For Eventide, it seemed he had just fallen asleep when something caused him to awaken. At first he could not make out what it was; his room was in total blackness but there was a heavy weight pressing down on his slim chest.
As he managed to open his eyes; he felt the full stress of the long practice session on the large barrel but, there was something else. Above him he could just make out a faint shimmer of dark eyes very close to his face. The figure was kneeling over his chest and had his arms trapped at his side; Eventide tried to move but it was impossible with the weight above him.
His breathing was coming only with difficulty and there was a feeling of cold metal on his bare stomach. The figure holding him down was more ethereal in its darkness; only the dark eyes could be seen as the tightness around his throat increased and the pressure of the cold metal pressed down on his boyhood; from the blackness came a young voice.
"A Hashin that sleeps to deeply will soon be dead; always you must sleep with one ear listening and one eye watching."
Suddenly the vague shape in the darkness disappeared as though it was a ghost and Eventide was left with the tightness of the silken scarf around his neck and, after looking down; he saw one of his own fancy daggers lying with the sharp blade touching his naked boyhood.
Eventide carefully removed the dagger first; it was too close to be comfortable; with a little struggle he managed to free the tight scarf from his neck; the pain of his first full breath would always remind him of how close he was to never breathing again.
Eventide jumped from his bed to find some water to sooth his dry throat; of his assailant there was no sign. Even now he was not sure which of his six brothers it had been but it was a lesson he hoped he would not have to go through again. For the rest of the night, Eventide found it difficult to fall back into a deep sleep; just the thought of that tight scarf was enough to bring his eyes wide open again and again.
The next morning when he met all the boys for breakfast; not one of them even gave the faintest hint of being in his room the night before; it was as though they all knew nothing of it. Achmed told Eventide it was time to start his first lessons on poisons; Eventide was not sure if that was a good thing or not; he had not had the best of sleep last night and the thought of touching dangerous poisons made him shudder slightly.
As Eventide followed Achmed to a room deep under the manor; he saw Freeman and Bodan walking towards the outer gate; he was sure he would find out all about it in time; for now he had other things to do.
Achmed took him into one of the rooms deep underground; it looked as though it had not been there all that long and was perhaps a later addition well after the manor had been built.
The room was lined in stone and around the walls were many wooden shelves which seemed to be covered with scrolls, earthen jars, strange dishes and measuring devices as well as a small fire that looked much like a child's forge; the coals inside glowing hot with a faint wisp of smoke coming from the centre.
Eventide somehow knew that this part of his lessons had been left until he had a better skill with the Aramaic language as he could now easily converse with all the others. His skill at writing the language was still rudimentary but he could recognise most of the figures.
Once he had had a better understanding of written English, the rest came easier and his small hands were able to make the shapes with ease.
Achmed led Eventide to a wooden bench; lined up were six small earthenware jars with symbols on them. Achmed had Eventide sit on a stool beside him and took up one of the jars; the symbol had been carved into the side of the jar and was not one Eventide recognised from his lessons.
"These six are the ones we use most often; there are some thirty five altogether that you must learn but we will start with these. First you must put this on to protect yourself."
Achmed gave Eventide a strange mask made from two thicknesses of black silk; it had two ties at each end to fasten around his head; the mask covered both his mouth and nose.
"You must never work with the poisons without the mask. Now each of these jars has the same symbol as the six flasks you carry; it is a language known only to the Hashin and you must learn it well or you may kill yourself with an accident; it has happened before so take great care."
Eventide nodded and watched as Achmed gathered the six jars closer.
"Now for your first lesson, you will practice the smell of each one; I will also show you how to recognise poisons from non poisons. Most times, poisons have a bitter smell so it is your nose that will tell you if it is safe or not. Do not be fooled however, there are those that smell sweet and tempting but those also usually have a bitter taste."
Eventide looked at Achmed with a little fear; was the boy going to make him actually take poison to find out how it tasted; it did not seem the sort of lesson that one would walk away from. Achmed saw the look of horror on Eventides face and smiled.
"Yes Little Brother, you will taste some of them but only in very small, almost harmless amounts. First you learn the symbols, next you learn their smells, and then you learn their taste. I promise you will only be a little sick with some of them."
Eventide did not like the small laugh that Achmed gave him.
"Now little Brother, first the symbols, this one is Scorpion venom."
Achmed held up the jar and showed the symbol on the front; it looked a little like a stylised Scorpion but with a few extra squiggles to disguise it. Achmed opened the stopper and took up a thin sliver of wood; dipping the sliver into the jar, he then held it out for Eventide to see; it looked like a thick yellow tree sap.
"Now, do not touch it; this is processed and is very dangerous; the slightest scratch on the skin and it will enter your blood and you will die. Now carefully smell it but do not touch."
Eventide leant forward and took a deep smell of the thick goo; he wasn't sure if he could tell it had a smell or not.
"What do you smell, Little Brother?"
"I'm not sure; I think I smell bitterness."
"Close, now close your eyes and smell again; the eyes are the deceivers of all your senses; close them and use only your nose."
Eventide followed Achmed's instructions and tried again; this time the distinct smell was stronger; the bitterness was more pronounced and made him pull back quickly.
"Good, now you can see the difference; if any time you are not sure about something or if you suspect someone of trying to poison you; close your eyes and smell deeply. Every poison has its own distinct smell but not all are bitter like this one."
Next, Achmed took a jar with an eye symbol on the front; with a very small spatula, he took out a few grains of white powder.
"This is the dream maker from which you never awaken. It is found deep under the ground and it is said that they lose a thousand slaves every year to its mining and processing. Now smell it but carefully; do not breathe in to deeply but let its smell rise to your nose."
Eventide was not sure about this one; with trepidation he leant forward and let the aroma float up to him; as the first hint of odour reached his nose; he closed his eyes and it became more pronounced and readily recognisable. Much to his surprise it smelt very nice; it was much like one of the nuts they had all eaten after a meal.
"I see you recognise the smell, this is deadly even though it smells of almonds; in very small doses it can slowly make a person ill and they eventually die or, you can use a greater quantity and kill them immediately but that way it is easily recognised for what it is as the person will froth at the mouth and shake with the pain."
Achmed took up another jar, this one had a symbol of a tree; again stylised and almost unrecognisable as such. Opening the jar he used another sliver and brought out a thick clear liquid, much like the Scorpion venom but with no colour.
"This comes from the sap of a plant; I am sure you will know it when you smell."
Eventide leaned forward and smelled carefully; he was immediately surprised at the sweet smell and also his recognition of it.
"It is the same as that long yellow fruit we have had at meal times; were they poisoness?"
"No, the fruit is not poisoness, however the sap from the tree on which they grow can be when reduced this way; one scratch from this and you will die; these three and the next one have no antidote; once given the person will surely die."
The next jar had the stylised symbol of a snake etched into it.
"This is the venom of a snake so deadly that many hundreds of people die each year from it. It comes from a far away country to the East called Indus; the snake is called a Krait; two drops and you die within minutes."
Eventide looked at the thick yellow liquid; it was much the same as the Scorpion venom but slightly darker in colour. Eventide leant over to smell with his eyes closed; this time the smell was more of a cloying bitterness and it even left an oily taste in his throat even though he had only smelt it.
Achmed took the second last of the two jars and opened it; he then took a small wooden box from his clothes and laid it beside the jar.
"These we call, the slave makers; once they are taken you will have a willing slave to command; it creates such a desire that they have to come back to you to be able to survive; if they stop taking it they will suffer terribly. It comes from a small red flower found in the high mountains to the east called, the Hindu Kush."
Achmed took out a small round black ball from the small box and, with a spatula took a white powder from the jar. Eventide smelt them both, the ball smelt sweet and sickly and the white powder was similar but not as strong. Achmed held up the round ball.
"This one is smoked, if you put it in a hookah and get him to smoke it he will be your slave for ever more; you may have to smoke with him to make him confident; make sure you do not inhale the smoke; keep it in your mouth then breathe out; it will make your tongue a little numb and your mouth a little bitter tasting; if you inhale it to your lungs you will be no better than him."
"The powder can be put in his drink or food; it will have the same effect; both will take a number of days to get a hold of him but once he has tasted the drug he will come back for more and he will be your slave."
Achmed reached for the last jar; it was marked with a simple X.
"This is made from the black berry of death, once given it is certain death unless you can find a means to purge his innards thoroughly; the use of a heavy concentration of salt given with the oil of the olive can achieve this if used in time. Often, by the time it is noticed, it is already too late for them."
