A soldier of the Shaikh came to take me: he was an imposing man and I
felt small and frightened. We went out of the Masjid, crossed the square
in front of it and, driven by this man with a surly aspect, I was shown
inside the walls of the Shaikh's Palace, then taken to the court of the
guards barracks. Here I was entrusted to an official who inscribed my
data in a big logbook. Then I was taken to the dormitory where I was
assigned a place to sleep. After that I was entrusted to a guard so that
he could commence teaching me the rudimentary knowledge of weapons
handling and to explain to me the orders and signals I had to obey from
Within the year, the soldier explained me, the little Prince would be
taken to the Great Masjid to be circumcised. He would then become fully
a man and he would be declared Hereditary Prince. Before that day, the
squad of selected guards appointed to his person must be ready: they all
had to be young but skilled and trustworthy.
Besides me, there were many other youths that were trained so that the
guards could make their choice - only the best ones would constitute the
Prince's guards. The mediocre would become ordinary guards for service
on the wall, and the worst would be declared unfit and at most become
low level servants.
I immediately decided I had to distinguish myself, because I wanted at
all costs to become part of the personal guard of the young Prince. I
wouldn't have been satisfied with becoming a servant and much less to
find myself to be on the streets with neither skills nor share.
In that place we didn't spend our time reading, writing, discussing Al
Qur'an or disputing about the law, but we did mainly physical activities
and I enjoyed that. In the little free time, moreover, we were allowed
to jest and to play. I immediately liked this new life, even if it was
rather tough. My skill in climbing and my agility were at once
appreciated and praised, or better still I was pushed to perfect more
and more. I learned to handle the sabre, the bow and the lance. I was
taught horse-riding and I loved to execute acrobatic feats on a horse
running at full gallop. Soon I learned all the tricks and the rules of
fighting hand to hand, of horse riding and of weapon handling.
When the Guards Chief came to observe the progress of us last-arrived
boys and to do a first selection, I was in the two thirds that could
remain to continue their training. We received our first uniform and we
started to be placed on some of the duty shifts: we started from the
easiest one, from the less honoraries: I still had not had the chance to
enter into the second precinct, the one of the Official Palace, and less
than less into the third precinct, the Private Residence of the Shaikh
and his family. It could be amazing if I say that I had not yet seen the
Little Prince, but you should understand that he was still living in the
harem with his father's concubines and his mother, therefore it was
virtually impossible for us to see him. But amongst us young guards we
talked a lot about him, because everybody hoped to pass the second round
of tests and to become the selected ones.
Among the Shaikh's selected guards, there was a certain Ismail, a strong
and valorous man, that had a liking for me and that was for me more a
teacher and a guide than simply an older comrade. Every one of us young
had found among the selected guards a guide and a protector. That men,
besides teaching us many things, took us often in service with them to
train us, but above all they instilled in us the sense of honour, of
pride for our duty, the corps spirit. In exchange, we served to them
their food, we kept in order their belongings and performed for them
hundreds of small services in our free time to repay them, at least
partially, for the care they took of us. I was proud to have been chosen
by Ismail and he soon became my model to imitate. I dreamed to become
one day like him, big and powerful, selfconfident, strong and handsome,
passionate and proud. Sometimes, when I went with him to the hammam for
the bath, or in the evening when we were in the bed, he told me his
adventures and I literally learned from his lips.
"Remember, Nadim, you must always be ready to give your life for your
Lord. His life will be for you more precious than what you have most
precious, more than your own life. Your Lord will be for you more than
your father and your mother, more than a spouse, He will be the same as
Allah himself. You have to honour Him and serve Him all your life long,
doing always your best, or better, more than that," he often repeated to
I remember also that once he gave me an order and that I had tried to
discuss it because I didn't think it was right, he said to me with some
harshness and severity:
"I tell you now and I will not repeat it a second time, Nadim: a soldier
obeys orders and after, if there is time and a way, possibly discusses
them. At war, in danger, there is no worse enemy than discussion,
wavering, thinking about your orders. He who gives you orders, normally,
knows what you don't know and he has neither the time, nor the duty, to
explain to you. Do not ever forget that. And now, obey!"
These teachings of his have been precious, I never forgot them, as I
will never forget that mixture of tenderness and harshness Ismail used
with me. I am sure I owe him more than gratitude, as when the last
selection for the Selected Guard of the Prince was done, if I was one of
the elected - between them I wasn't one of the best, but neither one of
We were left in twenty four and were divided in four squads of six, each
squad with one of us as leader and a Selected Guard of the Shaikh as our
general chief. I had hoped that the Senior Guard, our chief, would be
Ismail, but instead was chosen Ali el Ramad, just ten years older than
us that were between fifteen and seventeen years old. He was the
protector of my squad leader, Habib, two years my elder, the son of a
New uniforms were made for us to distinguish us from the other guards,
as belonging to the Prince, then we were introduced to the Visir. This
man, after making a long speech and after examining us one after the
other, introduced us to the presence of the Shaikh. This was my first
time to see him close by: he was a man in the vigour of his years, tall
and lean, with a well trimmed short beard and sharp eyes like a hawk. He
was wearing brocade clothes and he had at his side a scimitar whose
sheath was scattered with beautiful gems.
