The Goddess would never have allowed them to find this island had they not sought it in the spirit of true love. They would have wandered upon the waters of the lake, their path shrouded in mist and shadow until they gave up and turned back to shore. So, I welcomed them.
He was a warrior from the plains, lithe as a cat with copper-toned skin, thick, black hair and almond-shaped eyes. His hawkish nose curved over a thin mouth. She was a slave from the Western Islands, fair-skinned and slender as snow weed. Her flaxen hair was bleached white, her face creased by years of labor in the sun. But her eyes were as blue as the heart of the lake.
He clutched at her like a hard-won prize, but I pried her from his sweaty grip. In my hut, I removed her bindings and washed her bleeding wrists with water and witch-hazel. I bound the wounds with clean cloth. I fed them some thick spinach stew, which they ate greedily, and I bade her to sleep in my bed.
Outside, the other residents of the island gathered in the courtyard of my compound to welcome the new arrivals. They brought gifts of palm wine, bananas and roasted yam, for they too had sought its sanctuary after fleeing the capricious strictures of their societies. Though they pressed him, he would not say what brought the two of them to our shores. Only later as she slept and we nursed warm bowls of tea beside the dying embers of the hearth fire, did he tell his story.
Her name was Zahra, which meant ‘fierce.’ It was not her true name. She had been given a tribal name when they bought her as a child. His name was Allul, a desert bird of prey. He had loved her since he first saw her as a child fighting off those who tried to break her spirit, he told me. But Allul was a warrior of a respected family in his tribe. He could not marry her and she had vowed to kill herself rather than become any one’s bed slave.
So one night, buoyed by drink, he lured her out into the scrubs and took her. Against the laws of his tribe, against her will, he took her. Then, fearing the harsh justice of his people, which would have condemned them both to death, he bound her and fled.
For a time, they lived off the custom of hospitality that exists among the tribes of the plains. Among them, any visitor is welcomed without questions or complaint for a given time. A day, for some, a week – even a full moon among others. However, as the evidence of his crime blossomed within her, he sought a more permanent refuge.
Now, I cannot tell you where this island is. It sits in the middle of a great lake, but everyone who has found the lake has come by different means. Some climbed mountains, others crossed deserts, one couple fell into the lake after they jumped from a cliff. Allul and Zahra crested a hill one day and saw the lake nestled in the center of a valley filled with snow weeds – the island winking at them through the haze of mist.
As he finished his tale, my mind was wild with questions. I could not understand it. I had been tending this island for time out of mind and I had welcomed people from all over the Land. They were men and women who had loved the wrong family, the wrong class, the wrong nation – even the wrong sex. But this, this was not love. This was base and selfish - a cruel parody of every story I had ever heard. Why would the Goddess bring this man to my shores?
Just then, I heard a cry from the corner of the hut where Zahara was sleeping. She had awoken in the throes of labor. Now, I have birthed more babies than I can remember, but none so fraught as this. Their time as nomads among the plainspeople had taken their toll on her. She was in poor health and I could not hear the child’s heartbeat. I called up help from the other residents and even drafted Allul. When the child was finally born, his face was covered in a thin caul. I ripped it away and kept it to fashion a protection charm for him later. He was a tiny thing, but he drew a great lungful of breath and cried with a volume that belied his size.
It was when Zahra held her son that I understood. It was not Allul’s love for Zahra that had brought them here. It was her love for her child, though he was the fruit of his father’s crime. In all the time they wandered, she could have fled into the harsh landscape. But she knew no tribesman would have extended the custom of hospitality to a lowly slave who had fled her master, so she had remained at her rapist’s side.
Now, she could be held prisoner no longer. She bid me care for her son and by morning, she was dead. Allul went mad from grief, though I am inclined to say it was rage. The anger of a spoiled child denied its favorite plaything. He walked into the lake and began to swim for the far shore, but he never got there. His body washed ashore a few days later.
Even as I write this, I can hear Behn rooting about among my herbs and potions on the other side of the hut. He looks like his father, dark haired and hawk-nosed. He even has a touch of the man’s melancholy nature. But his spirit, like his blue-blue eyes, are his mother’s. I know when he leaves here – as he surely will, for my world is too small for his ranging mind – he will be the flame that sets the world afire.