Achmed dipped a sliver into the jar and showed Eventide the black, thick mass; after smelling the bitterness, Eventide looked at Achmed and shook his head to clear away the stale smell from his nostrils.
"These are the ones most often used; when you can identify each and everyone without sight then you will be ready to move onto the more obscure ones; they are no less dangerous but are rare and hard to come by. Now this time I want you to cover your eyes with a blindfold; when this is done I will give you one of the jars. You must feel the mark and relate it to the tops of your own vials. Once this is done you will then take the stopper out and tell me which is which without sight."
Eventide waited while Achmed covered his eyes and made sure he could not see anything before placing the first jar in his sword hand. Eventide used his thumb to lightly run over the symbol on the jar; after some time trying to identify the symbol; he reached for the six empty vials in the special holder he had been told to bring with him.
It took some time for Eventide to really be able to feel the symbol on the small top of the vial; once he thought he was correct; he carefully felt for and then pulled the stopper of the jar. After smelling carefully he said to Achmed.
"It is the Scorpion venom."
"No, it is the snake venom; they are similar to each other but the Scorpion is less powerful in smell also, the symbol of the Scorpion has four lines to a side and the snake only three. Touch the symbol again, you must use the lightest of touches or you will miss something like you just have. I know the effect will be the same but the snake venom will leave its trace for others to find where the Scorpion will not."
Eventides lesson went on for far longer than he thought; for his first test with his eyes covered, he got only one right; it was a good lesson and he had to work hard to finally; after more than three hours; get them all correct. With his first full success, Achmed called a halt to the day's lesson. From now on it would be easier for Eventide now that he knew a little more and how to identify the markings and smells; tomorrow; although unknown to Eventide; would be the taste test; the day after that Eventide would spend recuperating from the experience.
As the two friends walked back up the stone steps; Eventide asked Achmed.
"How did you get all this down here for us to use?"
"This is not ours; it belongs to your father and Elder Brother; he gave his permission for us to be here. In times when I am not here to teach; he will come to help you; his knowledge is even greater than mine as he has been doing it so many years longer and was taught personally by Elder Brother Desert Lion; who of course, is the best among us."
When the two boys got up to the passageway they had previously used, they were surprised to see the manor a hive of activity. Eventide looked at the servants running around and called out to one of them.
"What is it?"
"The Emir will be here shortly My Lord; we are preparing rooms for him."
Eventide felt excitement at the thought of seeing Mahmud again; it had been nearly three weeks since they had last met just before he was to leave for the manor. Eventide decided to hurry to his rooms to change and bath; he was now getting used to bathing twice a day and his four servants always seemed to have water on the fire whenever it was needed.
Achmed smiled at Eventides enthusiasm as he waved and went his own way to find the other five; he knew they would be called to the evening meal for their report on Eventides lessons and progress.
Eventide was a little surprised to see both men side by side at the top of the table; there was now no need for pretence from either man as Eventide was now one of them although still a little brother.
Eventide sat on the right of Freeman; there was no sign of Mahmud and Eventide felt a little let down that his friend had not made an appearance with his uncle; Saed saw the look of disappointment on the boys face.
"Do not worry my Kahlif; your brother will arrive tomorrow; he had lessons on court procedure to finish; he will come and stay for two days before returning to court; for now I must return to my homeland, there are things afoot that must be taken care of as soon as possible."
Eventide brightened up at the knowledge Mahmud would arrive the next day and smiled widely at the Emir.
"How goes your lessons, young Kahlif?"
"I find them very interesting but at times they are inclined to leave bruises on more than my ego, Your Highness."
Saed laughed loudly and looked at Freeman with a hint of merriment.
"Well brother, it looks like your new son is doing well; do you think he will be ready to travel when the time is due?"
"Yes brother; he will be ready or one solid bruise from head to toe."
Eventide blushed as the two men laughed; next Saed looked at Salud.
"You have your report ready little brother?"
"Yes Elder Brother; I would have each of his teachers report to you themselves."
"Good, do so."
Ishmael was the first to stand and begin his report.
"Elder Brother, our little brother shows great advancement in his ability to lift a man's purse and is advancing rapidly in following the tracks of men and beasts. His first lesson in seduction perhaps is still settling in his head but, as he is so young and is not brought up in our ways, it will take a little longer but I feel certain he will also accomplish that talent with little doubt."
Demetrius was next.
"Elder Brother, little brother has a good eye and a steady hand; his knife throwing is accurate and with practice will attain good distance in time. His skill in silent approach improves with each lesson and he is just now learning to use the garrotte with confidence."
Mohammad was next.
"Elder Brother, little brother is well mastering the horse; he can ride well and is learning quickly about our bow and fighting style. In time he will also be able to fight with the scimitar from horseback. I would say he will be a competent camel rider by the time he leaves for our homeland. I will leave it until then to teach him the art of war from a camel."
Medan spoke up.
"Elder Brother, little brother is still working on his locks; as you well know this takes time and patience, but he does put all effort into learning. I am having made his gloves and boot straps for climbing but as yet they are not ready."
Achmed was the next to stand.
"Elder Brother, little brother has a great fitness and shows good balance and dexterity. He has just now begun to work on the poisons but does show patience and common sense when handling those so far. He listens to instructions well and takes great care with his safety when handling the poisons."
Finally it was Salud's turn.
"Elder Brother, little brother has surprised even me; were I not to know different, I would think him born of the Bedou. He works hard and takes instruction well. His skill with language is excellent and he is far on in writing and reading our language. I have sent for a sword of the Indus for him. As yet his hands are too small for a full sized scimitar but the Indus sword will give him practice. His work with the dagger is as good as I have seen; he has speed and cunning and his small size is an even better advantage. Elder Brother, I would say that little brother is now one of us and only needs some of the finer lessons to complete him."
"Thank you Salud; you and your brothers are doing well and I and Desert Falcon thank you for guarding him so well and giving him lessons. My nephew will be here tomorrow; he will stay for two days before returning to court. Tomorrow I must be on my way home; there are things to attend to. I place the life and safety of our little brother in your hands and would hear you all offer a blood oath for his protection."
Eventide could not believe his ears. By this time he knew exactly what Saed was asking the boys to do and what the blood oath meant to those giving and receiving it. If the six boys agreed they would be bound to Eventides safety for life; he could not understand why anyone would want to do that for him. When all six boys stood up from the table; Eventide could only gasp as they spoke all together.
"We sons of the Bedou and brothers of the Hashin, swear by our blood to protect and defend our brother Shaitan Bin Izurak unto death."
The six sat down as Saed nodded in agreement, there was little more to say on the subject. Saed turned to Freeman.
"I hear you have discovered a new type of bow; can you tell of it?"
"I can do better than that; I have a man who will be overseer of the manor lands who is an expert on the matter; I will call for him and he can show you himself."
Freeman called for one of the servants to go and fetch Bodan and to bring his bow. The servant disappeared quickly and, ten minutes later arrived back with Bodan striding along beside him; his longbow in his hand.
"Ah Master Bodan; thank you for coming at this late hour. This is my friend the Emir Saed Ben Haman; he is interested in your longbow; would you be kind enough to explain it to him?"
"Of course My Lord; it is my pleasure."
It took no time at all for Bodan to forget he was in the company of Royalty as he got down to the business of showing off the longbow. Saed looked to be fascinated by the bow and asked endless and in depth questions about everything to do with it. It was obvious to the others that the Emir knew exactly what he was talking about.
"Thank you Master Bodan; there are only a few more questions I would like to ask if it is not too much trouble and the hour not too late?"
"Of course Your Highness; my time is yours."
"Thank you Master Bodan. Firstly; you say that this bow must be used with glove and bracer; why is that?"
"With your Persian bow there is little need as it is held and pulled to the side; perhaps a glove if in combat as the number of arrows could make a man's fingers painful. For the longbow the bracer is a vital part as are the gloves. The longbow is not like the Persian in that the stance we use is side on to the target and that brings the bow straight to the eye; this also means the string will slide along the forearm; this bow is far more powerful and when it is fired it will bite the forearm unlike the Persian bow which rarely touches the skin. Without the bracer your arm would be raw meat in two or three shafts. The glove is for much the same reason; with the heavier pull it would soon cut through the skin and leave an archer without use of his hand."
"I see that the bow string is made from some strange fibre and waxed; why would that be?"
