Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Nine
The Making of the Wondrous Lanthorn
Heavy laden with the weight of too many centuries and the sorrows of hard labors, the white-bearded dwarf slogged on determinedly toward the distant lights, slowly pushing his way through bramble and branch. With each step, he felt lighter and younger. No longer did his knees pain him; no longer did his shoulders stoop. From on ahead came sound of voices caught up in revelry, drum and flute, laughter and song. The music quickened his pulse and hastened his step. Presently he drew near enough to catch scent of rich spices, sweet perfumes, and delicious food on the fire. The aromas stirred up long-ago memories and recalled happy nights beneath the colored canopies in the presence of the goddess.
In short time, the dwarf emerged into an open glade. Before him stood a magnificent, palatial pavilion, just as he remembered it, illuminated with one-hundred and ten crystal lanterns. Winged devas called malakim sang for the entertainment of the goddess, accompanied by all types of instruments, drums, cymbals, and dance. For a moment, he felt abashed at the spectacle. “What has an old dwarf to do with a place such as this?” he scolded himself. “I should not have come.” He nearly turned back. But then goddess herself, reclining among the cushions of a divan at the center of the pavilion, turned her lovely head to peer over her shoulder. She fixed her coal-black eyes upon the dwarf in a kindly and come-hither manner and beckoned to him, “Blessed be your coming, Master Grimmly, weary traveler! Enter. Recline at my table. Here is water for you to wash your face, hands, and feet. Here is oil to anoint your head and beard. Here is wine to gladden your heart. Some honeycomb and bread, nuts and apples, cuts of roe and hart that sizzle upon the spit. Eat, and rest yourself awhile.”
Grimmly bowed low before Hasnat, so low that his beard swept the ground. “O Gracious Lady of the Cool Breeze,” he stammered, “I am utterly unworthy to avail myself of your hospitality a second time.”
“Nonsense!” Hasnat laughed. “See how your lamps illuminate my pavilion, more splendid in color and magic than the other hundred all together. And well do we remember the delicious tales told by your master, Daoud of Tusmit. Many were the nights he entertained us with stories of his adventures, and yours too Master Grimmly.”
The dwarf’s aged countenance brightened. He bowed again, “I am utterly and always at your service. May the rapturous radiance of your lovely gaze never dim.”
“It never shall,” the goddess assured him. “Now come, reline as my guest for the evening. In the morning, we shall part ways. You must go on to the halls of Dumathoin while I travel on to the Walled Garden. But for tonight, enjoy the singing of songs and the telling of tales.”
Grimmly took his place at the table of Hasnat and filled his stomach with the delicacies placed before him. All was as he remembered it. Indeed, all things exceeded his memory of them. When appetite for food and drink had been set aside, Hasnat urged him with laughter like pure crystal, “Now tell us your tale, from the time you left us, and all that befell your master, sparing no detail.”
Grimmly smiled privately to himself, for all things proceeded just as he had hoped. Forsooth he had no intention of parting company with the goddess or travelling on to the halls of Dumathoin. He cleared his throat and replied, “I have little art for telling tales. My tongue has not the eloquence of my master’s, but I shall string together such simple words as I am able, and I shall convey all that befell us since we left the delights of your table and the wonders of the Walled Garden, these many years past.” Then the old dwarf launched into the tale of how he and Daoud had first passed through the gates of the Walled Garden and entered into the spiral towers where they presented themselves before the devas who attended there.
“Now feast your eyes Master Grimmly,” Daoud of Tusmit said as we passed beneath the flashing swords. “Behold the Paradise of Paradises, the Blossom of Bitopia.”
I stood agape, utterly unprepared for rapture. Behold! We had stepped into a world of flowers and blossoms. Explosions of colors unseen and unknown in Oerth took delicate form, resplendent and formless, simple and elegant. The daylight danced and sprayed about like water tumbling down a falls. Towering over us stood luscious trees bedecked with every type of fruit pleasing to the eye and palate, each tree veiled with breeze-moved leaves that shifted and shimmered like a maiden’s bridal veils. All things seemed made of light, weightless and pure, fragile and solid, never-fading, never-failing. The trees sang praises to the gods, and many a forest nymph and sylph, dryad, and piping fawn flickered and flitted for sport among the orchard of joys and delight. Fair folk, exotic birds, and winged folk fluttered among the boughs. Here bubbled up crystal springs to feed shallow brooks and reflecting pools in which the gods bathed. Pleasant paths and trails meandered in all directions, inviting exploration. At the end of a broad colonnaded street like those of the Great Kingdom stood an architectural wonder unlike any I had ever before beheld. Three spiraling towers stretched high into the Bitopian sky, the topmost of the towers beyond sight.
