The Arms of the Watcher, p.1
The Arms of the Watcher
Cover Art by Matt Miller 2011
March 24, 2011
The Arms of the Watcher
Copyright Ben Miller
© TXu-747-487 2011
Title: The Arms of the Watcher
Author: Ben Miller
I would like to thank my son, Matthew Alan for helping me create the board game that I call Bones. Matthew also created the cover art for all of my books so far and we are going to continue this relationship. What a gift it is to have someone to work with. My daughters Audrey and Amanda helped me greatly with years of encouragement and editing. My darling, Cindy showed me what love was like so I could write about it. The future belongs to ma wee bairns, Jacob and Nicole.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events are used fictitiously. Where and when this story takes place is unknown to me. The desert is timeless.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1; Old Man of the Desert
Chapter 2; The Watch Man
Chapter 3; Dinner and A Bride Price
Chapter 4; A Game of Bones
Chapter 5; The Gathering of the People
Chapter 6; The Return
Chapter 7; The First Morning
Chapter 8; Jin
Chapter 9; A Visit to the Widows
Chapter 10; The First Evening
Chapter 11; A Childhood with Han
Chapter 12; The Blood Quest
Chapter 13 Two Crazy Years
Chapter 14; A Lack of Resolve
Chapter 15; The Robbers
Chapter 16; Jin’s Plan
Chapter 17; Mav’s Plan Unfolds
Chapter 18; Day 3- Decision Day
Chapter 19; Shivaree
Chapter 20; Two Blessings
Chapter 21; The Robbers Return
Chapter 22; Judgment of the Watcher
Chapter 23; The New Watch Man
Chapter 24; Epilogue
Lar, the Watchman
Til, the current Watchman’s father
Kal , the tear master, chief of the people
Zet, Kal’s first mate
Mav, Kal’s current mate
Han, Lar’s first mate, Kal and Zet’s first daughter
Jin, “desert flower”, Lar’s second wife, youngest daughter of chief
Tas, the Shiree, the wedding broker
Kiv, Beast master, hunter, blood brother, best friend
Loi, the Shiree, the marriage broker
Red Jud, the robber’s chief and father
Brown Jud, a robber, of the Tall Ones from Narrow River
Red Hul, Jud's brother
Chapter 1; Old Man of the Desert
The old man on the camel jerked sleepily in his divan. The cradle strapped to the side of his camel allowed him to stretch out lazily during the long night’s haul. Night is the only time to travel in the desert. The road they were on was made of sand packed so hard that it was easy for the well traveled camels to follow. They had all learned to avoid soft sand. Thus their travels were self adjusted during the times when only starlight lit their path.
Bel Al, also one of the few Star Masters in this vast ocean of sand, looked at the star patterns he had been using since childhood to guide his caravans and his father’s before him. He smiled to himself as he thought of his son in the divan balanced carefully on the other side of this camel. After seven daughters, The Great Master had finally given him the treasure of a son. This would be the first time for Til to steer by his star charts. Bel Al patted the side of Griffar, his most trusted camel so that he would not be startled when he spoke, “Til… my son, are you awake?”
Til Al jumped a bit at the sound of his father’s voice. “Of course… I was working while you slept, Father…” He had been busy with his charts and a chalk board, constantly guiding their path. Some times throughout the night, if he had seen by the pale star light that sand had drifted over the hard packed trail, he had run ahead over the drifts to find the hard pack of the true trail. Whistling back to Griffar, the trusting animal had followed Til’s commands. The wise old camel followed the sound of his voice up over the soft sand and back to the hard packed trail. All the other animals in the caravan had been trained to follow Giffar. Thus, the caravan had made its through the dark nights.
He laughed to himself. “Father… Why do you ask?” In the growing light of dawn, he once again checked to see the fading stars of the Polonius shape crossing the Ox Hump mountains in the far distance.
