True20 Al-Qadim: Zakharan Nights (updated 6/21/06)

Hello everybody. This is a three-player True20 campaign played weekly online in the universe of Al-Qadim... but with some twists. :) To wit:

* Zakhara's polytheism is replaced with Islam. Further, the lands north of Zakhara are Christian lands reminiscent of Syria and the Byzantine Empire.

* In this "closer-to-real-life" version of Zakhara, magic is seen as sihr, or witchcraft, and is officially condemned. However, the government of the Grand Caliph mostly pursues a "don't ask, don't tell" policy - so long as mages do not draw attention to themselves or terrorize the populace, they are not persecuted. In the tolerant, cosmopolitan Heart Cities, especially the capital of Huzuz, many citizens have come to accept magic to the point of being jaded by wonders; whereas people in outlying regions, especially those of a more conservative religious bent, may tend to stone first and ask questions later.

* The change to the True20 system has of course drastically altered the way magic works, relative to D&D.

* There are a number of real-world references - in particular, certain ethnicities and ancient kingdoms.

* The campaign is told in a storytelling style meant to be reminiscent of the Arabian Nights. Therefore it tends to be a bit over-the-top and larger than life. And enjoyably so, I might add! The players, including myself, have had a blast, and found ourselves responding with some really memorable lines!

* I am now allowed to say that the campaign uses the rules of Paradigm Press's Tales of the Caliphate Nights, and that the GM is the author of the book, Aaron Infante-Levy!

Some of you may know me as the author of two other Story Hours, The Shadow Knows! and Chasing the Stars!; as well as the creator of The World of Terrima. Feel free to go check them out! (Readers of Chasing the Stars! will be glad to know that thus far this campaign has been like clockwork.)

Now for the one fly in the ointment. I find that every time I try to weave the game logs into a narrative that having everyone's exact words and poses at my fingertips is curiously paralyzing to the imagination. So what I propose to do is to post the (edited within an inch of their lives) game logs. I hope this doesn't bother anyone; if it does, think of it as reading the transcript of a play.

I will not be posting game stats at this time, at the Narrator's request. Suffice to say that the characters are all first level. (Though in True20, that isn't as crippling as it might otherwise sound! :) You'll meet them soon, but they are:

Yasir al-Ayyubi: A warrior in his mid-twenties, seeking to avenge an old wrong. He is a ghazi, a Muslim holy warrior. The term means "forgiver", and a ghazi is meant to view combat as a last resort.

Farraj Hezma El Feisal: A young Bedouin outcast from his tribe, with nobody to rely on but his faithful camel Shasti. He has wandered the desert for the entirety of his short life, and has never seen a city.

Abdul al-Jann: A young but prosperous scribe of about twenty years. As his (nick-)name might indicate, however, there may be more to him than meets the eye... He grew up in Huzuz and is returning there after some time away.

Our three heroes independently end up at the caravanserai of Zarif, a few days' journey east of Huzuz, as our campaign opens... The Narrator has entitled it:

The Redeemable and the Unredeemed
 
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1: The Three Men Who Saved Mamoun

Narrator: Wherein the tale beginneth...

Narrator: They say a sandstorm is a fearsome sight to behold, but, sihab, I assure you there was never a storm so fearsome as that night at the caravanserai of Zarif. At its forefront we could see upside down palm trees, leering skulls, and even what appeared to be a great lake. "A mirage" said the merchants wiser than I. It was at this very caravanserai that I, a poor camel keeper witnessed deeds that, had you not been there, you would think me creating a fanciful fiction. But, all my words are true, therefore listen to my tale, for in it there is weeping and redemption.

Narrator: The last of the animals were rounded up inside the caravanserai as the sandstorm loomed on the horizon. The old ghaffir! Shouts one of the lookouts. An old blind man was wandering in the wrong direction, and the wind swallowed the shouts of the caravanserai dwellers. Soon the storm would swallow him up.

Abdul glances over, troubled. "Over here, father! You walk into a storm!" He starts forward, looking a bit unsure toward the sandstorm. [Note for the reader: "Father" here is simply a term of respect to an elderly man.]

Yasir glances over briefly, then turns back to the path before him.

Narrator: The wind seems to catch Abdul's words, twisting them, the sound scattering in four directions like a flock of birds. The old man leans forward as if listening but is uncertain which way to turn. The last of the merchants have been ushered into the caravanserai. Two guards linger at the gates.

Abdul: "God has mercy on the merciful," Abdul sighs when he realizes the man can't possibly hear him, and starts running.

Narrator: A guard grabs Abdul's shoulder, "Sihab, you will surely perish!"

Farraj: Barely a dot, often obscured, a scrawny figure on a malnourished camel races before the storm, heading for the safety of the camp.

Yasir: "Who is the man, sir?"

Abdul dithers. "But...!" He shakes himself free of the man's grasp. He is fairly young.

Narrator: "The ghaffir? He is the caravan master's grandfather. A wise man, some say touched by the desert. Blind as a bat, blessed be his soul." The guard replies to Yasir.

Yasir: "If he is a good man, then we should help him."

Yasir follows Abdul.

Farraj: If your eyes are turned to the blasting grit you see the rider divert towards the lost Ghaffir.

Narrator: Farraj feels the force of the sandstorm weighing down on him, attempting to smother him. His camel froths at the mouth. Ahead you see an old man wandering in a haze.

Abdul comes to a decision, and once more starts running.

Yasir runs after Abdul.

Narrator: Abdul quickly brushes aside the guard who murmurs, "Blessed be the brave youth!"

Narrator: The sandstorm is all around Farraj, howling in his ears, blasting sand into his ears and eyes. It is more than intolerable. At least, you console yourself knowing the camel fares better than you. (make a Survival check)

Farraj: Shasti stumbles amongst the drifts, tired beyond her years as her rider drives her on

Narrator: Abdul sees Farraj the worthy get swallowed into the storm, and nears the old man.

Yasir moves to help Farraj

Abdul grabs the old man's arm. "This way, father! It is the mother of all storms coming!"

Narrator: The old man clutches Abdul's arm in terror, but the storm is fast and cunning. Already Farraj has lost all sense of direction, and knows all too well that if he travels too far in the wrong direction he may become lost in the desert.

Yasir moves into the sandstorm to assist Farraj.

Abdul: As the sand swallows Abdul up, he shouts a word into the winds that cannot be heard. Doubtless a prayer.

======================================================

Abdul: "Aqisan!"

Narrator: Aqisan appears in a puff of smoke. He is a massive, ten-and-half foot tall djinn of fearsome aspect, with olive-brown muscles bulging out of an embroidered vest.

Abdul: "Dear friend, would it be imposing to ask of you a favor?"

Narrator: Aqisan rumbles, "On the contrary, I was just looking for an excuse to put off an importunate suitor. How may I serve you, O son of the worthy?"

Abdul: "Please preserve us from this storm. I leave to your judgment the best means of doing so... Only please do not show yourself unless it becomes necessary. I mean no offense, but you understand it could be awkward."

Narrator: Aqisan bows, saying "Seeing and hearing, with sweetness and joy!" as he vanishes from sight.

=======================================================

Narrator: Perhaps the guard would have let the youth go, but now this young warrior was rushing to his death. Cursing his luck, the guard ran after Yasir, "Cover your face, you fool!"

Yasir covers his face.

Farraj: Flogging his worn camel before the teeth of the storm, the wild looking man is nearing the lost elder.

Narrator: Yasir grabs the reins of Farraj's camel.

Yasir pulls the camel toward the saftey of the caravanserai.

Yasir: "We must get to safety, sir."

Farraj: "We are amongst the teeth of God, listen to him calling."

Yasir: "So I hear, but we will not survive long if we do not get to shelter."

Farraj: Hustling the elder, the two weather beaten travellers retreat to shelter

Abdul blindly tries to make his way back toward where he thought the caravansarai was, clutching the old man to him.

Yasir moves toward the caravanserai, clutching the camel reins.

Farraj: (To Yasir) "Thanks to you kind stranger. I am Farraj, recently of the desert. It seems the sands will not release me without a parting embrace!"

Narrator: Farraj and Yasir hear a whisper on the wind, "Servants of the Merciful, the gates are rapidly closing! You must hasten! Follow my voice!"

Yasir: "I am Yasir. We must move quickly."

Farraj: Farraj dismounts and allows Yasir to herd Shasti to safety as he assists the elder into the settlement

Yasir glances again to see if he can spot the elder.

Narrator: Abdul and Farraj help the old man.

Farraj: "Old man, you look for your home and you have found a friend."

Abdul still clings to the old man with all his might, his eyes blinded by the sand. "Thank you strangers, whoever you may be!"

Narrator: Sands and shadow cover the lands, strange shapes disappearing, dunes rising and falling underneath your feat.

Yasir: "I am Yasir al-Ayyubi; it is my honor to assist."

Yasir extends his arm toward Abdul.

Narrator: You see the vague outline of a man before you -- it appears to be the guard, "Servants of the Merciful, follow my voice!"

Abdul makes his way toward the voice. "Quickly, my friends! Haste is the friend of God in a storm!"

Farraj: "And I am Farraj Hezma El Feisal, what name has this place?"

Farraj follows this brave guide.

Yasir follows Farraj.

Narrator: The winds blast through you, such that only hollering suffices now.

Farraj: Shasti the camel wonders about the ways of men who would rather talk than take shelter. Inshallah

Narrator: As you follow Farraj, who follows the voice of the guard - as if the voice of God - you find yourselves nearing the gates of the caravanserai as they close.

Yasir pulls Shasti after him.

Narrator: You come upon the crumpled form of the guard who ran after the brave Yasir. He appears to be blinded by the sandstorm, and crawls on all fours in despair.

Yasir assists the guard.

Yasir: "Are you all right, my friend?"

Abdul has his hands full with the old man, but is about to bring the guard to the others attention when he notices Yasir already helping. He nods to the man gratefully and makes for the gate.

Farraj takes Shasti's reins and uses her to give some shelter to the others from the biting wind as they struggle through the gates.

Yasir gets the guard to his feet and assists him into the town.

Narrator: The guard moans and clutches Yasir's clothes as he staggers to his feet. Farraj and his blessed camel Shasti bravely block the scouring winds for the rest of the group, giving them the momentary respite they need to press on to the gates. Seconds before the gates close, you burst through in a showers of dust and wind.

Abdul: "God be praised!" Abdul gasps.

Narrator: With a loud 'thud' the caravanserai's gate is secured. Merchants marvel at your coughing group.

Farraj: "Well my friends, the Sun rises, the Sun sets and God is Great."

Abdul: "You speak truly!"

Narrator: Several murmurs of "Truly God is merciful." can be heard throughout the caravanserai. The ghaffir's wife rushes to him, "Heart of my liver!" Clutching him, she bows before you, "Oh noble men, a thousand exultations upon you!"

[Character descriptions:]

Yasir is tall and broad, a sizable man with unkempt jet-black hair. He wears a well-groomed beard, which is trimmed almost daily. His skin is dark and ruddy from the sun, and his hands weathered from his work. His eyes, a dark brown colour, are distant, and suggest that his attention is often not in the moment at hand.

He usually dresses in a modest, olive-coloured dishdasha, over which he wears a rather elaborate embroidered vest. While his dishdasha and vest are sometimes weather-worn and dusty, he keeps his turban a brilliant white, and takes much pride in its appearance. A shining scimitar hangs gently at his side at all times.

Abdul is a slender, rather short young man nearing twenty, wearing the robes and carrying the writing case of a scribe. Jet black hair is swept back severely, and his beard is neatly trimmed. Dark brown eyes with a merry glint search you carefully as he smiles an enigmatic smile.

Farraj is a slight man who has yet to see twenty years. Beneath a layer of dust and grime resides dark eyes and a hawkish nose. He looks like any of a thousand men who have crawled into civilisation from the deep desert. Shasti, his camel, is a mare of considerable years who has gained in dignity and poise all that whe may have lost in endurance and speed.

[Note: Farraj's description is out of date, as he has been retconned to be fourteen years old.]

Farraj: Out of the wind you all notice the paticular reek of sweat, and camel coming from Farraj, a true sign of the desert wanderer.

Yasir speaks in a loud voice: "We have injured men, can anyone heal them?"

Abdul looks to have no more energy for much talk or exertion. He is panting heavily, and shaking from his close brush with the desert's kiss.

Narrator: The caravan master eyes Yasir skeptically. "Surely. Laheeb, see to this man's camel." A young boy helps remove salt and sand from Shasti's eyes. The caravan master looks at the ghaffir. "As for my grandfather, I'm afraid his cough is chronic."

Farraj: The light of the truly devout servant of God shines from behind Farraj's eyes.

Abdul finally lets go of the old ghaffir, the news of safety finally reaching his limbs.

Narrator: The guard who Yasir rescued, quickly rises to his feet despite being unable to see, "I---I am fine sir. It was a momentary lapse, nothing more."

Yasir: "As long as you are sure."

Farraj: "Perhaps the storm has blown some of the Breath of God into your illustrious elder?"

Abdul murmurs faintly, "Inshallah."

Narrator: "I am honored that you have saved so worthy a servant," says the caravan master slyly. "I consider myself in your debt. As you seem to have come without a caravan, may I offer you free lodging and the bond of salt?"

Yasir: "To whom are you speaking, sir?"

Abdul: "Most generous, I'm sure!" Abdul gasps. He sure looks to be in need of something wet to drink.

Narrator: .: With the gates are closed, darkness covers the sky and the storm crashes against the caravanserai, blasts of sand leaking in. Quickly, the staff goes about filling the cracks as merchants calm their herds. Prayers are murmured, In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate... One of the merchants can't find his falcon. A musician plays upon his sitar to soothe the crowd. Jasmine, cinnamon, and frankincense assault your nostrils. Bedouin argue with one another. It looks like it will be a crowded night.

Farraj: "I thank you kind friend. I have come with nothing and I arrive to your gifts. Inshallah."

Narrator: The caravan master bows, "I am Metef, who is twice in your debt, for saving my grandfather and my servant." The guard is guided away by his fellows, who shoot venemous looks at the caravan master.

Yasir: "I am Yasir al-Ayyubi, and it was my honour to assist."

Farraj leads Shasti away to find water and a comfortable spot to rest.

Narrator: Suddenly the old man bursts out "Praised be the Almighty! My cough has been cured through a tahrik min qad*. Though I am blind surely I know when I am in the company of saints!" ((*lit. "moving through the flame"))

Yasir looks around, puzzled.

Farraj: "It is true that God is Great. You must use the voice he has given you to call out praise to him!"

Abdul blinks, finally taking in the situation. "God be praised! The Compassionate smiles upon us - heaping up his gifts!"

Abdul then suddenly stops. "Uh... saints?"

Yasir bows in quiet prayer.

Narrator: The old man begins kissing at Abdul and Yasir's feet.

Farraj: Shasti politely but firmly tows Farraj in the direction of the watering troughs.

Farraj mutters, looking over his shoulder at the ghaffir, "Surely no greater sign that the man is blind."

Yasir: "Stand up, old man. You are among mere men."

Yasir reaches down to help the old man up.

Narrator: The old man feels Yasir's face. "Ah, such piety in one so young. Is not the wise and virtuous man a saint?" He asks, his pearly eyes gazing at Yasir.

Yasir: "As are wise old men, friend."

Abdul gets a humorous look in his eye. "Is it possible, my friend, that your admirable humility blinds you to your true status?" He looks perhaps ever so slightly piqued that his own contribution goes unrecognized.

Yasir asks the old man, "Who are you?"

Narrator: "I am Naskir al-Ghaffir, father of Batuta, father of that ungrateful whelp Metef." Addressing Abdul, the old man grins, "A humble man was never so clear-sighted as an arrogant one."

Abdul: "Truly said, truly said."

Yasir: "So I gather that you have come here with your grandson, Naskir."

Narrator: Naskir, the old man, salaams Yasir. "May I show you your rooms? Though I am blind, I but need my wife's loyal hand and then the caravanserai is transformed into the most astonishing palace --every secret passage, nook, and cranny revealed to my hands."

Yasir turns to Abdul. "What brings you? ... Yes, Naskir, show us what you like. It is truly generous of you. Praised be Allah."

Narrator: "Ah, my grandson, that incorrigible stingy Metef, yes he is the master of the caravanserai. I moved here with my wife three years ago and have regretted it ever since."

Abdul: "Lead on, estimable Naskir."

Yasir: "Where is your son, Naskir?"

Narrator: "Alas, my son perished in a sandstorm." Says Naskir, before falling silent. Guided by his wife, he travels through the courtyard, passing by Farraj.

Yasir following Naskir, says, "May Allah bless his soul, then."

Abdul trails after, still looking parched.

===================================

Narrator: At the watering trough, Farraj comes across a shocking scene. Merchants doing what they do best, not minutes after being trapped inside by the howling storm. Various silks and rare blades are on display. Already they bicker amongst themselves about the price.

Farraj gawks at the untold and unimagined riches before him. He has never seen such colours before. And fresh forged steel, so shiny! He touches a bolt of silk and snatches his hand back. It is so soft. How did they make such fine linen?

Farraj: Shasti gorges herself at the watering trough, watching her naive master with one eye. She has carried far greater riches, and once the daughter of a prince, in days long gone.

Narrator: A fat-cheeked merchant eyes Farraj, "Have I seen you before?"

Farraj: "We are all as one under the gaze of the Great One. Lordly merchant, surely you have traversed the far ribs of the world to bring such finery to this city." (Farraj has never seen a city before so assumes that this is one.)

Narrator: The swarthy merchant arches his brow at Farraj. "Indeed... From Baharta these silks, and the blades from Hiyal. This fine scimitar is made of Damascene steel. Where are you from stranger?"

Farraj: "I come from the desert kind stranger. For many, many days I have passed over the burning sands and only with this storm at my heels (Shasti snorts loudly) did I come upon this city. And what may I ask is it called?"

Narrator: Coyly wrapping some silk around his finger, the merchant grins at Farraj, "Why, this is the famed city of Zarif!"

Farraj, laughing, says, "I am the first of my tribe to stand within the walls of great Zarif. Thank you kind sir. My camel has drunk her fill and I must find lodging. Let the blessings of Allah fall upon you and your family." He nods and leads Shasti in search of lodging.

====================================

Yasir turns to Abdul and asks, "What brings you to the caravanserai?"

Abdul: "Oh, me? I have been plying my trade in Halwa. Now..." Abdul flushes becomingly. "I have been invited back to Huzuz to display my craft."

Yasir: "Your craft?"

Abdul: "I am a scribe, kind sir."

Yasir: "That would explain the case, then."

Abdul: "Indeed. And you? For is it not said that a trade is to a man as a staff in hand?"

Yasir: "My trade is rather more militant. I am seeking glory for Allah and to bring justice to the man who killed my father."

Narrator: Naskir shows you to some simple rooms. Bed rolls upon the floor. The opening phrases of the Qur'an written in blue and white on the far wall. A simple pitcher of water and several bales of straw.

Abdul: "May God grant you success!"

Yasir: "Thank you."

Abdul: "And your name?"

Yasir: "Yasir al-Ayyubi, you?"

Abdul bows. "I am Abdul." He pauses, looking away for a moment. "I... have no proper patronymic."

Yasir: "It is a pleasure nonetheless. And thank you, Naskir, for taking us in."

Narrator: Bowing to you, Naskir wishes peace upon you. "Here you surely will find rest, for this room is two feet below the rest and well sheltered from the storm. Do not listen to my grandson if he says anything...odd...during the night. Blessings upon you."

Abdul: "Odd, father?"

Yasir: "Where is that wayward camel-rider?" He glances around.

Narrator: "Ah, of these matters I cannot speak. I last smelled the camel in the courtyard by the cistern. Poor beast is never bathed." Naskir is gradually led away by his wife, talking to himself. "Ah, but my poor son..." "I know dear, I know."

Abdul: "How strange." But Abdul wastes no time on wondering, but makes a beeline for the water pitcher.

Yasir: "Pour me some too, Abdul?"

Abdul: "Of course, friend Yasir." He asks a bit dubiously, "Tell me, you are not what good Naskir believes, are you?"

Yasir: "A saint? Hardly."

Abdul: "Yes. Forgive me; no man need be insulted by the assertion he is not a saint."

Yasir: "Surely not."

Abdul gulps the first cup of water down, then sips the second more slowly.

Yasir sips the water slowly.

============================

Narrator: The young boy who Metef the caravan master had assigned to attend to Farraj's camel, salaams to Farraj, "I have found this on your camel." He holds out his closed hands.

Farraj: "What have you there young one?"

Narrator: The boy places a large dab of wax that appears to have a broken arrow shaft stuck in it. "It was on your saddlebag, sihab."

Farraj takes the wax and has a good look at it, trying to discern what it might be.

Narrator: Like an ocean swell, murmurs begin close to the gates among the guards and merchants gathered there, gradually rippling through the crowd seeking shelter in the caravanserai courtyard. It is news received as darkly as the storm that rages overhead itself. There is a pounding at the gates.

Narrator: Farraj, though used to finding such scavenged items, is quite puzzled by it. Within the wax there appears to be a pink pearl.

Farraj pries the pearl from the wax, using his knife if necessary.

Narrator: Farraj pops the pearl into his hand. It is truly fascinating. Within are the complexity of several oceans burning in fire.

Narrator: All of a sudden you hear a shriek. "Do not open the gates!"

Farraj: "Thank you young sahib, can you help me find lodging? Perhaps the gate guards know the best place...?" Upon hearing the shriek, he deftly pockets the pearl and dawdles over towards the disturbance.

