White Doves

Read it in Slovak here - thanks to Margareta Sliwka! Or Russian here thanks to Sandi Wolfe. Or Thai here thanks to Ashna Bhatt. Or Russian here thanks to Sandi Wolfe. Or Finnish here thanks to Elsa Jansson. Or Swedish here thanks to Medicinska Nyheter. Or Azerbaijan here thanks to Amir Abbasov. Or Ukrainian here thanks to David Diaz.

There is a tale that is often told by the barbers and street corner storytellers of Cairo. This is because it is a cheap story that few would be foolhardy enough to put stock by. And the story goes like this

Now it is said, though only Allah knows if it is true, that once there were no doves in Cairo. Our searing desert heat was too much for any but the miserly vultures. The caliph of those times had taken as his wife an enchanting, delicate woman presented to him on his travels to Basra. The wife was pefect in every respect except one; she constantly lamented that the sky was only full of ugly, black, crotchety birds and never a gentle coo was to be heard in the harem. A trifle, but, well, she would nag, as it seemed to the Caliph, incessantly. A man cursed by a nagging wife must in the end address her concerns or resolve himself to violence.

The Caliph, being at heart a gentle man, summoned to his court his most experienced and widely travelled merchants and demanded of them beautiful doves and soon. Caravans travelled south to Nubia, East to Baghdad, and ships travelled north to Venice and Constantinople. Soon each merchant returned laden with cages of fluttering, sweet songed birds to be released all round the city. Further, the merchants requistioned 101 exquistely decorated fountains to be built, one on every street corner, that the doves could refresh themselves at. Alas though come summer the fountains dried to sand and the doves fell from their perches blackened and burnt. The merchants were brought before the Caliph and his unhappy wife where the caliph's fool was given free reign for a whole week.

The problem being of a more serious nature than at first perceived it was turned over to the Caliph's learned magi. They calculated, communed and astrologised until pronouncing that Simulacra were the obvious solution. They set about the construction of four and twenty brass doves of intricate detail. With great fanfare the doves were released from the highest tower in the palace. Being of Brass they plummeted to the ground where they lay broken and making a dreadful mechanical racquet. The Caliph's fool performed a cartwheel in glee and eagerly set about his mockery. The Magi, being serious folk, took exception to such callous treatment of their intellect and, declaring that only Efreet doves could then be the solution, they banished the fool to the City of Brass (in a puff of greenish smoke) and retired in a sulk.

The fool finding himself on the hot paving of the City of Brass, and as a result of his meager intellect being a direct fellow, made straight to the Efreet Sultan's palace. He asked politely for a basket of doves. The Exulted Sultan snorted fire in surprise and demanded payment from the perspiring mortal. Being a fool all he could offer though was ridiculous caperings and silly words. Shortly after collapsing of over exertion in the heat he was evicted from the Palace at the Sultan's bequest.

Exhausted and dejected the fool sat by the road unknowing what more to do with his life. Time passed and indeed over the years he became a familiar sight to passers by. Travellers would mark his spot upon their maps as a good place to rest along their way. When no travellers were passing birds would roost on his head and rats lair in his cloak. He became such a landmark that one day an aruing pair of doves totally forgot to guard their words from his motionless form. One, in exasperation and wishing to emphasise his point, addressed the other by his true name.

Now even a fool recognizes his luck when Fate smiles upon him and, thanking Allah, returned forthwith to Cairo. Climbing to the top of one of the cities minarets he carved that name discretely where it could, with time, populate Cairo with the delightful creatures we eat today. Alas history does not record the fool's reward though surely Allah must have rewarded him suitably.

And that is the story though I'm sure that you find it as fanciful as I.

In More Modern Times

Ramon awakes one morning and sets about hunting a plump, white dove that had had the efrontery to walk over the steps of the Kins' temple that he has to clean later in the day. At the final moment it vanishes into thin air.

Sophelia's morning is more disturbingly intruded upon when she discovers that one of her husbands, an old Eygptian Prince, Alid A'meer, has beheaded a concubine for unspecified philanderings with those outside the harem.

Defanuh's breakfast coffee is interrupted by an abusive drunkard who first picks a fight, which he shows every sign of losing, then escapes by the bizarre tactic of releasing ten white doves into Defanuh's face. Defanuh's hangover has not improved.

Razili extracts herself from her latest lovers bed, raids the kitchen and heads off to her usual dancing rehersals. Amongst general bitching it is decided that as the Enigmatic Assan, a magic performer, has been stealing most of the dancers' audience and there is little point in practicing.

Bastola engages Ib's in conversation, obtaining in the process a rather tasty fish refreshment. Ib's it seems is concerned about the over use of the true name of doves around Cairo this week and wonders perhaps if Bastola had heard anythign to account for it.

The kin slowly gather together at the temple to exchange gossip. Everyone is interested in Wizards and doves except Defanuh who has had quite enough of both for one morning. He wis bullied into returning to the scene of the morning scuffle which turns up a white dove's feather and a white clad gentleman, apparently of some social standing, asking after the brawler too. This gentleman disappears rather precipitously on leaving the coffee house. It becomes clear that the Enigmatic Assan and the dove hurler were one and the same. A magic show is scheduled elsewhere this evening.

