Age of Endeavors Part 1 By: Pent Ghelsburg
Disclaimer: All characters in this story are fictional. They are my creation and intellectual property. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely a coincidence. They are not many to resemble anyone else's characters. This piece contains underaged characters. Some details have been fictionalized for simplicity sakes. You have been warned.
"Complacency is the Enemy of Achievement." – Frank Sonnenburg
The shining sands of the Sahara flow like a river of sand. The epoch of each tale told by countless oracles who had foretold of the coming of a hero who would beset Ibn Shaddad as written in the stones of one thousand and one nights. His love of Alba second only two for his love of Arabia and her glorious sandy dunes. But it has been many moons since his supposed coming. The seas of gold and pages of words remain unturned and restless for the people who have grown restless and complacent.
The towering spire of the old palace dotted the skyline. Each served as a landmark serving as a monument to a grand past achievement. The top covered by draping banners which represented the hues of the royal family. Crimson Red and Nightfall Black with an inscribed snake representative of the legendary Falak which supposedly remained beneath the earth's crust, awaiting for any such summoned to beckon its existence from eternity.
The Sultan of Persia ruled over this land with an iron fist. Her subjects knew her as a guiding light and a fair ruler. She was strict and allowed no disobedience of the law of the land. Her likeness was present throughout the empire with statues dedicated to her service. But of course, she was not alone in her achievements. It was her family who served as governors under her authority. Even outside of Arabia her namesake represented respect and adulation.
The military under her auspice served as the spear of the empire. Each territory that fell under their sway had to pay tribute to gain the benefits that the fellowship offered. The soldiers of her majesty were recruited at a young age and often acted as squires to older masters. These younger charges were seen as the future of the defense of the country and were treated with great reverence. It was seen as a great honor to be selected for the service to the Sultan.
Each squire was assigned a Shah who was responsible for their wellbeing from the age of 8 until 14. One member of the selective service was Miraj. At 14 years of age, he was at the end of his service and ready to graduate into greater responsibilities. The teen was a young man who lived in the barracks with his regiment. The senior squad, as they were called were led by the rabbit himself. He was a hardworking and respectable young Pooka.
Society was segregated along two lines the human part and the furry part. Miraj was a breed of rabbit which stood at slightly below average height when compared to their human counterparts. The Pooka, as they were called, lived in a segregated community removed so that they were not bothered by everyone else. It was very rare that furs were accepted into the service and so Miraj was one of the few who inhabited its ranks. His battalion was smaller as such since they were the only group of furs in the selective service.
Miraj had been trained as a faris for the past few years but had especially become fond of a mace and shield. It was an odd weapon choice for the region since most in the cavalry picked longer reach arms such as a pike or lance. The rabbit much preferred close hand combat as he was quick on his feet and able to defend himself quite readily. One thing that the Pooka had going with him was his fur color, which offered him some camouflage from the environment around him.
His tones were a variation of sand brown and a darker hue of sepia. Two floppy ears topped his head and his features were made more obvious by the stereotypical rabbit tail and buck teeth. The teen was able to walk with the little issue despite his large paws which were unable to fit in any traditional footwear. Instead, he opted for simple foot covers or bindings when he decided to engage in any type of martial practice.
It was the day of his 14th birthday which meant that it was finally time to move on from selective service and be indoctrinated into vocational training until he ready to join the army 2 years later. Miraj was to be given the choice of which type of skill he wanted to focus on for a while. He was the only one to be indoctrinated on this day which was nothing more than coincidence. The Shah was to arrive shortly after breakfast and Miraj needed to get ready.
The Pooka woke up shortly after sunrise. His body was used to the schedule and he was able to wake up without any sort of reminder. He woke up still in a state of stupor as he yawned and tried to shake off the morning blues. The sun shined into the open window which allowed some of the outside air to circulate through the otherwise warm room. Miraj stretched and flicked out his ears as he crawled out of bed, making sure to straighten up his sheets so that he could pass room inspection.
The teen assumed that this would be the last time he would receive the measure of the protocol. Miraj's stomach growled reminding him that it was time for breakfast, but he knew it wouldn't be long before his Shah arrived. Meanwhile, he spent time getting some more presentable clothing than his pajamas. He decided to go with his nicest get up which robes were saved for ceremonies he was expected to attend throughout the year.
