Al-ahddin and his Wonderful......
A fairy tale for adults
The urchin, brown as cinnamon, clad only with a wisp of material round his head for a turban, and another round his waist and between his legs as a loincloth, slipped between the passers-by, like an eel between the papyrus reeds in the Tigris, dodging from shadow to shadow and, if noticed, received nothing more than a curse if he got in the way. He was too quick for a blow to land.
This was Baghdad - not the Baghdad we know today, (O Best Beloved, as nice Mr Kipling refers to his reader), devastated by war, dangerously subject to the attacks of suicide bombers or indeed the high power bombing from the occupying forces - but of a more innocent time, before nice Mr Nobel had discovered high explosives. (though not of course before the Chinese themselves had - though they confined their explosions to entertainment - much more civilised).
Perhaps, though, that older Baghdad wasn't quite so innocent because there was always the danger of a knife between the ribs if the possessor of a half dinar piece wandered too late at night down the dark alleys that led from souk to souk. And perhaps the Sultan of the time was just as despotic, just as cruel as his modern-day counterpart.
By day though, the narrow streets lined with orange coloured mud brick houses, were full of people, the ground floors open as shops to sell everything from coriander to carpets, betel to brass ware, zebra skins to zircons, sometimes the cooler stone inlaid with blue on which Arabic script twirls and entwines in white. Smells of camel dung mixed with those of spices.
It was difficult to tell the age of the boy, somewhere between ten and twenty perhaps. His physique, small and skinny .to the point of emaciation, suggested the younger The knowingness of his eyes, if it were possible to keep him still for more than a couple of moments, to stare into them, though, might have inclined to the older - they were dark and full of cunning.
Of the thousands of merchants, customers, ladies in silken finery, pimps, prostitutes, soldiers, beggars, wise men, idiots, rich men and paupers who crowd these streets, three are of interest to us - or four if you count the shadowy figure of Fate who had more to do with the story than any of the others.
One was the boy, whose name was Al-ahddin.
Another was a dark featured, hook-nosed, beetle-browed, black-bearded, tall, gangling individual named Abanazar al-Achmed bin Mustafa (or that's what he said). The third couldn't have been more opposite, short, rounded, especially at the stomach, a tiny head almost hidden by his large turban. He was the epitome of all those Arabs when people want to poke fun at them. Depending on the various traditions he had various names. In the pantomime (as you remember O Best Beloved) he went by the childishly, slightly scabrous soubriquet of Wun Hung Lo. (No need to snigger, O Best Beloved, it's not that funny.)
In the children's version, the story starts thus: There once lived a poor tailor, who had a son called Al-ahddin, a careless, idle boy who would do nothing but play all day long in the streets with little idle boys like himself. (That appears to have a bit of sexual innuendo about it, but only to dirty little boys with dirty minds)
This so grieved the father that he died; (Doesn't this suggest that Al-ahddin's ways were a little less innocent than just hopscotch on the pavement?) yet, in spite of his mother's tears and prayers, Al-ahddin did not mend his ways.
One day, when he was playing in the streets as usual, a stranger asked him his age, (now that's really suspicious and a streetwise kid like Al-ahddin obviously was should have been very wary) and if he was not the son of Mustafa the tailor. "I am, sir," replied Al-ahddin; "but he died a long while ago." On this the stranger, who was a famous African magician, (a strange description. We find out later that he was a very evil man.) fell on his neck and kissed him saying: "I am your uncle, and knew you from your likeness to my brother."
On learning that Al-ahddin was idle and would learn no trade, he offered to take a shop for him and stock it with merchandise. Next day he bought Al-ahddin a fine suit of clothes and took him all over the city, (Fear 'famous African magicians' bearing gifts - as nice Mr Virgil didn't quite say, in another context - Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes - Greeks/Africans? The difference being?) showing him the sights, and brought him home at nightfall to his mother, who was overjoyed to see her son so fine.
Of course these stories always miss out what really happened, especially if they're written for children, for children, as we know, are delicate flowers who might be blighted by the frozen fingers of debauchery and vice which often is part of truth. Actually, as we more realistic people know, children are nasty-minded little wankers who know full well what goes on in the darker recesses of the human psyche - or if they don't actually know, they suspect, having been informed in smutty little corners by their peers, usually behind the bike sheds.
So, when this strange man, who looked nothing like his father, 'forced himself' on Al-ahddin, claiming to be his long-lost uncle, buying him fine clothes and offering to finance him in a retail establishment, his first thought was the Arabic equivalent if 'Ai Ai, watch your arse, Al-ahddin. We've got a right weirdo here.' Nevertheless the boy wasn't actually averse to gifts of this quality though always aware that there is rarely, as they say, such a thing as a free lunch - and certainly not in Baghdad of the 10th Century.
So wary as ever, Al-ahddin pretended that uncle Abanazar was as he said he was but when he was asked to go on a short journey with him, said, "O uncle, are we to find premises for the fine shop which you have promised me?"
'Uncle' replied, "No, nephew, son of my brother's loins, first you must accompany me to a hidden location a little outside Baghdad to collect my treasure, of which I have a considerable amount. Only then can we make the purchases which will turn you from being a dirty little street Arab into a prosperous young upwardly mobile entrepreneur." (I translate freely of course.)
"OK," said Al-ahddin," though all sorts of alarm signals were going off in his mind. He would have asked his mother her advice but knowing she was little more than a transvestite who only showed a spark of intelligence when money was concerned, he decided there was little point.
So, the following morning they set off through the bustling streets of Baghdad where the street boys waived at Al-ahddin and asked him where he was going.
"To make my fortune," said Al-ahddin as he and his 'uncle' waded through the dust.
"Watch your arse," said the street boys. "Remember you only lose your cherry once."
They spoke in a sort of street patois which was so unlike elegant Arabic that 'uncle' Abanazar didn't understand.
The warm sun of morning gave way to the burning sun of midday before they reached the outskirts of the city and were faced with the desiccated countryside where only the banks of the river Euphrates produced any greenery. Abanazar though stood for a few moments at the last house and then set off west towards a low ridge of rocks some miles away.
Now, Best Beloved, this is NOT a good thing to do, to go off with a strange man out into a hostile country, so, if ever such a situation arises, make sure that you never behave as stupidly as Al-ahddin, On the other hand 'you have to speculate to accumulate' and 'you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs' so take your pick from these traditional sayings and decide yourself whether Al-ahddin was being stupid or just very canny.
Anyway by this time our two travellers had reached the rocks. Soon, Abanazar stopped at what looked like little more than a crack in a rock face. "In there," he said, "you will find wealth beyond dreams of avarice" (as nice Dr. Johnson has it - though he wasn't the first).
Wily Al-ahddin looked at Uncle Abanazar. "Why can't you do it?" he asked, knowing full well the answer.
"As you see," said Abanazar, "I am a grown man. I cannot even squeeze my thigh into the crack."
