The Prince of Cats
Al-Badawi stared at him with a stunned expression. “Impossible,” he managed to stammer.
“Last year,” Jawad began to explain. “Your caravan never reached Surru. Its water provisions were poisoned.”
“You can’t be.”
“Three months before that, your ship from Gadir was set afire in the harbour, the very night it reached port and before its shipment could be unloaded.”
“Another two months earlier, your serai was plundered by bandits when the gate was opened for them.”
Al-Badawi’s mouth hung open. “You’re just a petty thief, alhajin! You’re less than nothing!”
“Yet I brought you to your knees, effendi. And I am not done.”
“This is a trick,” the merchant claimed weakly. “You’re only here because I ordered it. I’ll have you back in the Tower immediately.”
“The Finger?” Jawad smiled in an overbearing fashion. “As if I would ever have been so careless as to get caught during a simple break-in. Did you never wonder how news reached Salah that I knew how to find the Prince, the man you have been desperate to find? Effendi, even Elat would shake her head at such a stroke of fortune.”
“What are you trying to say,” al-Badawi sneered as convincingly as he could.
“You had me released from prison because I wanted it. You had me search for the Prince because I wanted it. You set your soldiers on Dār al-Gund this very night,” Jawad explained, “because I wanted it.”
“All lies,” the merchant spouted. “Why would anyone do something so preposterous?”
“Salah guards you well, effendi. This harāmlik is a fortress.” Jawad glanced around the room as if surveying the palace itself. “Until you let me inside. Your wealth is ruined, Azal al-Badawi, as is your house. Know that Dār al-Allawn has crumbled by my hand, the hand of Jawad al-Qasr, and that your legacy dies with you.” He stared with cold fury in his eyes upon the merchant.
“Are you mad?” al-Badawi shrieked. “Why would you do this?”
Jawad nodded. “It is only fitting you know why. All of this began twenty years ago on a day we both remember well, albeit for different reasons. The day your wife died, effendi.”
“How dare you even mention her!”
“My time here has let me piece together the story. She was pregnant, and perhaps it was a difficult pregnancy, or she went into labour early.” The merchant scowled at Jawad, who continued. “You were told the news and rode through the city like a madman, desperate to make it. But you were too late. The physician could save only one, and he chose the child over the mother.”
“Is this another ploy?” al-Badawi fumed. “Or are you simply adding insult to injury, torturing my soul?”
“You feel the loss keenly,” Jawad assented, nodding. “Her death is a wound that will not heal. You close your eyes, and once again you see it as if it happened only yesterday.”
“Yes,” al-Badawi hissed. “Are you done?”
“Sadly not, effendi. See, that very day, I was at the marketplace with my brothers. We begged, stole, and scrounged for food as we did every day. I was not many years old and often careless. A fat purse caught my eyes, and I was oblivious to the danger.”
“Is there a point to this?”
“My older brother Hakim always knew he had to look out for me and Kateb. He did so that day as well. As you came riding through the street with no regard for others, he pushed me out of the way.” Jawad closed his eyes; for once, he did not resist as the memory flooded his thoughts. “I recall hearing your horse, its hooves thundering against the cobbled stone. The sickening sound as it splits Hakim’s skull open. I see blood and brain spilling onto the street. His eyes are lifeless. I hear people whisper the name of al-Badawi and Dār al-Allawn, powerful names that none dare defy.” Jawad opened his eyes again, and they shone with hatred. “I remember that you did not slow down for one moment, you did not look back. You never even knew what you did, is that not true, effendi? You robbed me of what was dearest to me without even a thought to it, and tonight, I will finally return the favour.”
A variety of emotions crossed al-Badawi’s face. “Children running in the streets, I cannot be held responsible! My wife was dying! I will not be subjected to the justice of alhajin!” he ranted.
“For once, effendi, what you want is of no consequence. The laws and men of Alcázar cannot protect you. The justice of Almudaina has come, and it demands blood.” Jawad’s face was a stern mask, devoid of mercy.
Al-Badawi opened the drawers of his desk, frantically searching through them. Papers, seals, wax, inkwells, and anything else but what he was searching for went flying out onto the floor.
Jawad watched, slightly amused. “It is no use, effendi.” From above the doorframe, he took out a thin, bejewelled dagger, holding it in his uninjured hand. “Some weeks ago, or has it been months? My sense of time has become clouded,” he apologised. “Regardless, some time ago your daughter was kind enough to let me enter the harāmlik, treating my wounds. Before I left, I made a thorough search of your study.”
