The Red Book: a short story

She was sailing on a wrecked ship in the Storm sea. She was sailing as if the sea was endless. The waves splashing off every broken corner of her ship, albeit not drowning it completely. As if the God of the Sea wanted her to face the adversities and yet reach destiny. She didn’t remember for how long she was sailing, her eyes searching for stability. The torrential rains are trying to weaken her mind. She saw above in the sky, the Red Moon was watching over her. The rains stopped. The clouds made way for the Red Moon. The growling sea lowered his voice. She saw an island. Strength started building in her knees and hands. She took complete control of the helm and started steering faster. As she was about to reach the shores, she saw fire on the island. As if the whole island would be doomed in seconds. The closer she got to the shores, she saw the tides meeting the rivers of fire.

She was a deep sleeper. And this was the third night, she had the same dream. For the past three nights Asha has been waking up with this dream. She found herself sweating profusely as she woke up. Through the window, the moon was shining brightly as the sun. It also looked bigger than its average size. The clock said, it’s 4:00am. The air around her was at 20°C, yet she continued sweating. She switched on the lights, got down from her bed, went into the washroom and took a cool splash of water on her face. Hurriedly brushed her teeth and almost ran into the kitchen. It was her daily custom to detoxify herself every morning. Sprinkling a half lemon in her lukewarm water, she crushed an inch of ginger and added it into her juice.

The sofa sat quietly in her living room, waiting for her to arrive. The Inca paintings on the walls stared at her dark eyes and weak legs. The walls of her home were filled with souvenirs she brought from around the world. Inca paintings from Peru, handmade carpets from Uzbekistan, antique jewellery from Romania and everything else one could find in a museum. Mysterious books and ornaments infatuated her like a teenage love story.

At once, her sight travelled across the stack of books. Her eyes aimed at a mysterious book she brought from Morocco three years back. “I must find out the reason,” she almost whispered to herself.

That book was the most fragile object in her house. Although the cover was made of hard bark tree, the paper inside was light as a feather and fragile as the wing of a butterfly. It had a reddish tint and the ink of the text had turned brown. Brown as the colour of dry blood. The book was filled with an ancient script from northern Africa. She never tried to find meaning behind the pictographic script which looked like the hieroglyphics of Egypt. The direction of the text was unknown. Three symbols appeared repeatedly in the book. The trees, a boat and the sea. It looked like a story book. It seemed like it had a beginning and an end. Most astonishing part was that all of its pages seemed intact given the time scale the book had surpassed,

Asha remembered the day she bought the book. For a second she saw outside the window, the everyday hustle had begun outside. “Had I reached on time and met the old man again. I could have known the secret of this book and the reason behind my dreams..” she told herself after gently sitting on her sofa and sipping her lemon water.

Three years back Asha was on a solo trip to Morocco.

Asha was intrigued by the cover of the book. It was three times thicker than the pages, like some unpolished bark of a tree. But the pages on the inside were delicate as feathers. She presumed ageing would be the reason for their fragility. The cover had carvings of three trees. The bark gave no hints about the exact name of the tree

The seller of the book was an old man with silver hair and green eyes. He wore a welcoming smile. His skin was shining like bronze metal. His eyes seemed like a storehouse of knowledge. He had a deep seductive voice, she said to herself, “This is a rare combination!”
She also looked around the store for some more amazing books, but her curiosity had already spread its wings and was ready to afloat.

She went to the old man and asked, “Hello Sir, could you tell me something about this book?”

The old man saw Asha and his eyes gleamed with hope. The moment he saw her asking for the book he knew she would be buying it. He said, “Welcome child to my small palace, a place like nowhere in the world. Here you’ll find lost books hiding lost wisdom and secrets. Tell me, my child, which book would you like to buy?” she replied, “The one having those tree carvings ” The old man carefully pushed aside the other books off the rack and made way for that one special book. He presented before her the book as if a sword was presented to a knight. Asha was surprised to see the man treating the book with such respect. She held it in her palms and found it quite heavy to hold. “What’s inside this book?” Since the language was unknown to her. In her career of twenty years she hadn’t come across the language written in the book. The man replied,”All that you must know my child”, she thought it was a selling gimmick. She smiled and said, “Sir I’m really looking forward to buying this book but I want to know its story. Every book has its story” She replied in a wise tone.