Narrator: The boy looks at Farraj, and appears eager to answer, but the commotion has caught his tongue.

============================

Abdul: "I am sure there is some sad tale about your father. If it is rude for me to inquire, please tell me."

Yasir: "He was a merchant like yourself. He sold livestock in Halwa. I was sixteen when it happened... rivals of my father's... heretics..."

Yasir is noticably shaken and looks away, pausing.

Abdul chuckles. "I would hardly call myself a merchant, Yasir! It is true I must sell my work, but my clientele is often too decorous to haggle." He settles down to listen, making sympathetic sounds at the right places. He is a good listener.

Yasir: "Forgive me, I meant it as no offense."

Abdul: "It is nothing. Please do go on, if you wish it."

Yasir: "They found him in the marketplace and dragged him off. I was too far away to reach him in time." Yasir is not a terribly good story teller, and does not make the necessary dramatic effects. "I found him dead in the street a mile or so away."

Abdul: "The ways of God are strange. May his Mercy ever surround you. My condolences."

Yasir: "Thank you, friend."

Yasir's mood lightens some. "And you, Abdul, your scribing is going well then? Is that why you are headed back?"

Abdul: "Very well! I did not want to say it for all to hear, but... The Caliph himself has invited me to display my calligraphy!"

Yasir: "That is wonderful to hear."

[The shriek above is heard.]

Abdul: "What was that sound?"

Yasir stands up. "I'm not sure. We should go to the gates and see." He heads toward the sound.

Abdul gets up, resigned to more trouble, and follows along.

Narrator: A crowd has gathered around the gates again. This time they watch with dread. Metef, the caravan master, in particular watches with horror at the heavy wooden post which locks the gate. And then it comes, a pounding on the gate, and a muted voice on the others side.

Yasir looks for someone nearby to ask what is happening. He wonders out loud, "Who or what is outside the gate?"

Narrator: "Do not open the gates!" Metef commands his guards, who stare at him wild-eyed. "There is a hideous djinn called al-Zaraksh that attempts to trick us!"

Farraj asks a nearby person what the problem is? "Surely the storm is satisfied with having the rest of the desert to play in without coming into the great city of Zarif?"

Abdul: "May God preserve us!" Abdul exclaims piously, while fiddling with his writing case.

Yasir: "A djinn? Outside?"

Abdul: "Surely you are mistaken, good Metef? There are many wonders in God's broad world; not all of them are djinn."

Narrator: "Your good fortune in the arms of God has clouded your mind!" Metef snaps at Abdul. "I have suffered this shaitan for several years. It torments my caravanserai and every night knocks upon this gate attempting to lure us out so that it may prey upon us in unspeakable ways!"

Abdul: "Every night? None have ever answered it? What has it done to unwary travellers?"

Narrator: One of the guards nonchalantly remarks, "It has given them a mad host." Several of the gathered bedouin laugh.

Yasir: "If it has become such a problem to your people, why does no one do anything to turn it away?"

Abdul: "Truly, for the Hand of God shields the Faithful."

Narrator: One of the merchant's wives raises her voice, "It is too powerful to contest! It took Naskir's sight!"

Yasir: "Then his injury must be avenged. Surely Allah will reward one who dies valiantly in combat with a djinn."

Narrator: "Yes! It is a powerful shaitan, a cunning shaitan---" Metef is interrupted by the muffled voice again, which seems to say: Please, for God's mercy, open the gates!

Abdul: "Come! Can even a shaitan use the Name of God in its evil tricks?! Surely Allah the Mighty would blast him for it!"

Narrator: The merchant's wife glares at Yasir, "And would you have the rest of us die with you?"

Yasir turns to the merchant's wife. "Do you fear death more than you fear Allah?"

Farraj: Shasti finds a comfortable corner in the stables and within minutes fills the room with her delicate, lady-like snoring.

Narrator: Metef holds up his hands, one of which is missing a finger. "This is what the shaitan has done to me when I thought to open the gate before! We must pray together, and drown out the djinn's trickery."

Yasir: "Then lead us in prayer, master, or move aside and let us face whatever may be outside the walls.

Abdul: "Well, Allah has favored me once today; I will trust in his Mercy once more. Can you not open the gate but slightly, so I may go out to see what awaits? It is not in me to turn aside anyone who asks in the name of God."

Yasir: "You are a brave man, Abdul, and Allah favors that." Yasir puts his hand on the hilt of his scimitar.

Narrator: Metef says, "Oh young man, do not tempt fate a second time! God is merciful to him who helps himself!" A few guards grudgingly bar the gates, though they make no show to draw blades and seem rather troubled.

Farraj: "Did I hear the cries of a person in need? The great city of Zafir surely houses a grand mullah who can send shaitan back to his pit?"

Yasir turns and stares awkwardly at Farraj.

Narrator: Naskir is near Farraj, "The great city? There is no mullah here! Not as long as Metef is in charge!"

Abdul scoffs, "God is merciful to whomever his Most Gracious Will blesses; man's efforts are as nothing in his sight. Is it not so?"

Narrator: The voice at the gates continues: I am dying, show me mercy! Oh forsake me not at death's door!

Yasir: "Open the door, Metef, and let whomever pleads to us by God's name in."

Farraj: (To Yasir) "Come, friend, there is no shame in being lost in the desert."

Narrator: The crowd murmurs in agreement with Abdul. Metef stands resolutely before them. "Tempt death! Mock God! But I will not let you risk the lives of those under my protection! Can you not see that once the doors are open we shall be consumed by the storm and the shaitan may possess any one of us?"

Farraj: "We stand in the greatest city in the land. Help is at hand. The prince will send his guards. You will see."

Narrator: Incredulous at Farraj, Naskir whispers to him, "You must be mad! I know a secret way of egress - if you can gather your friends perhaps we may save this poor soul."

Abdul: "If I have mocked God, tell me in what ways my words have offended, O most wise Metef! Lower me over the wall in a basket if that suits your fears, then."

Narrator: The crowd again murmurs in appreciation of Abdul's bravery

Farraj: "Brave Abdul, you shame us. I will proudly lower you myself."

Yasir: "How would you do that, brave Farraj?"

Farraj: "Surely the friendly merchant I spoke with earlier will give of his strange fabrics in defence of this fine City. I can lower you using no more than 4 or 5 bolts of his `silk'."

Narrator: At last the guard who Yasir rescued speaks up, "Metef, you're acting like you're already possessed by a shaitan. Was it not you who ordered the gates closed on these brave souls, myself, and your own grandfather?"

Yasir: "Open the gates. If there is combat then remember it is written: 'Who fought and were slain...I will most certainly make them enter gardens beneath which rivers flow; a reward from Allah, and with Allah is yet better reward.'"

Narrator: The crowd begans chanting: "Give them a bucket! Give them rope!" The voice outside is barely a whisper, the banging is dying down.

Farraj: "Where is that kindly merchant? After all, a gift given is a gift gained."

Narrator: A bucket and "rope" (bolts of silk tied together) materialize from the hands of the crowd, passed to you. The "kindly" merchant grudgingly parts with his silk, cautioning you to be careful and not damage it.

Abdul: "I know you are as true as your word, friend Farraj." Abdul makes his way to the wall, climbing up whatever scaffolding there may be.

Farraj: "Come Abdul and all who praise Allah. Let us lower our champion to his destiny."

Yasir: "Shall I go with you, Abdul, lest you need help?"

Abdul: "Allah can save one as easily as two, good Yasir. If Metef is right, two will only mean two deaths; if I am right, only one will be needed."

Yasir: "Then Allah be at your side, Abdul."

Narrator: Metef is distraught beyond reason, and screeches: "I should be the one to go!"

Abdul: "You seem to change your tune quickly, O good Metef."

Narrator: But the crowd pushes against Metef, elbowing him out of the way. Above you the desert storm whips over the edge of the towers, casting sand in all directions, like hellish ocean spray or sweat from a mare.

Farraj clambers after Abdul onto the wall and loops the silk rope around his waist as he takes a good look at whatever is beyond the gate.

Abdul: "I am ready, Farraj."

Yasir forces his way to the wall to watch Abdul.

Farraj: "Place your foot in this stirrup my friend and let your Faith be your sword."

Abdul clutches the fine silk, signalling Farraj to lower away.

Narrator: The storm is blinding, strong enough to drag a full-grown man across the desert's floor. A palm leaf hurtles past you.

Farraj: Signalling to Yasir for assistance, Farraj prepares to lower away

Yasir assists Farraj.

Abdul prays audibly for God's protection as he is lowered.

Farraj: "Inshallah! Go with God, Abdul."

Narrator: Shapes become indistinguishable to Abdul, his feet cannot find purchase against the wall which has become as slippery as the path of the righteous man. At first his compatriots Farraj and Yasir lower him in spurts, but gradually Abdul is smoothly lowered to the ground. Sand bites at him from every direction. The winds howl like banshee djinni. It is indeed awesome and terrifying, as if your bones might fly from your skin.

Abdul picks his way gingerly toward the voice by the gate.

Yasir strains to see what is happening.

Farraj looks down into the swirling sands; to Yasir he says, "Blind Faith, my friend. We are protecting him and he is protecting us."

Narrator (for Yasir): You see Abdul begin gagging, but he seems to shake it off

Yasir keeps a close eye on Abdul, ready to give him any help he needs.

Narrator: Cleaving to his faith, Abdul is almost guided as a blind man. And indeed he is blind, mute, deaf, threatened to be swallowed by sands which have devoured entire caravans and armies. Only his hands guide him through the raging darkness. And then he touches a shoulder, a wrapped face. A man.

Abdul: "Come, brother. Help is here." He gathers the man up as best as he can, then yanks on the silk "rope" rhythmically, to signal the others to pull him up.

Narrator: A bubble of protection allows you to yell to each other. Moaning the man grabs Abdul, "Djinn or Moslem, I accept your aid! Help me to bang upon these gates with my last efforts."

Abdul: "I beg your pardon?! We will go up and over - is that not enough?"

Yasir begins to pull the two up.

Farraj: Feeling the tug, Farraj hauls in rhythm with Yasir

Narrator: The man blesses himself in the name of God. "Oh djinn, be merciful, I have never flown before!"

Narrator: The silk goes taut but the winds are too strong -- Abdul feels a slight tug, but the storm seems intent on claiming him.

Abdul laughs like a loon - doubtless sounding a bit awe-inspiring despite himself. "Me? A djinn! Surely you jest. No, brother, I am but a man."

Farraj calls back to the people who are watching, "Who has hands as well as eyes?"

Narrator: Yasir begins to haul, possessed by none other than the strength of God.

Abdul buries his face in the man's shoulder. "Cling to me, brother, and trust in God's Mercy."

Narrator: And so does the man cling to Abdul as he is half pulled, half climbs up the wall, but then he gets stuck halfway. Yasir's burst of strength is leaving him. And the people of the caravan are paralyzed with fear at Metef's preaching. "And should it swallow the brave youth and then tempt us with his voice? Would you open the gates and invite our doom?"

Yasir: "I can't hold them much longer... we need help."

Farraj: "Who will allow the Champion of Zafir to perish? Help or be damned."

Abdul tenses in desperation as he feels himself begin to fall. He gathers breath to speak a last word into the winds.

Narrator: The guard who Yasir rescued grabs a melon and launches it at Metef, knocking him on his arse. "If it were you in the bucket, perhaps we'd leave you out there!" Several of the guards encourage the young half-blinded guard on.

Yasir: "Quickly!"

Narrator: Several men spring to Yasir's aid at the urging of Farraj, their wives chastising them for their cowardice. Grabbing the rope, they haul Abdul and the man he has rescued over the top of the caravan wall.

Narrator: Yasir catches the man who collapses into his arms.

Yasir: If he is not a djinn, Metef, then Allah protect you.

Abdul falls to his knees and cries out, "God be praised! Twice in one day he has delivered me from the storm!"

Yasir puts the man gently onto the ground. "Someone help him."

Farraj cheers. "We lower one and bring back two, who said there was no fishing in the desert?"

Yasir: "Farraj, less useless chatter. The man needs help."

Narrator: The crowd cheers with Farraj, prays with Abdul, and answers Yasir's call for help. Metef appears horrified and pushes his way through the crowd toward his personal quarters perhaps?

Yasir follows Metef, hand on scimitar. "Get back here, you coward!"

Farraj calls to the crowd, "Who has water for a stranger?" To the man himself, he says, "Be at peace, friend, you are within the walls of Zarif and safe from peril."

Abdul bends toward the man he rescued. "Can you hear me, brother?"

Narrator: The man weakly speaks to Abdul and Farraj: "Oh noble and worthiest of men, you have saved me from a terrible curse. I am Mamoun ibn-Naskir, long thought dead by my grandfather, and cursed by my own flesh and blood."

Abdul: "Do you hear, people of Zafir? It is Mamoun, son of Naskir!! Let the father come recognize his son!"

Yasir runs after Metef.

Farraj: "Be at peace friend, you are within the walls of Zarif and safe from peril."

Narrator: "Mamoun? Impossible! He's dead! Oh, heavens be praised! Who is to blame for our own sons' fate?" The crowd is apalled and ecstatic.

Abdul adds meaningfully, "He says he has labored under a curse - a curse laid by his own kin!"

Narrator: "Yes, it was my step-father Metef who cursed me to walk the deserts and for men to not know their brother's voice. That every prayer and plea I offered would fall upon deaf ears!" The man sobs, tears of joy and betrayal gracing his cheeks.

Farraj: "Drink, small sips, you have sun sickness."

Narrator: "Thank you, kind one," says Mamoun, falling unconscious in Farraj's arms.

Abdul: "Let not Metef escape! He stands accused of evil sorcery - though," he warns, "only a qadi can decide his fate."

Narrator: Gasping, the crowd looks about for Metef. "He has taken advantage of us for the last time! A curse upon the accursed Metef! Honor to the faithful!"

Abdul: "Where would he go, good people?"

Narrator: "To his quarters! Upstairs!" The crowd replies to Abdul.

Farraj finds that he is fingering the pearl in his pocket. He brings it forth and shows it to Abdul. "This was on my saddle when I arrived here."

Abdul: "Show the way, then! The sorcerer must not escape justice!"

Farraj: "If your thirst is for blood rather than pearls, so be it." He pockets the pearl and follows Abdul.

===================================

Narrator: Yasir spots Metef as he dashes through a curtained room, ordering a guard to bar the way. Upon seeing the approaching Yasir, the guard attempts to draw his sword, but it appears stuck in the sheath.

Yasir forces his way past the guard and toward Metef. "Face me like a man, Metef. Surrender now, and you will lose no blood."

Narrator: Metef holds before him a ragged doll in the likeness of a soldier. "Come no closer, defender of the faith. For I shall curse you lest you bring ruin upon my caravanserai!"

Yasir draws his scimitar. "Fool, do not practice such sorcery, for it is an abomination to Allah."

====================================

Narrator: The crowd carries Abdul and Farraj toward a stunned guard on the ground and the sound of threats and conflict from within.

Farraj strides to the door and pokes his head inside.

Abdul likewise forces his way forward to see what may be seen.

Narrator: To the horror of the crowd, they fnd Yasir bravely denouncing Metef's sorcerous ways, the two struggling within the cramped quarters. Metef snarls, "My step-son is a dog who should have perished long ago! And for your meddling, I curse you defender of the faithful!"

Narrator: "As you desire to meddle in affairs which you know nothing about, I curse you to take such form!" yells Metef, squeezing the doll before him. Yasir feels himself fall to his knees, but a light seems to fill his heart. Though he may be a sinner, he is blameless now. Standing to his feet, Yasir throws off Metef's magic.

Narrator: Wailing, Metef's doll falls to tatters in his hands and he falls backward into a chest which closes on him.

Yasir moves to keep the chest shut

Farraj gawks. "Gwaaaaaaa."

Abdul: "Hear the blasphemer!" Abdul rushes into the room.

Narrator: Yasir puts all his weight on the chest. There's no way anyone inside is getting out.

Yasir: "A lock, rope, something!"

Farraj brings forth the silken rope, bundled until now in his hand.

Abdul: "Is he not harmless now? We can gag him, bind his hands - surely that will be enough?"

Yasir: "We'll bind the chest. It is safer."

Narrator: The silk merchant looks wistfully at Farraj, "Now none will want this silk. Sigh. The sacrifices I make."

Farraj: "For a man who can say that his wares have rescued heroes and bound villains, you have a long face."

Yasir: "You talk too much, Farraj. Bind the chest before he forces his way out. We will do what we can to compensate the merchant later."

Narrator: The merchant seems heartened by Farraj's words, assuredly planning his next business venture.

Farraj: "Of course, here it is!"

Abdul helps bind the chest however he can.

Narrator: The lid jumps a bit. The chest is made of hardwood, a real scarcity; the lock is metal.

Farraj: "He is seeing his own inner darkness."

Yasir forces the lock shut.

Abdul pants. "For now I'll settle for the chest's darkness!"

Narrator: Yasir can hear strange sounds issuing from the securely bound chest *gawk* *gawk*

Farraj: "He was bound by chains of his own making long before we ever met him."

Abdul addresses the crowd. "Where is the nearest qadi? This matter cannot wait."

Yasir: "I am not sure why you would rather talk than act quickly, friend Farraj, but thank you for your help." He moves away from the creepy chest.

Farraj: "You are right, Friend Yasir, yet he is bound and we are still talking, it is the will of God."

Narrator: The crowd's fear has abated, and now they watch Yasir with something like wonder. Some repeat Naskir's words. Was this man truly a saint?

Yasir: "Inshallah."

Abdul repeats, "The nearest qadi?" He seems to be making a habit of being ignored today.

Narrator: *gawk* It almost sounds like there is a bird, or perhaps some demonic vulture within the dark chest. The caravan master, the sorcerer Metef, paying the forefeit of his ignorance and malice. Trapped, as it were, by his own heresies.

Narrator: Naskir steps forward, "Alas, the nearest qadi is in Huzuz, brave soul."

Abdul looks to the chest in wonder. "Why, it sounds as if he has suffered from the same curse he meant for you, Yasir!"

Yasir puts his hand on Abdul's shoulder. "We have done good things, friend. Thank you for your help. You are right, though. We must bring him to a qadi, as soon as the storm allows." He looks around for a wash basin.

Abdul: "I thank you, friend Yasir. Your devotion preserved me from the storm."

Yasir: "I did only what I must."

Farraj: "How did you know Yasir. One minute I am watering Shasti and the next we are jailing sorcerers. Is every day like this in the City? It is like having the moon on the ground and the desert in the sky."

Abdul finally laughs. "Wait until Farraj sees Huzuz!"

Narrator: You can hear murmurs as the crowd parts, Mamoun being led forward by the half-blind guard. "What wonders have befallen ye, oh commendable servants?"

Abdul: "O most favored Mamoun, your wicked step-father was caught in the act of casting a foul, abhominable curse upon the good Yasir, yet it seems to have rebounded upon his own head."

Yasir moves to the cistern, removes his turban and begins to wash it.

Narrator: Mamoun, despite his weakened state, bows before you. "I am humbled by your courage and faith. Indeed, my step-father is the most wicked of men, and you have dealt with him in surpassing mercy. Whatever has befallen him he wrought upon his own head. To each of you, if there is a boon within my power - for the caravanserai is now mine - I shall do my best to grant it."

Yasir pays little attention to Mamoun's offer. He finishes cleaning his turban, dons it again, and returns to the rest of the group.

Narrator: Men and women marvel at Yasir's piety. His sainthood does not seem to be in doubt to them.

Abdul: "For my part, I ask simply for safe passage to Huzuz, and hospitality should I come again. For the rest, praise Allah each day for his Mercy to you!"

Farraj: "If I may Mamoun, I ask to keep the silken rope. For a brief moment it helped me make a friend and it has bound the greatest evil i have ever met. Can it be so?"

Abdul beams and clasps Farraj's hand. "I feel the same way, my friend!"

Narrator: Mamoun looks at the silk merchant with consternation, who sighs and nods his head. "Very well, noble Farraj, I entrust to you this cord of silk, that it may continue to bind your foes and provide safety to the misfortunate."

Farraj: "Thanks be to you and to the infinite grace of Allah. I humbly accept this gift." Then, to Abdul, "If that is so, will you show me this splendid city, Huzuz? The desert has made my eyes sore and I feel the need to rest them upon beautiful things."

Yasir turns to Abdul. "Your clothes are dirty with sand, friend."

Abdul blinks and looks down at himself. "Well, so they are..." He seems puzzled by this comment as he brushes himself off, but adds to Farraj, "Of course I will show you Huzuz! You have not seen a city yet!"

Yasir: "Give my boon to the silk merchant. He has done much for us."

Narrator: Stunned, Mamoun bows and salaams Yasir. "As you command, oh virtuous amir." At this the crowd whispers like crazy.

Abdul: "Yasir, you are truly a generous man."

Yasir: "Speak nothing of it. He gave us silk when we were in need."

Narrator: The silk merchant is at first stunned, then weeping thanks Yasir over and over.

Narrator: And then Mamoun addresses all three men. "I have one favor to ask, though I fear I am too bold. Will you take this chest and my wicked step-father to Huzuz for fair trial?"

Abdul: "Well, of course. Why do you think I asked for safe-passage?"

Yasir: "We must."

Farraj: "The Faithful man is a gift of light to the traveller in the desert." He ties his new silken rope around his waist like a sash, gazing proudly at its bright colours.

