history lesson-


Cool Desert Air
by Wendy

Baghdad, 819 CE

She ran towards the open space near the river, a pack of vampires at her heels. The cool desert air allowed her to move faster than she could have during the day. Perhaps if she could lead them on enough, the guards on the Watchtowers could come to her aid. She knew that Wadi had handed some of them sharpened wood as he drank with them. He claimed that the guards were the best and most interesting of those he met on his sojourns about the city whilst she was out slaying.

Karida had been born in the Kerkhe district in this, the City of Peace. She had cursed the Caliphs who had built the marble topped domes and smooth straight streets when she had gained her powers. There were no hiding places in easy reach, no climbable walls. She lived in a time of wealth and prosperity and hated every moment of it.

Strange ships landed at the busy wharves daily, bringing new curses and new demons her way. It was almost as Allah himself directed those who wished to claim the Slayer as their victim to Baghdad. Wadi, her Watcher, said that the influx of creatures was in her imagination. They had always been here, and always would be. Al-Rashid may have been ten years in his grave, but the trade in his Empire would outlive him, and with it came these unsavoury monsters.

Karida reached the shores of the Tigris, calling out for aid. She turned and faced the algul - the vampires - and pulled a sword from her baggy tunic. She spun like one of those dervishes from Persia, and managed to lop off a number of heads. The dry ground was cool under her bare feet and she moved easily. The curved blade whispered through the air as she decapitated most of the vampires. Their dust hung in the aromatic air, impeding her vision slightly. All too soon it was over - all her foes vanquished as the guards from the tower pounded into the square.

They teased her about the false alarm, and congratulated her on the amount of dust falling to the ground. She wiped her sweaty face with a cloth one of them handed her and followed them back to the tower for some juice. She had the rest of the night to patrol.


The youngest of the guards was called Adeeb, and he was tall and dark and his teeth shown like scimitars in the lamplight. He made her dance with him, as they celebrated her commonplace victory. "How many is that now?" they asked. "A hundred? A thousand?"

She watched her steps in the dance. They didn't know how to treat her. She was female and yet the equal of any male. For all that the city laws dictated veils and secrecy for the women, she openly disobeyed. Karida claimed that she would pass for a boy, and did the honoured guardsmen not know her and respect her for saving them so much stirring from their comfortable watchtower. She would swear with them, and she would drink with them. But she would dance with Adeeb.

Her farewells were met with groans, but she laughed them off as she resumed her patrol. Adeeb offered to accompany her to the docks, claiming business, and Karida accepted. Her heart could pound all it wanted, for she was the Slayer and she was performing her duty. No mere man could come between her and the evil that launched itself on the unsuspecting townspeople of Baghdad.

They were passing the Souk of Five Rams when Adeeb drew her into a dark corner. She protested, but her noise was stilled by the press of his lips on hers. He pushed her deeper into the gloom, and ran his hands over places no man had ever touched before. She gasped, half in surprise. "Stop. I must patrol. The docks."

"Forget the docks, Karida. I know what you want." He was sweating and his hands were greasy as they tried to open her shirt.

"What do I want?" Karida demanded, and lifted his hands from the front of her shirt.

"Me. You wear no veil, no gown. You flirt like a demented whore with me." He pressed back at her, but this time Karida was ready for him. She slung him to the ground, ignoring the crack his arm made as he landed awkwardly.

"Merely because I am a woman who needs to fight. And I have more pressing things to fight than you." She spat on him, watching him turn in disgust from the spittle, and left him lying there. She started running at the end of the street, and didn't stop until she had reached the house at the city wall that she and Wadi shared. The earthen walls contrasted with the richness of the city's grander streets. Yet it was a sanctuary in the true sense - something no marble palace with golden spires and shining domes could ever be to Karida.

He turned at her entry. "You are home most early. I was preparing some lamb for when you were to return." Wadi took one look at her face and sat her down. She sobbed out the story, and was disturbed to see worry cross the face of her imperturbable Watcher. "This is a most disturbing tale you tell me, my Slayer. Adeeb has family in the highest ranks of the city. I think that you must be more circumspect in future."