"Unlike the Persian bow which as a string made from the gut of an animal and can become useless when wet; we use a string made from the fibres of the hemp plant. The fibres are split until they are a single thin fibre then we rub bees wax into it; when we have the right length, we roll three fibres together to make a single strand; this again is waxed then when we have three of them finished we roll them all together to make one string; then it has its final waxing. The waxing stops it from being affected by rain or water and the multiple strands make it strong enough to hold the bow at full pull without the fear of a breakage."
"Yes I can see; an excellent idea; although my homeland has little water it would still be an advantage to have a bow that is always ready, no matter the weather. Now for my last question; why are there metal tips on the ends of the bow, and how are they made?"
"Well as you can see, Your Highness, the tips are made from iron; they are pointed in such a way so that they not only strengthen the bow tips, they can also be used as a weapon if the fight comes too close. Unfortunately they can become brittle and the rust is also a problem unless they are kept well oiled. My youngest son is our best forger for making them. They must be made to fit each individual bow as no two bows are the same. I only wish we had a better metal to make them with; there is a lot of time spent repairing that part of the bow and it is the only downfall they truly have."
"I see. Hmm...What if you were able to use a fine grade of steel; the problem of brittleness would be taken away and if the steel is well forged it would be almost impervious to rusting?"
"That would be a great problem solved but, unfortunately we have no one that knows how to forge steel like that."
"Well then I may have a solution for you; that is if you are willing to trade a little for it?"
"What would I have to trade with Your Highness that would be of comparable value?"
"Why, your skill and your bows. Soon my nephew and his friend Eventide are coming to my lands; they have their own palace to attend to. Eventide will be staying for one year; perhaps your youngest could accompany him and learn the trade of making fine steel in Damascus; if you have another son that is competent in bow making; he could also come and teach my men the art of your bow and how to make them; it would certainly give my army a great advantage in the many battles that rage in our lands. What do you say Master Bodan, do we have a trade? One year of your two son's time for the secret of Damascus steel. They will be paid of course for their skill and trouble as well as the trade."
"Your Highness, it is a one sided trade that benefits us more than you but I can only agree to your terms; it would be remiss of me to turn such an offer down. My fourth son is a very good bow maker and also has the art of teaching; he is also a wanderer and would enjoy travelling to such a land. I know my youngest would fulfil one of his life time dreams to be accompanying the young Lordship while he is still young and does not have the responsibility of the Black Bow as yet."
"The Black Bow? Is that the one I have heard so much about? The one that a full grown man could not pull yet a young boy could?"
"The bow of manhood, Your Highness; yes it is the same."
"I would like to see such a bow some time but not tonight; the hour is late and there is much for all of us to do. Thank you Master Bodan for such a good lesson; I will never forget your instruction and I look forward to seeing your young ones when they come to my lands."
Bodan bowed and then took up his bow and left the hall as the others sat around to finish off the last of the mead and then find their beds; it had been a long and full night for everyone.
When Eventide awoke, it was to the sound of the Emir leaving the manor. He was still in his bath when he heard the next sound of a number of men arriving; knowing full well that it should be his friend and brother Mahmud; Eventide jumped from his bath and quickly dressed for the day.
Eventide met Mahmud just as the boy was entering the hall where breakfast was served; with him came his usual retinue of six Hashin and behind them was a long line of servants; four of which were carrying two large chests between them.
It did not take long for the two friends and brothers to hug each other in a very warm and friendly grasp; it was more than three weeks since last they had met and to boys as young as they; that amount of time was like years had passed. Over breakfast and with Freeman excusing himself early; the two boys talked and talked about what they had been doing over the last three weeks.
Mahmud was happy for Eventide and how well he was doing with his lessons; both spoke in the tongue of the Bedou which only went to confuse any listeners that should not know of certain things. Mahmud only complained about the rules of the King's court and how boring much of it was; he then told Eventide that the only thing that kept him at his lessons was the thought of coming to be with his friend and brother.
Eventide told Mahmud about the two extra boys that would be going to Mahmud's homeland with them and how it had come about; Mahmud had only one thing he wanted to do for now; all of Eventide's lessons were suspended for the two days of Mahmud's visit; it took less than five minutes for the boys to be running towards the stables and calling for their Falcons; it was time to hunt.
Late that afternoon, when the boys had returned victorious from their hunt and were sitting in one of the many empty rooms that had been set aside for Mahmud's use when he was to visit; Mahmud called for some of his servants to bring in the two large chests.
The servants placed the chests within reach of Mahmud but also close to Eventide then left on other business and left the two boys alone; outside the door stood four of the young Hashin as guards to the room.
"Now my Brother." Mahmud began as he lent down to open the chests. "It is the time of the first quarter and so the people of Wadhi Sufaria have sent you your share of the taxes gathered so far."
Mahmud looked at the stunned face of Eventide as the boy tried to comprehend what Mahmud had just said.
"What taxes? Why?"
"Why the quarterly taxes; you will need them for your expenses and it is what must be paid to the Kahlif each and every quarter. The Emir had it sent to you here as you will need it for your journey to the homeland."
"But how do I get such a share; if those chests are filled with coin then what of yourself?"
"My two chests were delivered to the castle; the Emir's are held in Damascus where his palace is. Each quarter they count the taxes from the merchants in the Wadhi and those passing through with their caravans; half is put into the coffers of the city for its upkeep and the payment of the town militia and soldiers; one quarter is sent to the Emir and the last quarter belongs to the Kahlif, in this case; one eighth each for us. This time of the year, the trade is slow so it is only two chests each; the next quarter it will increase as the time of the caravans is far more busy with the great road open from the snows of winter in the eastern lands."
"It seems a lot of coin just for one man?"
"Nonsense, there is much for you to pay for and your travel to the homeland will tax you even further; you will find it will take almost a full chest just to move you and your people over the distance. Your horses alone will need one full Dhow just to carry them and keep them fed across the great seas from the Spanish port; add another Dhow for yourself and your men; there will be little left from that chest. The best way is to purchase the Dhow's in full and crew them with men of your own choice; that way they will always be at your command and, if you chose your captains well; they can carry goods for you to make profit when not in use by yourself. I have six Dhows working for me and, while they only make a small income from their cargos; the captain and men are well paid as they are ready at short notice for whatever I may need."
"It almost sounds as though I will be a merchant more than a Kahlif."
"Oh my brother; you will be so much more than a merchant and even more than a Kahlif; I have heard that even now your name is being spoken in Damascus and other cities."
"But how can that be; I have never been to the holy land and am unknown even here except for the small amount of time I spent at the King's court."
"Ah little brother; it is said that large trees start from small seeds; it is the same for you; great things start with the dreams and strength of a small boy. For this type of boy, his name does not take long to spread; even to the furtherest of lands."
"I still don't see why they would think much of me; at heart I am still just a pot boy from a country tavern who happened to have some luck."
"No you are not; you are the mighty and brave Shaitan Bin Izurak; Djin of Shaitan himself; a leader of armies and speaker to spirits; your fame spreads and all bow to your greatness oh mighty rider of the horse of shadows and Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria."
By the time Mahmud had finished his outrageous claims, both boys were rolling on the floor laughing loudly; little did Eventide know how much of it was to come true although the claims were totally outrageous they did spread to the strangest of places and by the strangest of means.
"What is this Djin? I have not heard of it before."
"A Djin is much like a demon; he has power and magic and is known to work for the great Shaitan himself; in English you would call him a servant of the Devil; one who is almost as powerful as the devil himself and can turn the hearts of men to his will."
"It does not sound much like me I don't think I want to make others do whatever I want them to."
"That is just it; you can already make others follow you without need of threats or violence; very few are born with the natural ability to lead others; that is your greatest gift; the people trust you and follow you because they feel you would not do them wrong; it is its own strongest magic. You only have to look to the joust and how the commoners followed you without question; they knew and felt that you were truly on their side and so followed you in the melee; it was their heart and belief in you that won the melee not just the tactics we used."
It left Eventide with much to think about as they went down to the evening meal. Freeman made a fuss of both boys and the meal went on into the late night hours. The next day was spent more peacefully; Eventide introduced Mahmud to the young stable boy and the many sons of Bodan.
It was a good day and only the thought of Mahmud leaving the next day to return to court dimmed Eventides excitement; the thought of another three or four weeks without his special friend made him feel a little lost but he had to keep up appearances for now.
After Mahmud left it was back to the many lessons for Eventide; while there were still many bruises and other problems with learning all his new skills; as time passed there were fewer of them until finally Eventide could pass through a full day without a problem.
His worst memory was the day of tasting the poisons; Achmed had diluted them until they were somewhat safe for Eventide to try but he was still violently ill; much to the delight of all his six brothers; and did not fully recover for two days. It was one lesson he still wished he did not have to take.
