The Organised Author

Arabian Days


Arabian Days is a Young Adult novel set in ancient Persian, and it'll be published by Solstice Publishing.

Here's the first chapter :)

Chapter One
  
Ashur didn’t fear heights while flying a carpet. Not even when, glancing down, men and women looked like colourful, tiny insects crawling in the busy streets of Persepolis. King Xerxes’s royal residence, the Winter Palace, was the size of a toy. Its yellow and blue walls, so imposing from the ground, seemed as if they could be flipped over with a fingertip.
He swallowed and tightened his grip on the metallic energy lever that stuck out of the dashboard and controlled the speed. Speed. That was something to fear. For now, the flying carpet, a large, heavy model designed to transport elephants, camels, and other livestock, dragged across the clear sky, and lazy, puffy clouds drifted by.
A light breeze coming from the bazaar carried the scent of cardamom, freshly baked bread, and turmeric. It brushed Ashur’s dark hair away from his eyes and cheeks, and he quickly put it in place lest his scar showed. He cast a glance at his potential employer sitting next to him. Babak scribbled with a stick on a wax tablet set on his plump belly. He muttered something and pushed back the burgundy phakeolis that covered his head with coiling bands of cloth.
Ashur reached out for the horn and bumped his hand on Babak’s crimson silk shoes that ended with a white pearl. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry.”
Ashur grimaced. Just those shoes would probably pay a good chunk of his slavery debt. He shifted on the stiff cushion. Seats weren’t the strongest point of this carpet. The pad felt hard under Ashur’s crossed legs and the stench of camels impregnated it. If he got this job as driver and had to spend hours transporting animals around the Persian Empire, he’d need something better to sit on.   
“Excellent work.” Babak nodded at the tablet and stroked his pointed brown beard. “You certainly can drive.”
“Thank you, sir.” Ashur ground his molars.
Of course he could drive. One didn’t become the fastest flying carpet racer without excellent driving skills, especially in illegal races where the sky tracks were designed to provoke accidents. The desire of sprinting through the clouds filled him and—sprinting meant speed. Sweat dripped over his chin, and his throat shrank as he fought the urge to scream. Speed had been in his blood. Not anymore.
His chest deflated. Racing days were over for him. A racer scared of speed was like a physician scared of blood. The skin of his prickled, and he put a hand on the long scar crisscrossing his ugly mug. After all these years, the scar still hurt as if he needed a reminder of how he’d become a slave in Persepolis. But he was going to buy his freedom.
“How much is the pay, sir?”
Babak tapped a finger on the tablet. “Let’s see, I need a driver to transport two hundred camels to Susa. This makes a trip of twenty parasangs.”
Ashur’s mouth slacked. “Twenty? That means almost a week by horse.”
“The world is a big place. But with this fine carpet, it’ll take a couple of days at the most. If you speed up, it might take less, which is something I’d recommend.” Babak pulled a lever to his right, and the grinding of metal against metal resounded. Panels emerged from the sides of the carpet and formed walls and a domed roof. “In case of rain or strong wind, this model is fitted with a full cover. Although two hundred camels here would make the place rather stinky if you keep it up all the time.” Babak barked out a laugh and pulled down the panels.
Ashur huffed. It couldn’t be worse than the stuffy, cramped basement where he slept with other twelve slaves. “You were saying about the pay?”
“Oh, right. Twenty parasangs are equal to two hundred bronze darics.”
Ashur’s shoulders drooped. Only two hundred darics. He should’ve accepted that job as a dragon flyer from that northerner lord. “When I raced, I earned thrice that sum per race.” He hated how grumbling his voice sounded, but maybe he could negotiate the salary.
“But you had to give most of the winnings to your master, I suppose.”
“I could keep five hundred darics for myself.” And for my little brother.
Babak put down the tablet. “Why do you need all that money? You’re a slave.”
“Exactly.” Ashur slowed down on a turn. “I want to buy my freedom.” And pay my brother’s slavery debt.
“Are you Assyrian?”
“I am, sir, from Nineveh.” Before the Persians destroyed it.
“I heard what happened to your city.” Babak cleared his throat and studied the tablet. “I can raise the pay to three hundred darics, but not a daric more.”
Ashur grinned. “Thank you, sir.” The wind shuffled his hair again, pulling it back, and he covered his scar once more.
