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

Interlude: A Father's Debt (a Tale of Yasir)

[This was a solo adventure for Yasir, to make up for the fact that he had to miss last time.]

Narrator: Having departed from your allies, leaving the captured Metef in their charge, you traveled through a warehouse district with Shuri at your side, the two caravan guards Feyrouz & Jifar observing the great city with quiet wonder behind you, and the silk merchant Jamul in the lead. The negotiations with the water merchant Kara Iskendar could be quite terse. Shuri held a grudge against the man for selling one of his cousins into slavery. Even Jamul admitted that of all the merchants he knew, he least desired to do business with Kara Iskendar, who was widely known as a usurious loan-shark. Jamul added with morbid thrill that Kara is the Turkish word for Black and Gloomy. Jamul described the great warehouse that Kara Iskendar worked from as a den of every sort of rogue trader and unscrupulous caravaneer.

Much to your chagrin, Jamul revealed that Kara Iskendar is a Kharijite, one of those heretics who believe the Caliphate or any form of manmade government is inevitably corrupt. Kharijite assassins have toppled Caliphs and Imams in the past. However, Kara Iskendar is the only merchant who can mobilize a large caravan of water-bearing elephants in a short period of time, and who cares enough about local trade to do it. Shuri, with a heavy heart, reports that the dwindling water stores of Zarif will soon run out and the people will be forced to drink mud to live. Perhaps some kindly travelers will help them, but the state itself is notoriously slow to respond to the needs of the caravanserais, even one so close to the capital as Zarif. Thus, you go to Kara Iskendar.

Yasir makes idle chat with the men as we approach Kara's place.

Narrator: You approach a large warehouse with ornate inscriptions on the exterior extolling the virtues of those men called blasphemers who died in the name of the faith, and several icons of revered saints adorn the heavy door. Two surly guards dressed in red turbans eye your small caravan at your approach.

Yasir approaches the guards. "We are here to speak with Kara Iskendar."

Narrator: Jamul the silke merchant lingers close to Yasir, but Shuri, Feyrouz, and Jifar hang back. One of the guards, a barrel-chested man of Yasir's age wipes sweat from his brow. "Salaam. Have you made an appointment?"

Yasir: "Not yet, but it is urgent."

Narrator: The architecture of the place is rather bizarre, a human face carved into the upper wall, which in and of itself could be said to be blasphemous, though the people of Huzuz seem quite tolerant. The guard strokes his beard. "Are you a friend of my lord's then?"

Yasir moves uncomfortably. "Not exactly. We need to see him, though."

Narrator: The guard nods his head sympathetically. "Ah yes, sahib, it is urgent and you need to see him, and, you do not have an appointment. Understandably I am disinclined to grant you audience. Many wish to see my lord, Kara Iskendar al-Mercan, but he is a busy man."

Yasir puts his hand on his scimitar's hilt. "Friend, I believe it is in your best interest to let us see your lord."

Narrator: The guard nods sympathetically. "It may very well be that, sahib, but I regret to inform you and your companions that my lord Kara Iskendar is busily engaged brokering a deal with an elephant herder as we speak. Surely at a more convenient time he would oblige your request, though does it not strike you as odd that you come with a company of armed men?" His hand rests on the hilt of his scimitar. "If I were Kara Iskendar I would be ill-advised to invite a group of thugs into my home. Surely you would feel the same?" His younger ally chuckles softly to himself.

Yasir draws his scimitar. "Perhaps you heretics do not understand the urgency of the matter, but an entire caravansarai is in danger."

Narrator: The guard arches his brow before laughing. "Son of Halwa, I recommend you speak with your people for a lesson in bartering! Take a look around, at the crowded street behind us. A man of your station would do well to remember that there are greater things in this world than steel and strength of arm. Do you truly wish to offend the Kara Iskendar?" He stares non-plussed at Yasir.

Yasir: "Perhaps you still lack the compassion to understand our problem. There is a town in danger."

Narrator: Shuri is gazing with spite at Jamul the silk merchant who suggested coming here. Shuri says, "It's clear these al-Hadhar ((city-folk)) are not interested in helping in any way, oh noble Yasir! And I suspect Jamul is trying to cause trouble for his own greedy ends." At this Jamul holds up a finger, "Ingrateful son of the desert! You are never welcome in my home!"

Yasir: "Shuri, Jamul, be civil with each other." He turns back to the guard.

Yasir: "Let me try this again, friend. We need to see Kara, and if it requires me to take your life to save the lives of many innocents, then I shall not hesitate."

Narrator: The younger guard comments, "Perhaps before you go about threatening your betters, sahib, you might want to keep your wives over there in line."

Yasir turns to the younger guard. "Still your tongue before I still it for you."

Narrator: The elder guard steps aside to let Yasir and his younger companion deal with one another, casually leaning against the stairway banister.

Yasir moves toward the younger guard, keeping an eye on the older one and the door.

Narrator: The younger guard appears anxious, and is now on his toes, meeting Yasir. "And then once you stilled my tongue, what would you do? My uncle may tolerate your ill manners, but I have no stomach for it, nor for fools."

Yasir: "Your uncle?"

Narrator: Jamul and Shuri continue to argue in the background. "Why do you not speak with them, oh Jamul of infinite connections? Was it not your idea to seek this foul merchant?" To which Jamul replies, "May I remind you Shuri that while you were lost in the sandstorm and tied to the tentpole it was I who sacrificed several bolts of my most precious silk to capture Metef!" The two are in each other's faces now.

Yasir side steps toward the stairs.

Narrator: The younger sidesteps with Yasir. His footwork marks him as a warrior, though his skill remains to be determined. "It's not every day I meet a man with a death wish. Do you not know who Kara Iskendar is? Why, half the city is indebted to him."

Yasir: "The righteous man is not intimidated by debts."

Narrator: "Nor is he intimidated by idle threats," says the younger man. It is clear he wants to fight and his eyes blaze with unveiled anger toward Yasir.

Yasir: "I hope your blade is not as dull as your wit."

Narrator: "Then perhaps I would sharpen it on you if I did not fear you were rusted by desert salt."

Yasir takes another step toward the door

Narrator: "Do all the men of Halwa dress as you? Why if you were taken to the Caliph's court they should quit you of all your filthy clothes save your turban." quips the young guard, stepping with Yasir. "And you tread upon the earth like a pregnant camel."

Yasir: "How dare you disrespect my turban."

Narrator: Watching impassively with a slight smirk on his face, the elder guard watches the two. Jamul and Shuri continue to argue and accuse, throw idle threats at each other, completely heedless of the guards and Yasir. The elder merchant guard appears agitated by their quarreling.

Narrator: "Your turban is gleaming white, sahib. In truth any fair maid would be jealous of a dress of it's purity," he says with mocking appreciation.

Yasir: "If you are so confident in your ability, then strike me." He takes another step toward the door.

Narrator: "Why are you so dense that you have not noticed I've struck you thrice already. With words, sahib, with words." The younger guard hops up several steps in front of Yasir. "That's close enough, stranger."

Yasir: "Your words mean nothing, and I am not leaving until I speak with your master."

Narrator: The elder guard says to Yasir and the guard's nephew. "Disband and be happy. Hejrad you are impetuous and rude. Stranger, I must request to know your name and business then to ask you and your arguing wives (he laughs) to vacate the premises before I call the city watch."

Yasir: "My name is Yasir al-Ayyubi, son of Abdul al-Ayyubi, and I have already stated my business twice."

Narrator: The elder guard peers at Yasir. "Abdul al-Ayyubi's son?" A look of recognition crosses his face. "The herder who took too long to pay off his debt.. What proof do you have that you are Abdul al-Ayyubi's son?"

Yasir: "Proof? What proof do I need? How would I know of him otherwise, and why do you know my father?"

Narrator: The elder guard scratches his chin. "Hmm, perhaps I don't need any proof. But for your sake, you'd better be who you say you are, or you've just accrued a stranger's debt. Let him pass Hejrad." The younger guard is reluctant, but his uncle barks at him and the younger guard steps aside.

Yasir spits at Hejrad's feet as he passes to the door.

Narrator: The elder continues, "You may take two men with you. The other two must wait at the door."

Yasir al-Ayyubi motions to Jamul and Shuri. "Come, before you drive the guards to kill you."

Narrator: "Never in all the desert has been born a more ungrateful jackal!" "You make merchants look honest!" Breaking off their argument in the middle the two stare stunned at Yasir and quickly move to follow. The other two caravan guards take the camels and cross the street to a stable.

Yasir: ((time for a new map?))

Yasir looks around the inside of the building. "Where is Kara Iskendar?" He puts his scimitar away for the moment.

Narrator: It is a smoky den of scoundrels. The sickly smell of elephant dung is in the air. Several of the beasts are being loaded with large chests. Some of the guards give you the once-over, but no one stops what they're doing.

Narrator: Shuri says to Yasir "Oh brave Yasir, be careful here."

Yasir approaches one of the guards. "Where is Kara?"

Narrator: The guard shoves Yasir out of the way, "Kara this, Kara that! Can't you see I'm trying to work here! Get lost before I teach you a lesson!"

Yasir approaches the next nearest person, a woman.

Yasir: "Can you tell me where Kara is, friend?"

Narrator: Working on a record tablet, the dark haired woman looks up, rubbing her hair from her face and leaving a large ink spot across her forehead. "I tell you, I'm not made for this sort of work. You- you're not one of the guards. What are you doing here?" She shifts revealing an embroidered scimitar sheath at her side.

Yasir: "Looking for Kara, it would seem."

Narrator: "Assassins, politicians, debtors - they're all looking for my father. Though you're one of the latter it would seem. I handle all my father's accounts. What is your family name?"

Yasir: "I am Yasir ibn Abdul al-Ayyubi. But I am not here about a debt, but about a town in need of water."

Narrator: "Al-Ayyubi, eh? I haven't heard that name in quite some time. Sure, you're not here about a debt, that's what they all say. And this town, is the entire place in debt to Kara Iskendar? It wouldn't surprise me, the old bastard is canny."

Yasir: "Not to my knowledge; the caravanserai is suffering from a great drought and is in need of water."

Narrator: "So you're a water merchant like my father, eh? Well, at least you seem to have greater moral constitution. Yasir you said? I am Jayla bint-Iskendar." She says her family name with particular loathing. "You do realize that paying for what your asking will be astronomically expensive?"

Yasir: "The entirety of Zarif will perish if we don't get them water." He turns to Jamul and Shuri. "Come here."

Narrator: Both join Yasir. "It is as he says, kind and patient woman," says Jamul. "We need a caravan and water to provide the people there until the Caliphate takes greater measures. They are notoriously slow as I'm sure you know."

Yasir: "How much will it cost?"

Narrator: Jayla scratches her head, "There are about forty people living at Zarif at any given time. Two gallons of water a day, plus the camels." She does some quick calculations in her head. "I will need to consult my father, but I'll need to see proof that you'll be able to pay. He can be terrible in his wrath if his time is wasted, and for your sake Yasir al-Ayyubi I'd rather not see that happen."

Yasir: "So send for him. Shuri, show her the money."

Yasir al-Ayyubi stares impatiently at Shuri before adding, "And make sure you put in a good word for us, Jayla bint-Iskendar. It will reflect well on your family name."

Narrator: Shuri presents a sack of gold -- the collected wealth of the Zarif community. Jayla sighs, "It's not nearly enough, but I will impress upon my father that a healthy caravanserai is good for business. Wait here." She departs.

Narrator: Jamul leans near Yasir, "If my estimations are correct, this venture could cost near 1,200 dinari. And Kara Iskendar is known to price gouge. How do you think he afforded this warehouse?" ((1200 dinari is wealth DC 20))

Yasir: "How many dinari have you with you, Jamul?"

Narrator: Shuri stares at the strange men in the far corner playing dice games. "This is surely the lair of Iblis. Yasir, I did not like how everyone seems to recognize your name..."

Yasir: "Neither did I, Shuri. How many dinari did you bring, friend?"

Narrator: Jamul says, "I carry very little, but my name is well known, though I'd be loathe to open a line of credit with one such as Kara Iskendar. He is a merciless usurer."

Yasir: "I'm beginning to think he had something to do with my father's murder. But I need to know how much we have among us."

Narrator: "Perhaps I can offer to trade some silks with him, and agree to show him the routes I know. He just might bring the price down, " offers Jamul. "And make sure to emphasize that merchants will revere his name for helping the caravanserai," he adds.

Yasir: "If you two would like to do the bargaining, that is fine with me. As long as you do not quarrel with each other."

Narrator: Jamul purses his lips, "Yes, yes perhaps that is better. I can barter with Kara Iskendar, he knows me after all. But don't let Shuri get in my way! And stay close at hand Yasir, Kara Iskendar is a man who appreciates...the warrior spirit." And the way Jamul says this last part clearly means "violence and brute force" though Jamul doesn't want to attribute such things to Yasir, who he holds in an elevated position.

Yasir: "Very well, Jamul. You do the talking. I'll hold my sword." He waits for Jayla's return.

Narrator: As Yasir gazes around the room, he notices several rogues playing dice games. Something glints in the ante pile, a ring which reminds Yasir of his father...

Yasir moves to get a closer look at the ring.

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

[A flashback:]

Narrator: Abdul leans hard on the camel. It is the end of the rainstorm. "Son, that is the route we shall take, between those two arches." And as you look down from the plateau you can make out three straggling goats behind the herd.

Yasir looks toward the arches.

Narrator: Abdul places a hand on Yasir's shoulder, one of the many gold rings of his family glinting on his finger. "Yasir, you are now a man. There is a tradition in my family of the Five Rings. My great great grandfather received 5 rings from an old hag he knew to be an angel in disguise. As his son grew older, he gave him one ring each year, which his son, my great grandfather, wore upon his right hand." Abdul removes one ring from his thumb. "This is your first ring." And with this he hurls the ring over the plateau.

Narrator: The ring travels an unnatural distance, falling next to the three goats straggling in the soft sand below. "Now, if you can beat me there, it is yours!" says his father with a twinkle in his eye, grabbing the reins about his camel.

Yasir races to retrieve the ring before his father gets there.

Narrator: You ride neck to neck, as your camels pound down the steep slope into the soft sand, baying in complaint. "You ride well, my son!" Abdul struggles to keep up.

Narrator: You near the pack of goats, who begin to pace nervously and start to run from you.

Yasir keeps his eye on the ground, searching for the ring.

Narrator: Yasir spots the ring in the ground, kicked up by one of the fleeing goats.

Yasir reaches for the ring

Narrator: Yasir leans from his saddle, snatching the ring from the sands as he passes.

Yasir puts the ring on the appropriate finger.

Narrator: Abdul rides up alongside Yasir. "Well done, my son, but you value the wrong treasure. Remember what our livelihood is: Goats and sheep may not dazzle the eyes. There is no room in heaven for the greedy. When you look at this ring let it be a reminder for you." He gazes with stern love at his son before looking up after the fleeing goats.

Yasir smiles at his father.

Narrator: "Go with God and catch the goats, Yasir."

Yasir goes to catch the goats.

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

Narrator: As Yasir touches the ring on his thumb, he sees that the ring in the rogue's gambling game bears similar markings, and he is certain it was one of his father's rings!
 

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4: Searching for Water, Finding Lies Instead

[This is basically the continuation of Yasir's solo adventure. I played Jamul the silk merchant (and a cameo of Abdul), while Farraj's player and the Narrator divided Shuri between them. Aaron, the Narrator, had intended to get to the rest of the storylines, but things went in unexpected directions, and then Farraj's player had computer trouble.]

Narrator: Wherein begins the evening tale, "Searching for Water, Finding Lies Instead"....

Narrator: The sun leaves the sky, the moon rises high, the call for prayer goes out and is answered. A bucket has gone down for water, and it has come up filled with lies and questions. Abdul awaits the messenger from Jamul, who travels with Yasir after concluding the water negotiations. Meanwhile, Farraj chats with the blacksmith as two youths look him over. The night is young in Huzuz, City of Delights, and the sorcerer-in-a-chest plots his treachery. The Forgotten Boys. Cemetery Square. Kara Iskendar. Familiar names which helped Metef keep his sanity in his new accursed form. Perhaps he had a chance to outwit these meddlers, but it would take every bit of cunning the blasphemous sorcerer possessed...before he lost his human mind forever to the bestial nature consuming him.

Narrator: Yasir stands back to let Jamul handle the negotiations. Shuri and Yasir, in Yasir's words, "are letting Jamul do the talking and keeping their hands on their swords." And given the constant quarrelling between Shuri and Jamul, this might not be a bad idea. Strange bedfellows are one thing, but their arguing waited on no man.

Jamul stands waiting for Kara Iskendar with an ingratiating expression on his face. Then again, such an expression is so natural to him it may well have been stamped there at birth.

Narrator: Kara Iskendar has just been summoned by his daughter and he enters trailing his gaudy red silk robe behind him, two stout merchant guards flanking him. And his daughter, Jayla, appears to be no pushover either, though her love for her father certainly is in question. Several elephants are being loaded by workers overseen by merchant guards.

Shuri impatiently looks about.

Jamul: "Ah! Esteemed Iskendar, it is good to see you again!"

Narrator: "Jamul al-Huzuzi, the silk merchant," says Iskendar with no hidden irritation in his voice. "Have you come on account of a debt I've neglected to collect from you? My memory does fail me at certain moments."

Shuri gives Yasir an exasperated look. People are dying of thirst while these men exchange pleasantries!

Jamul laughs as if Iskendar had just said something funny. "Why no, though any reason is good enough to see your noble visage again. I am come on a mission of charity - though profitable enough charity for you, I trust!"

Shuri bites his lip.

Yasir whispers to Shuri, "One wonders how much talk it takes before people can be helped."

Narrator: "Indeed," says Iskendar. "I will humour your requests though the meager sum Zarif's representative has brought impresses me not. However, I am a man of the common good, and should a caravanserai perish, it would hurt all business. Tell me, is master Metef still harassing travelers to his caravanserai?"

Jamul: "Not at all, noble sir, not at all! His stepson Mamoun is master of the place now."

Shuri: "Mamoun will bring prosperity to the caravanserai, all that Metef would leech."

Narrator: "Let me be clear with you, Jamul," says Iskendar walking away from the two strongmen with Jamul while eyeing Yasir, "the sum of money won't cover half the expenses of this mission of salvation. You and those traveling with you would become heavily in my debt." He rubs his fingers through his greasy beard. Being in debt to Kara Iskendar is one of those curious fates that Jamul might fear worse than death; he is said to have half of Huzuz in his debt.

Narrator: Yasir notices the group of rogues gambling for the ante (including his father's ring) making a ruckus between them.

Jamul laughs again, with an edge of nervousness this time. "Good Iskendar, surely you jest. I am come here to help relieve the poor souls of Zarif. I am sure that in time they can repay all that you ask. And what is more, think of the good you will do, for your own business not least!"

Narrator: Iskendar arches his brow. "Yes indeed. Of course, Zarif will need to pay me back in one year or I shall be forced to collect on my debt in more direct ways that I'm sure this Mamoun has never heard of. Shall a contract be drawn up?"

Narrator: Yasir notices one of the young beggars playing the dice game swipe the ring from the ante pile without his fellows noticing.

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

Yasir approaches the beggars. "How much for the ring?" he asks of the one who just stole it.

Narrator: The beggars look up at Yasir, taking him for one of the guards. The young urchin. "Ring?" He stares wide-eyed at Yasir. He produces a shiny piece of glass, "You mean this piece of blue glass?"

Yasir: "No, the ring. You wouldn't want Iskendar to know you were stealing, would you?"

Narrator: The young boy motions for Yasir to lean down close out of earshot of the other beggars.

Yasir leans closer.

Narrator: "It's Kara. He won't let me leave, thinks I'll get picked up by the watch and say all sorts of mischief, though I'd never do that. It'd ruin my reputation, sahib. If you can get me out of here, I'll give you the ring." He looks at Yasir pleading.

Yasir: "Kara is busy now. I'll distract him further." He tries to spook one of the elephants.

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

Jamul: "I have no objection. Shuri, are you able to act on behalf of good Mamoun?"

Shuri: "What do you ask, that I give you all that you would take?"

Jamul laughs again while his eyes lob desperate daggers at the young man. "You have such a sense of humor, Shuri! I am but asking if you can sign a contract on behalf of Zarif?"

Shuri has a sudden idea... "It is fortunate that I have made the acquaintance of one of the Caliph's own scribes, a man of impeccable honesty who would be perfect for brokering such an important contract. I am sure that with his assistance we can come to an abiding agreement, one that Mamoun will hold as though he had signed it himself!"

Jamul smiles as if humoring Shuri, meanwhile watching Iskendar out of the corner of his eye to see how he takes this.

Shuri nods and smiles. He has no intention of signing away the future of his home-town to this scorpion.

Narrator: All of a sudden Yasir trips into one of the guardsmen, and both fall backward, knocking a load of heavy bags from the elephant. The elephant tries to bolt and is held by its chain, but two servants go flying as the large animal thrashes about. "Look out!" comes the startled yell of a stablehand.

Jamul gapes. "God have mercy!" He backs away from the elephant.

Yasir steps toward the door to meet the beggar.

Shuri turns towards the ruckus and takes a step towards Yasir when he sees that he is at the heart of the matter.

Narrator: Iskendar shouts at the guard, "You oaf!" Quickly his daughter dashes along side the elephant, and grabs a chain, wrapping it about a massive pillar. The elephant rears in terror at the feathers on her head and all the strange people around.

Narrator: Yasir meets the beggar boy, but notices two guards blocking the exit.

Yasir: (to guards) "Help us!"

Shuri strides towards Yasir at his call.

Narrator: The guards grumble and rush to help Yasir with the elephant.

Jamul cowers like a merchant in danger. Why not?

Yasir slips through the guards toward the door

Narrator: Jayla Bint-Iskendar wrestles with the elephant and gets tossed through the air, landing in Shuri's arms.

Jamul murmurs frantic prayers in a corner of the room. Perhaps that will help.

Narrator: Yasir can't find a way through all the guards - they're closing from every direction. He does notice the beggar boy slip past them though and to the door, where he
gives one look back before vanishing.

Shuri: "You have flown like a bird and picked an unlikely tree to roost."

Yasir tries to run toward the door, unafraid of who sees him

Narrator: Jayla blinks at Shuri, "Unhand me this instant!"

Shuri puts her down and bows, smiling.

Narrator: Yasir knocks over several guards making a clear sprint for the door. A group of beggar boys shout after him, "Thief! Thief!"

Yasir heads out toward the beggar boy.

Shuri starts at the commotion.

Narrator: Iskendar is distraught at the chaos, and starts barking orders. "Catch that man getting away! Jayla, cut him off. You guards, keep an eye on Jamul and his strongman ((Shuri))."

Shuri steps towards Jamul, things have taken a very serious turn.

Jamul smiles frantically up at Shuri, for once glad to see his face.

Narrator: Jayla groans at her father, "Do you think I owe you one thing?" He glares at her, and she sighs, "Yes, but remember this when you start raving about how ungrateful I am next time, father." With that Jayla rushes to a wall and grabs a sheathed scimitar before running out the back.

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

Narrator: Yasir ploughs through the evening crowd. Soon the call for prayer will go out. He spots the beggar boy sprinting down a back alley.

Yasir follows.