On mass the intrepid cats turn up to the magic show. Assan does not show though the white robed man of the afternoon, a sinister bunch of dark robed thugs and a large crowd of enthusiastic watchers do. The furious owner of the show house, who it turns out is owed a considerable sum in gambling debts by Assan, sets a five pound bounty on his head.

Any number of ruffians set about his discovery to claim the bounty. It becomes clear that Assan owes almost every gambling den in the Old City consequential amounts of caital. The gentleman himself has not been seen since being rolled out the backdoor, senseless, of the sixth drinking house to evict him that evening.

Somewhat stumped to find Assan Ramon appeals to Bast to guide their search through the body of the feather previously discovered. The feather is eventually lost from the upper floor of a very respectable gambling house in the Ezbekia. They retire to bed. Ramon dreams of white doves streaming from the temple's eves. Come morning he convinces Defanuh to help him scale the temple to search for the doves he'd dreamed off... this proves overly optimistic.

Sarah is required to attend a luncheon with the Turkish ambassador (which had been put forward a day because of the unfortunate fall of the ambassador in the previous day's polo). None of the ambassadorial delegation can speak English so Sarah is forced to listen to the tutting and hurumphing of her father. On finally escaping the grisly event it is to find that the streets of the Ezbekia are log jammed with traffic and camels. At the end of the street a massive flock of white doves is struggling into the air. Ramon and his fearless climber friends also observe this avian extravaganza....

"Roll up, roll up, the Enigmatic Assan, penniless and loveless offers his humble entertainment"... Assan has positioned himself for a performance right in the central square of the Ezbekia. He looks hung over and like he's been sleeping on the streets for weeks. The table on which his box of tricks is placed is covered in a grubby blue cloth covered in stars.

The first of the many interested parties to make it to the unfortuante Assan are two local thugs. They first wrestle Assan to the ground then confront each other with knives drawn, "I got here first..." Next five swarthy dark robed gentleman arrive on the scene and draw scimitars. The thugs beat a hasty retreat. The five are dragging Assan away when the Governor and his troops arrive - Sarah and the Governor set about impounding Assan's magical paraphenalia (a wand, some rope with and without knots in it, cards and a dove's feather).

Defanuh arriving and recognizing Assan from their earlier dispute sets off in pursuit (somewhat gleeful at the opportunity for action...) causing two of the five men to break off and threaten him with their blades and melodramatic shouts of "Die by the whirling desert storm!". Defanuh shoots them with his revolver... just as the two British soldiers arrive on the scene. The latter proceeded to arrest the downed men whilst calling on everyone else to surrender themselves. They pay little heed and the chase (three men with Assan, Defanuh and then Ramon behind) continued round the corner.

The dark robed assaulters run straight into four white robed gentleman also weilding scimitars and with considerable more expertise than they. Defanuh unwilling to interrupt so professional a job watches as the three are dispatched and Assan is again picked up off the pavement and escorted away. Ramon and Defanuh discreetly follow and observe the group disappear into a side dwelling off the main street.

In cat form the two seek a discreet entry through the shuttered upper floor windows but can't shift the latches. Assan opens the window on hearing their scratching. The four white robed gentleman have apparently left the building and Assan unharmed. Defanuh quickly reverting to his more imposing form grabs Assan and they escort him to a discreet bar. Apparently after years of study Assan now "holds within my mind the essence of dove"... Bastola's opinion of this obscure statement is required. Defanuh holds fort against other fortune hunters while Ramon gets Bastola. Bastola proposes Ib's as a better judge of gobblediguk.

Ib's soon gets to the bottom of the matter which is that the wand had the doves' true name enscribed upon it and that Assan doesn't know diddly squat. The matter of where he got the wand from is entrusted to Ramon (though Defanuh warns him against the use of any dishonourable questioning techniques). Ib's meanwhile takes Sarah aside and requests that she visit Amid A'meer to relay the message that a wand with the doves' name on it has come into his possession and is in safe keeping and could Ib's offer any assistance?

Sarah makes her way to A'meer's impressive abode and her knock on the door is answered by a white robed gentleman who bids her enter. After a wait in an elegant entry chamber she is invited to attend on the old Prince but is warned to be careful not to stray from the carpet in the hall. Sticking to this advice as she passes many fabulous works of art she comes to his throne room. A'meer is extremely rude and his words biting about the fact that Ib's has sent a woman who isn't even veiled... his only response to the message is that "In earlier times we would not have worried about such trivia."

In the meanwhile Ramon has got thoroughly drunk with Assan and exchanged condolences over many and various past lovers. It turns out that Assan was given the doves' name by a lover in A'meer's harem called Talizia but when he used it for profit she renounced her love for him. They plot to reinstate Assan in Talizia's heart with a love letter... after Assan collapses drunk Ramon heads off to exchange stories with Susan and they remember that Talizia was killed by A'meer.

Returning the next morning they find Assan has got up and left... Defanuh hears that he has been caught by bounty hunters and sold into slavery. It is considered that this is just punishment for a debtor.