At last Al-ahddin realised why he had been chosen, though he wasn't exactly reassured. The inside of the cave (what he could see of it as the opening was very narrow) looked dark and forbidding. Various weedy looking plants, leaves spotted and shrivelled from the heat, grew around the opening. Whether it was the desert breeze or something else, but a thin, reedy sound issued from the interior, hesitant as if it had difficulty breathing. Not a most salubrious place at all, O Best Beloved.
Al-ahddin drew back. "I'm not sure I want to," he said. If he had yet another fault, as well as the ones I've already mentioned, he tended to whine a bit when he didn't feel himself entirely in control.
"Jewels, priceless gold ornaments, fantastically carved ivory, rubies the size of pigeons' eggs, emeralds, sapphires, silver pieces of eight," said Abanazar somewhat anachronistically. "And all yours, yours for the fetching. Who could resist?"
"What about you?" asked Al-ahddin suspiciously. "What do you want?"
"Just a lamp. A plain, ordinary, slightly dented oil lamp. That's all I want while you, can have more wealth than the Sultan."
It sounded a good proposition and, at the moment, Al-ahddin couldn't see the flaw. As long as there wasn't something nasty hiding in the crevice, what could he lose?
"OK," he said and slipped inside.
"Just the lamp," came Abanazar's voice, from outside. "That's all I want."
It was obviously dark inside after the bright sunlight of the desert and Al-ahddin paused to allow his eyes to accustom. There didn't seem to be anything venomous immediately in front of him so he took a few more paces.
"Don't be frightened," came the voice from behind him. "Just the lamp."
But it became darker with every step Al-ahddin took and he wondered how on earth he was supposed to find this lamp, as well as all these priceless jewels without a light. He was about to turn back and tell Abanazar his problem when he noticed, further down the cave, a light, a sort of phosphorescence, green and glowing from what appeared to be the very walls of the grotto itself. He went forward and, as he did so, the glow increased in intensity, the fissure broadened out, the ceiling becoming high, the walls widening until he was in a great cavern. The floor, walls and ceiling was covered with coloured jewels, the richness of crimson rubies, pools of green emeralds, a sky of blue amethysts, and the star flashes of white diamonds. Piles of amber, carnelian, citrine, garnet, hematite. Heaps of jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, moonstone. Mounds of onyx, opal, pearl, peridot, rose quartz, turquoise. Bracelets, earrings, necklaces, bangles, rings, brooches, crowns, coronets, sceptres, orbs lay around as if cast aside by someone who considered them of no worth.
A Sultan's hoard, indeed. No, more than that, the combined treasure of all the Kings and Emperors of the world gathered into this one space for Al-ahddin could make out that the cavern went on as far as he could see and everywhere were piles and piles of glowing treasure.
He laughed, started to pick up the jewels that lay around him, filled his pockets. He should have brought sacks. Resourceful as ever, though, he took of his baggy trousers, tied the legs into knots and filled them, removed his socks and poured jewels into them until they bulged. Even stuffed more gems into his underpants so that they nestled coldly next to his own, so far unused, family jewels. His turban, that would hold more, He filled it and then, with his trousers and socks over his shoulder, his turban upended like a dish he made his way back along the passage, occasionally glancing back at the uncountable wealth he would have to leave behind.
The entrance, and exit, from the cave was a narrow slit of light, soon reached. His luggage though would make it difficult to get back so he called out, "Uncle, give us a hand with these, will you."
Instantly Abanazar's hook nose appeared at the slit. "Where is the lamp? Give me the lamp."
"Don't worry about an old lamp," said Al-ahddin. "Look I have jewels. Help me out with them."
Abanazar's voice took on a steely tone. "Get me my lamp, you brat."
Al-ahddin recognised the tone of voice immediately. It was that of a desperate man. No longer the genial, present-giving 'uncle'. Here he was showing himself in his true colours and Al-ahddin didn't like what he heard. Abanazar wasn't interested in him or in his well-being, only in the lamp. Even if he went back and fetched it, there'd be no certainty that Abanazar would help him out. But he'd have to do something to try to resolve the stalemate.
"Help me out," he tried, "and I'll go back and get your lamp."
"Get the lamp and I'll help you out."
"Why is the lamp so important?"
"Just do as you're told, you ignorant little shit."
That was it. Al-ahddin wasn't going to trust him at all. "No," he said.
At that Abanazar really lost his cool. "Right, you little bastard," he shouted. "Then stay there for ever." He raised his arms - Al-ahddin could see him through the crack - waved them around, muttered some words and there was a bang, a puff of smoke, the sound of a tumble of rocks and the slit through which Al-ahddin peered, disappeared.
He was imprisoned, richer than anyone else surely in the whole world, but with no way out.
Well, what do you think of that, O Best Beloved? I told you it was an unwise thing for a young boy to go off with an older man. Of course doing that doesn't often end up in a cave with all the treasures of the known world and no way out, but it can lead to problems, take my word for it.
Anyway, Al-ahddin felt a bit miffed. More than that he was terrified. He burst into tears, throwing down his jewels and sinking down onto the ground as he realised for the first time what the situation was. He sobbed his little heart out. Eventually, though, he put his turban back on - for decency's sake, and wandered back into the cavern just to see if there was a remote possibility that there was some other way out or at least something to eat. Of course there wasn't but he did find the lamp, tucked away behind a pile of useless gold ingots - approximate value some 25 million dinars, to him though in the present circumstances absolute zilch.
The lamp was old, slightly dented and looked as if it was made from somewhat inferior brass and Al-ahddin couldn't understand why Abanazar had made such a fuss about getting it. He shook it but there was no sound - not even any oil in it. It looked so shabby amongst all the riches around it that, almost without thinking, Al-ahddin unwound his turban and, with the end, began to polish it a little. At least if it shone it wouldn't look quite so out of place.
He had scarcely begun when - well, I guess you know what happened, the story after all is so well-known that it wouldn't surprise you to know that smoke started to pour out of the little spout, getting higher and higher and thicker and thicker and gradually forming a shape, the shape being that of - (you guessed it) a well-formed but completely naked man. Not sure that you actually expected that - and anyway this next bit gets a bit 'adult', O Best Beloved, so I think you should go away and have a diet Coke and a packet of crisps or something and come back when it's all over.
Coast clear? Right.
This djinn (for that's what he was) wasn't of course quite naked. What self-respecting genie comes out of his bottle (or his lamp for that matter) without his turban? It would have been most embarrassing. So, naked except for that, his skin was the most perfectly smooth, the shade of milky coffee. Al-ahddin who had been precipitated onto his bottom by the shock of the appearance of this apparition stared up. The djinn had his back to him. From the calcaneal tendons of his ankles Al-ahddin gazed upwards to an athletically-rounded gastrocnemius of the most perfect, past biceps femoris of the most flawless, and then was held enthralled by the most magnificent twin mosque domes of his gluteus maximus. How to describe? Sometimes even superlatives seem inadequate! (as nice Mr Vincent Price said in an eminently forgettable TV drama episode of 'the Snoop Sisters' with Helen Hayes.)
"Wow," said Al-ahddin. (Actually he said, 'Aferim', which is an Arabic expression of approval, like 'Choice') and hearing him, the djinn turned round.
