Zaid squinted his eyes against the bright rays of the hot sun. Is that an oasis I see over there? He thought or was his mind playing tricks on him? He tried to moisten his cracked lips with some saliva but his throat felt like it was tearing apart.
Zaid laid on his belly on the soft, warm sand, groaning. He had no strength left to continue on this journey, having been stuck in the desert for three days without water or food.
He could not stop thinking about Princess Salima, his soulmate and love of his life, for whom he embarked on this journey. She was battling a blood disease that could claim her life any moment if she was not already dead. The healers had informed the King that only the dewdrops of the Middlemist Red flower could heal her.
The Middlemist Red was the rarest of all flowers on the face of the earth. No man had laid eyes on a single one for decades.
Zaid learned that the flower grows on the other side of the earth. He swore an oath to his King and Princess Salima that he would get the flower and bring it back. He'd been on this journey for almost a month and he feared Salima may already be dead. If Salima was gone, it was fitting that he dies too so they could be together for all eternity.
Out of nowhere a sandstorm arose, whipped up some fine sand and rolled it around like a tornado. Zaid hid his face within the curve of his elbow and pulled down his turban to cover his nose and mouth.
Zaid was not sure he heard something. He realized the sandstorm was over and the desert was still, except for the clearing of a throat beside him. He raised his head a little and gazed at a round, flushed, smiling face that winked at him.
"By the gods! Who are you?!"
Zaid scrambled to sit up in shock at the unexpected sight. Before him stood a creature like a cherub, grinning from ear to ear. He was naked from his waist up with a small cloth wrapped around his loin probably for modesty. His ears had pointy tips, his eyes, pale and almost translucent. He had a small button nose and a wide mouth.
He thumbed his chest. "I am Ire, the spirit controlling the desert and wasteland beyond."
Zaid's eyes widened at the word 'spirit'. He quickly bowed his head since he was still sitting on the ground. "I hope I have not offended the gods by passing through this desert to my destination. This is the shortest path to Norkti."
Ire chuckled and quickly covered his mouth as though he was not to be caught laughing. "I see your heart, young man and I am here to help you succeed on your mission. First, a gourd of water. Here."
Zaid snatched the gourd and gulped some cool water down his parched throat. After a minute, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and looked at Ire skeptically. "You can help me?"
Ire frowned. "Do you doubt the reach of my abilities?"
"No!" Zaid said quickly. He was willing to take any help he could get. "My apologies. I seek the rarest flower and no man has laid eyes on it for decades."
"Humph! I know what you seek and I will give you in exchange for just one thing from you."
His brows furrowed, Zaid said, "I have nothing of value to offer. I am a commoner who embarked on this journey to save the Princess's life and as a reward she will marry me. What can I give you in exchange for the flower?"
Ire smiled smugly and placed a hand on Zaid's shoulder, his eyes glinting. "That which you value the most."
Zaid still appeared confused. Ire rubbed both his palms together in a fluid, fast, blurry movement. Then he clapped his hands and in a blink, the rarest, beautiful Middlemist Red flower with dew droplets on it appeared on his hand. Zaid could not believe his eyes.
Ire stretched out his hand, his eyes darkening in seriousness. "Do you want Salima to live?" He asked.
"Yes! More than anything."
"Take it! Return to the Princess and heal her. You do not have long. She's close to death's door already."
Zaid carefully took the flower and held it with care. He looked at Ire, "your price?" Ire grinned, "you will know when I come for it." He snapped two fingers together and a black stallion horse appeared. Zaid nodded, climbed on it and they both rode off back to Tartes.
The King could not believe it when Zaid rode into the palace and presented the flower to him. The healers hurriedly prepared the flower. Zaid held Princess Salima's hands as she was spoon fed the liquid. She fell into a deep sleep and Zaid was encouraged to get some sleep. He refused to leave her side and watched over her all through the night.
Zaid had dozed off when Princess Salima woke up, healed. She stared at him, "who are you?"
Zaid smiled thinking it was a prank and tried to hug her. She struck him on the face. He was speechless. Then he remembered the price. He walked dazedly out of the room.
Outside the palace, the cheery, bright sunrise could not heal the unbearable ache in his heart. He raised his head to see Ire standing about seven feet away from him.
They walked towards each other. Zaid spoke first. "My love was the price for her healing. She has no memory of loving me." Ire merely stared at him.
"She's alive and well. That's all that matters to me. The world would be a bleak, sad place if she were gone."
Ire's round face broke into a smile. "It's been a long time I've witnessed a human love true like you have. You paid the price without a thought and I gift it back to you."
Ire vanished and Zaid thought he had made up the conversation in his head.
He looked to the direction were the shouts came from. His eyes could not get enough of the beautiful sight of his soulmate, Princess Salima, as she ran towards him. He spread out his hands to receive her as she fell into them, holding him tightly.
This story was inspired by one of the loglines from the 50 Loglines which says -
A man crawls through a desert looking for water and when he is near death and about to give up, he sees an amazing oasis and is saved by a fantastic creature there… for a price.