Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Three
Hidden Temple of Pharol Al-Sammal
Daoud related the story of Sulymon and the Seven Giants beneath the pavilions of Hasnat for several nights, but the tale need not be retold here, for it is told in the poems of Obed of Tusmit and also recounted in the Fiftyscore Tales of Al’Shari. After completing his adventures, having slain the seven giants and all their kin, and having looted their wealth as well, Sulymon returned to Tusmit and inherited the throne from his grandfather (200 CY). In addition, he inherited the seal of power which Mehmet had obtained from the quest of the Black Vizier.
This Sulymon had four sons, each one the son of a different wife. The youngest was Daoud. Daoud had no expectation of inheritance over his elder brothers; he accepted his place with the same stoic indifference by which he measured all circumstances—was it not the fate decreed by Istus? Rather than concern himself with politics and intrigues, he devoted himself to learning, philosophy, and science. His heart inclined after knowledge and understanding, and he cared little for the pretenses of life at court. He set his mind to ponder the intricate weaving of the hands of Istus, dedicating himself to her worship.
Sulymon’s great wealth and even greater reputation as a giant slayer had won prestige and respect from all Tusmit, Ket, and the surrounding lands. Dedicated to the Four Feet of the Dragon, preaching the virtues of honor, family, generosity, and piety, he became well-known for his wisdom, and tales of his exploits could be heard on the lips of poets as far away as Tyran. One such poet, drawn by the fame of Sulymon, was a summoner and spellbinder called Surrvaris, a scholar of those magical arts practiced by the Bakluni sorcerers since before the Twin Cataclysms. Some say that this Surrvaris was already advanced in years, having served as a disciple and a deputy to the Black Vizier of Zeif nearly a century earlier, but when asked the truth of his history, the man merely smiled. All that is known of a certainty is that he came from the Zashassar of Ekbir.
While Daoud was still young, Surrvaris had offered his services to the pasha. “Sulymon’s reputation has spread wide indeed, and I wish to see his name remembered. Let me serve in his court as an advisor, a counselor, and a teacher, and I will compose an epic poem of his exploits.” With words like this, he attached himself to Sulymon’s court, and thereafter he whispered in the pasha’s ear. So he rose in station until, in the pasha’s last years, he nearly attained the rank of vizier over Tusmit.
A day came when Sulymon summoned his four sons to his bedside and said, “My sons, I am soon to go the way of all men. Ask of me and I will bless you with your inheritance.” The eldest son asked to be granted the throne to the kingdom and he received it. The second son asked to be made king over the land of Ket and he received it. The third son asked to be made steward over the treasuries of the kingdom and he received it. Then Sulymon said to Daoud, “Now my son, what remains for you? Your brothers have already taken my kingdoms and my wealth.”
Daoud replied, “Father, I only desire to obtain from you a double portion of your wisdom so that I may acquire knowledge and understanding. Let me stand firmly upon the Four Feet of the Dragon and know the truth of each pillar. If you will grant me this, I will gladly forfeit your throne, your kingdoms, and your wealth.”
This answer pleased the old pasha, and he said, “I commit to your charge my servant Surrvaris, wisest of all my counselors, greatest of all my poets, most powerful of all my spellbinders. He shall be your pedagogue and direct you in the paths of learning. Through him I bestow upon you your request: a double portion of my wisdom. May you stand firmly upon the Four Feet of the Dragon. Although you are the least of my sons, I will leave to you the greatest of my treasures. When I am gone, you shall have the seal of power which I inherited from my father. With it, you may unlock the secrets of magic and the knowledge of the genies.”
Surrvaris saw that the pasha’s son had no small talent for the magical arts. He tested Daoud with many trials by magic, but Daoud saw through the old spellcaster’s simple illusions, detected the magical tricks, and deflected the charms. “You could indeed become powerful in magic and great in wisdom,” Surrvaris said. “But you need schooling. I will send you to an apprenticeship, and when you have learned what you can from your master, return to me and I will school you in the deeper arts.”
In the days of the Black Vizier, magic had been forbidden in all of Zeif and in all the lands controlled under the sultanate. Magic-users and spellbinders had then been hunted down, and in many places, beheaded or burned alive. During those dark years, spellcasters fled to the east, and those that stayed in the Baklunish west concealed their craft. Even a century after the repressive laws had been repealed, mages and wizards remained reclusive, secretive, and distrustful. Greatest among the spellcasters of Tusmit was the mage-priest Pharol Al-Sammal. In the hills west of Sefmur, he kept a syncretic temple to Hadyan and a shrine of Boccob. Employing the illusory art of the gnomes, Pharol Al-Sammal cleverly hid the sanctuary behind illusions and spellcraft such that no man could find it. Surrvaris instructed Daoud, “Take yourself there and seek it out. When you have found the hidden temple, present yourself to Pharol Al-Sammal and he will make you his apprentice.”
For several weeks, Daoud wandered about those hills, seeking some sign of the hidden temple, but he could find no trace of it nor even a rumor, for it was concealed from the eyes of men. He had all but despaired when he came upon a shepherd and asked him, “Have you ever seen a temple in these hills?”
“Never have my eyes rested upon a shrine or holy place in these hills,” the shepherd replied, “But there is a certain place where the goats sneeze from the scent of incense.”
“Bring me there!” Daoud exclaimed. The shepherd brought him to the place. When the goats began to sneeze, Daoud spoke a word of dispelling illusion. For only a moment, he saw the temple to Hadyan and the shrine of Boccob before him, but as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared again, appearing to be not but a brush-covered hillside. Ignoring the illusion, Daoud entered the temple and presented Pharol Al-Sammal with a letter from his father. The letter recommended Daoud to the Pharol’s hospitality and beseeched him to take the young man on as apprentice.
