Wed 6 Jun 2012
[Webshaykh’s Note: This last semester I taught an Honors Seminar on the Arabian Nights. The last assignment asked students to write the 8th voyage of Sindbad, drawing on what happened in earlier voyages. I will post several of these here for your enjoyment. This is the third one I am publishing by Peter Otis. The second is by Marissa Priest. For the first by Taryn Teurfs, click here.]
The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad: The Isle of the Lost Civilization
by Peter Otis
And Scheherazade said, it is recounted, your grace, of how Sinbad the Sailor invited the Porter back the following evening, and told the tale of his magnificent eighth voyage:
My friends, I tell you that in turbulent times, the fortunes of all men and creatures in God’s creation are scattered like sand in a torrent, and that fate holds unpredictable odds in store. Truly, as I recounted to you yesterday evening, my seventh voyage was the final of my audacious journeys on the vast and distant seas on the outer rim of the world. Of course, you know from my voyages of my immeasurable wealth. However, you know not that the vast fortunes that surround you this evening would not be, were it not for my eighth and final voyage! On my journey back to Baghdad from my seventh adventure, I was wracked with a deep sense of despair to learn in Basra that civil war had erupted between the Caliph’s two sons, whose greedy rage had resulted in the devastation of my beloved Baghdad! Surely, my friends, the destruction is all too fresh in your minds as well. I returned in horror to find Baghdad in ruin, and to little surprise my own wealth stored at my palace had been plundered amid the turmoil. What precious wealth I had brought back with me from my seventh voyage I gave to the city’s keepers to finance reconstruction and the care of invalids. Give alms according to God’s will, for truly, only God in his goodness is eternal, while the aspirations of man and his pride are reduced to dust! Heartbroken to see the object of my desire—my beloved city—ruptured in such a way, I returned to my true home the sea, and left Baghdad almost as quickly as I had returned to her.
Though I had donated the majority of my newly acquired riches to the restoration of Baghdad, I kept a humble yet sufficient enough amount to finance a small trading journey westward. My once unquenchable thirst for adventure was simply not the same as once it was. With my crew replenished and my ship refurbished, we set off on a routine trading voyage fit for any inexperienced lout. Setting forth for the Mediterranean Sea, we traced the coastline of the Maghreb along North Africa, exchanging and accumulating treasures, and seeing such sights as the lighthouse of Alexandria and towering stone colossi. These well-known sights stirred the hearts of younger shipmates, but did not appease my appetite for questing. But once again, God had laid a perilous journey for me. After passing through many ports in the land of the Berbers, we had to drastically reroute to evade an aggressively approaching Byzantine fleet as we neared the longitudes close to the heavily guarded peninsula of Rome! Because of this ill reckoning, we had terribly steered off course and encountered far worse fortune. Without warning we found ourselves amid horrendous winds and terrible storms that cast our ship back and forth like a paper toy. After weeks of devastating weather, we had found ourselves hopelessly lost at sea. Observing the stars for the first time in days since the monstrous storm clouds receded, we only knew that we had been flung far beyond Jabal Tariq and somewhere off the western coast of Africa, on the opposite edge of the world.
Just when the ravenous hunger and desperation that accompany being stranded at sea was about to overtake my men, we spotted a peculiar island in the distance. With great impatience we sailed fast and dashed out to the craggy shores of the island, the crewmen kissing the sands beneath their feet. No sooner did we advance upon the shore than did a rambling horde of barbaric, gibbering creatures descend upon us from out of the forest underbrush up ahead! These ghouls resembled hideous, apish humanoids covered in dark fur with ferocious teeth and claws, like creatures that had once been human, but had the human parts eviscerated from them. The ape-ghouls, who were clad in the raiment of a strange civilization, brandished swords and spears which were equally as bizarre in their form. We were but a handful of men, armed with shabby weapons, and hopelessly outmatched! I fled with my crew down the shores and through the thicket, only to hear our ship being plundered and dismantled by the loathsome things in the now distant shore. As I fled for my life, many men were savagely picked off—luckily if by the clean penetration of sword, gruesomely if maimed by claw and tooth. The last of us to survive, I came to a hopeless dead end—cornered by the vile ghouls before a truly astonishing sight to behold. I had come to the edge of the thicket, and before me was an immensely steep valley surrounded by an overarching range of jagged, mountainous spires. In the basin of the valley a city—a strange, perhaps once beautiful civilization of enormous palace-towers, which in its ruinous state was almost indiscernible from the jagged peaks surrounding it. Believing my life to be on the verge of death, I praised God and thanked him for a good death, my final sight an enigmatic glimpse of a mysterious place, so characteristic of my previous adventures.