“This should be the morning for us to see the old man, my son…”
“Aiya, my Father, I am so excited, “ the young man leaped nimbly, as only a newly bearded man raised on camel back can do. He looked about him self in the growing light. He breathed deeply of the cool air. He matched his speed to the stride of his beast and arranged his books in their carrying cases. He lifted the outer edge of the divan that had been his office for most of the night and deftly tied it in place.
Rubbing his face with the cool wet cloth of the bug net that had been covering him while he rode through the long night, Til Al ran around the rear of the camel to his father’s side. He kissed the old man’s bearded cheek, “The sun comes… Soon, there will be no more star reading.”
As naturally as two old friends, the boy leaned against his father as he walked beside him. They looked at the reddening sky, “Right you are, my son. Dawn is the most beautiful part of a desert day for me,” Mumbled Bel Al.
For these weary night travelers, the subtle changes in the sky mark the first sign of the end of this long night’s toils. All around them, they notice that even the sand seems to ready itself for the beginning of the change. Through the long night, the sand had given up its stored heat to the wind and the sky.
For the experienced desert dweller, this was the beautiful moment. For this brief period, though, the air is cool on the skin and the sand is cool to the feet. Experiencing the world at this time of day is a desert joy. Layers of caftan material are removed. Usually covered hair is shaken free to air out before the atmosphere becomes too hot to be enjoyed. All of the various conveyances are folded up and stored until sun down. The warm clothes are not needed in the blazing heat of day are stored until they would be called for by night time’s cold.
Alerted by these shifts of light in the dying night sky, Bel Al sits up to see around the rocking of his desert beast. He now begins to search for his day light bearings. Then, off in the edge of dawn, he sees what he has been looking for the past three mornings. Triumphant, he gives a ululating cry of joy. Til Al grabs the harness of the startled camel and joins him in song.
People come bolting out of their sleeping divans, running toward the Beast Master’s animals at the head of the line. They ran over the top of the dune and packed around Bel Al as Til Al brings Griffar to a stop just over the top of that dune. The tired line of animals standing behind the lead camel are only too happy to wait here while the silly humans sang.
Bel Al laughs, “Peace…A Salaam…Peace, my brethren… I am singing my happiness to see our next rest stop on the horizon.”
He pointed to the Western horizon toward the shape that this traveler has been hoping to see each of the last threes mornings. “There…m’ afi…Do you not see His round head?”
Through out this trip, these people had been regaled with Bel Al’s stories at their morning fires as they had come across the hundreds of cistares
With joy, he decides that he is looking at his goal. He jumps from his divan, startling Griffar again. Til Al, (also a Beast Master in training), begins cooing and whispering to the camel. Soon the beast was calmer, standing, blowing huge clouds of steam into the cool morning air.
Bel Al raised “My friends, we are approaching a natural phenomenon the likes of which few have ever seen. This out cropping of rock is known as The Old Man of the Desert.
He smacked the flank of his camel, “Come, let us draw closer.”
Behind him, the animals moved when Griffar moved. Soon, a long snake of beasts and wagons was over the last dune heading into the rising sun. The lighter the day became, the more of the rock shape was visible. Topping a high dune, and tumbling down the far side, they came to place where the old man was nearly completely visible. The near edge of his face was still in back lit shadows.
Just as he remembered it, Bel Al marveled at the sight. The rock mountain is tall and rounded. As he does each time he first sees it, he laughs at how the bushes on its height looked like wild hair. On the sides are bits of rock that look like ears. Excited, he urges his beast and all that follow toward that rock. All of his calculations and star plots had told him that they would make it this morning, but, he was still relieved to top the last rise and know that this portion of the trek is over.
Like all of the desert guides, he was glad to see the little water fall was still trickling down the face. That was his evidence of a pool of water at the base of this little mountain. Griffar smelled the water before he saw it. He began to tug harder against his tethers. The strong animal whipped the cart forward. The four wide steel bound tires Churned in the sand. Til Al’s mother and sisters squealed and tumbled from the back of the cart. Complaining, they joined the crowd growing around Bel Al. Griffar continued pulling as he had over the days of this hot trek. Seeing the head forming out of the morning mists, Fre Ya’ shushed her daughters, “Help your brother calm the animals, ma treasures. In a moment, you will see why we traveled longer last night.”