Yasir: "We should give thanks to Allah and then rest. The journey ahead is long."

Abdul: "You speak truly." He continues brushing himself off, still puzzled by Yasir's drawing attention to it.

Farraj turns to look at the storm through the window as it rages beyond the gates. "In the desert we say that a storm is the breath of God, it brings friends together and binds them as they take shelter. The dunes move, the sky goes dark but when the sands fall to the earth the world is as new. Let us go to Huzuz."

Narrator: "And that, oh weary traveler, is the tale of the Three Men Who Saved Mamoun. And should you come to our humble oasis again, ask Mamoun to tell you the story. Why, you may even meet the brave Abdul, the strong Yasir, or the wise Farraj at this very caravanserai. Inshallah." The young Laheeb, a camel groom of little import but big imagination left his listeners with a tale. The first of many..."
 
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Handout: Mamoun's Tale

[Our most generous Narrator tries to give out at least one handout after each session. This was the first of them.]

Mamoun ibn Khaldoun ibn Batuta ibn Naskir, keeper of the caravanserai at Zarif, reclined in the courtyard giving his blessing to the trio who had saved his life and broken his curse.

“Oh auspicious travelers, my story is the story of my step-father, and how I escaped from the wickedness that consumed his heart. My great-grandfather Naskir carried on a tradition of tending to holy sites. My grandfather Batuta broke this family tradition to take over this caravanserai for a wounded friend; when his friend passed away, Batuta became the caravanserai’s master. When Batuta (may he rest in peace) was lost in a sandstorm, the caravanserai passed to my uncle Metef. Later, his brother Khaldoun arrived with his pregnant wife after falling on hard times, and Metef welcomed them in. After a violent argument with my father, Metef cursed his name. To Metef’s horror, the next day my father was found dead in his bed. Obligated to take care of Khaldoun’s pregnant wife, Metef married her after the mourning period passed and became my step-father. This loss was too much for Metef to bear, and he became possessed by the idea that his family was cursed. Metef began gleaning bits of mystic lore from passersby – Magians, hakimas, kheri-hebu, even sha’ir. Metef learned that it was not his family, but the caravanserai that was cursed. During my youth, I remember Metef cursing many travelers, hoping through his diabolic experimentation to find a way to dispel the caravanserai’s curse. Over the years, the caravanserai became considered a place of bad luck, and only a sandstorm or utter lack of supplies could force a caravan to rest in Zarif. I was often at odds with my step-father, though I never had the courage to denounce his wicked ways, for I was just a boy.

“Oh how history repeats itself! One night a sandstorm forced many to seek shelter. Then there came a pounding on the caravanserai gates, a traveler pleading for shelter. Convinced it was the wicked shaitan who cursed the caravanserai, Metef forbade any from opening the gates. My young friend Shuri (the guard you rescued) and I fought our way past Metef’s guards to open the gate. There we found a dying Persian with strange wounds on his back. The man died in my arms uttering the words ‘sanctuary.’ Metef swore the wounds were from a djinni’s claws, and that I had nearly destroyed the entire caravan. I nearly struck my step-father where he stood, but my dear mother tempered my rage. That night, Metef secretly cursed me, and when my mother learned of Metef’s wicked act she died on the spot. For eight months I wandered the desert, always near death, never accepted in any place as a man, turned away like a dog. And so I was driven to the brink of madness…until you saved me. And for that, oh noble hearts, I am truly grateful.”
 

2: How Yazid's Madness Was Cured

[The Narrator took on the role of Shuri ibn-Razan, the half-blind guard from the previous session. Those poses the Narrator makes in italics are things noticed only by Abdul - often because of his supernatural senses.]

Narrator: The second tale beginneth.... [Part One of "Fishing For the Honest Man"]

Narrator: Never were there three more noble men, or so I thought until my later travels. But those are a story for another time, oh grateful listener. I longed at many a point in our travels to strike down the dog Metef, that wicked sorcerer who had betrayed my truest friend and kept me in the shackles of ignorance. Now I am a man half blind, but I see clearly. This, which you shall now hear, is the tale of our journey to Huzuz and the trial of that wicked one...

Narrator: The group which departed from the caravanserai at Zarif consisted of the trio of men: Yasir, Abdul, and Farraj and his loyal camel. Accompanying them were myself, Shuri ibn-Razan; and Jamul ibn-Ushtaq al-Huzuz, the silk merchant indebted to Yasir. Two caravan guards accompanied Jamul. And of course, there was that ominous chest from which a horrific sound issued in the evenings - the accursed sorcerer Metef, whose judgement awaited that one in Huzuz.

Abdul rides somewhat uncomfortably on the camel Mamoun loaned him.

Yasir looks into the distance.

Farraj proudly sits astride noble Shasti, watching his companions. He is very excited today.

Yasir: "Are you ready for the city, Farraj?"

Narrator: I rode close to the warrior Yasir, who they called saint. A thousand times blessed is his valor and a thousand times more his generosity. Though the greedy merchant deserved not such a man.

Abdul heaves a deep sigh. But he makes an effort to smile at Yasir's words. "Yes, Farraj, you look to be in high spirits!"

Farraj occasionally whispers in Shasti's ear. "Look at these men. It is like a pilgrimage." To the others, he says, "If it is as large as Zarif I will be happy. If it is smaller than a hovel, I shall be happy."

Abdul laughs despite himself. "As large as Zarif! Zarif is to an anthill as Huzuz is to Zarif! Less!" He has the pardonable pride of a native in his tone.

Farraj: "And we are as ants to Allah, scuttling about beneath the sun."

Yasir: "You are excited to show your caligraphy, Abdul, yes?"

Narrator: A light breeze fills the air promising a cool journey.

Abdul: "Oh, I am. And it is good to be going home again." But he sighs again, for some reason. At Farraj's words, he adds piously, "It is truly written."

Yasir: "I am certain that it must be good to go home. We are all filled with pride to join you on your journey."

Abdul glances at Yasir. "Oh? Is my company as grand as all that?" He essays a smile again.

Farraj urges Shasti to one side of the travellers, looking across at them against the horizon.

Yasir: "I've never known a man of such renown as to be a scribe for kings."

Abdul: "Oh, it's not such a great thing as that, though it is an honor. The Caliph (may God preserve him!) often invites artists and craftsmen to show their work. He is quite the patron."

Yasir: "Don't be so humble, good Abdul. It is quite an honour."

Narrator: In the distant west, Farraj can make out a thin trail of dust. Bedouin surely, and in these parts it is most likely Dar al-Hanif.

Abdul: "Perhaps you are right, Yasir." But he still looks to be making an effort to be cheerful.

Farraj points to the dust-cloud and calls to the travellers: "We aren't the only ants in the desert. Do you see the trail-dust?"

Abdul peers where Farraj points.

Yasir: "Is there a problem, Farraj?" He stares carelessly toward the dust-cloud.

Farraj: "Shall I go and find out?"

Shuri pulls his camel alongside Farraj, the chastiser of Zarif's men. "Hmm, a group of Bedouin, perhaps thirty strong."

Yasir: "We should go together, if we must go."

Abdul chuckles at last. "Let not we three be separated, indeed."

Farraj looks to see if the Bedouin are headed our way.

Narrator: The merchant Jamul comments slyly to Shuri, "Perhaps that sandstorm addled your head. Are you not half-blind now?"

Shuri fingers his scimitar. "Silk merchant, I had anticipated a long journey, but do you think I would not recognize my own kinsmen?"

Yasir: "There is safety in numbers, and behind my scimitar."

Narrator: The trail of dust burns in the desert heat, quickly turning toward your small caravan. They are certainly headed your way.

Farraj: "Perhaps soft words will negate the need for sharp swords."

Yasir holds back. "Someone else should talk to them, then."

Farraj waves to the approaching group and after riding slightly ahead, dismounts.

Abdul: "I doubt they are hostile. Dar al-Hanif bears unblemished loyalty to the Caliph." He smiles at Shuri as he says it.

Narrator: "Indeed," Shuri agrees with Abdul, "They are the cool saving wind of the desert, a boon to all travelers."

Farraj notices their tribal colours for the first time and looks back at his friends, an uncertain and maybe `lost' expression on his face.

Abdul: "What is wrong, Farraj?"

Narrator: Three riders separate from the main of the Bedouin group, approaching on their camels.

Farraj mutters "Perhaps seven years in the desert have washed me clean."

Abdul: "Clean, my friend?"

Yasir: "You are usually fond of talking, Farraj. Are you finally at a loss for words?""

Farraj: "They have dried in my mouth my friend. I find an unpleasant taste there instead."

Abdul looks upon the younger man, concerned. "What is wrong, good Farraj?"

Farraj strokes Shasti's flanks, whispering to her, "What do you see my friend?"

Abdul repeats, "Farraj?"

Yasir fingers his scimitar. "Faith, Farraj."

Farraj: "Friend Abdul, I was once al-Hanif. I was expelled for my fortunes. I have no words for the pain."

Narrator: At the head of the Bedouin trio is a short man, perhaps of thirty-some years, with terribly sharp features, a scowl carved into his weather-beaten face. A great indigo aba swirls about him. Two faithful guards ride at either side, one of them bearing a banner emblazoned with a golden palace on a blue shield.

Narrator: Farraj instantly recognizes the man as Yazid bin Hanif, son of the sheikh who was conceived first yet born second. He has his own camp of followers within Hanif who wish to build their own enlightened city far from all caliphs, courts, and merchants. Some say that Yazid was touched with madness or perhaps even djinni during a sandstorm eight years ago.

Abdul looks positively stricken at this news, but there is no time to speak of it.

Farraj: "I was left to die in the sands Abdul. Shasti rescued me and has been my friend and companion ever since."

Abdul moves his camel closer to Shasti. Wordlessly, he reaches out and grips Farraj's shoulder.

Shuri leans close to Yasir, "This man, he may be quite mad. I am afraid with my eyes in their current condition I should prove less than valorous in a fight."

Abdul: "I had wondered how one so young as yourself came to be travelling alone in the desert."

Farraj: "He is Yazid bin Hanif, a dangerous man with no love for the Caliph."

Yasir: "Do not worry, Shuri. My eyes are good, and my sword is strong." Yasir fingers his scimitar again.

Narrator: "Peace be upon you!" says Yazid, son of Hanif. Dismounting his camel he approaches your small caravan. In the background a sea of indigo robes and glinting spears swim behind him. "Do you come from Zarif?"

Farraj watches from around Shasti's flank, thankful for Abdul's presence.

Abdul: "Peace be upon you, sir. We do."

Narrator: As Yazid draws near, it is quite clear his eyes dance with a mysterious light - they are a bit too wide, his features a bit too sharp, a perpetual sneer glued to his chapped lips. "Then if you have family there, you should pray for their souls. Know that the great storm which passed through not two nights ago has tainted all springs - where clear water should come forth there is only mud and sludge. Without water they will surely perish."

Abdul stares searchingly at Yazid. "That is terrible news." He studies the man closely.

Narrator: It is evident to Abdul that the man has been among the jann for far too long, exposed to elements that would have killed a man who was not protected by the djinni. He appears to genuinely perceive the world through eyes which are touched by the fringes of the earth.

Farraj watches Yazid with wide eyes. He remembers the wild storm in his youth wherein Yazid was said to have been maddened.

Yasir: "Farraj, say something!"

Farraj looks back to Yasir.

Yasir moves toward Farraj, hand still on scimitar. He places his hand on Farraj's shoulder.

Farraj mutters, "First `be quiet' now `speak'. my mouth is as dry as the wells."

Yasir: "Oddly, I was thinking how strange that you speak when you should act and now are quiet when you should speak. Have faith."

Farraj: "Sometimes the Moon covers the Sun."

Narrator: Prowling around the camel burdened with the chest, Yazid strokes his beard. "Indeed. I do possess extra water my men gathered at a well not far from here. We were headed to Zarif anyhow. Perhaps we could help the caravanserai and its master Metef? Of course, I should desire something in trade..."

Narrator: He also appears to look very carefully at Farraj and the chest, as if he were seeing with eyes that weren't wholly human, at least in their perspective. Though he does appear human.

Abdul says, "Mamoun is the master of the caravanserai now." He narrows his eyes at Yazid, his face going still and impassive, as he continues to study the man.

Yasir waits silently, growing ever more impatient.

Narrator: "Mamoun...Ah I remember him, whose voice sang of his father's great deeds, and whose prayers would make the prophets weep. As it is nearing sundown..." Though sundown is at least 2 hours away. "Why should we not make camp as brothers? You shall be well provisioned and I shall tell you of my foolish brother Mu'awiya, and perhaps we can plan a way to save the caravanserai from the drought which they are surely discovering as we speak."

Farraj: "Son of Hanif. I am but a poor boy but I have riches to share. Wrapped in my saddle is a Zephir and I will play for you and your men. It must be a long time since you have heard the sublime beauty of the Hanif Zakkir, our tribal symphony in thanks to Allah for his gifts. I will play for water."

Abdul: "Why not, indeed?" Abdul shudders slightly. "I am not used to spending time on the sand. Perhaps I have heard too many tales of the jann." He watches Yazid carefully as he speaks.

Narrator: Yazid arches his brow at Farraj, as if trying to remember a distant face. "The water is given freely. And your music, oh rawun, is welcome. As you all are under the banner of Yazid. Though there is one thing you must not do, and that is to ask me of the djinn or the sandstorm. He who asks this question shall be cursed."

Farraj bows and goes about the duties of setting up camp. He is happy to be away from the serious and somewhat frightening adults.

Yasir: "An odd request."

Narrator: Yazid levels a dark look at Abdul, but speaks nothing of it.

Yasir: "Keep your glances to yourself, friend."

Abdul: "I am sure our 'friend' simply has no wish to bring ill fortune, Yasir."

Yasir: "That must be it, Abdul, because I'm certain that he'd like to keep both his eyes in his head."

Narrator: "Yes," agrees Yazid quickly, "It is bad luck to invoke that name in these deserts. But let no more be said of this matter, for tonight we sup as friends and avert the evil eye together."

Abdul says, only a touch ironically, "Inshallah."

Yasir: "Let us dine, then. Inshallah."

Narrator: And so camp was made, and a splendorous feast is set before you, laden with dishes you had not expected to find on the road to Huzuz - freshly slaughtered goat meat, lentils, rice, dates, even fermented mare's milk. Yazid seats himself at the head of the small table in the majestic tent and you enter, noting the hanging banners and strange talismans which adorn the walls.

Abdul continues to watch Yazid carefully as he eats, but his words of the food are sincere: "Marvelous!"

Yasir eats in relative silence, though he pauses intermittently to praise God.

Narrator: Yazid eats quietly, watching you intently. Shuri and the silk merchant Jamul, who had been at odds since the trip started, observe a terse silence. Indeed, the meal is almost supernaturally quiet, as if the angel of silence had descended upon the tent, save for the howling night wind outside.

Abdul belches courteously when he is satisfied. "You have my thanks for the meal, good Yazid."

Narrator: Yazid raises his hand to Abdul as if to say "you're welcome." When he does so, Abdul can't help but notice that he has not fingernails on his left hand, or only the barest remnants of what used to be fingernails.

Abdul observes, "Your hand appears to be injured."

Farraj has picked at his food. He seems slightly uncomfortable despite the hospitality of our host.

Yasir eats more than he ought, and belches when he is done, although not terribly courteously.

Farraj waits for the meal to conclude and when the dishes have been cleared away he brings out his Zephir, polishing its brass length on his dirty robe.

Narrator: Yazid looks at his hand. "Ah, my brother Mu'awiya's gift." He raises his hand in mock pride. " 'Shake both your brother's hands, for then there is no hand to backstab you' goes the saying."

Abdul: "May God give you recompense."

Yasir: "That's quite a grim idiom."

Narrator: Yazid's eyes seem to glaze over as he watches Farraj draw forth his zephir. "Not the grimest idiom I know, for that is saved for my brother and those he idolizes. Inshallah. Inshallah."

Abdul: "Those he idolizes? Surely he is not an idol-worshipper!"

Yasir remarks, "Why do men in these parts have such hatred for their families?"

Abdul looks down at his plate, abruptly abashed at Yasir's words.

Narrator: "He is none other. And the worst of it you have not yet heard. He worships a man who walks upon the earth. Even more than he worships his own father."

Abdul looks up again at Yazid in undisguised horror. "How can he be such a fool!"

Yasir: "What is it that he worships?"

Farraj quietly practices his fingering. Recalling the airs of a tune he has not played in a long time.

Narrator: Yazid grins at Yasir. "None other than the Grand Caliph." The word 'grand' a vicious sneer in his mouth.

Farraj looks up sharply, then back to the Zephir.

Abdul: "Well.... assuredly, the Caliph - may God grant him peace! - would refuse this worship with as much horror and disdain as any of the Faithful."

Narrator: Driving his knife into the bone of goat upon his plate, Yazid leans back, "You seem so confident that the Most Worthy Caliph is quite the discriminating man."

Yasir: "The Caliph? It is quite bold of you to accuse the Caliph of such atrocity! I should hope that you have some proof of this."

Abdul blinks slowly, and gets that impassive look again. "Whether or not he is discriminating, I do not know. I do know he is a faithful Muslim and a hajji. And," he adds meaningfully, "the Commander of the Faithful."

Yasir: "Not for the caliph's sake, mind you, but your own." He fingers his scimitar gently.

Narrator: "Often my brother Mu'awiya travels to Huzuz bearing great tribute. I hear from reports (as I myself am not a hajji) that he prostrates himself many times before the Grand Caliph and blesses him in every way, kissing his hands and feet." Yazid watches Yasir carefully, though there is a vicious gleam in his eye.

Yasir: "Jealousy does not become you."

Narrator: "My brother returns empty-handed and praises God that the Grand Caliph was so good to him. If this is not idol worship, I do not know what is."

Abdul: "There is no sin in offering tribute to a ruler. As for the rest, I do not know."

Yasir: "And speaking ill of the caliph will win you no friends."

Abdul: "You say that your brother 'praises God' that the Caliph was good to him. Surely, then, the Caliph cannot be his... 'god'."

Yasir snorts, imitating Shasti.

Narrator: At Yasir's words, the bitter Yazid laughed. "I need not speak ill of the Caliph, my brother's disgusting behavior speaks volumes. And, I am sure you would agree," he says to Abdul, "that many men feign piety for their own advancement?"

Farraj gets to his feet. "We have shared our words at the table of our host. Please allow me to attempt the Hanif Zakkir, the beautiful and haunting music of our tribe, reminding us all that we are companions in life beneath the merciful gaze of Allah."

Abdul: "I have heard that it is so. But I fear, my good host, that we delay Farraj in his music."

Yasir: "I believe men are fond of inciting rebellion for similar reasons." He sits quietly, his feathers ruffled.

Narrator: Yazid aquiesces the point to Yasir, and leans back, a smug look on his face, as he watches Farraj, still trying to recall his face.

Farraj: "It is said that a breeze once blew across the desert bringing the scents of the far ocean. It blew over the dunes and across the sands. It gained the aroma of the hot sands. It wafted through an oasis and it gained the smell of the dates and the camels there. Finally, it came to Al-Akara, the mountains of Creation and collected the aroma of the flinty stone and the mountain goat. This is the Hanif Zakkir."

Abdul settles down to listen. Though he does look around idly abit, eyes half-slitted, as the song commences. [Trying to get a good look at those talismans.]

Farraj begins to play. At first he is uncertain and you can hear his breath trying to match his fingering. Then, slowly you hear the washing of the waves on the shore, the call of the gull, and you are entranced by the Hanif Zakkir.....

Narrator: One talisman in particular has a skull of a little jann on it -- Abdul shudders to think where it came from. It surely would ward off jann. As for the others, many appear to have been made by someone familiar with djinni (perhaps even a cunning djinn itself!) but they are only disguised to appear effective and offer no protection at all.

Abdul's face abruptly blanches as he glances off in one of the corners, despite the beauty of the music. He quickly hides the expression.

Narrator: Yazid is silent for a long time, tears welling in his eyes. "Oh youth of the desert, though you play with your hands, it is surely your heart which plays the zephir! For the longest time I tried to recall your face, but it was your voice that revealed you to me. For you are Farraj, that noble youth who was wrongly left to die by my father the sheikh!"

Abdul stares at Yazid, undisguised.

Farraj: The tune rises and you feel the tempo increase as you are taken across flowing dunes. You hear the sifting sand at the crest of the dune and the hard sand at it's face. The dangerous, clinging sands in the troughs snatches at your ears but then the music skips and dances away.

Narrator: When Yazid utters these words, Shuri is amazed, yet a little apprehensive of Farraj, as are the other guards in the tent. Whispers can be heard from outside,
whispers that a bad omen has returned, or that a bad omen has been overturned - they seem indistinguishable in the evening winds.

Farraj: The Falcon calls from on high and the desert mouse scuttles as the snake glides and the crickets chirp. Farraj is lost to the tune, his eyes closed.

Farraj: Date palms sway and waters ripple then the wind rises and blasts across the wastes. The Hanif Zakkir is not afraid of the tempest. It flits alongside and then bows down at the feet of the Mountains of Creation and at their feet, it rests. And all is quiet.

Farraj opens his eyes.

Abdul's face is an impassive mask. "Most beautiful, my friend. I had no idea you were so talented."

Yasir: "Well done, Farraj. I am surrounded by talent."

Abdul: "And in the midst of a family reunion, no less."

Yasir: "Perhaps that is the best time."