Al-Badawi stared at the knife in Jawad’s hands, abandoning his search. “Please,” he began to plead. His face was paler than death. “I will make you wealthier than you could ever imagine.”
Jawad advanced upon him, weapon held ready. “I did not come tonight for wealth, effendi. I will not even steal this dagger from you. You have my word.”
“Wait!” Al-Badawi fumbled with something underneath his clothes and pulled out a pouch hanging on a knotted leather string. “Wait! You will want this!” He reached into the pouch to extract its content and stretched out his hand. In his open palm, glistening in the light, lay a brilliant ruby. The Heart of the Sands.
Jawad had never seen its equal. Its value was greater than he could calculate, greater than he could imagine. Taking another step closer, the jewel thief stared at the gem one last time before looking up at the merchant. “That is not yours to bargain with,” he said softly and plunged the dagger into al-Badawi’s own heart.
His victim gasped and grabbed Jawad’s wrist with his empty hand, but already his strength was slipping away. Jawad wrestled himself free and stood as the merchant fell backwards to the floor. With the countenance of an avenging jinni, Jawad stared down upon the body. Blood trickled forth, dying al-Badawi’s clothes red.
Jawad had never killed another person with his own hands wielding the weapon. He could tell that he had no taste for it, but in this particular case, it could not have been any other way. Al-Badawi’s empty eyes stared back at him, and Jawad felt nothing but mild contempt. There was no wrath against the dead raging inside of him now the deed was done. In a sense, al-Badawi had been nothing more than another piece in Jawad’s long scheme for revenge; unfortunately for the merchant, his role had been to die.
What Jawad felt was tranquillity. The spectre of vengeance that had haunted him for two decades, the vengeful memory that had intruded upon his mind at every turn, was banished with one quick strike of the dagger. Jawad had broken the chains upon him. For the first time that he could remember, he felt free.
He bowed down, pried the ruby from al-Badawi’s fingers, and turned around. Leaving the study, he came upon the slumbering Salah, lying awkwardly upon the sofa in the parlour. Jawad looked at the sword in its scabbard and back at Salah’s face. “Your life in return for your kindness,” the thief mumbled. “As good a trade as you’ll ever get from a thief. Farewell, Salah.”
Jawad was not yet finished in the harāmlik; crossing the cold stone halls, he entered Zaida’s chambers. She was asleep in her bed, looking as lovely as he knew she would. He also knew that the moment he had thrust the dagger into her father’s heart, he had caused a chasm to open between them. Walking up to her sleeping form, he had no words to express or explain himself. He wished she would open her eyes to look at him one last time, that he might look upon her dark gems one last time, but his earlier trick with the sleeping powder had made that impossible.
Bending down, he briefly pressed a kiss against her forehead and the ruby into her hand. Turning around, he saw her jewellery strongbox on a table. Instinct took hold of him, and he crossed the room to open it; she had not locked it. Inside was only a pair of pearl earrings. Jawad took one, leaving the other, and left.
Jawad left the inner part of the palace, unhindered by guards. Making his way to the kitchen, he retrieved the powders and potions that he had bought from Ishak; they were far too expensive to leave behind. After that, he returned to the room that had been his during his stay, digging out a few silver coins that he had hid away. Once his possessions had been gathered from their hiding places, he was ready to leave the house of al-Badawi.
Scaling the wall proved a challenge with his left hand of little use. It took more than one attempt to make his way to the top, having to also exercise the utmost care not to crush the small bottles of alchemy that he carried on his body. With the grace of a fat duck, Jawad gasped and groaned until he could nestle himself on the wall, catching his breath.
Behind him lay the estate of al-Badawi; ahead of him, all of Alcázar spread out before his eyes. Somewhere in the night, the mamluks and the Kabir’s soldiers were killing his enemies for him. It was only the start for someone aspiring to be the king of thieves in the City of Coin. Jawad glanced at his bandaged hand and wondered what price his next prize would claim. Licking his lips, he took in the sight of his would-be kingdom. Even at night, it was easy to see that Alcázar was a queen among cities, the jewel of the Inner and Outer Seas. Satisfied with what he surveyed, the Prince of Cats disappeared into the darkness.
END OF WINTER
Life, the battle ‘tween intention and contention
Men resist and thus they build decaying tension
Who remembers what was spoken by the sages
Dust to dust, all wisdom lost to careless ages
Wolf will howl, and bear shall roar, the spirit rages
All in vain, the flesh remains to be their cages
Men to ants, look down with pride yet apprehension
Gods to men, the look of final condescension
Final strophe in the poem Time and Season by the renowned poet, al-Tayir
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- Chronicler of Adal
Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; all tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.