The Northern Pilgrimage


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  Anka tried with all her might to care about the clay jug in her hands. She tried so hard that her eyes were red from refusing to let herself blink. The desert sun felt inches away from her face, and the clay sizzled in her hands seeming to grow hotter with every passing moment.
  “Open your heart and let your emotions flow. Feel apart of yourself tether to your treasure.”
Her mentor Aisha repeated the mantra from behind. It had been an entire day since either had eaten or had water. Anka was exhausted, and her knees were weak from standing. The sun that had warmed the back of her head in the early morning hours was now shining directly in her face. It burned her eyes, and orange dots peppered her view of the clay. Three days remained until the Emissary from the North would arrive to select girls to make the journey, and the survival of Anka’s family depended on her being able to develop an attachment to this damn jug. Her stomach rumbled – all she could think about was food and water.
  “Concentrate girl!”
A sharp jab in the side brought her attention back to the jug that had since slipped through her fingers and disappeared down the depths of the sand dune. She’d failed again. It was just a stupid jug. She didn’t even care to retrieve it.
  “This is pointless, the jug didn’t work either!”
She kicked sand and it was immediately blown into her mouth and eyes by a gust of cruel wind. Collapsing she coughed and rubbed sand from her eyes. Aisha cleared her throat and took Anka under her arm as they began their descent to the bottom of the sand dune wiping her face with a sleeve as they went. “It’s just a matter of finding your treasure - everything falls into place the moment that connection is forged. It takes great strength to care about anything.” Even in her old age she was graceful, and her feet barely disturbed the sand as they walked down. Anka in contrast left great pools in the desert twice the size of her feet. She looked back at the curving snake-like pathway she’d made – she couldn’t even walk properly, let alone like a lady.
  “The love for your treasure must come before water, food, family, and self.”
Aisha repeated the tenets in the hope it might somehow rewrite Anka’s misfortune, or at the very least instill some talent in the girl. She had three days left, and her chances weren’t looking good. Over the past year they’d tried everything from shiny stones, to feathers, to one of the few books in the village containing a story Anka had loved as a child. Nothing was working, and as the sun vanished from the horizon she felt her hope disappear with it.
  As a last resort they had hoped the extreme heat and lack of water might make Anka bond to an item used to carry water, but the end result had been the same as every other occasion. No matter how desperate for food or water she became her family was the one true thing she cared about. The act of removing her from the village had only reinforced her attachment to those she loved. The girl simply wasn’t meant to be a genie. 
  Anka removed the last of the sand from her eyes just as the desert changed colour to a deep shade of purple. She leant on Aisha for warmth as she felt the temperature shift, and the sand no longer burn her feet. They were approaching the bottom when Anka questioned Aisha about her own lost treasure.
  “Did you ever think about finding a replacement?”
Aisha smiled as if she remembered happier times, but her eyes were sadly grounded in the present.
  “A treasure cannot be replaced. People survive the traumatic experience of having their treasure lost or destroyed, but that kind of a connection only comes once in a lifetime. There will only ever be one ring.” She paused before adding “Only one Halim.”
 Anka looked at the wrinkled hand supporting her shoulder. A small tan line was the only thing left of the treasure Aisha had lost to the desert. It had been the parting gift of a soldier who promised to return and marry her after the war, but he never came back, and Aisha had worn it every day ever since. Her refusal to move on combined with her strength, and attachment to the ring had made her the perfect candidate to take the pilgrimage north, but in a cruel twist of fate the ring was plucked from her finger during a sandstorm taking Aisha’s chances of leaving the village along with it. Fifty years later she spent her days instructing girls in the ways of the tenets in the hopes they could make the journey she never could. She was too kind to turn down a request for help. Even from girls who had no chance of being selected. (TBC)


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