Clark Ashton Smith


Fakhreddin, Grand Vizier to Abdallah Harun Al-Raschid, seventh Caliph of the race of the Abassids, was a tall, handsome man, well versed in all the known sciences. He was well-beloved of his master, but in his secret heart, cherished that malignant monster, Jealousy. Yes, he was envious of the Caliph's great wealth and position. He was a cousin of Harun Al-Raschid.

Being of a secretive disposition, however, he had kept his envy strictly to himself, except on certain occasions when it had broken out in great fury.

A certain rich merchant of whom Fakreddin was purchasing a turban, extolled to him the praises of the Caliph.

"Our good Prince, Harun Al-Raschid," he said, in a sonorous voice which was meant to be impressive and was not, "is superior to all princes of this earth, living or dead, with the exception of Mahomet. He is wiser, kinder, wealthier, and more holy than any living ruler. He is richer than any of the emperors of Cathay, wiser than the wise men of China, and more holy than any of his predecessors, except the prophet himself."

"Perfidious liar! Dolt! Thou knowest not what thou sayest," cried Fahreddin, siezing the unlucky merchant by the throat and throwing him to the ground. Drawing his poignard he would have stabbed him (the merchant) dead, had not some people who had been standing nearby, interfered. They held back the furious Vizier, while the merchant, his face livid, staggered to his feet.

"Is it meet for the Grand Vizier of the Caliph to thus abuse his master?" he asked, still gasping for breath.

"I did not abuse the Caliph," said Fakhreddin, "I merely called you a liar and a dolt, and told you that you knew not what you said."

"You did, I'll admit that," said the merchant. "But all the same you meant that the qualities which I ascribed to the Caliph were not his. Everyone knows, who knows anything, that what I spoke was the truth."

"I'll say one thing for the Caliph," sneered Fakhreddin, "he's much better that Mahomet ever was!"

At this sacreligious utterance, coming from the lips of so illustrious a person as the Grand Vizier of the Vice-regent of God, the people who had collected in the bazaar drew back in horror and astonishment.

Finding that his captors had relinquished their hold upon him in their amazement, Fakhreddin drew his poignard and with a swift movement, stabbed the unhappy merchant to the heart.

The merchant fell without a sound, and the Grand Vizier made his escape during the confusion that followed. He reached the palace out of breath and immediately retired to his room.

Luckily for Fakhreddin, the Caliph was absent from Bagdad at the time and on his return, heard nothing of what had happened. Had it been otherwise than this the Vizier would assuredly have lost his head. But this, rest assured, was not the only occasion in which the malignant Fakhreddin displayed his hatred for the Caliph. It is not my purpose to weary the reader with an account of all that the Vizier did. I do not applaud his actions, for Harun Al-Raschid was the best of all the Caliphs, from Mahomet to the present Sultan of Turkey, who, tho he asserts himself to be viceregent of Allah, is not regarded in that light by the Arabians, and other Mohammedan peoples outside his own dominions.

It is sufficient for my purpose to recite one more of the Vizier's acts of jealously, if by doing so I give the reader a better comprehension of his (Fakhreddin's) feelings towards the Caliph. This I hope I shall do, but the final issue is left to the good judgment of the reader.

It happened, that one night, the Caliph, who made it his custom to pass thru the city every night to see that all was well, was taken sick with a slight illness, brought on by needless exposure. Fakhreddin, who always accompanied him on these nightly rambles, had this time to go alone.

The task was not at all to his taste, he having been wearied by a long day of hard and incessant work. The divan had been assembled several times and some hard thinking had been done.

The last of these councils had been assembled for the purpose of judging the Caliph's illness and what should be done about it. As no opinion was arrived at, the divan was broken up, and the Grand Vizier and the lesser viziers retired, much vexed by the gloomy disposition of the Caliph, who had ever been bright and happy.

And now, to return to Fakhreddin's journey. About ten o'clock that night he sallied forth from the palace disguised as a common eunuch. After traversing the city from end to end he hastened homeward, spurred on by the thought of a warm supper.

He passed by a large house thru the windows of which a light could be seen burning. This was strange, it seemed to the Vizier, so he ventured nearer for the purpose of making closer observations.

He walked noiselessly up to the door and listened. From within came the sound of music and singing, the latter decidedly feminine voices. The Vizier, curious to know the reason of this, stopped to think for a moment. As he was perfectly aware that the Caliph had forbidden entertainments later than ten at night, this particular one needed some investigation.

The Vizier knocked loudly upon the door, first making sure that his scimitar was ready for use. As he knew not what might happen as a result of his intrusion, he determined to be ready to meet all emergencies. The first result was that the music and singing immediately stopped, and that the light was blown out. The second was that no one came to admit him. Both were highly suspicious, inasmuch as they admitted that something was happening within, which the participants did not think it best to reveal to people whose intention they did not know.

