Stories

Sacred Bonds


Basir ran a hand down the front of his robes, trying to remove a small wrinkle that kept coming back no matter how often he smoothed it. Sure enough, a moment later, the cloth pinched back up. He frowned as he stared at himself in the mirror.

"Oh, Basir, stop worrying!" his father said, laying a strong hand on Basirís shoulder. "You look great and no one will even notice the wrinkle!" His father was right. Basir had never looked better. His robe was modern and sleek, with subdued colors: a dark, almost black, blue body with real gold buttons, and a lighter blue arms and collar. Yet he still looked the part of the traditional Ni-Kunni groom, with a brilliant red sash tied around his waist that matched the keffiyeh on his head.

Still, any imperfection in his robe would be picked apart by Sairaís other suitors, no matter how good he looked. "I know father," he said before smoothing down the wrinkle again, then turning away from the mirror before it could reappear.

"Well," his father said, "no use fretting about it now. How do you feel?"

Basir took a deep breath. "Iím fine. Iím excited."

"Nervous?"

"A little," Basir admitted. "Though more about having to face the rest of the suitors than getting married."

His father grinned a big, wide grin that further wrinkled his face. "Donít worry, Basir," he said. "I remember when your mother and I got married... I was so worried about all of her suitors, and she was terrified that Iíd decide I preferred one of the other women. But once we got out there, neither of us paid any attention to anything but each other." He sighed a little and lowered his head, raising a hand to his eyes.

"Father..."

His father shook his head and looked up. "No, Iím fine," he said. "Donít worry about it. Even if Saira doesnít distract you, the men and women will be too busy mingling with each other to give much thought to you."

Basir frowned and sighed again. "Still, I wish we didnít have to invite them! Itís uncomfortable!"

"Oh, itís tradition! It would be insulting if you turned them away. The last thing we need is hard feelings between us and everyone else in town. Besides, at least you and Faud are friends. I barely knew any of your motherís suitors, so I had someone I didnít even know as my best man!"

Basir cringed a little. None of the other women he had dated before Saira knew her at all, except for Thana. But Saira hated Thana. "I just hope Rim isnít filling Sairaís head with anything," Basir said. "I tried to get Saira to pick someone else as her maid of honor, but she insisted on picking Rim. I think once I complained, it only made her want to pick Rim even more."

His father chuckled. "Donít worry, Basir. Saira loves you, you love her. If she picked you over Fayiz and marrying into his familyís business, nothingís going to change her mind on her wedding day."

"I know," Basir answered. He knew Saira was going through something similar, sitting with her parents in a small room, waiting for Rim to come and fetch her for the ceremony. Still, he wondered if she was as nervous as he was, or if she was having second thoughts, which just made him even more nervous thinking about it. A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts, and Faud stuck his head into the room.

"Are you ready, Basir?" he asked, a wide smile on his face.

"Yes, Iím ready."

"Well then, come on! All the guests are waiting." Basir looked over to his father, who gave his wrinkled smile again and nodded his head. Basir took a deep breath and stepped out the door.

"You look great," Faud said, slapping him on the back.

"So do you," Basir said, his voice starting to quiver a bit. Faudís robe was similar to Basirís, though it was entirely dark gray, including the belt sash and keffiyeh.

Faud laughed and put his arm around his friendís shoulder. "Hey," he said, leaning in to whisper. "If you get cold feet, Iím planning on taking your place. Saira might complain a little, but as the best man, itís my duty!"

Basir let out a chuckle as Faud winked at him. The two of them walked down the short corridor to the main hall, where Basirís family mingled with all his former girlfriends on the left, and all of Sairaís family mingled with all her former boyfriends on the left. As he entered the hall, accompanied by Faud, the band struck up a lively tune. It was traditionally Ni-Kunni, though it had been given Amarrian lyrics celebrating the covenant of marriage. It was unnaturally harmonious; the deep, solemn voices of the monks combining with the upbeat strings and pipes of the Ni-Kunni musicians.

"Announcing Mr. Basir Najib," Faud began reciting as he led Basir to the front of the room. "Son of Amir Najib, nine-times-great grandson of Sanjay Khayyam, who was freed by his Holder, the glorious Lord Holder Methor two-hundred and thirty-seven years ago! Today, he arrives to join himself in holy matrimony with Ms. Saira Hassem." They reached the front of the hall, where the priest was standing in traditional golden robes, his arms folded together inside his cuffs. An elderly True Amarrian, he was giving a disapproving squint at the band from behind his thin-rimmed glasses. Basir bowed his head at the priest, which was acknowledged with a slight raise of his right hand.

