“Mama, why does the mantis watch me?”
“Mhmm. Lots of times”
“Remember, the mantis is one of the many forms our Creator takes, so He can keep watch over us all”
“No, not like that.”
“How then, baba?”
“Sometimes, in the morning, when I’m going to—“
“Sit still, Ana! Or your hair will be uneven.”
“In the mornings, when I go greet the sun like you told me and I’m walking to the hill just behind the old tree, then all the mantises come out and they look at me.”
“All of them?”
“Unlike myself, my sire was not a great lover of words. His art was war, and now the history books hail him as one of the world’s fiercest warriors, a fine king, a destroyer of worlds and, somehow, the builder of them too. That was the way of his life. History’s relationship with my father is complicated because he broke and shaped society with equal ease and determination. If there is anything of my father in me, then, it is my ability to destroy as easily as I create. In my younger years, it was a part of myself that I loathed. Older now, and wiser, I have come to understand that it is a necessary balance, the spark that sits at the heart of me, the driving force behind the story you now find at your hands, bound in countless tomes for your reading pleasure.
An Alexandrian librarian gifted me with a love of books and study, taught me to read and write, passed down the ancient, noble art of observation and chronicle. And one other thing. True tomes, Nizam told me, require a special composition: only the most durable calfskin leather, dried and cured till soft but firm, for the cover; fine paper, malleable but not too thin, able to withstand the press of a quill’s point and hold the ink’s bleed; sturdy binding, done with hands and heart and imbued with the sacred knowledge that the final piece will contain a story and nothing is more precious. Were Nizam alive now, he might think that I have forgotten most of the lessons he so painstakingly taught me. Perhaps, though, he would be pleased to know that his secret formula of making books to hold stories is one I have carried through more centuries than I care to count.