Karida started to cry. "I have never been bothered before. Many of the poorer women do not wear veils. What am I? One from a harem of a rich and pampered man."

"It is not about the veil, my dear. It is about the fact that you wounded him in his manhood. A little girl like you defeated a fully grown man in his prime." Wadi could see right to the heart of any problem. "Worry not. How did your hunting go?"


Later in the night, when she was almost asleep, she watched Wadi write a letter to his masters. He would send it in the morning. He never got the chance.

"Open up, in the name of the Caliph!" A battering at the door woke Karida from her troubled sleep. Wadi was already there.

"Sirs. It is most early and my sister and I were late to bed. Why do you here so loud?" Wadi waved at Karida behind his back as he attempted to delay the officials. She started to creep towards the stairs leading to the roof. Once she was on the roof she could escape to anywhere in the city.

The guards caught onto his subterfuge, and slammed the door open. Wadi was slung aside like a child's abandoned doll, as Karida was levered through the door in her night-shirt. "Wadi!"

"You would do well to worry about yourself, child. He is no longer your concern." As she was loaded onto a horse, she watched the men scatter Wadi's books and tip the brazier onto them. As she was carried off, she saw the first signs of flame climbing the walls.


Karida landed in front of the Captain of the Guard. "So it is true. You do not attire yourself properly." She was kneeling on cold ceramic tiles and trying not to shiver. Her shirt was ragged and barely covered her. Around her stood tall, imperious guardsmen - more soldiers than the complecent men that she was friends with. That she had been friends with. Their chainmail gleamed in the dawn light.

"My lord. I was removed from my house scare woken. I had not time to prepare myself as the Prophet orders." Karida didn't look at the man, keeping her head to the floor. She was booted in the ribs and ordered to look up. The man was an older version of Adeeb. His father.

"You are but a girl, yet you do not flinch when the strongest of my men beats you. I say you are a witch. You enslaved my son with your evil, inflaming powers and thus are sentenced for execution in the proper manner." He dismissed her, and she was dragged from the room.

"I am no witch. I am the Slayer. You can't kill me. I have to protect." Once more the guards laid their fists on her. "I have to protect the city. Scared duty," she gasped, as she slid into the welcoming darkness.


Water spattered onto her, shocking her awake. "Wadi?" she cried, hoping against hope that her Watcher had come to rescue her. She took in the straw covered floor, the barred window. Everything was filthy, and she could feel the bugs crawling over her skin. She had never expected to land in the guard's prisons.

"Not quite." She didn't know the man standing in front of her. He was short and covered with a layer of fat, the kind that accumulates from fine eating. His clothing was rich and his jewels dazzling. "I am a friend, none the less. Word of your arrest had reached my ears. In fact, word of most things that happen in this city reach my ears."

Karida looked more closely at the man. She recognised him from his place at the Caliph's side when he performed his duties at the major mosques. Karida slid back into a corner. "You are the Spymaster? Ali Ibn Nazzir?"

"Yes child, I suppose I am. I am also a member of the Watcher's Council. I have come to help you escape." He handed her a bundle of clothing. Men's clothing.

"Escape?" Karida was puzzled. "Am I not to be set free?"

"You are to be executed in the morning. Come now." With no more explanation, Ibn Nazzir dragged her from the cell. Karida stayed a servile three paces behind him until they had reached the city walls. A loaded horse awaited her there. "Go now. There are many others that need the help of a Slayer, and many cities left unprotected."

She mounted up, and asked, "Can I ever return? I have never left Baghdad before."

"If you live long enough, you may return in five years time. Adeeb and his family will have no more power by then." Ibn Nazzir looked pleased with himself as he guide the horse to the gate. A gold coin to the waiting guard ensured his silence. "May Allah guide you and protect you, child."

She rode off along the well trodden road, never to see her city again.