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17. The power of the great

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

The man sits in a tower at the centre of the city. The tower is protected by the citadel’s walls. At his side, there is an astrolabe and a globe. This is the man who knows. He was an apprentice in the desert for many years; his foreskin was sliced with a shell fragment. He became a snake in the desert sand. Today all the pain is just a memory. He draws in the purple haze that a censer, hidden behind a black curtain, bellows into the room. The stars are over the city. About an hour ago, all the lights were extinguished by order of the Vizier. It has come to the attention of the authorities that the subjects are forgetting the stars. As the old sage says: “Forget the stars, forget God. Forget God, forget the father. Forget the father, forget the city.” The city must not fall; the father must not fall; therefore, the stars must be revealed.

Out there, in the desert, there is a ripple. The guards on the watchtowers cannot see the ripple; it is far beyond sight. The man in the tower can see the ripple. His falcon has returned to the tower, and she mews at his ear. The news is not good. The man’s mother always said: “The news is never good from the desert.” This time, though, the news is truly bad. Blood on the sand. The man closes his eyes and looks inward. The ripple grows in strength; it overtake the city. Blood in the sand. The fires start and mothers cry. Blood in the sand.

Nauseous, the man lies on his divan. His stomach gurgles in protest; he presses his finger into his guts and winces. There is a blockage, an obstacle on the path. He sees the image: a surgeon attends him and makes a cut into his stomach. Blood on the sand. The city’s walls are falling. The stars look on, quite indifferent. His falcon is silent now; she digs at a red lump of flesh with her claws.

The next morning, the serving women enter the room. They place pomegranates on the table and pour the sweet tea. An hour later, they return and, picking up the urn, are surprised to find it heavy and cold.

The alarm goes up across the citadel. The Vizier is called and cries over the man’s body. In the desert, still unobserved, the ripple has grown larger. The Vizier strokes the falcon. He thinks that she looks sad, though, as a practical man, he does not believe an animal can feel sadness. He orders the bird to be taken to his quarters. An honour guard surrounds the tower and the Vizier proclaims a week of mourning.

Women below the tower, wailing like a strong north wind on the rocks of the high plateau. Their ululations disturb the embalmer. He takes a glass globe from beside the bed of the man; it escapes his hands of its own will and hits the marble floor. When the embalmer scoops it up, the globe has a crack in it. On the desert plain, the air ripples with enough violence to force a flock of crows from the skies. The guards on the city wall cannot see anything yet, but they feel, deep in their bones, that the desert is uneasy this morning.

The last stitch is through the man’s nose. He is carried from his chamber by six stout men from the Vizier’s bodyguard. They ease the body down the spiral staircase; they almost fall on the uneven steps, balancing with help from a black lamp stand fixed into the wall. They carry the body into the courtyard and lay it out for burning. When the body is secured there is a screech; the falcon is ejected from the Vizier’s window. She falls towards her master; as she falls, the ripple reaches her and buffets her. She tumbles from the air and recovers herself beside her master’s cheek.


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