As they rode, Belle turned to Shafiq and said, "my leige, do you see the houses we pass? Some look poor and destitute, yet this is fertile land, rich and capable of support for many more people than are here." Shafiq looked at the Princess and said, "I have indeed noticed Lady Belle, and also that there are even open graves and woodland cut down and many other signs of ravage and devastation." Looking ahead to Abdul, Shafiq called and said, "Abdul, good guide and friend, please spare a moment and speak with us." Abdul turned and, it seemed instantly, was there by their side. The angel spoke directly to both of them saying, "it is the land that you wonder about, both of you. Excellent! The Almighty Lord is pleased at your concern. You are not brought together just for your sakes but for the people that dwell here. They live on the land that you are to govern together. They are your responsibility. You will answer to Almighty God for what you do and don't perform in the way of your duties to Him and to them. You have seen the devastation wrought by hordes that invaded the once unified kingdom. Your grandparents each from their own palaces, ruled the kingdom jointly. The Western half, Belle, was given to the care of your grandparents. The Eastern half, Shafiq, to the care of yours. The hordes from the north and south and the worst, those from the western sea, came and sundered everything. Those from the north pretended friendship, but were secretly enemies and in league with the other two. Those from the south were open enemies and the powerful ruthless ones from the sea were the cruelest of all." Belle looked at Abdul and remembering the waifs and the destruction she had seen, spoke, "I have looked into the eyes of fear and hunger and death. This must be ended now for the sake of God's justice and mercy." Shafiq added, "and the evildoers of this must be brought to bay." Abdul anwered them both, "you Belle, must speak before the counsel, since it was the west that was hurt the most. You Shafiq, be ready to don your sword to protect her. Both of you, when we finish the tour and the Daughters of Astarte have arrived at Sippar, we will meet them there and proceed to the counsel. Remember always, courage, wisdom and forebearance." It was twilight and they rode on to camp that night.
At camp, under the stars, Shafiq and Belle were alone while Abdul watched and the horses rested. A fire burned brightly. Shafiq played his Oud for Belle and sang softly to her a poem of love and gentleness. She smiled warmly at him. They passed the evening in timeless reverie and communion with one another, until it was time for sleep. This night was gentle and blessed. They would start again tommorrow.
-to be continued-