Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Seven
The Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls
The rain fell so heavily that Daoud was instantly soaked through and through. What is more, the blanketing rain quickly saturated the magical rug which bore him through the air until it weighed heavily, beginning a slow descent of which he was not aware. He pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head and strained to see through the blinding rain but to no avail. His carpet abruptly splashed onto the surface of pitching waters, where, raftlike, it kept him afloat for a few moments—until an enormous crashing wave plunged him under the water, carpet, books, and all. Daoud struggled to swim, expecting the weight of his wet clothing and cloak to weigh him down, but instead he found he could move quite easily and also breathe the water as if he was breathing air. He at once discerned these effects to be the magical properties of the cloak, and he marveled at the foresight of the sultan of the world of air. He pulled himself back onto his magical carpet and gathered up his things. Once straightened out and put back in order, the carpet continued to propel him forward, rushing through the water. Under the magic of the manta cloak, Daoud felt no more resistance from the water than he might have felt had he been propelling through the air.
Light spilled through the water of the upper seas, granting him the ability to see the world around him teaming with life. His presence startled schools of fish and fishlike creatures as well as attracting unwanted attention from larger predators. When a large shark-like leviathan began following his path through the water, he considered employing a spell to ward it away, but he discovered that, without oxygen in his lungs, he was unable to speak at all, rendering him incapable of manipulating magic. He thought of his spell book, so painstakingly copied from texts in the Charcoal Palace, now soaked through with water. The leviathan quickly overtook him and swallowed him up, magical carpet and all, in a single gulp.
Now Daoud found himself miserable and unhappy indeed, trapped as he was in the dark burning stomach of a great leviathan. As the stomach moved and churned, he was washed about, back and forth, passing from chamber to chamber. In the depths of despair for his very life, he poured out his heart in utterly inarticulate gurgling prayers, beseeching the gods to have mercy upon him and reverse the decrees of fate that had so cruelly consigned him to be digested in the belly of the leviathan. As if in answer to his prayers, the thought occurred to him, I need only employ my magical cube again to create a gate to another world. Reaching into his pocket, however, he found that, in the process of being swallowed by the leviathan and tumbled through its stomachs, the cube had slipped out along with all the other contents of his pockets. He began to feel around for it in the darkness of the stomach, searching for the cube and the other belongings he had lost. His groping hands sorted through the carnage of half-decayed things, squirming eels, seaweed and slime, and then came suddenly came strayed upon the body of a woman, and he pulled them back ashamedly.
A telepathic thought stirred in his head: Who’s that in the belly with us who has just now touched me?
Daoud focused his mind and replied: I am Daoud of Tusmit, an air-breather, a human being and stranger to this world, now swallowed up alive. And who are you?
We are a party of six sea elf maids, another thought-voice replied in his head. We were gathering the corral-berries when the leviathan came upon us. If you can rescue us from this awful fate, our fathers will reward you most handsomely.
By means of the telepathic communication of the sea-elf maids, Daoud explained that he could indeed free them from their predicament if they could help him find his missing things: his magical carpet, his bag of books, his personal items, and most importantly, the cube of gates. This they did, scouring through the grisly contents of the leviathan’s stomach and gathering up Daoud’s missing things, including the cube of gates. Much relieved to take possession of his things once more, he prepared to open a gate to another world—where he knew not—when he realized the predicament in which he placed the six elf maids—for surely they would be unprepared for life and breath if the gate should open to any other world but their own. Nevertheless, with no other option available, he manipulated the cube about and opened a gate. The gate shimmered into existence, and through its open portal, Daoud could see the hungry flames of the world of fire leaping and dancing. The water in the stomach of the leviathan and all the contents of the stomach at once began to empty through the portal like water in a tub swirling through an open drain. As the gush of water entered the portal it boiled and hissed into steam and turbulence, bubbling and gurgling and releasing hot bubbles of gas into the stomach of the leviathan. The elf maids telepathically screamed in terror, clinging to the walls of the stomach lest they also be swept along into the whirlpool now disgorging into the world of fire. Daoud clung to his carpet, willing it to bear him away from the pull of the vortex.
As all this drama transpired inside the belly of the leviathan, the great beast suddenly felt ill indeed, as if a fire burned in its guts, and it regretted its last meal. The enormous fish vomited Daoud and the six elf maids out, but still the fire burned in its belly. No matter how much water it gulped down, it could not quench the fire. Convulsing in pain, it fled away, leaving Daoud and the six maids free.