The old man stared into her eyes for a few seconds. Asha felt intimidated. As if he was trying to cast a spell on her. She too saw, in his green eyes, a challenge, provoking her knowledge and curiosity.

He replied, “Do you think you have the stomach to digest the secret that I’ll be telling you?”

“You seem to be a good storyteller,” she replied. “Will you be a good listener?”, he asked her in a warning tone. Asha held the book cautiously.

“Here’s the story”, he continued, “3000 years ago in the plains of Africa and Asia there sprawled a kingdom called ‘Rahar Kwar’ or the ‘Red Kingdom’. The kingdom was famous for its infamous trees called ‘Marrak’. The trees reached to the heights of heavens, where the gods passed on their blessings through the trees to the people of this kingdom. The trees secreted a blood red coloured sap, which was used as a fuel in the kingdom. The sap was the foundation stone for the kingdom’s economy and its success. The sap was flammable, my child. The cover of this book is made from the bark of Marrak trees and the pages are made from the refined fibres of the tree. The text that you see is written from the sap secreted from the trees.” Completely dismayed by the old man’s story Asha had begun losing her interest in the book. She knew there wasn’t any kingdom like this and the trees would have existed only in the old man’s dreams. She was disappointed. Seeing the disappointment in her eyes the man said, “Probably you know everything that you have heard about till date, but what about those things that no one has seen but do exist. That their existence can’t be proven with evidence and logic but only with experiences”. She thought he sounded quite convincing.

Not that she trusted in his theory of the Red Kingdom but she just wanted to listen to what he said further. “So which dynasty ruled this kingdom?” She asked further. The old man said, “Yes. It was a civilization of the rich. The kingdom was heaven in the deserts. Envied by all the surrounding kingdoms but no one ever attempted to invade it. The reason was because they worshipped the God of Fire. The Red Kingdom, like its name, was made of red soil. The buildings and palaces were made secure by adding the sap of Marrak trees. It made the soil less porous. The people of the kingdom worshipped the God of Fire so that their kingdom would never catch fire. Remember I had told you the sap was flammable. They offered the gods the water of the only one that flowed across the kingdom, the river was called “Shresha”. The people drank water only on regular intervals and not as per their individual thirst. It was a common rule for all above the age of five to drink water only at the intervals approved by the royal Red King.” Asha again interrupted, “What about the book ? What’s written in it? And which language is this?” He replied, “You have too many questions and no patience!”

Asha was infuriated now. Why should she listen to a strange old man’s cooked up story? She said to herself,”I’ll anyway buy the book and leave from here. More shopping to be done.”

“Sir I want to buy the book only because it has a beautiful cover, I’ll buy it, what’s it’s price?” , “Price of your life” he answered. This sentence drove her crazy. She left the shop, didn’t say a word just so as to avoid further trouble. The old man said, “As a curious archaeologist, I think this book will benefit you, I am giving it to you for free!” Asha was surprised. How did he know about her profession? She replied, “Few seconds back you said the price of this book is my life and now you are giving it for free? Why ? Who are you?” He replied, “I can be whoever I want, what will you be after you have set your eyes on this book? Child, you are the only one who’ll read this book and uncover the secrets from the ashes. I’m sorry for causing you discomfort but I only meant to stop you. Had you listened to me patiently you would have known the significance of this book. But I think, let the wheel of time decide your journey with the book” by saying so he dropped the book in her bag. And began shutting down his shop. “I don’t want to buy this book for free, tell me how I should pay you?” He said, “Promise me that you’ll never break anyone’s trust and you shall give justice to the deserved. Promise me that you’ll cross the Storm sea even if your ship gets wrecked. And you’ll free the sisters who are trapped in vengeance. Promise me that you’ll not fear the Red Moon and its fire. That’s how you shall pay me”. “Who are these three sisters?” She asked. “The deceived Queens of Rahar kingdom. Do you believe me?” He asked her earnestly. She only nodded. At the moment Asha couldn’t understand how his words convinced her unconscious mind. She waited for him to continue further.

The old man continued.