The robe was a kaftan that extended the length of his entire body. Underneath it, he wore some light underwear which allowed for the free circulation of air throughout his body. The coloration of the fabric was bright and contrasted against his fur. When the Shah arrived in the barracks he was greeted by an entourage of fans. The guy was famous for his prowess in the craft. His ability to make any defense or armament was second to none.
The Shah who was known as Faruq was escorted by a single woman who was wrapped in full garments to hide her figure. When they arrived in Miraj's room, the rabbit greeted them by bowing deeply as a show of deference to his senior.
"Ah my son, today is not a day for protocol. No need for these niceties." Faruq was a tiger whose figure was lithe and lacking any musculature.
The Pooka rose himself back to a standing position and looked up at the taller man "I am ready for my next station in life."
"Have you considered your options?" The feline's tail wagged softly behind him.
Miraj scratched his head but had thought long and hard about the issue. "I have. I think I would like to pursue the area of medicine."
"Is this you're final decision?" The Shah was a bit surprised at this answer.
The rabbit nodded. "I am sure. I know my herbs and I feel my knowledge of them could be useful."
"Very well. You shall be apprenticed to Najwa the wise then. She may be found at the Hanging Gardens."The tiger pointed towards the door.
Miraj bowed deeply to show his respect for the elder male. "Yes, your lordship."
As he was on his way out, Faruq stopped him. "Failure is not an option. Remember this well."
The pooka nodded, having full confidence in his abilities. Though the land was a desolate one, he knew it well.
Every variety of desert flowers and plants, he figured he knew at this point. Of course, Miraj was a little overconfident in his abilities. After all Persia and Arabia were all he knew. The world was much more vast than he ever realized. However, he was hopeful that one day his world view would expand as he was ever the scholar.
Miraj grabbed a small scratchpad which he kept notes on and a satchel that he kept for various sundries. He placed the pad inside of it and set the satchel on his belt. The pooka got dressed in his best travel gear, a dark blue canvas shirt, and long tan slacks that reached down to his paws. He donned some dark brown boots and wrapped himself in a black craft that doubled as a turban. Once he was dressed, it seemed he was ready.
Upon exiting the home, he found that today was a usual windy day. The sand was being thrown along the wind and he had to cover his face with the purple scarf he kept around his neck. Miraj began to head towards the outskirts of the city where the gardens were located. It was an unmistakable landmark of the region and known the world round for its beautiful foliage and it's ornate and elegant columns
As he approached left town, the sandstorm seemed to grow stronger. Still, he trekked onward and trudged through the sands of the desert. Miraj could see the shape of the ziggurat shaped tower appearing in the distance. Growing ever larger, the closer he got. The thought of reaching his goal was the only thing keeping him going. Soon the structure offered him some protection from the sand, once he was close enough to it.
After arriving, the Pooka found himself breathing rather hard. The wind was strong today and had fought against his advance the entire time. Still, it now offered a nice respite against the otherwise warm climate of the desert. In front of him were stairs and they looked rather unappealing after his long walk. But he knew he had to push through to get to the top of the great garden.
He began trekking up the stairs, taking slow and careful steps up the sandstone pavement in front of him. It took some effort but eventually, he was able to overcome the staircase and ascend to the top of the structure. At the pinnacle. Miraj could see the place was nothing like he expected. Grass and wildlife dominated the landscape. Huge and sprawling rivers streaking to and fro. Even more surprising were some waterfalls spilling from some manmade cliffs in each corner of the structure.
Miraj could hear some birds chirping and the crashing of the water as he took off his scarf from his face. The breeze on his fur was a welcome addition as he wiped some of the sweat from his forehead. He saw no one around and the sound of water was making the sensation of being parched even more strenuous. The pooka made his way over to a nearby stream and leaned down to scoop some water into his maw.
"May I help you, Child?" An unfamiliar voice sounded nearby.
Miraj lifted his head after he finished drinking. "Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to intrude."
The woman in front of him was wearing a grey robe that flowed along the floor. Not much could be seen except for her face. For an oracle, she seemed to look quite young. Her face seemed to resemble a fox's with pristine tan fur that seemed rather well kept for someone out in the open like she was.
"Oh no, the earth's bounty is for all of us to share. Please, feel free to drink all you need. I can see you walked here without a horse or camel." She placed her paw on his head to put him at ease.
The Pooka knelt back down to take another drink since he was still thirsty. "Thank you, My Lady."
Eventually, when Miraj was done sating his thirst, he stood back up again to face the woman.
"What brings you here?" The fox put her hands to her side casually.