Mahmud's next visit was not for four weeks; during the short time they spent together; they made plans for the upcoming travel to the homeland; there was a lot to organise and it surprised Eventide how much he would have to think of each time he travelled in the future.
When the time finally arrived for their travel to the homeland of Mahmud; the two boys spent a full week with Freeman organising everything. Eventide took special care over plans for Gerard and his brother Marchant as well as the smaller figure of Shaun. Mahmud had taken one look at the lame boy and asked him how it had happened; finding out it was from a fall off a horse; Mahmud turned to Eventide and said.
"When we get home to the Wadhi I can have a healer look at the boys leg; there may be a way for him to be healed; it will be painful but he should walk and run again like any boy his age should."
Eventide looked at Shaun and asked him.
"What do you say Shaun; would you like to try the healing of my brothers friends?"
"If it would mean I could walk again as others do then a little pain would be worth it My Lord."
"Then we shall do as Mahmud suggests when we arrive in his lands; with luck we will have you riding again in no time."
The smile on Shaun's face said it all; even if it did not work it was well worth the trying. The journey to the coast took longer than Eventide thought it would; the number of servants and the long caravan of goods, horses and people made for a slow progress.
It was fortunate that Freeman had made arrangements for their passage by ship across the water to Normandy; from there they embarked on the long overland journey to the Spanish lands. Finally they made it to the port where they could hire or buy Dhows to take them across the great sea; first to Assyria and then onto Homs and through to the Wadhi Sufaria; they would not need to go through to Damascus but would send Gerard and his brother Marchant on with an escort of Hashin to the Emir's palace once settled in Sufaria.
Weeks would pass before they came to the Spanish port of Tarragona where they would purchase their ships to travel on to the lands of the Assyrian and then onto the homelands of Mahmud until finally reaching the Wadhi Sufaria.
The purchase of Dhows was not as hard as Eventide thought it would be. Trade was brisk between the countries and often times the sea going Dhows could be seen in the Spanish and Latin ports; Many were owned by the captains and others were free traders but all were for sale at the right price and Eventide had plenty of the right price.
Eventide left most of the bargaining to Mahmud; his knowledge and understanding of ships and trade gave him the best advantage; Eventide ended up with three dhows; two almost new off the builders slip and the other a little older but fully seaworthy. As Mahmud had said; it took most of one single chest to buy the three Dhows but now Eventide had the start of his own small navy.
The hiring of a crew took three days; each and every man or boy was thoroughly questioned until both Eventide and Mahmud were fully satisfied as to their honesty and loyalty. It then took three days to fully laden and prepare the vessels for the long trip through the middle sea to the port in Assyria where Mahmud promised they would find goods for the three Dhows to continue further trading while they went to the Wadhi overland.
For Eventide and the other boys who had never left their own land before; the first days on the wide expanse of the ocean left them feeling a little nauseas; by the second day and with the fortunate good weather; their stomachs had settled and they began to enjoy the sea voyage. By the sixth day and, as the land of the Assyrians came into view; they were all ready to disembark back onto dry land; and dry it was.
Even as they arrived in Tarragona, the four boys felt the heat that they were unused to; in the port it was a draining and humid heat; when they finally got on board and were at sea it was a hot, dry and salty heat and finally, when they reached the lands of the Assyrian, it became not only hot but searingly so; it was as though the four boys had stepped into the very pits of a great roaring fire.
Although Eventide found the heat oppressive; he was far better off than the other three boys as he was dressed in the light silk and cotton robes of the desert people. The other three boys tried taking off their shirts but soon found the sun would cook them as red as burnt meat and had to suffer and drink copious amounts of water.
After a week in the port of Tell Qarnum to unload and check all their chattels and goods; they were ready to leave on the long overland trip to Wadhi Sufaria; there would be one special stop along the way at Al Qusary for Eventide to select his first camel train.
His first sight of the camels in the port left him in no doubt that he was glad of his lessons back at the manor. The only thing he was not prepared for was that the camels he now saw were far larger than he had thought they would be; they also seemed to be of a fouler nature than what he had been told.
At Al Nabk they would turn their caravan eastward to the Wadhi Sufaria; it was at Al Nabk that they would part with the two boys going on to Damascus. From Al Nabk it was only a short haul of five days to make the Wadhi Sufaria; all told it was a total trip of two months of constant travel; of making and breaking camp each and every day and the almost intolerable heat and drifting sand.
For the four boys from the wet and cold land of England; the hot dry desert was a never ending revelation as well as a trial of their heart and stamina. Deep inside Eventide he felt as though he belonged in the open spaces and sandy wastes; it almost felt as though it had been calling him from somewhere deep inside.
Eventide did notice that the caravan guards were more alert than they had been earlier in the journey; now there was little else but barren land and sandy wastes to watch them but the actions of the guards told Eventide there were other dangers lurking not far away. Mahmud told him that it was only the sight of such a well armed caravan that had deterred any bandits from trying to attack them so far.
Once they turned off at Al Nabk, Eventide saw that the road had widened noticeably; Al Nabk was where the great Silk Road met the coastal road to Damascus. To Eventide's eyes the road looked very old; it was paved in square stones and was wide enough for three wagons to pass; he did notice that his small caravan of newly acquired camels that they were using to carry many water skins; walked comfortably on the softer sand at the side of the road.
When he had selected the camels; and under the sharp eye of Mahmud; he had had to find four young boys to act as their herders; the young boys were only too glad of having found a good position with good pay to tend the Kahlif's camels. As parentless waifs they had little to look forward to as they aged, now they had good employment and solid pay to keep their bellies full; something they had found difficult to do before the new Kahlif had selected them. They did not truly mind that he looked much like an Infidel; his money was good and his caravan looked rich and the people with him were definitely of the desert lands; it was enough for four orphans.
They made their final camp before Wadhi Sufaria, early in the afternoon; Mahmud told Eventide they had only six hours to get to the Wadhi and that would put them at the gates in darkness; it would be better if they camped here and then went on in the morning, that way they would arrive just before the midday heat and the city would be getting ready to rest during the hottest part of the day.
They started out before the sun rose next morning; with the roads practically empty of other caravans, they made good time and; as Mahmud had promised; came over the last rise to see the city and palace of Wadhi Sufaria in the distance.
It looked to be less than an hour's ride but Mahmud called a halt; they had to change their cloths from the desert travelling into something more befitting the two new Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria.
All of the Hashin who had been travelling in ordinary dress, now changed into the dark blue of the Bedou as did Eventide and Mahmud but the two boys also added a very fancy white sleeveless jacket that was heavily embroidered in gold thread; there was also a wide gold sash around their waists and Mahmud told Eventide to wear his fanciest dagger and Scimitar; their turbans were also of gold and while they changed, Shaun worked hard and fast to add the red and black tassels to Shaitan's mane as well as throw on the fanciest of his covers over the saddle. When all was ready, Mahmud called for the banners to be unfurled and the caravan to proceed to the waiting city and Palace.
Eventide was almost struck dumb by the sight before him. The walls of the Wadhi Sufaria towered over the flat lands before the main gate. The high ragged cliff fronts seemed unending except for the large ragged gash of the huge ravine that appeared to split the mountain range down the centre.
Across the face of the huge ravine was built the stone walls that towered higher than Eventide had ever seen any walls before; compared to the castle walls of England; these were like cliff faces. The blocks of stone used to form the wall were so large Eventide could not figure out how they could have been moved by man.
The great walls looked as though they could never be breached by any normal method of siege; even the guards patrolling along the top of the high wall were no more than small dolls. The gate was high and wide enough to allow two wagons side by side to pass at the same time or for a camel rider to enter without ducking his head.
The two large gates were thick wooden planks that looked as though they had been hewed from a single trunk and then studded with large heavy iron spikes; there was also what looked like a portcullis behind the gates.
Shaun had tried to ride but after only a short time his leg would unbalance him and he would have to dismount and ride on one of the many wagons; both Eventide and Mahmud could see the frustration in the young boys face as he sat disconsolate on a wagon; the desire in the boys face to ride like the wind in the wide expanse of desert sand was easily evident.
The whole Caravan stretched for more than a mile as they wound their way down the stone roadway. At the front flew the banners; the green of Tremaine; the blue of Eventide; a green and white banner with the symbol of a quarter moon and a star and the furled and black covered banner of the Hashin that was also used as the banner of the Jihad.
The banners were preceded by six mounted guards in their best armour; behind the banners were another six guards and then Mahmud and Eventide rode side by side; behind them came the twenty Hashin now wearing the clothes of the Bedou and behind them came the long train of wagons.