“The people of the kingdom believed in two principles, “Beauty deceives” and “Treachery is the greatest sin”. The people and the kings followed these two principles religiously. Those who didn’t follow were burnt alive to ashes. But in their history of a thousand years, no one ever broke this principle. Until the king fell in love with three beautiful sisters. They believed in a prophecy. The day both of these principles are broken, the doom is imminent. The God of Fire will unleash his evil powers. He’ll burn everything. Every innocent child, every helpless old man and woman. He wouldn’t show any mercy. The kingdom stretched from the shores of the Red Sea to the Indus valley. The exact location is still unknown.”

He continued,” They say the kingdom was guarded by two lions the size of elephants. You can now imagine how strong they were. The lions were the last of their species. But they could survive for hundreds of years. It was believed that the God of fire used these lions for his chariot. All of this sounds like a fantasy, but my child you must hold your patience. The kingdom was founded by the great king Melaha The first. The hundredth successor in his bloodline was Merurriz the first. He had three sons who fought with each other for the throne. One day they declared a war amongst themselves. But the war turned futile since the three of them ended up killing up each other. The King was aghast. Everyone whispered about who would be the next in the line of succession. King Melaha had turned very old and weak. All the priests and ministers had already set out to find the most fertile woman who would bear a male child for the kingdom in the first instance. The kingdom followed a set of rules for procreating the heir of the kingdom. The king only married the women of his kingdom. It was believed that the blood of the Raharians was different from those of the others. It was purer and more red.


The people believed that humankind originated from their ancestry. And all the others were impure. They believed the others had had a portion of evil in their blood. The common mother of the others was an evil woman who seduced one of the Raharian ancestors. It was said that he was the first and the last man in their ancestry who committed the dual sin. The sin of falling in love with beauty and the sin of breaking the trust of the Raharians. Later on it was found that the man died miserably in poverty. He could never attain any prosperity in his life. No one knew what happened to his woman. But people say she burnt herself alive. And when she died she cursed the Raharians, a day will come when doom will be imminent for them. She cursed them that their own faith in fire would drown their kingdom. From that day onwards the Rahar dynasty declared it would marry only to the women of their kingdom.

The Raharians decided to follow a new principle in the quest for their one true heir, there could be only one true Prince alive at a time. Taking lessons from the past, to avoid future wars and politics. The three sons of King Melaha died fighting for the throne. Their greed had caused the kingdom to fall in a vulnerable position. So it was decided the girl who shall deliver the king’s first son, would be the next Queen of the kingdom. In case of tie, the priests and the ministers decided to let the gods give the call. In that case, it meant the other son would be sacrificed in the name of God of Fire.

Nine months later, a son was born. The only male child born along with fifty other baby girls.

Amidst the celebrations of King Melaha the First died a peaceful death. He left behind his new Queen and the mother of the future King, Queen Lirin. The crown prince was named King Rahar the Tenth. He was named after the founding king of the Rahar dynasty.”

The old man halted for a second, only to gauge if Asha did really listen to him. She asked, “Why did you stop?” He replied I believe I have told you enough. ” The rest you must find on your own”. “Wait, what about the three sisters? Who were they?” She questioned him. He saw curiosity in her eyes. He said, “I can see a spark in your eyes. The spark that was missing a few hours ago. My work is done by my child, so I must leave now.” “But how do I find what happens next? The language inside the is incomprehensible”,
she said. He replied, “This isn’t any language, it’s code to your destiny, it’s the only map that’ll lead you to the Red Moon Island. The sisters are waiting for your justice.”

“Remember all that you have promised me.”

He left her with these words and vanished into the alleys.

Asha couldn’t understand whether to believe what happened to her or just forget it. She too left the street and went back into her hotel. Inside her heart she was happy she got the book. She imagined the book would enhance the beauty of her home. Just like any home decor.

An ancient mysterious book with a mysterious bookseller, should that deter me from having a good sleep?, Asha thought to herself.

“I don’t think I need this book anymore, I need to go back to sleep!!” She decided to throw the book into the trash bin. As walked towards the bin, she saw an old man’s shadow behind the kitchen window.

She held back her step, rubbed her eyes and decided to stand still.

But for how long would she stay still?

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