The Tale of Dharryad and Ijiax, The Song of the Prince and the Slave
2,796 words. Complete series. Original work, from the world of The Jackal of An-Nadr.
CW | slavery, war, mind possession, stabbing, betrayal, tragedy, major character death, burning alive (this one is VERY emotionally intense, DD:DNE)
Tag List | @killtheprotagonist @secretwhumplair @ink-and-salt @kixngiggles @simplygrimly @brutal-nemesis @thebewilderer @whumpvp @scrabble-rouser
This tale, the image of the crown and the collar, has been used in the stories of Nadeem's people for generations. It is a symbol of unfathomable love and loyalty, as well as a cautionary tale about the meddlesome nature of the jinn.
This is the story of Dharryad, the crown prince of Ires; the story of a single slave who saved thousands; and the story of the malevolent spirit of a jinn, trapped within an emerald ring—one that brought a kingdom to its knees.
True he may stay by his side
And into darkness pass
But at the light of the dawn;
Know, this too, need not end.
Before they were legend, they, too, were only men.
The sound of their planning had been echoing through the tent walls for hours. He had long stood outside the commander's room waiting for the right lull in conversation before he entered, but the muffled arguing had yet to cease. Finally, he took a deep breath, and slipped inside regardless.
Dharryad was bent over a map with his brows deeply furrowed in thought, and he didn't even spare a glance upward. Jad and Taslim were the first to register his presence, the latter cutting off in the middle of, "...can't just divert three thousand troops—"
He bowed his head low. Without sparing a glance away from the map before him, Dharryad waved a hand, "He may stay."
Jad gave him a skeptical look, but continued nonetheless.
"...the Compass Plains simply do not have the resources needed to support a passing army, and even with a solid supply train we would find ourselves starved of fresh water within days. We need to circle around at the base of the mountains, even if it means diverting course."
He carefully approached the table, and held forth his pitcher. He filled Taslim's goblet without a word. When he reached for Dharryad's, the emir placed his hand delicately over the rim to stop him.
"That would add almost sixty leagues to our march, general. Even if the horses could take it, our men are already growing weary. And I would not send them to battle in such a state."
He moved on to Jad, who turned to him only to order, "Leave the pitcher, boy," when he had finished. He obeyed, then retreated to a nearby corner and laced his fingers behind his back to wait.
"That may be the case, mi Emir, but by taking the Plains straight through, we risk losing just as many to thirst or desertion."
"Especially with the reputation of those lands for leading men astray. The mountains offer stability, and our forces would be best protected by holding to their base..."
For nearly another hour their conversation continued, until dusk had begun to set and the flickering warmth of torches replaced that of day.
"We bid you good night, Emir."
Dharryad gave an assenting nod. He turned as the tent flap closed behind them and the sound of their footsteps retreated.
For a long time he just stood there, fingers tracing over the sand markings that zig zagged across the map. There was a high-strung tension in his shoulders, that finally he came to himself enough to try to roll out.
Ijiax unhooked his fingers and came forward, garnering permission before starting to work at the ties lacing Dharryad's throat. Still his tired grey eyes had not left the map.
"What do you think of all of this?"
His fingers froze.
The dark gaze fell upon him, and Ijiax realized, perhaps a moment too late, just how close they were. Then Dharryad nodded back toward his work.
"The siege. You have heard the plan. What do you think?"
"Emir, it is not my place—"
"It is if I have asked you."
He tried to swallow down the tightness rising in his chest. For a moment his eyes swept out over the miniature battlements and down the steppes, where they fell upon the intricately carved white horse that stood in the place of Al Bahlunawat. He traced the lines of sand that rippled around the city with his gaze, and followed them in their sweeping arcs back to Deimmam. The pressure that had been building in his throat threatened to break, and a smoky, familiar chill caressed his spine. The emerald ring on his finger began to burn.
Ijiax dropped his gaze back to his work, and a muscle slipped back and forth in his jaw.
"I believe Al Bahlunawat is being underestimated, emir."
"The horsemen?" his eyes turned back to the map, "We have plans to avoid the city by almost twenty leagues, I doubt if they will send their warriors that far to meet us."
"What if we needn't skirt the city?"
"What do you mean?"
"What mother Aaisha has said is true. I saw as much in Caneuit. Their people grow ever more restless for freedom. And...you have the one thing they might weigh more than the backing of Diemmam."
Dharryad turned to him in surprise. There was something profound in the steadiness of his gaze, and it rooted Ijiax on the spot.