Basir turned away from the priest and faced the guests, specifically Sairaís side. He was relieved to see that of the people scrutinizing him, barely any were her ex-boyfriends. Most of them seemed to busy sizing up Basirís younger cousins and ex-girlfriends than they were him. He breathed a slight sigh of relief.

"As is customary," Faud said, "the bridegroom will now present the dowry to the groomís suitors and family!"

Basir took a step forward and bowed to Sairaís side of the room. "Hassem family, Sairaís brothers and sisters, her aunts and uncles, her cousins and grandparents, I thank you for being here today." He had been practicing his speech for days, but his throat still went dry as he kept reading. "My love for Saira is without limits. She is the most beautiful, thoughtful, charming woman I have ever met. I have asked her parents for permission to marry her, and that permission has been granted. Now, I ask you if there are any among you who deny my request for her hand in marriage." He paused a brief moment, and when no one responded, he pressed on. "As there are no objections, I would like to offer tokens of my gratitude. To each of you, I give a brand new Caldari-made holoreel player."

The family members looked at each other and nodded their heads in approval. Twenty of Sairaís family members had planned on coming and none of the players had been cheap. Basir sighed a little as he noticed that all twenty of them had shown up, too. For a moment, he wished heíd lived back before the Amarr had reclaimed the Ni-Kunni, when men gave flasks of water as gifts instead of high-priced electronics. The priest suddenly gave a slight cough and Basir banished those thoughts.

"Ah," he continued on, suddenly forgetting what to do next. "And to, uh, Sairaís former suitors," he stumbled, "I have asked Saira for her hand in marriage and she has agreed. I ask you, as men who once sought her hand, to respect her wishes and not contest the vows."

"I contest the vows!" someone said. Basir stiffened and turned to face Faud, who suddenly broke out in a smile and clapped Basir on the back. "No, Iím just kidding!" he said. Everyone broke into laughter, except for the priest, who glowered. Basir smiled and turned a little red.

"As no one contests," Basir finished up, a small smirk on his face, "I offer you all gifts that, though not nearly as valuable as the love of Saira, shall forever seal a pact of good will between you and I. To each of you, I offer a free meal for you and as many guests as you would bring at my fatherís restaurant. If you need directions, or want to ask any questions about it, feel free to ask after the reception. Thank you." Basirís fatherís restaurant, though not very expensive, served very good food. And it was only a brief, twenty kilometer drive away, in the nearest city.

Basir then stepped back, and Faud stepped forward. "Thank you, everyone, for waiting. I believe I speak for Basir when I say that today is a day of unbridled joy and celebration. We are joining two dear, Godly people. There are few men as reverent as my friend, Basir. He prays every day and attends church regularly. And, though he is still an apprentice, one day soon he shall be practicing secular law on his own, as part of the Sadna and Chonna firm. And his marriage to Saira will bring blessings and good tidings for both families."

There was a brief round of applause from the assembled, as Faud bowed his head, then took a step back, to stand behind Basir. Now, they needed to only wait for Rim to come in and announce Saira. Basir stood rigidly, trying to keep his knees and hands from shaking. As several minutes passed, he began to lose the battle, especially as Saira hadnít shown up yet.

"Donít worry," Faud whispered to him, reading his nervousness. "Theyíre just trying to build anticipation. Like in those Gallente holoreels, you know. They never let the villain fight the hero until the end of the film, you know?"

Basir smiled and nodded his head, but he wasnít totally reassured. After a few more minutes passed, he turned back to Faud. "You donít think she lost her nerve, do you?" he asked. "Oh, I knew that Rim would be a bad choice. She must have run out on me. Iím so - "

Just then, the band began playing and the monks singing. Basir turned back to the entrance, where Rim walked in. "Ladies and gentlemen," she said in a soft voice that barely carried over the music. "Ms. Saira Hassem." Saira stepped in behind her.

"Lucky," Basir finished in a mutter as he watched Rim slowly lead Saira up the aisle. Her red dress hugged her and swirled around her feet as she walked up the aisle. Thin red lace draped over her shoulders and arms, matching the layer of veils over her hair and face. Intricate patterns were painted on her hands and arms in dark brown dye.

"Daughter of Mahfuz Hassem, twelve-times-great granddaughter of Assad Hassem, who was freed by Lord Holder Nat from the bonds of slavery three-hundred and twenty-four years ago. And as our ancestors once entered willingly into the bonds of the Amarr," she nodded to the priest, "today, she willingly enters into the bonds of matrimony with Mr. Basir Najib."