Abdul: "You speak truth, good Yasir. Though as you have already noted, some families are more peaceful than others!"

Farraj laughs. "You all look like a herd of camels looking at one cup of water." Then, "Oh, I didn't mean you are camels."

Abdul smiles tightly.

Farraj blushes. His words had come out before he thought.

Yasir forces a smile.

Narrator: Yazid grins broadly, wiping away a tear from his cheek. "Oh noble youth, if I were a camel in your service, if I could listen to such playing each day, I should count myself the luckiest man in the world!"

Farraj stares blankly. "You surely are the noble one."

Abdul tries to catch Farraj's eye.

Farraj is looking about. He is increasingly confused and a little alarmed at the amount of attention he is getting.

Abdul shakes his head ever so minutely when Farraj looks at him.

Farraj lowers the Zephir. "Did I make a mistake?"

Abdul: "Not at all, my friend. It was lovely."

Narrator: "Not at all, oh young Farraj!" says Yazid. "Methought I'd become a falcon and was blown by the merciful wind to the mountains."

Farraj: "Thank you Abdul. I learned it a long time ago, it is now as though those days were a dream."

Abdul: "I thank you again for the meal, my host. But I find I am weary. I will bid you a very good night."

Yasir: "I should be off to sleep as well."

Farraj: "Your praise is generous dear Host. Though my fingers play the Zephir and my breath blows through it, my heart soars through the skies.

Narrator: "Yes," agrees Yazid, suddenly becoming very anxious to depart your company. "Farraj, there's is much that we must speak of, but let it wait to the morning. I shall dream of your playing till then, for it is the sweetest sound I have heard in many years - a gentle wind when I have been in a maelstrom. We shall speak in the morning about the water and the fate of Zarif, and more important matters."

Farraj: "I bid you goodnight as well. I must see to my camel."

Abdul rises and bows, then heads for his tent. His face is still set like flint.

Farraj bows to Yazid and follows the others from the tent, looking about for wherever Shasti is hobbled.

Yasir finds his tent and sleeps.

Farraj goes to Shasti, checking that she is fed and watered. Shasti looks at Farraj and relaxes, he seems far less nervous compared to when he went in. She speculates on what might have been in the tent. Snort.

Abdul enters his tent and drops the flap back down.

=============================

Abdul whispers, "Aqisan, my friend, come softly."

Aqisan appears, as promptly as ever, and makes his obeisance. "Son of the worthy, you have called like a mouse in the desert, but your timing could not have been more opportune, for just now I was beset by the same unwanted suitor as when you summoned me in the storm."

Abdul: "I am glad, my friend. How long can you stay? I may have need of you, for I am guest to a man I trust not at all."

Aqisan: "Do you mean you are living and trust not God? For that is a common thing; or do you mean to say the bond of salt which you have taken (and does not apply to me) might bind your hands?"

Abdul: "I mean that I ate with a man with the skull of a janni child in his tent. I trust God, but I will keep my wits about me. Now please, go as swiftly and invisibly as the wind to Zarif and find if the wells there are pure or fouled. I would know if this man has lied to me about their fate."

Aqisan arches an eyebrow at the news of the skull, but says readily, "Hearing and seeing with sweetness and joy, I shall return before the sun rises!" And turning into a whirlwind, he departs.

=============================

Farraj bids Shasti a good night and makes for his tent.

Narrator: Farraj has just settled to sleep, and begins to doze off when he hears voices outside his tent, which is close to where the camels are kept.

Farraj places an ear against the wall of the tent. Can he hear them over Shasti's snores?

Shasti: SNRRRRRRRR... HMMMMMMGRRNN SNRRRRRRFFF HMMMMMGRRRRNK

Narrator: The three men appear to be preparing camels for a journey. They are talking about the madness of Yazid, son of Hanif, how the winds have driven him mad, and that he shall run them all to the ground with exhaustion if they do not warn his brother Mu'awiya of his worsening condition.

Farraj pulls out his knife and sneaking to the back (or far side) of his tent, quietly cuts a slit and wriggles out. Staying out of sight, he makes for Abdul's tent.

Narrator: Farraj rolls right into Yasir!

Yasir whispers, "Careful, Farraj." He creeps around the tent, closer to the camels.

Farraj: "Am I blind, everyone is up but I was sure it was night."

Narrator: "It is an ill omen the sounds the emit from that tent. I hear it is a cursed chest which the travelers bring," says one Bedouin.

Abdul emerges from his tent, making a great show of being restless. He wanders over to Farraj's tent.

Narrator: "Think no more of it," says his fellow, "For soon we shall be far from here and that damnable Yazid."

Abdul whispers at the front of the tent, "Are you awake, my friend? I find that sleep escapes me."

Yasir walks over to the camels calmly.

=======================

Narrator: The third hushes the other two upon noticing Yasir.

Yasir: "Isn't it late to be huddled in the shadows by camels, friends?"

Narrator: "Ah, but they are quite warm on a cold night without a wife!" says the younger of the Bedouin. His older fellow soundly backhands him upside the head.

Shasti looks at the Bedouin with disdain. Snort.

Yasir: "How foul."

Narrator: "We are keeping guard for camel thieves known to frequent these regions." Explains the older Bedouin. "And think nothing of my nephew. He has been kicked one too many times in the head by camels."

Yasir: "It takes three of you to guard camels?"

Narrator: "Ah, certainly," explains the elder elaborately, "One to keep watch, one to keep the camels quiet to our presence, and a third to...ah...keep the other two awake." He is a poor liar, to his credit.

Yasir: "It seems to me like your crude jokes may not be as jestful as I'd hoped."

Yasir puts his hand on the hilt of his scimitar. "What are you really doing out here?"

Narrator: Upon seeing Yasir's scimitar, the elder falls upon his knees. "Oh righteous one, spare us, and tell not the fearsome Yazid of our actions here. Have mercy!"

Yasir: "Then tell me what you are doing."

Shasti thinks to herself, If these camel men keep crying like that they will solve the water shortage. The desert will be as green as the oasis python.

Narrator: "We are only giving to Mu'awiya his just reward -- his brother's health. Know that Yazid's madness worsens with each passing season..." says the eldest to Yasir, not shaken to his core, but nevertheless afraid of this lion before him.

Yasir: "Forgive me, but I do not understand. Nor, I am afraid, does my sword."

Narrator: "Oh righteous and perceptive one," says the Bedouin, "how can I trust that you will not relay these things to Yazid the son of Hanif?"

Yasir: "If you truly believe me righteous, there should be no doubt. I give you my word."

Narrator: "Then upon your word I place my life and my nephews' lives. Know that Yazid has been driven mad by storms, touched by djinni of the utter wastes, and he sleeps not each night, instead staggering into the desert calling for the djinni to take him back to their palace. He acts as a man possessed. He leads us to the brink of disaster only to be saved by some strange chance of fortune. Oh, righteous one, I fear our luck runeth out, for the wells have run dry and only sludge fills the wadis of the desert. Mu'awiya, that noble and exalted youth and Yazid's brother, is the only one who can talk sense into him and spare us our misfortune."

Yasir: "Then ride quickly, and do not return until you have found Mu'awiya; my companions will stay here with me and deal with Yazid while you are gone."

Narrator: "Oh master of the merciful, I do as you obey!" declares the Bedouin before saddling the camels with his nephews.

Yasir returns to Abdul and Farraj.

==============================

Farraj notices Abdul and moves to intercept before the men notice him. "Shush, my friend, there is trouble near the camels."

Abdul blinks and whispers, "Farraj, you are well met. There is more trouble than that, I fear." He gestures to Farraj's tent wordlessly, cocking his head in a question.

Farraj whispers, "Abdul. Yasir has followed in the footsteps of the prophet. Is he a man or a lion?"

Abdul whispers, "He is a man in an age when too many men are jackals. We must speak further of many things."

Farraj: "Yes?"

Abdul enters Farraj's tent without a further word.

Farraj follows.

Abdul: "We can speak a little louder here. Did you hear what Yazid said of you when you played? I thought it likely you did not."

Farraj: "I was in a dream."

Abdul: "He recognized you, and said you were the boy unjustly banished by his father."

Farraj is shocked speechless.

Abdul: "Farraj, please. I have no desire to ask you a question which will pain you, but I must know - why were you banished?"

Farraj: "Did you ever hear the story of the man who found a coin in the desert?"

Abdul: "No."

Farraj: "He saw a beautiful gold coin lying on the sand. How fortunate I am, he cried. I can buy a rug for my wife and a cloth for my daughter."

Abdul listens, a little impatiently.

Farraj: "Bending down to pick it up he dislocated his shoulder and was unable to feed his goats, who all ran away."

Abdul waits.

Farraj: "This morning I was a rich man, tonight I am a pauper. Cruel fortune. He cried."

Farraj: "Everyone who meets me is like that poor man. Inshallah. It is the will of God."

Abdul: "So your tribe believed you to be accursed?"

Farraj: "This is true."

Abdul nods. "I am sorry, my friend. How long have you been alone?"

Farraj: "I was left in the desert. When the sun had baked me as hard as a stone and I was at the gates of heaven, Shasti came and rescued me. We have been in the desert for seven years."

Abdul is shaken to the core by this news, and his face twists. "It is insupportable, my friend! It is an outrage." He meets Farraj's eyes. "Know that I also have no family or clan or relations in this world. I have been alone all my life. But if we survive this, I would be proud to call you brother. I care not of any curses."

Farraj has tears in his eyes.

Abdul grips the boy's shoulder, then says, "But for tonight, we must preserve ourselves. Yazid is either mad or possessed. He has the skull of a ... child... in his tent, as part of some magical charm."

Farraj frowns.

Narrator: Abdul notices the subtle signs of Aqisan's return, a light breeze which plays with his hair. For now, Aqisan remains invisible.

Abdul's hair rustles slightly in a breeze. (In the tent?!) He cocks his head as if to listen.

Narrator: "Son of the worthy," comes Aqisan's whisper, "It is as you have said. The water of the Zarif oasis is mud and unsuited for drinking. The oasis wells run dry. Only the cistern still has water, but that only enough for one week."

Farraj is mulling over all these things he has been told. His own brother keeps the skulls of children??

Abdul frowns to himself and nods slightly to the air. Aloud, he says, "Where is Yasir?"

Farraj is still bemused. "It is a strange night."

Abdul: "Very strange, indeed."

Yasir wanders in, brushing off his clothes.

Abdul looks up as Yasir enters the tent. "We were just about to seek you. There is much ill afoot."

Yasir: "You don't know the half of it, friends."

Abdul: "Nor do you." He tells Yasir also about the skull he saw.

Yasir: "It seems our generous host has been dealing with djinni, at least according to his men."

Farraj: "Golden Yasir. Men don't know whether to fear or love you."

Yasir: "You, Farraj, have nothing to fear, nor you Abdul. As for the men afoot tonight, they shouldn't know, for I don't know either."

Abdul gets all impassive again at the mention of djinni. "What sort of dealings has he had with them? And what think you of such dealings?"

Narrator: "He is a noble one this Yasir, but a bit too quick to lay harsh words upon my kind. Shall I drag him to the desert for your amusement, oh son of the worthy?" whispers Aqisan playfully.

Yasir: "I know little of djinn, but whatever leads a man to harm his kin is evil. As for Yazid, they called him possessed."

Abdul: "You will understand that this does not surprise me." He shakes his head for some reason.

Yasir: "You seem troubled, Abdul."

Abdul: "I am troubled, Yasir. I keep thinking of that child." That is true, but perhaps not all the truth. "What are we to do, my friends? We share the bond of salt with Yazid, and cannot harm him."

Farraj: "He says he is my brother. I would prefer him helped or healed than harmed."

Abdul: "When did he call you brother, Farraj?"

Yasir: "I'm not sure where to go from here, but this family is certainly not very stable."

Farraj: "Didn't you just tell me that he said that his own father was my father?"

Abdul blinks at Farraj. "Ah, no. I said that he said you had been unjustly banished by HIS father."

Yasir: "I'm still curious why you would both rather talk than do something."

Abdul: "I am open to suggestions, Yasir! What are we to do?"

Yasir: "Let us go and find Yazid and see what his dealings with the djinn are."

Farraj: "I gain a brother, I lose a brother, do you see what I mean about the man and the coin?"

Narrator: A voice comes from outside of the tent, "Yasir al-Ayyubi! Come quick!"

Yasir runs out.

Abdul: "Ah. Yes, I suppose we can do that." He heads out of the tent after Yasir, muttering something under his breath.

Abdul mutters to Aqisan, "Can you find this Yazid without undue difficulty, my friend?"

Narrator: "Indeed, I can. And then?" whispers Aqisan.

Abdul: "Do not show yourself to any djinni that may be with him, if you can. Then return to me and tell me where he is."

Narrator: "Hearing and seeing, with sweetness and joy." Aqisan departs.

Narrator: One of the caravan guards appointed to watch the chest grabs Yasir's shoulder. "I have ill tidings. Though all is well now. Soon you shall find that Shuri ibn-Razan, my own captain in the caravanserai, is not to be trusted. For he attempted to open the chest!"

Yasir screams, "Shuri!"

Abdul: "I would not have thought this of good Shuri. Perhaps even in his new form, Metef has worked some foul magic on him."

Farraj is standing alone in his tent. "One moment my tent is the bazaar. The next it is empty. It has been day at night with everyone wandering about and riding off." He leaves the tent.

Yasir: "You find Yazid, Abdul. I'll find Shuri."

Abdul laughs out loud for some reason. He promises, "Do not worry, Yasir, I will attend to it." He makes his way out of the camp.

Yasir goes looking for Shuri.

Narrator: The caravan guard motions for you to follow him to the tent with the chest. "We have bound Shuri to the tent pole. My fellow keeps firm watch on him. Were it not for his excellent training he surely would have gotten the drop on us!"

Yasir follows the guard, his face thunderous.

Farraj listens for a moment and heads towards where he can hear voices.

Narrator: The caravan guard leads Yasir and his companion to the tent. Within is tumult. Shuri, bound and gagged to the tent pole kicks his sandal from his foot, catching the other guard square in the jaw as the guard is about to open the chest! Shuri tries to say something, but his voice is muffled by the gag.

Yasir: "What's going on here?" He draws his sword.

Abdul hears the commotion and hurries back toward the tent from which it emerges.

Narrator: The caravan guard by Yasir does the same, "Feyrouz! What in the name of the Compassionate God are you doing?" He interposes himself between the guard (Feyrouz) and the chest.

Yasir: "Steady your hand, friend. It is Metef who is the enemy."

Farraj grips Ittifaqi Hasanah with one hand, his knife with the other and sidles around the inner edge of the tent, closer to the chest.

[Note: "Ittifaqi Hasanah" is Farraj's silk rope, which has acquired some minor magical abilities: It has "rescued heroes and bound villains" after all. The name means, roughly, 'Unexpected good fortune / Harmony / In concert / With one accord'.]

Yasir: "What is going on here, Feyrouz?" He reaches over and pulls the gag from Shuri's mouth.

Narrator: Feyrouz, his words slurred as if half asleep, hisses at Yasir. "It's him who I trusted! Shuri has freed Metef from the chest!! I sought to open the chest so that he might be trapped within again!"

Yasir: "The chest stays closed, Feyrouz."

Farraj looks back and forth beteen the men.

Narrator: Ah, praise the name of Yasir a thousand times, from every mountain top! Even my children know his name now! I growled when I heard that one's slander. "It is not true, oh Yasir! This man has been lured by promises of riches and wives by Metef, who speaks with the serpent's voice from the chest."

Abdul enters the tent and listens closely, looking to Yasir.

Yasir: "Move away from the chest, Feyrouz." He moves closer to Feyrouz, sword in hand.

Farraj steps over to the chest, tightly gripping his silken belt.

Yasir: "Farraj, tie the chest shut."

Abdul: "So, Metef! Are you up to tricks? While no pious man can slay a prisoner meant for judgment, attempting escape is another thing."

Yasir: "Abdul, can you cut Shuri free? As for you, Feyrouz, I suggest you move very slowly and steadily away from the chest."

Abdul: "Of course, my friend." He frees Shuri, saying to him, "Well met, O vigilant one."

Farraj unwinds Ittifaqi Hasanah from his waist, revealing first gold, then azure and lastly ebon silk.

Narrator: As Farraj kneels by the chest, he hears a whispering voice, as if struggling to form human words, "And the stories I could tell....and you would be revered for them....open the chest, Farraj...."

Farraj is entranced by the voice, his eyes losing their focus. He mumbles, "Tell me more."

Yasir: "Abdul, Shuri! Help Farraj!"

Narrator: Feyrouz snarls at Yasir, "You should listen to the voice of the djinni within the chest, oh Yasir! It has told me it would make you my king if you would but open it, for it is a gift, a rare treasure! How many men pass up such things in the market thinking it some soiled antique? Be not the fool they are!"

Abdul rushes over to Farraj, seizing his shoulder and shaking him violently. "Listen not to the fiend, Farraj!"

Yasir: "Feyrouz, it's a lie."

Narrator: The voice, like an animal attempting to form human words whispers to Farraj, "Rest your head upon me, touch my lock, it yields to you where the hearts of men are cold....*gawk*...."

Yasir: "If you don't renounce such a lie, I'll be forced to kill you."

Farraj reaches out to open the chest. "Tonight I am the man looking at the coin. Only the fool would leave it in the sand."

Abdul shouts, "Farraj, you fool!" He tries to stop the young man, but to no avail.

Narrator: Feyrouz seizes an urn and throws it at Yasir!

Narrator: Yasir slices the urn cleanly in half as Feyrouz runs for the tent, only to be intercepted by his fellow caravan guard.

Narrator: And then Farraj does the unthinkable!

Farraj looks with greedy eyes into the chest.

Narrator: The tent howls as unholy wind rushes within, black feathers bursting forth in a shower of smoke and ash. Within the chest gleams a single golden coin, brighter than the sun itself, and as sensuous as the moon, calling to Farraj, beckoning in subtle glory.

Farraj reaches for the coin.

Abdul tries to bodily pull Farraj away from the chest.

Narrator: Abdul grapples with the furiously writhing Farraj, but manages to get a solid hold on him.

Abdul gasps out, "Close the chest, Shuri, then help me!"

Farraj shouts, "My birthright. Release me, thief!" He struggles ineffectually in Abdul's tight grip.

Shuri ibn-Razan cries out to God, throwing himself upon the lid of the chest, "Oh Metef! I should kill you where you stand, but I shall not betray Yasir's wishes for your just trial!"

Farraj: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

Narrator: Shuri forces the lid shut, just as the raven Metef is about to emerge to his freedom. Violent gawking can be heard from within as the smoke and darkness sucks back into the chest. And as quickly as it begun it is finished.

Abdul: "Quickly, Shuri! Bind the chest with the silk rope!"

Farraj goes limp.

Narrator: Feyrouz falls limp.

Yasir: "Shuri, can you keep an eye on them and scream for us if anything else goes wrong?"

Abdul: "The chest first, please." He cradles Farraj in his arms.

Narrator: "Yes, Yasir, I shall do my best," says Shuri as he finishes binding the chest with Farraj's blessed silk sash.

Yasir: "It's bound. Abdul, we need to go."

Narrator: The first rays of golden dawn filter into the tent.

Abdul sighs and nods, rising to his feet. He lays Farraj down gently.

Yasir looks for Yazid.

Abdul: Once out of earshot of the others, Abdul says to Yasir, "He is already being sought, my friend."

Narrator: Yasir does not have to look far, for he can see Yazid and several of his warriors heading toward them. He appears furious beyond belief.

Narrator: Abdul gets a sinking feeling in his stomach about Aqisan.

Abdul looks at the approaching warriors and says faintly, "Oh my."

Yasir moves toward Yazid fearlessly.

Abdul follows.

Narrator: "What is the meaning of this devilery?" Demands Yazid, throwing a copper pendant to the ground. "Are you not pious men? By God, I shall show you what we do to those whose tongues lie!" He cries. Over thirteen indigo robed warriors have gathered around you now.

Yasir: "What are you talking about, Yazid?"

Abdul's face goes completely expressionless at the sight of the pendant.

Narrator: "This is the seal of Suleiman bin Daoud, binder of djinni!" hisses Yazid. "Only by the will of God Almighty was I saved from the wretched creature who sought to do battle with me."

Yasir: "What has that to do with us?" He is clearly perplexed, and softens his grip on his sword.

Abdul lets Yasir do the talking, his mind racing.

Narrator: "When it descended upon me, the foul djinn cried out, 'Oh fool! Know you not that I am a servant of Huzuz and the pride of the djinni courts?' All at once came a rushing of drums, and I was tossed this way and that, and my sword was of no more use." As Yazid speaks, a cistern filled with hot coals is brought forward. The ranks of the warriors swells to over 20 men.

Abdul starts to look perplexed now, but remains silent.

Yasir: "That does not explain what this has to do with us, or why you think we have wronged you, Yazid."

Abdul: "There is a question I would ask you, O my host, save you have forbidden us to ask certain things of you. Will you free me from your prohibition?"

Narrator: "Verily you shall know soon! At last I summoned what little strength was left in me and drew forth my mother's charm against the evil eye, and I said unto the djinn, 'You who have come in the name of a foul lord, I abjure you to the pits of hell!' And unmoved, the djinn laughed, casting me to the earth...."

Narrator: Hearing Abdul speak, Yazid grows angry, "Speak, but know that the punishment among our tribe for lies, slander, and allegiance to the most foul is a hot coal placed upon the live tongue."