For a long moment neither of them moved. Then when Ijiax finally met his eyes there was something swimming in the prince's gaze that was gone in the time it took him to blink. Dharryad's fingers flitted to his own bracers and began working at the knots.
"Thank you, that will be all I require from you tonight."
It took him a moment for the meaning of the words to catch up to him, and a moment more for his stunned silence to break.
Ijiax stepped back and touched his fingertips to his temple, then gathered the empty pitcher and the two used goblets from the war table under his arm. He offered another short bow to the emir's turned back, then slipped out through the heavy curtain and into the chill of the night.
He was not called back into service until the next day, though he had waited outside the emir's tent for nearly an hour before his silhouette ducked out into the predawn light.
He followed him carefully through the lines of tents, beginning to believe he had gone unnoticed right up until the prince hesitated outside Al-Muwat's quarters and his steely gaze flicked to him. He gestured with his fingers, and ducked beneath the tent flap before Ijiax had made it to his side.
He followed him loyally, then immediately froze. There was wealth within the general's tent such as he had never seen, shelves overspilling with brass and gold tucked along the nearest walls. Pendants of ivory and jade hung from the ceiling, twirling in the rosy morning light. Even a single one of them would have been enough to buy him his freedom.
Dharryad ignored all of it, striding toward the back room in a way only the firstborn son of Isde al-Mohiuddin had any right to do. He looked every inch the war commander he was, down to the diadem twined round his throat and the khanjar in his fist.
Suddenly Ijiax's heart was racing. Surely he was not about to witness the murder of the Qaid by the hand of his own kin— but he needn't have worried, for when Dharryad finally made it to the end of his commander's bed it was his foot rather than his blade which shoved him out of it.
Al-Muwat awoke in a frenzy of sputtering curses and an ache behind his eyes that could only have been from wine. Above him his emir glowered, tilting the coppery blade toward his throat.
"Tell me of Al Bahlunawat."
The stars glittered above, frightening and cold, watching him until he had the good sense to slip inside.
His master's quarters were a mess. The contents of his war table were spilled halfway across the floor, sand and all, while three young female slaves scrambled to clean up the mess.
He stared at the destruction before him, then quickly crossed the room and ducked into the next.
What had happened in the marhaq was but a child's tantrum compared to this. Furniture layed toppled and broken, textiles torn from one end to the next and strewn about the wreckage. Ijiax stared at the mess in horror, then his eyes fell to the side of the half-collapsed bed.
He approached the prince slowly, hands out before him as though he were settling some great beast. He knelt next to the man who looked more a shadow of himself than he'd ever seen him.
His eyes fixed, unmoving, at the collapsed crate across from him. He followed his gaze and gasped, feeling his stomach plummet through his spine.
The princess Umah d'Nakheel's necklace, the one he had seen her wear to her own coronation all those months ago, lie amongst three dozen other artifacts spilled across the floor toward the emir's feet. Ijiax felt the horrible, crippling implications of such a gift rip through him like a poisoned blade, and had crossed the room to slam the crate shut in a heartbeat.
He turned slowly back to the prince, who's eyes were still fixed unmoving on the spot where Nakheel's jewelry had been, and felt his throat tighten.
His emir looked as though a rage he had never before encountered had ripped through him. As though he were defenseless under the pointed blade of Diemmam's new Qaid. As though he were broken.
Forgetting all quarter, all reason, Ijiax crossed the room to him and gathered one of his fisted hands in his own. He stared at his emir as steel grey eyes, colder than he had ever seen them in his life, refused to move.
"She is not dead," he said firmly, squeezing the scarred knuckles within his hands, "They would never harm her when her objects alone were enough a message. She lives, Dharryad," he swore, "She lives now and she will live to see her city again. We will bring her home."
Ijiax shook him, desperate for him to look up.
But Dharryad's eyes stayed away from him so evenly he didn't know if his words had been heard. Then, voice shuddering, "I caused this. My sister, my baby Naki, rests in the hands of those monsters because of what I've done."
There was nothing but anger in his face, but a tear slid silently down the curve of his cheek. Something hardened in Ijiax, and it was unflinchingly that he clasped his emir's jaw in his hand and pulled his face up toward his own.
The word carried the weight of not only his rage, but the bitterness of the entire Iresian people behind it.
"No, mi emir. You will not give yourself over to this grief. Your Uhkti needs you," he insisted, "And I have never known my prince a man to turn away from his family."
Dharryad's eyes swam between his, until finally something in them softened.
And then Dharryad al-Mohiuddin, Prince of the Nine Rivers, Freer of the Twin Mountains. His emir...kissed him.
