A note from the author:
Hello, dear readers.
You may have glanced at this story for the first time, or maybe you've been reading this with every update for the last two years. Either way, I've removed all the chapters and am rewriting every single one of them. This story, if it could even be called that, is so awful, so badly written and clichéd, that I couldn't bear to update it any longer. So I'm redoing everything into something I could call 'acceptable.'
Each chapter will be uploaded again when I consider it ready. Some things will be cut; some elements will be added. I'm even changing Leilah's name. Her appearance will remain pretty much the same, though, as I had explanation for that originally anyway.
Read along if you want or wait until the new chapter is finally uploaded. When the story is at the point where I can continue it, I will entitle the chapter 'Story Continued…'
In the dark of the night, there stood a woman. Her long, black hair was scooped up into a tight knot at the back of her head, keeping it out of her dark brown eyes. Her skin was dark, too; smooth and clear, reflecting her youth. She wore simple peasant's clothes, which were smeared with the blood of life as she held a newborn child in her arms.
The babe bawled as the woman tried to soothe it, casting wary glances at the mother lying motionless on the floor. Her eyes were wide but unseeing, her blonde hair clumped together with sweat. Her chest did not rise with breath and she did not stir when called to. She was dead.
Nahlah jumped, nearly dropping the child in her arms as another villager appeared at her doorway.
"I heard screams. Are you…" the man's voice trailed off as he stared in horror at the scene before him. "What in God's name has happened here?"
Nahlah said nothing, merely calming the baby until it fell silent. When all was quiet, she looked up at the man.
"I found her…this woman," Nahlah said, nodding her head towards the dead woman on the floor. "She was outside the village, lost and starving. She's not from these lands; I could not understand a single word from her lips. I took her in and she wrote a letter…and then…and then…"
Nahlah glanced down to the baby instead of finishing her sentence. The man moved towards the woman on the floor, and then hesitated before stepping back.
The room was silent, save the child snuffling slightly. The man sighed.
"What will you do with that?" he said, waving a hand towards the baby in her arms. Nahlah scowled.
"She is not a 'that!'" she replied, her voice sharp. The baby whined and Nahlah lowered her voice. "I will keep her. She will be my daughter."
"Better to leave her in the wilderness to die," the man muttered. "You know recent events will cause suspicion and rejection."
"I will not kill a babe, Fadi," Nahlah hissed quietly, "and you should not suggest as such. Is it her fault the crusaders invade our land in search of their false god? No, it is not, and I beg of you to see what see is: an innocent child."
"Well then, perhaps we should take her to Al Mualim to see if what he thinks. It is his land, his fortress; we are here by his grace alone."
Nahlah sighed. She knew Fadi was right, but fear held her back. The Wise Woman had predicted she would never be able to have her own child. If the assassin Master took away her chance to be a mother, her heart would break.
She looked now at the girl in her arms and smiled. The newborn was still bloody, but underneath the red was a sign of fair skin. Upon her head, a small amount of fuzzy baby hair. It was impossible to tell what colour, as it was matted and stained dark. Her eyes were shut tight, to Nahlah's disappointment. She wanted to see what colour they were.
"Yes, we will go to Al Mualim," Nahlah said finally. "And I pray he will be merciful."
Al Mualim peered at the child with mild interest. The origins of the baby had been explained in great detail by the young woman before him, her features filled with hope. He smiled kindly at her. The mother was dead, the father nowhere to be seen. The mother could be buried and the child would live, so long as no relative came to claim her and caused trouble.
"You may keep the child," Al Mualim said finally. Fadi scowled whilst Nahlah cried with joy, jolting the newborn and causing her to cry. While she settled her new daughter down, the assassin master signalled to two of his men.
"There is the body of a woman in one of the village houses. This man will take you to it. Remove the body and bring it to be prepared for burial."
If Fadi was unhappy at the order, he did not show it. Instead he merely nodded to assassin and beckoned them to follow him. When only Nahlah and Al Mualim were left alone, he spoke to her again.
"In return for this, I wish for the girl to serve in the fortress when she is able. Do you agree?"
Nahlah nodded frantically, a big smile on her face.
"Then you may go."
"Thank you, Master, oh, thank you!" she gushed, before hurrying away down the steps and outside to the fortress grounds.
The baby cried while Nahlah washed her in a bucket of cold water she had retrieved from the well. The body of the girl's mother had long since been moved, but the blood remained. Nahlah would clean it away when her daughter had been settled to sleep.
Nahlah dried the baby with an old dress of hers and then bundled the girl up in it to keep her warm. The baby opened her eyes and looked at Nahlah for the first time. She felt as if she would burst with love.
"Beautiful girl, you need a name," Nahlah whispered, whilst her child yawned, staring at her with grey irises. "You will take my name, Seif, but what of your birth name? Shall I name you for your fairness? Shall I call you Zuleika?"
Nahlah paused and then shook her head.
"A pretty pet name, perhaps, but not fitting, no."
She glanced around, noting that despite the candles, the room was nearly black. The door of her home was open, revealing the starless night. No moon was present and the air was heavy, giving a sense of the forbidden.
"Born from darkness into darkness," Nahlah said finally, holding up her child to the candle so she could see her better. The baby shut her eyes and recoiled from the light, disliking the sudden change. Nahlah considered this for a moment and then moved to a darker corner of the room. The child seemed to relax and opened her eyes again.
"Born from darkness into darkness," Nahlah repeated. "You are a child of shadow; dark as night despite your complexion. Dark as night..."
Nahlah held the child to her breast, comforted by her warmth. She had decided on a name.