“All surpasses imagination,” Daoud exclaimed. “Though I have seen the wonders of fire, water, air, and earth, all other worlds pale and grow dim by compare!”
“Indeed,” I agreed with a nod of my wondering head, and at that moment, we two stood together at the base of the Spiraling Towers, though we knew not how we came there without first walking that long street. Majestic devas and brilliant solars shone upon us from above and drew near. “Few are the mortals who ever have entered the herein,” those beings objected. “How came you to our pleasant orchard?”
“In the company of blessed Hasnat, in a caravan of one hundred silver-haired camels, came we,” Daoud explained. “And we have brought these gems hither from the world of earth for your amazement and delight.” Then we did show them the precious baubles which we had hidden away, and the angelic beings marveled at how the light of lights shone and refracted through the colored stones.
“You have done well to bring these here,” they said. In that place, and under the guidance of those skilled craftsmen, I cut the stones and Daoud fashioned wondrous lamps to house them—twelve wondrous lanthorns, each one laden with magical properties. These we made for a gift to adorn the pavilion of your Divine Self. Each we fashioned with four faces, a lens on each face, and each lens with a prism cut from a single stone of a different color to illuminate all the shades and hues of the paradise of paradises. Moreover, in each color we invested the ability to store spells if one knows the art of doing so, and we constructed mechanisms by which the lamp might be shuttered or opened to release the dweomers.
“All this is known to us,” Hasnat interrupted the telling of Grimmly’s tale. “For ten of thy lamps illuminate the night beneath my pavilion to this day, and laced they are with sweet spells for the tranquility and pleasure of all my guests. The eleventh, the brightest of your lanthorns, still shines atop the tallest spire of the Spiral Towers as a guiding beacon to all souls who seek their way to the Twin Paradises. Such was your payment to the devas. But that leaves one lanthorn unaccounted for. Will you not tell us of the twelfth?”
“Yes my lady,” Grimmly nodded eagerly. “Of this one is the essence of my tale.”
When the time came to fashion the twelfth lamp, I cut prisms from seven priceless stones, the last of those stones we smuggled with us from the world of earth and the most beautiful specimens of all: a ruby, a topaz, an emerald, a diamond, a sapphire, an amethyst, and a jacinth. These I made in such a manner that they might be placed into the lamp behind the crystal lenses in different combination and effect. Each prismatic gem Daoud invested with power. When the light shone forth through that lens, the spell should be released. Such was his artifice.
Be it known that this twelfth lamp, the most powerful and most beautiful of all our lanthorns, we intended not for ourselves but as a gift, except on the question of the recipient my master and I differed. I desired to suspend it above your own divan as a token of our esteem and gratitude for all your bounteous kindness unto us. I desired that it should burn bright with an unfading flame like the beauty of your own person. But my master, the Tusmitite, said he should make of it a gift unto your sister, the most Resolute and Resolved Goddess Istus who had so stewarded over his fate.
When we finished the lanthorn, the devas gathered around and marveled at the creation, and they inquired, ‘With what wicking and fuel will you light it?’ Many were the contrivances we attempted with which to illumine its magical lenses. With tallow, tar, wax, fat, oil, and pitch we sought to fuel it, but these smoked and smelled unseemly and often needed be refilled. With reed, flax, cloth, cotton, thread, and braided wool we sought to wick it, but these burned unsteadily, sometimes bright and sometimes dim, often flickering or smoldering out. Magical light spells we set upon the stones, but these diffused their illumination not properly through the lenses and the dweomers failed. Neither could the devas offer us better counsel. We nearly despaired of finding an unfading light. Then at last my master lit upon an idea.
Recall that when he and I first came to your world, we came as fugitives escaping from the world of earth, and only by accident into your Bitopian realm. At that time we bore with us a certain prisoner in a sack. This dao, you may remember, assisted us in our escape from the City of Jewels and the Sevenfold Mazework in exchange for precious gemstones which he greedily devoured. Insatiable his appetite for gemstones ever proved to be; he swallowed them up like a hungry halfling swallows sweet tarts. Indeed, he swallowed them up whole, and when he did, his whole body burned bright with pleasure like the light of a pure and hungry, naked flame.
