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The Teller of Tales
ABU NUWAS SHADED HIS EYES and checked the position of the sun as it crept nearer the roof of the building across the street. The lower edge had yet to touch the peak. He sighed. Another hour at least before he could gather his sign and offering cup and wrap them in his rug.
This day had dragged more than usual. While the bazaar’s crowds buzzed around the merchant booths, none had stopped to read his sign, “Tales Well Told” and “One Drachma” on the next line. He considered if his price was too dear. Perhaps, he shouldn’t specify a price. Of course, he always told a tale no matter what the customer could offer, a piece of fruit or a slice of bread. He fondly recalled the young spice seller, Najda, paying with packets of spice to hear the tales of an adventurous young woman named Setara and her not-so-helpful genie, Basit.
He glanced at his cup and give it a gentle poke. No jingle of coins greeted him. He wouldn’t mind if some harried young mother offered him an orange to entertain a restless child with a short fable. He could always delve into the tales told by the venerable Scheherazade who stayed the hand of the murderous prince by leaving the man hanging in the midst of a story. Night after night, up to 1001, she kept her head securely upon her shoulders. At last, the prince was appeased and promised her love instead of death at dawn.
Abu Nuwas nodded. Yes, he’d tell some short story to capture the attention of passersby. One might stop to listen and be pleased enough to offer a coin in return. The old man picked up his sign and stuffed it into the folds of his robe.
But what story would suit? Everyone and their hound knew of Ali Baba and Aladdin. While entertaining, both were too well known. One of the more obscure tales from the Arabian Nights might be more suitable. Something fresh to listeners’ ears. He began to speak. Loudly, of course. Otherwise, he’d garner no attention and have nothing to eat for supper.
“O listen ye! From the annals of Scheherazade, the most blessed one, comes this story titled ?The Enchanted Horse.’” Abu Nuwas noted no eyes turning his way. Maybe he hadn’t spoken loudly enough. He started again.
“I tell you now of a most wonderful creature, a horse looking in every respect exactly like a real horse, but was much more.” Abu cleared his throat, preparing to launch into the tale of the mechanical horse.
“It was the Feast of the New Year, the oldest and most splendid of all the feasts in the Kingdom of Persia, and the day had been spent by the king in the city of Schiraz, taking part in the magnificent spectacles prepared by his subjects to do honor to the festival.”
Abu Nuwas glanced left and right. No ears were bent his direction. This was not a good sign. He needed something to catch attention, startle, excite, and be of such a fantastic nature that no one could resist the listening.
He dug through his memories of all the tales he knew. Then, he recalled his good friend, the Magician Wafai, and the very real and dangerous tale Wafai had told Abu years ago. Yes, he would tell the tale of Faizah, a poor farmer’s daughter, who had faced death-defying dangers, had communed with the very gods, and, by her brave efforts, had staved off Armageddon. Now, that was an exciting story. And it had the added benefit of being completely true.
The story teller pondered. He could simply jump into the story at the point the demons of hell attacked the earth spirits. That was certainly thrilling. But that part of the tale made little sense without all the events that led up to the confrontation.
He decided to start with the first event Wafai had related. A trivial thing, a fight between boys, for it was truly where the story began.
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