Narrator: Yasir spots the beggar boy squeezing through a narrow grate leading to the city's underground waterways. Suddenly a cloaked woman drops down from the roof of a squat building. It is Jayla, daughter of Kara Iskendar. She draws her scimitar, "So, Yasir al-Ayyubi, you are full of surprises. I wonder if you will continue to surprise in your swordplay!"

Narrator: She attempts to lure Yasir into a compromising position, but he holds his ground. It would take Allah himself to move the lion Yasir. Jayla takes a quick jab at his belt, hoping to cut his scabbard from his side. Yasir lunges out of her reach.

Yasir swings his scimitar at Jayla, crying, "Woman, get out of my way, or so help me, I'll avenge my father's death on you!"

Narrator: Yasir plunges his scimitar deftly under Jayla's guard, grabbing her sword arm as he twists here about, drawing a bright line of blood as he wounds her. Gasping, she collapses; clearly not a warrior of any sort!

Yasir rushes past her toward the beggar boy.

Narrator: The beggar boy struggles to squeeze through the grate, but is stuck halfway. Yasir hears him yelling something, it sounds like a swear word. Such language, from one so young! That's what he gets for hanging around a bunch of dirty heretics!

Yasir pulls him out, sword still in hand. He extends his hand to the boy, saying only "Ring."

Narrator: The boy seems relieved when he sees it is Yasir. "Oh it's you! I thought for sure you were one of the guards! Oh, sahib," he continues, growing more distraught, "in my fear I dropped your ring into the waterways. Please sahib," he says, glancing nervously at the wounded Jayla.

Yasir: "Get it quickly before I cut off your tongue for lying and your hand for stealing."

Narrator: "Yes sahib, right away," says the boy, resuming his squirming and squiggling before slipping into the darkness under the grate.

Yasir peers into the grate

Narrator: The boy calls back, "Oh sahib, I cannot find it. It is so dark." Yasir hears guards rushing toward him.

Yasir: "Hurry, before I tell them where you are." He stands ready to meet the guards, scimitar in hand, blood still on his blade and clothing.

Narrator: Six guards rush around the corner, and seeing Jayla wounded, draw their swords. Jayla points at Yasir as one of the guards helps her, "He, he and the boy are in league."

Yasir, growing quite irate, "Boy, where is the ring?!"

Narrator: No answer comes from within the grate save the sound of rushing water.

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

Shuri has taken up a wide legged stance and has eased the first few inches of his scimitar from it's home.

Jamul gets to his feet, feeling much better now that he has a living shield between him and the distressing things. He knew Shuri was good for something...

Narrator: A group of guards have surrounded Shuri and Jamul. Iskendar glares at Jamul, "If this is your doing, old friend, then we'll be negoatiating a new contract soon. What can you tell me about this other man who was with you? Was he really of the Ayyubi family?"

Jamul: "Oh noble Iskendar, I am as shocked as you at this turn of events. Yasir al-Ayyubi is known to me as a great man without fear, peerless in his bravery and generosity. But what is in his mind in this thing now, I know not."

Shuri nods to Jamul, keep talking...

Jamul obliges Shuri readily enough. "I feel certain that whatever it may be, it is nothing ignoble or base. But I repeat, I knew nothing of this when I came to you."

Shuri is watching the surrounding guards. He is rhythmically turning his head to catch any movement to his flanks. When he twists his body he moves his feet.

Narrator: Iskendar frowns at Jamul and Shuri. "Very well, you have proven honorable in the past, and your name carries weight even here, Jamul. I believe this man, if he is who he says he is, had come to negotiate with me regarding his father's debt..."

Jamul: "I believe he did not even know of his father's debt, good Iskendar, until it was mentioned to him by your man."

Narrator: Iskendar eases up, indicating for his guards around Jamul and Shuri to lower their weapons. "It is no worry. Soon Jayla and my guards will have this Yasir and the truth of the matter shall come out. Do you wish to contact your scholar friend and have him review this contract for you?" asks Iskendar, presenting a contract to Jamul.

Jamul: "Ah... Yes, of course. My thanks to you, Iskendar."

Shuri turns to Jamul. "Perhaps we should be going, master. I am sure that Abdul the scribe will return with us tomorrow."

Jamul rather enjoys replying, "Yes, of course, my servant."

Narrator: "Very well," says Iskendar cannily. "You may go."

Jamul: "A pleasure doing business with you, as always, Iskendar."

Narrator: Iskendar grins at Jamul. "Oh, the pleasure is all mine. I look forward to talking to you soon, Jamul, about these matters, and your eligible daughter."

Jamul blanches. "My, ah, daughter?"

Shuri hustles Jamul right out of there as soon as they have stopped lying and threatening each other.

Jamul struggles slightly against Shuri. "My daughter?!"

Narrator: "Yes of course, your daughter. She is quite the young flower, so I hear." Iskendar continues, watching Jamul.

Jamul laughs weakly. "Ha ha ha. Yes, of course she is. Fatima, my jewel."

Narrator: Shuri and Jamul are led from the ominous building of Kara Iskendar's trading warehouse. The sun sets. The call for prayer is going out. Across the street the caravan guards Feyrouz and Jifar tend the camels. Somewhere in the city, Abdul is guarding the sorcerer-in-a-chest. Who save Fate knows where Farraj is?

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

Narrator: Five of the guards close on Yasir. "Well, young buck. How about facing a man? Or will you come willingly so Kara can come up with a punishment for you?" The lead guard pauses, sizing up Yasir, "Though I sincerely hope you choose the latter. I've no fondness for militant Moslems."

Yasir: "She was between me and the thief that was trying to escape. I cannot abide by injustice."

Narrator: "Really?" says the lead guard, drawing closer. The guards are stopped when Jayla says, "Wait! What do you have to say for yourself? And be quick about it before I sic my father's dogs on you."

Yasir: "I already told them. You tried to stop me from bringing him to justice."

Narrator: "Are you mad??" She gazes at Yasir with a mixture of bewilderment and hate. "It was you who came here armed to face my father over your family's debt and it was you who stole from him!"

Yasir: "Stole what? If you are going to make accusations, show me proof."

Narrator: The lead guard continues, "A ring, a vial, an amber necklace... Jayla, I tire with this fool's lies. Let me gut him like a fish."

Yasir: "A what?"

Narrator: Jayla, while her wound is bound, glares at Yasir. "Against my better judgment, Yasir, you can go." She holds up her hand at the guard's protests. "You protected me from the assassin in the alley. Alas, he wounded me, but he could not finish me off. I think my father will thank you for his daughter's life and overlook any petty thievery you've stooped to." She looks at Yasir meaningfully, hoping the guards buy her bluff.

Yasir: "You heard the woman!"

Narrator: The guards clear aside, letting Yasir pass through, amidst their grumbling and glares. As Yasir passes by Jayla, she looks him in the eye, "I'll be seeing you, Yasir al-Ayyubi." In her eyes shines a mixture of anger and respect.

Yasir smiles and walks away.

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

Narrator: As Jamul and Shuri begin to bicker again crossing the street, Yasir runs into them.

Jamul keeps trying to sneak a peek at the contract, but Shuri's words keep reminding him that he needs to be angry with someone. Preferably someone less dangerous than Kara Iskendar.

Shuri: "Oh Yasir, are you well? I thought for sure the water merchants guards had slain you!"

Yasir: "I'm fine."

Jamul: "Oh come, Shuri! Have you no more confidence in the great Yasir than that?! I knew he would be well."

Shuri: "Six men to one? Pff! It just goes to show that merchants have no business once the scimitars are drawn. What happened back there, Yasir?"

Yasir: "Don't you worry."

Jamul: "I will wager that Yasir could take on any number of Iskendar's thugs!" He suddenly gets a gleam in his eye. "Saaaaay."

Yasir: "What happened is done."

Shuri eyes Yasir. He is a tremendous lion, besting six men at once! And his mysteries are as thick as his mane.

Jamul: "Iskendar is rather a man for a wager, I think... Perhaps we could wipe our your debt and Zarif's at one go, Yasir!" He carefully does not mention that his daughter might also be left out of account. "Yasir? What say you?"

Yasir: "I say nothing."

Jamul: "You have no wish to rescue Zarif and avenge your father at one blow?"

Yasir: "Will he not give us water?"

Jamul admits, "He gave me a contract, though I have not yet looked at it. Given the way he was smiling, I fear his terms are very dear."

Yasir: "Read it first."

Jamul promises, "I will. We can discuss it over dinner. Did I mention that my daughter Fatima is in the very flower of youth? And you are not growing any younger, my friend..."

Yasir looks away.

Jamul smiles ingratiatingly. Warriors and their foibles! "It is the evening hour. Come, eat, and refresh yourself. My hospitality is of the best."

Yasir: "That sounds wonderful."

Shuri: "Hark, the call to prayer. Let us pray to God to forgive our enemies!" Indeed the call to prayer goes out again. Shuri reminds the other two, "Do you so quickly forget that a villainous sorcerer is with Abdul?"

Yasir prays.

Jamul sighs at the minor inconveniences of life. "I will send a servant to summon him to dinner, as I said I would." He also kneels in the dusty road and prays.

Shuri prays, in particular watching Yasir and attempting to mimic him. Having finished his prayers, "That's not good enough, Jamul. Or do you not remember how Metef controlled the will of even Farraj and Feyrouz? What if he has subdued Abdul even while we prattled with Kara Iskendar?"

Jamul raises his eyes to the heavens and says, exasperated, "God forfend that I should forget, Shuri! What measures do you suggest, then?"

Yasir: "Let us first see what has become of them."

Shuri: "Oh noble Yasir, will you accompany me to visit with Abdul? We can send word to Jamul later."

Jamul: "Oh, very well. But I must see to my servants. I will send a man with you to show the way."

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

Narrator: Abdul has just finished praying in his old apartment. His thoughts are distracted by the recent turn of events. He soon receives Yasir and Shuri, who knock at his door.

Abdul opens the door in relief. "God be praised! I am glad you are come."

Yasir: "Hello again."

Abdul: "I cannot come to dinner, my friend - please give my regrets to Jamul. Farraj has wandered off, AND I have had distressing news that must be attended to without delay."

Yasir: "What news have you, Abdul?"

Abdul sighs. "If I tried to explain it to you, Yasir, we should be here until morning and all I must do would be left undone. Suffice to say that a very old friend to whom I owe an incalculable debt is... distressed. I have waited anxiously for you to come and take Metef from me, for I would not leave him here alone."

Yasir: "Where should Metef be taken?"

Abdul sighs. "I know not. To Jamul and his dinner, I suppose. We dare not leave him alone."

Yasir: "Let us bring him, then." He grabs the chest.

Narrator: Shuri considers Abdul's words. "I'll inform Jamul's man tha--- What? To dinner? I'm sorry, you can't be serious! I may not care for Jamul, but to put his entire family in peril?"

Abdul sighs. "I am at my wit's end, Shuri! Have you a better idea?"

Yasir: "We must, Abdul is right. Metef is too dangerous to leave alone."

Abdul: "In any case, the chest is bound with Ittifaqi Hasanah, and that seems to prevent trouble."

Yasir: "With what?"

Abdul: "Farraj's silk. It seems to have some virtue against Metef's powers."

Shuri considered the men. Great men, fearless men, pious men, but certainly not the brightest. Perhaps their time in the cities had dulled their minds; he had always suspected as much. Too much food in the belly. "We might bring it to a qadi now?"

Abdul: "We shall have to find one that can resist Metef, and that may take a careful search. Though perhaps with the silk..."

Yasir: "It's best to stay close together with it."

Narrator: Shuri gnaws his lip. "Feyrouz was a pious man, so too Farraj, yet both of them succumbed to this treacherous wretch! How do we know he won't try his dark magic on one of us?"

Abdul says bluntly, "You don't. But I cannot stay here, and I cannot leave Metef here to cause mischief upon anyone who passes by, either. Do you not remember, though, how the silk freed the ferryman?"

Yasir: "We must be careful... That is why we should stay together."

Shuri: "The sooner we are done with with Metef, the sooner the people at the caravanserai will drink."

Abdul corrects him, "The sooner we are done with Metef, the sooner they will breathe easy. The water is a separate thing - I hope your negotiations were successful.?"

Narrator: Shasti, who is in the room with Abdul, nudges the other pack camel, which bears the chest with Metef trapped within.

Shuri: What I mean is that we must dispose of this sorcerer before we can safely find water for my home, ask Jamul how our meeting with his friend went."

Abdul: "I will, but for now I must be off. God be with you, my friends!"

Yasir: "When will you return, Abdul?"

Shuri: "And with you."

Abdul: "If God smiles upon me, by dawn."

Narrator: Abdul hears a voice, like a thin smoke, emanating from the chest. "Take me with you, sha'ir......"

Abdul blinks and says angrily, "Cease your lies, Metef! I have no need of them."

Narrator: "*gawk* And you haven't lied, sha'ir? There is much I know of where you are going. I could help you...."

Abdul shoos Shuri and Yasir out of the house. "Get the sorcerer out of my sight before I lose patience with him."

Yasir grabs the chest and takes it out.

Shuri looks at Yasir. "Today we have the luck of the fugitive!"

Narrator: Yasir leads the camel with the chest on its back from Abdul's house. Shuri leads Shasti, Farraj's favored mare.

Shasti snuggles down in a corner. It will take more than the will of men to move her.

Shuri looks down at the Camel who thinks she is a cat.

Abdul hurries over to one of his less-talkative neighbors, pausing a moment to calm down. There he borrows an egg and a lump of lard. As long as he's there anyway, he casually inquires how long Ferej had been staying at his place.

Narrator: Offhand, the old shepherdess mutters, "Why no more'n a week, dear. What a nice young man..."

Abdul thanks her and hurries back to his house. "You're still here??"

Narrator: Shasti snorts at Abdul's comment. To think! She is the pride of the desert! Soon they shall bring her cloved apricots and coconut water, surely.

Shuri: "It is too bad. We have gone to such effort to prepare your palace, oh great one. But if you would prefer to stay here..."

Shasti hops up and prances out the door. She gets outside and realises that she has been hoodwinked. SNORT.

Abdul rolls his eyes at the camel, then cracks the egg into a bowl. Opening his writing case, he takes one of his least-favored brushes, and uses it to "paint" the whites along his forehead, cheeks, and the backs of his hands. When it dries, it will shrink and make wrinkles.

Shuri follows the camel. "Where to, Yasir?"

Abdul then takes some ashes from the hearth, and mixes it with the lard, making a goopy mess that he smears on his hair and beard, to make them dull, stringy, and grey.

Yasir: "We need to go to the dinner, Shuri." He heads toward Jamul's house.

Shuri: "Very well, lead on."

Abdul finally dresses himself in some noisome rags he keeps for such occasions. Pausing in the inner courtyard, he rubs dirt liberally upon his flesh. Soon he is the very image of a down-and-out beggar. Then he slips his way cautiously out of his house and hurries off onto the street, hoping to remain unobserved.

Narrator: Shuri and Yasir make their way past the beggar man lurking near Abdul's house and head to the Merchant's District, with its bustling streets, smell of gold plating, and noisy cries from merchant houses. Even at this hour of night, the dull roar of the street is staggering, though it begins to die down as Yasir and Shuri arrive at Jamul's house. Looking at themselves they realize they are in no condition to attend a dinner party - the desert has a way of dirtying men. Their clothes at least. Of course, it purifies their spirit.

Yasir looks for a place to wash up.

Narrator: A barber appears to be closing shop not to far from Jamul's house.

Yasir approaches the barber. "May I trouble you to let me wash before you close?"

Narrator: The squint-eyed man could easily pass for a beggar, were it not for the jewels he adorns. "Ah, shave and a haircut?"

Yasir: "How much?"

Narrator: "Well, for you noble sir, I only charge 1 dirham!"

Yasir: "That's an outrage!"

Narrator: Spreading his hands, the barber explains, "Ah, but I have a most amazing story to tell! Surely that alone is worth the price? May I also point out that all other barbers are now closed at this hour?"

Yasir: "Six bits... for the story too."

Narrator: "Six bits? Alas, my wife and children will starve! Please have a seat, sahib." Says the barber, waxing his moustache. "What brings you to Huzuz?"

Yasir: "Eight, then."

Narrator: "Yes, eight, very good." The barber begins trimming away at Yasir's hair, massaging his scalp with scented oils, washing his turban.

Yasir: "What's your story?"

Narrator: "Well sahib, it is the most stupendous story you have ever heard. There are sorcerers and thieves. And it all occurred in this very city!"

Barber: "As I lay there watching the pretty girls go by in the Grand Bazaar, a man came up to me looking like he'd seen a ghost. He said to me 'Oh barber, quickly, you must tell me where to find Rafiqi?' "

Barber: "And I said I did not, but the man must have mistaken me for someone else, claiming I was withholding from him, for he had a very important message for this Rafiqi. And thus I went on denying and he went on insisting, until he said: 'Do you know that a fearsome sorcerer has just threatened me should I not tell deliver a message to Rafiqi?' And I responded that I did not know, and bade him tell me more."

Yasir: "And what happened?"

Barber: "Well, he weeped and said his lies had landed him in this mess, and that he was thinking about leaving for the Maghrib to evade his master's wrath, but that he must deliver this message to Rafiqi before he left. Thereupon the man revealed he was an unscrupulous rogue who had just feigned being a housesitter for an upstanding scribe, who turned out to be a sha'ir with a speaking chest!"

Barber: "There you are sahib! The finest specimen of man I have ever seen! Though a bit morose, I'm afraid I couldn't cure whatever ails your spirit." The barber finishes Yasir's haircut.

Yasir: "Thank you kindly, sir." He gets up and pays the man.

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

Shuri watches Jamul's house, looking to see if anyone else is observing the place.

Narrator: Shuri notes two men across the street he recognizes from Kara Iskendar's warehouse. Guards perhaps keeping an eye on Jamul?

Shuri attempts to get closer to the men, perhaps close enough to hear what they might be saying?

Brute Guard: "That swordsman was something else, huh? If he could drop Jayla like a hunter drops the sparrowhawk, surely he must be fearsome. And did you see the look in his eyes? Like a madman!"

Veteran Guard: "Hmm. Did you see that street urchin that ran out with him? I'm guessing they'll start looking for that urchin soon enough. And that might mean Cemetery Square." Both guards shiver at the name.

Shuri approaches the men allowing them to see him. Quietly, he asks, "Has there been much movement this evening?"

Brute Guard : "Eh? Do I know you sahib? Hey, the merchant's guardsmen, aren't you?"

Shuri: "Let us just say that we share the same master, eh? I must warn you that Yasir the Lion is coming. He has the eyes of the hawk and will surely see you. You must go home tonight. I will report to our master tomorrow."

Veteran Guard: "Hmph. I haven't heard anything about it. What else can you tell me about 'Yasir the Lion'?"

Shuri: "He is a fine swordsman and can see through the thickest veil of deceit. Our master has commanded me to find the connection between Yasir and Jamul. You must not speak of me to any others, if you value the skin on your back."

Veteran Guard: "Ok, what's the secret code? Just to make sure you are who you say you are..." says the veteran guard in plainclothes, keeping a hand on his club.

Shuri: "It is a phrase of course: "The waters flow to the sea.""

Narrator:: Both the guards look at one another, the younger giving the veteran a questioning look.

Veteran Guard: "No, no, the new password."

Shuri looks exasperated and checks over his shoulder, looking at the barbers

Narrator: Yasir is finished at the barber's. The veteran guard follows his gaze. "Is that...Yasir?"

Shuri: "Listen up. I am working for our master as a personal informant. I ask you kindly to forget the code phrase I just told you. It is the personal code between our master and myself. Shuri: It could be dangerous for you to know it. Yasir will be here any minute. If you mess with his plans you will be turned into saddles. Now go. And fill the world with silence on this matter."

Yasir approaches Shuri without a word.

Veteran Guard: The guards exchange a look with each other. Whoever this man is he is a poor liar, to his credit. The veteran guard eyes Shuri up and down. "Right, so we'll just wander down the street to that coffee house. If you need us, just holler the secret password." He winks. The younger brute guard stiffles a laugh. The two guards walk down the street a short ways.

Yasir: "Come, Shuri, we must go."

Shuri: "Of course."

Narrator: The newly groomed Yasir and the grubby Shuri approach the splendid house of Jamul al-Huzuzi. A young porter greets them at the door. "Sahib, " he bows, "Welcome to my master's home. May I take your camels?"

Yasir: "Yes." He takes the chest off the camel carrying it.

Narrator: Appalled at this noble man bearing the chest, the porter inquires, "Far be it from me to presume, but may I help you with your burden, sahib? Ah, please remove your shoes here. And bow here. Watch your heads. And bow here again. Right this way, sahib."

Yasir: "No thank you, kind sir."

Narrator: Jamul's voice, "Hurry up children! My guests are coming soon! Ah!" He nearly runs into Yasir, before embracing him. Seeing the chest, his face loses color, "Good Yasir, the chest? What is the meaning of this?"

Yasir: "I'm sorry, friend, we must. I'll keep it close to me."

Jamul: "You must bring it HERE? Amidst my children and wives?

Yasir: "I'm sorry. We had no choice."

Jamul is quite flustered. "Ah... Perhaps we can keep some slaves nearby it, so the sorcerer does not seek the souls of my loved ones..."

Narrator: Jamul's first wife's voice sounds out, "They sound like beggars, dear husband!" Thanks goodness his second wife isn't here - one is enough to deal with!

Yasir: "No. It needs to stay near me."

Jamul looks back in irritation. "Yasir is a man nobler than your family, dearest!"

Yasir: "Now, now. This is only out of necessity."

Jamul forces a smile. "Of course, of course! Do come in."

Narrator: Jamul's first of three wives emerges from the women's room, clad in a respldent white robe, her face thinly veiled. She is the picture of a mature woman, with as much cunning as Jamul himself. She can see the wheels of her husband's head spinning. "Shall I introduce our children, dear husband?" She looks Yasir and Shuri up and down with disdain.

Jamul says sourly, "Of course, dearest wife."

Yasir waits patiently

Narrator: She goes about introducing the seven children, but dotes special attention upon Fatima. "My eldest. Isn't she the gem of her father's eye? Never has Huzuz seen such an eligible young woman." She looks shrewdly at her husband as 14 year old Fatima blushes.

Jamul smiles a sickly smile. "Never indeed!" he maintains loyally, but his is plainly worried.

Yasir: "Lovely."

Narrator: The young boy Dawar lunges forward, grabbing Yasir's leg. "Are you the lion my father sent word he'd met? I've been waiting all day to see a lion. I met a lion once, it went RARR! I wasn't scared, but, um..."

Yasir: "Yes, Dawar. You'll be a brave warrior some day."

Narrator: "Now, now, Dawar, don't intimidate our high and mighty guests," says Jamul's first wife with a thick layer of sarcasm.

Jamul: "Yes, son, we must show courtesy to our guests."

Narrator: Fatima leads the rest of the children to set out the meal which Bab-al-Sama, Jamul's first wife, lovingly prepared.

Jamul makes interminable small talk to set his guests at ease before broaching any delicate subjects.

Narrator: Dawar tells stories of his imaginary adventures to Yasir with great relish, tugging on his leg impolitely whenever Yasir diverts his attention to other topics or...the looming chest. At length Bab-al-Sama inquires, "Honored guest, I must inquire about your chest. How long have you been cursed by djinn with carrying it upon your back?"

Yasir: "Too long."

Jamul glares impatiently. "Oh, cease, woman! I have told you about the terrifying events of Zarif!"

