Those Who Work in Shadow

 

It was a busy day in the marketplace. People of all shapes and sizes walking to and fro, looked for whatever they needed that day. The marketplace was my favorite place to spend my time – it was always full of life, and the smell of many different foods filled the air. There was always music from street performers, and merchants—, trying to sell their goods to travelers. The market seemed to be the only place unaffected by the Turks. The Turks were the new rulers of Persia, and their power and territory was quickly spreading. The Turks had complete control over Persia, where I lived. They had a strong army, and they were not afraid to demonstrate that to the Persian people. We all hated them, but there was nothing we could do to stop them. One day when I was walking through the marketplace looking for food, a local beggar boy named Armin, whom I often gave food and money, ran up to me. He was frantic. “Mister! Come quickly. Someone just killed two Turkish guards!”

“What? Only a fool would look a Turk in the eye – much less kill one,” I replied.

I was about to walk away, thinking the boy was simply seeking attention, when I noticed many people were rushing in the direction of where the boy was pointing. Some were shouting, and some were whispering and ran the other way. I looked at Armin again. “Lead me to where it happened.”

“This way mister; I know a shortcut.” This shortcut did not seem very short, though. It was mostly our running through alleys and hopping over a few walls. Eventually, we arrived at the scene, but on the other side of the crowd. Sure enough, there were two dead Turks laying at my feet. The crowd quickly started searching the bodies for anything of value. I told Armin to leave. He asked why, and I told him, “It is not good for someone of your age to be around death.”

“I not scared of death!” he shouted.

“Do not argue with me, Armin. Leave this place.” Though he acted tough, I could see he was looking rather pale so near the bodies. The people had just started searching the bodies when more Turkish guards came running up from behind them. Everyone scattered; I started running. That’s when I noticed . . . him. A man sitting on the edge of the building just above me. His face was covered by a white hood, and his white robe resembled a scholar’s. I was mesmerized by this hooded figure. Then I noticed the blood on his sleeves. Before I could start running again, I felt the Turkish guard bash me on the head with a club, and everything went dark.

I awoke in a holding cell in the guard’s barracks, my head aching. I felt confused. One of the guards noticed that I was awake and, without saying a word, he walked up and starting beating me till I lost consciousness again. When I woke up again, I was still in the cell, but I was shackled to a chair now. The same guard was there with me. He slowly approached and asked, “So, you think you can kill two of my men and get away with it?”

“Please, I don—” I couldn’t finish my sentence before he backhanded me.

“Do not lie to me!” he yelled. He walked over, grabbed a torch off the wall, and told me that for every lie I told he would burn me. The torch lit up his face, and I could see that the left half of his own face was burned. There was no hair on that side, and his eye had a glossy fogginess in it. We sat in silence for a few moments before he suddenly pulled out a knife and cut off my ear. It was pain that I can only describe as white. “O! You didn’t expect that did you? Well, you lied to me, so I lied to you. “I know you killed my men. You are one of those Nizari men, aren’t you?”

“The who?” I was distracted by the pain on the side of my head and felt the blood dripping down my neck. I started to sweat and it made my open wound sting even more. I had no idea what to do, all I could do, was sit and wait at the mercy of this man, who wanted nothing more than to bring me harm.

“Do not act dumb with me! You were standing above their bodies, and I found this branded on each of their necks.” He showed me a sketch of what he was talking about: a triangular-shaped symbol that was pointed at the top with the bottom slightly rounded. I did not know from where, but I recognized it. It must have shown on my face that I did because he smirked. “I thought so, you rebel.” Everything went black again.

I awoke hours later. The sun was just starting to rise, and I was in the back of a carriage being taken to my execution. It felt like hours that I sat in that carriage. Then I looked to the side at some buildings and saw Armin. I motioned for him to get away from me, but he pointed to the roof of the carriage and gave a thumbs up. I noticed the silhouette of a man jumping down from the roof. I watched as that one man took down twelve Turkish guards single-handedly. There was only one guard left, the one who had cut off my ear. He and the man from the roof started to fight. Both were very skilled fighters, but the guard was physically stronger. As they dueled, Armin came to the carriage, unlocked the door, and untied my hands. “Let us get out of here while he takes care of the guard!” Armin said while pulling me by the arm. I did not know who “he” was, but I did not get to ask because we started to run. We did not get far before we saw more guards walking nearby, and we had to hide. We were stuck between men dueling for their lives and a small regiment of merciless Turks. Both of the fighting men were evenly matched but looked tired. The man from the roof finally disarmed the guard; and just when he was going to finish him off, a dying guard on the floor stabbed him in the leg, shouteding, “Bahadur, now!”