The rabbit dried his maw. "I have come here to see Najwa the wise."
"I am she. How might I be of assistance?" The woman took off her drab robe and revealed a much more ornate red and yellow gown.
The dress seemed to resemble a more oriental look than Persian. It glistened against the sun as Miraj gazed upon it.
The Pooka shielded his eyes from the glinting of the sunlight on the sequins of her dress. "I am here to pledge my service as a chirurgeon."
"Ah, very well. What do you know of herbs and tonics?" The taller woman scratched her chin as if deep in thought.
The rabbit reached into his satchel and pulled out his notepad to show it to his new mentor.
She gently took it from him and began to look through it. "I see. This is impressive."
"You really think so?" Miraj couldn't help but smile and took it back from her once offered.
Najwa nodded. "Come with me, child."
The fennec led forward through the complex. The Pooka thought it strange that the garden was so full of life in an otherwise desolate landscape. They approached a huge waterfall that cascaded down from hanging foliage above.
The fox woman walked into the water, not seeming bothered by the fact that her paws were completely submerged in the shallow stream.
"Aftah." The oracle lifted her arms and the water parted revealing a small wooden door behind the waterfall.
Miraj stood in awe at what he had just seen before him. He wasn't one to trust in the word of the so-called magi and yet the woman seemed to possess some strange power he was unaware of.
The fox beckoned to the teen and waved him over. "Come, child."
The pooka followed slowly, feeling that the stream would come back to life sooner rather than later.
Sure enough, he was able to enter the doorway without any issue. Though he did manage to get his boots soaking wet. So much that he could hear them squish once he entered the dark hallway beyond the open door. It was a tight space and the sound reverberated against the stone walls. It was dark and the only light that seemed to be present came from behind them. The woman gripped her paw and a bright flame lit into a ball of fire.
They walked together down a spiral path. Once they were past it, Miraj overheard the sound of crumbling rocks. The Pooka covered his head in a gut reaction.
"It's the door shutting. You can relax." Najwa looked back and saw him flinch.
The rabbit eased up and continued walking. The stairs seemed to last forever. But soon the narrow inclined path gave way to a flat one that was just as dark. The fox flicked her fingers and one by one candles lit all around the room.
Now that there was some element of illumination, Miraj couldn't help but look around. It seemed to be a laboratory of some sort. There were a few tables and various equipment could be seen. Even more plentiful was the glassware, much of which had various liquids in it. There was even a board with various specimen pinned on it as if they were to be examined later. It was perhaps the most colorful thing with all sorts of dead plants decorating it.
"This is where I work. Not many furs have seen it. I call it Mukthabar." Najwa folded her arms and stood proudly in front of her life's work.
Miraj began walking around the lab and looking at things much more up close and personal. The first thing the rabbit stopped at was the billboard full of artifacts. He reached out to touch them and was surprised to find they were kept inside of the glass.
"Look, but do not touch. Some of them are dangerous." The fox kept a close eye on the teen to make sure he didn't break anything.
The Pooka continued to example the critters. All of them were some sort of insect, many of which he had never seen before.
Najwa placed her paw behind the teen. "Come, I must show you the rest of the room. You can study the wildlife later."
Miraj frowned as he was pushed away. They continued their way through the small room. Najwa showed him various equipment and yet another display of plants. The pooka wasn't quite as interested in that but it was still pretty impressive. Eventually, they came to far end wall which seemed vacant of anything other than a small door. The fox opened the door and held it open for the rabbit to go through.
Once they were inside, it seemed they were in an area with a small pool of water in the center. Miraj looked up and there was sunlight peering through an opening in the roof. It reflected against the water and provided light for the otherwise dark room.
"Where are we now?" Miraj stepped in front of the fennec who had stopped by the door.
Najwa approached the small lake and stepped into it. It seemed as if she was walking on water but in reality, the water was quite shallow.
She bent over and then held her paws up, filtering some water through her fingers. "This is the pool of reflection."
"And...what does that mean exactly?' The pooka scratched his head as if confused.
The fox bent her fingers coaxing him to come to her. "Come child. Pledge your service to me and we shall begin your training in earnest."
Miraj stepped into the water, the woman's walking facade trick revealed to him. She stepped away for a moment and returned with an ornate golden scepter.
The fox held up the staff and tapped the teen's shoulder.
"Kneel, Miraj." Najwa waited until he complied.
The Pooka did as he was told and got on one knee, looking up at the woman awaiting whatever ceremony she had in mind.