Abdul: "I was but going to ask how the remainder of your encounter fell out, for I thought you had done. My apologies, and please do go on."

Yasir: "Abdul would not lie, Yazid. I would risk my own tongue upon it."

Abdul: "I thank you, my friend."

Narrator: "Verily I shall tell you, oh sage and ally to the unholy! For the djinn answered me, 'No, fool, I serve a greater one who has supped with you and is a true hajji, and a devout Moslem!' Whereupon I said, 'This is not true!' And it replied, 'If you do not believe me, then I shall bury you in sand!' Thrusting forward the charm of my mother, I said the words she taught me and the djinn vanished. Inshallah!" And the rest of the men repeat "Inshallah!"

Abdul: "On what basis do you call me an ally to the unholy, my host?"

Yasir: "I have never before beheld a djinn, let alone spoken with them. That is a grave accusation to make, Yazid."

Narrator: "It is one of your companions, oh Abdul, though I think it is not either of you. Summon them. Summon Faraj, and Shuri, and Jamul the merchant, for one of them has sent this djinn upon me, and the one who recognizes this pendant shall suffer my wrath!"

Abdul: "Friend Yazid, I ask you to recall that you have shared salt with our company."

Narrator: Yazid seems to ponder for a moment, "Yes, it is true, but if one has broken this bond by sending their servant upon me, then am I not justified in returning the favor?"

Yasir: "Yazid, I tell you this, if you accuse one of mine unjustly, I will be forced to kill you for such an insult. So you watch your words carefully."

Abdul has a sudden thought. "Though it is true that we are transporting a wicked sorcerer for judgement in Huzuz."

Narrator: A gasp goes through the gathered men. "A sorcerer?" Yazid's eyes go wide with terror and anger. "Show us to him this instance!"

Yasir: "No."

Abdul: "Alas, we cannot. He is bound in a chest, for he whispers blandishments that twist the hearts of men."

Yasir regains his composure and stiffens his poise.

Narrator: Yazid looks from Abdul to Yasir. "Very well, if it is of no matter, then...." He picks up the coppper pendant and holds it above the flame. "No one shall be missing this."

Yasir: "Certainly not."

Abdul: "Destroying such an implement can only be a pious act."

Narrator: Thrusting the pendant within the flame, Yazid watches as it glows bright and begins to drip copper. "This is what shall await the one who has played with the fire of wickedness and sought to overturn me..."

Abdul says coolly, "The will of God be done."

Narrator: All of a sudden Yazid's hand gets burned by the flame and he drops the pendant into the fire, nursing his right hand, he gazes at it in pain. All the fingernails have been burned off. Yazid gasps, "Where is Farraj? Oh where is that noble youth? His word only do I trust in all the world!"

Abdul stares at Yazid unabashedly. The words, "Is he mad?" are written on his face.

Yasir is still agitated by Yazid's accusations.

===============================

Narrator: Farraj comes to with Shuri nearby, "Farraj, are you quite yourself or has the vicious Metef still a hold over you like he had over Feyrouz? And if you are yourself, would you like some water? And what shall we do about your friends who are outside as we speak accused of heresy?"

Farraj: "A drink would be nice. ... My friends accused of Heresy? They must regret ever meeting me." He is shamed by his actions and unsure of what to do.

Farraj hears Yazid's gasp. Rousing himself, he mutters "Sometimes the Moon covers the Sun," and staggers out into the light.

================================

Narrator: Indigo robes part like a sea as whispers surround Farraj who approaches the accused Yasir and Abdul, and the wounded and mad Yazid. "Farraj, oh noble youth," says Yazid, "have you kept the truth from me? But even then I would not believe it, for your voice makes the truth and fantasy seem a lake that we play in for only a while in our mortal lives. But is it true that one of your companions has sicked a djinn upon me out of malice?"

Yasir: "Farraj, tell him the error of his ways."

Farraj: "Yazid. Deception lies all around us. I myself sought to release the demon in the chest. You are beset by djinn. The Sun is in the sky and it is day. The Moon is in the sky and it is night."

Abdul murmurs, "Sometimes the Moon covers the Sun."

Farraj: "Where is the deception Yazid? Who is the deceiver?"

Narrator: Rubbing his hands together, Yazid whimpers, "I fear it is as my brother says, that my mind deceives me, and I grow weak of will, that common clouds and storms and to me things fearsome as to a child, that shadows at which camels do not balk to me are terrifying omens. This is my curse, since I left that palace of beauty." Yazid's eyes are wet and filled with tears, but also roving like a madman's.

Abdul: "What palace is that, O my host?"

Narrator: "That palace which lies beyond the desert, beyond the storm, beyond even the unreachable. I travel day and night, and still it is denied to me. The winds deny me, the djinn deny me, and now they reproach me for my earnest efforts. Oh there, is the smell so sweet of frankincense that all cities of the land pale in comparison. The music is the most beautiful in the land, and only the sweet zephir of Farraj has soothed me and brought back a glimmer of that cherished memory."

Abdul's face has a look as of one remembering. "It is a rare dream, Yazid. Yet dreams are meant to be remembered with joy and to give one strength, not to trouble one's days."

Farraj: "Brother, let me tell you a story. It is the continuation of a parable I told Abdul just last night, before my own madness. It is the Tale of the Fortunate Man..."

Narrator: Amidst his tears, Yazid lays his head in Farraj's lap, "I shall hear you."

Abdul stares at Yazid in astonishment.

Yasir: "Another story, there are always so many stories, Farraj."

Abdul: "Let him speak, Yasir. A wisdom is upon him."

Farraj: "A traveller in the Deep Jedh once came upon a coin lying upon the sand. Gazing upon it he fantasized about the things he could do with this new found wealth."

Farraj: "He thought of gifts for his loved ones. His mind wandered over all the generous things he could do with the treasure. Then his thoughts turned to the personal gains he could make. More goats, a bigger house in a better town... Perhaps he could hire a man to kill his rivals. But these were all just thoughts. The coin lay in the sand."

Farraj: "Reaching to grasp it he dislocated his back. Jamming the coin into his pocket and gasping at the pain he returned home, barely able to walk. He couldn't work so his goats wandered off or were poached. The water lay at the bottom of the well, all his labours unravelled. He cried out: This morning a wealthy prince, tonight a pauper. Ah cruel fortune."

Farraj: "And here the tale continues because he still had the coin in his pocket."

Farraj: "In much pain he travelled to the city housing the wisest man, leaving his wife, his family and what was left of his life. After much toil and pain from his ruined back he came to the city and approaching the wise man he said: Wise Man! This coin is cursed. It has stolen my health. It has stolen my livelihood. It has stolen my love. I am an empty, cursed man. Please lift this curse."

Farraj: "Without a word the Wise Man nodded, pocketed the coin and walked away. The coin was not cursed, the man was deceived. He had deceived himself."

Abdul murmurs, "The curse was in his own heart."

Farraj: "So Brother, take heart. I do not claim that there are no curses or works of Shaitan in this world. At any time the man could have dropped the coin and returned to his loved ones. What is in your heart?"

Narrator: A veil seems to lift from Yazid's head, his eyes regaining a semblance of humanity and reason. "Oh, the cruel fates that it has taken one so young and new to the world to teach me how to see not with my eyes but with my heart! The coin that I have carried is enmity for my brother and for the Caliph, peace upon them, for I feared they would judge me. That they would not believe me when I told them where I had been. And in my silence I drove myself mad. How can I be forgiven?"

Abdul: "Ask it of them. How can there be any other way? Ask it of them and of God."

Narrator: He bows to Abdul. "I swear I shall do it!"

Abdul: "God has blessed you this day, Yazid al-Hanif."

Narrator: Kneeling before Yasir he asks: "And you Yasir, how do you direct me to seek forgiveness?"

Yasir: "Seek it inside yourself, Yazid. God has seen fit to give you a new chance."

Abdul raises Yazid to his feet. "Is it well with you, brother?"

Narrator: "I shall do my utmost in the name of the Most Merciful." He bows low.

Farraj smiles.

Narrator:"Though my heart aches for the wrongs inflicted upon my men and upon you, oh worthy souls, never have I felt more certain of myself or more full of faith. It is as if the sun has emerged from behind the clouds long after the clouds stopped believing in sunlight!"

Abdul: "It is well. May I ask of you a thing?"

Narrator: "Ask it, and I shall comply."

Abdul: "This tale of the djinn in the desert today... Was it of your eyes or your heart? Did it happen as you have told us?"

Farraj: "I have forgiveness of my own to beg. The demon offered me paltry gifts and like the man of my tale, I lusted after the coin, willing to lose all for a handful of regrets."

Narrator: "I-- I cannot say," murmurs Yazid, "for the two were so bound to me, that I knew not the difference."

Abdul starts to say something to Farraj, but stops as Yazid speaks. "The two? What do you mean?"

Narrator: "The two djinni that I met in the desert," explains Yazid, "The one that attacked me and the one that saved me."

Abdul: "Go on."

Narrator: "I know not if what I say is true or imagined, but I was beset by a great wind, a towering djinn with fearsome eyes and tusks and as I staggered back, I drew forth my mother's charm and as I did so another wind, a pure and swift wind chased the other away, but it was sorely wounded, and approaching the massive man, I thought to help him, but as soon as I touched him, he vanished."

Abdul sighs deeply. "And the pendant - where did you come by it?"

Narrator: "Oh Farraj, you who should be among my tribesmen today, how can we not but forgive you? For you have entertained us, you have resisted the demon that tempted you, and you have restored my faith and reason." Yazid kisses Farraj upon both cheeks.

Abdul looks down at his feet. He is alone once more.

Narrator: Yazid continues to Abdul, "That pendant I found upon the wounded djinn. When he vanished it remained behind." Reaching into the warm embers, Yazid draws forth the slightly deformed pendant. "It is a miracle it is not but a lump of copper. Please take this and may it serve you well." Yazid presses it into Abdul's hand.

Abdul blinks. "Ah, if you wish this thing." He tucks it into a fold of his robe.

Yasir: "That's a dangerous thing to have, Abdul."

Abdul sighs. "It seems to be a day of confessions and forgiveness. I have come to love you well, my friends, and I find I also must open my heart to you." He waits for some sort of response, trembling.

Yasir: "Go ahead, Abdul."

Abdul: "I have spoken no lies, yet neither have I spoken all the truth. I also have walked among the djinni, having been carried off as a child. The second djinn, the one who saved you, Yazid, is a friend to me. When Yasir asked me to seek you out, I sent him to find you. He is the second djinn, the one who was wounded. I do not know what it means that the pendant that bound him remains while he is gone."

Yasir: "Strange company for you to keep, Abdul."

Abdul says bitterly, "I have found more friends among djinni than among men, until these last few days. Perhaps that is why the people of Huzuz call me 'Abdul al-Jann'."

Farraj looks at Abdul with new eyes.

Narrator: "Then it must be that you have saved my life twice. Once from madness, and once from djinn. I am a lucky man. Oh Abdul al-Jann, I am in your debt. I too was lost among the lands of djinn as a youth, and was stricken from my tribe for it. When you are in the desert look for the banner of Yazid, for under it you are always welcome."

Abdul al-Jann nods. "I thank you, Yazid."

Farraj: "The sun has risen and found a new world."

Abdul: "But truly, I did nothing. Aqisan must have chosen to protect you himself, for I did not ask it of him."

Narrator: "Then the servant takes after the master," says Yazid.

Abdul looks ready to weep. "Perhaps. Though I am no master. He is my friend, not my slave." He turns away.

Yasir: "There's no reason to get upset, Abdul. All is well that ends well."

Abdul: "You do not yet know all the truth, Yasir. He rescued us from the storm, as I asked - he was the 'guard' who called to us and led us to the gates. And because I knew he was near, I was the braver to go down the wall - though I needed his aid not, for your steadfastness preserved me. Yet what then is left of the 'bravery' of Abdul, which was so extolled - when I knew that with but a word, if need were, Mamoun and I would be lifted up amidst winds, and lightnings and thunders, and the beating of drums? Yet I was pleased by the praise and craved it, though I knew it was not deserved."

Yasir: "You and Farraj... Now listen here, Abdul. There's no reason to be ashamed of what you have done, for it has been great."

Abdul: "Bah."

Yasir: "I am only brave because I have my sword to protect me."

Abdul: "Nay, my friend, your faith shines out of you for all to see."

Yasir: "As does yours, Abdul. Allah blesses us differently, not more or less. Nor is there reason for us to spend so much time talking about the past when we should be moving on to Huzuz to bring the sorcerer to justice."

Farraj nods and smiles. "Yazid, you spoke last night of the springs failing. Now we are united in cause, what do you propose for helping the people of Zarif?"

Abdul says dispiritedly, "If you can suffer the presence of one so wretched as I." He adds almost offhand, "I learned the arts of a sha'ir while I was in Jinnistan as well." They might as well know everything.

Narrator: "Oh young Farraj, I happily provide Zarif with what we have. Perhaps enough to last them a few more days until their stored water runs out. When you go to Huzuz make haste and send back water merchants, for I can only help the caravanserai for so long before my own tribesmen begin to suffer as well."

Yasir: "It will be useful."

Abdul searches Yasir's face. "You are serious?"

Yasir: "We have no choice right now. On to Huzuz."

Farraj: "To Huzuz."

Abdul al-Jann says wearily, "Yes, to Huzuz."

Yasir: "Inshallah."

Shasti looks over at the men with their ranting and story telling, hot coals and sharp swords. She thinks to herself. If they're not fighting they're travelling. And men don't walk in the desert. Looking down at her feet, Shast sighs and bats her eyelids. Even if Farraj is an idiot sometimes, he is family.

Narrator: Oh patient listener, this is only the first of many stories in which the unredeemable became redeemed, and I bore witness to it all. You can touch the stone today at Zarif where I built the new well. Is it not smooth? I, Shuri ibn-Razan, am but a servant of fate to whom it has been given to walk in the footsteps of great men for a time. Thus ends the Tale of How Yazid's Madness Was Cured. And thus begins my second tale...
 

Handout: The Former Madman's Tale

Yazid found no greater joy in life in listening to Farraj playing the zephir, but alas the departure of the three men and the sorcerer-in-a-chest was imminent. The company of Hanifi tribesmen would ride to the oasis with Yazid and help the people there as they were able, while the small entourage traveled to Huzuz. But that is a story for another time.

Thus, on the eve of their imminent departure, Yazid invited those three noble men to private audience within his tent. “My heart still weeps for wrongly accusing you and for being a poor host to the worthy and righteous. But know that I have been wrongly accused by the djinni, and you shall soon learn why I do not trust Huzuz or the Caliph. These things which I speak cannot be uttered, and thus I trust in your confidence.

“Eight years ago, my brother Mu’awiya, blessed be the fool, found me groveling in the desert, calling out for “Hakiziman!” I had become lost in a sandstorm and, following the advice of my dear mother, I sought out the eye of the storm. The winds grew fierce and I collapsed, thinking I would soon be buried alive. Just then – for God is infinite in His wisdom and His timing – I found a gilded chest buried in the sand. Pulling it toward me, to my horror I saw that it was in the clutches of a skeleton. At once, fearing for my life, I put the chest down, but it was too late, and all about my hideous shapes moved in the storm – horned djinni on fearsome beasts, phantasms that were real and yet only existed in my mind at the same time. As if with one voice they called to me: ‘Repentance, oh misguided one! Long has your family tormented us, and long shall be your torment if you persist in their wicked ways!’

“Not knowing of what the beings spoke, I pleaded. “Have mercy on me, for I am guilty of no wrong doing!’”

“’Did you not seek to steal the treasure of his lord, the effulgent, the magnanimous, the far-seeing Malik Hakiziman?’”

“’Truly I did not,’ was my reply. ‘I only saw the chest and hoped that in the sand I might find shelter. For where there is one oasis, there are many springs – goes the saying.’

“Their laughter was deafening, like the clash of hooves on battle shields, or the roar of thunder, or the collapse of a mountain. ‘You are as poor a thief as you are a liar! For we have seen you stealing Malik Hakiziman’s treasure, and for this you must be punished. If not now, then in a year. If not here, then we will find you in Huzuz, for there we have many eyes in the Caliph’s court which see everything!’

“Fearing for my life, I fled into the storm, pursued by the wicked djinni who called after me, ‘In the name of Hakiziman, you only prolong the inevitable!’ How I escaped to my brother’s arms, I do not know, but it was the mercy of God that rescued me from the djinni, the wrath of the djinni that drove me mad, and the music of God that healed my madness. Inshallah.”
 

Handout: How Farraj Was Abandoned

[As told by Yazid al-Hanif to Farraj and his companions]

There is another tale that I must relate to you, oh noble youth, of how my father, the Sheikh himself, abandoned you as a boy to the mercy of God. It was the year after I had been driven mad in the sandstorm. Heavy rains and merciful clouds left the desert verdant; the wadis rushed with water, the oasis flowers blossomed, and life was good for my tribe.

There was talk of a young boy – it is you to whom I refer, noble youth – who had been offered from Dar al-Hotek as a sign of peace with my father. It was many seasons ago, but I recall the story as if it were yesterday. The emissaries of Hotek claimed you had brought them good fortune – their herd doubled, their infant children grew strong, their enemies fled before them, and their Sheikh lived a long life. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lied, but the ways of the barbaric Hoteki are mysterious.

You were taken in by the kindly hakima Safana, who was passed the age of child-bearing and who had never been married. After you were abandoned, this very same Safana would marry my father after his first wife died, and just last year she too perished. Safana raised you for several years, and she persistently warded off those who claimed who had brought the evil eye upon the tribe. The good fortunes quickly fled. My father grew ill, camel thieves struck us at every turn, and many complained “every well by which Farraj passeth runs dry!”

At last my father came to Safana and bid her tell him the truth, whether or not her adopted son was cursed. As she would not disobey her Sheikh, she replied “oh my lord, know that this boy bears a djinni’s curse which is too powerful for my humble magic to undo; but please show to him mercy, for he is an innocent.” Deeply troubled, my father deliberated for three days, and on the third day, though Safana’s motherly heart was breaking, he took you from her, and rode with you into the desert and returned alone. He never spoke again of the matter.
 

Interlude: The Plot Thickens

[Abdul decided after the last session to summon a young noble jinn of his acquaintance: Fajhoul ibn-Shisas al-Kitab e Seif. (Fajhoul, son of Shisas, of the Book and Blade.) He is the thirteenth (and therefore extremely minor) son of the Khedive of the Court of Rising Winds, a noble jinni house. Aqisan has a position there as the Royal Drummer.]

[This scene occurs just after the end of the last session, and Yazid's storytelling.]

Abdul retreats to his tent at the nearest decent moment. He pauses, considering how best to go about things, then places a stick or two of incense on a brazier to help him concentrate. Then he rocks back and forth, calling the young jinn to mind and associating his image with various arcane symbols for a time. Abruptly he opens his arms wide, throws back his head, and states, "Fajhoul!" His voice is not especially loud, but is penetrating enough to pierce the veil between worlds.

Fajhoul: The sound of boastful laughter of youth fills the tent as a blast of air rushes through Abdul's hair. Trails of colored smoke pour from the incense, wrapping around each other, filling the tent. There in the smoke a pair of brilliant purple eyes are visible. "Brash youth! Is this how you call upon your betters?" booms the voice.

Abdul salaams deeply. "Lord Fajhoul, I am pleased that you chose to respond to my humble summons. Please forgive the lack of formality."

Fajhoul: The form of a statuesque black haired youth with aquiline features materializes, wiping the sleeves of his shirt which bears a single tear. "May I remind you Abdul al-Jann that it was your lack of formality which got you expelled from my father's court in the first place." Slowly the smoke clears.

Abdul: "Be that as it may... I would not have called you were there not need, my lord. Aqisan has been injured, and vanished - leaving this behind." Abdul produces the pendant and displays it. "I do not know what this means, but my heart is heavy for him. Has he appeared in the Court of Rising Winds?"

Fajhoul examines the pendant. "The seal of Suleiman...What care have I for some common drummer boy?" He looks with disdain at the conditions within the tent. "Are these the rewards of your office now? Hardly suiting one of your caliber, Abdul." He tsk-tsks with mock admonition.

Abdul suppresses a flash of anger and says evenly, "My birth is humble, as I am sure you know, my lord. I am not troubled by simplicity. But surely, it is of at least some moment to your father, the great Khedive, what has become of a member of his court. And even if it be not, I would appeal to you based on our old acquaintance on behalf of my friend. For does not God smile upon generosity?"

Fajhoul: Grinning wide, Fajhoul raises a finger. "He does indeed. And God also said to Suleiman, "Lose not track of your djinni." For if what you say is true, and your servant is vanished, then all suspicion lies upon you."

Fajhoul: "According to the law, whatever your servant does, then you are culpable for." Fajhoul looks irritatedly at the rip in his shirt. "I certainly hope you don't ask me to do anything once I return to the Court; today I am training at swordplay, and, as it is readily clear, I have a score to settle with my teacher."

Abdul says with quiet dignity, "He is not 'mine', my lord, but my friend. Perhaps you have forgotten this thing. None can say I have bound any djinn to my will." Though those who know Abdul well might guess that he's getting tempted.

Fajhoul: As if remembering a childhood fantasy, Fajhoul says with a far off look. "Ah, Nakhlouf would be proud if he could but see you today."

Abdul bows his head at the mention of Nakhlouf. "I have missed our old teacher greatly. I hope that he is well."