"Double wow!" said Al-ahddin. Jutting out from the djinn's loins, from a verdant growth of bushy hair was the largest tree of regeneration Al-ahddin had ever seen, and below hung and swung his beautifully proportioned eggs of procreation,
Al-ahddin's own prick stirred. It must be remembered that Al-ahddin's trousers were still in the passage filled with jewellery and he was wearing only his underwear, inside which some other jewels suddenly found space constricted. He released them.
"Hey, dude," said the djinn. "I sure am horny. I've been in that lamp for a hundred years and my balls are sure full of unspent jism" You may be wondering what this magical creature, a spirit only just lower than the angels in Arabian myth, able to appear in human form and having supernatural influence over men, is doing, talking like a second-rate porn actor. Truth is he'd spent most of his time while he was imprisoned in the lamp watching just that sort of movie. And no, I'm not sure how that was possible - possibly mail order.
All of a sudden it crossed Al-ahddin's mind that it might be interesting (and perhaps even more so) to rub that part of the djinn's anatomy which was standing so proudly in front of him. Rubbing the lamp had produced the djinn; what could rubbing this produce?
Tentatively he reached out his hands and grabbed hold of it, feeling the hard inner core, the soft external skin which moved so freely up and down as if oiled.
"Mmmmmm," murmured the djinn, reverting to his native Arabic, then suddenly a tad suspicious, "How old are you, boy?"
"Sixteen," said Al-ahddin, and, as we know, that's adulthood in all civilised parts of the world.
"That's all right, then, Carry on."
Oh, you're back are you, O Best Beloved, then I'll have to be a bit less explicit. What happened next, you see, was very interesting and resulted in a cry of astonishment from Al-ahddin and a shout of ecstasy from the djinn. Body fluids were also exchanged and later they got down to some real intriguing stuff, where tongues, fingers and penetration were involved. This caused Al-ahddin a bit of pain but not as much as he'd expected, seeing the size of the djinn's member and where, after a bit of persuasion, he put it. But where supernatural characters are concerned the normal reactions can be modified. It scarcely hurt at all. Anyway mutual satisfaction was eventually achieved and they sat down afterwards, the djinn producing a hookah which he puffed at contentedly even allowing Al-ahddin a couple of puffs. Actually this made him cough which he didn't like too much but it did at least make him feel grown up.
At last the djinn turned to him and said, "Forgot to mention it but, letting me out of the lamp, means that I am your servant and will do anything you ask for, free, gratis and for nothing. And if you're not averse to a bit of rumpty-tumpty from time to time, I'll extend the normal limit of three wishes to an unlimited amount - subject to contract, of course."
"Do you mean magic?" asked Al-ahddin, who, for all his streetwise attitude, was still a bit ingenuous.
"Sure," said the djinn. "What do you want?"
Al-ahddin looked down at his thin, little boy body, on which his underpants hung in such a depressed fashion. "I'm such a wimp," he said. "If only I looked a bit more like you."
The djinn waved his hands, muttered something under his breath and . . .
. . . it was as if he had been on an instant course of steroids, biceps bulged, pectoral muscles projected, recti abdominis (his six-pack) ridged and firmed. He grew six inches in height and put on twenty-eight pounds in weight, and all in perfect proportion.
"Wow," said Al-ahddin.
The only thing that didn't appear to grow was the size of his prick. "Hmmm," said the djinn. "If you're thinking of putting that where I think you are, then that stays the same. We djinns have tender backsides." And Al-ahddin had to be satisfied with his own length, which, if the truth be known, O Best Beloved, wasn't inconsiderable.
He got up and strutted around on the jewel-strewn floor. "I guess my old clothes won't fit me now," he said.
"Your wish is my command," said the djinn and instantly Al-ahddin was arrayed in the finest silks, richly ornamented with gems and encrusted with pearls.
"Wow," he said. "Just wait until they see me dressed like this . . ." and then it struck him. Wealthy he might be, beautifully dressed he was but he was still entombed in this cavern, the only exit blocked by tons of rubble.
His eyes filled, tears ran down his face. He sat down and wept.
"Now, now," said the djinn, "16 year-olds don't cry." (As nice Michael Gouda said in the title of one of his superbly written, erotically charged short stories.)
"But we can't get out," snivelled Al-ahddin, clearly unimpressed by the reference to the work of literature. "It's like you locked in that lamp. We're in the cave and there's no exit."
The djinn laughed, and the guffaw echoed around the walls and ceiling of the cavern. "No sweat," he said, again waved his arms and they were standing on the desert floor gazing at the rocky hill and the avalanche of stones that had blocked the entrance, this time much more comfortably from outside.
"Wow," said Al-ahddin. (OK, O Best Beloved, we'll have to stop the lad saying that but, at the moment, his vocabulary isn't all that extensive. I'll work on it.)
Al-ahddin though had noticed a flaw. "Don't you think we ought to have the lamp," he said.
"Good thinking, Humphrey," said the djinn, disappeared and a moment later was back holding the lamp.
"And perhaps some of those nice jewels . . ."
The djinn disappeared, reappeared.
"In a bag," finished Al-ahddin.
The djinn sighed but complied, this time arriving with a sensible rucksack bulging with richness.
"Oh, by the way," said Al-ahddin, "my name's Al-ahddin."
"To me," said the djinn, "you are 'Master' - with all that that implies. And I am your slave. Unless," he added with a smile, "we wish to turn the tables from time to time. Vary the format as it were."
Well, O Best Beloved, thus ends the first part of the adventures of Al-ahddin. As you can see he's on the way up, rich and with a slave who can do anything. Admittedly he's probably made an enemy of the other 'magic' character, Abanazar, which is on the debit side - but who knows.
There is a part of old Baghdad which teems with beggars, itinerant workers, deadbeats, paupers, crooks, estate agents, journalists, politicians, shysters, ne'er-do-wells, nimsters and vagabonds - people of no worth at all. They live in shacks and make a living, if living you can call it, as parasites on the remainder of the good people. Their disappearance, therefore, caused no great loss or indeed much discussion, except that the city seemed a little cleaner, a little less corrupt (especially in the case of the politicians).
What now stood in that particular district's place was a palace of the most glorious kind. Minaret style towers soared into the air, perfumed gardens carpeted the courtyards, slender pillars supported the most delicate of oriental arches and everything built of the whitest marble. Cloves, cinnamon and dates perfumed the air or sweetened the tongue. Everywhere was the sound of plashing fountains from the various water features, and the music of lyre and harp coming from who knows where for there were no players ever visible.
People of course could not help but notice this strange metamorphosis but being Baghdadians, accustomed to flying carpets, genies in bottles, miraculous events, understood that magic was all around them and just nodded sagely and muttered, "It is the will of Allah."
What it actually was, in fact, was Al-ahddin's new home, built or transported there by his friendly djinn. Widow Twankey and her/his fancy man, Wun Hung Lo (No, O Best Beloved it isn't funny at all now) inhabited the secluded harem or sealed off area, sort of like a granny flat, and were indeed most happy there.
