Under the heat of three suns, eager eyes watch the horizon in anticipation. Sweat pours down their dirtied faces and their chests heave as they draw in hot air, coughing as it hits their parched throats. They try to wet their dry lips only to flinch at the rough, cracked texture. Though unbearable, they wait with optimism, squinting beneath the bright glare. Humid wind blows around them, offering a small, barely noticeable break in the heat.
The people of Tahla have gotten used to dry lips and parched throats. Tahla sits in the south of Astor, beyond forests that offer cool reprieve from the suns with their foliage. Deep within the dry desert of Ur, they’ve endured drought for years, waiting for their savior. What little water they have found offers little relief, but they stand strong. They know that their waiting will be rewarded.
The stomping of horse hooves fill the air, slightly shaking the ground. Excitement rushes through their bodies, cutting through the tired despair. Their once slumped forms snap up as bright shades of blue enter their vision, a color long lost in the brown hues of the desert. Exhaustion turns to vigor as the welcome the newcomers with practiced bows.
Five horses stop in front of them, the desert sand billowing around them, tall enough to offer slight shade from the suns. The newcomers wear sheer, extravagant, blue fabric that allows the wind to cool their shiny skin. Wide eyes watch in amazement as they step down from their horses. Some look down at their own clothing in quiet embarrassment. Their weathered white and tan clothing seem dull when compared to the strangers bright and clean garments.
The only woman of the group steps forward, the men coming up quickly behind her with fierce eyes scanning the surroundings. The suns glint off the handles of the swords at their hips. Their bare, muscled chests shine beneath the light of the suns. They stand behind the woman, ready to defend her.
The woman is beautiful.
Long silver hair flows behind her, dancing freely to the wind’s rhythm. Almond shaped eyes as blue as the crystal sea look over the people warmly. Full lips stretch into a smile as she stands before them, the sun shinning down on her dusky skin. Reverent eyes take her in, looking up in hope and relief as their savior stands before them.
“I am Anahita,” the woman tells them softly. Her voice is like a soft and smooth melody caressing the ears.
An elderly man, the chief of Tahla, steps forward. His twisted wooden cane taps the dry ground with each second step. His green eyes twinkle like a sea of emeralds beneath the suns. Shoulder length gray hair dances slightly in the wind, a few locks brushing against the umber skin of his cheeks. A simple, loose, white shirt sits upon his thin shoulder, tucked neatly into thin trousers that barely reach his ankles.
“We welcome you, water bearer,” the chief answers with a smile of his own.
The people part to allow her and the chief passage. They watch in wonder as she passes, thanking the gods that she has finally come. For years they’ve waited, suffering through the heat and drought, through death and loss, for her arrival. The water bearer… the one who could summon water. For years, she has traveled from Sol, the northern most city of Astor, bringing water to the people. With her dance, she has slowly healed the land as she made her way south. Tahla is the last city of her journey.
“Is everything prepared,” Anahita asks the chief as they trek through the busy streets.
“Everything is just about prepared. There’s just a few minor things left,” he answers.
People watch with wide eyes, sparked with hope, as they pass. Eager hands reach for her, blocked by her guards, but still happy to even slightly brush against her skin. With reverence in their voice and happiness stretching their lips, they call her savior. Children sneak away from their parents to get a peek at the silver haired woman. They stare up in amazement at her beauty, whispering soft praises of angel to each other.
She spots them, stopping with a smile. They stare at her, eyes wide in innocent wonder. “Do you want to see something magical,” she asks them. They eagerly nod, wide smiles stretching across their round faces. She cups her hands in front of her, making sure they can see. Her blue eyes glow as a small ball of water swirls in her hands. The children gasp in excitement as the water forms a fish. Small giggles of joy tinkle as the water fish swims around in the air. More fish join it, circling around each other before swimming down. More giggles come as the fish swim around the children. They twist and turn as they try to keep up with the fish. Parents look on in delight and happiness as they watch their children, gasping with joy as the fish swim around them as well.
Anahita smiles as well, her cute button nose scrunching up in amusement, before swirling her hands gracefully through the air. The fish combine into one giant one that dips and glides through the air before bursting, releasing a small bout of glittering rain beneath the sun. The people of Tahla smile and laugh as the water graces their skin, the first time in a long time that they’ve had the pleasure of feeling such a thing.
Anahita gently pats the children on the head before joining the chief once again. “Thank you for that,” the chief tells her, wiping off a few stray drops of water with a smile. He is happy to see his people laugh and smile.
“I’m sorry it took us so long to reach you,” she states solemnly. Feelings of sadness flow through her as she looks at the people of Tahla. Gaunt faces, cracked lips, and dehydrated skin fill her vision, painting a terrible picture of the struggles they’ve been facing.
The chief stops and takes her hand. A gentle look of understanding greets her as she looks down at him. “We understand. Yes, we’ve faced great loss as the drought has stretched on. But, we’ve stood strong. The hope you gifted us when you brought water to Sol has kept us going,” Tears fall down the water bearers cheeks as she listens. “We are just happy that you’ve finally come.”
With her guards behind her, Anahita continues through the city with the chief. Together, they reach what once was a grand garden in the center of Tahla, where she is to perform her dance. Due to the drought, the flowers have withered and died, leaving nothing but dried stems and dead earth behind. Tahla was once known as the City of Life. Beautiful flowers of all colors spilled into the streets from the garden, climbing up the walls of homes. Animals of all kinds would walk about the people, brushing cold noses against gentle hands and running alongside energetic children. Anahita remembers being one of those children long ago, before the drought.
