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Yet that might draw upon me even worse danger, for it would arouse immediate
suspicion.
Morning came with a babble of voices as other travelers prepared to leave.
Khatib entered, and my resolve was formed on the instant. "Pack," I said. "I
shall ride the new saddle, use the new bridle. Let us go at once."
We were fortunate in our time of departure, for a large caravan was leaving
at the same time, and we promptly overtook and fell in with them, and riding
with them, we conversed.
Among the Franks many believed that Cathay did not exist, yet here I found
those who had traveled to Hind, toCathay , and all the lands that lay between.
The region through which we traveled was fertile and prosperous, growing some
of the finest pears and pomegranates I had eaten, and there were groves of
olives. Stopping beside the way, many hours later, we made a lunch of cheese
from Dinavar and pears of the district while seated beneath tamarisk and
chinar trees.
Several of the muleteers stopped with us, and as they had shown no
inclination to stop until we did, I suspected them of spying. It was a lazy,
sunny afternoon with a few scattered puffballs of cloud drifting in the sky.
Lying upon the sand, I stared up at the sky and again tried to think out a
solution to my problem.
Brave as I might seem to others, I knew I was no more brave than any other
man. It was not willingly that I went to the fortress of Alamut, but my father
was there, and we two were the last of our line. He was all that was left to
me, and I could only try to be as good a son as he was a father.
No slave was ever sold from Alamut, nor allowed to leave for fear he might
reveal the secrets of the fortress and its fabled gardens of paradise. If by
some chance I myself was permitted to enter, my every move would be watched.
Depression lay heavily upon me, for if I entered, how then could I leave? And
how could I free my father? A man must be a great fool to attempt the
impossible, yet my father was my father, and it was easier to risk my life
than to think of him as a slave.
Al-Zawila? Who could he be? Why this hatred for my father?
"Master ... ?"
Two men stood near me, one of them displaying a large and obviously painful
boil. After lancing the boil, bathing it, and prescribing a renewal of the
poultice I put on, I prepared to leave and rejoin the caravan, but already
other patients were coming.
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Treating several wounds and prescribing for others, including ground bone for
a child reported to have convulsions, I explained to them that it was a theory
of a renowned physician that such convulsions were due to lack of calcium in
the system. They listened out of respect, but in their own minds, I knew, they
believed it was an evil spirit that caused the trouble.
The last man wished an arrowhead extracted that had been embedded in his arm
for several days. The arm was in bad condition, but when I had finished with
him there seemed no reason to doubt that he would recover without further
help. It was dark before we rode on, riding swiftly that we might camp with
the protection of the caravan.
In Córdoba, while studying at the mosque, I had frequently practiced surgical
operations under the guidance of a physician. It was the custom to practice
making incisions using pumpkins, bottle gourds, melons, or cucumbers.
Superficial incisions were practiced upon leather bags filled with slush,
sewing was practiced on two pieces of delicate leather, scarification upon
leather covered with hair.
Qazvinlay at the foot of the Elburz Mountains from which passes led across
the mountains to Tabaristan and the edge of theCaspian Sea . The town itself
covered at least a mile. It was the chief fortress against the fierce infidels
of theDaylamMountains .
"Tomorrow," I whispered to Khatib, "invitation or no, we go to Alamut."
"Speak no word of that, Mighty One," Khatib warned, "for this town has many
Isma'ilis."
The courtyard was crowded with horses and camels, for another large caravan
had just arrived, obviously the retinue of some important person, for both
camels and horses were richly caparisoned and a number of tall, finely built
soldiers stood about. They were big, bearded men with handsome black eyes,
immaculately clad and well armed, every man of them fit and strong. Obviously
these were picked fighting men.
Yet they were unlike any men I had seen, neither Arab nor Persian nor Turk.
"Khatib? Who are they?"
"Rajputs," he said, "from Hind."
The main room of the caravanserai was bustling with slaves, and we were hard
put to find a corner for ourselves. Khatib personally attended to our horses,
then joined me.
Suddenly a door to an inner chamber opened, and from it stepped a girl, a
girl of such beauty and exquisite grace as I had never seen. She was tall,
moving as though to some unheard music, her dark eyes rimmed with darker
lashes, her lips ... her skin without blemish, her hair dark as a raven's
wing.
As she came from the door, her eyes met mine across the room, and for an
instant she paused, her chin lifted, her lips parting a little. Rising, I
bowed from the hips, indicating a place at the table beside me. Her eyes
seemed to widen at my temerity, and then she walked through the parting crowd
to a nearby table, already arranged for her.
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Nor did she look at me again.
50
OUR TABLES FACED each other across the room with scarcely twenty feet
separating one from the other. A dozen slaves attended her, and two Rajput
soldiers stood behind her at the corners of the table. The table itself was
loaded with at least two dozen dishes, superbly cooked, judging by their
aroma.
On my side I had only my faithful Khatib and but three dishes.
She was unveiled, as it was not the custom of her people for women to veil
themselves. She wore tight-fitting silk trousers of brilliant yellow and a
bodice orcholiof the same shade and material. Over this, suspended from her
shoulders, she wore a burnt orange cloak or robe. Her sandals were delicately
made of some golden material, and there were bangles on her ankles.
She wore in the center of her forehead a "fallen leaf," as it was called in
Sanskrit, ortika.Hers was actually a tiny leaf of intricate workmanship. Her
hair was combed quite flat with a triple line of pearls following the part,
and the centerpiece, at the hairline, consisted of three golden flowers with
large rubies at the center and a row of teardrop pearls suspended from the
lower edge. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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