Al-ahddin and the djinn occupied other parts. Actually the djinn had become attached to his lamp so, when he wasn't actually fulfilling Al-ahddin's wishes (or participating in Al-ahddin's desires) he disappeared into his lamp and slept there. "Can't seem to get used to feather down mattresses," he complained after Al-ahddin and he had performed some singular athletic-style sexual feats and were cuddled up together. So Al-ahddin spent his night's more or less alone.
The djinn had instructed Al-ahddin in the various arts of love, both active and passive and taught him how every part of the body can be used as an erogenous zone and how for instance putting together just two parts (say the ear and the large toe) can produce the most fabulous frissons of ecstasy.
A sexual relationship with a supernatural being, though, is different from sex with another human - so they say. I must admit that I've never had the pleasure - or pain - of experiencing it myself. Certainly Al-ahddin, after the initial excitement was over, found the djinn in a way unsatisfactory. He/it had existed so long, had had so many lovers of all persuasions, that often he was quite blasé about the whole thing. The act was exciting but there wasn't much afterwards, little fore/post play and certainly no cuddling when Al-ahddin didn't quite feel up to full-blown sex and just wanted a bit of affection. "I think I'll go back to my lamp," the djinn would say, "if there isn't anything you really want, O Master."
There was of course though it seemed the djinn couldn't provide it so on occasions like these, Al-ahddin would sigh.
Of course the solution was obvious. All he had to say was, 'Bring me a young man who will love me in the way I can love him,' and that would be that. But Al-ahddin was reluctant to express such a wish. Could the djinn's feelings be hurt? It wouldn't be a good idea to upset this most powerful of creatures.
So often, after the djinn had retired to his lamp, Al-ahddin would wander around the empty rooms of the palace and hear his 'mother' and Wun Hung Lo laughing, They really seem to have got it on together - considering. Considering what, you might ask. Considering that 'she' is a cross-dressing, 14 stone pantomime dame and he is a comedian of the old school who had been booed off the stage more times than most of us have had hot sex. Good luck to them I say.
But it seemed that they made good companions and Al-ahddin was envious, He'd see Twankey, doing a little light dusting round the palace. Completely unnecessarily of course because, whatever magic substance the building and all its furnishings were made of, everything repelled dust and grime and dirt. Wun would be with her and often they'd be holding hands, or at least smiling broadly. Makes yer sick, dunnit?
Life, therefore, proceeded at its own pace, uninterrupted by wars or rumours of wars (as nice St Matthew said) and Al-ahddin took to wandering outside in the streets of the bazaars, in the cafes where merchants smoked hookahs and made deals, in the alleys where less reputable deals were planned by honest crooks, through souks, where traders tried to sell him souvenirs, and steam-laden hammams where fat masseurs offered to give him massages.
Occasionally he would see some of his former street companions, still pursuing their pickpocketing ways, but he was never recognised - except as a potential victim, for who would associate this well set up young man, dressed in costly clothes and with the air of a nobleman with cheeky little Al-ahddin, the runt of Baghdad? Sometimes passers-by gave him sideways looks but they were mostly elderly and Al-ahddin wasn't interested and always returned to his palace feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Perhaps tomorrow, he would think, tomorrow something would turn up.
And then there was a tomorrow when something did - and it was disaster. After wandering round the city all day, he returned to find - nothing. The palace had disappeared. In its place was a space filled with the flattened remains of the hovels which had stood there before, amongst which several former inhabitants wandered in a vaguely depressed fashion.
Where was the palace? Where were Widow Twankey and Wun Hung Lo? Most important - where was the lamp?
What had happened, for those who don't know the story, was that Twankey had been doing her ritual dusting and had come across the lamp. Old, slightly battered, it stood out as an eyesore amongst all the beautiful furniture, ceramics, silks, satins and jewels. At the same time - coincidence maybe but these things happen - even in real life, through the window came the sound of an itinerant trader. "New lamps for old! New lamps for old! Bring out the old, take back the new!"
It was of course, not that Twankey was to know, Abanazar - she didn't even recognise him when she saw him as he'd disguised himself with a long beard. After he'd recovered from his hissy fit, he'd gone back to the cavern, removed the rocks with a spell and called out for Al-ahddin. There was of course no answer and Abanazar realised that the boy had somehow escaped, and the only way that was possible, had to be via the Genie of the Lamp. So, ever since, he'd been wandering round Baghdad with his seductive cry. And Twankey had fallen for it. She'd rushed out with the old lamp and in exchange received a gleaming new one.
Abanazar had recognised it immediately and as soon as he laid hold of it and Twankey had returned inside, rubbed it and of course released the djinn who was now his slave.
"Remove the palace," ordered Abanazar. The djinn was forced to obey whether willingly or not. Al-ahddin's fine palace disappeared, together with the inhabitants, thus revealing the scene that Al-ahddin found on his return.
Foe a while he stared aghast. not understanding what had happened. He asked a few of the people wandering around but they were equally at a loss. "I've lived here for ages," said one, "and suddenly everything has collapsed. Has there been an earthquake?"
Obviously the months during which the palace had stood on the site had passed the previous inhabitants by - such is the power of magic, O Best Beloved. For them it had been Nothing but a magic shadow-show, (as nice Mr Fitzgerald said - in the Rubaiyat of course).
It's an odd thing about Fate (that's fate with a capital 'F') that she rarely arranges things to happen at the right time. For example, up to the time when everything went pear-shaped and his palace disappeared, and with it all his wealth and standing, Al-ahddin hadn't found anyone who really appealed to him. Now, when he was rapidly going downhill, his clothes dishevelled and looking the worse for wear, he came across a young man.
It happened in this wise (as nice Richard Burton - the explorer, and translator of the 'Arabian Nights' Tales', not the actor - was wont to say in his rather old-fashioned way).
Ever since Al-ahddin's dreadful loss, he had been wandering round Baghdad looking in vain for a clue to his lost palace. He had no money and had been forced to sell his rich cloak, a shirt of finest silk, trousers with gold embroidery round waist and ankles, so that, apart from being taller and broader, he was very like the young ragamuffin we met at the start of this fable.
One day, some three weeks after the disaster, when Al-ahddin had been reduced to begging or picking the pockets of people he passed in the street - his skills had not deserted him - he noticed a young man walking towards him. the thin, pale face, the brown eyes under the curved eyebrows, eyes which showed so much sadness.
The young man looked and, for a moment caught Al-ahddin's gaze before looking away. They passed without any exchange of words. Al-ahddin watched the young man's back as he walked away, his body slim and elegant, his hips moving easily, athletically with the cloth of his trousers, tight over the buttocks, baggy round the ankles, his shoulders, broad, his waist, narrow.