At that, the other guard stabbed the distracted hooded man. “Bahadur…” I muttered to myself. The man in the hood, the one who saved me, fell dead before Bahadur.

After it was safe, I approached the body. The man’s clothes resembled those of the man who was on the roof the day of my arrest. I stood there for a while, thinking, before I heard a horse fast approaching. Before I could hide, the rider had me by the collar. I expected to be killed; but instead, the mysterious rider let me go. “Turn around and tell me what happened.”

I turned to see who the rider was. He was tall, in formal robes with a blue turban and a white beard on a white horse. He had a sword on his waist and a cape on his back. I told him everything I saw.

When I finished, he pondered what I had said for a moment, then looked at me and asked, “What is your name, young man?”

“Arash, sir. What is yours?”

“That does not matter now; all you need to know, Arash, is that I have a noble cause and a job opening. This job will allow you to get revenge for this man here, your ear, and against all Turks. Are you interested?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, I shouted, “Yes!” And we were off.

We traveled far up a mountain to a castle called Alamut. There, in that castle on the mountain, I was trained. Trained in the art of death. How to kill silently, move quickly, and how to turn invisible to the guards. I was taught how to bargain with merchants, bribe for information, and how to strategically plan for anything. I trained hard at Alamut for several months. It was hard and dangerous, but I was determined to be a part of the cause that would end the Turkish rule. I still did not know the name of the man in charge of Alamut; but nevertheless, I admired him. He was strong in his beliefs and morals; he was loyal and a born leader.

One day, after a sparring match with another trainee, the man in charge approached me. He told me I was ready. Before I could ask what I was ready for, he said, “My name is Hassan Bin Sabbah, and you are ready to become one of us. But to do that you must have an initiation.”

“What must I do, Master Sabbah?”

“You must kill a man. Not just any man – I do not allow mindless killing. A specific target. His name is Ahmadil ibn Ibrahim al-Kurdi.”

“Why must he be killed?” I asked.

Sabbah replied, “He is a Muslim Leader that must be stopped. If you want to prove your loyalty, eliminate him. Then you will be rewarded.”

“I understand.”

“Do not worry. This is your first time, so we will send help with you.” Sabbah waved over two other members and we set off on our mission.

I was nervous that I couldn’t go through with it, but then I reflected on the words Sabbah told me before we left: “Listen, Arash, this man’s death will bring us all closer to ridding ourselves of the Turks.” He had given me an easily-concealed blade that was dipped in poison. I was also equipped with a hood.

We reached the city where Ahmadil was. The three of us positioned ourselves around Ahmadil and his guards while they walked the streets of the city so that we could attack from the left, right, and behind. As I was turning the corner, I saw a guard with a burn on the left side of his face. I silently slipped my blade into to his back and whispered, “Always remember to pillage before you burn.” He died with shock on his face. I looked up to see my two companions were ready to strike Ahmadil. I moved into position, and we attacked. My two comrades jumped out first, but the Turks seemed to have been expecting us. The guards quickly killed both of my comrades, and I froze for a moment as I watched two skilled fighters fall so easily. But then I remembered my purpose and sprung through, burying my blade into Ahmadil’s back. The crowd gasped. I knew I had to leave quickly. I scaled a wall and jumped from roof to roof. I could hear men shouting below and arrows flying past me. The chase went on for a bit, but I prevailed, found my horse, and made my way back to Alamut. It took me twice as long to return since I was going uphill, and alone. When I arrived back at Alamut, I felt different. I felt less like a boy and more like a man. Sabbah must have noticed, and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You are now a man, for you have the blood of a man on your hands.”

At that moment, I heard a door open behind me. It was the man from the roof who had killed the two guards in the market. I gasped, and he chuckled. “I am sorry that you took the fall for my actions, but others will take a fall from yours now that you are one of us.”

“One of us?” I asked. He then presented me with red and white robes similar to his. On top of the robes were two hidden blades and a ring. The ring had the triangular symbol.

He looked me in the eyes and spoke seriously. “Wear that symbol with pride. It shows who you are.”

“And who exactly am I now?”

“You, my dear boy . . . are an Assassin.”

 

 

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