"I stowed away on Farsiir, the ship of destiny. My destiny. I had set out alone to conquer a kindgom."
The scribe arched an eyebrow and his quill seemed to hesitate briefly in its incessant scratching.
"All right then, Hamza," The young man continued. "Perhaps 'conquer a kingdom' is a bit pretentious..."
"And inaccurate?" suggested Hamza, the scribe.
"And inaccurate", the young man agreed. "But don't you think it makes the story more dramatic?" Again the scribe's eyebrow arched, which was comment enough.
"Oh, by Allah, the truth is I simply craved adventure. My home in Baghdad had become... slow paced." Again the eyebrow, and a slight upright curl at the corners of the scribe's mouth. The young man sighed and threw up his arms in exasperation.
"Can we not paint a picture one likes?" He sat, momentarily, on the edge of a cushioned bench that jutted out like some unnatural appendage from the wall. Then he stood again and, looking resigned, told the scribe, "Of course, you're right, Hamza. This is to be the true story of my adventures. Let us start over, then."
"As you wish", Hamza replied, balling up the paper he had written on. There was silence as his companion thought about what to say. The young man paced back and forth. A scimitar bounced lightly against the fine cotton of his trousers as he paced. His soft-soled slippers made a sound like leather on sand in the otherwise soundless room. Finally, he stopped, readjusted his white silk turban, and began to tell his story, this time without eliciting any immediate response from the critical scribe.
I stowed away on Farsiir, the ship of destiny. My destiny. My life in Baghdad had been restless. I had lived alone any by my wits for a year or more. I longed to see other lands, to find adventure, romance, and intrigue. Of course, I knew not how much of each I would find... but I get ahead of myself.
Well, living in the streets of Baghdad, one cannot help but accumulate some enemies, and the time for adventure came upon me suddenly.
You were running for your life, suggested Hamza.
Even so. I had angered certain minor sheiks whose crimes I had unwittingly exposed. I had a talent for finding myself up to my ears in trouble, but this time there were too many of them and not enough of me to go around.
So I stowed away until the the ship had left the dock. Then I joined the crew, and such is my ability to blend with people that I was quickly accepted and did more than my share of the work. By the time I left the Farsiir, I had many new, if somewhat poorer, friend. (Another one of my talents is to win money in games of chance without arousing animosity. I wear simplicity and false modesty like holy garments and walk away, still simple, still modest, but much richer.)
When the ship docked again, I walked out into the unknown - a stranger with no past to haunt me, no responsibilities other than to seek my fortune. I had little money in my purse, and was eager to explore.
But the Persian capital city was no place for a stranger. Armed guards roamed the city, terrorizing the citizens. In my first hour ashore, I was chased by a gang of fifteen guards...
The scribe looked up momentarily from his scratching.
Well, there was at least five of them. At any rate, this city was not a good place to be a stranger, and soon I found all avenues shut to me. My money ran out, and I began to long for the known dangers of Baghdad as opposed to the brooding menace of this place. Finally, as I began to hunger for a meal not eaten on the run, I hit upon an idea whose very audacity appealed to me. I borrowed a suit of fine silk from a local tailor, and 'found' a jeweled ring which an unfortunate merchant had 'lost'. Then I set my plan in motion.
I went to the Great Mosque, and there let it slip that a great prince had recently set foot in the city, in disguise. He came alone, said the rumor, and was planning on visiting the palace.
I knew that the priests would spread the rumors faster than anyone else, though I salted the story in a few other likely places as well. I waited two days, then donned my silken raiment and made my way to the palace of the Sultan of Persia.
When I arrived at the place, I had barely opened my mouth before I was escorted to the throne room. The Sultan, I was told, was off on a holy quest, but Jaffar, the Grand Visier, would see me.
I did not like Jaffar from the moment I set eyes on him. Perhaps it takes a thief to know one, but he was more than just a thief. He was a thief with no honor. You don't have to watch your back so much.
Still, Jaffar was all courtesy when we met, and invited me to dine with the royal court that evening.
"You must join me tonight, young Prince," he stated unctuously. He seemed not at all pleased, however, despite his attempts to make me think he was. "I should be honored," I replied with a small flourish and duck of the head - just enough to show deference without acknowledging inferiority. "But I must apologize my lord. My servants and all my belongings have been taken from me by a band of brigands. I barely escaped with my life." I drew my sword to demonstrate how I survived by driving the blackguards away.