There must have been many similarly handsome young men in Baghdad but there was something about this particular one and Al-ahddin was caught. Perhaps it was the sadness in his eyes, perhaps it was because he looked as lost as Al-ahddin himself (or perhaps it was the pertness of his bottom. No, O Best Beloved, that's MUCH too shallow.). Anyway, almost as if he was under a spell, he followed the young man keeping a respectable distance between them. Eventually the young man reached a part of Baghdad which Al-Ahddin knew, was not of the safest. You roamed into its dark extremities there at your peril. But the young man didn't hesitate and soon he was wandering around its tortuous streets.
Eventually the inevitable happened. Suddenly three roughly attired desperadoes appeared from the shadows waving knives and muttering threats unless they were immediately given all his money. Yes, even in those far off days, people got mugged. The young man, backed against a wall, looked completely bewildered. Without thinking Al-ahddin gave a great shout and leapt at the nearest villain. He turned, startled, and Al-ahddin, well-versed in the streetwise arts of fighting, kicked him squarely in the bollocks. The villain crumpled, holding himself and the remaining two turned also, which gave the young man the opportunity to himself punch the nearest one in the kidneys. Two down, one to go. In fact, seeing he was now outnumbered, the last desperado took off, and was soon lost in the maze of streets.
"Well," said Al-ahddin, "That was short and sweet."
"Short indeed," said the young man, "but without your help, it would hardly have been sweet for me. I am indebted to you."
"My name is Al-ahddin bin Mustafa," said Al-ahddin.
"And mine - er -Abdul bin Hassan." But there was the slightest of hesitations before the name which made Al-Ahddin sure that this wasn't his true name. But his thanks were genuine enough. He grasped Al-Ahddin and pressed his body to his and for the briefest of nanoseconds (delicious moment) Al-Ahddin felt the other's manhood against his though separated of course by Abdul's finest silk trousers and Al-ahddin's own threadbare pair. Then Abdul (for such we must call him, at least for the time being) released him.
"Can we not find a tavern?" asked Abdul, "and there drink a flask of wine in celebration of my escape. I don't know this area though."
"But I do," said Al-Ahddin, "for near here I was born and my mother kept a laundry just round the corner."
Now you may be wondering, O Best Beloved, how these good Arab boys, Muslim certainly, could so calmly talk of wine, which, as we all know is forbidden to the faithful. But in olden times this was not so. Doesn't the nice Mr Omar Khayyam talk of 'a loaf of bread beneath the bough, a flask of wine, a book of verse - and thou - beside me singing in the wilderness, and wilderness is Paradise enow.' Yes he does - at least in the Fitzgerald translation. How and why the culture changed I do not know, but anyway Abdul and Al-Ahddin went in search of a tavern and soon found one.
It was a rough and ready place, just low benches and coarse wooden tables but the wine was passable and the two got on well together, the wine gradually lubricating their inhibitions until each was prepared to give away secrets to the other.
"Dear Al-Ahddin," said Abdul. "I must tell you that Abdul bin Hassan is not my real name." (There, what did I tell you?)
And Al-Ahddin said, "I never thought it was. So who are you?"
And Abdul said, "I am the son of the Sultan of Baghdad and my name is Prince Mahmoud bin Shahriyar al Jura." (There were a few more names but that's enough to be going on with.)
Well, that was quite a facer for Al-Ahddin who, while being a bit suspicious of the young man, had never been anywhere near guessing the truth. Nevertheless he wanted to find out more so he asked, "And what was your Majesty doing roaming the most dissolute parts of Baghdad without even an attendant to watch your back?"
"I was so miserable that I didn't really care what I was doing," said Abdul (no, dammit, his name's Mahmoud. I must get these things straight.)
Al-Ahddin looked at him with affection and laid his hand on Mahmoud's which was lying on the table (and Mahmoud didn't draw it away). "And why were you so miserable?" he asked.
"Alas. My father demands that I marry a Princess and produce a son so that the line of inheritance can be carried on . . ." He paused.
"And," encouraged Al-Ahddin.
"And, I'm afraid my desires are not that way inclined," said Mahmoud, and blushed. His problem has been the same for other rulers down the ages - Gay Monarchs in England like William Rufus, Richard I, James I etc. who also put a brave front on their marriage and indeed gave their wives progeny although their apparent real attraction was to young men.
But Al-Ahddin was overjoyed though he did realise that getting a Prince as a trick and hoping that it would lead to a stable and fulfilling relationship might cause problems. He grasped Mahmoud's hand even more firmly and felt his legs underneath the table brush Mahmoud's, then caught one between his so that left and right knees of each were only inches away from their warm and rapidly becoming tumescent groins.
"And what of you?" asked Mahmoud. "What is your story?"
"I was poor, then became rich and am now poor again." And he told him the story of the uncle and the djinn and the disappearing palace.
"That's even better than mine," said Mahmoud and, with his free hand he felt under the table for the scarcely covered fork between Al-ahddin's legs (so threadbare had his covering become) encountering a rigid prick which he lovingly clasped. "And so is that," he said.
So Al-Ahddin responded in like manner and found an equally erect staff. "Wow," he said (reverting to normal. I tried, really I did.). "I know where I'd like to put that,"
Then the Prince and his bit of rough trade (for so it could be described) walked back hand in hand through the souks and market places and haunts of vagabonds and thieves to the Sultan's palace. No one thought anything of this, for in many Middle and Far Eastern countries, walking with hands clasped is seen to be a sign of friendship and no one thinks ill of it.
It was night time now, one of those dark velvet Persian nights, rich and scented (Yes, I know we've changed countries now, but don't upset yourself.) At the Sultan's palace, Mahmoud unlocked a small postern gate in the back wall and the two slipped through into a courtyard where a fountain played, and from there into a bedroom. hung with silk and satin drapes. I know that makes it sound like a rather girlie room but it's supposed to be exotic and Eastern. Not that Al-ahddin had any complaints. He flung himself onto the bed and, lying on his back, held out his arms to Mahmoud. "My Prince," he murmured, sounding like a Barbara Cartland heroine.
Mahmoud wasn't fazed at all. He launched himself into the air, blocking the starlight which shone through the window embrasures. He landed on Al-ahddin's body, warm and accepting, and nuzzled, like a young puppy at his throat. Mahmoud was laughing delightedly.
Al-ahddin lay there passively while Mahmoud rubbed his body and tickled him around the waist so that Al-ahddin was forced to squirm and respond. He could feel the Prince's cock, hard and thrusting, against his stomach and knew that his was erect as well. Mahmoud could not keep still. Like a young animal he worried and played with Al-ahddin uttering little whimpers of enjoyment. Al-ahddin's threadbare trousers were torn off and Mahmoud's more substantial clothing also disappeared.
Mahmoud seemed to be everywhere. First his head was under Al-ahddin's arms and he felt a tongue licking the bushy hair, then in an instant the Prince's head lay on his stomach and his teeth were gently nibbling at his skin. Meanwhile one hand was on his chest, the fingers playing with his right nipple while the other hand crawled up the inside of his thigh until it reached just below his scrotum. Al-ahddin was entranced; it was as if he were in bed with at least three people. He tried to respond by grabbing hold of him but Mahmoud would not allow himself to be caught, first rolling aside and then almost immediately rolling back to mould to his body all the way down, lips kissing his, chest and stomach joined, Al-ahddin's legs under Mahmoud's, Al-ahddin's cock imprisoned - happy captive - in the moist fork between his lover's legs.
