Shafiq and Belle rode Numair in search of the White Mare for several days, making camp at night where Shafiq set up a small tent from a roll he packed on Numair. He stood guard outside while the Princess slept safe and undisturbed within.
* * *
Under Mt. Damavand, in the dark cave lurked the marid, Aêšmi, the daughter of Asmodeus. She plotted against Princess Belle night and day. One midnight, her father entered and spoke to her, "Aêšmi, come and make obeisance to me," he commanded. She bowing low stood mute. Continuing he said, "since the day that I came in to your mortal mother and begat you, Lilitu my consort the Queen mother and I, have had great plans for you one day. Since the unnameable Anointed one came and threw our power down we have been hard put to cause harm in the world. We thought we had kept a large portion of the Arab sons of Ishmael and many others under our dominion, but the fierce One over all, whom we have sworn enmity against, sent the Prophet, His messenger, and freed them from us by the word he announced to them."
A serving demon stirred from behind the prince of hell.
"The time has come." Asmodeus announced, "Lilitu sends her greetings and this charmed intaglio for you to use against Belle, the sweet and innocent Muslimah princess and her knight Shafiq." The demon serving Asmodeus came forward and read from Queen Lilitu's scroll, "Daughter of the black light, by the power of the sacrifice of your mortal mother upon your birth couch, to our King the fallen star, were you consecrated to me. Now arise and take the Intaglio of Hecate and proceed to the destruction of the Princess, Belle Lumière, and the Kingdom of the Two Rivers." Aêšmi took the Intaglio and scroll and stood silent. Asmodeus and his train of demons turned and left.
* * *
Upon the world blessed by God and lit by the great lights He put in the heavens, Shafiq and Belle rode on. One day as they rode they came to a well. Shafiq dismounted and retrieved water for Numair. Taking a cup he filled first, he offered it to Belle still upon Numair's back and said, "blessed Princess, you ride most gracefully and so quiet, please take this for your thirst." She replied, "gracious and polite knight, I thank you." Drinking deeply, she handed him the cup back. He took it from her hand gently and then drank from it himself, looking up and smiling at her. He mounted again and they rode on. Suddenly a voice deep, gentle and calm said, "is it I you look for?" Standing in the road was the White Mare, light of heaven radiating about her in the cool early morning.
- to be continued -
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