Like her husband and son, she knew the real reason that all caravans found their way to this way station is not this mystic rock, but the water. From all points in the compass, tracks had been beaten hard over the years leading to this place of shade and feed and water. After many years, the track had been beaten so hard that even scrub grasses couldn’t grow across it. Sand occasionally blew across it, but did not stay. To the practiced eye, these trails are well marked. Griffar has been lead animal long enough to know the trails by the touch of his hoof.
All of the caravan masters knew that the only way to survive a crossing of the Great Desert was to move only at night. Bel Al was as seasoned of a traveler as any one alive. His caravans always followed that pattern. From years of experience, he knew that he was in the hottest, driest stretch of the Great Desert. During the raging heat of day light, they must be carefully hidden in their clever tents buried in the cool, deep sands or be baked alive.
Unlike the previous days when he would have called a halt much earlier, Bel-Al had pushed his tired people and beasts through this last night. Usually, well before dawn, he would have his caravaneers circled up in a deep sandy crevice. The women would be cooking and the men would be burrowing into the cool sand and making low tents to sleep the day away. “Tonight, it will be different!” He shouted to his tired crew. “Today, we will sleep in the shade of the Old Man of the Desert and cool our feet in His deep, cold pools. As you can see, we are now only a few steps away from the safety of His arms”
People began to surge forward, “Come on!” They urged each other.
Bel Al spread his arms to stop them. Til held Griffar’s leash tightly, Please wait!”
“For what?” many voices murmured.
“We must have the Old Man’s blessing.” Mutterings abounded, but Bel Al just pointed, “Just wait here, my friends…just watch.”
Bel-Al was not born of the Watcher’s people. His traveling desert bedou culture does not worship this rock. These days, because a life time of experience and marriage to one of the People, he has come to believe that something is special about this oasis. He waits now in pleasant anticipation. Fre Ya’ moved up beside him and joined him as they, ignoring the babble around them, intone the morning prayer, “The Old Man’s blessing is given to desert. It may be shared by the just and the unjust.” Til Al and his sisters joined in with their parents, “Only He knows the hearts of His visitors. See us, Judge us worthy of Your blessing.”
Humbled by the simple piety of the Master and his family, the crowd grew silent and looked longingly at their destination. Bel Al knew they would be happy that they had waited. Any one who stands in this place at dawn will get to see the spectacle that awaits those who are patient. Bel Al knew to stop his trek at the top of the last dune, just close enough to see the whole head of the Watcher. As he waited for the dazzlingly beautiful light show, our seasoned caravan leader finds his mind wandering. He leans against Griffar’s side dreaming of the beloved quiet hours of the midday when he will rest his tired feet in the wet sands and pray to the Watcher to thank Him for all his many blessings and for a continued good life.
Quietly leaning against his desert beast now, he laughs to himself as he overhears a father and his son. Bel-Al knows that they are traveling this way for the first time. The boy points and marvels, “Look, Father, the storyteller was right. It is the Old Man of the Desert”
The man nods and pokes his son, “Even from this far off, we see that the rock is shaped like a head.” The boy responds, “Yes, father…I am almost frightened when I think how those scrub pines along the top look so much like a wild hair, blown every which of way by the constant desert winds.”
Bel-Al claps them both on their shoulders, “Be not afraid, precious ones, soon we will be safe in the Old Man’s arms… Wadi al Shal Om…we will rest and fatten our beasts and our driving stock for the last trek across the desert…”
“Oh, father…Wadi al Shal Om…a lovely name for a truly lovely place…” and Bel-Al moved away to urge the tired train onwards with promises of rest and water.