Like his king, the military was the only life Jeremy Oreb ever wanted. Long before he became a Lord on the High Council and one of King Asilas’s closest confidants, he was an officer in the United States Army. Oreb would eventually become a General and even strategized with General Asilas during the Civil War. However, much of his personal life remained enigmatic until the king inquired about his past. To his surprise, it was revealed Oreb’s personal life was devoid of passionate love. Little information surfaced in terms of personal relationships. So, the king met with Oreb at the Grand Terrace late one evening to press him on details of his personal life. Finally, some juice trickled from the hardened Oreb.
“Sir, the truth is I did love a young woman once—when I was a captain stationed in Iraq during the recon missions throughout the Middle East, years before the Civil War. I met someone during that time. She was much younger than me.” Oreb spoke hesitantly, as if reliving the lost love. He sighed deeply saying, “Her name was Yasmine.”
“That’s a pretty name,” Asilas replied. “What became of Yasmine?”
Oreb paced a few steps and reached for the bottle of whiskey on the outdoor bar on the Grand Terrace. Sunset was approaching and he could feel Asilas’s mind tugging for specifics of his relationship with Yasmine. The king leaned back, relaxed, and puffed on his cigar. His eyes were like slits as he focused on every word Oreb spoke.
“It was a forbidden love affair, sir,” Oreb said nervously, taking a long swig of his whiskey. “Yasmine was arranged to be married to a second cousin. But I couldn’t help myself, and apparently she couldn’t either, so we fell in love. I wanted to be with her every chance I got. But I knew the more I was with her, the more dangerous the situation became. For her. For me.”
The king sat up straight, put his cigar down on his ash tray and folded his arms. “I take it Yasmine eventually married her second cousin?”
“Well, yes. Eventually she did.” Oreb said as he looked down at his feet.
“But that’s not half the story, is it Jeremy?” The king replied with a giant grin, tightening his folded arms.
“Well, no. At the same time I was seeing Yasmine, I was also seeing another woman named Hamida. She was a widow and lived on the other side of the city. I thought them being so far apart, there was literally no chance they would ever know each other.”
“And yet, they did.” The king said with a slight chuckle.
Oreb finished his drink and walked back over to the bar and poured himself some more. He stood at the bar with his back to the king for a few moments, looked up into the sky and sighed loudly. “My king, I was a fool. A fool in love. And fools do stupid things.”
“How did they find out about each other?” The king pressed, standing up to walk over to his friend, who appeared on the edge of lamenting.
“That will always be a mystery to me, sir. All I know is I really thought having Hamida would help me with the pain of letting Yasmine go. It wasn’t like I wanted to play two women. But I couldn’t have Yasmine. Her parents, the culture—they would never allow it. So, I had Hamida, who was a widow with two children, to crutch my eventual heartbreak. But it didn’t play out like I hoped.”
The king stepped closer to Oreb, who still had his back to him at the bar. Finally, standing next to Oreb, he took a glass and poured himself some whiskey. “A love triangle never ends well, Jeremy. Especially when the parties involved get caught off guard.”
“Hamida went to Yasmine’s house. It turned out she was the sister of the woman in charge of organizing Yasmine’s wedding. They were friends of the family somehow.”
“Now, that is a stroke of some serious bad luck.” The king acknowledged and poured more for himself and Oreb.
Oreb gulped a big shot and slammed the glass on the bar. He turned around and gazed into the murky gardens below. A deep, dark, red hue hung over the shadows covering the grounds of the garden. “Hamida went to the house and managed to get Yasmine alone. They told each other what they knew about me and Hamida confronted me about everything the next day when I went to see her.”
The king chuckled loudly, which made Oreb uncomfortable. “What exactly did she say to you?”
“She called me a pig. A lying, filthy American with no morals.” Oreb paused and sighed loudly again, placing his hands over his face. “I never felt so small in my life. She was right. I was a pig. A selfish pig—only concerned with my own feelings.”
The king stopped chuckling. “And a woman in an arranged marriage in that culture, risking her life to be with you, her sneaking around isn’t worth criticizing? Or a woman whose husband’s body was barely cold and buried running around with an American captain—none of that is selfish, right?”
“Sir, I know you want to spin this so I feel less dirty about what I did, but believe me I learned my lesson. That’s why I stayed single all this time since then. I don’t deserve love. I am a selfish pig!”
“You punish yourself for an indiscretion and those other women moved on with their lives? How is that remotely fair? You should have moved on with your life, Jeremy. You should have married someone and had a family. Instead, you carry around this giant stone tied around your neck. You are a human being. You made mistakes, but you move on. You grow from them and you learn to love again.” The king said as he put his hand on Oreb’s shoulder in an affectionate manner.
“I learned later that Yasmine’s virginity came into question. Her husband wanted to annul the marriage, but she got pregnant right away. I think the husband always suspected something wasn’t right and I heard he mistreated her long after. Then, her husband was murdered. I am not sure why he was killed.”
“So, that’s why you carry so much guilt around. You feel responsible for Yasmine’s misfortune.”
“Hamida, too. She was mostly an outcast and no man would marry her. She became bitter and mistreated her two sons until they were old enough to run away from her and join a terrorist group. Both were killed in subsequent battles with American and Iraqi troops.”
The king finally let go of Oreb’s shoulder. “You sure kept detailed tabs on these women.”
“There is so much pain I caused and so much guilt I carry inside me, sir. I could never let myself poison another person again. I feel I am cursed. That’s why I am such a devout Christian now. That’s why I will follow you to the end of the earth, sir. I believe in our cause with all my might. This is how I can repay my debt and undo the ills of my past.” Oreb lamented with tears in his eyes, which glistened in the brightening moon at the fall of night.
The king replied in a very solemn tone, “Jeremy, everyone has a destiny. Those women met their fate as it was written for them. You are not responsible for their fate. It would have happened even if you never met them.”
Oreb, barely able to speak, replied shakily, “But it was me, sir. I was the one in their lives. Their fate was triggered by my actions. And I accept that. I also accept what you say about destiny. Perhaps at the end of the day, their misfortunes were what triggered my fate as well.”
“It seems like it all is connected somehow, Jeremy. Everything happens for a reason. And the reason is likely not something we are meant to understand.” The king answered, walking back to his chair and sitting back down. He picked his cigar back up and lit it anew.
Oreb paused and walked to the edge of the terrace, placing his hands on its thick rails. “Well, sir, of this I think we are in total agreement—because there is so much I think we are incapable of remotely understanding. Except for one thing.”
“What’s that?” The king said as he puffed the cigar until a plume of smoke covered his face in the dark, which engulfed them both by that point.
Oreb watched Asilas puff his cigar. The orange cinder smoldered in front of the shadowy figure of his king. “These events in our lives compel us to do things we otherwise would never naturally do. We have been nudged by the universe to go the path we are on—whether we like it or not.”