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Maxim Udovichenko

The stargazer‛s servant

Chapter one

Al-Majnun the Dexterous

City of Aoudaghost, frontier territory, possession of Caliph Abdallah-ibn-Yasin from the A/moravids dynasty, year 1056, (presently known as the city of Tegdaoust, Eastern Hodh in the province of the republic of Mauritania).

"Al-Majnun! Where are you? You slacker! Let Allah, the Almighty and Merciful, shorten your abominable days!" Cried, the exasperated rider, dressed in a black turban, embroidered with golden seven-pointed stars and crescents. The blue satin robe on his shoulders was, richly decorated with golden ornaments.

"Here I am! Oh, great Stargazer of the Caliph and the wisest of the soothsayers, the Honorable Al-Farukh-Ibn Saudi" Answered the dwarf with a big nose that vaguely resembled an elongated squash.

The high spiked astrologer's hat, pulled over his bulgy ears, was embroidered with seven-pointed stars and crowned at the top with a sleazy string attached to a tiny rusty bell. From under the hat, the outer world was observed by a thievish look of sleek black eyes that expressed unconditional allegiance.

His sunburnt black bearded appearance, belonged to those ageless, unchanging men, who might be thirty, forty, who might of any age, and one would have never guessed it, and only after a thorough look at him, one would say that this chap had for sure fairly reached the years of discretion. Clumsily moving the flaps of the large tent aside, with a drawling groaning he tried to get outside, but awkwardly fell twice at a time, being traitorously caught by the long sleeves of his black Bedouin robe. Behind the large tent's thrown off flaps, a very pleasant young Berber woman's face flashed distinctly.

"Here it is, 500 mithqals , a bag of gold dust and three golden dinars! You are to buy 20 slaves, 10 camels, suitable for a long journey through the desert, 30 muds of wheat, 30 sheep and goats, spices, water, vegetables and herbs enough for a 40-day journey! We will depart tomorrow at dawn!" said Al-Farukh, throwing heavy and massive sacks on the dust, before Al-Majnun. Al-Majnun bowed in respect. His master unexpectedly, in swarms of dust, and saying – "you will find me in my tent!", disappeared, exactly in the same sudden way as he had popped up.

"I listen to you and obey! Oh, great astrologer of the Caliph," said Al-Majnun, addressing to the place, where just a few seconds ago the voice of his master was heard.

Having humped the heavy bags on his back, Al-Majnun wandered along the road towards the town. The ancient road was hedged by solid masses of shady acacia trees. The hot Saharan sun, passing through the thick tree branches, cut through the clouds of dust, swallowed up from herds of sheep and camel caravans of local traders, and was very strongly reminiscent of the biblical "pillars of light illuminated the path to weary strangers".

"It is necessary to get a move on! "Al-Majnun thought out loud, lumping along the dusty road with his peaked sandals creased at the top.

Al-Majnun on the way to the town.

"The master is serious as never! Last time he promised to transform me into a toad, for that small nuance… what I had done in the local market… absolutely nothing… I just seduced the daughter of a local date's seller. And now if I'm not dilatory enough in running his errands, he will surely fulfil the promise" – reflected Al-Majnun, dragging the heavy load.

On having approached the town gates, his attention was attracted to a procession, of Caliph Abdallah's mounted worriers, who looked very busy indeed. They were promptly moving ahead through the crowd of merchants, travelers and townspeople.

"Listen! Listen! Those who have ears will hear!" Yelled the first rider in the black turban decorated with gold, «Sovereign of true believer, The Commander of the faithful, the merciful Caliph Abdallah (Let Great Allah strengthen him with the support and will surround him with His grace and merciful deeds) starts a military campaign in Maghreb lands, to proselytize unfaithful in a veritable faith! (Let Allah Almighty help him in his merciful attempts and save him for his tender heart!)

"For those who heard this proclamation!" continued the rider with the black turban", The merciful Caliph Abdallah orders you to bring a tenth part of your income, in acknowledgement and approval of acts of his merciful hands!! Those who refuse to bring a scanty payment, will face the inevitable death!!!" The last phrases of the rider vanished in a deafening roar of pipes from the Caliph's musicians. The Caliph's warriors discourteously wrested money, jewelry and valuable goods from hands of scared merchants, travelers and citizens. Goods and treasury were piled into the creaking carts, and moved away together with hastily herded cattle, horses and camels.