Narrator: "Ah yes, but I thought I'd demonstrate to our guest Fatima's God-given gifts. My husband thinks me too proud, but she is quite the gifted hakima. She knows truth a mile away. I suppose, though, that a husband who lies, should find no solace in her as his wife." She glances at Yasir. "Not that you would need worry about that, honored guest. More yogurt?"

Yasir: "Certainly, thank you."

Narrator: Fatima rises to clear the table, blushing greatly, aided by her brothers and sisters.

Jamul asks suspiciously, "What sort of demonstration?"

Narrator: "Why I thought she might listen to our guest speak of his family. He might throw in a deliberate lie or two to try to catch Fatima, something convincing. She has gotten quite good at it during your latest venture away." Says Bab-al-Sama, somewhat indignantly. There she goes again, getting jealous of Jamul's ventures away.

Yasir: "Not I, no."

Jamul grins and leans back, relaxed. "Perhaps we should instead tell the tale of the events of Zarif, to set your mind at ease as to the truth of it all." He looks entirely too smug.

Narrator: Bab-al-Sama stares suspiciously at Jamul. "Please husband, do tell."

Jamul gives a factual account of what he saw at Zarif, greatly enjoying spiting his dubious wife.

Narrator: She squints at Jamul. "And what of the coin in the chest?" She demands.

Jamul: "Well, what of it?"

Narrator: "Is it real?"

Jamul: "The coin? I do not know, but doubtless it was a trick of the sorcerer's black arts.

Yasir: "Enough."

Narrator: Blanching at Yasir's voice, Bab-al-Sama quickly excuses herself, glancing accusatorily at her husband. She removes their dishes, whispering to Jamul, "A fitting match for Fatima. Good luck." Bab has always been jealous of Fatima, the only child by Jamul's second wife. Bab should have been the one to bear a child to Jamul first, but Fate wasn't so kind.

Jamul looks to Fatima for confirmation of his story. That'll put Bab in her place.

Narrator: Fatima nods to her father. "It is truth, father." She avoids her mother's gaze, finishing the cleaning.

Jamul: "Of course it was, my darling.

Narrator: Bab grows red before storming off, "I'm going to pray and thank God for your safe return, and that it shall continue to be that way!"

Jamul calls after her smugly, "My thanks to you, most generous wife!"

Narrator: Shuri leans forward, "Jamul, did you know you are being watched by Kara Iskendar?"

Jamul suddenly turns gloomy. "Oh, the man has eyes everywhere!"
 

Interlude: The Beggar Who Wasn't (a Tale of Abdul)

[The good news: A new update, really soon after the previous one! :) A solo adventure by Abdul, played out last night.]

Narrator: There are few in Huzuz who don't know the "Tale of the Beggar Who Wasn't" these days, but there are few beggars who know the tale as well as I. Though I have since found good fortune and now wear fine clothes, I shall never forget that fateful day when the Beggar Who Wasn't changed everything. Lend me your ear, and you shall learn how I, a simple pauper, became the luckiest man in the world, all because of one man's heart.

Abdul hurries through the streets of Huzuz toward his ancient haunts: Cemetery Square.

Narrator: Abdul, wrinkled and dirty, moves through the streets, and old memories come back to him. Even as he assumes the role, he remembers telling stories to his boyhood friends, and of panhandling on the streets. All too well he remembers the disgusted stares and avoidance. But here in Cemetery Square, beggars are not reviled, they're merely part of the scenery. Why you can't swing a stick without hitting a waif or handicapped beggar, they say.

And sometimes, in Knife-Loose Alley, beggars are killed. At least one of the advantages of poverty is that the rich are the first target.

Abdul pauses to get his bearings; it's been a long time. The flood of memories and emotions takes some time to assimilate, as well.

Narrator: As Abdul moves through the streets he pauses by a bakery. Though used to hunger, it has been many years, and the smell of fresh bread teases his nose as if he were a boy again. The laughter of boys fills his ears and looking up, he can see the outline of two boys playing in the dark, but soon it fades as they run down the street. Was it an illusion? A flashback?

Abdul shakes his head to clear it. "Come, Abdul, stay sharp. I'll need all my wits about me," he mutters to himself.

Narrator: Two of the women at the bakery steps chat opinionatedly. "Oh, sister, you put too much faith in this Aqeedah. I have heard he robs just like the rest of the thieves. I should like to think that the guards will catch him, or at least talk some sense into the poor man. Obviously he is a run-away slave."

Abdul puts the chatter from his mind as he makes his way toward the narrow space between buildings which opens up into Leper's Alley.

Narrator: Leper's Alley shimmers with smoke from roasting meat, or burning corpses, the smell is indistinguishable. The alley is narrow, and there are many smaller side alleys which branch off. Quite easy to get lost here. The lepers do have a thirst for life which rivals the gypsies however, and music around the firepits goes on even today.

Abdul makes his way down the alley, eyeing each building carefully as he makes his way westward toward the fishgutter's. He pauses to give a copper bit now and then to any particularly forlorn-looking souls.

Narrator: Charity is hardly commonplace in Cemetery Square, but the noise in Leper's Alley drowns out even the most showering praise Abdul receives for this small donation. Winding through the alley, he gets the distinct feeling he's being watched.

Abdul: A hard life has taught Abdul not to let on that he suspects his watcher. He heads down one of the side-alleys, as if further inspecting buildings, and steps into a shadowed alcove to watch for anyone suspicious passing by.

Narrator: Nothing unusual for Leper's Alley - a band of roving musicians and two charity workers pass by. In the alley way he notices a young boy hiding behind a barrel, stifling crying.

Abdul's heart melts within him at the sight. He heads toward the boy and asks, "Come, lad, what is amiss?" He speaks in a deliberately raspy, deeper tone than is his wont.

Narrator: As soon as Abdul steps through the light the boy looks up startled. Even through the grime and tears it is clear he will grow up into a handsome young man who will rival princes in his grace. Also easily recognizeable to Abdul are the signs of physical abuse. His hands have been thrashed, his eye is black and blue, and he has a large tear in his shirt as if he ran away from his attacker. The boy cries silently.

Abdul sits down next to him, not speaking further, just patiently waiting.

Narrator: "Do you have any tobacco?" The boy sniffs. "I was beaten for stealing ice for my wounds. Twice in one day." He sobs again, but tries to regain his composure.

Abdul: "I am afraid I do not. Who is it that beats you?"

Narrator: "My father for whistling at the pretty girls. And my older brother for not being honest about my earnings. And the police when I wouldn't tell them about my friend."

Abdul eyes the boy. "Well, I am sorry that you have been beaten. But is that all the truth?"

Narrator: "Yes, sahib!" He says right away, looking astonishedly at Abdul. "I did whistle at pretty girls, and I did lie about my earnings. I am a miserable wretch aren't I?"

Abdul sighs. "I am sorry I questioned you, boy. No, I have known many men far more wretched and wicked than you. Come, the fact you can say it and mean it says you are not wholly abandoned to sin, eh? The truly wicked do not see their wickedness."

Narrator: Wiping the snot from his nose, the boy starts murmuring under his voice with his hands clasped as if in prayer. He says aside to Abdul, as if not wanting to offend God by opening his eyes and talking to the man next to him. "I am praying I find my father again, and that he forgive me."

Abdul: "Find him? Are you lost?"

Narrator: "Oh, not lost, but afraid of leaving. My older brother tells me he'll take me home just as soon as we finish his next job. And even if I did go back I'm afraid my father would just beat me even more...if he even recognized me." The boy looks away. He is no more than 12, a hair younger than Farraj.

Abdul: "What job is that?"

Narrator: "Why, he intends to steal the necklace which Asfar Chahhad took from a noblewoman. He is the one the police are looking for." Realizing that he has shared too much, the boy looks perplexed. "I- I should get going, my older brother will be wondering where I am." He starts to stand.

Abdul nods, not terribly surprised, although the names mean nothing to him. "Come, lad, I am not about to turn you in. I have been around the block a time or three myself, you know. My name is Abdul. You?"

Narrator: "I...I am called Tayseer." Says the boy cautiously; he is obviously concealing his true name. 'Tayseer' means 'facilitation', and Abdul can guess the name means 'facilitating thievery and mischief.' No doubt given to him by his older brother. "Where are you going?" asks Tayseer.

Abdul: "I am looking for a very old friend, who I am told is staying hereabouts. Perhaps you know him? His name is Rafiqi."

Narrator: Tayseer purses his lips. "Oh yes, everyone in the neighborhood talks about hiding their children from Rafiqi. He's a legend on the streets, almost as much as the Aqeedah. I haven't heard much of him recently; they say he was picked up by the police. He gave me a loaf of bread and some cheese once for making him laugh."

Abdul: "Hiding their children? Why would that be?"

Narrator: "Oh, don't you know? Rafiqi's gang is infamous. They've started turning to mugging drunk nobles now and even..." He makes a gesture as if to say 'you know.'

Abdul: "Even what?"

Narrator: "Mugging evening women too. My older brother hates Rafiqi. It's a rotten way to do business, but he treats everyone in the neighborhood well. He's probably the richest beggar I've ever met."

Abdul: "Well. I would not have thought it of him. You say he has not been seen about of late?"

Narrator: "Not for a couple weeks. I hear he sometimes traveled in disguise, but no one knows where. Are you good friends?"

Abdul says sadly, "I have not seen him in a very long time. ... I am told he has a house behind Hassoud's. Do you know where it is?"

Narrator: "A house?" Tayseer draws a perplexed look. "Oh, you must mean the watering hole. There are some makeshift huts there. It's for animals to bathe, but I've seen lepers there too, even drinking the water." He shudders.

Abdul: "Hmmm. Do you know of boys that work for him: Dyjer, Pencil, Cricket?"

Narrator: "Well I know the Cricket, but he doesn't work for Rafiqi. Someone else, and much meaner. Cricket always complains that his master threatens to break his sitar. He's the best musician I know, and even the lepers say so too. Why sometimes he comes here to play music, and I go with him just for the fun."

Abdul: "I am beginning to think I was lied to by a much more deeply-dyed liar than yourself. A pity."

Narrator: "You - you're not from Cemetery Square, are you?" asks the boy.

Abdul: "Many years ago, boy. Many years ago. I also worked for someone much meaner. I know what it is like to be beaten."

Narrator: "I'll show you the watering hole." says Tayseer, wiping his face. "Do you ever go to the Warehouse Districts in the north of the city? I would be obliged if you delivered a message to my father."

Abdul: "A favor for a favor is a fair return. And who is your father?"

Narrator: "His name is Daoud bin-Haroun, the largest smith you have ever seen, with dark curly hair. He has a stall in the Grand Bazaar." Tayseer rises and starts walking toward the alley.

Abdul blinks. "A smith's son, stealing necklaces?" He follows, though, offering his hand.

Narrator: "Oh no, sahib, I am no thief. My older brother has me appraise all that he finds, and...I'm quite good with locks too, and door hinges." Tayseer makes his way down the street. He is tall for his age; Abdul imagines that in his former life he must have been the jewel of his mother's eye. As you pass a cart full of slaves, Tayseer hops aboard, motioning for Abdul to do the same. "The driver doesn't mind, even if his mule does!" Two slaves offer Abdul a hand up.

Abdul hops up easily enough. "Tayseer... how long has it been since you saw your father?"

Narrator: He recites precisely, "One year, one month, and six days." Uncomfortable discussing his father, Tayseer asks Abdul, "When were you last in Cemetery Square? Before the Madrassah?"

Abdul: "I did not even know there was a madrassah here. A welcome change."

Narrator: "The jeepney drivers deal with non-Moslem slaves, but there's more Moslems in these carts than they let on, just those that don't speak the language. But they're good men, Abdul."

Abdul: "I believe it. Tayseer, how did you come to be in Cemetery Square?"

Narrator: "I ran away from my house, and my older brother found me. He taught me how to live in the Grand Bazaar, and the two of us moved here for his first job."

Abdul sighs deeply. "I thought as much." He shakes his head.

Narrator: "For several months it was rough, we lived hand-to-mouth, and he beat me too often, but then we started doing better. The other boys accepted me, and my older brother became successful. And then he started getting afraid, and I mean of everyone. Now I can barely talk to him without getting interrogated about what I know nothing of."

Narrator: Tayseer says, "Here we are!" And jumps off the jeepney, waving to the slaves who wave back.

Abdul hops off the jeepney as well, intent on the boy. "Tayseer... Whatever your true name is. Listen to me." Abdul's voice is raw with emotion.

Narrator: Tayseer looks up at Abdul, startled.

Abdul grips the lad's shoulder and holds his eyes. "Do you have any idea how lucky you are? Any idea at all?"

Narrator: Tayseer is taken aback, "Sahib, I am very lucky to have met you it is true."

Abdul: "No! Not because of me. You are lucky because you have a place to go home to! A mother and a father who must be frantic for you! Do you know how few boys in Cemetery Square can say that? What in the name of all that is holy keeps you from going to them?"

Narrator: He looks away, ashamed. "If - if I leave, my older brother has no one. He has no home or family except for me. And my father scorns me for my looks."

Abdul: "Listen. Rafiqi was my 'older brother'. And I was and am grateful to him, because I had no place else to go. He was the only family I had. But you, you have been taken from your family. From the place you belong. ... I know not what your father holds against your looks, though you are a handsome lad indeed. But I feel quite confident that he will be overjoyed to see you. He must have given you up for dead by now!"

Narrator: Tayseer squints, biting his lip. "Maybe I belong here. I think that if I am dirty enough then no one will see the face my father hates."

Abdul embraces the boy fiercely. "You must know what is truly right, or you would not say such stupid things. Come, am I wrong? Your heart has already decided, has it not?"

Narrator: The boy stifles a sob, clinging to Abdul. Abdul hears someone approaching from behind him.

Abdul holds self-preservation above even comforting troubled youngsters. He whirls, a hand dipping into a fold of his rags. He keeps one hand on the boy.

Narrator: A dark cloaked young man gazes at Abdul from underneath his hood. Something about the man is hauntingly familiar. "I see you've met my younger brother."

Narrator: Abdul hears Rafiqi's voice from underneath the cloak, though the man stands and acts nothing like Rafiqi. "Come Tayseer, I've missed you." He says, a hint of neediness creeping into his voice, as he extends his hand. As he does so, Abdul makes out the hilt of a jambiya in his cloak.

Abdul asks in wonder, "Rafiqi! Is that you?!"

Narrator: "Why have you taken my brother from me? Don't you know Leper's Alley is dangerous at night?" asks Rafiqi's voice.

Abdul: "Taken him from you? I found him weeping and beaten. But you - how can you not know me! I was your brother long ago!" Abdul takes a step forward, only a little doubtful. He still keeps one hand on Tayseer.

Narrator: "You mistake me for someone else," snarls Rafiqi's voice. "Come Tayseer, I have found some ice for your wounds. Forgive me, I was hasty and afraid."

Abdul begins to look confused. "But...!" His voice has lost the artificial tone he gave it.

Narrator: Tayseer clings to Abdul, uncertain of his older brother's true intentions. "Have you really brought ice for me?"

Narrator: "Yes," laughs Rafiqi's voice hoarsely. "Stolen from the very ice house of Al-Fareed himself, just for you, boy. Beggar," he says, addressing Abdul, "do you not have a charge of your own to look after that you must go fishing in other men's pools?"

Abdul says stiffly, thoroughly put off now, "I am not 'fishing' at all, sirrah. Perhaps you are."

Narrator: "What is your name, beggar?" asks Rafiqi's voice, becoming more gravely.

Abdul: "Who wishes to know?"

Narrator: Suddenly the man's voice switches to Akim's, and Abdul feels his body cringe. "The boy's older brother, Fareed."

Abdul's muscles tense, but he can see that this man is far too young to be Akim. "I know not by what cheap trick you change your voice so, sirrah. But it does not impress me."

Narrator: "Then perhaps we should look face-to-face?" says the young man before removing his hood and Abdul stares straight into the face of his childhood adversary Akim, his sunken eyes and split lip, his wide ears and sun-burnt wrinkled forehead. "You're one of the Forgotten Boys, aren't you?"

Abdul gapes, his heart pounding. "You... are not Akim." He says it almost doubtfully at first, then his voice firms up. "Akim does not know any arts of sihr. Akim does not recruit boys personally. And I have never heard of any 'Forgotten Boys'."

Narrator: "No, I'm not Akim, you're right. I am Fareed, proud older brother to Tayseer here. But you do recognize his face, which few in Cemetery Square can claim anymore, and you do know Rafiqi, so you've been around the block." The man gazes at Tayseer now. "Come, the ice will melt soon. If you won't let go of this beggar, then bring him with us and we'll eat together."

Narrator: Tayseer gazes up at Abdul, "Will you come with us?"

Abdul asks gently, "What is the desire of your heart, bin-Daoud bin-Haroun?" He is not speaking of something so small as a meal.

Narrator: "I- I can't abandon him. I wish my father would take me back in with him." He says earnestly, looking at Abdul with wide-eyes.

Abdul sighs deeply. "Perhaps. I do not know. But he certainly will not do so unless you ask." Then, "Fareed. These arts of sihr that trick the eye - they will work you ill in the end. As you say, I have been around the block. More than you know. Take it from one who has seen much."

Narrator: "I can't ask him, not face to face...you do not know my father, how much I've hurt him..." Tayseer looks away.

Abdul: "Then I will go with you."

Narrator: Arching his brow, Fareed, if that's even his real name, raises his cloak hood again. "You're right, they've done others much harm, but then again in Cemetery Square justice comes here only when dragged kicking and screaming. I did not get the pleasure of your name, beggar?" His voice becomes that of a young man, faintly familiar to Abdul, but unrecognizeable at the same time.

Abdul: "I do not speak of the sort of justice that comes from qadis. I do not even speak of the justice you will face before God on the Last Day. The very nature of things means those arts work ill on the one who uses them."

Narrator: "Very well, I shall call you the 'Theologian' then." Fareed motions for Tayseer to lead the way, which the boy does willingly. He seems to be in his element dealing with others and negotiating his way through the city streets. "So does the blacksmith's furnace char his face, crack his hands, his lips, and even mangle his fingers and wreck his back. But are not his works beautiful?"

Abdul follows, keeping a hand on Tayseer's shoulder if the boy will let him. "Any beauty his works have come from within him, from the beauty that is in his soul. But sihr withers a man's soul and makes it ugly in the end."

Narrator: "Well, Theologian, your words are certainly illuminating. Would it surprise you to learn that I am no sorcerer?" He eyes a group of beggar boys talking amidst themselves, who glare at him nervously. "The Almighty himself has blessed me with the gift to present men the face which they keep closest to their hearts...whether in love or spite."

Abdul blinks. "I have never heard of such a thing. But if it is so, then I have wronged you. I apologize."

Narrator: Chuckling in a raspy voice, the young Fareed rubs his chin. "But I do wonder about God's intentions sometimes. How is it, Theologian, that you know so much about magic and Cemetery Square? One would think the two things antithetical."

Abdul: "That is a long story, Fareed. A very long story. I imagine some hereabouts might remember a part of it, though."

Narrator: Pushing through a series of old rusted gates that barely hang on their hinges, Tayseer leads you to a burned out building, using the outside stairs to ascend to the third floor. Within the chipped stucco and drifts of ash, Abdul is astounded to find a room suited to any prince! Fine vases and elaborate rugs, golden incense holders and bowls of dates and other candies. Of course, the crumbling ceiling, empty wine jug, and thieves' tools hanging on the wall give away its true nature.

Abdul: "I must say, you are quite an accomplished thief." It is a neutral observation, neither admiring nor condemning. "I imagine that being able to look like those men love and fear serves you well."

Narrator: "Every man has his gifts, and what Fate giveth, she also taketh away," says Fareed, moving swiftly to a wrapped bundle in a bowl. Breaking off a piece of ice with his knife, he crushes it and wraps it before handing it to Tayseer. "When you've finished, keep us safe." He says before tossing the boy's hair playfully. Fareed turns to Abdul, "Wise Theologian, care to join me on my palace's veranda overlooking this fine city?" He says majestically.

Abdul eyes the man just a bit warily. "If you wish it."

Narrator: Stepping through a silk curtain, he looks down upon Leper's Alley. "If there is anything you wish to say to me, say it now and let me decide whether to hang you or to serve you."

Abdul thnks for a moment, then says, "Rafiqi was my 'older brother'. I am seeking him. As for bin-Daoud... I have told him he is luckier than all the boys of Cemetery Square for having a family to go home to, and I spoke the truth to him. I never did."

Narrator: "Earlier, when I called you one of the Forgotten Boys, I meant those who worked for Akim, who still had integrity, before the thugs started moving in, but those in uniform and out of it. You're right that Tayseer is lucky, but not in the way you think." Fareed removes his cloak tossing it over the railing, before rubbing his eyes so hard he almost appears to be clawing them out. "His family sold him into slavery just before he ran away from home. I intercepted the slavers and brought him here. He has nobody else to turn to, so quit putting these ideas of a happy family reunion into his head."

Abdul says coolly, "Well, you certainly give me something to look into." In a more normal tone, he adds, "As for the 'Forgotten Boys', if that is what such are called, I hope I am one of them. I believe I had some integrity then, and I know that Rafiqi did."

Narrator: Abdul spots Tayseer down in the streets, winding his way through the crowd, tracing the exact route they traveled to get here from the watering hole. Fareed gazes hard at Abdul, "Rafiqi is one of the few good men in Cemetery Square, but he has many enemies. And I hear that Akim is looking for him now, all because of this Asfar Chahhad, this Yellow Beggar, who stole a necklace."

Abdul: "I know nothing of any Asfar. And you must already know I am not seeking Rafiqi to do him harm. Would any such speak as I have done?"

Narrator: "If you wish to find him, you will go to the old fire station and wait till you hear a crow call. At least, that is how he used to communicate with his brothers. As for Tayseer, don't cross me about him. Tayseer and I are only here long enough for my next job. However much you may be opposed to it, thievery feeds many bellies. Now, Theologian, will you join me for supper or is your appetite conflicted by morals?"

Abdul sighs. "You already know I worked for Akim. I cannot look down my nose at any man for theft. But may I ask you a thing? Did you grow up here?"

Narrator: "And if I did?"

Abdul: "Well, speaking as one who did also, I can well understand that one who did might have much to learn of love. I have heard the need in your voice when you speak of the boy. I do not doubt you care for him, but ask yourself if you always seek his good." He pauses, then says, "And my name is Abdul. The other boys called me 'Hakawati' * back in the day." ((* street storyteller))

Narrator: "Hakawati, eh? Did you know a poor thief named Mehdi? He was very dear to me."

Abdul groans. "Good Dar-Al! I remember him well. Poor lad. Please tell me he is well."

Narrator: "Sadly, he was picked up by Al-Fareed and other secret police, purportedly working for the Caliph. I do not know what has become of him." Fareed has a distant look in his eyes. "Tell me of your first job for Akim, Abdul."

Abdul: "My very first? I was so young - three years old. I scarcely remember. Given my age, they probably used me as the 'monkey' - you know, the one that eyes are upon while others do their work."

Narrator: "Three years old? And still begging these days? You seem far too educated to be a beggar, unless you've donned rags to find your older brother?"

Abdul chuckles. "I see I have not lost the arts Rafiqi taught me. Though the egg-white trick was of little use to ones so young as us!"