Jaffar took a step back when I drew my blade, and I made a note of his reaction, should I ever have need to confront him. "It is fortunate that you are so skilled with the sword, young Prince. Please follow my servants to escort you to the guest rooms.You will find everything that you require there." And so saying, Jaffar offered a shallow bow, clapped his hand once, and issued orders to his servants, who then hustled me away.
It was not easy to hide my delight from the servants as I was shown my accomodations - a suite of rooms which was itself many times bigger than the house I had been born. I made a show of boredom, but inside I was, I admit, awestruck. If this was a guest's accomodations, how much more opulent would the Sultan's own quarters be?
But I was not tto be cooped up in a room, no matter how sumptuous. After surveying the closets and relieveing myself in the solid-gold pissoir, I slipped out the window (avoiding the inevitable servant/guard who waited outside my door) and climbed down into the courtyard. It was a veritable Garden of Eden, replete with fruit trees, gurgling streams, swans and peacocks. It was truly an oasis of peace within the palace.
As beauteous as this courtyard garden might be, it was eclipsed by the next sight to meet my eyes. She stood near a small pool, quietly singing a sad song as she gazed into the depths of the water. Small ripples spread out from the center where perhaps a fish had come to gaze back at her. I could see her reflection waver as the ripples spread toward the edge of the pond. I knew instantly that she was the one whom people spoke in hushed tones. She was the dayghter of the Sultan, the Princess of Persia. They said she was the most beautiful in the land, though no man was known to have seen her face and lived. They far underestimated her. I thought, She is the most beautiful creature who ever lived.
She was unveiled, and I knew that my death was certain if I should be discovered. So why didn't I fade back amoung the trees and escape certain doom? I stood rooted like one of the ancient fig trees that surrounded me, and lost myself in the rippled reflected in her great, dark eyes just as she seemed lost in the depths of the pool. Then she looked up and smiled.
Now I have by necessity become a master of disguise, and rarely do I allow my ture emotions to show, but here sad smile was like a shaft of sunlight after seven years of rain. It stuck me squarely in the heart ad I, stupidly, smiled back with the broadest country grin my poor lips could stretch to.
She laughed, and for a moment I feared that she laughed at my foolishness, but then she spoke.
"You should know, handsome stranger, that if you can see my reflection in the water's surface, so I can see yours."
Her voice was like the music of the kanoon, rippling with melody, intonation, and grace. I think I heard little of what she said past "handsome stranger." I might even have blushed. I was completely out of control.
When I did not speak, she asked, "Who are you? Where do you come from? And what do you here in the forbidden garden?"
And here's the truly remarkable part. I told her the truth! A truth I had not even known until that very moment. "I am a poor thief come to win your hand, Princess, though I pose as a visiting prince." I was hypnotized by her as the snake is captured by the swaying flute of the charmer. Never had I told the truth before. It was and eerie feeling, made all the more surreal by the factthat I had almost surely condemned myself to a quick death - if I was lucky!
Her eyes flashed in amusement. "And how do you plan to 'win my hand' young Prince?" she asked.
"With wit," I answered truthfully again. "With charm. And with my sword if I must."
I feared that last bit about the sword was too much, but she seemed more thoughtful than angry. "You have told me the truth, and for that you have shown yourself to be more honorable than those around me now. I must trust someone. Why not an adventurer like you?"
Why not indeed, I thought. Suddenly I ran at full speed and vaulted across the pond - a prodigious leap, even for me. The Princess took a surprised step backward in fear, but I quickly knelt at her feet, drew my sword and presented it to her, hilt first.
"My life is in your hands, Princess. You may relieve me of my head here and now. If not, then you will have no more devoted friend, though you live 900 years like Methuselah."
She ignored my weapon, but knelt before me and stared long into my eyes. It was all I could do to endure her scrutiny, the proximity of her goddess- like beauty, but I remained unmoving, unblinking, breathless. I was afraid of what foolishness I might next commit. I resisted all thought until I succeeded at becoming completely thoughtless. That's when I kissed her.