Yet how glorious is the omniscient God, whose courses he has laid for the likes of men are truly unpredictable! As I prayed my last words, something marvelous happened. A Jinn appeared before me in a burst of flames and smoke, as though from thin air, and confronted the hideous apelike ghouls. The Jinn made little other use of magic, but directed a furious, authoritative glare at my pursuers, who broke in the greatest panic and scattered into the jungle thicket! “I have saved your life,” the Jinn boomed, “and you are now indebted to me. But fear not, sailor, for I cannot harm you.”
I considered the being’s words thoughtfully and asked him, “I am indeed indebted to your service, o Jinn, but what do you speak when you say that you cannot harm me? Surely, you are a wise and powerful spirit, whose own power is dwarfed only by that of the Almighty God, and you could smite me within an instant. Why should I trust the likes of a Jinn?”
The Jinn proceeded to relate to me a most marvelous story. “I am a great patriarch of the Jinn, albeit one who has been chained to this miserable place for eons. Many ages ago, this island was a Paradise secluded from the rest of the world, and that crumbling skeleton of a city you see before you was an enchanted metropolis which thrived on the energy of raw, primordial magic. The race that lived here was not comprised of mere mortal men, but of beings between Jinn and man. Their longevity was great, and they possessed many secrets of the cosmos’ mysteries that few mortals comprehend. Though long dead, this island still resonates with the low tremor ancient arcane powers—that is, you can sense it if you are magically attuned. Naturally, I was attracted to this civilization because of its powerful magic, and had a great, burning desire for none other than the ruler of this metropolis—its priestess-queen. With dark skin like onyx and eyes like amethyst, and succulent breasts like opals, I wanted nothing greater than to possess her body, which radiated with magical essence. For you see, she was more than a priestess or a queen, but living magic itself. Invoking ancient spirits, her body became a physical vessel possessed for the spirits’ arcane powers, which endowed her with vast depths of knowledge and ability. In the guise of a handsome prince of their race and seducing her with my own mastery over magic, I won her hand in marriage. After we slept together, I revealed my true form; she reviled that her body had been molested by a putrid demon. A demon! This insult angered me severely, and I resolved to carry her off to my own realm—what do I care for this mortal sphere? Yet I could not return to my own realm, because the witch had cast an immobilizing incantation on me. We engaged in magical combat, and the collision of our primordial energies proved too strong for this realm. I had finally destroyed her, but had taken the whole civilization on this island with it. her dying words, the defeated queen cast a hex upon me: “Man and Jinn each driven by greed / all riches would you claim / forethought you would never heed / till all becomes ash and flame / Let then this gleaming city / become your miserable chain / until your soul is hollow / of all except disdain.” This final spell drew upon the raw mixture of ancient energies which had affected the island from our clash. It transformed the denizens of this realm in an aberrant state of undeath, like those creatures who attacked you on the shore. As for my own fate? I have been metaphysically chained to this island. I am unable to be affected, but cannot lay harm to a single mortal, having violated the priestess-queen. Nor can I enter the city—only dwell on this miserable, desolate island, and be perpetually reminded of the devastation wrought by my own hungry desire.”
Truly my friends, no sooner had I left the desolation wrought by men’s greed in Baghdad behind me that God had brought me to this place brought to ruin by the greedy hungers of a magical race. I replied to the Jinn, well then, what would you have me do?
The demon replied, “there is a way to free me from this accursed place. In this civilization, after a matriarch’s soul had left its physical shell, the body was cremated in a ceremonial pyre which burned an emerald flame endlessly, located deep within the vaults of the city. That flame still burns, as I can sense its energy. You, Sinbad, must descend into the city, face the fearsome offs of those apelike aberrations, and cremate the remains of the priestess-queen. The proper disposal of her mortal remains would release her magic from this realm, including the chain which binds me to this island. First, Sinbad, I must take you to her bones. Once you complete this task for me, I will help you return home. You haven’t really any choice—either repay to me your debt, or be stuck on this island, alone, forever. Now,” thundered the Jinn, ”do you, Sinbad, accept my offer?”
Then morning came, and Dinarzhade yawned and said “what an intriguing story, sister, surely you must finish it tomorrow night!”
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