"Your escape from the dungeon was truly remarkable, O Prince," Hamza said.
"Allah is great," the Prince responded, "but that story is nothing compared to what happened to me next."
"O Prince, I was a witness at your wedding, and I was present at the court during your first days with the Princess. Everyone was talking about the two of you." Hamza lowered his eyes. "You seemed so happy."
The Prince laughed. "Bismillah," he answered. "We were happy "
"But then..." began Hamza, and the Prince's brow clouded and the world turned dark before his eyes.
"Then evil magic placed a cloud of illusion on us all. Take up your quill, Hamza. I will tell you a story so strange you will most likely doubt its veracity many times before I'm done. But I tell you, Hamza, this is a true account of my adventures."
Hamza took up his writing materials. Soon the sounds of the scratching quill punctuated the deep voice of the Prince as he launched into the strangest tale of all.
It was the morning of the eleventh day after the wedding. I arose early and went riding by the river It was a day full of promise. The light breeze was from the south. Small white clouds scuttled across a seablue sky. I couldn't have been more blissful if I had been in Paradise, Allah be praised.
When I returned to the palace the Princess was already gone to court, so I bathed and dressed in a red vest and white trousers of fine cotton from Egypt. Over this I wrapped my favorite cape of cotton and silk. My turban was also white, with a gold-mounted red ruby in the center. I strapped on my new scimitar - a gift from the Sultan himself. It was a fine blade, though I had little expectation of using it any time soon. How wrong I was. But swordplay was the furthest thing from my mind just then.
I tell you, Hamza, I had never been so conscious of clothing as when I became a prince - and a husband. My dear wife had offered me some insights into the world of fashion, which I endeavored to put into action.
So I was feeling a bit proud, and, if looks could make a prince, then I was certainly well on my way. I still had much to learn about the handling of governmental affairs. I was, perhaps, a somewhat slow student at times. But the Princess was remarkably well-informed, and in politics, too, she was my advisor.
I could see that it gave her great pleasure to instruct me, and I was a willing student.
As I strode toward the throne room to join in the day's activities, I passed many servants. They all averted their eyes when I walked by I also passed many of the Sultan's guards. It was not so long ago that I had been fighting these same men, or their brothers in arms. But I had since sparred with many of them, and they bore me no malice. They often smiled when I passed. All was right with the world, I tell you, Hamza. And then, as I approached the doors to the throne room, the darkness descended upon me.
It was only a momentary chill, a dimming of the light, and a feeling like ice ran through my veins. Then it was past. I shook myself free of the sense of foreboding that remained and approached the doorway to I the throne room. At the time, I did not realize anything was wrong, though in retrospect I should have taken heed.
How so? asked Hamza.
Well, though I paid it no mind then, I did notice that some passing servants were not avoiding my gaze as was their custom. And, when I entered the throne room, people stared at me strangely. Ever since I had become Prince I had been attracting a lot of stares, but these looks were not the kind I had been receiving. Not in some time, anyway. But I was full of myself, Hamza, and paid these clues no mind.
I strode up the central walkway, conscious of the unpleasant stare made to greet the Princess, my wife and her father, the Sultan. But, before I could open my mouth to speak, I saw a sight that, to my dying day, will count as one of the strangest of my life. From behind the curtains and tapestries of the royal dais came a young man. I stared for several heartbeats at this handsome personage, but nothing would register in my brain.
I was seeing myself, Hamza. It was my image in all things... except when it spoke. Its voice was cold, harsh, and without any commpassion.
"Seize him," this doppelganger shouted, and, almost, the voice seemed familiar.
I was shocked. I stood rooted, my eyes automatically seeking those of the Princess.
"But he's just a poor mad beggar," I heard her say 1 quickly looked myself over. Gone was my fine new outfit. I felt my head. Gone was the great ruby I wore in my turban.
Now, I haven't survived this long by suffering from indecision Hamza, and I wasted no time making my mind up then. I ran. I knew the guards were coming behind me, so I did the only thing I could. I turned and ran through the crowd of ministers and wives who had gathered for the day's business. Shoving my way through them. I reached a great arched window. Holding my arms before me, I crashed through it and fell to the rampart below. As luck would have it, a guard was already stationed on that rampart, and he immediately began to close the distance between us, his sword drawn. I had no more time to consider my situation, I would be dead in seconds if I didn't act.