It was so terrifying and unexpected that he flinched away. Against his resistance the kiss broke and their eyes met.
Dharryad's eyes flashed up at him, shock at his own actions playing across his face. He looked so taken aback, and his mouth parted.
By the Most Merciful, they would kill him for this.
Ijiax silenced him. Their lips pressed together, tense and uncomfortable at first, then shifting closer as Dharryad melted into the touch. His hand curled behind his neck and every single other thought in the world softened away.
They parted only for a moment, the emir's half-lidded eyes locked on his own. There was something in them he'd never seen before. Some locked-away desire, smoldering beneath the surface of that incredible gypsum grey.
Then a wince of regret flashed across his handsome face.
Before Ijiax could apologize, explain himself somehow...calloused fingertips settled against his lips, cutting off any protest.
"I have a war map to draw."
Then Dharryad was on his feet, snagging the fabric of his turban off the floor and wrapping it about his own head. He started toward the door and then hesitated, turning back to cast a regretful look toward Ijiax.
"I am not done with this, little jackal."
Then he was gone, and Ijiax was left struggling for breath in an overturned tent, the ghost of a touch still warm against his lips.
And so from one hand to the next
The fell ring did pass;
And with it too,
The threads of madness sought their mark.
He let his relief show openly in his eyes, weight falling into his chains. The Qaid whipped around toward his prince in open shock.
Dharryad leaned back into the throne, every bit the emotionless conqueror he was claiming to be.
"I said no, Al Muwat. Need I repeat myself?"
At the challenge in his eyes the old man shied away, bowing his hand behind his palms.
"No need, mi Emir. It is the judgement of the Most High."
His eyes flickered to Ijiax's for one last moment, a bitterness turned toward him that the emir would not be able to see.
"Please excuse me, your eminence. I have urgent matters to attend to."
Dharryad waved his fingers in dismissal, and in a moment the Qaid was gone behind the clang and shudder of the immense brass doors.
The emir watched after him for a long, solemn moment, then seemed to realize that Ijiax was still in the room. His eyes softened as he turned toward him, taking all of him in with a flash of something behind his eyes. Then he settled further into the throne, visibly relaxing against the marble.
"Why, my little jackal, I think I might just enjoy you like this."
The deeper meaning of his words was not lost on him. He had to repress a small shudder, especially as his prince lifted himself from the throne.
He walked down the steps toward him like a predator circling in on its prey. His footsteps echoed loudly in the empty throne room, and with each one of them Ijiax felt something inside himself curl deeper and deeper into the hidden recesses of his mind. On the prince's finger, the emerald ring caught the light.
He offered a smooth smile, behind which his heart was pounding irregularly in his throat.
He drove the knife into his emir's stomach, leaning his weight into it until the blade crushed through his body and into the stone behind him.
Dharryad let out a wet gasp, stumbling slightly as he stared down at the blade. Then to Ijiax's hand. Then, finally, to the face of the man that had betrayed him.
He sobbed as he saw the realization dawn across his prince's eyes, green and dark and lost.
Then they slumped to the floor together, and Dharryad let out a groan.
"Aman...I'm so sorry," he wept, "I'm so sorry..."
He could hardly see past his tears as he bowed his forehead against his prince's, hands still knuckle-white on the khanjar. Blood, hot and thick, poured across his fingers and strained the white of his waist sash black.
Dharryad's fingers curled over his, then shakingly wrenched the blade free. He stared at it for a moment, his own blood coating his hands, then it fell to the tiled floor beside them with a clang.
Ijiax couldn't stop weeping as he saw the light behind his eyes begin to falter, and he finally realized he had not struck high enough.
The blade had pierced his lungs, not his heart. With a long, rattling breath, Dharryad sunk into his arms.
He had eyes for no one and nothing but his emir, even as the hiss of coals rose beneath his feet. He only made it a few steps into the wreckage before the pain overwhelmed him, and he collapsed his knees with Dharryad's body still cradled in his arms.
Ijiax bit down until his teeth threatened to crack, holding back the screams he felt trying to rip from him as the flames licked up his sides.
He leaned into Dharryad, his forehead collapsing his leather armor beneath its weight. Tears simmered before they'd even made it down his cheeks.
But in the end, the screams ripped through him nonetheless. He writhed and crumbled, clasping to his form with bloody knuckles, and he held to the man he loved until the very last breath from his lungs cut short.
His last thoughts were of his prince's smile. Of a sunny afternoon on the Purratu. Of peach wine.
The flames hissed and crackled, embers floating up through the air, and then everything but the fire went out.
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