“I have not survived three centuries already by playing the fool,” the old mage-priest said as he examined the young man. “I would be a fool to refuse the request of the pasha. Only promise me that you will always do what I tell you without asking any questions about why I tell you to do a particular thing, no matter how strange the task may seem.”
Daoud thought this a peculiar requirement to place upon a student, but, eager to learn what he could of the ways of spellcasting, he agreed to the terms all the same. He soon had reason to wonder over the strange things his new master required of him.
“Now to your chores. Take this bucket and draw water from the well to fill the troughs,” the master of magic said. Daoud puzzled on this, for surely a wizard of such power had magic he could employ to draw the water, and if not that, servants who would be better suited for the labor. Should I waste my hours drawing water when I should be at my studies, Daoud thought to himself, but he remembered his promise and took the bucket to the well as instructed. This particular bucket had four holes in the bottom. As Daoud hauled the rope to pull up the bucket, the water drained from the bottom so that, by the time he took it in hand, it was quite empty. He considered whether or not he should point it out to his master or ask for him for a better bucket, but remembering his promise, he continued at the endless task. For several hours every day he labored, never once filling the trough, but he dared not ask a thing or say a word about it.
After he had been some time in the schooling, Pharol Al-Sammal gave him the first glyph of the magical alphabet and told him to copy it on the student’s writing board as any student might be required to do when first learning his letters. Daoud did as he was told, but he wondered over this, for he already knew all the letters, sigils, and glyphs of the magical script from a young age, could already read magic, and knew more than a few spells. When Pharol Al-Sammal checked his work, he declared, “Well done my student. Now erase it and recopy it six-hundred and ninety-nine more times!” Daoud found this task tedious indeed, but he remembered his promise to the ancient wizard and did as he was bade, erasing and copying the first glyph seven hundred times in all, and likewise, with each subsequent letter.
For several years, Daoud undertook the rote memorization of spells and incantations and all the arts and arcana of the wizard’s craft, but these were interrupted when Pharol Al-Sammal said, “I must ask you to break off from your studies to help prepare for a festival day. Take this flock of goats out to the hills and shepherd them until the kids are off the udders.” Daoud looked about him, but he saw no flock, nor did his attempts to dispel illusion or invisibility reveal one. Nevertheless, he remembered his promise. He did as he was told without raising complaints or asking questions. He took the imaginary flock of goats and shepherded them spring and summer, as if leading a real flock. He led the imaginary goats along the green hillsides by day and to the waters at evening. He slept under the stars, as if guarding the flock from wolves. When the kids would have been off of their mother’s milk, Pharol Al-Sammal sent a message to him, “Bring the animals to the temple and sacrifice them to Hadyan.” Daoud wondered if this might be a blasphemy, but he did it without asking questions or raising objections, pretending to slaughter each animal and throw its blood by pantomiming the motions. When he had slaughtered the invisible animals, Pharol Al-Sammal said, “Now flay the skin from the animals and cook their flesh as for a feast, but soak the hides and cure them, stretch them on frames and scrape them for parchment.” He did each task without question, pretending to flay the skin from the goats, soak them in water, cure them in lime, stretch them on wooden frames, and scrape them smooth. Then Pharol Al-Sammal said, “Now cut them into panels and stitch them together into a scroll.” Daoud stitched together the imaginary parchments. When Pharol Al-Sammal saw this, he said, “Now gather up all the letters and glyphs roll them up inside the scroll.” Daoud pretended to gather up handfuls of letters and glyphs and roll them up within the scroll.
That night, while he slept, he saw the scroll in a dream, visible and well-crafted. All the letters that he had toiled over had arranged themselves into spells, cunningly assembled, many of them far beyond his power to comprehend or utter. He rolled up the dream scroll and took it with him. When he awoke the scroll remained still in his possession, real and tangible, and the spells of power were yet written upon it in his own hand.
“Now I have taught you enough,” Pharol Al-Sammal said. “Return to your home and take this scroll with you; your time of learning here is at an end.”
Daoud packed his things and prepared to leave, but when the time to depart came, he tarried in his master’s presence.
“What is it?” Pharol Al-Sammal asked. “Perhaps the student desires to ask a question?”
“If I may ask master, why did you require me to labor with the bucket every day? Though I filled it and drew it up many times every day, all that I drew up ran out through the bottom.”
“So it is with all learning,” Pharol Al-Sammal said. “So it is with all labor and toil, and no less in the magical arts. All our learning leaks out of the mind and is forgotten. The wisdom and knowledge acquired in one day is forgotten the next, but neither do you have permission to desist from the task.”
“So I returned to Sefmur, powerful in magic and learned in spells,” Daoud told Hasnat and all the company beneath her grand pavilion in the Twin Paradises. “But I was sorely grieved to find that, in my absence, my father had indeed passed from life. My eldest brother now held the title of pasha, yet Mehmet’s ring had not been bequeathed to me.
“‘Your father left no instruction,’ Surrvaris told me. ‘I myself wrote out his will, dictated from the pasha’s mouth. He made no mention of the seal’s disposition.’
“‘If only there was some means to query the dead!’ I lamented. But now the lateness of the hour prevents me from telling how I then travelled to the wild and untamed plains of Ull to seek out the teacher Alhazred to learn how to query the dead. More the pity, for that is a tale worth hearing, 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.”