Now Mahmoud was quiet and still, his lips gently grazing and then the point of his tongue emerged, insistently probing inside Al-ahddin's, past his teeth, into the mouth and meeting the other tongue, tasting the saliva, joining the two tongues. It was as if this inspired a fresh urgency in the groin, each pushing against the other, Mahmoud's hands cupping Al-ahddin's buttocks, the middle finger of his right hand now exploring the deepness of the cleft until it found and entered the chrysanthemum flower. Al-ahddin gasped. Al-ahddin felt another finger inserted and both moving, enlarging the hole. He opened his legs and then raised his knees so that the access could be easier and the fingers probed deeper. Now Mahmoud's cock had found the cleft and Al-ahddin raised himself up even further, Mahmoud's body between his legs, his cock piercing the sphincter, sliding in, lubricated by its own clear juice.
Again there were little animal noises gradually rising to a crescendo of excited yelps and Al-ahddin pushed against him and felt the boy's tense body straining, the passion building up and then the orgasm pulse and pulse inside him. At the same time his own cock exploded and sent a rising arc of juice into the air. Mahmoud shuddered and collapsed onto him murmuring his name again and again.
They clutched each other.
And then pandemonium erupted.
Suddenly the room seemed to be full of lights and harsh voices. The two young men were held down by brawny Mamaluke guards carrying flaming torches and curved scimitars. At the doorway appeared a tall man wearing an embroidered cloak and sporting a large turban in which was set an emerald of considerable size. It was the Sultan Shahriyar. He stared at the two on the bed. Then he addressed Al-ahddin.
"This is treason," he said. "You raped my son."
"No, father," said Mahmoud. "If anything I raped him." He indicated the position they were both still in.
It was obvious that the Sultan was all for having Al-ahddin executed on the spot but Mahmoud, naked as he was, went onto his knees and pleaded for his life.
"Throw the dog out," ordered the Sultan, and, just as he was Al-ahddin was hurled out onto the dusty street where he crouched for a while wondering what to do, A moment later from the top of the wall fluttered a ragged garment, torn and dilapidated but just about recognisable as his trousers, Thankfully Al-ahddin put them on and, though there were embarrassing rents at most of the important places, wandered away into the night. Surely this was the worst it could get. He had lost everything and now even the Prince was unattainable.
Al-ahddin spent the rest of the night under a frangipani tree which managed to survive in the space between a carpet store and the wall of the local hammam (or bath house). Luckily it was a warm night for his covering, the much abused and torn trousers did little to cover him. He slept uneasily and when he did sleep he dreamed an odd dream. He was at the entrance to the cavern where Abanazar had taken him. Suddenly appearing was a djinn, but not the same one as that of the lamp whom of course Al-ahddin knew well. This one was thinner, not so gloriously developed but all the same looked powerfully supernatural. The djinn appeared to beckon him towards the fissure and then disappeared inside. Three times he dreamed the same dream between waking.
He woke to the cold light of dawn, hungry, bruised and wondering what the dream could mean. Passers-by started to walk the streets and Al-ahddin felt embarrassed by his near-nakedness. Some looked at him with horror and quickly looked away. Others though glanced at his all-too-apparently exposed flesh and seemed interested. Clearly he would have to move on or find himself either arrested or molested.
Trusting in Fate, which is sometimes a good thing to do, and at others fairly disastrous, Al-ahddin made his way, as unobtrusively as possible, through the town to the outskirts and the rocky ridge where the treasure cave was. He was surprised to find the blockage of stones (which if you remember Abanazar had called down by magic) no longer there. If you don't remember this, and Abanazar's subsequent return and removal of the rocks, you've obviously been skimming the story!
But, although Al-ahddin had been economising with the food over the past weeks and was quite thin, his increased stature, thanks to the lamp djinn's spell still made it impossible to wriggle inside as he had done when but a slip of a lad. He could get one leg inside, or one arm and that was all.
He sighed. The journey had been wasted. He would starve to death and that would be that. He fell to the ground, groaning with understandable self pity. This brought his head on a level with the entrance and he suddenly noticed that there appeared to be something lying on the ground not too far inside. It was bulky and had no definite shape and for a while Al-ahddin could not make out what it was. Then he realised. It was his old pair of trousers which he had used to carry the jewels and had discarded when he had gone back inside.
Could he reach them? His arm even fully outstretched was too short.
But, a branch from a stunted bush growing somewhat morosely in the poor desert soil increased his reach. Slowly he was able to drag the bundle with its precious cargo towards him until, with a cry of triumph, he grabbed hold and pulled them out. Jewels cascaded in a shimmering heap onto the ground and lying on top was a gold ring, plain and unadorned, but obviously of some value, so Al-ahddin, stuck it on his finger, picked up the trousers which, as they had belonged to him when he was nobbut a lad, were no use as coverings but sufficed to carry his load of precious stones.
His first stop was a cafe but, as he was so lewdly attired, he was chased out of there quickly, so he went to a money changer, presented a sapphire for which he received a hundred dinars. He knew he had been cheated but at the moment was not concerned, He went to a tailor and bought himself some elegant clothes. Then freshly attired he ate the first square meal he had had for some days, sat back in the sunshine and sighed contentedly.
Now, O Best Beloved, you may think that, his troubles being more or less over, that would be the end of the tale, but there are too many loose ends surely. There's the lost palace, the whereabouts of Twankey and Wun Hung Lo, indeed the existence of Abanazar and last, but definitely not least, Prince Mahmoud.
Al-ahddin was pondering these thoughts as he sat in the public gardens. His jewels were safely enclosed in a leather bag he had bought for the purpose. Next time he sold one he would make sure he wasn't going to be cheated.
Ruminatively he rubbed his hands together and, in doing so, must have included the ring on his finger. Suddenly a cloud of smoke appeared getting higher and higher and thicker and thicker and gradually forming a shape, the shape being that of - (you heard this before, haven't you?) a well-formed man, naked except for his turban. It was the djinn he had seen in his dreams.
"I am the Djinn of the Ring," he said. "Your wish is my command."
"Wow," said Al-ahddin, glancing uneasily around to see who was watching. "Er do you think you could put on some clothes. There's an elderly lady over there who seems to have fainted.
"No probs," said the djinn, and instantly was decently covered in a sort of khaki suit, his turban being replaced by a curious form of headgear with a brim from which a series of corks were suspended on strings.
"OK, cobber," said the djinn, whose appearance and even stranger mode of speech was causing even more interest than he had when he was naked.
"Perhaps," said Al-ahddin, "something more appropriate."
"Strewth," said the djinn, glancing around. "I see what you mean. I thought I was in Oz." (Not the Wizard of Oz, O Best Beloved, but that curious continent which goes by the name of Australia and hasn't been discovered yet. It will be in 1772, by nice Captain Cooke who eventually got speared for his troubles.)