Off to the side and level with the first of the wagons came the caravan of camels and their herders; Eventide wished he could have given better clothes to the four orphan boys; they were still wearing the long gown like striped clothes they had been hired in; their head coverings were barely enough to keep the sun from their faces.
The patches and ragged bottom of the gowns showed they had not had the best of fortune; Eventide was going to change that as soon as he was able to.
They were still a little distant from the city but close enough for the many guards at the gate to recognise the flying banners; suddenly from the top of the long and thick crenulated wall came the sound of many trumpets; the guards at the gate immediately increased in number as they all lined up on each side of the road to welcome the new Kahlif's to the city.
The commander of the guard stood alone at the head of the guard of honour; Eventide and Mahmud rode through the others with the banners to meet him face to face. The commander bowed low and salaamed to the two boys; as he straightened up he then went down to his knees and placed his head on the ground before lifting his head with fear in his eyes.
"Rise commander; I see no need for this." Mahmud said to the man.
The commander rose to his feet and, with his head bowed, he said.
"My Lord Kahlif's; I must humbly apologise for the lack of reception; we did not expect your arrival for three more days; it is all my fault for not sending out riders to watch for you; My Lords, my head is yours to do with as you want."
"Your head is safe commander; it is we who are at fault, we travelled far faster than first thought; there is no more to be said, let us pass we are in need of a good bathing and rest. If you would assign some of your men to show our drivers and cameleers to the Palace gate so they can settle the animals we would be grateful. I wish to take our friends through the city before we go to the Palace."
Before more could be said, the commander had called out the names of six men to lead the rest of the caravan around the walls to the Palace side gate so they could more easily take the caravan and animals to the Palace grounds; he himself took place at the front of the smaller group to lead them through the city and up to the front gates of the Palace; it was to be longer than any of them thought it would be.
Eventide marvelled at the size of the city; all around him the shops and houses towered over the wide street. Multitudes of people; both traders, local shopkeepers and tradesmen milled around doing their business for the day.
Eventide also saw there were a larger number of street urchins than would be found in most cities; he turned to Mahmud and asked why this was so.
"Most are the children of soldiers who have lost their lives in the service of the city, others are just born of the brothels and their mothers no longer want them around. In a city like this it is always happening; many have to sell themselves just to eat each day; others are thieves or pickpockets; if they are caught the penalty is severe; but what can anyone do; if you try to save one then ten more will take advantage of you next time."
"But brother, there must be a way to make use of so many empty lives?"
"I don't see how; the city is just a gateway for the traders; unless the child has a trade there is little to do. There are no farms of estates that they can be hired for; if they go out into the great deserts, most would die within days; there is only the militia and army for them when they grow older. I know my brother, you have a good heart but, sometimes there are things that are even outside the abilities of good hearts."
They had been slowly making their way through the thickening throng of people; even though the streets were wide and well maintained; there seemed to be more and more people crushing in closer as they came to the edge of a grand square that held a great bazaar filled with stalls and traders. At the centre of the great square stood a large fountain; its crystal clear water shimmering in the bright sunlight as it sprayed down into a large round pond where people would fill a cup to drink.
Eventide could barely make out the fountain base for the number of people gathered there and all calling to someone near the fountain; the high pitched voices of the urchins also joined in; beside Eventide, Mahmud gave a groan; Eventide turned to look at him.
"What is it Brother?" Eventide asked to the pained looking face of Mahmud.
"By the balls of a camel; how did he get here; now we will be stuck in this crowd for at least an hour."
"Who is it?"
"He is the one I told you about some time ago; it is the story teller Omar. He usually never leaves Bagdad and only then to visit the court in Damascus; I really have no idea why he would come here. I am sorry my brother, we are in for a long wait; the crowd will not let him go until he has told them a story and unless we use force to get through we are stuck here until he finishes."
"A story teller; is he good? I like a good story and would not mind if we waited and listened to him if he is really good."
"Well brother, unfortunately he is very good; it is said there has never been a story teller or poet the likes of Omar before. It is said you can sit for a thousand and one nights and never hear the same story or poetry a second time."
"Then we should give him the honour of doing what he does best; even tired as I am I would wait and listen if he is that good."
"Then to please you we will all listen to the old one; shall we try to clear a place at that tavern to sit out of the sun?"
"No, let's just sit here where the height of the horses gives us a better view."
As the small group settled in to wait; from the crowd came a number of urchins; all bowed low, some with their small hands out for alms and others looking shyly at the rich riders; Salud was about to turn and yell for them to clear off when Eventide took notice; lifting his hand to stop Salud; he turned to the gathering boys.
For any boy that got too close; Shaitan would snort and stamp his hoof to warn them off; Eventide looked at Mahmud and smiled as Mahmud said.
"You have no idea what you are about to start my brother."
Eventide smiled and said.
"Imshalah." Eventide then smiled wider; his skill with Aramaic was now as good as any Bedou. Eventide turned back to the growing crowd of urchins and picked one he thought may be a leader as he looked to be older than the rest.
"Friend, we wish to listen to the story teller; if a boy was wise enough to find a merchant that had items to give us shade from the sun I would be willing to part with some coin for such a service."
The older boy looked at the rich travellers; even to the inexperienced eye of Eventide; he could see the boys mind working out the value of such a minor service.
"I would ask the young Lord how much coin for such a service; it will not be easy in this crowd and none wish to miss a story by Grandfather Khayyam?"
"It would be enough for each boy to eat well for two days but they must also work at holding the shade over us."
"Then I thank My Lord and will send boys to look for a merchant to fill your needs."
The boy turned to a few younger ones and started giving out quick fire orders; it seemed little time passed before a middle aged merchant appeared in front of the group; with a low bow he asked.
"What would My Lords wish of this humble merchant?"
Mahmud shrugged his shoulders at Eventide as he smiled and waited for the outcome.
"I would ask for you to provide us with shade while we listen to the story teller; do you have enough covers for all of us?"
"I do indeed My Lord, however they are not of the cheaper variety and it would take a great deal of coin to pay for enough for all of your retainers."
Mahmud whispered to Eventide as the merchant tried to work out how much he could get from the rich people without calling down the militia on his head.
"Brother, I hope you know how to barter or this man will have your soul in his pocket by nightfall." Mahmud laughed as Eventide looked at him and smiled.
"Good merchant, I would ask you what you would charge for your services if it was the Kahlif asking for your help?"
"My Lord, the Kahlif would not be asking a humble merchant such as I; also he is three days away and would have little need for my humble goods but, if you wish I can make a special price for you as it seems the sun is extra hot today."
"And what price is the shade cover as the sun is so hot?"
"For your Lordships I would lower the price to three silver each and could provide covers for all of your retinue. Shall we say twenty covers; that would be sixty silver or perhaps six gold should your Lordships prefer."
"And would these shade covers be of the highest quality that we should part with so much coin; or would a price of fifteen silver be closer to the true price?"
"My Lord, fifteen silver would bankrupt me, my children would starve in less than five days were I to sell at such a price; as you are visitors to the city, perhaps I could lower the price to fifty silver; I would be giving away my covers for nothing at that price but I would not see your Lordships burn in the midday sun just for a paltry ten coins."
Eventide removed his right foot from the stirrup and twisted around so he could look directly at the man's face as he hooked his right leg over the upper thigh of his left and wriggled to get comfortable.
"I see you are truly making a great sacrifice but it is still too high for such a paltry item as a shade cover; I am sure if I ask the boy he will find me a merchant that will provide the same for only twenty silver; it is a pity that your children will not eat tonight because we could not make some small arrangement."
The merchant now saw that he could lose this sale if he did not relent and let the rich boy have his way; he would still be making five silver on each shade cover so it was not really the time to get greedy.
"My Lords, I cannot let my children starve for the sake of a few coins; I will supply you with enough shade covers for twenty silver each; how would I get them to you before the Grandfather starts his story?"
Eventide turned back to the first boy he had used as a messenger.
"What is your name?"
"Habib, my Lord."
"Habib, I will give you the silver coins for the merchant along with five more for yourself if you can find enough boys to fetch the shade covers and hold them for us during the telling of the old man's story; should those boys work well I will have another offer for you after the story telling."
Habib thought of how much food five silver could buy; his little gang of boys would eat well for days; he may even be able to buy a pair of sandals for himself.
"It shall be as my Lord wishes."