Fajhoul: "Yes he is, and happy he would be to see you walking the path of the virtuous sha'ir, but I am afraid he would find your current accomodations rather reprehensible." He removes the pad of leather armor at his chest and wipes sweat from his brow. "He often speaks of you, Abdul, saying that he never had a student such as you." And then he adds darkly. "Save for the one he dreams up now."

Abdul smiles. "Were he lecturing on a subject dear to him, the accomodations might be fire, knives, and acid, and he would notice not at all!"

Fajhoul lets out a laugh which shakes the tent, sending wisps of wind through the flaps. "I say," he says in mockery of his beloved teacher, "my feet do seem to be melting and I'm up to my neck in acid. Have you found that autobiography yet?"

Abdul laughs also. "But now, my lord, I implore you: You have heard nothing of Aqisan?"

Fajhoul: "Verily I have heard nothing, Abdul," Fajhoul shakes his head. "It is most unlike him to quit your presence unannounced. The last I recall he had received an earthly summons, and he hastily departed with great eagerness. Surely it was you who summoned him?"

Abdul: "It was. I have at second hand that he bravely fought another djinn, without my knowledge or request, to rescue an innocent man. He succeeded, but was sorely wounded, then vanished... leaving the Seal behind."

Fajhoul's eyes narrow and his knuckles whiten. "Was this an ifreet that harmed a member of my court? One of the servants of Malik Sayoun?"

Abdul: "I do not know, my lord. The man who witnessed this was unclear as to the details. The other djinn bore fearsome tusks, and taunted him saying he had been sent by a man who had eaten at his board. This same man has been troubled by the servants of the Malik Hakiziman, if that name means anything to you."

Fajhoul: "If it bore tusks then it was surely no djinni I have ever seen, unless a devolved ghul. Malik Hakiziman?" At the mention of the name, Fajhoul goes stiff.

Fajhoul: The lights inside the tent flicker, and strange shadows cross over Fajhoul's face. "Would to the Almighty that you had not uttered that name, Abdul. Shall I tell you of what I know of that dark one?"

Abdul: "I must hear, though the danger be great, Lord Fajhoul. I would give my own life for Aqisan if need were."

Fajhoul: "Even that may not suffice, if Aqisan has fallen into the clutches of Hakiziman. Know, oh young Abdul, that of the nobles of the City of Brass, the title of "Malik" is reserved for the eldest ifreeti who adhered to their pagan ways even after being offered the Choice. The ifreeti were great servants of Himyar, that kingdom which stood to the East in the lands of Nog, before the coming of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Malik Hakiziman roamed for many years as a fearsome dragon, but was tamed by a descendant of the Prophet, who bound him to watch over one of the beacons which was lit to announce the First Caliph's ascension to the throne of man."

Abdul's eyes widen slightly at this recital.

Fajhoul: "Bound for many years, Hakiziman believed the sha'ir that bound him was ever present until a foolish rawun one day reported that the descendant of the prophet had died a century ago. In a rage, Hakiziman destroyed the beacon and returned to the City of Brass. His is a feared noble house, with great influence over the ifreeti sultana. I know this because in the madrasah after hours all my brothers (save my beloved who my father wrongly exiled as he did you) and I study our enemies, the ifreet, in preparation for battle."

Abdul squares his shoulders as if to accept a heavy burden. "I will do what I must. But if he was victorious in battle, how could he have been taken by the Malik? Are there sha'ir among djinni as well?"

Fajhoul: "Alas, you need to consult Nakhlouf, for I am ignorant of such things. Even the ifreeti will not take captive one who defeats their captor in honorable battle. It sounds as though your servant defeated some creature (and I do not know if it was djinni) in single combat. But, perhaps he was willingly taken hostage...." Muses Fajhoul, an idea coming to his head. "If he is as brave as Nakhlouf, and as you have promise to be, then perhaps he faked his defeat and allowed himself to be taken captive, hoping to learn the secrets of the ifreeti?"

Abdul: "He is brave enough for that, though I find it passing strange he would not inform me of his intention. Perhaps, if you are right, there was no time."

Fajhoul: "You are only mortal, Abdul al-Jann. To inform you may have exposed you to the Malik and his allies."

Abdul: "Do you know anything of a golden treasure of the Malik, hidden in the sands? I have heard a tale of such."

Fajhoul: "There is a story that when the Malik was bound, the descendant of the Prophet who bound him placed an iron and ivory necklace upon his neck, as a symbol of his servitude. Unable to destroy the neckalce upon learning of the descendant's death, he cast it into the Ghul's Anvil in the High Desert."

Abdul: "Ahhh! Perhaps this also was the Seal of Suleiman that bound him. Iron, for one who made the wrong Choice."

Fajhoul: "Abdul, if it is true that the Malik Hakiziman has come after your servant, you must know that he intends to bring ruin to the entire Court of Rising Winds through this act, though I am not far-sighted enough to predict how this shall unfold."

Abdul: "Then, clearly, your father must be informed at once. And Hafiz Nakhlouf must be consulted for whatever knowledge he has on this subject. Are you willing to do these things, my Lord? Please give my compliments and tenderest greetings to your illustrious father, as well, for I never intended to cause him anger or grief. And would it be unwelcome to you if I called you again in, shall we say, three days?" He adds, "I am willing to come with you and repeat all I know, should that be desired."

Fajhoul unsheathes his blade drawing a symbol in the sand. His body sways back and forth with ease, his wrist snapping at the far edges of the symbol, sweeping like an artist through broad strokes and pausing at the apex. "I shall do all that you ask of me. Beware, Abdul, for you are a valuable commodity to any Malik of the ifreeti, and as you are outside the protection of my Court and without your faithful servant, others may seek you out. When you call me in three days I shall report how the court has responded to this news." Finishing the symbol he steps back, sheathing his sword.

Abdul: "It is good to see you again, my Lord. Though we differ in station, I have often enjoyed our talks. May we speak again under more pleasant circumstances."

Fajhoul: "The symbol I have written can be used to call me at a moment's notice. You need but inscribe it upon the earth, and I shall appear." His eyes shine with deep trust when looks into Abdul's eyes.

Abdul salaams deeply. "I am honored by your trust in me, my lord."

Fajhoul: Smoke again pours from the long-dead incense, or rather pours into them, as if reversing the summoning he made. Ribbons of pastel pink and blue surround Fajhoul as he departs for the Court of Rising Winds.

Abdul turns to the symbol and studies it carefully, committing it thoroughly to memory before rubbing it out with his sandal. Then he marches out of the tent, head held high, intending to question Yazid more closely about his experiences.
 

That's all I have cleaned up thus far. We have, however played out the third session, which shaped up to be only the first part of a two-part tale. It was... mindblowing. Unfortunately, Yasir's player couldn't make it, but he'll be back next week.

Please let me know what you think! We've all been enjoying this campaign to pieces. In particular, I'd like to know if the presentation of the logs is objectionable to people.
 
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Got our fourth session in. Due to some unexpected tangents and RL complications, the basic adventure STILL has not yet resolved. The party is split in three, which makes for much bouncing around. (The GM, Aaron, has us take on different NPC roles while doing so, though, so it's hardly boring.)

This session was mostly Yasir, Jamul (played by yours truly) and Shuri (played by Farraj's player). With a brief cameo of Abdul and the set-up for a solo adventure of his the GM has decided we'll do this Monday. Alas, Farraj's player's power supply chose to fry itself halfway in, so we saw nothing of Farraj at all.

I'll post sessions three and four within the next few days, as I get them cleaned up.
 

3: The Bad Liar

[Once again, the Narrator took on the default role of Shuri ibn-Razan. As mentioned, Yasir's player couldn't make it, and Farraj had to bow out near the end too. So it's a bit Abdul-heavy. Appropriately enough, given the turn of the plot... Plus, the basic story did not finish, so it doesn't receive a flourish of an ending the way the others have. Finally, Abdul is in a much better mood than he was at the end of the last session. Finding out some more about Aqisan's problems (and making a start about doing something about them) completely swept his own problems out of his mind.]

Narrator: Wherein the third night begins... [Part Two of "Fishing for an Honest Man"]

Narrator: Once in my boyhood had I beheld such wonders as Huzuz, Gem of Zakhara. Returning there was the awakening of a distant memory, now polished and made whole. Oh grateful listener, the journey that brought me and the great men with whom I was honored to travel was not without strife. The silk merchant, who I did not trust since we left the caravanserai, persisted in badgering me. At last I yelled at him, "Everyone knows for a merchant, even honesty has its price!"

The silk merchant quickly replied, "Apparently it costs as much as your courage, oh Shuri of the Grand Caliph's Hunting Dogs."

Anger swelled in my breast at this insinuation of greedy conduct by my kinsmen, but I recalled the pious company I was in and the favor with which the merchant looked upon the lion Yasir, and I thought better and swallowed my pride.

God was kind to us for the remaining three day journey to Huzuz. Following the shortcut advised by Yazid al-Hanif, we made good time and quickly reached the Al-Sarif, River of Nobility. Many travelers bid us welcome and shared our campfire as we traveled west. At night, Metef's voice would issue from the chest, always pleading and asking for repentance. Metef, that vile dog! even went so far as to claim that Mamoun merited his curse for trying to take the caravanserai from Metef. His lies were outrageous! As the journey went on, Metef's ploys grew more desperate. Yet we dared not open the chest, merely pouring water through the lock to keep the wretched sorcerer alive. My mood was dark as we approached the river ferry crossing as I thought of my dear friend Mamoun and others at the Zarif caravanserai who would rejoice now to see so much water.

This, which you shall now hear, is the tale of what befell us in Huzuz.

Abdul has been in a lighter mood in the days since his momentous confession. He smiles as the group tops a rise and beholds the grand City, gleaming. "Golden Huzuz, City of Delights! Do you see now what I meant, Farraj?"

Farraj goes through periods of intense excitement and quiet solitude during these days of travel. He seems somehow changed since the night of his temptation by the Devil in the Chest.

Abdul: "You are quiet, my friend. No, let me speak truly - my brother." He smiles at the younger man.

Farraj is never far from the chest of his temptation. It is almost as though he has become it's personal guardian! "It is hard to see with new eyes. A river flows past our feet, and in my heart."

Abdul: "Are you so full of joy, then?"

Farraj: "I truly do not know. Are those the walls of a city of men?"

Abdul laughs. "Of men, yes! Even djinni do not build larger, though they build grander."

Narrator: Since the battle against Metef's magics, Shuri keeps one hand on his scimitar hilt at all times. "I will ride ahead and broker passage on a river ferry." And he nudges his camel forward, a dark glaze over his eyes.

Farraj: "How shall we cross the waters?"

Abdul: "Shuri is seeing to it. Perhaps we should enter by the Gate of the Learned. I have a room on the street there."

Farraj laughs. "I speak and it is done! Who said that words are never enough!"

Abdul says, only a touch ironically, "No sha'ir has ever said so."

Narrator: Huzuz, even from a distance is vast. Its minarets shimmer in the desert heat which has begun even only a half hour past sunrise. A light fog of evaporating vapors dances along the surface of the Al-Sarif.

Farraj: "You must be very important to have your own room in this great city. Do you think the guards will let me pass?"

Abdul laughs again. "Important! I have a tiny room under the shop of a starving artist. I am but one scribe among thousands in the City. And of course they will - do you realize how many pilgrims come here in a year?"

Narrator: Jamul the silk merchant speaks to Yasir aside, though clearly he heaps great accolades on the warrior, who listens unimpressed by the bluff and bluster. It would seem Jamul has invited Yasir to his house for supper this evening, and Yasir insists that his companions be allowed to join him.

Farraj interjects, "Jamul, he who gave of his own to save the caravanserai, I accept your kind offer. A shared meal is a shared faith."

Abdul adds easily, "Your invitation is welcome and accepted with joy, good Jamul."

Shasti eyes the great walls of Huzuz. Blinks and thinks of the number of times she has passed its gates. It seems they have kept her city in good repair during her years in the desert.

Farraj: "Why Shasti, let me unpack your crown and throw petals at your feet. Your stride is noble today."

Narrator: Sighing, Jamul can't help but smile at Farraj. Brown-nosing courageous warriors can be exhausting work after all. "Oh noble men, my household will be blessed for your presence. You shall meet my wife, whose cooking makes the tigers in Nog ravenous, and my three daughters. Why, my eldest", he says eyeing Yasir cannily, "My eldest, Fatima, ah, her beauty is beyond compare with a head for accounting to match...." He quickly adds, "And she nears the marrying age."

Narrator: In the distance you can see Shuri negotiating heatedly with a ferryman.

Abdul smiles with only a twinkle of friendly malice in his eyes. "Do you hear that, Farraj? Perhaps our friend the merchant would consider an alliance with your tribe. You are nearly old enough to marry as well." He deliberately speaks loud enough for Jamul to hear.

Farraj: "Marry!" He blushes, suddenly looking very young.

Narrator: Shasti snorts in Jamul's direction as if to say not on her watch!

Abdul's banter, while genuine enough, is only on the surface. Deep thoughts roil beneath.

Farraj looks back at the chest. "Can you hear the wind in the minarets, Devil? They whisper your doom!"

Narrator: A hiss eminates from the chest follows by a muffled sob. Farraj hears a voice beseeching him, whispering from within the chest, but quickly puts it from his mind.

Narrator: Jamul keeps his eye on a robed man approaching. The man is dressed in a Bedouin's rugged aba, though his bearing is noble and his steed the most graceful you've ever seen.

Abdul heaves a mock sigh as Jamul elaborately ignores his suggestion. "Another great opportunity lost." He listens idly to Shuri's bargaining.

Narrator: The stranger hails Abdul. "Sahib, I am new to Huzuz. May I trouble you for directions?"

Abdul blinks and turns to the newcomer. "Certainly, sir, peace be upon you. What do you have need of knowing?"

Shasti looks upon this `steed'. She has seen better ANIMALS carrying salt.

Narrator: "Peace by upon you," says the stranger in return, a thick accent coming through. "I seek a high official said to be the most just man in Huzuz. He goes by the name of Namvar al-Qadi."

Abdul: "Alas, sir, I have been away from Huzuz this past year, and am not as familiar with events in the city as I might be. I suggest you ask after him in the Court District. Do you know of it?"

Narrator: "Alas, I have never been to Huzuz, though I am eager to see how the qadis here handle justice, " he says with a twinkle in his eyes. "How may I find the Court District?"

Farraj twitches and turns to check something in his saddle-pack.

Narrator: Shuri has concluded the deal with much ado, and signals for you to approach as the ferryman unropes the docked raft.

Abdul gives directions easily enough. "It is just east of the Grand Palace. If you enter the Gate of the Learned just opposite the river from us just now, the street will lead you to the Street of the Ajami, and then the Boulevard of Caravans. From there you cannot miss the Palace."

Narrator: The man bows, "Thank you young man. May I enjoy the ferry with you?"

Abdul bows in turn. "I have no objection, though I suppose it is up to the ferryman. I am Abdul, and this is Farraj Hezma El Feisal. And you?"

Farraj nods to the man, a preoccupied expression on his face.

Narrator: Dismounting his horse, a fine mare of the Saqlawi strain, he salaams Farraj and the rest. "Gobryas ibn-Taralas of Mahabba, by...Well, it is a long story." He settles the account with the ferryman, whose eyes go wide at the coin the stranger gives him. The caravan guards with you comment on how dignified Shasti looks boarding the raft; their snickering is venom to Farraj's ears.

Abdul boards without fuss. "A pleasure to meet you, Gobryas. An unusual name, if I may say so."

Farraj balks and looks at Abdul. "Am I to understand that we are crossing this water on a log?"

Narrator: Shuri groans. "You've never been over a river, youth?"

Farraj repeats, "On a log, Abdul?"

Abdul blinks and looks to Farraj. "A log? It is a raft, Farraj. Many logs, tied together." To Shuri he says, "He has never seen a river, Shuri, unless I am mistaken."

Farraj says proudly, "I have spent my years on the river of sand, Shuri and I beg for nothing less. Abdul, it is a log. My hand has many fingers but it is still just a hand."

Narrator: Shuri whispers aside to Abdul, but loud enough for Farraj to hear, "It is common in many desert dwellers. Fear of the unknown. The city. Water. These sorts of things."

Abdul laughs. "Well, be assured, Farraj: Many hundreds of men and camels have crossed on this log without getting wet!"

Narrator: The ferryman gazes impatiently at Farraj and his group, but keeps his mouth shut. He has been well paid after all.

Farraj: (To Shuri) "I fear nothing less than the Devil in the Chest but I am a man Shuri. A bird flies, the snake slithers and the man walks. He does not float."

Shasti thinks, The man walks, does he?

Abdul: "But men DO float, Farraj. Even swim like fish, at need. I have done it myself, in this very river."

Narrator: The ferryman comments dourly, "Oh, some men sink, sahib."

Farraj: "I have seen the children paddle at the Oasis. Surely a man does not submit to such things?"

Abdul laughs again. "True enough, good ferryman. But let us not alarm my friend. Farraj, the raft floats, but you may walk back and forth upon it if you wish. There is nothing unnatural in this."

Farraj: "Are you sure?"

Abdul affirms patiently, "Quite sure. It has pleased Allah to make logs such that they float upon the water. If men choose to walk upon them as they float, I see no impiety in it."

Farraj: "I have seen the Ibis wade deep into the pond. Perhaps I should wade across. Shasti would surely not be asked to float like a leaf."

Abdul: "It is far too deep for Shasti, Farraj. Come! We are holding up the other passengers."

Narrator: The ferryman snickers, "Just make sure your camels don't leave any logs of their own floating in the river. *sniff* They fine for such things."

Farraj: "There is no way around. Perhaps I could meet you in a few days?"

Abdul: "Farraj. You see that Shuri is aboard the raft. He also is of al-Hanif, he says. Why should you not also join us?"

Farraj: "It is said that sometimes the Moon covers the Sun. If that is so, who am I to say that a man cannot float. I submit to the great wisdom of Abdul.

Abdul smiles. "And well you should. It is fitting."

Farraj gingerly leads Shasti onto the raft and proceeds to the exact centre. "Hmm, it is like walking on soft sand with hard shoes."

Abdul turns back to Gobryas. "I am sorry for the interruption, sahib. You were saying?"

Shasti walks about the raft inspecting her new domain.

Farraj: "Shasti! Must you do that! There is no room in heaven for wicked camels."

Abdul chuckles again at Farraj. "Judgment is with Allah only, my friend."

Narrator: The ferryman pushes off, and your raft pierces the snaking mists of the Al-Sarif. Glittering Huzuz, Gem of Zakhara, rises from the southern bank where all manner of boating activity can be seen. You are dwarfs among giants - great sambuks and dhows of the Caliph's own fleet surround you.

Farraj grips the planks at his feet so that his knuckles go white.

Abdul sighs when he sees how terrified the boy is, and kneels beside him, putting an arm about his shoulders. "Come, brother. You need not fear."

Shasti looks at some of the grand boats plying the waters and back at the simple raft at her feet. Something will have to be done about this!

Narrator: Gobryas looks with awe at the passing boats. "Truly the Grand Caliph is a great leader. Such vessels!"

Farraj: "How is it that men do this every day?" He finally notices the other boats.

Abdul: "Like many other things, what is at first a wonder and a terror becomes with custom but another thing men do. Many fellahin* would be terrified by a sandstorm, you know. Or even travelling across the desert without a known route." (* city dwellers)

Farraj stands up, leaning on Abdul. "It is a beautiful sight."

Abdul: "The reward for facing one's fears is often such."

Farraj: "Are those men in the rigging?"

Abdul: "They are, indeed."

Narrator: A man in the rigging of passing dhow raises his hand to you, calling out, "Any word from Kiryana al-Hanif in the Haunted Lands?"

Farraj: "Do all the different colours in the sails and hulls mean anything. I have never seen such colour." He grips Ittifaqi Hasanah.

Abdul shrugs, looking to Farraj and Shuri at the man's question. To Farraj he says, "Some indicate the houses or merchants or nations the vessels hail from. I believe others may simply be decoration."

Narrator: At that point in the adventures of the three men who saved Mamoun, I knew not this name, and yelled back to the sailor, "Alas, no!" With that he placed a hand over his heart as if wounded, and fell into the arms of his companions who laughed mirthfully.

Abdul: "How odd."

Farraj laughs and points. "Shuri! You are a word archer!"

Narrator: You both notice that the ferryman is only paddling minimally, dragging on the trip unnecessarily.

Farraj walks (carefully) over to the edge of the raft and dips a hand into the water.

Narrator: Shuri can't help but laugh at Farraj. "Though I've no talent for the bow, it would appear at least I am a good shot at something."

Abdul: "It has been said that well-timed words are more lethal than spears! ... But ill-timed ones can be perhaps more lethal yet, I suppose."

Narrator: The ferryman controls the rudder, and appears to be leaning hard on it, slowing you down, even as the rest of the oarsman toil away.

Farraj mutters, "The wealth of the desert."

Abdul then calls over to the ferryman, "Are you trying to make your oarsmen earn their pay, good sir?"

Farraj: "I remember many days of thirst when I could not have dreamed of this!"

Abdul: "Wait until you see the ocean, Farraj! Water as far as the eye can see - yet not safe to drink."

Narrator: The ferryman makes no response, and has a look which is eerily familiar to you both upon his face. The look in the ferryman's eyes sends shivers through Farraj's bones. "Yes," he mouths breathily. "Yes."