He focused on the sky-road where he was driving. Small glowing globes floated at its borders to mark the lanes. In the fast lane, sports carpets flew by him in a blur of bright colours and flapping tassels, causing his heart to flutter with longing and fear. On his right in the animals’ lane, a dragon growled at him. Its long, graceful body undulated like a silk ribbon in the breeze. White fur covered its back, and long whiskers framed a stout muzzle. Ashur smiled. No wings stretched out. It was a Chinese dragon that smelled like fireworks.
Babak shifted away from the mighty beast. “I don’t understand why the slow lane has to be so close to the animals’ lane. Yesterday a hippogriff almost chomped off my arm. So be careful with my camels.” He wiggled a finger to Ashur. “If a dragon snatches a camel from the cargo, its price will be detracted from your salary. And I hope you know a bit of mechanical arts, too. Do you know how to refill the tank with sassanis and how to unstick the half-moon is it gets jammed?”
Great, just to make things easier for Ashur. “I used to weave my own racing carpet, sir, and I even know how to repair an engine. So I’m sure I can deal with the sassanis and the half-moon.”
A small, furry brown dragon dashed past him. A long banner, attached to its tail, trailed behind it with the caption, “Beware of the Spartan menace. Report any Spartan to the Immortals.”
Ashur’s gaze wandered about. Last year it was the Egyptians, then the Japanese, now the Spartans. Every time King Xerxes prepared to invade a new country, its people became the most dangerous enemy of the empire. Although Spartans did have a reputation for being ruthless murderers. The banner twinkled, and another advertisement appeared, With Shiraz wine, no one whines. 
Babak pointed toward the western wall of Persepolis. “Fly over the Gate of All Nations and make a turn.”
Ashur’s hands trembled on the steering half-moon that controlled the carpet. The Gate of All Nations? The biggest, most busy square of Persepolis? “But sir, it will be crowded with people. You told me we would’ve flown just around the outer border of the city.”
“I’ve changed my mind.” Babak shrugged, and the golden earrings on his earlobes jingled. “Show me how you turn and wheel the carpet. With all these beasts around, I want to be sure you’ll do a clean job. Are you worried about a crowd seeing you fail?”
Ashur didn’t give a half daric to what the crowd would see. He licked his dry lips. This job interview was turning into a nightmare. “There’s a big bazaar on the square. There will be music.” And probably some musician is playing the moonshine song. His hair flew back again, but he didn’t care.
“And?” Babak faced him and blinked. “By the bolts of Adad, slave boy, you’re ugly.”
“Yes, I know.” Ashur didn’t flinch. Nothing new to him.
He kept the flying carpet stable while soaring over a temple. If he distracted Babak and veered away from the Gate of All Nations, maybe Babak would forget about flying close to the bazaar. Babak would never employ him if he knew that a few notes of the moonshine song would force Ashur to dance.
“What happened to you?” Babak scrunched his face, his brown eyes scrutinising Ashur. “It looks like someone tried to rip your face open with a dagger.”
Yes, something like that. “It was an Immortal. When the king attacked Nineveh.” He drew in a breath, the pain and horror of that night still fresh. The half human, half machine faces of the Immortals, the Persian elite soldiers, still haunted his nightmares. Along with the screams of his family. His attempts to save his brother had given him only a scar.
“Fool.” Babak paled. “Only fools fight the Immortals or those who have a death wish.”
Not that it had made any difference. The Immortals had come, pillaged, murdered, and left unchallenged. “That’s how Vizier Kurush became my master.”
“Oh.” Babak fiddled with the tablet. “How much will Vizier Kurush retain from your salary if you work for me?”
“More than half.” The sunlight glinted off the golden vaulted roof and Ashur squinted as he manoeuvred the carpet close to the cupola of a palace.
“Where are you going?” Babak turned around. “I told you to head to the Gate of All Nations.”
Ashur groaned. “Yes, sorry.”
He checked that no dragons or fast carpets were next or behind him and lowered the carpet. He glided over palm trees, trimmed gardens, and ground roads busy with short, slow vehicles.
The maze of narrow streets and cobbled alleys that spread in the city centre ended up in a wide limestone square. Ashur steered the tall pillars that surrounded the square and the pointed roof above them. The carpet’s shadows moved over viziers in their silver robes and white clothed wizards milling around stalls of exotic fruits, precious fabrics, and mechanical spare parts.  In a corner of the square, dancers twirled and leapt.