Now, not even a mouse makes its presence known. Anahita finds herself determined to make this city one of life again, to bring back the joy she felt here as a child. She vows to dance harder than she’s ever danced before as they walk through a worn out path covered with dead weeds leading towards a round tent with a slight point at its top. Its light blue fabric invites a sense of coolness in the dry heat of the desert.
“We prepared this for you as you wait,” the chief tells her as they walk through the opened front. A large soft cushion wrapped in blue silk sits in the middle of a thin gray rug. Soft fur tickles her bare feet as she walks forward. Sunlight filters through the thin lining of the tent, casting a soft and inviting glow inside.
“This is too much,” she exclaims helplessly. Anahita should be used to such extravagant treatment. Every city seems desperate to make sure she’s as comfortable as possible, drowning her in lavish gifts and accommodations. They shower her with praises and worship the ground she walks. It wouldn’t be too surprising if they were to try and kiss her feet. But, Anahita wishes for none of it. She hasn’t set on this journey to be worshiped as a god. She feels that it is simply her duty to help her people. Instead of jewels and gold, the smiles of children as they fill their bellies with water and the happiness on their parents faces as they watch them is what brings her true joy.
“I wish we could offer more,” the chief states solemnly. He’s heard of the great lengths other cities have gone in welcoming the water bearer. Unfortunately, the drought has hounded at the people of Tahla far longer than the others, leaving them with very little to offer her.
“This is more than enough… far too much actually,” she answers him. While she wishes to reject what’s before her, Anahita knows it would go unaccepted. Instead, she turns and bows her head in gratitude. “Thank you, chief Roth.”
The chief smile widely at her thanks. “The suns are beginning to make their descent. We will come for you when it is time. Please take this time to rest from your long journey,” he tells her before leaving. Her guards bow as he leaves, two following him out to take guard at the entrance.
Anahita takes a seat on the cushion, sighing in content at its softness. Of all the cities she has visited, this city is her favorite. Just the simple softness of a single cushion warms her heart. Tahla has never been a city obsessed with status and prestige. Instead, it’s always been one of community and nature. Anahita feels as home in the city she hasn’t seen since a child. Her short visit here with her parents is one of her fondest memories. Playing about the various flowers as she takes in their scents. Laughing as animals ate from her hands, their fur tickling her skin. She has been most eager to return.
Listening to the chief’s advice, Anahita decides to take a rest. A soft smile stretches across her face as she closes her eyes, happily falling into the hands of sleep. Her guards watch over her silently and vigilantly, making sure no one disturbs her slumber.
Night has settled in when Anahita opens her eyes. She can feel the slight break in the heat that comes with the dark. Through the opening of the tent, beneath the lights lining the streets, she can see the chief making his way towards her. She gets up, shaking away the last vestiges of sleep before nodding at her guards. After they step outside and close the tent, she changes into her ceremonial clothing. The people of Tahla have already made their way to its center, circling the garden in anticipation. Children, faces painted in confusion, look around with wide eyes. They wonder why everyone has gathered, whispering their questions to their parents who quickly hush them. Save for that, silence greets Anahita.
“Are you ready, water bearer,” the chief asks.
“Yes,” she replies, feeling calmness embrace her. Anahita steps into the center of the garden with a smile, each barefooted step graceful. Blue fabric drapes her slender form, flowing in the wind. Loose pants for easier movement sit upon her hips. A formfitting top that shows off smooth shoulders and billows at the wrists. Small blue crystals, like frozen drops of water adorn her formfitting top and hang from her waist. A single sapphire sits between her brows, hanging from a thin silver head chain.
One of her guards steps forward, stopping just at the edge of the garden. His silver eyes shine beneath the glow of the full moon as he brings a beautiful brown lyre, carved of healthy wood. He stands at the ready, waiting for his signal to start. Anahita takes a deep breath as she places one hand at her waist, palm up, and the other above her head. She nods at her guard to begin.
Everyone waits with bated breath for her dance to begin. Even the children quiet down as their attention is lock on her. The first note that hits the wind is a light one, barely audible to all but Anahita. The first note signals her beginning. As a soft melody, as light as the wind, fills the air, the people of Tahla watch in wonder as Anahita dances. Hearts fill with happiness as her hands move gracefully through the air and her feet seem to glide across the ground.
She moved like water.
Anahita could feel her power building inside her, could hear the gasps as water formed, moving along with her hands as it circled her. Keeping her eyes closed, she let the music guide her as always. No two cities experienced the same dance as no two cities were the same. Not even Anahita could tell you how her dance would go. She never thought about how she danced, she simply felt it.
The people watch her in awe, drawn to the way she moves. Their eyes widen when color pops out around her feet, as the once dead flowers begin to bloom. The water gently glides over them, feeding them life. The flowers grow, shifting in the wind. The people can feel the difference in the air as the water spreads, sliding over their skin on its way. The dry heat that once plagued them, even during the night, is chased away. Tears of joy fall down their faces as they feel the water’s cool embrace. Children dance in happiness as the watch the water flow around them. While they don’t fully understand what’s happening, they know that their lives are about to change.
When asked, no one could remember how long they stood there, entranced, as they watched the water bearer dance. They would simply say that time stood still as the drought that had plagued them for years finally ended. The would speak of the emotions that burst forth as water slid against their skin. When one asked Anahita, she would say the same, for she never remembered her dance.
She only remembered the feeling of flowing like water.