valley, and the tiny house was now cold. She wrapped her shawl more tightly around herself, though it brought little warmth, and she daren’t risk starting a fire.
She chanced a look outside the Mashrabiya, the ornate windows that concealed her from the world, to see an unfamiliar tiny narrow street. It was deserted. There was no sign of life around, lo the steam that rose from the neighbours houses. A fragrant smell of sweet tea and aromatic spices wafted through the cracks. Her stomach turned at the smell, and she forced herself to swallow down the bile. Everything recently made her sick.
The eerie sound of a sintir played somewhere in the distance. It was chilling, and instinctively the woman placed a hand to her belly. She grasped on tightly, as though she were protecting the most precious thing in the world.
Unable to take the sick feeling in her stomach, she sat down on a number of luxuriously woven silk cushions. Her leg tapped unknowingly against the floor. The hour was late. Where were they? Frustration, anxiety, dread, all the worst emotions to feel bubbled up inside her. They spread through her arms till she felt numb and worthless. Simple tasks like picking up her cup of water proved challenging, as it kept slipping through her trembling fingers. Oh how she hated to wait.
The sound of the sintir had not ceased, and all the while her feet drummed against the stone floor. The adrenaline surged through her, as every nerve in her being was on high alert. Finally, when she could no longer take the pressure building up inside her, she made her way to the wash bowl and vomited. Little came out; mostly water, and herbs. She had been able to stomach little in the recent days.
The oval mirror above the wash basin, showed a cheap imitation of her reflection, framed in solid gold. She had heard enough gossip about herself to know that the pale woman staring back at her, was not the complete truth. From a tender young age, well before the first time she bled, she was seen as desirable. Men traveled from all over Africa to claim her as a bride. Her striking features, were a distinct resemblance to the royalty into which she was born. Large almond eyes, plump soft lips and a narrow nose, which all men found attractive; though none were allowed to see. Her face was veiled by the niqab that she wore everywhere, only revealing her eyes. But the eyes were all she needed, she used them to speak.
Breathing in deeply, she tried to calm her stomach. Her hands cupped fresh water which she splashed onto her sweat drenched face. A final glance in the mirror showed someone unattractive. Someone she didn’t know.
The woman made her way back to the cushions. She would wait only a moment longer- but then she had to return. She could no longer wait for them to arrive. It was only a matter of time before the guards realize she was missing, and send word around the city of her disappearance.
The woman turned her head slightly to lay on the cushions. Her body felt like she were on a boat, swaying with temptress waves. Just as the nausea subsided a tiny voice from behind the screen window called. She bolted upright.
“Nasmeen?” The Ameera asked.
“Yes, My Princess. I have returned.”
The door behind the screen unbolted, and a young girl, no older than 15 entered into the small house. She was accompanied by a stranger clad in brown cloak. She stepped across the room to greet them.
“Is this the Hannayas?” The Ameera asked, looking down at the cloaked figure.
The figure nodded, removing the cloak from around them. An old woman stood before them, dressed in minimal clothing. Her breasts were revealed through the barely drawn cloth that wove around her. Her wrinkled face, looked wary as she stepped forward and touched the princess’ belly. She shook her head violently, and took a shaky step backwards towards the door. He mouth let out a mournful cry, and it was then that the Ameera noticed her tongue was missing. She continued to sound out a word, withdrawing back against the wall. The lack of tongue proved no problem, Ameera knew what the woman was thinking. Shaitan.
“Please…” Ameera begged, falling to the floor. It was something she had never done, and promised she would never do for anyone. She lay with her hands on the floor for the child inside her.
“Please my child is but an innocent baby.”
Nasmeen fell next to her mistress and attempted to get the princess off the floor, consoling her as she did. Finally, after many tears were shed, she rose to see the Hannayas looking at her.
“Please…” She begged once more. She remained silent after that, in hope that her message of sincerity came across. She placed her hand instinctively at the nape of her belly. It was large than it was a month ago, because her baby was growing fast. The Ameera knew that the child inside her was not human, and it seemed that the Hannayas had also sensed the same energy. The father was a good man, and the child was born from love; but as with all creations for life there was light and dark in everyone.
The baby’s father was a Djinn, and to the Ameera, and all her around her he was sweet and kind. The child’s fate had not yet been written, but the Ameera knew that love would be the only thing that kept it from path of evil. She would lovingly carry the child all the way till birth, until the day it was born when the father would return to take it.
The Ameera hated the thought of giving away her child, but if the king found out that it was born out of wedlock, and more seriously to a Djinn she and the child would be executed.
Her faithful hand-maiden Nasmeen, had been by her side since the beginning. She had given her safe passage to her family home, where they now waited, undid the stitching from her abhayas so her bump would not show, and many times pretended to be the Ameera when she had a moment alone with her child’ father.
Nasmeen, now stood by her side with her hand clasped together also, praying that the Hannayas would help them. The woman looked at them skeptically, but finally came close enough to observe The Ameera. Her hands were rough as she turned her head to look behind the ears, lifted her dress to press her cold hands against her bump. The old woman shivered as she did so, making strange clicking noises.
Finally she led the princess towards the cushion and sat her down. The Hannayas withdrew a pot filled with strong smelling powder. It was Henna. The Ameera felt relieved for the first time. She had prayed to God, for this moment.
The woman, who had been clicking over her bowl, as though she were possessed and speaking in tongues, finally took out a small pocket knife. The Ameera unwillingly held out her wrist. No part of her beautiful body had been scarred before, but today she would do what she had to- she would do it for her child. The woman made a small insertion from which blood flowed willingly. The Hannayas collected it greedily into he cup, mixing and clicking as she did. Finally when enough had filled the pot to make the henna shine a deep auburn colour, she set it to side, ready to begin .
The old hag, traced a design on her ankle. It was a protective sign that would keep any harm from befalling her or her baby. It was old, forgotten magic, but it was strong. As the woman moved to grab the pot; the Ameera held out her ankle, ready to receive her amulet.