The fox moved the scepters end over his left shoulder and then shifted it to his right one before tapping him on the head. "Do you swear to pledge fealty to me and provide aid to the public when needed?"
"I do." Miraj continued to stare at the water which reflected his image at him.
Najwa guided the scepter under the boy's chin and lifted it. "Do you promise to give services to all those in need. Even those who cannot afford it?"
"I do." Miraj tried not to smile seeming earnest in his conviction.
The fox guided the teen to an upright position. "Then I, Najwa the Wise, hereby appoint you as a full apprentice as an apothecary and chirurgeon."
The woman took his paw and led him back out from the indoor lake. She set the scepter back on its mantle near the back and returned to him.
"Come, child. Let us begin then." She guided him back into the proper lab area.
Miraj waited for her guidance as he wasn't sure what to do. "What shall I do first?"
"First, I'm going to show you how to use a Mortar and Pestle. Then we'll go from there. We will mix some herbs into a tonic." The fox stepped away and grabbed some ingredients from a jar nearby.
She stuffed the ingredients into the bowl and began grinding away. Eventually, she took the rabbit's hand and guided him in doing the same. It didn't take long for him to pick up on it.
Najwa patted him on the back. "Nice job. Grind it into a nice paste."
Miraj continued doing as he was told and before long it began more of a gooey like substance. The fox stepped back and fetched the alembic, which was made out of glass. Once he was done, she tugged him over to open fire with a wired open cradle in it.
"This is an alembic. It is used for distillation. You insert the liquid at the tip. Then you place it over an open fire to oscillate." The fox modeled the activity as some steam rising from the makeshift tool.
The pooka imitated the same means, managing to accomplish it with ease. She continued to show him all of the tools of the trade throughout the day.
It was an introductory course to be sure, to make certain he was at least somewhat familiar with each of the tools. After all, there weren't that many tools in the alchemist's arsenal as the medical sciences hadn't advanced that far quite yet. Still, they made do with what they could. Once they were done going through each piece of equipment she took the teen back over to the two collections of specimens.
One by one Najwa identified each one of the plants and dead critters on her board. "These are mostly local species, however, there are a few from outside the realm. I use them to make different potions and ointments."
Miraj was quite impressed with her knowledge, especially since it didn't appear like she was that old. Though he was afraid to ask her age as he knew looks could be deceiving.
She waved her finger at him. "Now, these are not to be used. They are used as signifiers, which means as a representation of what I need to find."
"So what is my first task then? What must I find?" Miraj put his arms to his sides casually, trying not to seem over-confident.
She pointed at a specific leaf, a small oval-shaped one. "This is from an Acacia tree. You must locate one near an oasis. There you must gather as much as you can."
The woman handed him a basket and waited for him to take it from her.
"Very, well. It shall be done." The pooka took the basket and began to head out before she grabbed his shoulder, stopping him.
"Not so fast...You need to be trained in combat. We are pacifists but not everyone follows our path."
Najwa stepped the back of the room, pulling a lever on an empty wall. It rotated it some weapons were fashioned on top of some holsters.
She motioned her hands up at them. "Pick your poison and I shall train you in the ways of self-defense and submission combat."
Miraj made his way over to the stockpile and looked through it. Eventually, he picked a mace and shield.
"Very nice choice. Shall we begin then?" The fox took a metal staff and stood to the side of it.
The two began training in earnest once again. Najwa was quite skilled in combat with Miraj being quite clumsy at first, especially considering the nature of the mace. Every time he made a mistake, she corrected and guided him rather than berating him. It didn't take long for him to get tired since he wasn't used to the weight of swinging around a mace. But gradually he made progress.
Over the course of the next few weeks, they continued. Remaining indoors for much of it but soon turning outside. Miraj learning more and faster with each passing day. Eventually able to deflect some of her blows, but Najwa remaining in full control of every spar. Only on one occasion did he even come close to landing a blow on her. Regardless, she was happy with his progress and content to teach him more as time went on.
The day finally came where she felt he was ready to travel on his own. They stood on the precipice of the gardens looking out into the vast desert beyond.
Najwa patted him on the back. "You are ready for your scavenging task. Do not disappoint me."
"Yes, milady." Miraj bowed deeply and took a deep breath.
He was nervous but this was the day he had been looking forward to. He would finally get to go foraging into the expanses of the desert. Sure he had done it in the past but this was different. It felt important. He was eager to make a difference and to begin his life anew.