Eventually things were sorted out and the djinn appeared in some rather fetching orange trousers, a gold embroidered waistcoat and a purple turban. He had absolutely no colour sense as you can see.
In fact he was about to disappear, going vaguely transparent at the edges, when Al-ahddin said, "Hey what about the wishes?"
"Sorry," said the djinn, coming into focus again. "What is your command, O Master?"
"I'd like my palace back again," said Al-ahddin, "and I guess my - er - mother Widow Twankey... oh and perhaps Wun Hung Lo."
At this, the djinn seemed to shrink a little. "My powers are wide," he said, "Unfortunately the Slave of the Lamp is more powerful than I, and I cannot overturn his commands."
"Bugger," said Al-ahddin. "So what can you do?"
Anything else," answered the djinn.
"Do you know where my palace is?" asked Al-ahddin.
"Indeed I do," said the djinn. "It is in a wild mountainous part of Africa where Abanazar the evil magician was born."
"Can you take me there?"
"Of course. Hold on to your hat. Let's go."
There was a sudden gust of wind which turned into a bluster and thence into a hurricane, a tornado and Al-ahddin found himself swept off his feet and then flying through the air, clutching his bag of jewels with one hand and his turban with the other to stop it blowing off. He saw below him from an aspect which no one had ever seen before (and no one was to for another 800 years) the delta where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates joined and flowed into the Persian Gulf. Then turning west he passed over Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria until he landed, windswept and out of breath, in the Mountains of the Moon in Morocco.
"Wow," he said, which I guess was the understatement of the century.
In front of him he could make out the minarets and domes, the towers and marble walls of a fine palace which he recognised. It was his own. In a rustle of flowing robes, the Djinn of the Ring arrived beside him.
"Whew," he said. "That took it out of me. Transportation is one of the hardest. Do you mind if we sat down for a while?" He puffed and panted.
"I'm not as heavy as a palace," objected Al-ahddin.
The Djinn sulked.
"Sorry," said Al-ahddin. "Right, How do I get in?"
"You want me to transport you again?" asked the djinn.
"Not necessarily," said Al-ahddin. "Just tell me if Abanazar is inside, and, if he isn't, how I can get inside without setting off burglar alarms etc."
The djinn appeared to ponder a little, putting his fingers to his forehead in a contemplative gesture. "You're in luck," he said eventually. "Abanazar is out in Marrakech, but there are two people inside. One is a large woman who looks like a man in drag, and the other is a fat man who appears to be in love with her."
"That's my mother and her boyfriend," said Al-ahddin.
"And I'm the Queen of the Fairies."
But Al-ahddin was off towards the main entrance and the puff of smoke had to hurry to catch up with his ring finger.
He knocked on the door, then, as there was no answer, knocked again. From inside he heard whispers so he called out. "Mother, it's me. Al-ahddin. Let me in."
The door opened and Twankey stood there, dressed in a rather grubby maid's outfit, her hair in a mess. Behind her stood Wun Hung Lo, also dressed as a servant. He held a feather duster in his hand and had cobwebs in his hair.
"Al-ahddin," said Twankey, "My son. Have you come to rescue us?"
"I hope so," said Al-ahddin.
They went in and Twankey explained the situation. Apparently Abanazar held them prisoner, not in chains or anything, but there was just nowhere they could go as the palace was surrounded by unclimbable mountains. Abanazar had removed the spell on the furnishings so that Twankey and Wun Hung Lo, instead of just feathering away non-existent dust, now really had to clean and scrub, polish and wash. "Look at my hands," she complained showing how red and raw they were.
"And we have to cook for the evil magician," complained Wun Hung Lo. "And all we wants to eat is shepherd's pie. My genius is brought low."
"I didn't know you were a cook," said Al-ahddin.
"Blue Riband," said Wun Hung Lo.
This though had given Al-ahddin an idea. "Where is the lamp?" he asked.
"Abanazar keeps it always in his bosom," said Twankey.
"Right," said Al-ahddin. "We must get it off him."
"Kill him," said Al-ahddin.
"AAAiiieeee," shrieked Twankey. "That is impossible. He is all-powerful."
"We must do it by stealth," said Al-ahddin. "We will use poison."
Now you must understand that Al-ahddin wasn't a bad lad but when faced by a despotic, evil enemy, he had to resort to the most extreme methods.
"We don't have any poison," said Twankey. "Look around the palace, There is nothing we can use growing. All is barren, just rock and sand. No wolfsbane, no hellebore, no deadly nightshade, no yew berries."
"But I have a ring," said Al-ahddin, and rubbed it.
Instantly the djinn appeared.
"We want some poison," said Al-ahddin. "Fast acting, untraceable, perhaps one which doesn't cause too much agony in the recipient."
Now I didn't invent this part of the story - it's in the original so I hope you'll forgive Al-ahddin and the other conspirators. As nice Mr Oscar Wilde said, 'The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.'
"OK," said the djinn and produced a green glass bottle.
"I'll put it in the shepherd's pie," said Wun Hung Lo.
"You'd better hurry," said the djinn. "Abanazar's on his way back, and he's travelling fast.
Everyone disappeared, the djinn to his ring, Al-ahddin behind one of the richly embroidered tapestries on the wall, Twankey and Wun Hung Lo to the kitchen.
Al-ahddin could see through a worn part of the tapestry where Twankey had been too industrious in her cleaning, Abanazar's arrival. He came in a flurry of swirling clothes, curling his evil moustaches as any good villain should. One almost expected a chorus of children's voices from the audience to shriek, 'He's behind you', but of course that would happen in another place, another time.
"Food," roared Abanazar, after he'd regained his breath.
Twankey and Wun Hung Lo came in carrying an enormous pot of shepherd's pie, the tenderest meat and gravy beneath, the softest, creamiest mashed potato on top, browned to perfection. They placed it on the table and Abanazar sat. Wun Hung Lo dished out a substantial helping onto a golden plate and put it before Abanazar.
Of course there was an obligatory pause while everyone wonders if Abanazar will suspect or if Al-ahddin will reveal his hiding place by a sneeze caused by the dust in the tapestry, or if Twankey's hysteria will suddenly become uncontrollable.
The more observant of my readers will have noticed that I've suddenly dropped into the present tense. This is a literary device to give the story more immediacy, as if it is happening now, at this very moment, rather than in some vague, unspecified time in the past.
There is silence. The room waits. There is more silence.
Then Abanazar begins shovelling the food into his mouth. One mouthful, two, three, four, five.
There is another pregnant pause. Will the poison work? Has something gone wrong?
Abanazar gives a cry and falls face down onto his plate. Everyone cheers. Al-ahddin cones out from his hiding place and feels down Abanazar's shirt. He produces the lamp and rubs it ecstatically.
Tension over, we can return to the past tense.
More smoke, and the djinn appeared looking grumpy. "What is your desire, O master," he began, then saw that it was Al-ahddin holding the lamp. "Oivey, Ali," he said, smiling. "My young fuck buddy. What a pleasant surprise. Come to bed."