Having learned that Al-Majnun was the servant of the great Al-Farouk-Ibn-Saud, the Caliph's warriors didn't take any payment from him and let him through to the town unchallenged.

Passing along familiar streets, smothered in greenery from the acacias, date palm trees twined up with wild grapes, Al-Majnun turned at the mosque on the street leading to the market.

Meanwhile, in Caliph's Abdullah Ibn Yasin palace.

A tall, gaunt man of about 50s, his wrinkled brown face looked dry and scaly. The droopy moustache and a bushy black beard gave his appearance a hue of a determined character. His high blue turban was adorned with gold and sapphires; the black brocade garment was richly decorated with gold threads.

Caliph Abdullah, the ruler of the tribes and peoples of a vast territory, which ran from Spain to the borders of the Kingdom of Ghana, was. Concentrated, he was deliberating on something, listening to his military leader Yahya-Ibn-Omar. Overseeing the assembled subordinates through the dark, with the shining quickness of a robin's eye, he occasionally made some consequential comments. The military leader was a real shorty one, with long arms and big round head embosomed with dappled red beard through which one could distinguish a chubby face of a middle age man of very martial appearance.

He slowly outlined the plan of the upcoming campaign, trying as much as possible to bring everything in detail.

The Aoudaghost palace, belonged to a comer of the leaders of the black tribes Soninke, powerful Empire of Ghana, just two years ago, and was richly decorated with gold and precious stones.

The Palace walls abounded with painted and gilded frescoes and surahs from the Koran. The precious stones used in Arab mosaics, boggled the imagination.

A little garden with golden fountain in the middle, surrounded by palm trees and plants, full of beautiful birds, melodiously twittering amid the tree branches and plant leaf's, filling up the throne-room with a soothing romantic setting, it looked like the "Garden of Eden" or a marvelous oasis in the desert.

Carved in high relief on its golden groundwork, with elephants, giraffes and camels, the fountain gently threw out its waters with a pleasant murmur scattering the splashes in thousands of diamond sprays playing in the sun, accidentally or, on purpose attracting the birds to a bath. All that background created an indescribable atmosphere of Eastern luxury, tranquility and coolness.

"Oh, great Commander of the faithful!" the military leader Yahya-Ibn-Omar continued his speech, "by the grace of Allah Almighty and Merciful, we cannot immediately move to the great Maghreb city of Sijilmasa, without rein-forcing our army with our allies' horsemen worriers. From Aoudaghost, the Caliph's army will move out to the city of Timbuktu.

At the Caliph's palace. The higher talk on the War Campaign.

When we reach Timbuktu, the city ruler Moussa-Ibn-Khalid will graciously give us 10 thousand-foot warriors and 5 thousand mounted worriers from the tribe of the Messufa, for our military campaign. Having replenished water and food supplies in Timbuktu, we proceed to the town of Atar, and from Atar, well smack down our blades on the heads of the Maghreb infidels, "– the military leader explained the details of the plan to Caliph.

"Your plan is undoubtedly successful, Yahya ibn Omar, but what will the Great- Al-Farouk-Ibn Saud say, who the gracious and merciful God has entrusted the gift to recognize his will by signs and stars," said the Caliph, referring to the tall greyish man, with straight delicate face features. The man of indefinite, but surely aged above fifty, with a black turban, embroidered with seven-pointed golden stars and crescents, looking very calm. His blue satin robe on his shoulders was richly decorated with gold ornaments.

"Oh, the Great Commander of the Faithful! The plan of Yahya-Ibn- Omar is truly perfect …" he posed for a moment, tracing the gaze of the audience.

"But the stars say that the campaign is doomed to endless battles against the infidel's superior forces of the!" Posted Al-Farouk-Ibn-Saud, and the glance of his intelligent, sharp piercing, black eyes expressed uncovered concern.