Farraj starts up, a look of horror on his face. "The Devil is a word-archer too!" He walks towards the ferry-man.

Abdul shouts angrily, "METEF! This is enough!"

Narrator: Shuri turns around, mid-laugh and upon seeing the ferryman's blank expression his eyes darken once more. Like Yasir, his swordhand is ever present upon his scimitar.

Farraj glances at the chest. "Release this man and accept your fate."

Abdul strides wrathfully toward the chest. "Try your tricks on ME if you dare, carrion crow! But leave these be." He kicks the chest savagely.

Narrator: The oarsman and Gobryas stare stunned at the commotion.

Farraj grabs ahold of the ferry-man.

Narrator: The ferryman makes no move to stop Farraj, his gaze distant upon the Trade Harbor (far west of your destination).

Farraj slaps the man's face. "Awaken. It is day and the sun is in the sky, enlighten the inner darkness."

Abdul sighs. "Farraj, tie Ittifaqi Hasanah about him. When he is free, tie it about the chest. ... You men! Who of you knows how to steer this raft?"

Farraj obeys Abdul's command and binds the steers-man with his beautiful scarfe.

Abdul then tells the chest, "You are but storing up wrath for judgment, fool."

Narrator: Once bound, the ferryman comes to himself, "A strange breeze, it seemed to call my name...Why are you all staring at me like that? And get back to the oars, you! And get this rope off of me!" He struggles to extricate himself from the sash.

Farraj takes Ittifaqi Hasanah back.

Abdul: "No more tricks from you, Metef! As I told you before, it is not unlawful to slay an prisoner in the act of escaping."

Farraj walks over to the chest.

Narrator: Both Abdul and Farraj make out faint whimpering from within the chest.

Abdul then tells the other passengers on the raft sourly, "We beg your forgiveness for the... untoward... happenings."

Farraj: "No one wants to hear your words Devil. Your chance to explain yourself approaches all too soon."

Abdul: "Tie the silk about the chest. That seems to help."

Farraj: "I must bind you again, Devil, though you have bound yourself, in truth."

Narrator: Gobryas says to Abdul, "Abdul of Huzuz, I though my story was outrageous, but yours has left me stunned. You speak to a chest as if it were a heretic and you treat a bolt of silk as a most treasured child! Surely there must be an explanation!"

Farraj binds the chest with his vibrant scarfe.

Narrator: Farraj hears Metef's voice hiss from within the chest, as if recoiling from the sash which binds the chest he lurks within, awaiting his trial which looms like the far shore of the Al-Sarif.

Abdul: "I speak not to the chest, good Gobryas, but a wicked sorcerer we are transporting for judgment in the City. He has been cursed into the form of a raven - God the Mighty having brought the curse he meant to place on faithful Yasir there upon his own head. As for this silk, it seems to have some strange virtue against the blandishments he makes against men's minds."

Farraj is quickly distracted by the amazing sights around the raft. The drifting mist and the boats gliding from one shore to another.

Narrator: Shuri gazes ominously at the chest, "I am beginning to regret not opening the chest myself and slaying the foul one. Farraj, you have cleared that blemish which the sorcerer laid upon you before. I cherish the day I see him punished for his crimes."

Farraj tells Shuri, "He is already dead within. His judgement will be greater than any punishment we can conceive."

Narrator: The northern gate is awash with travelers from Halwa, Bedouin and Al-Hadhar alike. The ferryman directs the agile bowman to jump off the raft and secure it.

Farraj looks at Shasti, bemused. "You are my ship of the desert. This is a strange day indeed."

Abdul adds to Gobryas, "You were saying you had heard of a qadi famed far and wide for wisdom? He may be just the one that we need."

Narrator: Gobryas rubs his beard, and Abdul realizes the man is younger than he had at first thought. "Perhaps. I am to meet before him with an unscrupulous beggar who claims my horse is his. Not this horse mind you. It is my honor that binds me to do so."

Abdul: "Yet you have never been to Huzuz before? How odd."

Narrator: Shuri eases the rest of the camels onto solid ground, guiding them toward the city gates. Jamul breathes deeply, inspired to be in his homeland. Feyrouz, the caravan guard brings up the rear, a dark cloud over his head since the encounter with Metef's sorcery. Gobryas converses amiably with Abdul.

Narrator: Metef lurks within the chest, grumbling about his fate. The chest is secured to a camel (a different one each day so they did not tire) which is led by Shuri.

Abdul disembarks, offering a hand in encouragement to Farraj.

Farraj: "It is a shame to be leaving the river. I will never forget the sight of the Al-Sarif and her ships." He laughs.

Abdul: "But now you will see Huzuz herself, Mother of Cities!"

Narrator: "Ah...no I haven't. I have decided to take this occasion to visit the Great Mosque," says Gobryas.

Abdul: "Well, how could a beggar of Huzuz claim your horse, if you have never been here before?"

Farraj watches the activity at the Gate. He takes a long sniff of the air, then looks back at the raft. "What a strange place where men can walk on water."

Narrator: "Ah, the beggar, by great misfortune was captured by pirates and was to be sold as a slave, but they ship-wrecked upon Mahabba's shores, whereupon the ungrateful man took to his trade at once. In passing him one day, I offered him coins, and on a second thought I offered him a ride upon my steed. When we reached his destination, I bid him dismount, and he refused, claiming the horse was his own. The qadi in Mahabba bid me come to Huzuz in one year to seek the famous Namvar al-Qadi so that the case may be decided."

Abdul: "What an odd decision! Why did he not settle the case himself? And where is the beggar now?"

Farraj turns back to the discussion. "I have seen what happens to horse (and camel) thieves."

Narrator: "He ruled in favor of the beggar, but I appealed the case, and the Caliph of Mahabba ruled that I should travel to Huzuz in a year and a day." He sighs, "So here I am with the horse in question."

Abdul: "How absurd! I can see why you seek a just qadi."

Narrator: A merchant hawking strange elixirs leans close to Farraj, her reeking breath upon his face, "Bottled breath of the Ghul's Anvil. And more wares have I. Come young one, Mesekhert's elixirs will cure all things."

Farraj: "But surely not your breath! You are a poor advertisement for your wares."

Narrator: Chastised, the hag goes on to her next customer, "Bottled breath....."

Abdul adds to Farraj, "I see you are not quite the easy mark I had feared, lad." He smiles. "There are more peddlars in Huzuz than can be dreamed of."

Narrator: Shuri laughs at Farraj, "It would seem so. Fear not, you are an archer of words, Farraj. With your wit, you could scare off the king of peddlars himself."

Farraj: "Do you think so? I knew she was trying to fool me because surely no Ghul would labour as a blacksmith."

Narrator: Shuri blinks. "Well, no, I suppose not."

Abdul stares at Farraj. "Blacksm-" he bursts out laughing.

Farraj makes sure that he is not separated from the chest. His greatest treasure is binding it!

Narrator: Great caravans of silk, glass, spices, and books pass by you toward the gates; an elephant laden with chests looms ahead, carving a swathe through the crowd. A flock of great white birds flies overhead, and a hawk harries messenger doves making their way about the city. The sound of debating theologians merges into the din of traffic, punctuated by periodic blasting of furnaces in the glassblower's neighborhood. There is a palpable buzz in the air, for Huzuz is a living breathing place, and every person has a tale.

Abdul winds down to chuckles. "Pardon me, good Gobryas. Mirth waits for no man, I fear."

Narrator: Gobryas bows, "Thank you Abdul of Huzuz. I shall do my best to find the Courts, though Huzuz's grandeur puts Mahabba to shame. Thank you for your assistance."

Abdul leads the group confidently through the Gate of the Learned as they talk. "It was my honor, sahib. I will not wish you good fortune, but rather justice. If I may be of any further aid, I should be glad to assist."

Narrator: Gobryas wishes Abdul good luck with the sorcerer's trial, and excuses himself, leading his mare ahead of the group.

Farraj watches the elephant in awe. Pointing, he exclaims, "It has a snake on its face!"

Narrator: The elephant lumbers right by Farraj, stopping to eat a melon from a nearby stall as the merchant curses and the rider apologizes as best as he can.

Farraj: "Did any of you see that!"

Abdul: "It is an elephant, Farraj. One of God's more impressive creations."

Farraj: "How many men does it eat for breakfast? It has the biggest teeth I have ever seen!"

Abdul: "It does not eat men at all, nor any other meat."

Farraj: "Well, I am thankful for that."

Abdul leads the motley company down the Street of the Learned. "My old neighborhood. I wish I could invite you all to stay with me, but I fear my room is but a tiny one. Farraj, you may stay with me, and Shuri, you also if you wish. Where are we to join you tonight, good Jamul?"

Narrator: Shuri interrupts, "Abdul, we must speak with the water merchants and organize provisions for Zarif, for surely Mamoun and his family are suffering greatly now with the drought brought on by the furious storm. Mamoun has given me funds suited to this purpose. Is there a place we can meet again later after I broker a deal?"

Abdul: "Of course, Shuri! You are right. Jamul, who is best for us to speak to? And if you wish my aid with the negotiations, I am pleased to do so, Shuri."

Farraj turns to Shuri at the mention of the plight of the caravanserai. But he is unable to stop gawking at everything happening around him. He has Saturation Gawk Syndrome.

Abdul keeps a hawk's eye surreptitiously on Farraj out of sheer habit. Or rather, on the people passing by the lad.

Farraj murmurs, "I walk on water, enter the Great Gate of the Learned and then see a giant beast with teeth like palms who is allowed to steal melons. Perhaps a flock of tiny birds will spring out of the sun and turn into dates, surely that will happen next."

Narrator: A date pit hits Farraj on the head. A monkey chitters from a clothesline above, making faces at Farraj before disappearing.

Narrator: Jamul considers Shuri carefully, then sighs. "Noble Yasir, I would be honored if you would accompany me. We may have need of your....way with words. I shall take Shuri and Yasir to a merchant. I shall send a porter by your house just before sundown to summon you."

Abdul bows. "I thank you, good merchant."

Narrator: Shuri entrusts the camel laden with the sorcerer-in-a-chest to Abdul and Farraj before departing with Yasir and Jamul to speak with the water merchants.

Farraj: "Abdul, a tiny little man just threw a date pit at me. I cannot understand his language."

Abdul: "It is not a man but a monkey, Farraj."

Farraj: "Ah, so he is a Southerner."

Abdul: "Farraj.... Where do you GET these strange ideas?!"

Farraj: "A man once told me that all the men of the South are monkeys, you do not need to take that tone with me."

Abdul laughs. "I am sorry, my friend. It is just that you have seen much of the desert, but little of the rest of the world. I suppose I would be equally ridiculous lost in the sands. For a short while."

Narrator: "Abdul! Abdul!" rings a voice from the crowd. It is the Sufi next door, the one who gave up his name upon becoming an ascetic.

Farraj: "So I am ridiculous? Small thanks for protecting you from the Southerner."

Abdul just can't help it; he laughs again. "Ah, Nameless, it is good to see you again. Yes, I am returned."

Shasti takes in the smells and sights of the city. Ahh, it has been too long.

Narrator: A date pit bounces off the nameless Sufi's head. His eyes glaze over for a second and he does a quick dance, which goes to prove that even old men are young boys when the spirit of God moves them. "Oh Abdul, very great and very tragic news for you!"

Abdul frowns and moves toward the man, beckoning Farraj to follow. "Oh? What is this?"

Farraj: (To Shasti) "I am afraid to speak. Does it always rain dates here?"

Narrator: The nameless Sufi offers a quick prayer to God, kissing the six icons which hang around his neck before proceeding. "The chatty women of the neighborhood, you know the ones, decided that you were in need of a wife and found just such a lotus blossom, and they spread word you intended to court her. Her suitor has heard the matter and is red with jealousy and has declared he will challenge you to a duel!"

Abdul smiles. "Duel with a scribe?! Is not the pen mightier than the sword? Come, my friend, I daresay this matter is easily smoothed over. Or do you not think so?"

Farraj grins. "You and Yasir could be married on the same day!"

Abdul grins back at Farraj.

Farraj: "Have you noticed how loud it is here? My ears are aching."

Narrator: "Oh Abdul, God is Wise and I do not know. The suitor was quite irate and his shouting drew two guards over. Then, quick as a wink he disappeared into the crowd. I had never seen anything like it before in my life! Though I thought it strange when he heard your name he seemed to recognize it. Do you make it a habit to cross angry young men?" The Sufi gazes at Farraj with a broad grin.

Abdul: "What is the man's name?"

Narrator: "I am afraid he did not mention it, or did he and I wasn't paying attention? Such are the concerns of one into whose ear God constantly whispers," the nameless Sufi adds, raising a finger and rising on to his toes to make the point.

Farraj is trying his very hardest not to be distracted by all of the incredible things going on around him... but not very successfully. He watches the chest vigilantly, when he remembers.

Abdul teases, "Does He often whisper, 'Ah, Laughter, you are indeed a fool!' Though a kind fool and an excellent neighbor, to be sure!"

Farraj notices that there are dozens of Southerners swarming the street. Some of them are without clothes. This is a shameful thing.

Narrator: Laughter, Ecstasy, Rapture, The Iconist, Raja of Small Gods, the nameless Sufi raises an ear to the wind. "Oh dear Abdul, I am being called to bicker with the cleric's sons now. I hope to finish with them before the call to prayer. There is nothing like prayer to steal the anger from a man's sails." He winks and excuses himself.

Abdul tells Farraj, "A madman, but a pleasant enough one."

Farraj: (To Abdul) "I can barely even describe the madness that is across the street. I think that your neighbour is the sanest man i have met here."

Abdul laughs yet again, shaking his head. He leads the way to his own house.

Narrator: One of the Southerners scrambles over near Farraj. "Ook? Eeech. Ack! Ack! Ack! Eeach? Ook. Ook?"

Farraj bends down and smiles kindly.

Narrator: The monkey takes off the fez it is wearing and holds it out open, as if begging, with a grin a mile wild.

Farraj: "Great Southerner. It is our custom to wear clothes here in the north. A strange custom to you I am sure but it is the way we do things here."

Abdul: "The monkey cannot understand you, Farraj. He is not a man at all, but a clever beast."

Farraj: "A coin for the ignorant is a gift before God. Here, take two because you are surely twice as ignorant and therefore twice as needy."

Abdul: "Farraj..."

Farraj digs out two of his meagre supply of coins and plonks them into the southerners unusual cap.

Narrator: Tucking the coins into its vest, monkey offers its hat again, this time with a whimper on its face.

Abdul: "Farraj, if you give coins to all the monkeys you meet, you will soon need to beg yourself. Take it from one who knows: It is not a pleasant way to live." Abdul is serious all of a sudden.

Farraj: "I will give you a greater gift than coins, my friend. Here is some advice. If you are ever lost in the desert, look to the sky in the evening. If you see the hawk in the air, follow his lead. For the Hawk hunts the mouse and the mouse lives where there is water."

Abdul blinks and files that away. You never know. "This way, Farraj."

Farraj stands up and beams at Abdul. "He has money for bread and will do well in the desert. Let the Southerners know that Farraj is a good judge of men."

Narrator: The Southerner falls over, astounded by Farraj's hand raised in the air. It pulls a date pit from its mouth and gives it to Farraj.

Abdul shakes his head but opens the door to his old home.

Farraj (to the Southerner): "Well, thank you, perhaps these are coins in your primitive southern lands. I will plant this in a treasured place and the palm that grows will be a shared treasure for any who pass."

Narrator: Abdul finds the house exactly as he left it, save for his desk has been moved, pillows cover the floor and a bowl of half-eaten rice is balanced precariously near a window sill! What madness is this! A great canvas, half-torn, has various bits of calligraphy, seemingly copied from Abdul's own books by an untrained hand. Humming can be heard from the pantry room.

Farraj: "Ah Abdul, what should I do with Shasti? Is there room for her here?"

Abdul stands stock still for a moment, gaping in astonishment. Then his face goes red. "What is the meaning of this?!"

Farraj starts at Abdul's turn from humor to rage. "What is wriong?"

Abdul strides into the front room, looking about more carefully.

Narrator: A fat-cheeked man comes from the pantry, dropping a jar of grape leaves upon the floor. *crash* "Oh my! Are you Abdul? I am Ferej, the artist's friend. I wasn't expecting you for another month."

Abdul: "Abdallah's friend, are you?! What are you doing in my home?!"

Narrator: "Why, didn't you know I was keeping the place for you while you were away? Abdallah certainly must have told you!" He replies indignantly, going about the task of cleaning up the dropped grape leaves and oil.

Abdul: "Keeping it! It looks like a typhoon has hit it! And no, I was told nothing of this - and no surprise, as I paid to have it waiting for me as I left it!"

Narrator: "Welcome, welcome," says Ferej to Farraj and his camel, "please come in won't you. Oh, nothing to worry about Abdul. I am a superb chef and a talented barber."

Abdul says icily, "Are you suggesting, SIR, that I am to suffer your presence in my home another moment?"

Narrator: "Suffer? Oh not at all, I've kept good care of all your books - even tried my hand at reproducing some of those beautiful letters you write, but alas I am illiterate. I repainted the cracks in your ceiling, chased out the vermin, and I have even gotten the two love-birds upstairs to quiet down. But that's a story for another time." He winks.

Abdul does not dignify that with a retort, but sweeps past the man with an imperious air that even the Caliph might envy to check on his precious books.

Narrator: At the very least the boisterous Ferej doesn't seem to have damaged Abdul's books, and they have clearly been taken care of.

Abdul relaxes. Barely. He states, "Where is Abdallah."

Farraj leads the camels into the house. Waving over his shoulder to the Southerner. "It has been a pleasure meeting you little man."

Narrator: The monkey waves to Farraj before scurrying away.

Abdul glances over at the camels. What matter, a few more guests, probably cleaner ones!

Narrator: "Say, Abdul there was someone looking for you yesterday. He tried to rough me up, but I scared him away. Oh! Abdallah is visiting his sister in Hiyal. He said he will return in two weeks time."

Abdul: "Then you will stay in Abdallah's apartment until he returns. I am sure he would not mind putting up a friend."

Shasti watches the vine leaves in oil on the floor. There was a day when she was fed such delights. And marinaded apricots studded with cloves. But such days are gone....

Abdul: "And who was this man you speak of?"

Farraj looks at the attempts at calligraphy.

Narrator: Ferej seems overjoyed at the presence of the camels. "Fine coat of hair on this one. Though it does smell rather funny." The man blinks. "Oh, good Abdul, that surely is out of the question, for his fiance's brother and wife are visiting with their three children. The quarters upstairs are quite crowded. Fortunately, I stayed the course of my duty and occupied your room valiantly despite the crying of the little children upstairs." He says with a whiff of pride.

Abdul: "Where do you come by such inimitable cheek, you... you... POLTROON?!"

Farraj: "Friend Abdul. Remember the hospitality we have found on the road. Perhaps he deserves nothing less than what we have been given?"

Narrator: "Why thank you," says Ferej finishing cleaning up the grape leaves and spilt oil. "I didn't catch his name. Haggardly though, perhaps a beggar, several years older than you. And a monkey was hanging around him. Cute little animal." He says fondly.

Farraj: "Yes, there are many of them here it would seem. But there is no need to insult them despite their strange customs."

Abdul almost explodes messily when the man thanks him, but Farraj's words calm his ire. "Very well! You may stay a few days to make other arrangements. I would not throw any man on the street. But Abdallah will be hearing more of this than he cares to, I can assure you."

Narrator: "My name is Ferej, the sixth son of six, and I am pleased to meet you oh bearer of fine camels. You are fortunate to have met me and not my brothers, the five of them are prone to rambling and can drive you mad with their incessant gibbering. But I will not speak ill of my brothers. Perhaps some water for your camels and fresh sherbet for yourselves? We should spare no expense, after all, this it has been a year since Abdul has been here. Just because we have never met before does not mean we can't celebrate your returning!"

Abdul eyes Ferej. "Whose expense are you speaking of?"

Narrator: Puffing up his chest, "Why I sold a couple things that were lying around -- you know riff raff, odds and ends -- and I managed to get a bit of money. Well, I invested in a group of merchants bound for the Crowded Sea, and I'm bound to come across great fortune just as soon as they come back!" He appears quite happy with himself.

Abdul says in a quiet, dangerous voice, "You sold. A couple things. That were lying around." After a measured pause: "What."

Narrator: "Nothing anyone will miss, I can tell you that. There were the crumpled writings to begin with, several old seals that you could barely make out, pens that stopped working, some white feather quills -- because everyone knows white is an unlikely color -- you know, those sorts of things. Ah! And one more thing..."

Abdul waits with a thunderous patience for Ferej to finish his story.

Farraj watches Abdul while Shasti casually edges her way around to the spilled vine-leaves. He wonders if men are really meant to turn the same shade of crimson that Abdul's face has become. Usually only prior to sunstroke.

Narrator: "...and someone had the audacity to fake the Caliph's seal, can you imagine? Sent three letters your way, all of which I wouldn't dishonor you by reading, and these I promptly threw out. On the third trip, I kicked the porter and said 'Attempt not such trickery! Abdul will be quite displeased with you for trying to deceive him so.'"

Shasti hopes that the piffling argument that the men are having continues long enough for her to daintily lick up the spill, carefully avoiding the glass.

Abdul turns from red to white. "You... insulted... a messenger... of the... Caliph?"

Farraj frowns.

Abdul: A vein begins pulsing in Abdul's forehead. Oh, this can't be good.