Narrator: Fareed laughs, pausing to look at Abdul, before laughing so hard tears come to his eyes. Tayseer calls from outside as he ascends the stairs. "Our rice is finished cooking. I should think you could even fool Akim with your disguise."

Abdul laughs also, then his mood darkens. "Let us hope for his sake it does not come to that."

Narrator: Tayseer says a quick prayer over the meal of roasted figs, rice, sheep's cheese, and sardines. Fareed lights two candles religiously while Tayseer prays, then pauses, and digs around for a third candle and lights it too before sitting down. "For your friend Rafiqi," he murmrs.

Abdul pauses to pray also. "Indeed. How do you know so much of Akim's boys, Fareed?"

Narrator: "There is someone who might be able to help you, Abdul, a man named Zayid who runs the madrassah. He is tracking down your old friends, and would know far more than I."

Abdul: "I will be certain to speak to him."

Narrator: "As for the rest, the only other I know by name is Ashquar, and only because he tried to drag me into his turf battles with Rafiqi. Ashquar sold out a group of boys to the authorities." He gazes at his meal, his eyes darkening. "Maybe even Mehdi."

Abdul's knuckles go white on the table. "I would not have thought it of him. He was a good brother, long ago."

Narrator: Fareed gazes at Abdul over the candle. "Everyone has a price, my guest."

Abdul: "For some men, the price is too high for any to pay."

Narrator: Tayseer asks Fareed, "Brother, do you remember how we'd use to play in the old chicken coop? It's been so long since I've had chicken, I can scarcely remember what they look like. I'm afraid I'd try to eat a rat and think it was a chicken." Tayseer laughs to himself as Fareed gazes intently at Abdul.

Abdul: "Speak your mind, my host."

Narrator: "Yes, I remember Tayseer. Father never approved of us, did he?" Fareed smiles at his younger brother. Looking back to Abdul he asks, "What has brought you to seek out Rafiqi?"

Abdul: "I am only just returned. Come, you surely must have had heard the tale of Hakawati. It was dramatic enough." He pauses as he looks at the two of them. "Wait, the two of you are brothers by blood?"

Narrator: "Of course," says Tayseer to Abdul, "or did you think I called him 'older brother' by jest only?" Fareed gazes at Abdul impassively, "Please tell us of the Hakawati."

Abdul starts laughing. "I thought..." He can't stop laughing.

Narrator: As Abdul laughs, a thought sends a shiver down his spine. Tayseer did not react at all to Fareed's face and voice changing; either the youth has grown used to it, or else Fareed's ability plays on the mind and is an illusion. In which case, who does he look like to Tayseer?

Abdul's face drains of color and he stares at Fareed over the table, as the candles flicker.

Narrator: Tayseer laughs at Abdul's face, "Oh, brother, this shall be a great tale!" Fareed pats his brother's hand. "Yes indeed." He gazes at Abdul, his eyes seeming to morph into Akim and Rafiqi's eyes at once almost subconsciously.

Abdul: "Fareed... I think you are a better man than I thought before. But remember what I told you of love."

Narrator: A weak smile, but an authentic one, forms on Fareed's face. "Abdul, what is the most ridiculous thing you can think of Akim doing? Something that would make him seem nothing more than a palace fool to you?"

Abdul blinks. "Eh?"

Narrator: Tayseer rolls over on to his stomach, propping his chin up with his hands. This is not a household where people rush to clean the dishes, apparently. Fareed gestures impatiently. "If you were the puppeteer what would you have Akim do that he would never do? Something that would make you laugh....and isn't too humiliating for me, preferably."

Abdul says stiffly, "I am not going to ask you to play the fool for my sake, my host. And indeed, I have no desire to look on the man's face again."

Narrator: "Very well," he says glumly. "I only wished to entertain you." Tayseer immediately moves to comfort his brother.

Abdul sits for a moment in silence, then says with a certain quiet savagery, "Hakawati was a dreamer-boy who listened to stories and told stories and dreamed of a better life - though any life would be better than the one he had. Akim called it 'prattle'. Well, one day one of his stories came true, and he was carried off by a jinn. The end." He is very tense.

Narrator: Tayseer is silent, uncertain how to react. Fareed gazes into the candle. "And did he forget all about Akim and his beating and live happily with a beautiful djinni wife in a jewled palace?"

Abdul: "Not at all. Akim haunted his dreams to this very day. And he was very lonely, for while the jeweled palace was fine, there was nobody in it but jinni. But he learned much, and grew, and it was indeed a better life than any he had dreamed of, and for that he was thankful."

Narrator: "Is that what I am, a jinn? An empty man in an empty palace?" Fareed asks the question his voice very distant, his eyes glazed over. Snapping from his trance, Fareed smiles weakly at Abdul, "Your story is also incomplete it would seem, but perhaps another time?" He looks over at Tayseer whose eyes are at half-mast.

Abdul meets Fareed's eyes. "I do not know what you are, Fareed - except that you are not a djinn so far as I can tell. Look within yourself, for only you can decide what you are. But the thieving is beginning to pall a bit, is it not?"

Narrator: "It always has, Abdul," he retorts, easing Tayseer's head onto a pillow. "You know where the fire station is?"

Abdul: "I do. Will he be here tonight?"

Narrator: "I do not know, but some of his boys will be, and they can tell you more. If you visit Zayid at the madrassah, it is in the old de-licing center for the textile factory."

Abdul: "Do you know of a Ferej? He tried to trick me, saying he worked for Rafiqi, though he lied about everything else."

Narrator: "Ferej? No, I don't. Though I wonder why someone would lie about working for Rafiqi? How are you feeling?" Suddenly, Abdul feels very light-headed and the room starts to swim.

Abdul bolts to his feet at the oddness of that question and the feeling in his head. "You traitor...!"

Narrator: "My apologies, Abdul, but you wouldn't want to remember how to get here. It's for your own good..." Abdul scrambles toward the door and falls over. Blackness swims about him with images of Akim and Rafiqi, and of Tayseer, and splintered bits of his conversation with Fareed....

Narrator: ...Abdul jerks awake in a side alley off of Leper's Alley. His eyes swim in a haze, and his entire body is paralyzed for a minute before he can move and see once again. What in the world happened?

Abdul concentrates for a solid minute, using the esoteric centering techniques Nakhlouf taught him long ago. His head doesn't hurt...

Narrator: Abdul's spatial senses have been seriously scrambled. He is not exactly sure where he is right now (though he's sure he's in Cemetery Square). He can't remember where Fareed's hideout is, or where he found Tayseer.

Abdul gets to his feet, growls with frustration, and restrains himself from punching the wall. "The candles! Ach! I am a fool." He pauses a moment to pray, to collect himself. Finally, he shrugs and heads into Leper's Alley to get his bearings again.

Narrator: Abdul finds the watering hole quickly, which at this hour of night is populated only by sleeping beggars in their makeshift huts.

Abdul hurries down the alley back to the place he first entered it. He definitely does not want to go down Knife-Loose Alley.

Narrator: Backtracking, Abdul fights off the last remnants of the drug that had so disoriented him. At first, his steps are awkward, but he quickly regains his composure. Abdul nears the old fire station. This part of the neighborhood looks like it has suffered from violence. Too many widows' black shawls line the shop windows.

Abdul moves cautiously, stealthily, into the old building he remembers so well.

Narrator: The building has clearly suffered from disrepair, and doesn't look like it sees much use anymore. The same hole in the back that Abdul used as a boy is still there. It's a squeeze, but he enters the basement. Piles of buckets are gnawed at by rats. The sound of dripping water can be heard. Quickly he finds the old well that once was in the basement; by the looks of it the old well has dried up.

Scattered around the floor near the well is granular salt in a perfect circle, though some sandal prints can be made out having long since trampled the salt.

Narrator: Abdul feels two competing memories tugging at him. One of playing games in the old fire station with his boyhood friends, and nursing his first wounds from Akim. The other of a book in Nakhlouf's library entitled "Circles & Symbols of the Almighty's Protection", which described a ritual for frightening away evil spirits with salt thrown over the shoulder or placed in a circle.

Abdul frowns down at the salt. Carefully, he tries to spread it back out into an unmarred circular shape. It passes the time while he's waiting for a crow call.

Narrator: Abdul is unsure of what time it is - he has felt a gap since awakening in the alley after Fareed's treachery. Most likely near or after midnight. Suddenly he hears some shapes moving through the hole in the back of the cellar, and just then the crow call goes out, piercing the night.

Abdul stage-whispers, "I am here, brothers." He knows well that whispered voices are hard to recognize.

Narrator: One of the boys says to the other, "See? I told you he moves like the wind!" There are at least two boys in the darkness. One presents a basket of eggs, the other a pouch of coins. Abdul notices a third shape slip in behind the two boys unnoticed, lingering in the shadows.

Abdul waits for the boys to enter and recognize him, holding out his hands placatingly. "Do not be afraid, lads. I am looking for an old friend."

Narrator: "You're not Rafiqi!" says one boy, drawing a knife on Abdul. "Did Akim send you?"

Abdul: "Never him! I was one of his too, long ago. It is Rafiqi I look for, as I have missed him sorely."

Narrator: The other boy looks Abdul up and down, "How can I know to trust you? And Rafiqi isn't here - He's left us."

Abdul smiles. "I think you mean he is behind you. At any rate, someone is. But as for how to trust me, surely he has told you of his brothers in Akim's days? How many others would know their names?"

Narrator: "I'm listening," says the rail thin boy. If ever a boy deserved the nickname 'Pencil' it is this boy.

Abdul: "Other than Rafiqi himself, there were Lightfingers, and Kerif Twigtoes, and Ashquar, and Mehdi Dar-Al and Hakawati. Shall I go on?"

Narrator: The figure in the background stirs, limping forward, "Not Rafiqi, but I know him well." The voice is vaguely familiar to Abdul. "I am Lightfingers."

Abdul studies the man carefully, to make sure of him. Though it has certainly been many years.

Narrator: It's hard to tell. The Lightfingers Abdul remembers was a wastrel youth with stringy brown hair, an awkward gait, and long agile fingers. This youth before you is only slightly younger than Abdul, sporting the beginnings of a moustache, and has his hair closely cut to his head.

Abdul takes a step forward, hesitantly. "Brother. Do you recognize me, under the egg-white?"

Narrator: The two youths jump when Lightfingers unveils himself; apparently this man is quite good at concealing himself. Though Abdul feels he can never be too cautious around confirming other's identities this day. Lies have been flowing like water, after all. Peering closely at Abdul, Lightfingers eyes widen. "Yes, you do look familiar to me...Were you one of Akim's old crew?"

Abdul: "I was. Which of them ... disappeared, suddenly, amidst laughter?"

Narrator: "Laughter?" He raises his hand shakily to feel Abdul's clothes. "We, we thought you'd died! Or been kidnapped by djinni....and here you are alive and well...with egg whites on your face..." Tears stream down Lightfingers face, as he clutches Abdul's clothes in disbelief.

Abdul embraces Lightfinger tightly. "Oh, brother! It is so good to see you again!"

Narrator: Lightfingers sobs in Abdul's arms. "Oh that Rafiqi were here to witness you!"

Abdul sobs also, but sighs in relief. "So he does not seek my ruin, then. I did not think so. A liar told me such."

Narrator: "A liar?" Lightfingers takes a deep breath. "Too much deceit these days - it would break your heart to learn what has become of the others. These are Rafiqi's boys Dyjer and Pencil." The two youths wordlessly nod.

Abdul: "I have already heard about Ashquar and Dar-Al, though I do not know if the tale was true. Hello, lads. I am Abdul, who was called Hakawati. Surely Rafiqi has spoken of me."

Narrator: "Oh yes, sahib," croaks out of Dyjer's mouth, but other words seem to catch there.

Abdul frowns slightly. "Out with it, lad. I will not be angry, though it be good or ill."

Narrator: "Rafiqi has made something of a legend of you, Abdul!" grins Lightfingers, wiping the tears from his eyes.

Narrator: "C- can you really cause tapestries to talk and show your tales like a desert mirage?" asks Dyjer, on the tip of his toes.

Abdul laughs. "I am afraid not. Though I can do many interesting things indeed!"

Narrator: Lightfingers looks at the two boys, he splits the eggs evenly between the four of you and gives the pouch of coins back to the boys, "Keep your catch tonight. Now leave us to catch up on old times."

Abdul: "One moment, please. Before I forget, do any of you know a man who calls himself Ferej?" He describes the man. "He told me lies of Rafiqi, but he got your names right, interestingly enough. He may be an enemy of Rafiqi's as well as mine."

Narrator: Both boys shake their heads. Abdul is getting the distinct impression that "Ferej" was a working name.

Abdul: "Ah well. Run along, lads, and I hope to know you better soon."

Narrator: "Goodbye, Hakawati. Salaam!" The two boys rush out to spend their hard-earned cash.

Abdul turns to Lightfingers, still just glorying in the man's presence. "I hardly know where to begin. Except, where is Rafiqi?"

Narrator: "You make a good impression on them." Lightfingers sighs. "Rafiqi has a high-class lover. I'm sure by now they've secretly engaged or some crazy notion. I tell you, Rafiqi has become the most lovesick man I've ever seen, and after all his talk over the years about how he would never love a woman. Ha!"

Abdul laughs out loud. "How absurd, and how delicious! Who is she? And is he undercover now, due to her family's anger?" He rubs his cheeks until the egg-whites peel off as he talks.

Narrator: "Well, Rafiqi would kill me for telling you, but I followed him one time. After I joined his gang we became much closer, but he always hid the secret of his beloved from me, so one night I followed him. I don't know her name, but I do know she is the daughter of a high-ranking Persian bureaucrat named Namvar al-Qadi. For all I know Rafiqi and her have eloped! He left me no word where he was heading."

Abdul: "Namvar al-Qadi! Tell me - is he truly as just as they say?

Narrator: "For Rafiqi's sake, I hope not!" Lightfingers laugh. "There! It is good to see your face clearly now."

Abdul: "How long has he been missing?"

Narrator: "About two weeks."

Abdul: "Most strange, most strange.... Hmmm. Tell me, has he ever worked for a scribe? Rafiqi, I mean."

Narrator: "A scribe? Not that he told me, but I know he worked for someone when he went out on his forrays, as he always returned with a fat purse. I doubt he got it all from thieving and conning, but you never know. He could fast talk a camel out of its humps!"

Abdul: "Indeed he could. Ach! There is such a web of lies surrounding him and me of late that I hardly know how to unravel them! But enough about the present! Tell me of yourself, and I shall try to do the same."

Narrator: Lightfingers sits at the edge of the well, dropping a stone down. "After I left that bastard Akim I tried to find out about my parents for some time. All I know is that my mother worked at the whorehouse, and people swear my father must be a Persian because of my face. After a few months I gave up and decided what did it matter? I began doing odd jobs for a man people call 'the Crescent', thievery, but always of the rich and the wicked. Eventually, Rafiqi told me of his gang and I joined up faster than you can say 'hakawati.' We've gotten into a few fights with Ashquar, but nothing serious. And, I've been visiting Twigtoes, remember him?"

Abdul: "Of course I do! The two of you were always so close. I should love to see him."

Narrator: "He does menial jobs at the whorehouse now. His body is quitting on him, and he has been afflicted with tuberculosis. I try to get him medicines, but they are so expensive. Abdul, I fear Kerif hasn't much longer among us."

Abdul sighs, and straightens his shoulders. "Well, I will see what I can do. I am a man of some little means, now... I should be able to afford some sort of doctor for him."

Narrator: "Bless you. I am afraid that beating Akim gave him damaged his mind and spirit. He is a broken man, Abdul. He grows more deluded with every visit I make - he thinks the whorehouse is a princesses' palace and the whores goad him on." Lightfingers sighs looking at his hands. "He is my greatest friend in all the world, and I can do nothing for him."

Abdul grips the man's shoulder. "Nonsense, my friend. You have given him your love, and that is a great gfit. He is probably alive today because of it. But what should I call you? It seems strange to use the name 'Lightfingers' now!"

Narrator: "It is the only name I have, Abdul, and it fits me well. Without my hands, I wouldn't know what to be called."

Abdul nods sadly. "Very well." He pauses. "My own story is... strange. I hope it will not alarm you."

Narrator: "The wonders of what befell you are welcome if they shed light on the darkness of my days in Cemetery Square."

Abdul: "Well, you remember how fond I was of the story of Aladdin. A shiftless boy finds a magic ring that calls a jinn, and suddenly he is rich. Except that I, Abdul, well, I was not shiftless! I would not make the stupid wishes and make the stupid mistakes he did. You remember."

Narrator: "Yes, you told that story so well."

Abdul sighs. "And I used to dream about my family, too, how rich and powerful they were. I still know nothing about them... except that they bound a jinn to the family line by his name."

Narrator: Lightfingers' jaw drops. Abdul's story is truly wondrous.

Abdul: "I stumbled upon that name, quite by accident, that night. Suddenly a jinn was right before me! Ten and a half feet tall!! ... I didn't know what to say or think. All the fine wishes I had thought up quite fled my mind. And he looked so fearsome! What if he were angry? I knew that I did not wish to be stupid, though, so I told him I wished to learn and become wise. He... well. He carried me off to Jinnistan, where I was taught many things. I served as a page in a noble house of Jauherabad."

Narrator: Jinnistan. Jauherabad. These are names of myth to Lightfingers, who knows only the cold taste of biting a stolen coin to check its worth, and the sweaty palms of running from the authorities. His is a world of dirt and grime, and it is hard to swallow these legends made real. "You're not making this up?"

Abdul: "As sure as Akim's rod, Lightfingers, it is all truth."

Narrator: Lightfingers chews his fingernails. "Why in God's name did you ever want to leave, Abdul?"

Abdul sighs. "Many, many reasons, my friend. I was lonely. I was not like the jinni boys. And... I wanted to help you others, too, though I cannot say truthfully that was often at the forefront of my thoughts. In any case, I thought I would be able to come back and return as often as I liked, but my lord was angered and exiled me back here with nothing but the clothes on my back. I have spent a couple years establishing myself as a scribe."

Narrator: "How you could ever be lonely surrounded by djinn at your command and jewled towers is beyond me, but I know nothing of such things. Though I have seen many lonely wealthy men, so perhaps there is truth in what you say." Lightfingers scratches his head. "So that's why you've come back, to visit us and Rafiqi?"

Abdul laughs weakly. "Djinn at my command? Only the one, and he, while dear to me, has not all the power the stories claim. As for the rest, I was more at their command than anything: I was a page. ... Yes, that is why I am returned to Cemetery Square - to find all of you, and especially Rafiqi, of whom I have been told so many lies of late."

Narrator: "I should like to go there one day," says Lightfingers, looking at his feet. "This world has left a sour taste in my mouth."

Abdul: "O my brother, every world will do that, if a man's heart be bitter. I am still learning to overcome the taste of our youthful suffering." He embraces Lightfingers again, more gently this time.

Narrator: "Thank God for your safe return, Abdul." Lightfingers is relieved to see his old friend well and alive. "I am nearly bursting with joy at seeing you, but should I stay quiet about it for now?"

Abdul: "Hmmm. That is a good question. It seems clear that I have enemies in Huzuz, and I am told that Rafiqi has many as well."

Narrator: "If you want to find Rafiqi I'd talk to the qadi's daughter - though I think he has two, so you'll have to figure out which one has become smitten by old Rafiqi."

Abdul chuckles. "That should not be hard for one trained in wiliness by the best, eh?"

Narrator: Lightfingers sighs, wiping tears from his eyes again. "Abdul. In the flesh. I still can't believe it. And I shall be discreet with who I share this good news with."

Abdul: "Yes. Though doubtless Dyjer and Pencil are already chattering."

Narrator: "Yes, well, at least I hope word doesn't reach Akim or your other enemies."

Abdul: "Akim? What could he do to me now? He may be feared in Cemetery Square, but he is scarcely a power in larger Huzuz. The man never did have any imagination."

Narrator: Lightfingers snorts. "He's deeply in debt now to the al-Jazandri family. And I hear the authorities want him for questioning about Asfar Chahhad. I've just heard whispers today that the whorehouse has stopped accepting his money after they were visited by a Nubian slave they call Aqeedah. Akim is a relic of the past, but he blames all his misfortune on you. It's sheer madness, but he is terrifying to hear, ranting and raving. I know I'll sleep better once he is buried."

Abdul: Wheels begin turning in Abdul's brain. "Is that so? Most interesting. And who IS this Asfar Chahhad, of whom I hear so much?"

Narrator: "One of Akim's young blood - a pack of scorpions, the lot of them. Remember the Beggar's Code we wrote behind the slave auction? I'd be surprised if even one of those rats has even heard of it. Anyhow, Asfar is an albino, and some say his parents are wealthy merchants from the Pearl Cities. He stole a priceless necklace, so goes the rumor, and Al-Fameed has been working to get it back, either for himself or for the bragging rights most likely. A qadi has issued a warrant for Asfar to be picked up along with Akim."

Abdul: "I wonder why this generation of brothers has gone so bad. But at any rate, this means that Akim will be lying low. All to the good!"

Narrator: "What will you do next Abdul?"

Abdul sighs. "I have other responsibilities at the moment. You will scarcely credit this, but I need to arrange a trial for a wicked sorcerer - Namvar al-Qadi may be just the man, if you can tell me where he lives. And I am to present my calligraphy to the Caliph, and there seems to be a scribe who wishes to prevent this. And a young friend of mine has gone missing, along with everything else. If you should see him, or hear tell of him, please take him in hand." He describes Farraj.

Narrator: Lightfingers sympathetically offers, "Perhaps life was simpler as a beggar?"

Abdul laughs. "Simpler, but far less interesting. And you, brother - it is not too late for you to learn another trade."

Narrator: "Maybe. I have always wanted Rafiqi to teach me the art of saddle-making which was his family trade. I fear that I've been spoiled by the streets though - I'm really good at what I do."

Abdul: "Nonsense, brother. A man can always change, though the road may not be easy."

Narrator: "When will you next come back to Cemetery Square?"

Abdul: "As soon as I can. How can I leave you word? And as for me," he describes his place on the Street of the Learned, and which of his neighbors can be trusted to deliver a message.

Narrator: "Dyjers and Pencil are often near the old fire station, and you can always lead word at the whorehouse, as I check on Kerif every day."

Abdul nods. "Know that you can count on me, Lightfingers. Always." He holds out his hand. "You lads are the only blood I have."

Narrator: Lightfingers takes Abdul's hand. "I've got your back, Abdul, remember that. You are my brother in this world and the next."

Abdul grins. "And in Jinnistan too!"

Narrator: So ends my tale, gracious listener, but it is in truth the very beginning. For I, who was called "Tayseer" among the streets, would be reunited with my family once the lies of my treacherous friend Fareed were revealed. The day the Beggar Who Wasn't walked into my life was the day I first thought of my freedom and reconciling with my father. So these things did come to pass, in the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
 
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So, the extra update was the good news. The bad news is, Farraj's player is moving, in addition to having computer troubles, and a couple weeks from now the Narrator will be moving as well.

So we've decided to put the game on hiatus for a month, to let things settle down - as we can't even imagine doing the game without Farraj! :) We're all eagerly awaiting to play it again - it's been magic!

And if anyone wants to comment on the game, I'd sure like to hear it. I know people are reading it...
 

Just an update to let people know, we aren't quite ready to start back up yet. Farraj's player doesn't have reliable access yet, and I'm busy beyond belief at my job. (Which is one reason why Chasing the Stars! isn't back yet either.)

