Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Two
Mehmet and the Baklunish Seal of Power
Mehmet made his name remembered among the Paynim as a master horseman, a fearsome warrior, and a leader of men. He led the Yamifa tribe on regular raids against the peoples of Zeif and became a painful thorn to the sultanate. Clans and tribes united behind him. His heroics inspired the loyalty of the shaw and even the most seasoned warriors.
“Now what shall I do to remove this irritation?” the sultan asked his vizier. “If I mobilize my riders, Mehmet and his cutthroats melt away and vanish altogether, but if I turn my back for even an instant, they leap upon me from behind and raid and plunder all along my borders.”
“Why should His Omnipotence trouble himself over the matter? Every man has a price. Take this Paynim dog into your employ,” the grand vizier advised. “Let him lead your own warriors to patrol the borders.”
The sultan thought this counsel clever. He sent a delegation to Mehmet, inviting him to come serve in the sultan’s army as an officer of the cavalry. The pious Mehmet replied, “Give me seven days to fast and pray, and then you will have your answer.”
Seven days later, the sultan’s men returned and asked, “Well, what will you decide? Will you continue in your belligerent ways, or will you submit to reason and common sense? Have we not offered to pay you generously for your service?”
Mehmet replied ambiguously, “I live among my people.” He sent the delegates back to Zeif, and he continued to lead his raids against the sultan’s villages.
“He bargains with us,” the vizier said. “Offer him twice the amount we offered at the first, and he will change his song.” They offered him twice the amount, but he replied, “Even if the sultan would offer me houses filled with gold and silver, would it compensate me for betraying my tribe?”
“I discern what manner of man this is,” the grand vizier said. “Pride forbids him from serving another. But he shall serve us nonetheless, or, if necessary, he shall perish in the attempt.”
This time the sultan sent a caravan under heavy guard, loaded with gifts: fine fabrics, ornaments, weapons, exotic foods, spices, silver, gold, and rare gems. “All of this,” the delegates said, “Is a dowry for the man who proves himself worthy to marry the sultan’s daughter. Let the man who would be the son-in-law to all of Zeif bring the sultan a single trophy. Let him bring His Omnipotence one of those lost seals of power from the City of Ghosts in Risay. But let any cowards shrink back and name themselves unworthy.”
With words like this, the grand vizier inspired a multitude from the eleven tribes to ride forth to the quest, enticed by the prize. But the sultan and the grand vizier hoped that none would return, for rarely had any ever returned from the City of Ghosts. Once, in times nearly forgotten, it had been a thriving metropolis, but the many who dwelt there, so many centuries past, had perished in an instant under the cruel witchery of the Suloise. Now their angry ghosts haunted the half-buried ruins and sucked away the souls of any who dared enter their domains. Many had perished trying to retrieve a certain lost seal of power. Those who survived told of fearsome ghosts and a powerful genie who guarded the artifact.
But how could Mehmet or his companions refuse such a quest without naming themselves unworthy cowards? The hero gathered to himself a party of companions: two strong warriors of a neighboring clan, a pious rashaw called Kalim who possessed the gifts of healing, a secret spell-binder and seer named Mussa who had fled from Zeir-I-Zeif, and Turrek, a half-blood thief with an orc’s face. Then he immersed himself and fasted and prayed for seven days, committing his fate to Istus, his survival to Geshtai, and safe return to Hasnat. As the companions rode across the Dry Steppes, they clashed with competing bands of Paynim warriors and treasure hunters also riding for the same destination to win the same prize. In the spirit of the contest, Mehmet’s party slew those who would not yield and so left a trail of the dead bodies to mark their path home.
The City of Ghosts is a ruin, partially buried beneath silt deposited by the river alongside which the ancient metropolis was situated. None remember the city’s true name. The toppled stones upon the higher ground, including the shattered remains of the acropolis, still mark the place where men once thrived. Mehmet and his companions pitched their camp among the fallen columns of a once-magnificent portico. That night beneath the light of two moons, the ghosts beset them, first in terrifying nightmares, and then in apparitions and frightful wails, and finally with chilling touch. The pious rashaw Kalim stood between the living and the dead, warding them back as best he could, but they were numerous. Two of Mehmet’s warriors fell cold beneath the icy hand of the undead, as did the unfortunate seer Mussa. But when the ghosts came to steal away Mehmet’s life, they drew back. Their disembodied voices declared, “This one is of the blood.”
“You have slain my companions. Why should you spare me?” Mehmet demanded.
“We are your ancestors,” tormented voices explained. “Now heed us and we will reveal to you the way to our crypt wherein the seal of power is hidden. Take that thing to which our souls are bound so long as we must defend it. If you will set it upon your finger, we will be released.”
The ghosts directed him to find a secret entrance in the ruin of the city’s nymphaeum. That place which had once been a bubbling fountain and row of reflecting pools now appeared as a stagnant pond of scummy water refilled only by the runoff of the river at flood stage. From out of the foul muck came seven enormous frogs. Six ferociously attacked Mehmet and his party while a seventh looked on impassively. The frogs lashed at them with whip-like sticky tongues and sought to swallow them whole. When the companions slew the six of the monsters, the seventh frog transformed himself into a powerful marid—a beautiful and terrible water genie. “Why have you come?” the genie demanded. “Do you not know that I must now destroy you and your companions?”
“Now let your servant speak to this genie on your behalf and confound him with my words,” Kalim the pious rashaw suggested to Mehmet. Addressing the marid, he spoke thus, “We have come to ask of your wisdom, oh wise and powerful keeper of the pool. We hope that you might solve a certain riddle that perplexes us and settle a dispute for us. Will you grant me one question?”
