Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Six
The Court of Ice and Steel
Daoud awoke and rubbed at his stinging, ash-caked eyes. He saw at once that he had left the world of fire behind and now drifted upon the winds of the world of air. Graceful flying creatures with wings like birds circled about in a world that seemed to be not but bright clear sky in every direction. Strange winds and elementals of air buffeted him and made his ride continuously turbulent. From time to time, air weirds formed and snaked about, attacking him, but he warded them off with his spellcraft until he had no spells left to utter.
Presently he spied a distant cloud. Daoud turned his carpet toward the promise of moisture. As he drew closer to his goal, he realized the cloud was really quite enormous and only appeared small because of the great distance. As the hours passed, the cloud loomed larger and larger until it filled his whole scope of vision. At last he immersed himself in it, plunging into its icy swirling fogs, washing away the soot of the world of fire and quenching his great thirst. Presently he felt soaked and chilled, but after so many months in the world of fire, he welcomed the feeling.
Some several hours later, he passed out of the fog onto the other side of the cloud, and at once, he had to veer sharply to avoid colliding with a sailing ship afloat in the air. Sailors shouted and scolded and shook their fists at him. Daoud swooped back around to see what manner of men might sail a ship upon the wind, but he rued his curiosity when the mesh of a cast net snagged both him and his carpet from the air and pulled him aboard.
The crew of sailors were men such as the type that sail the Bakhoury Coast. Daoud found he recognized their tongue, but among them strode many winged beings such as he had never before seen or heard.
The sailors handled him roughly. They were kind enough to free him from the net in which they had snagged him, but then they threw him down sprawling on the deck. The captain of the ship strode over to the prisoner and eyed him suspiciously. “Bind him tightly and stow him below,” the captain said in the language of men. Long, cold, and miserable were Daoud’s days stowed in that ship’s hold like so much additional cargo, but after many weeks upon the wind, the ship arrived at port, and the sailors dragged the prisoner up onto the deck.
Blinking in the bright light, Daoud beheld a new wonder, for he looked now up the Court of Ice and Steel, a great and gleaming city built into a floating island that hung upon solid clouds. Sailing craft and dirigibles not unlike the one that carried him hither docked along cloudy quays. The city had little need for streets; all the air was aflutter with winged beings and flying creatures that swooped about from aerie to tower and height to precipice. Only the towering cloud giants tread upon the surface. The sailors brought him into the Court of Ice and Steel and set him before the sultan djinni over the world of air. Daoud fixed his eyes upon the beautiful blue-skinned djinn of his court in utter astonishment. The bare-chested sultan wore shimmering silk wraps about his waist and sat cross-legged upon a pillow of pure cloud. He leaned forward and sniffed at Daoud, wrinkled his nose in disgust, and said, “You stink of fire; you smell of smoke.”
Daoud bowed low before the sultan and explained, “I am Daoud of Tusmit, and I was a prisoner in the City of Brass until I escaped to your majesty’s just and beautiful realm of air.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps you are spy sent from the Charcoal Palace to spy upon my court,” the sultan suggested. All the djinn who reclined about the sultan’s court gasped in dismay as if the mere suggestion made the thing true.
“Surely not, my lord, but ask me what you will, and I will tell you all that I have seen there.” Daoud knew the names of the royalty and all the scholars among the efreet, and he could speak about the ins-and-outs of affairs in the Charcoal Palace. In this way, he entered into the confidence of djinni lord, and soon he sat among his advisors, counseling them regarding their enemies from the world of fire. They also questioned him about the world of men and made inquiries about the meaning of land and life thereon. (The concept of solid ground beneath a sky of air seemed unfathomable to them.) Daoud questioned them about the secrets of air, its strength and its nature, when unseen and when seen, its spirit, its ether, the different atmospheres it generates, of mists and fog, the true nature of clouds, the defiance of gravity, and the mechanics of flight. In exchange, he told them tales from the world of men, as he had done for the efreet in the house of Najat Shams.
Remarkably, and too his credit, he rose in stature among them until the djinn began to regard him as one of their own number. They treated him so well that he considered whether he might not want to remain in that place and live out his days in the sultan’s court. Long were the days he spent there, but how long or how many he scarce could say, for there was neither turning of day or night in the world of air.
After a time, Daoud asked permission to leave the Court of Ice and Steel. The sultan said, “You are not a prisoner here. You may take your leave at any time. But if you really intend to leave us and return to your home, you must first accept gifts of my hand.”
“I cannot carry wealth away with me,” Daoud demurred, “Only so much as the rug will bear.”
“These trinkets will not hamper you or weigh you down,” the sultan of the air assured him. He gave Daoud a wondrous cloak called “Cloak of the Manta,” and he gave him a small magical cube called “Cube of Gates.” The cloak had been cut to mimic the shape of a manta ray that swims beneath the surface of the ocean, and the cube had been ornately decorated with embossed magical sigils on each of its six sides. The sultan explained, “With these gifts you may yet find your way to your home.” Daoud wrapped himself in the cloak and studied the cube. Then with a bow he said, “I am humbled, unable to return the hospitality that I have found at the Court of Ice and Steel, and without a gift to confer upon the sultan. But if at any time you should benefit from the service of Daoud of Tusmit, I am humbly at your service.”
Taking his leave with reluctant farewells, Daoud situated himself onto the carpet which had borne him from the world of fire and looked into the thin ethers that stretched on without limit or horizon. So he traversed the endless sky of the world of air, peering into the seemingly infinite distances of every direction. Here and there he saw distant clouds and even islands of solid land that had somehow inadvertently wandered into that world and now seemed content to float along as lightly as the clouds. While his carpet speedily bore him along in no particular direction, he eagerly studied the Cube of Gates, seeking to make some sense of the sigils on each surface and to see if he might discern the function of it. As he placed his finger over one of the six surfaces, the cube warmed and vibrated in his hands, pulsating with magical energy. A shimmering portal in the sky, like an opening in a wall, abruptly appeared immediately in the path before him. Before Daoud had time to think or react, his flying carpet swept him through it directly into a deluge of rain.
“And so I left the Court of Ice and Steel and the world of air behind,” Daoud told Hasnat and all the companions beneath her pavilion. “I only wish that this evening yet afforded time to tell of how I found myself then in the world of water and became a citizen of the Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls. More the pity, for that is a tale worth hearing, not to mention my further adventures and all that has befallen me on my journeys, and how Grimmly and I have come to the Twin Paradises by accident.”
Based on Rasgon, “The Golden Age of Tusmit,” Canonfire! [Posted Octomber 13, 2011].
Featured Artwork: The Elemental Planes
Don’t miss chapter seven of Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: “The Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls.” Follow greyhawkstories.com for the next exciting chapter.