"So, you are predicting defeat?" asked the Caliph, losing his patience and rising from his throne.

"Oh, Grand Commander of the Faithful! I cannot predict anything, I've got a little ability to reveal the secret of Allah's Almighty and Merciful will, that He sends in signs and stars", said Al-Farouk, bowing in reverence.

"I had completely different intentions! I was going to lead the campaign and reach the Maghreb city of Fes, where as I know, by the Will of God the merciful, my teacher and mentor Abu-Imran-Moussa, has recently arrived", said Caliph, thoughtfully looking into the water splashes of the fountain which fancy sparkle in the rays of the hot desert sun.

"Oh, great Caliph!" Continued Al-Farouk, reverently bowing to the Lord.

"I understand how important it is for You to see Your great teacher and mentor Abu-Im-ran-Moussa. However, the signs of Allah the Almighty and Merciful, that I have read indicate that, for You, oh great and wise ruler of the faithful, it is vitally important to stay with part of the forces in the city", said Al-Farouk, bowing reverently.

"You are a brave man, Al-Farouk! By methods known only to you, in a very inexplicable way, you've been managing to read the Will of Allah the Highest and Merciful in the signs and stars", thoughtfully pronounced Caliph Abdullah, addressing the great astrologer.

"I will follow the Will of Allah the Highest and will remain in city, and the army will be led by the honorable commander Yahya-ibn-Omar", the Caliph announced his decision, bringing the high talk on the War campaign to a close.

"We Listen to You and obey! Oh, Great Commander of true believers!" Answered the attendees, realizing that the final decision was taken and the discussion on the War was over.

1.1 The little tricks of Al-Majnun

In the meanwhile, Al-Majnun has been hanging around the city market long enough, between the noisy rows of merchant stalls, who insistently and on surplus, suggested buying their commodities. To draw away merchant's attentions, he ostentatiously demonstrated his deep unconcern to the goods laid on the stalls. Walking along the rows, every now and again, throwing lecherously- furtive glances at the girls and women, he surreptitiously grabbing a cluster of bananas quickly hiding it in his habit.

At the market. Al-Majnun at his habitual business: chasing girls and stealing dates and bananas from the sacks of gaping merchants.

Despite the master's order, he could not resist the temptation and hanged bumbling behind a Berber-woman, in a flashy desert gown, tight in the waist, which exaggeratedly protrudes, as its broad magnificently voluptuous curves. Following the beautiful Berber-woman, Al-Majnun did not notice, as he crossed the noisy market area and appeared on the edge of the date palms wood groves.

In the middle of the Woods, was a small sun burned grass meadow, where on the braiding sacks, the pieces of salt of different sizes where gently laying. Each piece has been carefully set up opposite the gold bars and gold dust bags. Without a moment hesitation, with the words "the master has many of that stuff, and I have not a bit of it!" Exclaimed Al-Majnun and deftly threw in one of his bags a couple of pieces of salt and a couple of bars of gold.

Despite the heavy burden on his shoulders, a sudden joy appeared in the soul of Al-Majnun, as well as an inexplicable ease at his feet. Sandals with curved tops, barely touching the ground, rapidly carried him back to the market.

Climbing the high wall separating the market from the rest of the town, Al- Majnun suddenly heard loud screams behind him.

"Stop, stop the thief! He has stolen my salt!" Shouted the black Messufa, dressed in a long brown coat, trying on the run, to choose a good position for throwing the javelin.

Al-Majnun flings off pursuers.

"That scoundrel stole my gold!" Shouted the berber-sanhaja, wearing a blue turban and bright orange brocade pants, waving a curve bedouin sword, furiously striving to get ahead and to be the first to over-take the robber.

Marvelously dodging the javelin, which, with a cracking sound, smashed against the wall next to his foot. Al-Majnun jumped on the ground dissolving into the market noisy crowd.

On the rush, he knocked down passers-by but when he rolled a cart loaded with watermelons and melons over, he unexpectedly felt that he was flying. On having made a dizzying somersault, he suddenly landed at the door of a familiar shop. It was the shop of an old acquaintance of Al-Majnun – the local brocade seller, who was fortunately sitting next to his shop.