Saira quietly stepped to the left side, her head bowed down to the ground, as Rim began reciting the gifts being given to Basirís family and ex-girlfriends. "You look beautiful," Basir whispered to her.

"Thank you," she murmured back. "You look fantastically handsome yourself."

The priest clucked his tongue just loud enough for it to be heard by Basir and Saira, so the two quieted down. Still, Basir wanted nothing more than to reach out and take Sairaís hand right there, even though it would be very scandalous for them to show such affection in front of their families before they were married, not to mention the terrible harrumphing that would come from the priest.

Still, his eyes were locked on her. He could barely see her face through the layers of veils, her dark brown eyes ringed by dark kohl and her lips lightly painted with red. And, he couldnít tell if it was just a trick of the red veils, or make-up, or natural, but her cheeks looked blushed red. For the first time in the day, he started to think of the wedding night, instead of worrying about the wedding day.

Another cough from the priest broke him from his day-dreams, and he began to wonder if the old man could read minds, when he noticed that Rim had stopped speaking and everyone was staring at him and Saira. He bowed his head and then turned to face the priest.

The priest had a relieved look on his face, as if he were glad to be getting to the part of the ceremony he could control. "Dearly gathered," he began, in a powerful, unwavering voice, "I am Father Omyur Nat, presiding official of this blessed union, charged and empowered by the Theology Council, the Emperor Heideran VII and the Privy Council, and God Almighty to oversee matters spiritual. Amen."

"Amen," the assembled recited.

"Marriage is a sacred bond," the priest said, not really looking at Saira or Basir. "It is a holy union between a man and a woman, which seals them together in all eternity, heart, mind, and soul. It is not a bond to be accepted lightly. As the Scriptures say, ĎSecond to the bonds between man and his Lord, the bond of marriage is the most important.í

"From the birth of the Amarr, in time immemorial, marriage has played an important part in the Empire. A man and a woman, forever brought together. It is a sacred pact that strengthens, binds, and builds. Marriage is the keystone of a family, which brings out the glorious future of the Empire.

"Today, under the eyes of God and the Faith, we bring a man and a woman together. We bring them together, knowing that they will promote the Faith, service, and good deeds to each other, and to their descendants. Amen."

"Amen," everyone recited again.

The priest placed his hand on a book of Scripture. "In this Book of Scripture, in twelve chapters, in four-hundred and twenty-three verses, is recorded the Laws of Marriage as codified by my forefathers in the Faith. It is the duty of both parties to have familiarized themselves with these Holy Laws, to affirm their understanding and acceptance of them, and to vow, at penalty of forfeiting the place of their undying soul at Godís side in Heaven, to never break them."

The priest finally turned toward Basir, and looked him firmly in the eyes. "Basir Najib, do you affirm that you understand and accept these Holy Laws, and do you vow to never break them, under penalty of refusal of entry into everlasting paradise?"

"I so vow," Basir answered, his calm voice almost surprising him.

Father Nat turned to Saira. "Saira Hassem, do you affirm that you understand and accept these Holy Laws, and do you vow to never break them, under penalty of refusal of entry into everlasting paradise?"

"I so vow," Saira said, quiet yet eager.

Father Nat nodded, then turned back to face no one in particular. "Under the eyes of Our Lord, God, the One and Only God of Heaven, the Universe, and all its Kingdoms, so do Basir Najib and Saira Hassem vow to obey the Laws of Marriage. Amen."

"Amen," came the answer.

"Having accepted the Laws of Marriage, I now offer to the groom and bride the opportunity to speak their own Laws, to which they will abide by in this marriage, as though the Laws were the Laws of the Lord." The priest nodded to Basir, then seemed to drift off into a disinterested stare.

Basir turned to face Saira, and looked down at her eyes through her many veils. "Saira, it was truly a blessing the day I met you," he began, his voice carrying to the back of the room. "I didnít know it then, but God was with us that day, watching us and guiding us together. He brought us together for a purpose. He has given me happiness through you, and I want us to pledge, together, that for the rest of our days, we will serve God faithfully and truly to repay Him for our happiness. And I want us to vow, together, to always love each other, in drought or plenty, through hardships or joyous occasions, through this life and the next."

Basir stopped and remained quiet for a moment, at which point Father Nat recognized his cue and turned to Saira. "Do you accept these Laws set down, as though they were the Laws of the Lord?"