Habib turned to his little gang and began giving out orders as Eventide took out twenty five silver from the purse at his waist; leaning down he placed the coins in the nervous hand of Habib; the boy was not happy about being so close to the black stallion.
It seemed to take only minutes before a number of ragged boys were standing alongside all the horses with large round shad covers held high over each man in the retinue; Habib had disappeared and only minutes later returned with large round flat breads for each boy that held the shade covers.
It did not go unnoticed by other merchants; soon the group were being offered fruits and mint tea as they sat and watched the front of the fountain. Shortly after the trading of the shade covers; the large crowd of urchins and other people of the city square began to cry out loudly.
"GRANDFATHER, TELL US A STROY; PLEASE GRANDFATHER; A STORY."
From his position above the crowd, Eventide finally saw an elderly man approaching the fountain; he was dressed in what appeared to be the long striped robe of the ordinary man; a thick staff in one hand to help him walk and a plain cloth turban to keep the midday sun off his head.
Eventide was not sure but he thought the old man had actually glanced his way and smiled; it was only fleeting and Eventide thought it was more his imagination than fact. He settled onto his saddle sideways and slowly chewed on a small plate of dates that had been given to him by Mahmud.
When the old man looked as though he had well settled onto a small stool that had appeared as if my magic and the crowd was quickly growing silent; the old man looked around and held out his thin arms; it took little time before a number of small children began to gather close by his knees and hang on his slim shoulders. The old man began to speak; in the silence of the square; his voice seemed to grow even stronger and it seemed that everyone could hear him plainly as no one wanted to miss a word. The silence was total and complete as he began the tale.
"I think now would be a good time to tell you all of the Djin that was even more powerful than Shaitan himself. The great Shaitan would even cower and bow his head when the Djin appeared before him, such was the magic of the old ones that ran in the veins of the Djin. He started his life in a far away land, in fact this Djin started life as an Infidel. Yes I know it is hard to believe that a Djin with such power and magic could be found in the lands of the Infidels but that is the way of the ancients."
There was a long pause as Omar looked at the disbelieving looks on the listeners faces but not a sound was heard as he gathered his thoughts.
"It all started like many others; the Infidel was born of a lowly station; much like a goat herd or one who runs on the streets with no home. The boy did not even know his power as he had never been tested and few looked upon him as anything other than the poor boy he was. There came a time when things changed, for some reason far beyond the understanding of normal men; a great Lord saw the boy and took him in to his home; from that day the boy's future changed."
Another pause ensued as Omar let the details enter into the minds of his listeners.
"As we all know; the lands of the Infidels are always in a state of war; it was in one of these many wars that the boy became a great Djin and his power brought fear into the eyes of mortal men. It all started when a powerful Knight saw the boy and, as all Infidels do; threw upon his head many insults because he was not born of high blood. Little did the Knight know who he was dealing with. It was at that moment that the great Shaitan opened the boy's eyes. First he sent a number of the people from the great desert lands that are called 'The Devils Cauldron' to aid the boy in his quest. Now the desert dwellers were not ordinary folk, they were in truth demons of the land of purgatory. Their clothes were the colour of the dark blue of dusk so they would not be seen for the type of demon they were; with their faces covered and only their black eyes showing through for any man to see; no one gave them a second look. The Knight had belittled the boy until the Baron who had taken in the boy used his high position to challenge the Knight to battle."
Another pause ensued as Omar looked around at the rapt faces waiting for the tale to continue.
"Now we have all known of great battles, some where the Infidel won by false means and others where the believers have won great victories but; I must tell you all; the battle that was to ensue was like no other ever fought. The new Djin had little in the way of an army; his patron was however even more unlucky. Not three weeks before the battle, his patron was kidnapped and taken to the castle of the Knight. A message was sent to the lonely boy which said; if the boy did not run from the battle, his patron would never see the light of day. Unfortunately for the Knight, he had not met a boy who had been awakened by Shaitan himself."
There was not a sound in the great square as everyone sat and listened.
"To aid the boy, Shaitan as I said; had sent others from the great desert to help him; these others also took with them a great gift for the boy. The gift also had the power of magic. Shaitan had used the magic of the strongest of all Magi and endowed the gift with their power and the raw power of the fires of purgatory. The gift was in the body of a great black horse; its heart was made from the hot embers of purgatory and its coat from the blackness of the night. For those few who had seen the black horse, all said when it galloped you could see the sparks and flames of magic fly from its black hooves; its mane and tail were long and as black as night and flowed with the grace of water on the surface of a lake. Now as you know, any horse can be ridden by any man if he is brave enough but, this black Djin could only be ridden by one man and one man alone and that man was the boy who carried the blood of old ones and the magic of the Djin."
Another long pause for the people to again digest the details.
"It has been told that when the boy first met the black horse, it was the horse that bowed to the boy. Now everyone knows that there has never been a horse that would bow its head to any man yet, here was the most magical and powerful horse in this or any other land; bowing low to a mere boy; not only a mere boy, but an Infidel boy at that. As a way to repay such respect; the young Djin named the black horse 'Shaitan the Black'; yes I can here you say what a strange name for any horse but, my friends; again this was no ordinary horse nor ordinary boy. Now it was at this time that the boy was told his name by the black eyed demons of the Devils Cauldron; the great Shaitan himself had decreed that the boy would also carry the name that he himself went by and so, the boy was named Shaitan Bin Izurak; the Devil With Blue Eyes."
Omar stopped once again as a young boy came up to him with a small plate of fresh dates and another boy came with honey cakes; as he took a bight of honey cake; an old vender came to him with a hot urn of mint tea to refresh his dry throat. While this was going on; Eventide looked around the large square; it seemed that in every window, doorway and along every wall and empty space, stood or sat people; to Eventide it appeared that every man, woman and child of the huge city was there to listen to Omar Khayyam and his story. Eventide was glad that he and his friends were well back behind all the masses and as yet unseen; he was quite happy to remain there and listen like everyone else; the old man was a very talented story teller as he had been told.
"Now where was I; oh yes. So the blue eyed devil whose single glance could freeze a man's blood and tear his very soul from his body; was now well protected by the children of the Devils Cauldron; all that remained now was for him to find an army to take back his patron the Baron; not an easy thing to do in those lands. As many of you may not know; in the lands of the Infidel, most ordinary men are no more than serfs and almost slaves to the rich and powerful; but for Shaitan Bin Izurak, there was no one else to call on; he would have to try and raise an army with the common folk. Things did not go well for the young boy; after all; who in their right mind would follow a snip of a boy into a major battle with the most powerful men in the land. Try as he might, Shaitan Bin Izurak could not get the common folk to rise up against the Knights; the boy was left with only one option; he would fight alone along with his protectors of the Devils Cauldron; if it was written that they must die on that day then so be it; Shaitan Bin Izurak would not shirk his duty to his patron."
Omar stopped to take a bite of another honey cake and a sip of mint tea before continuing.
"That night, as Shaitan Bin Izurak stood alone on the battlements of the empty castle of his patron; even the Baron's guards had deserted the castle at the threat of the Knights challenge; and with the twenty one demons of the Cauldron guarding him; Shaitan Bin Izurak looked up to the dark heavens for an answer; it was to come in the strangest and most magical way. As he watched the heavens; a great star began to fall towards the hidden sun; its long tail of fire stretched from one dark horizon to the other. As it passed overhead, a thousand or more small stars fell from its tail and landed at Shaitan Bin Izurak's feet; as it passed further away; the wind of its passing spoke to the boy in the language of magic; it said 'Go to the north, to the land of perpetual night; there you will find the Fae Folk of the Ice; they will be your army if you offer them the sun for part of the year.' Now Shaitan Bin Izurak knew better than to ignore such a message; telling his twenty one demons to stay behind; he called for Shaitan the Black. Leaping on the great horses back they took to the night sky and travelled faster than the wind during the great storms; the black hooves of the horse lit up the night sky with its fire and sparks as it chased the night northward. It seemed no time at all before they came to the land of perpetual night; the land was nothing but a great sheet of ice as it never had the sun come this way to warm it. Shaitan Bin Izurak saw below them a great fire burning brightly in the darkness; with a touch of his toes; for the horse did not need or use a bridle; the two galloped down to land in the ring of light. Shaitan Bin Izurak was surprised to see many gathered by the firelight; they were the size of children and many looked to be no older than mid teens but, even he knew that magic was in the air. Shaitan Bin Izurak dismounted and walked before the fire and the eyes of the Fae Folk; one of them stepped forward and looked at the boy from the night.
'It was foretold that you would come this night; what do you ask of the Fae Folk of the Ice?'