Daoud took the six aquatic elf maids onto his magical carpet with him. They directed him in the way they should go to find their home in the Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls. The trip took many days to complete, for the leviathan had borne the girls far from their home. In those days, Daoud learned much of the world of water. They passed by reef places where whole cities clung to the corrals. They saw shepherds herding schools of fish; merfolk hunting sharks; nixies at play along the floating lilies, sea-centaurs swimming in herds, and dangerous sauhagin stalking in dark waters. Elementals made of water took shapes and guises of various forms and looked on them curiously, and if not for the presence of the elf maids, they might have done Daoud some mischief. When Daoud and the elf maids hungered, they caught up small fish and swallowed them up, just as the leviathan had swallowed them. All the way they travelled, they conversed, albeit without spoken words. Daoud told the maids of his world, and they told him of theirs. The maids related the details of their lives among the sea elves; these six were daughters of noble elven houses that served in the court of the marid—those powerful water genies who ruled over the world of water.
Daoud gasped with astonishment as the iridescent and lustrous Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls came into his view. The great city straddled an enormous floating reef, and it shone in the sea like a thousand lamps, like a sky full of blazing stars. Although Daoud could hear no sound for all the crush of the water around his ears, he heard in his mind, as if telepathically, the song of the sea elves that inhabit the city. As Daoud and his passengers drew yet closer to the shining city, sea-centaurs with tridents in hand met them to provide escort; the translucent fluid shapes of water elementals swarmed about them in such abundance as to create a maelstrom of motion; curious mermen and shy mermaids darted back and forth, greeting the sea elf maids. The architecture of the city was all of precious coral, rare shells, and an abundance of pearl. The city had no streets, but rather, tunnels and passages that wound about through the coral of the reef in a maze of channels and openings lined with living caves in which the citizens of the city dwelt. Through these waterways swam all types of beings, some of which Daoud recognized and most of which he did not. Most wondrous of all were the marid, those great majestic water genies, beautiful in form, three times the height of a man, skin hued with the shades of the ocean, blue-black hair afloat in the water. Utterly vain and shameless, they swam naked through the city, flaunting their physique and form, whether they took the shape of humans or elves or merfolk. They brought Daoud to stand before the Great Padishah. The royal guard heralded, “Behold! Prostrate yourself before the Lord of the Coral Throne, the Keeper of the Empire, the Pearl of the Sea, the Father of the Waves, the Maharaja of the Oceans, Emir of All Currents, King over the Tides, He Who Strides Upon the Breakers, Sultan of the Seas, Master of all Depths.”
Daoud heard these words in his mind, just as he heard the speech of the six elf maids. Indeed, he could make no sense of the clamor of sounds that travelled to his ears through the waters. But the words of the Great Padishah took clear shape in his mind. He hastened to prostrate himself, as best he could while afloat in the water, as did his entourage of six elf maids. The Great Padishah seemed to laugh, and then inquired of him, “Have you indeed rescued the lives of my servants from the belly of the leviathan? This would be no small deed for a marid to accomplish! How could you, a mere man of flesh and blood from the world of those who breathe the air, accomplish such a deed?”
“If the Great Padishah will permit, I shall relate the tale,” Daoud replied, forming the words in his head as clearly as he could and focusing his mind upon them. The marid nodded to indicate that he understood. In this way, Daoud related by way of telepathic thought all the adventures that had befallen him since he had first stepped into the world of fire. Nor did he withhold a single detail, narrating the whole of it until he came at last to the end.
“A tale well told is worth a reward,” the Great Padishah said. “And this shall be your reward. Choose which of these six elf maids you would have as a wife, and you shall remain here with us, living in luxury in the City of a Thousand Pearls, lacking nothing. In exchange for this bounty, you shall be a servant of my court, a teller of tales and teacher of lore from your world.”
Daoud was wise enough to know better than to refuse the gift the marid offered him outright, so he pretended to consider the matter before replying, “Oh Great Padishah, Master of all Depths! Truly your kindness and generosity to me, a mere mortal, exceeds beyond the reputation of all the genies of earth, and wind, and fire. But I am utterly discomfited, for having been smitten by the beauty and desirous companionship of all six maids, I could never make the choice of just the one, nor insult the other five, and so it is only meet that I should take none at all, for the sake of the dignity of all of them, and their father’s houses as well.”
The marid was not so quickly outmaneuvered, and he countered at once, “Then you shall not choose one from among them. I give them all six for you to husband. You shall be content in my halls, reclining at my table, with your six wives attending you, all the short days of your mortal life.”
“Ah, my lord, Father of the Waves and Maharaja of the Oceans,” Daoud protested. “Is a mere mortal man of flesh and blood adequate to the task to gladden one elf maid? How shall I accomplish the task six times over?”