“I grant it,” the marid said.
“It is evident to me that a genie like yourself surpasses mortals like us in wisdom, intelligence, strength, stature, and power. But we have heard that if a man merely puts a certain ring upon one of the fingers of his hand, you must obey his every word.”
The marid snorted contemptuously. “Fah! I obey no mortal flesh!”
“I too thought it to be an old wives’ tale, and just so I told my companions, but they argued the contrary. Now we have come to see if you might settle the matter for us, for we have made a wager on the outcome.”
“How do you propose we settle the question?”
“Allow us to retrieve the ring and put it to the test. If you are compelled to obey us, well, then my companions here will win the purse of gold and gems that we have hidden outside the city, but if you retain your own freewill, then I will win the wager and, I swear by Al’hatha that I will split the purse with you.”
The marid was no fool, and this venture seemed risky, but his ego and his reputation were now at stake. Moreover, the thought of a purse of gold and gems inspired his cooperation. All the same, the power of the seal compelled him to guard the way. He replied, “Nay. I have waited here in this pool uncounted centuries to guard the way lest thieves come to steal the very item of which you speak. How should I let you pass?”
“We are no thieves,” Mehmet explained (although Turrek certainly was). “Let your one-time masters testify, I am an heir of this haunted ruin, and that which you guard is rightfully mine. Does a servant guard his master’s things against his master?”
This line of reasoning gave the genie some hesitation. A marid cannot easily refuse a wager, and the genie hoped that, by way of this exception to the mandate that bound him, he might finally be released from his tedious chore. Therefore he allowed Mehmet and his surviving companions to descend through the secret way and into the buried city where they fought their way through various monsters and horrors that had come to inhabit the City of Ghosts.
At length Mehmet and his companions entered into a crypt in which the royal family of the city slept. The light of their torches scarcely dispelled the gloom that had for centuries concealed chamber on chamber of ornately carved stone sarcophagi. Mehmet lifted the heavy lid off one and then another, not suffering any to strip the dead of their treasures, until he found the item he sought. He took the seal of power from the skeletal finger of a long-dead ancestor and placed it upon his own. “Surely Istus has ordained it,” Kalim declared.
Returning then to the nymphaeum, Mehmet tested the power of the ring by commanding the marid to enter an empty water skin. Behold! The marid felt compelled to obey, thereby losing both the wager and his freedom. Though the volume of his body far surpassed the capacity of the skin, his form somehow melted into liquid and flowed in through the open mouth until the sack was swollen and stretched to bursting at its seams. Kalim sealed the waterskin tight with a leather string, and Mehmet carried it away with what other loot they collected from the City of Ghosts.
When the day to surrender the ring of power came, Mehmet said to the sultan, “I am unworthy of your daughter, and I have no need for your handsome reward. Besides, I already have two wives. Would it be wise to add another tent? Only let me keep the little bauble that I have found as an heirloom to pass to my sons, and I will serve you as you desire.”
The grand vizier objected (he wanted the ring for himself), but the sultan dismissed his protestations and said, “Let him keep the ring for now; he is no spellcaster, and he has no skill to wield a thing like that. Only let him bind himself by oath to serve us and let him seal the oath by the power of that seal.”
Mehmet did show himself worthy and loyal to Sultan Mizrad. Employing the power of genies to prevail upon the battlefield, he rose through the ranks until he took his place in the city gates among the Sultan’s most fearsome generals. The people of Zeif composed songs to celebrate his victories, and the enemies of Zeif shuddered at the mention of the name of Mehmet. Then the sultan rued the day he allowed the Paynim raider to keep that accursed ring. “This man will not stop until he has my throne!” he complained. Again he sought a way by which he might rid himself of Mehmet, and he plotted against him and tried to slay him. But Mehmet was wily, and he escaped the sultan’s assassins like a bird escapes from the fowler’s snare.
A fresh hope to be rid of the irksome warlord came when the mamluk slave-warriors of Tusmit rose against the sultan’s authority and tried to shake off the yoke of Zeif. Mizrad sent Mehmet to that far-away land with orders to quell the rebellion, but in secret, he hired mamluk assassins to carry out his will. Mehmet’s horsemen crossed the plains like a thunderstorm driven by the west wind. Beneath their pounding hooves they crushed the Tusmitite without ruth. Moreover, a small lad of Tusmit revealed the plot against his life. Mehmet released the marid he kept inside a waterskin and ordered him to bring him the assassins, all of which he hung upon the gibbet.
After that business, Mehmet and his men did not return to Zeir-I-Zeif, nor did they further heed the orders of the sultan. Instead, Mehmet took command over all Tusmit in the sultan’s name. “Having won the victory, shall I leave this land to the rebels?” he said. “Better that I should subdue it for myself.”
When Mizrad heard about this, he appointed his adversary as Pasha of Tusmit, having neither the strength to dislodge the warlord nor the force of authority to recall him. Mehmet strengthened the nation’s men at arms and conducted affairs as if Tusmit was an independent state. He extended his control beyond the Tusman Hills over neighboring Ket and ruled all those lands (150 CY).
“And so my great-grandfather died at an advanced age, old and well-satisfied with years, surviving all five of his sons,” Daoud said as he concluded the tale, “The throne of Tusmit passed to my father, his grandson Sulymon. Truly it is a pity that time now prevents me from also telling the tale of my father Sulymon the Giantslayer, for that is tale worth hearing in full, not to mention my own adventures and all that has befallen me on my journeys, and how Grimmly and I have come to the Twin Paradises by accident.”