Finding that the inmates entertained no intention of admitting him, Fakhreddin bestowed upon the door a heavy kick. The door was equally as heavy and was barred into the bargain. It was of mahogany, and evidently very thick.

Fakhreddin, who was a strong man, put his shoulder to the offending door. It cracked slightly. Fakhreddin pushed again, this time with all his strength. The obstacle collapsed with a crash, the Grand Vizier collapsing with it. He was on his feet in a moment, and with his sword in his hand he rushed into the room.

Aforesaid house was as dark and as still as the tomb. As a consequence, Fakhreddin collided with a wall. His scimitar was broken during the operation. The Grand Vizier got up, cursing heartily. He cursed all the inmates, their personal property, going much into detail, then fathers, mothers, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews, sons and daughters, wives, slaves, and concubines, and all their ancestors back to Adam. This occupied him at least five minutes and was done in a whole-hearted manner, intended to convince those who heard of the speaker's veracity and sincerity. And very undoubtedly those who heard were fully convinced. Fakhreddin was an adept in the art of cursing, and the aforesaid performance fully sustained his reputation. When Fakhreddin was finished he began to grope around for the door. He found it. The he tried to open it. But the door would not open. Fakhreddin cursed again. This time he did it a little more thoroughly. Then he applied his shoulder to the obstacle. It collapsed instantly and the unlucky Vizier executed a double somersault, coming down on his back. At the same moment he heard the sound of laughing nearby. He sought to rise and find the laugher, but he sought in vain. Then someone precipitated himself upon Fakhreddin from out of the darkness. Fakhreddin sat down very suddenly and the next moment was neatly trussed.

Someone lighted a lamp. The Vizier's captor suffered him to sit up. Fakhreddin blinked a little and then looked at the man who had captured him.

This person was to all intents a rich merchant. He was well dressed, and his garments were of expensive silks. He might have been forty years of age. His face wore a young expression, and his beard was of a rich black color. He had long hair, and a fierce looking mustache, about six inches in length. His great height exceeded that of Fakhreddin and he was correspondingly broad. Besides him there were two youths, who in their appearance the Vizier took to be the sons of the man. It was one of them who had lighted the lamp.

He approached and held it over Fakhreddin, so that his father might examine that person more closely.

"What do you mean by breaking into our house like this?" he asked angrily. "I see that you are one of the Calph's eunuchs."

"I am the Grand Vizier, Fakhreddin," replied that person. "Know you not that the Caliph has forbidden any entertainments to be held after ten at night!"

"I beg your pardon," said the merchant, cutting Fakhreddin's bonds, "I did not recognize you. If I had known that the Caliph had forbidden

entertainments after a certain time I would not have held one. You must present my humble apologies to Harun Al-Raschid, whose equal for beneficence and generosity has never been known."

These last words, spoken in a loud voice, aroused the slumbering jealousy of the Vizier. With a quick movement, he drew his dagger and stabbed the merchant to the heart.

The two sons, with loud cries drew their sword and rushed upon Fakhreddin. The Vizier parried their furious blows and after a little while disposed of both of them. Hearing voices, he then rushed from the house and continued his homeward journey. Of course he did not relate this story to the Caliph, but was forced to devise a falsehood to account for the loss of his scimitar. The scimitar had been given to Fakhreddin by the Caliph and the hilt was encrusted with diamonds. The Vizier's story was that it had been stolen while he was passing through a dark street. The broken scimitar was discovered the next morning by the wife of the man who had been cruelly murdered. Recognizing it she took the hilt to the palace, and accused Fakhreddin of the murder.

"You are mad," said Fakhreddin. It was stolen from me last night, long before the time of the deed. If you can find the thief, you will find him who killed your husband and sons. Besides, what reason could I have for murdering them?" The woman acknowledged that there was none and went home perfectly well satisfied with this explanation.

A search was made for the thief, but he of course, not existing, was not found.

Editor's Note:
So much of the final page is marred by stains, dirt, and water that a full half is illegible entirely; this, plus bleed-through from the ink on the other side, makes it almost beyond reading. However, enough is there to indicate that the scene shifts to the illness of the Caliph, which seems to be worsening; he is consulting the stars for a remedy; this seems to be fitting into Fakhreddin's ambitions. My guess is that the denouement will involve finding that Fakhreddin has either been slowly poisoning the Caliph, or has consulted with a sorcerer to enchant him; if the latter, then the sorcerer will have been done in by Fakhreddin after he attained his desire, and the spirits which served the sorcerer will wreak vengeance on Fakhreddin. If the former, at some point his jealous rage will erupt at some inopportune moment and lead to the discovery of his plot and crimes, and some desperate last attempt to take over will countervene the mercy which the Caliph would have shown.

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