Stories of the Magicians - Alfred J. Church
Abdaldar travelled over all Arabia, searching for Thalaba. From tribe to tribe, from town to town, even from tent to tent he passed. When he rose in the morning the wish to find the lad was the first that came into his mind, and when he lay down to sleep it was the last thing that he thought. Even in his dreams it was with him: many times did he come upon some lad whose look and bearing seemed to be such as the fated youth should have; but when he had warily applied the ring to him, the fire in the ring still burned, and he knew that he had not finished his search.
At last, when the year was nearly ended, he came to a solitary tent, the cords of which were stretched in a grove of palms. The grove stood in the middle of the desert, like an island in the middle of the sea. There he saw a girl standing under a palm, holding out her apron and looking up to a boy who had climbed into the tree, and was clinging with one arm to the trunk, while with the other he pulled and threw down clusters of dates. Abdaldar approached the tree. He leant upon his staff, and sweat stood upon his forehead. He looked like a venerable old man, somewhat wearied with his day's journey.
"Will it please you to give me some food?" he said.
The girl offered him dates from her lap, and the boy ran to the tent and fetched him a draught of water. Meanwhile the master of the tent, Moath by name, came out and saluted the stranger, and bade them spread a meal for the traveller. They spread it under a Tamarind tree, rice as white as snow, and dates, and figs, and water from the well. The girl also brought water in which she had steeped the acid fruit of the Tamarind. No one who had drunk of this would wish for wine, so refreshing is it. She blushed for joy when the stranger praised it and drank again. Meanwhile the boy had fetched a melon. He had made a hole in the rind days before, and had closed the wound with wax; and now all the pulp had been changed into a most delicious liquid. This he offered to the guest.
Abdaldar ate and was satisfied. And as he ate he talked of his travels, for he had seen many countries in his life. Moath sat pleased to listen to him; and the girl listened as she took away the dishes, standing with her hands full to hear what he might next say. But none listened so eagerly as Thalaba; and to Thalaba the traveller with seeming kindness chiefly addressed his talk. With round eyes and open mouth the boy sat, and, that he might not lose a word of such delightful talk, came close to the old man. And he, as if in familiar mood, laid his hand on Thalaba's arm, and in a moment the fire out of the ring had fled.
Abdaldar grew pale with joy, for his search was ended. But at the very moment Moath said, "It is the hour of prayer. Let us first make our ablutions, and afterwards praise the Lord."
The boy fetched water from the well; and they made their ablutions according to the law, and bent their heads to the earth in prayer.
Abdaldar did not bend his head, but stood over Thalaba with his dagger in his hand. But before the arm which he had lifted to strike had the power to descend, the Simoom, the deadly wind of the desert, blew. Moath and Thalaba and the girl, Oneiza, did not feel it, for they were prostrate in prayer; but it smote Abdaldar; and when they rose, they saw the traveller lying dead with the dagger in his hand.
When they were about to bury the Magician, Thalaba spied a ring upon his finger and said, "See, Oneiza, the dead man has a ring! Should it be buried with him?"
"Surely," she answered, "he was a wicked man, and all that he had was wicked."
"But see how it catches the sunlight and throws it back again. It is a marvellous stone."
"Why do you take it, Thalaba? Why do you look at it so close? It may have a charm to blind or poison you. Throw it in the grave. I would not touch it."
"And round its rim are large letters."
"Bury it, bury it."
"It is not written as the Koran is written. Perhaps it is in some other tongue. The accursed man said he had been a traveller."
Meanwhile Moath came out of the tent, and asked, "Thalaba, what have you there?"
"A ring the dead man wore. Perhaps, father, you can read its meaning."
"No, boy; the letters are not such as ours. Heap the sand over it; a wicked man wears nothing holy."
"Nay, do not bury it. Perhaps some traveller may come to our tent who can read it. Or we may find a learned man in some city who can interpret it."
"It were better hid under the sands of the desert. It is likely that this wretched man whom God smote in the very moment of his crime was a Magician, and that these lines are of the language which the demons use. There is, I have heard, a great company of magicians that have their place of meeting in the Domdaniel caverns under the sea."
"And was he who would have killed me one of these?"
"That I do not know. It may be that your name is written in the book of fate as their Destroyer, and that God saved your life that you might do this work."
"Think you that the ring has some strange power?"
"Every gem, wise men say, has a power of its own. Some grow pale or dark and warn the wearer against poison. Some blunt the edge of the sword. Some discover hidden treasures; and others, again, give us power to see spirits."
"Father, I will wear this ring."
"Think, Thalaba, what you are doing."
"In the name of God! if its power be for good, well; if for evil, then God and my faith in Him shall hallow it."
So he put on the ring of gold with the strange letters written on it. After this they laid the body of Abdaldar in the grave, and levelled the dust of the desert over him.
The next day, at sunrise, when Thalaba went to make his ablutions, he found the grave open and the body bare. It was not the wind that had swept away the sand, for the dew lay undried upon the dust about it. Indeed the night had been so calm and still that not a ripe date had been shaken down from the palms.
When Moath heard the story he said, "I have heard that there are places made so holy by holy men having dwelt in them, that if a dead body should be laid in them they cast him out. It may be that this is such a place. Or can it be that this man is so foul with sorcery and wickedness that heaven and earth alike reject him? We had best forsake the station. Let us strike our tent. And see there the vulture! It has already scented its prey. And, indeed, that is the best sepulchre for this accursed one."
Then they purified themselves from the pollution of death. Thalaba drew up the cords of the tent, and Moath furled it, and Oneiza led the camels out of the grove of palms to receive their load. The dew was dried from the ground when they left the Island of palms; when they halted at noon they could see them in the distance, as we see the sails of a fleet far off at sea. At sunset the Island had passed out of their sight. Then they pitched their tent and lay down to sleep.
At midnight Thalaba felt that the ring moved upon his finger. The magicians of the cave knew by their art that he had possessed himself of it, and sent an evil spirit to steal it from him. He called on the name of God, and Moath heard him. "What ails you, Thalaba?" he cried. "Are there robbers in the tent?"
"See you not a spirit in the tent?"
"I see moonlight shining, and I see you standing in it, and I see your shadow, but I see no more."
The lad said no more to Moath, but spoke to the spirit, "Spirit, what brings thee hither? In the name of God, I charge thee to tell me."
"I came for the ring."
"Who was he that slew my father?"
"Okba, the magician, slew him."
"Where does the murderer dwell?"
"In the Domdaniel cavern under the sea."
"Why was my father slain and his children with him?"
"Because we know that the Destroyer was to come of the race of Hodeirah."
"Bring me my father's sword."
"A fire surrounds it. Neither Spirit nor Magician can pierce that fire."
"Bring me his bow and arrows."
Moath and Oneiza, who stood watching from the inner tent, heard Thalaba speak; but they could not hear the Spirit, for the sound of his voice was too fine for their ears. And now, as they listened, there was a rattle of arrows, and they saw a full quiver laid at the lad's feet, and a bow in his hand. He looked at the bow with joy, and twanged the string. Then he spoke again to the Spirit, "In the name of God, I command thee and all thy fellows never to trouble this tent again."
And from that hour no evil spirit came again to the tent.