Narrator: "Convincing the scoundrel was, though. I mean, why in the world would a messenger of the Caliph (peace and praise upon him) ever step foot in our humble neighborhood. Thus I figured out his trick. It was the least I could do for one who so graciously has invited me into his home." He says innocently.

Abdul asks almost gently, as if of a child, "Are you a man, or a fiend in human shape sent to destroy me?" He sounds serious.

Farraj looks about for a chair, he thinks that Abdul is about to collapse.

Narrator: "Are you well Abdul? Perhaps your travel in the desert has wearied you?" suggests Ferej, quickly making a stack of pillows for Abdul to lie down upon.

Farraj nods to Ferej. "You are a kind and generous man, Ferej. Perhaps we should take his shoes off. That can help."

Abdul slaps Ferej's face. "By your own accounting, you are a freeloader, a thief, and you have insulted the Caliph on my behalf. Give me ONE REASON why I should not haul you before a qadi this instant!"

Farraj jumps back.

Narrator: Tears well up in the man's face. He seems completely flabbergasted and knows not what to say. "Oh, Abdul, I have only tried to be a humble and good housekeeper in your absence. I have tried to get a job, but a former criminal such as my self, why jobs are scarce and memories long. But soon, when these sailors return, I shall have a fat sum of money and I shall repay your kindness tenfold."

Abdul snarls, "I have heard sad stories made up by EXPERTS, Ferej! Spare me your crocodile tears! You are nothing compared to Rafiqi!"

Farraj: "If only Yasir was here. It is a cruel day when bad luck strikes when the righteous have been called away."

Narrator: Terrified, Ferej whimpers. "Oh I kiss the ground upon this Rafiqi, and call him lord if it abates your wrath, Abdul, which I fear is the product of your lack of rest might I add." He resumes cringing once again. "Perhaps if you laid down, I shall massage your feet with warm oil and ease your travel-worn body?"

Abdul: "What, so you can cripple me in the bargain, with everything else?!"

Farraj: "In the desert we say that water spilled is water lost. Abdul, berating your guest will not solve these problems."

Abdul: "Is this man my guest? Did I invite him into my home?"

Narrator: "Oh Abdul, I fear you cripple yourself with these unhealthy fancies. Surely the guest of your host is your guest is he not?" he says hopefully, a glint in his eyes.

Abdul catches sight of that glint. "A deceiver as well, are we? I think you are not as ignorant as you seem. You knew enough to sell my most expensive small items, certainly."

Narrator: "Would that I were so lucky merchants trusted me anymore, but until I pay my debts I am afraid I can neither buy nor sell anything. Abdul, friend of Abdallah, you worry yourself too much! Please rest before you pass out. " Ferej pleadingly arranges some cushions for Abdul.

Farraj: "If you are willing to speak and make accord, I will play a short piece I learned from a man I met during my bout of shaking sickness two years ago. It is the story of Tiljma and how she helped the Lion find his Tail."

Abdul: "You yourself just told me you sold some of my effects to finance your venture! You are a terrible liar, Ferej." To Farraj, "There is nothing at all to reconcile, Farraj. Two of a trade never agree."

Narrator: Looking frantic, Ferej bumbles as quickly as he can. "Oh, noble scribe..."

Abdul levels a finger at Ferej. "You might be able to pull the wool over the eyes of another scribe, but not me. I was not born to my station, but grew up on the streets. I know your kind, Ferej, so you may as well stop now." He is deadly serious.

Narrator: Ferej whimpers, "Oh, it was that wicked Rafiqi! And he tied up Abdallah and his wife upstairs!" He is on his hands and knees before Abdul sobbing.

Abdul: A truly extraordinary expression goes over Abdul's face. "Rafiqi?! Here?!"

Narrator: "Yes, oh scribe, but for my sake do not tell him, for he will beat me sorely about the hands and ankles should he learn of my betrayal." He pleads to Farraj, "Oh servant, let not your master beat and berate me. Let him not abandon me at death's door."

Abdul: "Lead me to him this instant. He will not beat any man if I have aught to say about it. He should know better."

Narrator: "Yes, oh virtuous and merciful Abdul," says Ferej (if that's his real name), pointing toward the street.

Abdul collars Ferej firmly to make sure he doesn't get away. "Lead on."

Narrator: As soon as you emerge on to the street, several people start gazing at Abdul and the collared Ferej. At once, Ferej shouts, "Oh have mercy!" All at once, Abdul notices a figure in the crowd look up sharply and take off running.

Abdul cries out, "Rafiqi! Come back! I hold nothing against you - you are like a brother to me!"

Narrator: The figure dashes through the crowd looking back but once. Ferej says to Abdul, "He will surely get away, and where he goes I cannot follow, for his hiding places are various."

Farraj hurries after Abdul. Upon hearing his words, he slips off after the running man.

Abdul hauls Ferej back inside. "Tell me all you know of him. If I am pleased with your answers, perhaps I will not give you up for judgment to lose a hand."

Abdul adds, "And do not lie. You may have heard I was carried off by a jinn. The tale is true." He smiles disturbingly.

==================================

Narrator: Farraj follows the running man, Rafiqi, around several back alley bends. Once he is convinced no one is following him the beggar man ambles through the crowd normally. The city Huzuz is a cunning maze of foreign faces, wide-eyed pilgrims, and great glassblowers. The alleys are narrow and pass by many furnaces and shop backdoors, while the streets are crowded and few people make way for a beggar. The man moves with studied confidence, deftly avoiding. He makes no effort to ply his trade, and moves hurriedly.

Farraj follows this man who Abdul is so interested in.

Narrator: At last the beggar arrives at a stall in a bazaar the size of the Zarif oasis itself!

Narrator: He meets another beggar, this one sharp-eyed with a vicious scar along his upper lip. The scarred beggar and the man Farraj followed hold a quiet conversation. "Is he in Huzuz again?" "Without a doubt, and as perceptive as you said he'd be." "Well done Rafiqi, it appears my trap is working just as planned." "Yes, soon you won't have to worry about any competition for the Caliph's graces." And so the conversation turns to mundane things and they speak in innuendo which is indecipherable to
Farraj, who listens nearby.

Farraj spends a moment to memorise everything that he can about the scarred man's face and features and taking care that he is unnoticed, returns to Abdul's abode.

Narrator: Farraj gets halfway back to Abdul's home, getting lost in the Warehouse District. Loud voices, like the roar of the nearby sea, and jarring motions disorient his desert senses. Soon he finds himself amidst an alley of blacksmiths who watch him carefully as he passes. These are men used to thieves, and in their mind Farraj fits the bill.

==================================

Narrator: Meanwhile, Abdul listens to Ferej spill his guts:

Narrator: "Rafiqi lives in a burned out house deep in the Northwest District behind a cemetery of whorehouses and dying men. He meets every week with a scribe who seeks to do all his competition in, and he is paid handsomely for his jobs. Several boys work for him now, and he beats them like he was trying to rid a mule of evil djinn..."

Abdul's eyes narrow. "If you are lying to me, Ferej... Do you not mean that Akim does these things?"

Narrator: Ferej shrugs helplessly in response.

Narrator: Abdul doesn't think that Rafiqi could ever hit a child. Perhaps Ferej embellishes to give Abdul what he perceives Abdul wants to hear? At any rate, the rest of the information is plausible, though a bit shocking.

Abdul: "How do you come to work for him?"

Narrator: "He bought off my gambling debts in a card game, and he plagues my conscience night and day, reminding me constantly of the good turn he has done me, and how I must repay him." Ferej gnaws his lip.

Abdul: "It is obvious enough you have not been doing this long. Is Akim still in the same house he was when Rafiqi lived there?"

Narrator: "I know nothing of Akim save for what Rafiqi tells me. Please, sahib, let me be and I swear I shall never bother you again, " pleads Ferej.

Abdul: "Tell me more of this scribe Rafiqi works for."

Narrator: Ferej continues spilling his guts. "The scribe dresses as a beggar, but his hands are too dainty and reveal his noble birth. He is possessed by unnatural jealousy, particularly for you, Abdul, and he often rants to Rafiqi, who endures such nonsense so that he can spite you. There have been several times when I thought the scribe would break ties with Rafiqi for his violent way with other scribes. I think he holds a grudge against all people born to favor...."

Abdul: "Born to favor? I am not one such. Rafiqi desires to spite me?"

Narrator: "Oh, Abdul, I do not know why he is so turned against you, but his hate is so great, he shudders upon hearing your name."

Abdul closes his eyes. "This pains me more than I can say, for I love him well." After a short interval, he sighs. "Tell me the location of his house, and the names and faces of some of his boys. Oh, and the name of this scribe. Then I will do you a favor, Ferej, equal or greater to the one Rafiqi did you."

Narrator: Nervously, Ferej continues, "His house lies behind the Northwest cemetery, behind the fishgutter Hassoud, where three of his boys sleep. He calls them "Dyjer" (and Khemtian by his eyes), "Cricket" (the youngest who is gifted at music), and "Pencil" (the thinnest boy I've ever seen). He meets with the scribe in the Grand Bazaar amidst the melon stalls."

Abdul nods. "How much of the truth did you tell me before? How long have you been here, and did you truly insult the Caliph's men?"

Narrator: "These were lies Rafiqi told me to tell you, Abdul, please have mercy," says Ferej in whimpering tones.

Abdul nods again. "How long have you been here? Just today?"

Narrator: "Yes, and the day before. I waited for Abdallah to leave, and I convinced his cousin staying here to run an errand for me that would take several days."

Abdul adds sourly, "And of course, your words 'Oh have mercy' outside were the warning phrase telling Rafiqi to flee. You see, you can hide nothing from me."

Narrator: "Verily, now you know the truth of it," says Ferej in fatalistic despair. "Surely you intend some dire punishment for me?"

Abdul: "This is what I shall do, Ferej: Nothing at all. I will not turn you over for punishment, nor will I harm you myself. I think you will agree that a hand is worth more than whatever Rafiqi paid for you, so do not think to oppose me again. I will ask of you only one small favor; and then I will give you a bit of advice."

Abdul: "The favor is this. Speak these words to Rafiqi without change or alteration, and that they are from me, Abdul Hakawati: "My brother, long have I missed you and long have I sought you, to no avail. I have not forgotten the Code, and I will stand by you in all things. And if you desire to vent your anger upon me, verily I will stand still and let you beat me with a rod even until I die, if your wrath can only thus be satisfied. But come and speak with me and look me in the eye and tell me how I have angered you.'"

Narrator: "You are too kind, Abdul." Ferej bows low, groveling, but his eyes drift to the door, as if he needs permission to leave.

Abdul: "This is the advice, Ferej: Do not gamble any more, but know that Rafiqi did you no favor at all. There was no kindness in his deed, but he has used it to make you his slave. Live free and do not lie. Now go."

Narrator: With that, Ferej scrambles to his feet, thanking Abdul as he backs toward the door, bobbing his head up and down in penance before turning and darting into the street.

Abdul then heads outside, following the sound of arguing infallibly to the Sufi and the cleric's sons.

Narrator: "Islam is not a revealed religion, old coot! If my father were better, he'd teach you a thing or two!" yells the cleric's eldest son and the nameless Sufi irreverently swings a bucket of fish in one hand. "Revelation is not in the book, but in the fish!" declares the Sufi triumphantly. At logger-heads once again. At least everything amongst his neighbors seems normal.

Abdul blanches a bit at the heresy, and from a cleric's son to boot. But he asks the Sufi, "Oh Nameless One, I ask of you a small favor. If the young man who was with me before should return here when I am not in, please take him in hand. He is, as you saw, extremely new to the City."

Narrator: "Fishing for friends or fishing for the Friend, Abdul?" inquires the Sufi. The cleric's son angrily goes inside. "Ah youth. He does have a point, but he makes it so poorly!"

Abdul: "Both, always, O Sage."

Narrator: "I will care for your friend as best as I am able. Where are you headed, Abdul?" He inquires absently.

Abdul sighs. "In search of one who is a brother and an enemy, all in one." Satisfied with leaving the Sufi a conundrum to please him, he enters his house again. "Ah, Shasti, what possessed young Farraj to run off? It makes things so much more difficult."

Shasti snorts and licks grape oil from her lips. Farraj would come back soon enough; her prince would arrive with her guards soon enough. They would see.

=========================================

[Meanwhile:]

Farraj turns towards the most prosperous looking blacksmith (assuming that he must know his way around the city). "Excuse me sir, I believe that you have lost a precious trinket."

Narrator: The blacksmith turns to Farraj, "And what'd that be, boy?"

Farraj: "Why, it is the memory of the day the sun turned blue."

Narrator: "Ha! What do you take me for, a fool?" says the blacksmith, wiping sweat from his brow before cooling an iron poker. "The sun is bright yellow like a bee. It has never turned blue!"

Farraj: "Good sir, of course you will say that. Today it is yellow, yesterday it was yellow, just as the bright forge before you. But, considering that you seem to have forgotten, perhaps I can jog your memory by singing you a song about the day the Sun turned blue. It seems a shame to have forgotten such a wonderous thing."

Narrator: The blacksmith hangs up his apron. "Very well, I've got to break before the new ingots come in. I should enjoy a bit of song." He leans against a wall watching Farraj.

Farraj: "A wise choice sir." Wherein Farraj launches into a song sung by parents to children in the desert. (It is a kind of nonsense song that is meant to be fun and is sung when children ask for things that their parents cannot give them. It is a very morphable song into which all sorts of things can be inserted, depending on the situation (and whatever the child asked for.)

Farraj: (The upshot of the song is that the child was actually given what they wanted. They got it on the day the sun turned blue. I will try to reproduce the tone of this Bedouin song.)

Oh friend Blacksmith, sitting on his break;
Looking at the singer, wondering what he would take;
If he were a scoundrel and his song was far from true;
About the riches, lost and found, on the day the Sun turned blue.

Are you surprised the hammer you hold was once a swooping bird;
Flying high amongst the clouds, take me at my word.
For you have forgotten this wondrous thing, and doubt it can be true;
That what once soared, now makes swords, on the day the Sun turned Blue.

And gaze upon the Forge so bright, it was once a horse;
Carrying a brave prince, in search of distant wars.
Surely you recall striking the heathen, and know it must be true;
Galloping across the field of dreams, on the day the Sun turned blue.

We take our trials and face our fears and give our thanks to Allah;
We live our lives and die our deaths and dream our dreams of grandeur.
In times of doubt when hope is spent, remember it is true;
All our hopes and dreams came to be on the Day the Sun turned Blue.

===================================

Abdul sighs. "Well... As long as I am already annoyed, I may as well hear more annoying things." He moves Metef's chest into the next room and covers it with pillows so he can't hear.

Shasti appears very agitated by Farraj's absence. They haven't been this far apart since they met. She watches Abdul with bashful eyes.

Abdul hehs at the camel. "You are about to see an astonishing sight, Shasti. Pay attention." He stoops down and traces Fajhoul's symbol in the dust on the floor.

Fajhoul: In a flash of light which knocks Abdul on his back, Fajhoul appears in the room, drawing his scimitar, "Deev or ifreet be damned, I'll vouch for the youth!" Staring around at the empty room, Fajhoul sighs, realizing he overreacted.

Abdul picks himself up and salaams deeply. "I thank you for your confidence in me, my lord." Truly, he measures Fajhoul with a certain new appreciation.

Fajhoul: "Abdul, I had thought you were attacked." Sheepishly sheathing his sword, the handsome jinn continues, "Of course, there is the matter that if I didn't respond such to my family sigil, my prestige would suffer amongst all those other sha'ir that summon me. Has it been three days already? And how fares the exiled youth of my father's court?"

Abdul: "Yes, my lord, it has been three days. As for me... I fare oddly. Perhaps as usual."

Fajhoul: "Surely you wish to question me about Aqisan?" he inquires haphazardly, blowing dust from his fingernails.

Abdul: "Indeed, and the reaction of the Court."

Fajhoul: "My father was not pleased to even hear mention of your name. I had not realized how much he took your departure to heart. At first he raved, but his councilors quickly convinced him this was a serious matter. Rumors abound of an alliance between Malik Sayoun and Malik Hakiziman." He shudders when he says these names, the first out of rage, the second out of fear.

Abdul winces at this word of the Khedive's anger.

Fajhoul: "The Court is concerned that you may become a target. Though I...haven't told them of the sigil I taught to you, they have asked me to keep an eye on you. And, truth be told, there are still those in the court who hope you shall return one day."

Abdul: "Well, that is good to hear. I am glad that there are those who remember me well. But come, what of Aqisan? Is there any word of him? Will your father send a delegation to the Maliks?"

Fajhoul: "If Malik Hakiziman has taken your servant, then he either intends to use him as a hostage -- but, as he has made no attempt to consult the Court yet, we can only presume he intends one of two things. To trick or interrogate information from Aqisan. Or to use him as bait." Fajhoul eyes Abdul pointedly.

Abdul blinks. "Come, my lord! How can one such as I have any value to one such as the Malik?"

Fajhoul: "Well, you are an unprotected and unofficial member of my father's court. And you know Nakhlouf, who has bad blood with the ifreet. And there is the matter, though I am loath to bring it up, of your family. At any rate, the Court has decided to send an envoy to Malik Sayoun to inquire of his intentions in the matter. However, my father fears sending an envoy to Malik Hakiziman, for the last one defected to his side."

Abdul: "That is... most odd. ... Of course, we do not know yet that Aqisan is held by the Malik. So far all the evidence is circumstantial, at least to my knowledge. Has Hafiz Nakhlouf come up with any new information?"

Fajhoul: Fajhoul looks at Abdul with genuine sorrow. "Nakhlouf went blind shortly after you summoned me the first time. My mother suspects it is a curse, but his eyesight was failing due to his age, so it is hard to say. However, Nakhlouf was able to confirm that Aqisan is still alive and in Malik Hakiziman's captivity. Nakhlouf possesses a torus which I only glimpsed briefly; I believe this enabled him to gaze upon Aqisan ignoring all distances and structures."

Abdul lets out a gasp of sorrow. "Oh, this is hard news! My lord... I am to present my calligraphy to the Caliph in a few days. I had hoped to honor our old teacher with a gift of the second-best copy. But... he cannot see it? He cannot even READ? Oh. woe!

Fajhoul: "It was a sorry sight to see him thus, but his mood is as pleasant as ever and he has quite a bit of humor about it. Though he is as preoccupied with you over Aqisan."

Abdul shakes his head in dismay. "It is one bit of bad news after another today!" Then his eyes go round. "Wait! Lord Fajhoul - you mentioned my family?! Can YOU tell me anything of them? Nakhlouf and Aqisan could not, for their bindings."

Fajhoul: Fajhoul purses his lips, "Abdul, I am forbidden from speaking of even what I have told you now about Aqisan. The Court fears you might do something brash, such as rushing to rescue him and endangering yourself. So," he says with a pure djinni grin that reveals all the recklessness of youth, "I should be happy to oblige you. Though I know little of your family, I have met, though only briefly in court, a woman claiming to be your aunt. Her name was Irethia bint Amira al-Hiyal, and she bore a long title which I cannot remember for it was surpassing boring to me."

Abdul says faintly, "She claimed to be my aunt? And nobody told me?"

Fajhoul: "Of course not, there were many djinn and sha'ir alike who wanted you for their own. A youth raised by the revered Nakhlouf with his own private jinni servant? And versed in the arts of a scholar too? Why, such a page is valued universally across the land, and by more than just good-hearted djinni I might add."

Abdul: "I never knew I was such a game-piece. Is that why the Court still values me, exile though I be?"

Fajhoul: Fajhoul laughs, shaking the foundation of Abdul's house. At this the camels huddle to the farthest corner from Fajhoul. The neighbors surely must think, "Oh! Abdul is back!"

Abdul just stares mutely until a more meaty response comes. It's been a long day.

Fajhoul: "Indeed it is, and for your good company, if you can believe that," Fajhoul stretches his arms. "I didn't know if she spoke the truth or not, Abdul, but she did bear passing resemblance to you, and she referred to you exactly as your servant does, calling you 'son of the worthy.' At this my ears pricked up, but I said nothing about it as I did not wish to upset you. This was three summers ago, and I have kept this secret from you in my breast since that day."

Abdul: "I... I thank you, my lord. My friend, if I may call you such. For truly, you have proved yourself a friend to me."

Fajhoul: Fajhoul arches his brow, "Say that when I have to save you from yourself, Abdul."

Abdul: "What do you mean?"

Fajhoul: "Already I can see you hatching a plan to rescue Aqisan. And if I told you about the flames that surrounds the Malik Hakiziman's palace and of the temptresses that serve him you would just be more determined. So what use? If you can't beat them, join them."

Abdul laughs weakly. "No doubt it is just as you say. But I face threats enough here in Huzuz at the moment. Let me see if I survive the next week, and then we can discuss the City of Brass."

Fajhoul: "Very well. Then I shall return to my studies." Fajhoul blows upon a nearby candle, and as it goes out, the smoke trail wraps around him like a snake.

Abdul: "Wait, please. One thing more."

Fajhoul: "Yes, Abdul, mighty sha'ir?"

Abdul: "Please tell your father that I mean to live as a worthy member of the Court of Rising Winds, even if he will not suffer me in it. I will make the best use I can of the training and education that have been vouchsafed to me, the unworthy. And that I hope he thinks of me not altogether unkindly, for I think of him with nothing but gratitude."

Fajhoul: "I shall deliver your words to my father..." says Fajhoul, as his eyes are left lingering in the smoke as it clears, leaving Abdul with more puzzles.
 

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