"I so vow," Saira said, her voice growing a little louder. The priest nodded his head in acceptance, then gazed back off. Saira never broke her gaze from Basir, and began to speak. "Basir, you are truly a blessing. With you, Iíve never had to want for affection or kindness. Iíve never needed to ask for a kind word. Youíve made me happier than I could have ever hoped for. Spending the rest of my life with you, and raising a family with you, is more than I could have ever prayed for. I want you to pledge, to me, that you shall never fail to give me that kind word, or that moment of kindness. I want you to pledge that our love will remain as eternal as the Empire, and burn as brightly as the sun of our homeland, Mishi, until the end of time."

A small smile fell over Sairaís lips as she finished. Father Nat turned to Basir and began to speak, but Basir cut him off. "I so vow," Basir said.

The priest frowned. "Do you accept these Laws set down, as though they were the Laws of the Lord?" he asked, remonstrance evident.

"I so vow," Basir repeated, too focused on Saira to care.

"The bride and groom have already given gifts to the assembled," the priest said, a bemused expression on his face, "now they present rings to each other. The rings symbolize the unbreakable circle of faith and love between the two, and reveal their eternal commitment to one another. Please present the rings."

Basirís and Sairaís fathers stood from their seats at the front of the church and came forward. Each wore a simple golden ring, unadorned by any gems, on the ring finger opposite their own wedding bands. Sairaís father hugged his daughter and kissed her on the cheek, through her veils.

"Saira," he began, his smile beaming, "by giving you this ring, I recognize that you are no longer just my daughter any more. You are a woman now, and you will soon be a wife. God blessed me with you twenty-five years ago, when he trusted your mother and me with your life. And now, he has blessed me with the opportunity to give you away at your wedding. In the ancient tradition, I now release you from your bonds to my family, so you may freely create a new one."

Saira took the ring and gave her father a tight hug. Basirís father, not expected to do anything so ceremonious, placed a hand on Basirís shoulder and handed him his ring. "Good luck, son," his father said quietly. Basir smiled and nodded slightly to his father before turning back to Saira, who was finally letting go of her father.

"Basir Najib, take your ring and place it upon Saira Hassemís hand," Father Nat commanded. Saira daintily lifted her right hand and held it out to Najib, who let it rest gently in his palm while he slid the ring onto her ring finger.

"Saira Hassem, repeat after me. I, Saira Hassem, do take Basir Najib as my lawfully wedded husband, under the eyes of God and all assembled, with no regrets or second thoughts, for all eternity. I so vow."

ďI, Saira Hassem, do take Basir Najib as my lawfully wedded husband,Ē Saira said, her voice quivering just slightly with restrained joy, ďunder the eyes of God and all assembled, with no regrets or second thoughts, for all eternity. I so vow.Ē

Father Nat turned to Saira. "Saira Hassem, take your ring and place it upon Basir Najibís hand."

Basir thrust his left hand out, drawing a wide smile from Saira. She took his hand in hers and slide the ring onto his ring finger.

The priest began, "Basir Najib, repeat after me. I, Basir Najib, do take Saira Hassem as my lawfully wedded wife, under the eyes of God and all assembled, with no regrets or second thoughts, for all eternity. I so vow."

"I, Basir Najib," Basir answered, his voice booming out over the gathered, "do take Saira Hassem as my lawfully wedded wife, under the eyes of God and all assembled, with no regrets or second thoughts, for all eternity. I so vow." With those last words, he let out a huge breath and let a huge grin break out over his face.

"Almighty God," Father Nat said, looking skyward, "these two true practitioners of the true Faith have found each other in true love. They have accepted the Laws of Marriage, and their own shared laws, as well as all Laws of the Empire, which are, in the end, the Laws of God. As you have blessed the bond between yourself and the Amarr, and the Amarr and all under their charge, so I humbly ask you to bless this bond between Basir Najib and Saira Hassem. Let them be forever joined in holy matrimony. Amen."

"Amen."

"By the power invested in me by the Empire, the Theology Council, and God Almighty, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride."

Basir clasped Sairaís right hand in his left, their rings touching, as Rim stepped forward and lifted the veils from Sairaís face and hair, while Faud did the same with Basirís keffiyeh. There were several sighs from the crowd as Sairaís long, black hair tumbled down her back and her face was revealed for all to see, a small tear trickling down her cheek. They both leaned forward and kissed on the lips.

The band broke out into music again, the monks began singing, the family members stood to congratulate each other, and the exes began to mingle. But as Basir and Saira pulled away from their kiss, their hands remained together, and they didnít notice any of it.



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