The Shaikh said that he entrusted us with his son's life, to our swords
and to our lives and ordered us to protect him always and everywhere,
all our life long, with our own lives. We all took the oath, then we
were taken to another wing of the Palace that soon would be assigned to
the Prince as his private quarters.
They were just restructured rooms, really beautiful, shining of marble
and majolica, decorated with scented and rare woods, situated all around
a garden with a small fountain of white pure marble from which gushed
fresh crystal-like water that spouted day and night, never stopping, in
a sweet murmur. There were also two courtyards, one for the servants and
the other, wider, for us of the guard corps. They made us visit
carefully that wing of the Palace, in order that each of us would know
exactly where each door led and what were the places to be vigilant for
the safety of our Prince. We met all the persons that could have free
access to the Prince's quarters, from the servants to the dignitaries.
And at last we were received by our Little Prince who, in a few days,
would be circumcised and would be elevated to his rank and his quarters.
Prince Amin, may Allah always bless him, as I said was then near to
eleven. He was yet a proud boy, lean and elegant, really handsome and
had the manners and features of a real lord. His look was earnest and
straight, his voice firm and confident, and it was possible to foresee
in Him the abundance of gifts Allah had bestowed profusely upon him. I
was really proud to be at the service of such a Prince and in my heart I
swore that I would given my life for him if need be.
We started our duty waiting for the Prince to move into his quarters.
Those first days we kept watching on yet empty and silent rooms, besides
the coming and going of servants putting in order the last things in the
rooms so that all would be in order in the appointed time. We had at our
disposal four rooms to sleep, in six per room, a hall to eat and spend
our free time, a weapon room for weapons and training, a stable with
horses and a little hammam: all these rooms surrounded the training
courtyard. In my room, besides the boards with the six straw mattress,
there was also the bed of El Ramad, our chief.
Finally one day we were summoned, we were made to wear the new parade
uniforms, we were set in rows and columns (6x4) and we went in formation
to the Great Masjid where in a short the Prince would be brought for the
ceremony. He arrived: he was dressed all in white with marvellous jewels
adorning him, emeralds and diamonds, green and white as his banner, and
a soft white plume on his turban held in place by a big emerald. His
face was serious, perhaps also a little worried, for the imminent
ceremony and then I remembered my trouble following my circumcision
ceremony and I understood that perhaps he was feeling now the same
emotions I felt. But he proceeded proudly at the side of his father,
escorted by the Shaikh guards, between the two wings of the throng.
When everything was over and the Price went out, we went to escort him
and stood around him, while from the crowd gathered in front of the
Masjid rose a long, enthusiastic ovation. Then we escorted him to the
Palace, to the throne hall, where his father decorated him with the
kingdom's honours and proclaimed him his heir to all effects. At last we
escorted him to his new quarters. Before withdrawing to his rooms, the
Prince presented all of us with some gold coins.
I was in the first shift, so I was, together with Habib, on watch at the
Prince's room door. I was standing there, straight and solemn, all
intent on my duty. Our service consisted mainly to watch the doors, to
control who was entering or coming out, and to escort the Prince during
his movements around the palace.
With the other guards, little by little, had begun a certain familiarity
and also friendship. I liked Habib especially: he was a handsome and
strong boy, clever and quick witted and as our leader was really skilled
and able. I must confess that I was a little jealous of his familiarity
with El Ramad, but this did not prevent me from admiring and
appreciating him. Also because he didn't take profit of his position.
Amongst all our duties, the one I loved most was to horse-ride with
Prince Amin. He was learning to ride his horse and I must say that he
showed immediately a certain skill: under the guidance of able teachers
he trained also in weapon handling and sometimes he came in our yard to
train. So he would choose one of us and, under the watchful eye of his
master of arms he trained for hours. He was really tireless. When it was
me to be chosen for the Prince's training I was really proud of this
duty and I always did my best to accomplish it well. The Prince, besides
training to become a brave warrior, also regularly received lessons by
many teachers: of Al Qur'an, of Science and Arts. The most skilled
alchemists, astrologers, grammarians, mathematicians took care of the
Prince's training. Before now, in the harem, he had been always spoiled,
cuddled, let to play, but now he was subjected to an iron discipline and
had to train or to study all day long. Moreover, when his father had to
carry out official ceremonies, he had to be always at his side, in order
to learn to become a good sovereign. I did not envy the Prince's life:
he had almost no time to enjoy himself. Sometimes, after training with
us, he remained for a short moment to play some of our simple soldiers'
games. Then I could see a transformation - he became again, in some way,
a normal boy of his age. But soon he had to resume his role, so his face
became solemn, serious, grave and he was again like an adult. I watched
all those expressions passing across the face of the Prince, and often I
thought that, all things considered, I was lucky not to be in his place.
My life was much more simple but probably much more agreeable. It was
enough for me to obey my orders and I had no other worries. And I had
also time and way to enjoy myself.
