Written by Meiraj Najm Khan
“They call us the Black Mark, Your Majesty. We whisper in the night, hear wrong and right, and answer to who so ever we believe is within our sight,” explained the leader of the group of gypsies. The King and the whole courtroom of the castle fell silent at her words.
I noticed she was the only one among her people who was old and ugly. The rest of the gypsies on the other hand were a sight to gawk at. Their skin shined like white gold and their eyes gleamed as if made out of gems.
There was no doubt that these women were no mere human beings, as an aura of mystic magic surrounded them. Every man in the court seemed entranced mercilessly in the enigmatic beauty of these women.
“Do you have a name, maid?” the King, my father, asked at first. It seemed odd to me that father would call such a woman a maid, because for everything the woman could be, she was no maid.
The hall grew silent as the old crone shuffled towards the King’s throne and whispered audibly. Her confident voice clearly identified her as the spokesman for her people.
“You need not know, sire. We go and come with the wind.”
“Then shall I know why do I owe such an unexpected visit from the Black Mark?” questioned the King; a little annoyed for the first time since the women had entered the castle. But the old woman answered unbothered.
“We bring sad tidings for you, Your Highness,” they paused and a cold shiver passed through everyone’s bones.
“And what are these tidings?” the King asked, incredulously.
The crone seemed to have taken offence to the king’s tone because her toothy grin suddenly turned grim and she answered “On the fourth full moon of this season, a youngling will enter this world through this very kingdom and your own will pass to the next.”
For the first time in many days my father looked in my direction, a little frazzled. I guessed he was confused about whether to believe her or not. Seeing our confusion, the crone added “Adhere to our words wisely my lords for many have been fools enough to ignore them and they faced great misfortune,”
The tone of her voice and the seriousness of her eyes was enough to convince me if not my father.
“Is there any way to stop such a fate?” I asked suddenly as the women turned to leave.
“Fate is destiny, my child. None but the Lord can change it. It is like a tree that grows and one day dies, but do remember like a tree it too has branches; it can turn and twist but never stop”
And with those few words the women departed and the courtiers quickly followed them out, leaving me and father alone.
I looked at father anxiously “So, old man, what do you intend to do now?”
Father looked at me, amused.
“You seriously don’t believe in that old blabbering bat, do you?”
I didn’t expect my father to understand, so it didn’t surprise me much when he asked me this. He and I had never been very close.
“We’ll look at it this way, father: it’s not you whose life is at stake here,” I retorted through gritted teeth.
After a few minutes of thought he finally reclined.
“Okay then, boy, first things first then: we shall make sure that the queen shall know nothing of this and on the morrow, we will ride off and slay each and every woman in the kingdom carrying a child who is due soon.”
“B-b-but father that a hideous crime!”
I tried arguing, but to no avail. The urge to live was too great within me to refuse my father’s hideous crime.
And so we slayed, murdered and killed at first with grim guilt, but then that too turned faint by the third full moon. By the fourth one, the gutters ran with blood and the streets rang with sorrowful mourning.
My desire for life had overshadowed my despair with a sense of great self worth and made me vain. I had forgotten my whole fear by the end of the week as I waited for the moon to finally rise. For the first time in days, I ate and drank without fear of choking or fearing for poison. All was going well until my mother called me.
I entered her chamber hesitantly, afraid that she would lecture me over my heinous crime, but instead I saw her sitting by a hand woven basket with bubbly eyes.
Seeing me she suddenly exclaimed “Oh honey I just wanted to show you the kittens the cat gave. Look at them, aren’t they adorable?”
I slowly edged towards the basket she was dotting over, curiously. The kittens were brown and golden and still blind. Staring at them, I suddenly recalled a fat cat I had seen that very morning.
“When was this litter born?” I asked my mother urgently
“This very afternoon. The cook brought them in. You know how much I adore younglings; they remind me of you when you were a baby…”
Whatever she said afterwards was lost to my ears as I snatched the basket away from her and ran downstairs as fast as I could, so I could kill them before the moon rose.
But I was too late…
The crone’s words ran through my head as I slipped on the very first step, falling down the large eighty two steps, and finally breaking my neck.
The last thing I saw before crossing to the void was the basket sitting on the first step and the fat cat pulling her meowing kittens out of it while my own mother screamed with grief.
Fate sure had a cruel sense of humour…