Look for a new ep sometime in the next few weeks, if all goes well.
 

Son of the Worthy: The First Night

[Well, the other players (including one new one) are still having trouble making it to the game, so rather than get Abdul further ahead of the group, the Narrator and I decided to fill in some of Abdul’s backstory. There’s a number of things we wanted to know more about… So here’s Abdul, age 10. We’ll continue the story whenever we get the chance and the others aren’t available.]

Narrator: Wherein begins the 1st Night of the evening tale, "Son of the Worthy".

Narrator: Far from me to boast of my hand in the youth's upbringing, but an oath taken is an oath that must be kept. Thus, you who know not of Abdul al-Jann shall be enlightened forthwith. He was a young boy, not too small, but neither possessing any great qualities save these three things: Cunning, a kind heart, and extraordinary luck. Kings wish they were so fortunate as Abdul al-Jann that day he met that humble servant Aqisan...
Narrator: ((as narrated by Old Nakhlouf))

Narrator: Ice is not needed to tend the cruel beating of Akim that winter night, such was the chill in the air. The streets of Huzuz never see snow or ice, but the chill which comes through the streets is said to be the spirit of Death itself. That night, as frost rolled past the full moon overhead, Abdul held a whispered conversation with his bosom companion Rafiqi.

Abdul snivels a bit, one eye almost bruised shut. "I'm sorry, Rafiqi. I'll do better tomorrow." He looks around at the other boys, begging them to understand. "I just... I don't know."

Narrator: Rafiqi eases Abdul to sleep, wrapping him in a rotten wool blanket. "Better days are ahead, Abdul, you'll see..." As Abdul lays down to go to sleep, he hears the other boys sobbing and tending their wounds. Many nights had passed this way before, but never one so cold. "Abdul, remember all those great heroes you tell us of? What were their names? Aladdin..."

Abdul sighs, aware he is being cheered up. "Aladdin, Sinbad, Ahiqar. Hassan. Many others."

Narrator: "Yes indeed, and what would they do when they were defeated?" asks Rafiqi, reclining against the wall, looking up at the stars.

Abdul shrugs. "Pray. Fight. Think of their beloved. ... I don't have a beloved yet, Rafiqi. ... Sometimes they would almost give up... But always they would receive some sign of hope." He grips Rafiqi's hand. "From a friend, maybe, or a brother."

Narrator: Rafiqi looks tenderly on Abdul, but there is an edge in his eyes, a viciousness that Abdul hadn't seen before. "Think of them, Abdul. Think of them as often as you can. I'll let you in on my secret..."

Abdul props himself up on an elbow. "Secret?"

Narrator: "There's a thought that keeps me going. Once I stole an emerald necklace from a noblewoman. Now, if I had known I could have sold it and bought myself an apprenticeship right then and there. I hid it from Akim, afraid he would take it from me. But day after day I had a dream... I dreamt I would put the necklace around my beloved's neck..." Rafiqi fishes around in his pocket, and pulls forth a bit of string with a cheap piece of turqouise on it.

Abdul admires the turquoise. "It's pretty. But Rafiqi, you've always said you'd never love a woman. It's just a waste of time, you said."

Narrator: "Listen Abdul. Long ago, I returned the emerald necklace. I left it on the doorstep of the noblewoman, for my conscience had plagued me....*cough* as it is wont to do. Now, I know I said that I'd never love a woman, but, well, when you get to be my age you'll understand, Abdul."

Abdul asks humbly, desiring enlightenment, "Well, if it isn't a waste of time, what is it then?"

Narrator: Rafiqi holds the turquoise in his hand. "I made this piece of turquoise to remember what my dream was. That's what my beloved is, she is my dream. You've given a gift to these boys, you've given them more dreams than they've ever had before. I watch them as they sleep, Abdul, and more than a few go to sleep with Sinbad's adventures on their lips. You must find your own dream, for no one can find it for you, and no one can steal it from you."

Abdul: "But Rafiqi, I think too much. Everyone says so. I can't keep my mind on my work, and ... and... my brothers get hurt because of me. How can I bear that, Rafiqi?"

Narrator: Rafiqi silently gazes at Abdul, "Go to sleep, Hakawati. It is too late to think of such things."

Abdul: "All right, Rafiqi. Good night."

Abdul snivels a little more, repeating the names over and over. "Ahiqar. Hassan. Sinbad. Aladdin..." He begins to drift off.

Narrator: Rafiqi smiles faintly, and rises, padding off silently into the night.

Abdul murmurs, just on the verge of sleep, "Aqi... san."

Narrator: Wind fills the alleyway and then dies down. Abdul feels himself become wide awake. The scent of dates fills the air. And then the laughter comes, from every corner of the alley, a booming contagious laugh in time with a beating drum.

Abdul looks around, bewildered.

Narrator: Dark-skinned, thickly browed, shining eyed, muscle-bound, with two canine teeth like knives, and yet with a voice of practiced eloquence was the man that stood before Abdul. He came from nowhere, suddenly appearing in the corner of Abdul's eye. "What is your bidding, O my master?"

Abdul gasps. He pinches himself, to check if he is dreaming. "Are you... are you... are you... r-real?"

Narrator: "I am as real as the bruise on your eye, young master, as real as the cat's cry in the evening sky, as real as the constellation of Orion, as real as your umbilical cord now buried beneath a sycamore. Or do you test me as is the wont of your ilk, young master? Sugared dates? A roaring fire? What is your bidding?" The vast man, towering above Abdul, holds a large frame drum and beater in one hand and with the other he gesticulates as he speaks. His hands are bigger than Abdul's head!

Abdul creeps forward and pokes the man's shin, just to be sure. "My... ilk?"

Narrator: The man's shin is warm and quite supple. "Surely you did not summon me forth to play such cunning tricks, O my young master! As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so have I, Aqisan of Ar-Uryer, risen when you called my name."

Abdul's teeth are starting to chatter. "S-summon? ME?! But... but..." A word finally registers on him. "Did you say... master?!"

Narrator: Arching his brow, Aqisan strokes his beard. "Tell me, how many summers has it been since you were in your mother's arms?"

Abdul: "I never knew my mother. She must have died bearing me, they say, as the brothel wouldn't keep me."

Narrator: The man's eyes go wide. "Surely, you were given a name before the ill omen of your mother's passing?"

Abdul: "I'm Abdul..." Abdul is starting to recover his wits. "Did you really say 'master'?"

Narrator: Aqisan straightens his back and then snaps his fingers. Immediately, Abdul begins to feel warmer. He can see the winter chill in the air like ribbons of slow-motion smoke drifting about him and the large man. "Bid me, and I am bound, for the oath was sworn in the name of God the Almighty, and if there is honor in the keeping of it then it lies with God the Almighty who has watched over this humble servant. Food? Riches beyond your wildest dreams? There is nothing that is beyond my reach strengthened by your earnest request, but that it be straightforward and true."

Abdul's eyes fly wide. He opens his mouth, but the words die on his lips. Akim killed? But, no, that would be wrong. Food? A home? ... The stories returned to him. Wishing was dangerous. "I..." He swallows hard. "I..." He struggled to recall the way heroes talked, then said, "O mighty djinn, I do not doubt that you have the power to bring me dainty food, riches, and fine clothing, as in the story of Aladdin. But I... I don't have the wisdom to know what to ask for, or to use those things in a way pleasing to the Almighty. So I ask as the great Prophet Suleiman asked: To be wise. For what are all those other things, if wisdom is lacking?" Heart pounding, he waited for the man's reaction with his heart in his mouth.

Narrator: The great man smiles, a smile of comprehension as much as pleasure. Thus, Aqisan speaks these words, and with a sort of fierce pleasure, for in truth, his favorite part of obeying summons had always been the journey through the starry veil: "Your wisdom is a lamp, O son of the worthy, and your answer pleaseth me greatly. Hang tight, young master, for traveling to my lord's court may frighten you out of your mortal wits."

Abdul's heart pounds. "Hang... tight? I'll try not to be afraid. But... what about my brothers?"

Narrator: With that, Aqisan places a satchel of dates on the ground beside Abdul's bed and whisks Abdul onto his shoulder. "They will be here when you return." Thereupon, Aqisan claps his hands and Abdul feels himself begin to spin, or is it the world around him? The midnight sky begins to loom closer. Aqisan begins playing his frame drum and laughing as they rise into the sky. Abdul is spun round and around so many times that the faintest stars become whirling points of light. The great man plays his drum, the drum beats reverberating in Abdul's chest to the rhythm of his heart. And yet it did not seem strange or uncomfortable, only a distant dream just now remembered. Laughter filled his bones and tousled his hair, so much laughter it hurt, laughter drumming everywhere.

Abdul prays frantically, as best he knows how. "Please don't let me die yet, please don't let me die yet, please don't let me die yet."

Narrator: Then there is stillness and the whirling points, like string wrapped around a spool, unwind themselves. "No, young master, the farthest thing from death!" ays Aqisan, yet he is no longer a great man, but a great eagle with red-tinged wings and a black face and a white crest.

Narrator: Abdul feels himself floating high in the night sky on the eagle's back, so high that he can see each minute glimmer of the stars, and they seem so close he could reach out and touch them.

Abdul finally manages to pry his eyes open. "It's beautiful..."

Narrator: Aqisan - the eagle - speaks, "The celestial bodies, young Abdul, the mufariqat. They are imbued with divine intelligence since the dawning of time. Each one blesses children who enter Jinnistan who have the eyes to see the blessing. Do you have eyes, son of the worthy?"

Abdul looks carefully on the lights, as he is bid. What does a blessing look like...?

Narrator: One star sends out a bit of light and it grows into a glowing snowflake which seems to hover miles away and right above his head at the same time.

Abdul smiles widely. "I think I do see it!"

Narrator: "It is not enough to see, you must make it your own!" Says Aqisan.

Abdul starts to let go of the eagle's neck, which he has in a death-grip. "Um. It... likely isn't wise to look down, is it?"

Narrator: "Hahaha! Timid youth, down is the most interesting part yet!" The snowflake begins to drift away as Aqisan the eagle begins his descent.

Abdul reaches up toward the gleaming flake of light, placing his trust in Aqisan. He beckons. "Won't you come to me, blessing?"

Narrator: Growing bright again, the snowflake comes to rest on Abdul's fingertip, no larger than a marble. Abdul watches it unwind until it matches the lines on his finger. A sense of wellbeing and safety washes over Abdul.

Abdul says with happy almost-surprise, "God is good!"

Narrator: Aqisan the eagle looks over his shoulder perplexed, "You seem to take to Jinnistan quite easily, O son of the worthy, have you not ventured here before?"

Abdul: "Never, sir, never. Except... It reminds me of a good dream." He hesitates, then confides, "I dream a lot, even when I'm awake. Akim thinks I'm stupid, but I'm not. I just... can't be there all the time."

Narrator: Slowly the night sky turns a dark shade of green and everything feels closer, more intimate, like the universe has become intensely focused. Suddenly Abdul sees a version of himself reflected in the night sky flying on a magic carpet instead of a great eagle.

Abdul is drifting more and more easily into an accepting, trusting frame of mind. It IS like a dream. "Can you be a carpet too, sir? I see us over there too."

Narrator: The reflected image of Abdul's double winks at Abdul before vanishing as Aqisan looks over. "Ah...a markeen. Know that those born with a gift for the domains of magic have a djinni double, born at the same instant. The markeen will never be seen in the real world and are only visible in reflections for they lack the will to take on substantial form." As Aqisan slows down, Abdul realizes that they are in a vast canyon of dark green rock lit by tiny pinpoints of light that appear almost like stars.

Abdul: "Me? Born with a gift for magic? But... isn't magic bad? Does that make me a bad person?"

Narrator: "Hardly, O son of the worthy. Each of these points of light in this canyon is the soul of a slumbering child with the gift for magic, those who dream deeply, whose prayers and dreams are indistinguishable." As Abdul looks at the pinpoints of light he sees the face of Mehdi "Dar al" in the core of a star.

Abdul: "Mehdi! Sir, can't we go fetch him?!" He points. "He's my brother!"

Narrator: "Alas, I cannot, for it is forbidden to interfere with those who slumber, and the distance is quite far, young master." As Aqisan slows down, Abdul spots a flock of glowing sea-gulls approaching; however their reflctions reveal that they are noble djinni youths!

Narrator: Below a vast canyon made of emerald stone glitters through openings in the patches of mist.

Abdul takes it all in his stride by this point. He waves at the "gulls". He has a sudden thought. "Was *I* in one of those stars until now?"

Narrator: "Yes," says Aqisan solemnly.

Narrator: The gulls quickly approach, and begin teasing Aqisan. "Royal Drummer, fast as you can drum, your looks are quite atrocious, and thus you'll go unsung, while me and my brothers, us twelve noble sons, shall beat you through the hydra's arch before the rising sun!"

Abdul: "Neat! I never knew I was a star!" He pats the feathers. "Beat them, won't you?"

Narrator: "What's this, a challenge from you again, Nusoum? Very well, my lordship, it would be my solemn duty to ensure that one of your noble plumage not be scathed by the hydra even if it means teaching you a lesson in speed! Hang on young master!" With that Aqisan the eagle dives through the mists as the seagulls race to catch up.

Abdul giggles and hangs on tight. He sticks out his tongue playfully at the lead gull.

Narrator: Distorted images of Abdul glitter in the emerald rock face, and the reflection of the eagle reveals Aqisan's true form. Looking back at his rivals, Aqisan lets out a laugh, "Persistent are the young sons of al-Shisas! They havent a hope of winning, though! So, what do you say, shall we take the easy route or the hard one?"

Abdul waves a hand nobly and says archly, "I leave it to your best judgment." He can't help but giggle a bit, though, which spoils the effect.

Narrator: "A wise choice, son of the worthy," laughs Aqisan, veering to the left. Ahead, Abdul makes ouf a large glittering archway with a massive carving of a king's head with a gaping mouth over the arch.

Abdul drinks everything in, eyes shining.

Narrator: "Be careful here, young master, for the hydra sees everywhere," whispers Aqisan, entering a glide. The seagulls divide into two groups, one goes to fly up and over, and the other smaller group follows Aqisan's route.

Abdul: "What do you fear it seeing...?"

Narrator: Suddenly, Abdul feels a sharp pain in his finger and then magic words around the archway flare to life and a powerful wind fills the canyon, a mighty hissing wind. Abdul sees something moving inside the mouth of the carved king's head.

Narrator: "The hydra stirs!" cries out one of the seagulls behind Aqisan.

Abdul says faintly, "Please tell me this isn't the easy way. If it is, I don't think I want to see the hard one!"

Narrator: A great sucking wind comes from the carved king's mouth, threatening to pull Abdul into it, but he fiercely clutches Aqisan's feathers and you fly through the arch. Turning to look back behind him, Abdul sees the two seagulls nimbly dodge giant serpentine heads that lunge from the mouth at them as they pass. Aqisan laughs, "And how do you like your Royal Drummer now?"

Abdul: "I wonder if he is the one to teach me wisdom!" Abdul laughs shakily, then realizes something. "Wait - royal?! Are you saying I am..."

Narrator: "No," replies a seagull, catching up to you, "you are far too small to be nobility. What manner of spirit is this, Aqisan? Not a human boy?"

Abdul says indignantly, "Well, of course Im human! And what does size have to do with it, anyway? Even the Caliph was a little baby once!"

Narrator: "None other, and I shall take him to your father, " replies Aqisan. Almost offhand, he adds, "He is a summoner."

Narrator: "Well, it certainly sounds like a human," chimes in another seagull.

Narrator: "A...sha'ir?" blanches the seagull named Nusoum. "And he summoned you?"

Abdul says in a mysterious voice, "Oh yes! I did indeed! And the way I did it is so secret, I don't even know it myself!" He winks.

Narrator: Aqisan sighs, "It would not be the first time I have responded to summons, my lordship." Aqisan laughs at Abdul. "And who knows what this mighty summoner might do next, eh?"

Narrator: The seagulls laugh nervously.

Abdul nods. "None but the Almighty. And He isn't telling."

Narrator: A vast minaret, then three, then six are visible in the distance,and soon Abdul witnesses a massive city built into the side of emerald mountains, with rivers of gold-colored water and pomegranate trees growing on windswept ledges. Below a flock of sheep follow a herder who waves a cudgel, and a dove suddenly appears next to you. "A summons for Aqisan, who has greatly angered his grace the Khedive al-Shisas: Return at once and make ready your olive branch." With that the dove flaps its wings and turns to fire then air.

Abdul blanches and whispers to Aqisan, "Is that bad?"

Narrator: "Shall we escort you to the palace gates? After all, I wouldn't want to miss *this* even if *three* mortal boys were to appear!" squawks one of the seagulls.

Abdul: "Am I as frightening as all that?"

Narrator: "Not bad, alas I was taken from a conversation with young Diwanis, daughter of the Khedive, Opalescent pearl of the evening, mistress of the full moon, she who is worthy of the praise of pomegranate nectar."

Abdul: "Pomegranate nectar can praise people?"

Narrator: Aqisan adds, "To quit her presence so suddenly as I did will need some...sigh...obsequiances..."

Narrator: Aqisan blinks at Abdul, "Why of course it can! You have much to learn, O son of the worthy."

Abdul has no idea what any of that means, but just nods.

Narrator: Alighting upon a checkered blue and white marble floor, Aqisan resumes his true form, strong and fearsome, as do the seagulls, becoming a gathering of handsome dashing noble djinni a bit tousled from their hard play.

Narrator: Nusoum squints at Abdul, "Well, sha'ir, you're not quite as fearsome as....say....Aqisan, but I'll keep my eye on you all the same. Why the stories---"

Abdul says cheerfully, "I love stories!" He looks sidelong at Aqisan. He IS a bit frightening...

Narrator: The Khedive appears, and Abdul knows right away it is the Khedive. His eyes are twin pools of storm, he carries a sceptre shaped as a lightning bolt, and his mere entrance causes the hair on Abdul's head to stand on end.

Abdul decides it would be prudent to kneel at this point. He gulps.

Narrator: Aqisan bows and begins to make his apology, but the Khedive pounds his sceptre and thunder booms in the hall. "Silence! You have gravely insulted my daughter who has hidden from all, even her own father, and refuses to make herself seen. I am wroth with thee, Royal Drummer, whom I took into my household with all grace and kindness."

Narrator: Abdul hears Aqisan swallow, which isn't very comforting.

Abdul starts appealing to a higher authority: Praying quietly. His heart is pounding again.

Narrator: "But, against my better judgment I will forgive thee, for my daughter finds you pleasing to have in my court, and in truth, I have great need for a herald of your skill." Turning to Abdul the Khedive, his dark hair perpetually moving in a miniature cyclone, narrows his eyes. Abdul feels the attention of the entire court shift to him.

Abdul offers, "Uh... hi? Your Majesty."

Narrator: The Khedive's eyes widen at this audacity, lightning storms forming within his pupils. "Young summoner, by what magic did you call forth my servant?"

Abdul gulps. "I, I, I... don't know. Your Majesty."

Narrator: "You don't know. And have you designs on becoming a member of my court for your own gain?" asks the Khedive pointedly.

Abdul: "I, uh, I don't understand. Your Majesty. A member of your court?"

Narrator: "You don't understand," the Khedive's voice is like the echo of thunder in the heavens. "Have you ever willingly made compact with the Ifreet?"

Abdul: "What's a compact? But I've never met an ifreet. Your Majesty. Unless, uh, Aqisan is one? He's the first djinn I ever met."

Narrator: "You've never met one." The Khedive says incredulously. "Knoweth your family of your decision to abandon mortal kind?"

Abdul is considerably bewildered by this point. "Abandon?"

Narrator: Aqisan whispers into the Khedive's ear.

Narrator: "Ah," says the Khedive. "No family? Alas, such is the way of mortals. Well then, who raised you? What is the day of your birth? Don't be bashful, speak up!"

Abdul: "Um, Rafiqi found me and helped me. Then Akim took me on. Your Majesty. I don't know what day I was born."

Narrator: "Well, that is a forgiveable offense," laughs the Khedive, "neither do I!" The rest of the court laughs at this in-joke. Clapping his hands, the Khedive summons forth four veiled djinniyeh (female djinni) who materialize from the four braziers in the throne room. "Dressing djinniyeh, bathe this wastrel youth and bedeck him as befitting one of my court!" With a wave of his hand, the Khedive dismisses Abdul. Aqisan winks at Abdul as if to say everything will be ok.

Abdul surrenders to the moment, but he's still thinking hard, and muttering to himself the word 'Abandon'.

Narrator: Whisked away by the dressing "women", Abdul is led down a twilight path - for the sun has not yet risen - lit by torches of smokeless flame to a series of sparkling gold waterfalls. At this point the eldest of the dressing "women" warns Abdul to wait there and to face the forest and not to look over his shoulder while they bathe.

Abdul obediently does as he is told. Not like he wants to see a naked girl anyway. Yuck.

Narrator: The earth rumbles a bit no sooner than a minute has passed. Abdul notices a wisp of golden smoke flow down the stairs and up into the trees, whereupon beautiful faint flute music graces Abdul's ears.

Abdul laughs and points. "What is it?"

Narrator: Suddenly the music stops. Abdul thinks he can see a small person in the tree, but he's too far to tell.

Abdul takes a step forward to get a better look.

Narrator: In the top of a weeping willow is a young djinni girl, apparently Abdul's age, she stifles a sob, and upon noticing Abdul grows very afraid. She looks from left to right, but sees no easy way down.

Abdul: "Hello. I'm Abdul. Why are you crying?"

Narrator: "I play yet the man in the trees does not come with his gifts of basbousa (a popular dessert of nuts, oil, and fried dough), nor does he teach me how to play music. I play the song he taught me, for I have learned it so well, by devoting myself to practice till the evening suns fell."

Abdul thinks, then offers, "Well, it could be worse."

Narrator: "Really?" sniffs the djinni girl, looking up.

Abdul: "Does anyone beat you for not begging or stealing enough money?"

Narrator: Whimpering, the djinni girl begins to cry, but this time it's not stifled sobbing but real loud wailing. As she cries, her tears fall on the golden flute. A flurry of leaves dances around Abdul's ankles and then darts up a tree next to the djinni girl. Looking up, Abdul sees a long-armed man, slightly monkey-like in appearance, caked in dried mud - his bright green eyes shine down on Abdul. "Who makes my Minatra cry? The weeping dove's tears have touched my flute, as those of my love once did."

Abdul: "I only told her it could be worse."
 
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[A continuation of "Son of the Worthy", Abdul's background story. We'll likely get to continue further next week, and then there'll be a drought for a while again.]

Narrator: "Kings die. Nations are ruined. But the pain of separation is the most unbearable. Have you not loved so deeply, that the separation was a knife in your own heart? Or are you a callous wind?" asks the Man in the Trees, leaning on a branch that shouldn't be able to support his weight. The branch bends so that the mud-caked green man sways above young Abdul.

Narrator: "Ah, but you're no djinn's son..." He peers close to Abdul, and within his eyes Abdul can make out his pupils which appear to be the silhouettes of upside down trees lit by lightning behind storm clouds. "You've come from Dar al-Ins...Are there more of you?"

Abdul shrugs uncomfortably, not wholly understanding. "I didn't mean to make her sadder. What's Dar al-Ins?"

Narrator: Sniffling the djinni girl seems to be relieved by the presence of the strange man in the trees.