Presently we had no more to feed him except those few select stones we reserved in secret, and with those we refused to part. Most wrathful and enraged with hunger, the genie took a terrible oath, saying, “I swear by all fire and water, sky and earth, that I will crush the life from your bones unless you surrender over to me those stones you have hidden away!”
Did he know of our secreted stash or only guess? I know not. But he proceeded to search our belongings, sniffing for the stones like a dragon sniffs for gold. It happened that we had a certain sack, recently emptied, in which we kept the largest of the stones. All of these we had spent already in our escape from the Sevenfold Mazework and the empty sack hung loosely. But that greedy one supposed the sack might yet contain for him a few morsels. When he snatched up the bag and stuck his evil head inside to see what remained, we gave a mighty shove, pushed him inside the sack, closed up the mouth, and sealed it shut. In this manner we conveyed the dao to this place, never releasing him from the sack. All these things befell us ere we first came unto your world.
On the occasion of the fashioning of the twelfth lamp, my master lit upon a scheme to enlighten it with an unwavering bright light. He said, “Remember how that miserable evil genie does burn bright with pleasure like the light of a naked flame whenever he feeds upon precious stones? Let us employ him to light the twelfth lamp!”
Without the knowledge or consent of the devas, we contrived a plan whereby we might entice the genie to enter the lamp by promising it a certain delicacy: crushed powder of precious stones. Before loosing the string that held fast the mouth of the sack, we secured the open end to the chamber of the lanthorn, hoping that his avarice would lead him from one prison to the next. When the dao had entered therein, we sealed up the lamp with sigils and magical spells, locking him inside. So long as he is fed the gems he craves, his spirit burns with unwavering pure flame for a century or more before he must be fed again.
“Goodness! For my sake!” exclaimed the goddess. “What became of the twelfth lanthorn? Of a surety it hangs not above my divan to illumine me now, nor did it ever, nor does it illumine the turning wheels of my sister’s place. Only these ten lamps that you gifted unto me have I received, and the eleventh one yet shines atop the highest spire of the Spiral Towers.”
Alas! When time came to part with the wondrous lanthorn, my master looked upon the pure steady light that shone forth from its lenses and he found himself unwilling to relinquish it. Indeed, I too coveted the creation, and I desired the lanthorn for myself. To my shame, we did quarrel over who should be the one to give it and who to receive the gift, but in truth, we both desired to possess it. Then my master spoke and said, “Grimmly, my dear friend. Shouldn’t we bring back with us some recompense for all our toils and troubles in the world of earth? Why give away this last lanthorn when we have already given ten of its kind to Hasnat and placed the eleventh atop the tallest spire of the spiral towers. Shouldn’t we reserve one trophy of our adventures unto ourselves? Let us carry this lanthorn with us back to Oerth.”
We brought the lanthorn with us when we left your world. Always Daoud held the lanthorn aloft as we flew between the worlds by means of his wide magical carpet, that rug stolen from the Charcoal Palace. He did not relinquish it to my hand. All the way from here to there, the light of the lanthorn shone the way before us, casting its steady light upon many ways and portals between the worlds. By means of spells my master laid upon it, we found our way back to Oerth from whence we first came. But much was the mischief that came of that lamp afterwards, and I came to rue that ever we had fashioned it.
Grimmly lowered his head before concluding, “Truly tis a pity that time now prevents me from also telling the tale of how the Grand Vizier came to covet the lanthorn and stole it away for his wicked purposes and how my master found him out, for that is tale worth hearing in full, not to mention my master’s subsequent adventures, his exile and years of wandering, and all that befell him before he entered the quoin. But the hour is now late, and as you have stated, I must away to the halls of Dumathoin come the morning.”
Hasnat shook her lovely head to object. Though her veil concealed her lips, her smiling eyes told Grimmly what words she would speak next, “Nay, I will hear the whole of the tale. Travel on with me for one day more. Stay again a second night beneath my pavilion. Then I shall hear the rest of the tale of Daoud of Tusmit.” To this proposal, the dwarf gladly agreed.