Once, in the ancient land of rivers, a mighty Eagle of sky and light flew high above the city skyline.

The people of the rivers knew the Eagle well, and their hearts were filled with solace whenever they caught sight of his majestic glory. For the Eagle protected the rivers and the land, and was compensated richly for his services. He drank the freshest milk collected from cattle that grazed on the marshlands of the south, sipped the sweetest honey gathered from the bees of Baghdad, and took rest in a bed of willows by the old city walls. Through him, the riches of the rivers were shared, poetry and prose were mastered, numerical aptitude built and scientific discovery made. The Eagle had witnessed and served the mystical realms of the earliest peoples and continued to ensure that the river’s people thrived. The Eagle took a daily migration following the great river’s path, swooping low over the tamarisks & liquorice plants, ready to spread the river’s riches and knowledge to the lands he visited. 

The locals told stories of how the Eagle was immortal and how he flew strong against the headwind of the desert, yet his feathers told the story of a fearful past. Feathers charred blacker than the prized crude oils that flowed deep within the foundations of the land. Healed wounds wound round his fibrous body, telling the story of bygone bloodshed. It was not too long ago in this ancient land of rivers, the Eagle had endured his most onerous of battles. 

One golden late-day, when the great rivers were drenched in rays of the desert sun and the sweet smelling scents from rose buds permeated the dry, desert air, the Eagle set off on his daily migration along the river’s path. As he meandered his way up to the mountains of the north, he spotted a conspiracy of ravens sitting high above the gentle southern limb of the Sinjar mountains. . The ravens eyed him closely and held his gaze until the Eagle was intercepted by a team of waterfowl paddling in one of the many tributaries that flowed from the precious water. Their shrill squawks stopped him in his tracks and he flew closer to investigate.

“Mighty Eagle, we have had news of great woe,” began the young leader of the waterfowl. “There are whispers amongst our brethren in other lands that there are foes that plot to loot the great river’s knowledge and riches,” he continued. The Eagle fell silent and glanced back at the ravens he had passed – they were gone, leaving behind only tufts of tar black feathers.  A reminiscent sense of trouble spread through the Eagle’s body as he reminisced on the countless foes who had attempted to pillage the great rivers in the past. They had brought great destruction, but their efforts had been in vain. 

Weeks passed, and the whispers amongst the citizens of the bordering lands made their way to the land of the great rivers. The river’s people valiant and enduring did not fret or panic, they prepared. The Eagle also prepared. The moonlight bounced off the ripples of the rivers on a mild spring night when the whispers manifested. On the ground, serpents skulked in great waves across the sandy tracks. They were followed closely by wakes of vultures beating the stifling air with their colossal black wings. The old city was surrounded, and the rivers overwhelmed. 

The land was the stage for the choreographed dance of destruction – nests of serpents burrowed deep into the structure of the land probing for the precious elements that lay within. The vultures, still air bound, observed and plotted their strikes – targeting the river’s people by savaging their livelihoods.  Centuries of knowledge, culture and memories held deep within the fabric of the great rivers were mutilated as the intruders bled them dry. The Eagle’s being, intertwined with the land and the rivers began to dim. Each inch of land that was colonised fractured another hollow bone that supported the Eagle’s daily flight. 

Each droplet of precious water displaced by the massacre left a blackened scar on the Eagle’s spirit. The people of the rivers no longer saw the Eagle soaring high above their clay roof tops, no longer did they find solace each day. The triad of honour that upheld the nation was broken. The Eagle lay shattered in his bed of decaying willows by the old city walls – prisoner to the ravens that had watched his majestic flight not long ago. As word spread of the Eagle’s diminished state, the very foundations of the land shook in rage. The Earth orbited the Sun seven times before the onslaught was over.

In the aftermath, the once overpowering light of the desert sun dimmed. Great clouds cast a calamitous shadow over the land. The aftershocks continued over many moons, the Eagle lay crippled and the citizens of the land experienced much struggle and hardship. Ever enduring though, they remained steadfast in their trust for the Eagle. The Eagle was at the brink of surrendering to this new reality until one day, the great rivers reached out and began to speak to him. 

Thousands of honeyed liquid spheres fell perfectly on the wounds the Eagle had endured, bringing an intangible storm that brightened the sullen-black clouds. Lightning cracked the sky, sending heaven’s light through the atmosphere. The booming exclamations struck the Eagle, restarting his spirit, reigniting his will. Each molecule of precious water that landed on his feathers built his strength. As if it was protecting him, the great rivers took him to an onward healing, and the Eagle’s crested head found the energy to lift itself off the ground. His weakened frame finally stood and prepared to take flight once more. 

Slowly, his wings elevated him until he was above the ground. The storm subsided and the crosswinds of the desert picked up and carried him higher and higher. The people of the rivers caught sight of his emergence and began to cheer and undulate, rushing to spread the news of his return. As he floated to the tops of the clay roof tops once more, the people formed crowds along the soaked desert tracks holding fresh palm fronds and thick olive branches high above their heads, cheering his healing along. Sun rays illuminated the Eagle’s path and wings stretched, he began to soar. Along the river’s path, he had returned to service.

The time is long past in this ancient homeland, and the Eagle still maintains, bound to the precious, great rivers, his daily migration spreading knowledge and riches afar.

About the Author
Zainab Al Mufti is an Iraqi-Irish teacher and writer based in the UK. Zainab is passionate about highlighting the profound beauty and strength of Iraq and working to bring Iraqi voices into the mainstream.