Narrator: "I...I don't honestly know," muses the man in the trees. "I suppose I should be the one to ask you." Seeing that Abdul doesn't have a malicious bone in his body, the strange man eases himself down, sitting cross-legged in a nest of branches that rises from the earth before you. "Have you prayed today?"

Abdul: "Well, of course! I may be only a beggar-boy, but I try to be a good Muslim, sahib, inshallah."

Narrator: "So be it," chortles the man in the trees. Raising his hands high, he faces the deep forest and begins his prayers. Abdul wonders how he knows which direction holy Huzuz is, but follows suit, as does the young djinniyeh.

Abdul prays devoutly, his stomach rumbling before he's done. Rising to his feet, he says a bit faintly, "I don't suppose you have any of that basbousa about you, sahib? I... haven't eaten today, except a crust Rafiqi gave me hours and hours ago."

Narrator: Resuming his seat in his nest, the man in the trees smiles, "No basbousa, young ins, but my wife is preparing a fine shawrbat 'adas majroosha [pureed lentil soup], and she loves company." His nest is swooped up above Abdul's head by the branch, and he extends his hand towards the deep forest. In the distance Abdul hears the washing djinnieyh calling for him.

Narrator: The young djinnieyh smiles, "Oh yes, I should like to meet your wife! What is she like? Will she have basbousa?"

Abdul sighs. "I would love to, sahib, but the dressing women are calling me, and his Majesty said I was supposed to go with them. Goodbye! And goodbye, Minatra!"

Narrator: Minatra waves and vanishes into the forest.

Abdul turns and heads dutifully back to the dressing djinniyeh by the waterfall.

Narrator: Thereupon, young Abdul finds himself surrounded by three veiled djinniyeh, armed with coarse brushes, tinctures of rose water, toothbrushes of horse hair, and a bowl of shaving lather. "So there you are!" says one of the djinniyeh, teasingly. "Get in the water, boy," beckons the eldest, who is knee deep in the slow flowing stream.

Narrator: As Abdul nervously edges near the water, he notices that the two young djinniyeh seem disheveled, their veils are slightly skewed, their kohl [eye-liner] is running, and their hair is poorly combed. The elder djinniyeh waits patiently, with a look of smugness that looks as if engraved at birth.

Abdul furrows his brows at the djinniyeh and folds his arms, curling his lip stubbornly. (He would be greatly chagrined to know how adorable he looks doing this.) "You didn't want me to watch when YOU bathed. Why should I do it in front of you?"

Narrator: "Young boy!" says the grandmotherly djinniyeh, pointing at Abdul. "Come here this instant!" All at once, young Abdul feels his body begin to become stiff. The djinniyeh's eyes seem to loom large as the water ripples outward from the djinniyeh.

Abdul sputters as he feels himself going numb. "Vixens! Harlots! Harridans! You only want to get me naked so you can unman me!" He almost certainly doesn't know what those words mean, but it sounds like something a hero would say.

Narrator: Abdul is bodily dragged an unseen force toward the djinniyeh, who eyes him warily. She leans close to Abdul and whispers testily, "If only you knew. Now, can you clean as well as you can curse?" With that she places a sponge and bar of soap in Abdul's hands, and sloshes her way out of the water. With that, Abdul is immersed, falling into the stream.

Narrator: Abdul also notices the fourth djinniyeh appear from behind the waterfall, tying her veil back on as she slips along the stream's edge to join her sisters.

Abdul washes contentedly. After a time, he feels contrite enough to call out, "I'm sorry I called you names. I was scared."

Narrator: The younger djinniyeh sigh at Abdul's sincere apology and whisper to each other, but the matron is unimpressed. "I have been called worse names by grown men! Surely you shall grow up to become just as they are. Clean yourself some more, boy." Her eyes narrow.

Abdul says humbly, "Yes sayyida," and does as he is told.

Narrator: "His majesty, the Khedive, wishes to have you dressed as one of his court before he presents you, and that means you shall not be smelling like you rolled from a pig sty. Make sure to wash behind your ears. Every month the entire court gathers and the Khedive issues his commands and introduces visitors from distant Amberabad, from Krak al-Majlis even, and I'll not have you looking like some wastrel. Gargle and clean your mouth out. Now there are some clothes for you on the far shore of the stream. Well, get swimming!" She snaps, though it is clear she enjoys being called 'sayyida.'

Abdul repeats, "Yes, sayyida." He swims over and dries off. His jaw drops at the clothes. "Are these... are these... really for ME? Surely there's some mistake?"

Narrator: Fine silks of ochre dun and honeydew, embroidered with real gold about the collar and cuffs lie atop a rock. Beneath is a pair of rose colored pantaloons, and at the base of the rock is a pair of pale blue slippers encrusted with crystals in the shape of a swan.

Narrator: "Don't flatter yourself," admonishes the matron, "they were once the belongings of a minor courtier in the Khedive's court. Now then, how do you look?"

Abdul gets dressed in a daze. "Sayyida, I don't know from courtiers, but I've never had anything like this before!" He isn't quite sure where everything goes, but he does his best. "They're so soft!"

Narrator: Getting the pantaloons on the right side front, Abdul finds himself with the predicament of crossing the stream to reach the rest of the djinniyeh. "Yes, yes, now we must get back to court. The Khedive is expecting us."

Abdul: "Um. How do I get across without getting wet?"

Narrator: Sighing, the matron waves her hand, and Abdul finds a path of wide lotus pads buoy up from the depths of the stream. Abdul estimates they'll hold his weight, at least for a moment - enough to get across perhaps.

Abdul skips across gaily. He's still pretty much taking things in his stride like a dream. Abdul does remember to say, "Thank you, sayyida!" though.

Narrator: "You are welcome, Abdul," says the matron with what passes for a smile on her aged face. She admonishes the younger djinniyeh to fix their outfits, and she leads Abdul up the stone stairway lit by fireflies now that it has turned to dusk.

Abdul trots along, secretly happy that she isn't mad at him any more.

Narrator: The Khedive's Palace is deceptive in its appearance. Before Abdul's very eyes, the dark towers, partially obscured by fog rolling over the mountains, are lit from within. As each brazier is lit, windows (and doors) flicker to life, fires lighting the castle in a luminous spiral. A procession of djinni approach the vast gate by way of an arching bridge overseen by two armored djinn. Following the sound of a beating drum, Abdul sees Aqisan in the background playing upon his drum.

Abdul walks along, eyes shining, drinking it all in.

Narrator: The matron chirps, "Now this way Abdul, these are nobles of the Jinn court, though pay no mind to any peries among them - they're apt to unman you if you take my meaning." Despite her sourness, the matron winks at Abdul, half-friendly, half-frightening.

Abdul nods solemnly. "I'll remember that, sayyida. What's a peri?"

Narrator: "A husband-stealer who can take the form of a ringdove. If you--" All at once the matron is cut off as the rhythmic drum misses a beat and stops. The sounds of conversation and laughter filter in, and then Abdul realizes that a palanquin is being paraded across the bridge. Aqisan stares with dumb wonder as a veiled djinniyeh peers at the crowd as she is carried through. Abdul is certain her eyes meet his, and feels his heart skip a beat.

Abdul smiles and waves shyly.

Narrator: The matron tugs Abdul to his knees. "Psst! Kneel!"

Abdul does so, resigning himself to not comprehending anything until later. "Who is it?"

Narrator: "The daughter of the Khedive, Sitt Ninya, who resists the hand of all who seek her in marriage." Though the matron dared not look up while kneeling, now she looks after the palanquin with bitterness, "She was once my student."

Abdul says politely, "I'm sure you taught her well, inshallah."

Narrator: Mutely, the matron leads Abdul into the gates. As Abdul passes Aqisan, the great drummer winks at him and begins drumming a familiar tune that Abdul recalls from his childhood, a tune merchants would play in the souk. It sounds like a conversation between a chirping bird and rumbling lion.

Abdul sighs happily to himself. It's good to have something familiar amidst all the strangeness. "May I ask you a question, sayyida? Besides this one, I mean."

Narrator: "No you cannot talk to her. Yes, you must bathe daily. Yes, you must speak before court." The matron rattles off these answers as if she has done this before.

Abdul blinks. "Well, I'm sure those are good answers, but they don't go to my question. I guess I just wanted to understand something His Majesty said earlier."

Narrator: "What's that, Abdul?"

Abdul: "Something about 'abandoning mortalkind'. I didn't really understand it, and he seemed to think I'd already asked for it, but I hadn't."

Narrator: "Ah," says the matron, watching Abdul carefully while guiding him through the gathering of djinn. Stopping to direct some servants who turn into whirlwinds and vanish upon receiving their commands, the matron leads Abdul to a small alcove. Thereupon the matron recites two of the names of God, the Most Merciful. "A pocket created when the palace was erected. Several like it exist. We are completely invisible and inaudible to all who pass so long as nothing crosses this boundary," she indicates a groove in the floor separatingt he alcove from the main passage.

Abdul nods. He is trying to look and sound casual, but he's really rather nervous and fidgety. He probably doesn't understand what "inaudible" means, either, but he isn't about to ask.

Narrator: "Now boy...Abdul, tell me what is bothering you." The matron sits in a small stone chair carved from the wall.

Abdul: "Well, Aqisan told me I'd be able to go back and visit my brothers soon enough, but then the Khedive asked me all about my family and decided I was gonna 'abandon mortalkind' and that doesn't sound good and while this is a beautiful place, I guess I just wondered, um, what he meant by that and all."

Narrator: Wistfully looking past Abdul, the matron sighs. "The Khedive has no children, so you are very precious to him, as are all children who enter his court, but you in particular because you are a human boy. You will come to understand what makes you special when you grow older."

Abdul says hopefully, "Well, my brothers need a home too, and I'll bet they'd be just as precious to him as I am!"

Narrator: "Yes, Abdul, but think about this: How many brothers do your brothers have? Would you bring them all here?"

Abdul: "None of us have any families, sayyida. It's just the six of us. And Akim, but he really really really doesn't count, honest!"

Narrator: "It cannot be, Abdul. Other courts might abduct mortals out of high-mindedness, but the Khedive has no such pretensions. That means he won't do it because he thinks it's wrong. You, on the other hand, came because of a wish, and that is a sacred thing enshrined in our laws."

Abdul: "But at least I can go back and help them, right? So they don't get beaten by Akim every day and have things to eat and maybe apprenticeships or something? I can make wishes about that too!"

Narrator: Smiling gently, the matron shakes her head, "Until the terms of your wish are fulfilled you cannot leave or the honor of the Khedive would be forfeit. I can show you your brothers when you wish, however, so that you may know what becomes of them."

Abdul's face drains of color. "But I didn't wish for this! I wished for wisdom!"

Narrator: "And so you shall receive it," says the matron rising. "Now prepare yourself to audience with the Khedive."

Abdul looks quite shell-shocked. He's chewing his lip, his eyes are watering, his breath coming hard... a woman as experienced at the dijinniyeh surely realizes the tears are coming soon.

Narrator: The matron's demeanor becomes cold once more. "I know what I need to. You may stay here as long as you wish and console yourself Abdul. No one will disturb you." With that she wraps her skirts about her and vanishes in puff of smoke.

Abdul: Alone and bereft, Abdul sobs once. But, the veteran of a thousand beatings by a man who hated tears, he thrusts it down and wipes his eyes. He looks around, dazed, not sure what to do now.

Narrator: Abdul hears a whispering voice through a small grate in the rock wall above him.

Abdul: Not having been taught the social niceties, Abdul has no qualms about putting his ear to the grate.

Narrator: "...Dear God, help me to be strong *sniff* The sayyida will not let me marry Ishna, the one I love, and everyday she takes my wicked sisters to perform their foul rites unbeknownst to the Khedive. *sob* And even the Khedive hates the work I do and belittles me for every effort so now I am afraid to act at all... *sniff* Please, forgive me, for tonight I will leave..." All at once the voice grows quiet, as if the djinniyeh speaking knows she's being listened to.

Abdul squints through the grate to see who it is.

Narrator: Immediately Abdul recognizes the youngest of the washing djinniyeh, the one who came from behind the waterfall. All at once, he is eye to eye with her as she peers through the grate. "You??" She says in shock.

Abdul: "Um, yes? Hi."

Narrator: "What are you doing eavesdropping on me? And how do you know about the hidden spaces? And...why...why are you crying?" She asks, growing softer. Indeed, Abdul had not realized it, but a tear was running down his face.

Abdul: "I heard you praying. The sayyida took me here. And, um, I'm not crying." He wipes furiously at his cheek with his sleeve.

Narrator: "Oh, my mistake, it-it must have been a shadow," she says cleverly. "So, what did the sayyida tell you?" She asks sarcastically.

Abdul swallows hard. "That, that, that I'm not gonna see my brothers again." Now he IS crying.

Narrator: "Oh, I'm so terribly sorry. The must be such nice boys for you to cry like that. Here, take this," she presses a handkerchief embroidered with a feather through the grate. "Here."

Abdul: "They took me in and showed me how to live and now I'm in nice clothes and stuff and they're hungry and getting beaten by Akim and I made the wrong wish and I can't DO anything about it!"

Narrator: As Abdul receives the handkerchief, the djinniyeh turns to a mist which flows through the grate and forms into the shape of a woman by Abdul, slowly rematerializing into the djinniyeh as she places an arm around Abdul's shoulder. "They are fortunate to have a friend like you, thinking and worrying about them even from so very far away."

Abdul quickly soaks the handkerchief. "I don't know about fortunate. I've 'abandoned mortalkind' without even knowing I was going to, and can't help them and they won't know what happened to me!"

Narrator: The djinniyeh strokes Abdul's hair, then looks out the "curtain" which keeps them hidden from the outside world. "You-- you could come with us if you like. With Ishan and I tonight while court is called. We have a horse, the finest mare I've ever seen, named Bint-al-Dawra [Daughter of the Wind]. We plan to ride to Amberabad and seek refuge in a peri's court, where my love and I shall be wed. There are others of your kind in the City of Amber, you know, even sha'ir. Perhaps they could help undo your wish there?"

Abdul sighs. "I d-don't know."

Narrator: Biting her lip, the djinniyeh frowns. "You won't tell anyone about this will you? Oh, say you won't. I am already afraid sayyida Zianah will find out, and she makes no idle threats. She doesn't know about your wish does she?"

Abdul: "I don't know who sayyida Zianah is. Is she the one who was with you three at the waterfall? Then yes, she does."

Narrator: "Oh, I wish you hadn't said so. She surely seeks to bewitch you. Once she boasted that she could turn a wish inside out if she wished, and sayyida, well, she makes no idle threats. I don't think you are safe here. Are you sure you won't come with us?"

Abdul: "Won't that make His Majesty really mad at me?"

Narrator: Pressing her finger to her pursed lips, the djinniyeh servant raises her finger, "Think how mad he'll be when he learns that one of his sons has run off with a simple servant!"

Abdul sighs hopelessly. "Well, that'll make him mad, I guess, but it IS his son, and you know people and things and live here and all. I don't know anything!"

Narrator: Abdul can hear a trumpet blast twice. "The summons to court! I must away. Here, take this key," she says, pressing a copper key into Abdul's hand. "If you change your mind, come to the Khedive's stable by midnight. Oh, good luck to you." She lingers a moment, reaching for Abdul's cheek before vanishing into mist.

Abdul blinks, looking down at the key. He tucks it and the handkerchief in a pocket (awkwardly - he's not used to them) and says to himself, "I guess I'm supposed to go to court too. But where is it?" He steps across the groove in the floor and shyly asks anyone nearby for directions.

Narrator: Aqisan intercepts Abdul. "Ah, son of the worthy, there you are. The Khedive was beginning to worry. I take it you've prepared a speech for the gathered nobility? No? Well then we'll have to improvise..."

Abdul just looks at Aqisan bleakly. "You told me I'd be able to go back and visit my brothers shortly."
 

Narrator: Apologizing profusely, Aqisan gently guides Abdul through the myriad ranks of jinni courtiers - feathered plumes of red, yellow, and violet, scents of ambergris and sweet ash - as they approach the Khedive's audience hall. "Son of the worthy, indeed you shall, and you shall go back with wisdom. How many men are so fortunate?"

Abdul will not be put off. "But when! When I'm old and wrinkly? You didn't tell me I wouldn't be going back!"

Narrator: Aqisan arches his brow wearily, "You did not seem concerned before our departure about such trivialities. What has changed your disposition?"

Abdul narrows his eyes at the enormous jinn and says imperiously, "If a 'triviality' is something bad, then I'm mad at you. And just why does everyone think that 'wisdom' means 'abandoning mortalkind', anyway??"

Narrator: Several young jinni laugh nearby, invisible, when an old sour-faced jinniyeh reaches out and grab's one's ear, compelling it to become visible. The jinni youth becomes visible along with his fellows, all floating in the air, surrounded by electrical winds which die down as he is lowered to the floor. More djinni move by Aqisan, who walks rather slowly, bearing his massive drum upon his back with equanimity, their ranks include jewel bedecked women, all veiled, thirteen in number, of astounding grace. Whispers follow after the robed women. Aqisan stops, forcing traffic to a near standstill such is his size and the narrowness of the entry passage.

Narrator: "If you had known what wisdom meant before asking for it, would you have asked?" Aqisan inquires with a smirk on his face. "Son of the worthy, I shall endeavor to serve you as best as I am able till my hands no longer can drum, but I am no scholar. You need to talk to Old Nakhlouf, he'll have the answers you seek."

Abdul visibly and manfully forces down tears again. "No, I wouldn't have. I thought you were a good jinn. But I don't think a good jinn would make fun of me when everything's going wrong." Chest heaving, he might go on, but is too upset.

Narrator: Aqisan leans down to put a massive calloused hand on Abdul's shoulder. "You shall learn Abdul just what sort of a jinn I am." The words reverberate solemnly, as if Aqisan were swearing his life to young Abdul. Sighing, he raises his finger to point out a stainglass window. "See there?" He points up to an image of a winged lion protecting a baby boy, the stars faintly visible even through the glass. "How many blessings are among the stars that are never found? Why, your blessing found you! No, son of the worthy, you are living in the best of times, and it is my pleasure to see them with you."

Abdul looks up at Aqisan, one eye still bruised shut. "But my brothers get no blessing at all. They're hungry and beaten every day. How can I be happy when I know that?"

Narrator: Aqisan smiles gently. "They haven't gone hungry today at least. Perhaps this is a piece of the wisdom you are seeking?" Several djinni are beginning to jostle Aqisan and grow irate with him blocking the passage; in return, Aqisan bows low to the nobles and squeezes out of their way. "There is a tradition in the village I was born in, I would have you know, son of the worthy, and a wise tradition too. Every time a mortal babe is...ah...rescued...a bag of the finest honeyed cinammoned dates is left in his stead....his weight's worth to be precise. And I'd say you're oooh," he looks Abdul up and down dramatically, "about a goat's worth of dates, eh?"

Narrator: You get the sense that "rescued" in that context meant something not so nice.

Abdul says dourly, "Akim will just take it away from them."

Narrator: "Will he now?" Aqisan frowns. "I'll have you know that these dates might give him complications...of the bowels." He winks.

Abdul adds acidly, folding his arms in his 'stubborn' pose, "Well, as long as I've been ... 'rescued'... I may as well give a speech they'll remember a long time."

Narrator: A flicker of pain shows across Aqisan's face, before resuming his normal stoicism. "Very well, son of the worthy. I shall announce your speech when the Khedive requests you come forward. In the meantime, sit nearby me." With that, you enter the vast council chamber.

Abdul finally unbends and looks around a bit. It IS a fascinating place. He whispers to Aqisan, "What's a 'rite'?"

Narrator: Leaning over (ALOT) to whisper to Abdul, Aqisan explains, "You're about to find out. Where did you hear this word?"

Abdul: "Someone said the sayyida does 'foul rites' every day by the waterfall. She seemed nice to me, though."

Narrator: Banners of gold trimmed in maroon emblazoned with the Khedive's crest hang from the seating upstairs. Braziers burn in every corner of the chamber, and the room is positively luminescent as the thirteen veiled djinniyeh seem to give off their own brightness. A contingent of guards stands at the ready, their pointed helms glistening, various tokens tied to their spears; they whisper amongst themselves in jest. Aqisan takes his place among the commoners - though at their forefront suiting his post as Royal Drummer. He whispers to Abdul, "Sihr - dark magic."

Abdul hesitates, then joins Aqisan. "Wow. Like a wicked witch? But would a witch be nice?"

Narrator: A distant memory seems to flash over Aqisan's eyes, and he looks into the distance. "Only if she wanted something from you." Returning to himself, Aqisan looks intently at Abdul, "Were you talking to Zianah, the washing djinniyeh?"

Abdul: "Uh huh. Actually, she wasn't very nice to start with, but was later. Um, someone said she might try to hurt me."

Narrator: "I wouldn't trust her, son of the worthy, for she is a most cunning fox who has makes trouble in the Khedive's court, and has damaged his name on several occasions. After all, why do you think she is bound to the braziers in the Khedive's throne room? To keep an eye on her, naturally." Aqisan is interrupted by the sound of trumpets, and the entire room is awash in color. Khedive Shisas emerges, eyes flashing with storm clouds, bearing his royal scepter. The gathered assembly bows before him, intoning the words, "Hail the rightful Khedive of the Court of Rising Winds, may he enjoy the fruits of peace and prosperity. Insha'allah."

Abdul repeats piously, "Insha'allah."

Narrator: The Royal Herald and Poet clears his throat, and an enchanting voice ripples through the air like a scent of sweet pollen on ocean breezes. "Gathered nobles, great djinni, jann, marid, and peri. Today we celebrate a great boon that has been laid at the door of the Khedive. Come forward with your gifts now, for this rarity will not be easily surpassed. Know that no gift is too small in the Khedive's eyes. Why once he received--" The Khedive coughs, and leans over to the herald, cutting him off. "Without further ado," the herald countines, blushing slightly, "may the fine and exquisite representative of the jinn of Jauherabad come forward and present their magnanimous gift for the Khedive's perusal, if you be so pleased, as it pleases the Khedive, Insha'allah." He bows several more times, at which the Khedive rolls his eyes.

Abdul asks Aqisan nervously, "What am I supposed to give?"
Narrator: Aqisan whispers to Abdul, "Whatever is in your heart to give. Don't worry, this takes ages, so you'll have time to think about it."

Abdul: "But I don't have anything at all, except for my clothes!" After a moment he adds practically, "And they aren't even mine, I got them just now."

Narrator: A tall austere jinn garbed in glorious silks approaches the throne, bearing a small object covered in cloth. Setting them down before the Khedive, the ambassador raises his hand with a flourish and lifts the cloth, revealing a crystal ball. "The Eye of Malik Sayoun!" Severl courtiers gasp, and the Khedive's daughter Sitt Ninya faints.

Abdul whispers, "What's a Malik? And why is everyone so excited?"

Narrator: Aqisan is about to reply to Abdul, when seeing Ninya collapse, he flies across the floor, alighting at her side. Several royal guardsmen bristle at this, placing their hands on their weapons, but the Khedive waves them away. An elderly white-haired jinn, blue eyes gleaming like the vast heavens, approaches Aqisan. "Give me a hand down to her, will you? My age has robbed me of my strength." Aqisan does as the elder bids him. Holding a cord of sometihng to the djinniyeh's nose, the elder smiles. She starts to come to. "There you are, as good as new." All at once the elder looks up and sees Abdul, at which his face goes white and he looks quite frightened.