Shaitan Bin Izurak looked at the small people of the Fae; but he answered with honesty. 'I would ask for an army to do justice for those who cannot'
'And what would you give for this army?'
'I would offer the dark lands the sun for part of each and every year so that you can have light to plant crops and harvest them with ease.'
'And how would you do this for one so young?'
'I have been given the power to order the sun to show itself for three months of every year; there would be three months of the sun rising; three months of full sun with no night and three months of the sun setting; this would be followed by three months of night so you can rest from your labours.'
'This sounds fair; you will have your army of five hundred of the Fae of the Ice; if you so wish we can call on our allies, the giants of the tree lands and the Fae of Dawns Light who are excellent archers.'
Omar paused again to take a bite of a date and sip some more tea; the square stayed in complete silence as he refreshed himself.
"And so Shaitan Bin Izurak had the beginnings of his army. The Fae of the Ice asked him to sit and eat with them while they sent a Night Hawk to summon a representative of their allies. Shaitan Bin Izurak sat with the Fae Folk and it did not take long before the ground began to shake and the rumble of great movement could be felt; moments later and a giant appeared in the fire light.
'Why would my allies ask for my presence?'
"The elder of the Fae answered that they must go to war and would receive a reward of sunlight for their duty; to this the giant looked at the small boy sitting with his allies."
'How does this one make such a promise; it would take great magic for such a reward; if he can do this then we; the Giants of the Forrest would ask for it also as we too live in darkness and would see the green of our trees in the light of the sun.'
'Then so it shall be' promised Shaitan Bin Izurak. 'I shall give you this purse; it contains the stars of the night and it will give you the magic to move as fast as I so you can meet with me at the time of the battle. Tomorrow you will have the first sun rise and see for yourself that my words are true. I will send a sign on the day before the battle so you will know when to assemble with me.'
"At this the meeting broke up and Shaitan Bin Izurak leapt back on his dark horse and lifted high into the night sky; he was gone as fast as he had appeared. The next morning the Fae Folk and the Giants saw their first sun rise; the bargain had been struck and paid for."
Even Eventide was now held by the power of the old man's voice and story although he well knew that he was not really any part of it or that there was any truth in it; he waited for Omar to continue as did all his friends around him.
"The time passed until it was the day before the great battle; for some that saw the event, it was said it was a bad omen; for those who knew what it really meant, it was the sign that the day of battle had come. The sign was the partial blacking out of the sun during the middle of the day when night has no sway over the daylight. For the Fae Folk and their two allies it was the signal they had been waiting for. Without losing any time; they dusted their boots with the magical stars and took to the road faster than man could move; before the daylight had lost its brightness; twenty Giants and six hundred Fae Folk arrived at the gates of the castle where Shaitan Bin Izurak and his twenty one demons waited."
Eventide could almost feel the tension in the air as the old man paused for more mint tea; his own stomach was now taut with anticipation.
"Each carried the banner of their people; the Ice Fae had one of deep blue for the colour of pure Ice; the Giants had one of green for the colour of the trees and the Dawns Fae had one of red for the suns first rays. Shaitan Bin Izurak welcomed them all to his castle saying a feast had been prepared for their arrival; he was fortunate the castle was large and well built as the Giants stood as tall as three men and were in need of a great space to sit or stand. The Ice Fae carried swords and shields made of the finest ice; the Giants had great wooden shields made from the trunks of trees and carried great battle axes that ten men could not lift. For the Fae of Dawns Light there were golden bows but Shaitan Bin Izurak could see no quivers of arrows and so asked."
'Where are your shafts for your golden bows?'
'We use the shafts of the sunlight for our arrows; tomorrow you will see our own magic and all shall be well as we have given our word to stand by you.'
"As the feast went on into the late night; Shaitan Bin Izurak left his guests for there was another task to be done; once outside and his twenty one demons were around him; Shaitan Bin Izurak reached up into the dark night sky and pulled down the blackness; with this he fashioned new clothes for his demons and himself; all that could be seen were the dark eyes of the demons and the bright blue daggers of his own eyes; their bodies were now enclosed in the darkest of blacks; they were now just shadows among other shadows. Shaitan Bin Izurak returned to his waiting allies after giving instructions to his demons. Tomorrow they would have a different task before the battle began and then would join him as the battle started."
By this time Eventide could feel the tension in the air as the enraptured listeners dared hardly to take a breath while they waited for Omar to continue.
"The dawn found Shaitan Bin Izurak preparing to leave for the field of battle; as he called to his allies, a small, lame boy limped through the gates of the castle and looked around for Shaitan Bin Izurak; he carried only a small wooden flute."
'What do you seek lame one?' asked one of the Fae.
'I have come to fight with Shaitan Bin Izurak.'
'You are lame, what could you do in such a battle as we have to fight?'
'I don't know but I have little else. I am disliked because of my lameness and often go hungry because no one would offer alms; I have little to lose but my life and I see no other towns folk would come and stand with his Lordship so it must be my duty.'
'You know you could die today little lame one?'
'Then so be it; there is little left for me but an honourable death.'
"Shaitan Bin Izurak looked at the lame boy and called him to his side; he could appreciate the feelings of the lame boy; had he not himself been left for nothing; he spoke to the boy."
'We are in need of a good trumpeter; are your lungs strong enough to carry over the sound of battle?'
'Give me a trumpet loud enough and my lungs will not let you down.'
"Shaitan Bin Izurak used a little magic and reached up into the morning sky; taking a hand full of the morning light; he pulled down a trumpet made of silver; this was lighter; he gave it to the lame boy and said."
'This is the trumpet of the heavens; all will hear your message when you blow it loud and clear.'
"Shaitan Bin Izurak gave the trumpet to the boy and then told him to stay by his side, even in the heat of battle the boy must stand with him; to aid the boy in movement, he called for one of his demons to find the boy a special horse; the demon returned with one that was as white as the driven snow; a gift he said; from the Fae Folk of the Ice. The horse was given to the lame boy and he was assisted in mounting so he could ride to the battle ground."
After another short pause; Omar continued.
"The morning found the small army now standing at the narrowest end of a long valley; around Shaitan Bin Izurak were the six hundred Fae Folk; five hundred were out in front with small pots of water; one hundred sat on the grass as though resting in the heat of the early morning sun; of the Giants there was no sign, the only indication of anything unusual was that Shaitan Bin Izurak was standing on a solid stone plinth freshly cut by some great force; beside him stood the lame figure of the small boy with the silver trumpet in his hands and around him were the three banners of the Fae and Giants; to them he added one other; a banner of black with a magical sliver of moon and a single large star; they shone like they were alive. As he stood and surveyed the far end of the valley; he saw the massed Knights and soldiers of the enemy. One Knight was riding toward where he stood beside the lame boy on the freshly cut rock. As the Knight with a white banner rode through the lines; he could not resist the urge to belittle what he saw as small children standing around on a battle field; he thought to himself that, if this was the boys army then blood would flow quickly this day and they would all be home in time for a good midday feast. His ribald comments did not stop when he came up to where Shaitan Bin Izurak stood with a lame boy by his side."
'Is this what you bring to fight with us; mere children and lame urchins? I have ten thousand swordsmen and ten thousand spearmen as well as a thousand heavy Knights; it is assured your head will decorate my walls before midday.'
'Where is the Baron my patron?'
'There on the hill side; when I have your head I will then take his and all his lands will be mine.'
"Shaitan Bin Izurak looked up on the hillside; his patron was standing amid four heavily armed Knights on horseback. As the Knight before him turned his horse and laughed out so all could hear him; he galloped off towards where his army stood waiting; Shaitan Bin Izurak gave a small nod to the boy beside him. The boy lifted heavens trumpet and blew a long high note. As the Knight rode back to his army, he glanced at the imprisoned Baron; much to his dismay, the Baron was surrounded by dark shadows; of the four heavy Knights there was no sign; only the four rider-less horses gave any indication there had been any there. The Baron now stood with a black bladed sword in his hand; for the first time in his life; the Knight felt the pang of fear, the Baron was holding a sword that was called a soul eater; it was feared by every man and beast of the land; the Knight quickened his pace."
By this time there was not a space large enough for a mouse in the square; everyone, including all of Eventide companions; stood transfixed as the long tale unfolded. Eventide's musings were interrupted by a nudge from Mahmud; the look in his brother's eye told of some plan or amusing scheme had been dreamt up. Eventide looked away as Mahmud leant over and whispered into the ear of Salud; the Hashin slid from his horse and disappeared into the crowd just as Omar restarted his tale.