Ashur wiped the sweat from the forehead. “Baroor.”
“Manners.” Babak scowled.
A shiver ran down Ashur’s spine. There. Great. Music always accompanied the morning bazaar. He swallowed. Maybe he was overreacting. Not every musician played the moonshine song. He had to be the most unlucky man in the empire. It’d been already unlucky enough that during his race accident, he’d crashed against the music god’s temple, caused a priest’s ire, and been cursed. Did he have to lose a job for the dammed curse as well?  
The sweet sounds of the moonshine song drifted from below the square, amplified by a mechanical device. Ashur froze. And here he got his answer. Yes, he was the most unlucky man in the empire. His back muscles twitched, reminding him how his master had flogged him last time the curse had been triggered.
He put the steering half-moon on autopilot and covered his ears. Perhaps if he blocked the sound, the curse wouldn’t start.
“What is the matter with you?” Babak grabbed the half-moon and disabled the autopilot. “You have to drive.”
“The music… I can’t…” The notes filtered through his fingers, reached his mind, and shook his body. Ashur was no longer in control. His limbs twitched without him wanting to.
Not again.
A mix of shame, fear, and anger clenched his throat. He’d tried everything. Even knocking himself unconscious wouldn’t stop the curse. His body had to perform the Moonshine Dance.
With a swift move, Ashur sprang to his feet and twirled around. He sent a prayer to the heavens, hoping that the god of death would take him to the underworld. No luck. He still breathed and danced.
“What… what… stop this farce immediately.” Babak’s rotund face turned red, matching his phakeolis cap.
“I… can’t.” Ashur jumped and waved his arms.
Babak ducked Ashur’s foot and hand. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“No, sir.” Ashur pirouetted around the carpet so fast his head spun. “I was cursed. I can’t control my body.”
Babak sat on the driver’s seat and steadied the carpet. “What do you—”
“Don’t come close to me.” Ashur pirouetted.
His knee connected with Babak’s head with a crack. Babak’s eyes rolled in his skull, and he dropped on the carpet, his tongue hanging down.
Ashur winced as he trampled on Babak’s motionless body. “Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s not my fault.”
The carpet drove without a driver, and Babak had disengaged the autopilot. Ashur’s curse wasn’t just ridiculous, but dangerous as well.
“Mister Babak?” Ashur tried to bend over Babak to check on him, but the Moonshine Dance routine had other plans.
Ashur spun with his arms spread wide. The carpet pointed toward the ground and dived like a sinking ship. It brushed past a family carpet full of children and Ashur gasped. A few inches on the left and that family would’ve been crushed. A pegasus, a winged horse, neighed at him. A blue dragon roared as the carpet crossed the animals’ lane. Babak’s unconscious body shifted forward, his limp arms dangling from the edge of the carpet.
“Mister Babak.” Ashur completed a series of small, quick steps on his tiptoes. “Wake up, Mister Babak. We’re going to crash.”
The chatter from the people in the street, the music, and the snorts from the horses turned sharper and louder. A three storeys building, right in front of them, grew closer and closer.
Ashur tried to grab the half-moon, pushed his muscles harder, but nothing happened. He screamed in frustration. His muscles disobeyed him, and his limbs mocked his orders. He tried to drag himself toward Babak. It was like swimming against a strong current. Every time Ashur tried to shift into the direction he wanted, the curse forced him to keep going with the routine. He couldn’t even turn his head.
A shout resonated from the street as the carpet hit a treetop and the marble ledge of a palace. The carpet shook. Its metallic belly groaned and split. Masonry plunged to the ground, and the crowd scattered. Deep crimson liquid dripped from the side of the carpet.
Baroor! The tank with the sassanis fuel had been hit.
Ashur gritted his teeth. Unless he did something, he and Babak would die and probably kill a few innocent people. He danced his way to the steering half-moon, but the carpet swung to the left and got stuck between two buildings. It stopped with a screech and Ashur was pushed forward like a stone from a slingshot. He soared up in the sky, his arms still waving about in rhythm with the dance, and flew above a building. He braced himself and closed his eyes.


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