Abdul looks a bit alarmed and waves slightly, trying to look innocent.

Narrator: Seeing Abdul's good-naturedness, the elder smiles broadly and winks, before whispering into Aqisan's ear. Aqisan looks over at Abdul and nods. They both help Ninya up to her feet. Relieved that his daughter is well, the Khedive nods to the jinni ambassador. "Tonight we shall hold council on the matter of the Eye. I commend those souls who were lost to retrieve it, may their sacrifice merit great reward, for the Almighty is oft Merciful and Kind."

Abdul listens, concentrating to understand the bigger words. Plenty of ideas for stories in all this, after all!

Narrator: Next, the ambassador from the jann comes, bearing a gift of the Travishes'sanni - a sparkling speck of sand which shines as bright as the sun. After the jann comes the marid ambassador, bearing the Harp of Ascalon - carved from a petrified sirene. The last of the nobility to present their gift are the peri, whose thirteen ambassadors come forward and release ringdoves throughout the hall, a magical song of delight filling the air, carrying all woes aloft for a short while, easing every heart. Abdul feels as though he had found peace with his troubles for a brief moment.

Abdul smiles beatifically and whispers a prayer in thanksgiving.

Narrator: The Khedive wipes a tear from his eye, as do many of the courtiers. Then the Royal Herald calls forth the gifts of those living at the Court to present their gifts, and a long line forms. Aqisan is utterly enchanted by Ninya, and his eyes linger after her as she joins her father's side, clutching her head.

Abdul carefully watches the gifts that are given, trying to think of something.

Narrator: Leaning over to Abdul, Aqisan whispers, "Sitt Ninya, the Khedive's daughter, opalescent pearl of pearls. And that old fool is Nakhlouf, the Royal Librarian. Gathered are the Khedive's sons...Tivoun, the eldest, Roushaet, Qadroun, Seovar, Rajhouren, and Minfoud - those who've just returned from battle against the shaitan - the middle son Vasraoul is not present alas, for he had a falling out with the court, then there are Jawaroud, Nusoum, Eshrouman, Ajhoun, and Mehouz. Ah, and young Fajhoul."

Abdul zeroes in on the word 'librarian'. "There's books here? Will anyone read them to me?"

Narrator: "The Khediva Musherah, there, attending her daughter Ninya while Diwanis, her sister, looks on. The one nearest the Khedive is Darkalas, his elder brother." With the whirlwind description of the royal family, Aqisan awaits his turn, just ahead of Abdul. "Books? Ah...I suppose Old Nakhlouf will, for he runs the Royal Madrassah, though only the Khedive's sons are taught there, at least officially. Old Nakhlouf won't turn anyone who wishes to read."

Abdul nods eagerly. The Royal Librarian is sounding better by the second.

Narrator: Being his turn to present to the Khedive, the massive Aqisan steps forward, dramatically pulling out a sharp ivory blade from his belt. At this the guards gasp, and place their hands on their weapons, but then Aqisan smiles cannily and presents the gift to the Khedive, "A gift from the rhinoceros, I fashioned this from its horn."

Narrator: The Khedive touches the stylized jambiya, "Beautiful..." Sitt Ninya looks perturbed, "You didn't hurt the rhinoceros did you? Not after lulling it to sleep with your song?"

Narrator: "Of course not," says Aqisan, bowing low but looking up and waggling his brows. Licking his hand, he smooths back his hair. "On the contrary, the rhinoceros wished to inform the Khedive that it has found far tastier acacias in the valley of the Qaf mountains, and will no longer threaten your grace." He bows again.

Narrator: The courtiers whisper at Aqisan's strength *and* charm. Sitt Ninya seems to look at him with new eyes. The Royal Herald calls forth Abdul.

Abdul says nervously, "I, uh, don't have anything to give, your Majesty, except that I tell stories. Maybe I could tell you one sometime?"

Narrator: The Khedive chortles, "And what stories would you tell that impress me?"

Abdul: "I dunno. I don't know what impresses you yet. I'm sure there has to be one."

Narrator: "Oh? You seem confident that it is so..." The Khedive arches his brow, apparently intrigued.

Abdul gets more animated as he talks about something that interests him. "Well, sure! A story is like another place you go to - lots and lots of different places. There has to be a bunch you haven't been to yet.."

Narrator: "I suppose..." The Khedive muses, then gets a twinkle in his eye. "Might I request a story of you?"

Abdul says solemnly, "I have one all planned out for my speech. Do you want it now or then?"

Narrator: The Khedive laughs out loud, thunder clouds gathering outside, the chamber booms with wind, and Abdul feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise. "A story! From a mortal boy brought by the winds of Fate!" At this the chamber goes quiet. "Now that you have the attention of everyone here," says the Khedive quietly, "you may proceed without interruption." Abdul can't tell whether the Khedive is trying to intimidate him or not, but that's a lot of onlookers.

Abdul closes his eyes, imagining the familiar faces of his brothers, hanging on every word. He launches into the story of Aladdin, "Because I feel like Aladdin right now." For his age, the boy is a masterful, spellbinding hakawati, and he makes the story come alive. He makes one small but vital change to the tale: A mysterious condition is attached to the djinn's magic, that Aladdin must never return to his old house, nor see his mother again. At first the feckless youth, tired of his mother's nagging, agrees readily; but by the end, his victory is bittersweet and tainted by regret. The story ends in wrenching questions, rather than answers and a happy resolution - questions all the more powerful for only being hinted at, rather than stated openly... Where does Aladdin's true happiness lie? With his kin in poverty, or with his beloved in luxury?

Narrator: The assembly is mute with awe. Aqisan beams with pride, and Abdul feels as if he had just grown a half foot taller. Surely they have heard the story before, but not this story. The Khedive has placed a finger over his lips, resting his head in his palm as he listens, spell-bound, to Abdul. "Allah al-Din, what becomes of him? Does he reside with his mother or stay in the palace?"

Abdul bows to the Khedive and says with all the cunning of Shahrazad, "That is a story for another night, your Majesty."

Narrator: Abdul can hear the other ambassadors whispering (with envy?) as the Khedive rises. "Young Abdul, you shall be a page to my court, waiting on our tables and cleaning our dishes, but so too shall you receive an education rivaling those of the mortal world. You shall learn the beauty of the word, how to read and write, how to recite the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunnah, and also to recite the great works of jinni poetry. Hither, page, and stand by me."

Abdul steps forward as if in a dream. "I'm going to learn to READ!" he whispers, more than loud enough to be heard.

Narrator: "And write! With such a voice as yours, it would be a crime not to immortalize it. Abdul, you shall serve as page to this court until you reach this high (he indicates 5 feet), at which time I shall evaluate whether you are ready to become one of my trusted farisan [holy warriors]. Serve well, and you shall be rewarded well. Here in Jinnistan, Aqisan is my subject and he is bound to serve none other than me; however, because he has brought you to my court he shall serve as your guide and protector."

Abdul beams. "Oh, thank you, your Majesty!"

Narrator: Addressing Aqisan, the Khedive bids him come forward. "Take young Abdul to Old Nakhlouf so that he might be taught courtly etiquette." Facing Abdul, the Khedive smiles. "At the end of the month, young Abdul, you shall take a ride with me and I shall make my decision final. He claps again and Aqisan ushers Abdul away.

Abdul follows Aqisan in a daze.

Narrator: As Aqisan clears a way through the assembly for Abdul, whispers surround the uprooted beggar boy. "A Son of Adam!" "Is he a sha'ir plotting trickery?" "Nay, he is a precious gift." "He seems so somber." "Where did he come from?" "How odd, that a boy so small has a servant so large!" "It is because he is large of heart." "What a beautiful story...and what a storyteller." "A page to rival all others." "The Khedive must be very proud indeed."

Abdul hardly even notices, though he remembers the words later. He is in his own world, the world of Story.

Narrator: In his daze, Abdul is lead by the hand to Old Nakhlouf, who peers over his glasses at Abdul. "Well, you're ready to learn to read then?" His eyes twinkle with mirth, and at the same time look deep into Abdul's soul.

Abdul: "Oh, YES, sahib! I hope you have a lot of books, because I'm gonna read them ALL!"

Narrator: "Oh?" Old Nakhlouf walks with Abdul at his side, Aqisan trailing behind them listening intently. "Even I haven't read them all, my boy."

Abdul: "Well, I'll give it a good try, anyway!"

Narrator: "We shall begin where I started, with poetry which gave birth to the Arabic language. From there you will learn Djinnti, which is unsurpassed in beauty, and you will read the Khedive's own works. Latin too, and Pahlavi." Old Nakhlouf begins rattling off languages that Abdul has never heard of, all the way to the madrassah. By the time they arrive there, Aqisan is nowhere to be seen. Old Nakhlouf looks around puzzled for a moment.

Abdul nods determinedly. "How do I start?"

Narrator: "By making papyrus of course," smiles Nakhlouf, squinting at Abdul. "There is a bucket out that door full of mashed pulp. Go step on it for an hour until it has broken apart and the water turns murky. When you've finished," he says leading Abdul out the door, "pour the contents through this strainer, collecting the water in the bucket below. I'll take care of the rest after that. After all, there'd be nothing to read is there wasn't papyrus. Of course, sages use paper now, but not all of them. And before papyrus there was cuneiform, but we'll wait until you're older to tackle that. Little steps for little fish!"

Abdul does just exactly as he is told. He's going to learn how to READ!

Narrator: As Abdul labors, Old Nakhlouf comes back an hour later, "Ah, did you see where I put that copy of Liber Argent Arcanus Benevolentiae? I seem to...ah have misplaced it?" He pats around on his robes absently.

Abdul says humbly, "I don't know what that is, sahib. Um, what should I call you?"

Narrator: "Nakhlouf, of course! What else would you call me?" Raising his finger, his eyes light up. "That's looking good, let's strain it out shall we?"
Narrator: "Do you know your Arabic alphabet?" he asks, helping Abdul carry the bucket.

Abdul: "Well, you're my teacher and all, but whatever you want, um, Nakhlouf." He pronounces the strange name clumsily. "I'm Abdul. No, I don't know the al-pha-bet." Whatever that is, his careful pronounciation suggests.

Narrator: "Very well, Abdul. I teach every day, except for the Holy Days and the Khedive's birthday, which is something of a celebration here. The madrassah is open to any once the sun goes below the horizon, but before then it is absolutely prohibited to all but the Khedive's sons. Is that clear?"

Abdul nods. "Yes, sahib! Um, I mean, Nakhlouf." He cringes ever so slightly every time he does something 'wrong'.

Narrator: "Sahib is my father, Abdul, I'm only...4...or is it 5?" He counts on his fingers. "Well, we'll start with the alphabet tonight. The clase is studying very hard, for we are planning to go to Batil Peak and consult the riddling Xargosi, who will teach the one who answers his riddle for 40 days and nights. Xargosi's riddles are always about the alphabet, or at least they have been for centuries. Though he may change one of these days. At any rate, that means you'll need to study hard to catch up to the other jinni."

Abdul looks bewildered. "I'll work as hard as I can, sahib - I mean, Nakhlouf - but aren't you older than five?" He then cringes again when he realizes he dared to question something his teacher said.

Narrator: "Why you're quite right, I'm 7...ah...792! I didn't get to my age by being sentimental. Now where is that book? Look around those unshelved books and see if you can spot it - a cover of white oak bark." Nakhlouf looks intently through the shelves.

Abdul looks around diligently for the book.

Narrator: While looking through the unsorted books, Abdul knocks one to the ground. Picking it up, he is drawn to the cover. Though he can't read it there is a symbol in the background, something vaguely familiar. In fact he has seen this same symbol on the pendant that Aqisan was wearing.

Abdul opens the book, filled with an inexplicable curiosity.

Narrator: Abdul hears voices approaching, when suddenly a great wind comes in through the backdoor and Abdul feels a presence behind him. "Evil Sha'ir, I've found you now!" Gleeful cackling follows.

Abdul closes the book with a bang and squeaks, "Evil?! Me?!"

Narrator: A wide-eyed handsome shaggy black-haired young jinn, about Abdul's height, watches him with a glint in his eyes. In the young jinn's hand is an olive branch. Adopting a fencing pose, the young jinn makes an en guarde salute. "You may have trapped my brothers in your magic bottles, but I know your secret is in that book! Give it to me or taste my blade!"

Abdul cringes reflexively. "I didn't mean it, honest!" He makes himself as small and inoffensive as possible.

Narrator: Grabbing for the book, the young jinn tries to wrest it from Abdul's hands. "Give it here!"

Abdul lets go. "You can have it, sahib, there you go!"

Narrator: Taking the book, the jinn looks at it upside down at first then gets it right side up, turning to the page Abdul was looking at. A complicated diagram is revealed with the picture of a djinni in the center. Suddenly the jinn's eyes go wide and he takes a step away from Abdul. "Y- You really are a sha'ir?"

Abdul says plaintively, "No? I don't think so. I really really don't know how I summoned Aqisan, honest!"

Narrator: He squints his eyes. "I don't know. I'll need some proof..."

Abdul: "P-proof?"

Narrator: "Say something magical, say ' I summon Khedive Shisas of the Rising Winds Court.'" He looks at Abdul nervously.

Abdul: "Ummm. I'm the Khedive's page. I don't think I ought to do that."

Narrator: "Aha! So you're a real sha'ir! Well, you don't seem that evil....for a sha'ir, and all. Wow! Wait till I show you to my brothers. Do you want to come meet them?"

Abdul is utterly bewildered now. "Will the sahib - I mean, Nakhlouf - mind?"

Narrator: Nakhlouf cries out. "I've found it! Now what are you doing, Abdul? Oh. I see you've found Fajhoul ibn-Shisas. What are you doing with that olive branch, young Fajhoul?"

Narrator: "Uh, nothing. But you can't have it," answers Fajhoul testily, then adds. "I wanted to show him to my brothers - he's a real sha'ir isn't he?"

Abdul stays mute, not wanting to draw attention to himself.

Narrator: Nakhlouf looks at Abdul, then at the book in Fajhoul's hands, and back to Abdul. "Well, are you an accidental summmoner, young Abdul?"

Abdul whines, "I don't KNOW! All I know is that I woke up and Aqisan said I'd called him forth and that I was his master. Or something. And I don't know ANYTHING!"

Narrator: Nakhlouf smiles. "The first sign of a wise man is admitting his ignorance. Now, run along and play, but don't be late. Remember, class starts at sunset."

Abdul stares at Nakhlouf in astonishment. 'Run along and play'? What kind of trick IS this?

Narrator: Fajhoul grins. "A real sha'ir. You'll be on my side. Ah, can we borrow this book?" He asks Nakhlouf, who grabs the book out of Fajhoul's hands. "You most certainly may not!" replies Nakhlouf. Looking glum, Fajhoul turns to Abdul, "You don't need to do any magic, we'll just pretend. It's a game we play. One pretends to be the sha'ir and makes wishes of the others...you'll see."

Abdul gets a little of his courage back. "Well, maybe it's pretend and maybe it's not. We'll just have to see, hmm?"

Narrator: Fajhoul nervously laughs, then looks at Abdul out of the corner of his eye. Mortal boys were sure not as scary as sha'irs, but the Royal Drummer obeyed him. Why, Fajhoul had tried numerous times to get the Royal Drummer to do favors for him, and not once had he succeeded. That fact alone made his father's new page someone to be reckoned with and excellent competition.
 

[Apologies for resurrecting a long-dead thread, but I left a couple sessions off, and they're necessary background for a PbP game about to start.]

Narrator: Wherein begins the tale of "Between a Box and a Hot Place"

Narrator: I do not trust any merchant farther than a scimitar, but Jamul was a generous host and, as it was a late hour and we had done commiserating Zarif's plight, he invited Yasir and I to stay in his guest room. Not wishing to offend our host, and weary from travel, we acquiesced. That night, my fears of the sorcerer proved true, and all that dark magic which I longed to forever banish from my life came back to haunt me. Only this time, I had several unlikely friends at my side

Narrator: Tired yet brimming with hope, Abdul winds his way through the stalls of the Grand Bazaar, hoping to beat the looming rain clouds to his home. His face is clean of the egg whites, though he still wears the clothes of a beggar, and his eyes twinkle with light from the lightning that blasts in the heavens in the distance. Wind over the desert surrounding Huzuz, wind over the coast of Huzuz. Then, one jagged flash of lightning and Abdul sees it. The gold-chased chest housing Metef strapped to a camel. Shuri is there, his face numbed over as he follows a large Maghrebi man with long braided black hair and a staff. Just as soon as the vision appears, than do they vanish into the crowd, the night, and the first drops of rain.

Abdul gapes for a moment, then casts about in the crowd, making for the place he saw the good Shuri. He evades people with a beggar's practiced deftness.

Narrator: Following the street he thought he saw them go down, Abdul dodges a kick from a mounted noble. "Yield, beggar!" shouts the noble as Abdul ducks past and into a busy alley of blacksmiths. The camel with Metef-in-a-chest is outside the shop, Shuri standing guard over it, a dark look on his face. The Maghrebi is under the awning of the smith's shop and is haggling for something.

Abdul moves to up to Shuri, wariness hidden in his heart. "Spare alms for a poor man, sahib?" He looks directly into Shuri's eyes, more directly than a beggar would.

Narrator: Shuri absently places a dirham in Abdul's palm, apparently not recognizing him. "Be safe young man," says Shuri, a pained look on his face.

Abdul is deeply suspicious by now, but he does not let it show in his voice. "You look troubled, kind sir! May I return your generosity by listening to your troubles?"

Narrator: Shuri heaves a deep sigh, chancing a glance over his shoulder at the Maghrebi, who gesticulates wildly with the smith. Wiping his sleep-weary eyes, Shuri looks at Abdul, "You remind me of a wise scribe I know. Are you able to deliver a message? Do you know where the Street of the Learned is?"

Abdul can't help but chuckle. "Surely you speak of the great Abdul al'Jann? I know him so well, he might as well be standing before you!" With this, he winks.

Narrator: Blinking dumbly, Shuri stifles a laugh before quickly silencing himself. "God himself has smiled upon me in the hour I thought I was done for. Listen, Abdul, this Maghrebi has cursed me - it was years ago - and he's after Metef about something. He speaks in riddles and rhyme. "A vow" and "buried treasure." I'm not sure what he wants, but I cannot disobey him, and find the slightest bidding he gives me more compelling than a virgin's bed."

Abdul's face darkens. "He and Metef are indeed foals of the same litter, it would seem! Tell me more of this curse, my friend, that I may know how to help you."

Narrator: The Maghrebi's negotiations seem to be going poorly, and suddenly he shouts at the shopkeeper, "Never in my life have I been so insulted. May God deprive you--- Ah, come, you are not worth it!" The shopkeeper yells at the Maghrebi, who gives him a rude gesture.

Narrator: "Quick, Abdul, you'd better hide yourself," whispers Shuri.

Abdul: "Hide? You are speaking to a beggar, remember?"

Narrator: Shuri brightens when Abdul says this, and pretends to clean his thick beard. Walking over the Maghrebi calls to Shuri, "Come, fool Bedouin, the day is young and there's grave work to be done." The Maghrebi is a tall man with pocked skin, perhaps the result of a bout with the pox as a child. He wears various fetishes befitting a gypsy fortuneteller. Over his shoulder is a drum. Eyeing Abdul, he makes a ward against the Evil Eye. "Beggar boy, do you know how to find the graveyard they call Cemetery Square?"

Abdul rambles ingratiatingly, "Cemetery Square, sahib? Why, I grew up there and know it like the back of my hand! But that's no place for such a great gentleman as yourself, sahib! Terrible, murderous place it is, full of thieves and cutthroats. Why, it's enough to make strong men piss themselves, sahib, begging your pardon, sahib."

Narrator: "Did you hear that?" says the Maghrebi, a delighted expression on his pocked face. He knocks on the chest with a devious grin. "Then how fitting that the ashes of my cousin, a notorious crook, be buried among his kind. Two dirham for you to lead us to Cemetery Square."

Abdul: "Powerful dangerous it is, sahib. Two dirham is a small price for a man to take his life into his hands! Don't you agree, sahib?"

Narrator: "Very well, four dirham, but not a dirham more! But you must also summon a blacksmith once we arrive there, agreed?"

Abdul: "I've always been impressed with the generosity of such fine gentlemen as yourself, sahib. But you do know there's ghosts there, and those as call 'em up. I'll be wanting two of those dirham now, begging your pardon, sahib."

Narrator: "Fine, fine, you silver-fingered beggar boy!" says the Maghrebi testily. He snaps a look at Shuri, "Well, get hopping you, and grab the camel's reins."

Abdul pockets the cash. "That's a mighty fine camel you have there, sahib. Good color, fine hair." He prattles incessantly about this and that.

Narrator: As Abdul chatters and brown-noses the Maghrebi, he catches a young woman out of the corner of his eye following behind Shuri; a frightened looking expression passes over the young woman's face and she ducks behind a building. Oblivious, the Maghrebi kisses a lucky rabbit's foot about his neck. "Today is a good day, time for R'Akibum's luck to change, methinks! Beggar boy, what do you know about the tombs of Cemetery Square? Have you heard of Sitt Kalilagh?"

Narrator: Sitt Kalilagh was the original owner of the "Graveyard Mosque", the whorehouse where Abdul was born, some fifty years ago. Her ferocious temper and ruthless disposition are legend. She was also famous for her extreme obesity; they had to enlarge her tomb to fit her inside.

Narrator: Darting from building to building, the young woman dressed in the garments of a merchant's daughter, tries to avoid the heavy rain starting to fall as well as being seen.

Abdul: "Sitt Kalilagh? Oh, she was a mean one, sahib! Almost as mean as my mother's three sisters! I heard the tale of her while they dandled me on their knees, and I still have the bruises, sahib!" He starts adjusting his rags to show off the alleged bruises.

Narrator: Shuri stifles a laugh, and the Maghrebi glares at him.

Abdul laughs inanely with Shuri. "He's a funny one, is the young man you have with you, sahib!" Meanwhile he is leading the group vaguely toward Cemetery Square, at a less than rapid pace.

Narrator: "A foolish Bedouin who spends what he does not have, and steals what is not his," says the Maghrebi disdainfully, "though he's quite a good memory. He remembered me after all these years, didn't you Shuri?"

Narrator: "Oh yes, R'Akibum, all too well," quips Shuri dourly, covering his face from the rain.

Abdul: "Well, you're certainly a memorable gentleman, sahib! I'll be sure to tell my grandchildren all about you! 'Course I'll have to be married first. I've considered marrying Farida, you know. If only she didn't have the pox..."

Narrator: "Yes, yes, we all have marital troubles, but you're barely a man. Now how much further?" groans the Maghrebi irritably.

Abdul draws himself up to his not-very-tall height, stopping his movement. "I'll have you know I'm a man grown, sahib! I may be a poor beggar, but I have enough fingers and toes to count my years! I'm nearly twenty, sahib, and that's God's truth. They say cyphering is a skill of the wise and intelligent, sahib. Do you think I'm wise and intelligent?"

Narrator: "Whatever you are, it's anything but taciturn," says R'Akibum sarcastically.

Abdul: "Tac-i-turn?" He makes the sign against the Evil Eye. "Don't be usin' no spells on me, sahib! My mother told me all about those magickers. And hit me, too, so's I'd remember."

Narrator: "Yes, yes, and you have the bruises to show it too. Now, wouldn't a wise and intelligent boy want to earn his living and .....guide....us....to....the....graveyard?" says R'Akibum.