"As soon as the Knight returned to his massed men; he called for them to charge the lines of the waiting army; he was sure it would be a short and bloody battle with none of his enemies standing after the first charge. The great horde thundered down towards the far off lines of seemingly children; suddenly the one hundred at the rear stood up with golden bows in their hands; as one they reached up into the sunlight and took down shafts of the sun and fired; in the blink of an eye they had a second, then a third and a fourth shaft flying accurately towards the charging mass. The results were to be talked about by those few who survived the great battle and that was very few. For one hundred shafts of sunlight there were one hundred fallen soldiers and Knights. The numbers of dead and wounded grew rapidly as the sun shafts flew faster; already the army had lost a thousand men and were still far from the first line of waiting footmen."
Eventide could now feel the undercurrent of awe in the bodies of those listening, Omar continued.
"Now the five hundred of the Ice Fae had not been idle; as the charge started, they all as one poured water from the small urns they had carried; as the water fell, the Fae used their own magic and turned the water into shields and swords of pure ice. With their magic finished, the five hundred took a stand in three lines and waited on those who survived the flight of the sun shafts. The great charge had been slowed; it was then that Shaitan Bin Izurak told the lame boy to blow his trumpet one more time. The boy blew with all his power and; from the forest on each side of the valley, strode twenty giants and the Baron who now rode one of the fallen Knights horses and carried the great black bladed sword. The giants carried on their left arm their great tree shields and in their right hand a mighty double bladed war axe. Now that the giants stood ten on each flank with the baron and a mass of shadows; the boy blew a long high note on his trumpet. The Baron, shadows and giants charged into both flanks of the charging army; to say there was slaughter on a great scale would be to say a camel never drinks. The giants cut mighty swathes through the foot soldiers as they fought like wild men; the Baron and his shadows also took a mighty toll on those that crossed their paths. The great charge had now been blunted; it was the turn of the Ice Fae to carry the fight; this they did with the magic and alacrity that only the Fae have. The lines held even though they did bow in the centre but this only made the attackers sink deeper into the pocket and become more likely to slaughter."
Eventide heard someone move close on a horse but did not turn around; he did notice that Salud had returned and was smiling at Mahmud; Eventide turned back to the story teller.
"The Ice Fae now took a heavy toll; the soldiers spears broke against the pure ice shields; the ice swords hued thick steel shields as though they were no more than parchment; Knights armour was shredded as though they were nothing more than cotton cloth and the attackers fell in a rain of blood. It had been a battle that was fought over the day until late into the afternoon and yet not one of Shaitan Bin Izurak's men had fallen; he had used his magic to protect his friends. When there were less than one thousand of the enemy left; Shaitan Bin Izurak called for the trumpet to be blown again; instantly there was a silence over the bloody battle field. The only Knight still mounted was the one that had caused the fight in the beginning; Shaitan Bin Izurak called to the Knight as he strode down to the front line.
"Lay down your arms; you cannot win this battle and should save those who are left; leave the field and all will be forgotten."
"Now the Knight was not known for his intelligent, as we all know what Infidels are like; instead the Knight called back and said he would never bow his head to a boy with no title. The knight turned to the few men left and called for a final charge that he hoped would end the life of the boy if nothing else. Shaitan Bin Izurak lifted his eyes and; with ease let the daggers of his blue eyes pull the very soul from the Knight as he sat on his great horse. The archers of the Fae of Dawns Light along with the Ice Fae, the giants and the black blade of the soul eater soon had decimated the rest of the soldiers. It has been said that less than two hundred walked away from the battle field and not one of them was uninjured. Shaitan Bin Izurak, in all his benevolence; allowed them to leave in peace. It is said that today if you were to walk over the battle field you would see nothing growing; there had been so much blood spilt that no plant would lay roots there. The Fae and the Giants bowed to Shaitan Bin Izurak's great victory and promised to come if he called them; his gift of sunlight was still not paid in full, they told him. So all my friends; should you ever see a boy with blue eyes riding in the company of shadow warriors and mounted on a black horse and who was accompanied by a lame boy with no home; I would suggest you bow low and show him respect even if he is an Infidel; you just may never know, it may be Shaitan Bin Izurak in disguise."
There was still total silence in the large square as they all digested the story; it was at this point that Eventide saw the Hashin cover their faces so only their eyes showed; the wide smile on Mahmud's face told of something afoot. Eventide saw Salud move his horse forward as he began to call loudly.
"Make way; make way for the Kahlif Sal-A-Hadin."
As the crowd began to part and then turn to see the new Kahlif who was not expected for a few days more; there began a whispering and suddenly there was the rustle of clothes all around the square as Eventide came into full view; Eventide glanced over his shoulder and almost fell from his horse. Riding just behind him was Shaun mounted on a small white horse; his lame leg tide with a strap to the stirrup so he wouldn't fall. The most unexpected sight was the long silver trumpet slung over his shoulder; now Eventide caught on to Mahmud's little jest. As he glanced back to where the old man was still sitting; Eventide saw a smile on the old man's lips and a bright twinkle in his eyes.
The square became silent once again as everyone caught sight of the procession entering the area of the fountain; not a face could be seen and only the backs of every man, woman and child was on view; their heads firmly planted on the stone cobbles of the street. When they reached where the old man was seated, Mahmud was the first to speak.
"Grandfather Omar, I see you have woven your tales to suit the occasion. I cannot understand why you would be so far from the court; Damascus is far from here?"
"Kahlif Sal-A-Hadin; I was actually on my way to Bagdad but got delayed somewhat when I found out you were coming earlier than at first thought. Who may we have at your side; he looks familiar to my old eyes?"
"Grandfather Omar; I would introduce you to Baronet Eventide of Lancaster and also Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria as dictated by the Emir, my Uncle."
Omar Khayyam looked up at Eventide with a wide smile.
"Welcome to the land of great deserts Kahlif Eventide; you remind me greatly of the boy in my story, Shaitan Bin Izurak; you are not a Djin by any chance?"
"No Sire, I am just a humble pot boy that had some luck."
Not being one to miss a chance to embellish his stories; Omar looked at the boy on the white horse with the silver trumpet; for Eventide it almost seemed like a set up between Omar and Mahmud.
"Please Kahlif call me Omar or Grandfather as many do these days. I notice you also have a trumpeter, a most unusual travelling companion don't you think; are you sure you are not magical or perhaps the Djin Shaitan Bin Izurak in disguise?"
"I am just as I said...Grandfather, a poor boy who got lucky and has a good patron who is now my father."
"Your father; a very fortunate event; what is your father's name?"
Eventide looked at the old man and then got a sense the old man knew only too well who his father was; he was now sure this discussion was only for the ears of all those people gathered nearby; it would soon be the talk of the city and; as everyone well knew; any tale will grow with the retelling of it. Eventide now felt as though Mahmud had set this up just to let the people know they would be safer to not ask questions of why an Infidel was now Kahlif along with a son of the desert.
"My father is the Baron Tremaine of Lancaster and Flanders Grandfather."
"Ah yes, I have had the pleasure of meeting him a time or two; you are indeed fortunate to have such a great man on your side. Now Kahlif one final question if I may?"
Eventide bowed his head in acceptance of the old man's request.
"Tell me Kahlif Eventide; does your horse have a name and what would it be?"
Eventide could see the glint of mischief in the old man's eyes; he also noticed that Habib was still by his side with the shade cover still protecting him from the sun.
"His name is Shaitan, Grandfather, and perhaps you would join us for the evening meal if you are not too busy?"
"I would be honoured to do so Kahlif; shall we say one hour after sundown?"
"A good time to eat Grandfather; I look forward to hearing more of your tales."
Eventide turned to Habib by his side.
"Habib, you and your friends have done well; here is the promised coins; I would also ask if you would visit with me tomorrow morning; there is something I would like to discuss with you; just tell the gate guards I have asked for you to come and they will let you enter."
Habib bowed low after taking the offered purse; the look of total adoration on the young face almost unnerved Eventide but he knew it was more the tale than any right he had to such a look. As the party moved off towards the main gates of the palace; Eventide took one last look at the crowded square; every man, woman and child still knelt with their heads on the stone street; they would not stand until he was out of sight. For Eventide it had been a wondrous day but he was not sure he could live up to the legend the old man Omar had started; he well knew what could happen when legends did not live up to expectations.
It seemed no time at all before they were all entering under the massive gates of the Palace; Eventide would have to wait for a while longer before he could get the full story from Mahmud; his brother had refused to say a word while outside the walls.
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