“Have no fear of that Daoud,” the Great Padishah said. He set upon Daoud’s head a wreath of seaweed blossoms woven with pearls and shells. “With this wreath I bestow upon you the blessing of the endless sea and the strength of the crashing wave. While this wreath rests upon your brow, you shall never know fatigue, nor shall your vigor diminish.” Despite his further protestations, Daoud could not escape the marid’s trap, and he was straightway married to the six elf maids that very day, for the word of the Great Padishah is law. Moreover, the Padishah took away his magical cloak, his carpet, and his cube lest Daoud should try to flee. He bestowed a magical spell that granted Daoud the ability to breathe the water even without his cloak, but he warned him, “I have given you the gift of water-breathing, but if ever you leave the City of a Thousand Pearls, you will surely drown.”
Miserable indeed, Daoud found himself enslaved to the Great Padishah and ever at the mercy of his six elf wives. These vied with one another, jealously competing for their husband’s affections and demanding his attention. Magical wreath upon his head or not, poor Daoud desired only to escape from the watery prison in which he dwelt. But not all his efforts were expended upon the elf wives. He found time enough for reclining among the scholars of the marid and learning their ways and their wisdom. They taught him the pull of currents, the rise and fall of tides, the drum beat of waves, and the motion of flows. Most astonishing of all, Daoud realized that, in the world of water, most beings were unaware that water existed at all. Even among the highly educated of the marid, he found skeptics who doubted the existence of water. Only those who had travelled outside of the world of water comprehended it through the absence of it.
Perhaps he might have been reconciled to his life in the water world had not a quarrel among his wives swept him into a dangerous game of intrigues. One of the jealous elf wives grew especially bitter and disillusioned in the course of her rivalries with the other five wives. Her bitterness turned to a hatred of the husband she must share. Intent upon revenge, she seduced a young marid and persuaded him that he should have her as his wife if only he would slay Daoud. She further inflamed the genie’s ire with lies, telling him that Daoud boasted himself to be the better. So she urged the genie on. The young marid became so furious that he would have slain the human outright and immediately had it not been known that Daoud fell under the protection of the Great Padishah himself. “You must make it appear to be an accident,” the elf wife wisely counselled him.
The young marid concocted a fiendish plot to invite Daoud to join him on a hunt and slay him when far away from the city. That might have been the end of Daoud, but by the fate of Istus, another of the elf wives overheard the whole of the plot and warned him in advance. When the young marid invited Daoud to join him on a hunt for dragon turtles, Daoud respectfully declined, saying, “The Great Padishah’s magical spell that allows me to breathe the water extends only as far as the city limits. If I was to accompany you on that hunt, I would need my magical cloak of water-breathing. Without it, I must respectfully decline.”
“I shall bring you the cloak. The Great Padishah will not deny me if I tell him that I desire to borrow it for our expedition,” the young marid insisted.
“But I have no skill to ride upon the back of seahorse or dolphin, and I would certainly fall far behind the hunt and be nothing but a nuisance. If I was to accompany you on that hunt, I would need my magical carpet to keep pace with the hunters.”
“I shall bring you the magical carpet. The Great Padishah will not deny me if I tell him that I desire to borrow it for our expedition,” the young marid agreed impatiently.
“There is a certain magical cube which I used to escape the belly of the leviathan. I will not agree to leave the city without it lest I am again swallowed by such a creature and need to escape its stomach in similar manner.”
“I shall bring you the magical cube. The Great Padishah will not deny me if I tell him that I desire to borrow it,” the young marid said.
When the hunters departed on the morrow, Daoud went forth with them, cloaked in the manta cloak, with the cube of gates tucked into a pocket, and astride his magical carpet.
“And so I left the Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls and the world of water behind,” Daoud told Hasnat and all the companions beneath her pavilion. “What a pity that the hour has grown so late. If time afforded us, I would commence to tell of how I transported myself then into the world of earth and became a prisoner of the Sevenfold Mazework. Now that is a tale worth hearing, for that is the tale of how I met Grimmly and how we came to the Twin Paradises by accident.”
Don’t miss chapter eight of Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: “The Sevenfold Mazework“ Follow greyhawkstories.com for the next exciting chapter.
Based on Rasgon, “The Golden Age of Tusmit,” Canonfire! [Posted Octomber 13, 2011].
Featured Artwork: Aquatic Elves
Don’t miss chapter seven of Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: “The Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls.” Follow greyhawkstories.com for the next exciting chapter.