Months elapsed and the Prince had his thirteenth birthday. As the time
flew, I saw him become more serious, more silent. His voice was
changing, his body was developing, adolescence was giving way to youth.
Little by little he lost completely the carefree and mischievous air he
had in the first days. I saw him smile less and less and it was a pity,
because his smile was very beautiful, bright, fresh like my mountain
air. Also he no longer stopped to play after training and exchanged less
and less words with us. And yet I have to admit that he never gave me
the impression that he was sad, partly because he received from his
father love, attention and regard: the Shaikh was in fact really proud
of his son and he had full reason to be.
I believe that in reality the Prince just was starting to feel alone, as
often happens to one who has to hold on his shoulders a heavy
responsibility. To be a sovereign, to prepare to become a sovereign, I
think is one of the heaviest burdens a man could have to bear. The more
important you are, the less you have friends, and without friends life
is really desolate. Yes, sometimes his contemporary relatives or the
sons of high court dignitaries came to visit him and to keep him
company, but I noticed that the Prince remained aloof from them - he had
with them a relation little more than formal. And more, he ate alone,
slept alone... he did not have my luck, to spend a great part of my day
with my contemporaries and my peers. But those were just my thoughts,
perhaps the Prince felt good that way...
The fourteenth birthday of the Prince came. On this occasion we of his
Guard performed for him a carousel on our horses, which we had prepared
for a long time. The Prince seemed to appreciate our efforts very much,
and that made us very proud.
A few weeks after that of the Prince, my birthday also came. That day,
not being on duty, I went to the Great Masjid to pray and to give my
thanks to Allah for keeping me in life for all those years. To thank
Allah for this, particularly on the day of my birth, was an old habit
learned from my father. I was praying in the sweet dim light of the holy
place, when the muazzim approached me:
"The Imam would like to talk to you. Would you please follow me?"
I went: from the day I became a Prince's guard, I had not had the
occasion to meet him in person and I was pleased to see him again and
that he remembered me. He greeted me and pointed out that I was grown up
and ripened from the last time he saw me. He talked for a long time and
every so often he asked me questions: as he was in habit of doing, some
seemed to me clear and logical, some others, instead, were absolutely
incomprehensible to me; but I was no more astounded for that. Yet at a
one point, he asked me a question that stunned me:
"And... tell me, Nadim, is it true that some of the Guards have commerce
"Commerce? What commerce? We all do the guard and that is all; we are
not allowed other kind of work..."
The old man shook his head and seemed amused, but resumed: "You all are
young, in the vigour of your age, and in the quarters of the Prince no
woman is allowed, not even amongst the servants, as is right. How do you
do to spend your virile, manly energies?"
I felt embarrassed but honestly answered: "I do not know for the
others... but I think they do as I do... When I am alone, at times, I
try to give myself relief with my hand..."
"Not, rather, mutually in the night? It would be easy, in the darkness,
to slip into a colleague's rug, of a faithful friend, to look for
reciprocal... relief, as you say, with the comrade. Is it not so?"
"I do not know. I do not think..."
"And yet a voice came to me that it happens. Think about it for a
moment, it is something of great importance..."
I thought for a long while, but did not succeed in remembering anything
that could be as the Imam was saying. I saw that the occasion could have
existed, and not only during the night but also in our hammam for
instance, where at times we were just in pairs and for a sufficiently
long time and where we were practically nude... I sometime enjoyed
seeing the bodies of some of my companions and indeed I tried to go to
take my bath so that it could be with those of my comrades with more
well shaped, pleasurable bodies... But I never caught anybody in an
intimate attitude and neither had the faintest suspicion. So quietly I
said that to the old man. He listened to me then said:
"Better that way. I hope you are right. Watch so nothing happens: the
Prince must grow in a serene ambience... Male has to couple with female:
for that, Allah created two sexes. Nevertheless there are not a few
males having commerce between males. If it happens that you succeed in
discovering that this happens also amongst the Prince's Guards, you must
come here and tell me, and tell me also their names! You promise me that
you will do so if it happens? Will you come and tell me?"
I nodded yes. Then the Imam changed the subject. After a while he
dismissed me, giving me his best wishes. I went back from that meeting
with the idea in my head - all things considered, what the Imam was
suspecting could also be true, occasions were absolutely not lacking. I
started to think about the relationship between El Ramad and my group
leader Habib. Sometimes they withdrew... and they had a very close
relationship, very friendly, even intimate... But such relations had
existed also between me and Ismail and nevertheless we certainly did not
have sex, we two.
In the following days I paid attention and realized that indeed the
occasions were not lacking. I started to notice that amongst my comrades
there existed some steady couples, but it could have been just a strong
friendship... People always think ill about something, perhaps even the
Imam? There is nothing wrong with being intimate friends, to feel well,
to be close together. And then, if two close friends felt the need to
demonstrate reciprocal friendship in that way, why did the Imam care
about it? What menace would they ever constitute for the Prince? I
really could not understand it. So, after a while, I did not think any
more about that problem that, in my opinion, a problem was not.