"No time now," said Al-ahddin. "I want the whole palace taken back to Baghdad, for I have things to do there."
"Oh all right," said the djinn.
"And while you're doing that," said Twankey, "can you put back the spell that means I don't have to clean everything?"
"OK," said the djinn.
He folded his arms, looked magnificent and uttered the words of power. More smoke, a feeling of rapid motion, a slight bump, and looking out of the windows, they could see the familiar townscape of old Baghdad.
"Wow," said Al-ahddin.
Some time after Al-ahddin's palace returned to Baghdad and resumed its appearance in the district from which it had vanished and again the dissolute inhabitants were displaced, news came from the Sultan that a marriage had been arranged between Prince Mahmoud bin Shahriyar al Jura and Princess Badr al-Budur from a neighbouring kingdom. (The rumour was that the Sultan's country was in dire financial straits and that alliance with this neighbouring one (almost oozing with oil) would help considerably. Invitations were sent out to the richest nobles of the land and a holiday was announced for everyone else, except of course all those who had to work to make the wedding ceremonies a success. These included cooks, animal slaughterers, waiters, dressmakers, jewelers, guards, reporters, film makers, cleaners, sweepers, camel drivers, cake makers, TV and radio producers, fortune tellers, magicians, musicians etc., in fact about half the population who had to work and thus couldn't take advantage of the free holiday.
Because Al-ahddin was unknown, he was not invited so he asked the djinn of the ring to organise an invitation for all three of them which immediately arrived - ostentatiously inscribed in gold leaf on an ivory tablet, and with the punctuation marks provided by pearls. Obviously no expense had been spared.
Twankey demanded and got a new outfit, a cacophony of orange and pink. Wun Hung Lo decided on more sober colours though his suiting was of the finest Harris tweed. Al-ahddin dressed in black, his only jewel being the ring on his finger. He looked particularly sexy.
They made an interesting trio and the guards at the door of the Sultan's palace, one of whom Al-ahddin recognised as being of the group that had thrown him out of the Prince's bedchamber, were immediately suspicious. They advanced, scimitars drawn menacingly but when they saw the invitation, one of those sent out at the Sultan's own personal behest, they were immediately obsequiously polite, bowing and scraping the trio into the great hall where the celebrations were to take place.
The decorations were of the most splendid. Guards stood around at their most erect. Trumpeters held their instruments at exactly the correct angle. Silks and satins waved in the breeze. There was the scent of frankincense in the air and everywhere the glint of gold. The ladies nibbled on marshmallows and Turkish delight and sipped sherbet. Wines spouted from the fountains and hidden musicians played on the versatile (according to the guide books - though 'versatile' to me in this context means rather distressing wailing) one-string rababa violin and 'dalouka' (big drums).
At last the trumpets blasted out a fanfare and the Sultan appeared together with Prince Mahmoud and his Princess. Mahmoud looked pale though it was impossible to see what his bride to be looked like as she wore a long veil of thread of gold which entirely hid her face.
This was the moment Al-ahddin had been waiting for. He whispered commands and rubbed the ring. As far as anyone observing was concerned nothing happened, except that the young man in black suddenly disappeared and there was a short cry from the bride, immediately covered by a slight cough.
The ceremony proceeded, Mahmoud looking more and more miserable as the traditional routines were observed. Eventually the marriage vows were exchanged, the Prince's in a strained monotone, the Princess's in a hushed whisper which was almost too low to be heard by any except the nearest. The Prince looked as if he was about to faint when, entirely against tradition, his bride reached out and held his hand, whispering, though none but the Prince could hear. "Fear not, beloved Mahmoud. It is your Al-ahddin whom you have married."
The Prince swayed again though this time with scarcely believable joy, and the colour rushed back into his face so that he looked the happiest man in the world - well, apart from one other of course, though his face was still hidden by a veil.
'Crumbs,' Mahmoud thought, 'I wonder what Pa's going to say to this.' (Well, the equivalent in Arabic of course.)
The two went out arm in arm and some people thought, 'A good thing Mahmoud's got over his nerves', while others thought 'It looks like the Prince is in for a good night tonight.' 'Shouldn't we have seen the bride's face?' asked yet more. Little did they know, O Best Beloved.
Indeed that last was the question that was perplexing the Sultan. As soon as the three had retired to a private room, he demanded why Princess Badr al-Budur was still veiled. At that the bride removed her veil and revealed her face. Al-ahddin was smooth shaven but there was no way he could have been mistaken for a woman.
The Sultan gasped. "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am the 'dog' you threw naked out of your son's bed," said Al-ahddin. "I now seem to be your son or perhaps daughter in law."
The Sultan turned to his son. "But how is this possible? Where is the Princess Badr al-Budur? What do you know of this?"
"I am as surprised as you, Father, though infinitely more pleased."
They both looked at Al-ahddin who had now discarded his bride's outfit and stood before them in his dark clothes, looking slim and elegant. He remained silent.
"Have you nothing to say," asked the Sultan, "before I call the guards and have you executed?"
"Only that, if you do, you will be seen as the laughing stock of the whole Arab world. Only that you will forfeit the love and respect of your only son. Only that you will throw away the chance of refinancing our holy land."
The Sultan, who had looked dubious at the first two reasons, seemed more interested in the last. "What do you mean?" he asked.
Al-ahddin produced a small gold casket and handed it to the Sultan. He opened it and saw that there was a single jewel in the box. It was the finest ruby, as red as fire and glinting just as hotly. "It is beautiful indeed," said the Sultan, "but it will hardly save the country."
"Remove the jewel and close the lid," said Al-ahddin, "and then open it."
He did so and was amazed to find another jewel, this time a sapphire, as blue as the sky on a cloudless day and as large as a pigeon's egg.
"And again," said Al-ahddin. "Each time you will find a priceless jewel."
The Sultan amused himself opening the box, removing a jewel and shutting it again. Clearly he could go on doing this for ever. Suddenly he looked up. "Bur what about a son? Don't tell me that you two can produce an heir."
"There will be a son," promised Al-ahddin. "Take my word for it." (There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your somewhat limited philosophy, as nice Mr Shakespeare nearly said. - and of course Al-ahddin had the assistance of two extremely powerful djinns - but we won't go into the 'hows' at this moment.)
"But what shall we tell the country?" asked the Sultan.
Mahmoud spoke for the first time. "What about dividing the Sultanate into two parts and we ruling together?" he suggested. "You can adopt Al-ahddin as my brother, and we both are your heirs."
"And the Princess? How do explain away her non-appearance?"
Again they looked at Al-ahddin. "The Princess is at present in the harem playing chess with the Sultan's wives," said Al-ahddin. "Where she would be anyway if she had married the Prince. She is quite happy and you will still be allied to the riches of her country - if you need them." He referred of course to the growing pile of jewels that the casket was producing.
The Sultan weighed up the pros and cons. "It is the will of Allah," he decided pragmatically.
Prince Mahmoud and (newly created) Prince Al-ahddin retired to the marriage chamber where, O Best Beloved, we will leave them to enjoy their honeymoon.
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