Abdul looks blankly at the man. "Graveyard...? OH! You mean Cemetery Square! Are you sure you want to go there, sahib?" He starts ambling lazily in the direction of the infamous slum again.

Narrator: "Boy," says R'Akibum his dark skin turning a shade of red, "I have frightened Beelzebub himself with my magic, and would make your mama's beatings seems like feather-play if you keep up this snail's pace. I am not some chump patrician who will fall for your ploy of getting more money for how long it takes us to get there!"

Abdul: "Ploy, sahib? No sahib, not me! A deal's a deal, and sacred in the eyes of God. Says so in the Holy Qur'an. Or so my mother told me."

Narrator: "Your mother seems an interesting woman, a whip in one hand and a holy book in the other." R'Akibum keeps his sea-green eyes on the chest. "Would you like to know about my cousin in the chest?"

Narrator: Shuri says with a barbed edge to his voice, "It's not like you haven't told me that story, or some variant, three times in the past hour..."

Abdul picks up the pace just a bit. "Oh, my mother couldn't read, sahib. She was told it by a holy man once. Or so she said. Much as I hate to say it, sahib, I do believe that sometimes she was inclined to be less than truthful. Of course I'd like to hear about your cousin. I love stories."

Narrator: "Then I shall tell you a story the likes of which'd make a ghost pale...once we get to Cemetery Square."

Abdul sulks visibly. "Well, all right. But could I maybe hear some stories from this funny young friend of yours as we go? Meaning no offense, sahib, you being such a fine gentleman and all, but I'm a keen judge of character, and I have the impression you're in a bad mood, sahib. I don't know why, sahib, since I've always been told I'm a well-spoken fellow, for a beggar."

Narrator: "Hmph. He is a donkey and son of a donkey," says R'Akibum off-hand about Shuri, to which Shuri, growing hot in the face places a hand on his scimitar.

Narrator: Seeing Shuri growing rash, R'Akibum storms up to him, waving his cudgel in Shuri's face, "Remember the terms of the arbitration, rash Bedouin! Or does the wind blow so hot in your head that you forget your place?" R'Akibum raps Shuri on the top of the head with his cudgel. "How much farther, beggar boy?"

Abdul: "Donkeys are powerful useful beasts, don't you think so, sahib? Why, they can carry a load that'd break a man, for nothing more than a carrot! Yep, nothing for carrying a burden like a donkey. Unless it's a mule. Or a horse, maybe. But who'd load up a horse with stuff? Terrible thing to do to a horse. Then there's elephants, I suppose..."

Narrator: "By God the Almighty, your rambling is incessant! You are almost as bad as Metef!" roars R'Akibum, his face a fine shade of crimson.

Abdul: "Metef? Is that the name of your camel? Camels can be stubborn beasts, yep, sahib. This one's a fine one, though. Good color, nice hair."

Narrator: At first R'Akibum looks like he's going to burst, but then he lightens up. "Haha! Yes, he is a fine sort of camel, in his own way. Spitting at everyone he sees, and contributing nothing but dung. Are we getting close?"

Abdul: "Oh, but dung is powerful useful stuff, sahib! Nothing like camel dung for a cough, 'specially if it's got maggots in it. The odor clears your sinuses right out, sahib. You just spread it on your chest. ... Oh! and you can burn it too!"

Narrator: Abdul senses Metef trying to reach into his mind. Whispers begin to gather from the falling rain. "O young beggar...."

Narrator: Abdul shakes the voice out of his head, hearing Shuri voicing his concerns to R'Akibum about the rain. "I understand you have a vendetta here, but couldn't we get some shelter from the rain first? I'm freezing."

Abdul: "Ven-detta?" He makes the sign against the Evil Eye again. "You magickers and your spells!"

Narrator: Realizing that his fingers are turning quite cold in the winter rain, R'Akibum grins at Shuri. "A shame you didn't dress for colder weather, Bedouin." Then, to Abdul, "That is no spell," says R'Akibum with a quirky smile, "Why if you wanted to see some real magic, I could show you the likes of which'd burn out your eyes in their skull."

Abdul says dubiously, "That doesn't sound like much fun, sahib. I'm pretty sure that the Holy Qur'an says you shouldn't ought to be burning people's eyes out. Says so in black and white, sahib! Or so my mother told me."

Narrator: You draw near Cemetery Square. Why it seems like just yesterday that Abdul was here... [Yes, the Narrator has a sick sense of humor at times. :)]

Abdul leads the way fearlessly into Knife-Loose Alley, prating and rambling away a mile a minute.

Narrator: "Finally, we reach your doom, Metef," hisses R'Akibum to the chest.

Narrator: Unlike other sections of Cemetery Square which are quite exposed to the rain, Knife-Loose Alley is partially covered, so that curtains of water fall only at gaps in the covering, like a smooth scimitar stroke. Beggars and murderers huddle in the nooks and crannies of the alleyway, eager for a job to walk by.

Abdul says a bit louder than really necessary, "You'll want to be careful here, sahib! A fine gentleman like yourself... Like I told you, sahib, there's cutthroats about. And the Aqeedah, too, or so I'm told!" His teeth are starting to chatter from the cold.

Narrator: Shuri shoots a questioning glance at Abdul, as if to ask 'are you sure you know what you're doing?' R'Akibum begins to notice the thugs who are gathering nearby, eyeing your odd group. Suddenly, something catches their eyes, and the thugs push past you. Abdul makes out the faint image of a young woman taking a sharp turn down an alley behind them, followed by the thugs.

Abdul blinks and points. "They're going after that young lady! We should help her!"

Narrator: Shuri wheels around, while R'Akibum turns around slowly with an irritated expression on his face. "It's not our problem. Young women shouldn't be out at this hour anyhow," says R'Akibum heartlessly.

Narrator: Shuri looks at R'Akibum pointedly. "You just try and stop me."

Abdul: "Well, sahib, if you care to find your way without me with all these cutthroats about, it's your lookout. The funny young man and I are gonna do something!"

Narrator: Cursing his fate, R'Akibum collects himself and grudgingly follows along, guiding the camel himself.

Abdul hurries after the young woman, shouting, "Mind yourselves with this one, lads! She's al'Fameed's cousin's wife!"

Narrator: Abdul catches up with one of the thugs, who looks vaguely familiar to Abdul. "Buzz off, youngling, this one's a goose served for dinner on a cold night." His fellows have surrounded the young woman and are taunting her.

Narrator: Shuri lurks in the shadows behind Abdul, his scimitar drawn. R'Akibum stands at the entrance to the alley, not wanting to get involved.

Abdul stamps his foot. "It's your lookout, sahib, but I'm telling you she belongs to al'Fameed! I'll prove it!"

Narrator: "How so?" asks the thug, holding back from his fellows to evaluate Abdul.

Abdul holds out the three dirham he just 'earned', plus all the copper bits he has on him. "I'm so confident that al'Fameed will reward me for rescuing this young lady, I'll give you my whole day's take of my own free will. When've you known a beggar to do THAT, hmm?"

Narrator: Arching his brow the thug looks at Abdul incredulously, "Y-you're not joking?"

Abdul: "Not a bit of it! Tell him, young lady!"

Narrator: The young woman is utterly silent, apparently quite chilled, but her eyes shine with something Abdul can only describe as pleading. One by one the thugs begin to back down. The thug that Abdul gave his "catch" to thanks him for looking out for the gang. "Are you one of Akim's boys?" asks the thug.

Abdul: "Was once. Have no use for 'im now, old bustard."

Narrator: "He is that," muses the thug. "Here, keep your catch. None'll trouble you down the rest of the alley, I'll see to it."

Abdul is utterly astonished. "A thousand thanks upon you, sahib, and God's blessings upon you!" He salaams deeply.

Narrator: As if rooted to the spot, the thug doesn't seem to want to leave, but he abruptly tears himself away making off down the alley. The young woman begins sobbing and Shuri goes to wrap what little extra clothing he has about her. "This is my former host's daughter. We need to get her warm."

Abdul can't contain himself. "Ashquar?! Can it be you?!"

Narrator: The thug stops stunned. "How in the devil---?? Nobody has called me by that name for years!"

Abdul: "Are you not my brother? Did we not swear to the Code together?" He steps forward hesitantly, face shining. "Do you not know me, brother?"

Narrator: "Hakawati? But you-- They say you were murdered. Are-are you a ghost?" Ashquar tentatively comes forward while edging away at the same time.

Abdul: "No! Not at all. You must have heard the laughter..." Abdul suddenly remembers who is listening. "We have much to speak about."

Narrator: R'Akibum whistles, "For a beggar boy, you have a princely heart!" Walking up to the group, R'Akibum rests on his cudgel, giving Ashquar the Evil Eye. "In my country do you know what they do to men who attack unarmed women? Gelding, without anaesthesia."

Abdul adds reprovingly, "That's not the Code, brother, and you know it. BUT! This man is not in a position to talk! He is a thief, and the man he has stolen this camel and chest from will pay you in gold for their return!"

Narrator: R'Akibum glares at Abdul, "Why are you speaking of what you know nothing about? What sort of scam are you in here?" He asks, suddenly becoming very suspicious. Shuri, with the young woman under his arm, stands behind R'Akibum with a concerned expression on his face.

Narrator: Ashquar strives to keep his head up, despite the shame he obviously feels at Abdul's admonition. He keeps a sharp eye on the Maghrebi, however. Stories of this rascal have gotten around Cemetery Square. Ashquar keeps an inquisitive look, but doesn't make any action toward R'Akibum either way.

Abdul: "I mean that chest was escorted on that camel from Zarif by Yasir al'Ayyubi. I know he did not give it to you of his own will. Do you dare to deny it?"

Narrator: Arching his brow, R'Akibum sniffs indignantly, "Ah, now I know who you are. I saw you once, in a dream that Chango sang in my ear. A trickster scholar! Ah, but we have not been formally introduced yet..."

Abdul: "Yes, permit me to introduce myself!" Turning to Shuri, he speaks liquid syllables in a language going back to Father Adam: "Shuri, son of Razan, be loosed of your binding!"
 

Narrator: Rain fell on the canvas above as I heard the name I was given at birth. Shuri, son of House Razan. The words resonated in my inner ear as loud as the words of my kinfolk when I was exiled, but this was a calling back, not a separation. It was a remembering and a birth through the waters of creation. Until that day I had lived in fear of magic, but Abdul al-Jann had put a wedge of doubt in my mind. Could good come from a sorcerer's hand?

Narrator: The answer was a resounding "yes."

Abdul slumps under the burden of the magic, but his face is filled with triumph. "Never underestimate a scholar's 'tricks' or the grace of God, R'Akibum!"

Narrator: Gaping in awe at the display before him, Ashquar stared wide-eyed at Abdul's God-given language, and the sudden sharpening of Shuri's eyes. Supporting Fatima bint-Jamul in one arm, Shuri glares at R'Akibum, "Give me the box or so help me, I'll send you to the afterlife."

Abdul leans against the wall, his face haggard, but his eyes remain fixed on the geomancer. "What shall it be now, hmm?"

Narrator: R'Akibum flinches, his thick fingers tightening around his cudgel. "In all the hells of Aksum, the foulest is reserved for meddlers! Trickster scholar, you test the limits of patience!" raves R'Akibum, his hair leaping wildly about him as he works himself into a frenzy. "What do you know? Who is your mother?" Spitting on the ground, he gets so red Abdul can make out steam rising from his back where the rain strikes!

Narrator: Shuri inches toward Abdul, positioning himself to defend the "trickster scholar" should R'Akibum try anything.

Abdul: “A meddler, am I? It takes one, as they say, to know! As for my mother, if you know truthfully who she is, I should be obliged if you told me! Go, R'Akibum. There is nothing more for you here.”

Narrator: Grabbing the chest from the camel, R'Akibum throws it to the ground in front of him, uttering foul curses. "Blackest of birds! This is your doing!" Heaving the chest into the air he brings it smashing into the alleyway wall with all his might.

Abdul lurches fully upright from the wall, eyes widening as the chest falls. "Fool of a Maghrebi!"

Narrator: Stronger than he appears, R'Akibum bashes the chest against a sharp rock jutting from the wall, sending pieces of wood flying past Abdul and Shuri. As the box shatters, the raven Metef bursts forth, ominous black clouds tearing the rest of the box apart in R'Akibum's hands. Enraged, R'Akibum throws the handle of the box to the ground and lunges for the raven. "You will tell me or I'll strangle you to death!"

Abdul makes quick passes with his hands in the air in front of him, ‘drawing’ an arcane sigil. "Fajhoul, come ready!"

Narrator: A blinding flash fills the alley as R'Akibum grapples the slippery raven Metef in all his hideous glory. Shuri pulls Fatima to the ground, shielding her from whatever may come. Ashquar has grown terrified out of his wits and darts down the nearest alleyway. Steam becomes light, light becomes air, air becomes thunder. A blast of wind rushes down the alleyway and Fajhoul appears hovering off the ground, scimitar in hand. "Behold, I am Fajhoul, 13th son of Khedive Shisas! Tremble and recognize your doom!"

Abdul: "My lord, that raven is a wicked sorcerer who must not escape us! As for this man," he indicates R'Akibum, "He also is a sorcerer, who seeks the raven's death and must not have it!"

Narrator: "My ill dressed Abdul, the raven shall not have death today, yet neither shall he get away!" Flying high into the sky, Fajhoul gestures to the clouds, drawing on strong winds which drive back Metef and prevent him from flying above the alleyway. Shuri clutches Fatima, uttering a prayer with his eyes clenched shut. R'Akibum has lost his grip on Metef, who gets knocked into the wall by Fajhoul's winds. The raven Metef flaps around awkwardly, trying to get its bearing and fight the wind.

Abdul laughs wildly as tension is released. Raised in Jinnistan, he cannot but glory in the stylish display of power... "Is it not said that clothes do not make the man, my lord? Oh, bravely done!"

Narrator: Fajhoul's winds cause the canvas tarps above to come loose, sending a sheet of water cascading between Abdul and the grappling sorcerers.

Abdul: "It is over, R'Akibum! Bow your head before the will of God and leave us now!"

Narrator: "Djinni be damned!" yells R'Akibum. Abdul sees the Maghrebi gesture overhead.

Abdul sighs sadly, his hand dipping into a fold of his rags and emerging with a knife. "So be it!" His face still looks haggard and drawn.

Narrator: Laughing like the wind over the minarets, Fajhoul drops down on to R'Akibum. No sooner than Fajhoul makes to grab him than Fajhoul cries out. Abdul feels his skin crawl and begins to make out the images of tortured spirits in the falling water, glimpses of shadows in the corner of his eye. Fajhoul backs away from R'Akibum, dropping into a defensive stance.

Narrator: The raven Metef, freed from the chest which had been his cell for the last four nights, finds shelter from the winds in a crack in the alleyway wall.

Abdul's eyes widen at this turn of events in alarm. Suddenly, the Providence of God directs his eyes to the silk rope that had tied the chest, coiled randomly upon the street.

Narrator: R'Akibum seems to be attacking something invisible nearby him in a rage, yelling out loud, "By Chango, once I get you Metef, there'll be no place for you to hide." He swipes to the left and to the right with his cudgel.

Abdul lunges for the silken Ittifaqi Hasanah, crying out in the language of jinni, "My lord, catch up this rope with your winds and wind it about the sorcerer!" He tosses the rope into the air.

Narrator: The sash travels through the air into Fajhoul's free hand. "Which sorcerer?" shouts Fajhoul, his eyes darting back and forth in fear.

Abdul points at R'Akibum. "HIM! I will deal with Metef!"

Narrator: Ittifaqi Hasanah flies through the air as Fajhoul casts it before him, colorful silks whirling about R'Akibum. Crying out, R'Akibum strains against the silks which bind him fast. The growling shadows vanish as quickly as they came, though Fajhoul does not seem to be much comforted by this turn of events, and he levels his scimitar between R'Akibum's eyes. "Surrender or see how much of a damned jinn I can be."

Narrator: Fajhoul draws menacingly close to R'Akibum, who seems to be terrified out of his wits by the djinni's threat. "Powerful and mighty djinn, have mercy!" cries R'Akibum.

Narrator: Metef squirms deeper into the crack.

Abdul makes his way to the crack. "Hear me, Metef. It is my mercy or R'Akibum's, and I think you already know which one is tenderer! Or, if you must fight rather than face justice, consider that while you may be able to overcome the defenses of a sha'ir, so also I grew up catching pigeons for my supper. Do you care to chance that a raven will do better in these winds?"

Narrator: The raven is so far in the darkness that the only sign of him is the glint in his beady eyes. His croaking voice answers Abdul, "Seeking justice before the scales are weighed, are you? If you would eat me completely, then you are twice a fool. Once for treating me as a mere pigeon, and twice for not looking to your servant!"

Abdul sighs. "If you bind Fajhoul, I will loose R'Akibum. How is that an improvement for you, eh? I do not desire your death, Metef, whatever you may think. I want justice - but I cannot let you fly free, either. Will you not surrender? There has been enough tonight for us all."

Narrator: "I appreciate your sentiment, sha'ir, but find the prospect of a qadi cutting off my tongue unattractive. However, R'Akibum has stolen a talisman important to Zarif, and since he found me and Shuri I have been trying to goad the information from him. As you can see, he has a tendency for losing his cool. Might I suggest a compromise? Allow me to 'escape' so that I may learn where the talisman is buried and then I shall consent to the qadi's justice."

Abdul weighs that. "Loose Fajhoul as a sign of your good will, and I agree."

Narrator: The raven's eyes seem to grow small for a moment, the darkness around it separating. All at once Fajhoul, who had adopted a fiercely threatening stance toward R'Akibum, becomes much more carefree. Jesting, he wags his finger before the bound geomancer. "For someone who seems to hate spirits so much you keep odd company."

Abdul calls out warily in Jinnti, "Is all well with you, my lord?"

Narrator: "I should very much like to cook that raven, but I am fully myself, every bit your superior, young Abdul," responds Fajhoul.

Abdul chuckles faintly. "I would not dream of doubting you, good my lord." He steps away from the hole. "The raven and I have a bargain. For now. Stay wary; we need information from this other sorcerer."

Narrator: "He seems like a surpassing bore to me, but I refrain from laying a hand on him. Both seem to be skilled with hexes. So what don't you want them to know such that we speak in the True Tongue?" inquires Fajhoul, circling the bound R'Akibum, scimitar still in hand.

Abdul bows a sweeping, courtly bow to the hole, his eyes blank. "Come forward and give your commands, O my master."

Narrator: Pausing behind R'Akibum, Fajhoul muses, "All creatures have a gift, and it would seem this one's is cursing, whether it is in word or spell."

Narrator: Metef tentatively hops forward, keeping a wary eye on Shuri, who is looking up at Abdul in amazement and dismay.

Abdul winks at Shuri from an angle R'Akibum can't see, as he holds out a hand for Metef to perch upon.

Narrator: Metef emerges from the hole, "You have done well, my apprentice," says Metef, taking Abdul's offered arm.

Abdul blankly bears the bird of ill omen toward the bound geomancer, his posture stiff and courteous.

Narrator: R'Akibum gapes in disbelief. "Impossible! You a servant of this foulest of birds?"

Abdul says placidly, "I have only just now been enlightened to the truth and goodness of my master, sir. I obey him in all things. You would be wise to do the same."

Narrator: "Ah, more of your mind trick mojo, eh Metef?" inquires R'Akibum cannily. "But there is a wind that serves the man who serves the bird. And I have made it a cursed wind. If I do not release your servant then he shall perish before a fortnight. Are you more inclined to question your loyalties now, you trickster scholar?"

Abdul: "I, have a servant? I who am but a slave? I do not understand. But be silent and listen to what the great Metef would say to you."

Narrator: Staring into R'Akibum's eyes, Metef the raven croaks, "Look at me and tell me your secrets R'Akibum. Tell me of the emerald talisman, tell me of your betrayal..."

Narrator: R'Akibum squirms as the muscles in his forehead spasm and he begins to breathe heavily. "Damnable....bird....gah!"

Abdul waits patiently, but his eyes take in everything that occurs.

Narrator: Abdul notices that Metef makes a great effort to build up his magic before he actually uses it, possibly a sign of arrogance, but possibly something else. Suddenly, a spasm shakes R'Akibum's entire body. "Ah yes, tell me more, my Maghrebi..." R'Akibum mouths the words "Al-Akara...Weeping Shrine."

Narrator: "As I suspected..." says Metef, the tension of the psychic struggle ending. R'Akibum simmers in silence, a look of utter defeat coming upon his face.

Abdul: "What have you learned, O my master?"

Narrator: "The talisman is buried in the Weeping Shrine of the Al-Akara Mountains," says Metef in a measured voice. "Weak minds yield to those of us with the will, is it not so, Abdul?" Metef looks at Abdul with a menacing light in his beady eyes.

Abdul meets the bird's eyes unflinchingly. "I would not know."

Narrator: Metef chirps to himself. "Not yet, perhaps."

Narrator: "Forgive me, effulgent and poorly-dressed one," says Fajhoul in Jinnti, "but my father beckons me in the style he is most wont to - that is, angrily. Have you any more need of me to dangle a sorcerer from a minaret? Or perhaps to give you fashion tips?" he adds jovially. Fajhoul appears to be in his element when in a struggle or battle of some kind, and with the conflict's resolution comes his nonchalant and perpetually bored demeanor.

Abdul replies in the same language, "If you can stay but a little longer, it would be well, my lord. Tell me, does this one speak true of the curse, or does he lie to save his skin?"

Narrator: "Alas, every word of it is true," says Fajhoul, though there is a look of adventure in his eyes. A far cry from the uncharacteristic terror Abdul had seen just moments before. "A curse in the hands of spirits of the jungles of Nog the likes of which I have never seen."

Narrator: It is common parlance among adepts and those who know about curses to describe a curse as having an owner. Typically this refers to the adept who inflicted the curse, but it may also refer to a person who accidentally brought a curse down on themself or somebody else through their arrogance.

Abdul's demeanor changes and he tells R'Akibum, "You have erred in one important respect, R'Akibum. Well, several, truly, but one that is most vital to your welfare at the moment."

Narrator: "Was it my hiring you as a guide, trickster scholar?" asks R'Akibum sardonically.

Abdul: "No, you have erred in describing Lord Fajhoul as my servant. I have no hold over him save old acquaintance. So you see, since you have cursed him to death, I have no means at all in preventing him from turning the tables. Have you ever been to Ghulistan, R'Akibum? Or perhaps the hidden cities of the shaitan and the deevs?"

Narrator: "Do you think I'm an idiot, whatever your name is - Abdul?" asks R'Akibum angrily. "I have made a gift of his curse to the Three Sisters of Nog, who hold the tail of his curse now. Only I know how to find their ancestral dwelling place, and so, that djinni devil has nothing to gain by killing me, and much to lose."

Abdul reminds him gently, "You have said that you have the power to release him. Do so, and I am sure he will show the mercy for which his family is most renowned. Is it not so, my lord?"

Narrator: Fajhoul leans over to Abdul, whispering in Jinnti. "You know all too well my father's 'mercy.' I fear he was merely bluffing before. Though I know little of such things, I saw the spirits for a moment."

Narrator: R'Akibum glares at Abdul, "Do you know nothing of the foundations of the art, you who break a curse with a word? His curse is no longer mine to lift."
 

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