In ancient Arabia, a thief called Rabble is captured and brought to a desert city
|The sun bore down on the Arabian desert, and there was not one cloud to block its rays. It was so hot the sand steamed with radiant energy; everything was in a haze. No traveler knew more how unbearable this was than one who had been bound at the wrists, tied behind a horse, and pulled roughly for two days at a march, barefoot. Even worse was that unlike the people that had their roots in the endless sands, this boy, called Rabble, had light skin.
If this was the punishment for thievery, these desert tribesmen must be free of robbers. Rabble was full of remorse, and if that was their aim they had certainly succeeded. He was also furious at himself for being so foolish; Arabian desert dwellers had to deal with the threat of bandits every day, of course they would be well protected. How had he allowed himself to be overcome by the allure of the precious jewels these travelers were carrying? Rabble had experience with stealing; he had thought his instincts were better than that.
Now that he had been caught and was stumbling behind the men, Rabble wondered where were they taking him. And why had they stopped in his city, spreading out all their possessions in plain view as if begging for them to be stolen. The tribesman spoke a strange language he had never heard before, so even if they should choose to inform him, he probably would not understand anyway.
It was many hours and lashes of the whip later that Rabble saw the outline of a palace and city on the horizon. He could barely make it out in the haze, but the city was a maze of wide and narrow streets the color of sand and it was framed by the shining domed white palace that nearly exceeded it in size. Steadily the image grew clearer as they traveled until finally they reached it the next day at late afternoon, traveling along a gleaming stone path and up to the gates. The city was walled and the gates were manned by menacing looking guards, all dark, hairy, and large. Upon arrival they conversed gruffly with the boy’s captors. Then the city’s gates were pushed open and they were admitted within the stone walls and lead along the city streets.
Rabble was in awe of the sanded Arabian city that lay in the shadow of the lavish palace. He found himself in a narrow and cramped marketplace bustling with activity. These people were merchants, peasants, and thieves, like him. But among them he saw mighty warriors, palace guards, and some well-dressed men and their women in silk, relatives of the palace royalty. All of the people here were dark, he saw not one face like his own, and they wore clothes foreign to him. Rabble noticed even in his weak state that he was getting curious looks from the city people, his appearance so different from theirs.
They approached the magnificent palace, making Rabble wonder if they were actually going inside. It was surrounded by a tall and elegant marble wall and they passed through the open gate into the lush land surrounding the palace. Rabble stared in awe at the unfamiliar structure, taking in the white marble and the towering golden domes flashing in the late sunlight. Precious stones adorned all the windows and doors. However, instead of entering the building, they followed a path to the left and found themselves in a garden, filled with colorful and healthy flowers and trees. It was an oasis in the barren dessert sand that resided outside the walls.
The men stopped abruptly and Rabble was roughly untied from the horse and jerked around by a beared man as stable hands appeared to take the animals. Rabble was yanked, his wrists still tied, further into the garden and into festivities. Lively music played by drums and flutes immediately surrounded them. Dancing to the melody there were young, beautiful girls jumping around with flaming torches. The wealthy sat at expensively decorated tables spread out in the garden, laughing, talking, and watching the dancing girls. However, the very important men all sat high up on a stone platform in erected outdoor chairs, similar to thrones. They were at the very edge of the group, looking down on the festivities.
Rabble stumbled as he was yanked toward the platform by the tribesman, he fell and scraped his hands. Blood trickled down his palms as he was shoved upright. They kept walking up to men in grand attire, all wearing turbans. They flanked whom Rabble guessed was the sultan, just by his commanding air. The man was fairly well aged, there were specks of gray in his beard, yet he was still young enough to be a strong commander. The tribesman leader first climbed the three steps onto the platform and went up to the sultan, as his men kept a tight hold on Rabble. The sultan spoke to him in the strange language, probably conversing about the valuables that were being transported. The very same valuables that Rabble had tried to steal.
The sultan looked pleased and sent the tribesman on his way. The desert traveler then went to a man on the sultan’s left and spoke with him. This time he turned back and pointed at Rabble, who by now looked a complete mess. The wealthy man nodded and dismissed the tribe leader with a wave of his hand. Now he looked at Rabble and spoke in a thick accent, “Come forward.”
The arms restraining him shoved him roughly forward and Rabble stumbled up to this man. He was so dehydrated, exhausted, and malnourished, that he couldn’t even stand unaided, so he knelt in a weary heap.
This man looked very experienced and battle-worn. His beard was scraggly and turning gray and he still bore the scars of wars long past. Rabble guessed he was the captain of the guard, or army, whatever these people had here. He looked kind enough, possibly Rabble could escape a severe penalty.
“What is your name, boy?” He asked.
The man narrowed his eyes at the name and then looked him over, “I have never seen anyone so pale as you...” he said quietly. Then, “how old are you Rabble?”
The captain of the guard looked crestfallen after Rabble spoke, “And did you steal, or attempt to steal, from my couriers?”
“I did, sir.”
The man sighed deeply, “A shame...” he muttered, “put him with the others.”
Rabble grunted as harsh hands seized his arms once again, but he did not fight as they forcefully pulled him along. He was suddenly aware of other prisoners tied up in a line by a large fire in the center of the garden. They looked as weary as he was sure he did, chained harshly to wooden posts. This was the same fate that awaited Rabble, he realized, as the tribesmen that had captured him before tied him up with the prisoners.
The sultan called out in his peculiar language, and the celebrations that had grown quiet and watchful, raged again. Rabble’s eyes were caught by a beautiful, enticing dancer, swinging her flame torch around her in an intricate pattern. She wore attractive, sparse, and loose garments of silk. Her clothes exposed all of her stomach, shoulders and arms, as was custom in the desert country. She was dark and her eyes shone mysteriously, but the rest of her face was veiled, and she wore jewels in her hair. As she spun around in her dance, she faltered, if only for a moment, as her eyes locked with his. Rabble still watched her as she preformed, and he thought he saw her look back at him.
“You have fine tastes, my pale friend.” A heavily accented voice spoke.
Rabble looked to his right at the closest prisoner, also tied to a post. He was a boy too, perhaps a little older, his skin very dark. He wore the clothes of a street peasant, ragged and fraying, and was shining with sweat. On his thick head of hair he wore a dirty fez. The classic look of Arabian riffraff, yet he probably was good-looking under his layer of grime.
“Her name is Kara, the most beautiful and graceful dancer in our city.”
“She is amazing.” Rabble croaked in reply, his throat terribly parched.
“I’ve seen a handful of white men in my life, but never any with hair as light as yours.” The boy commented.
“Where I come from, there are other people are as pale as I am.”
“Do you come from the west?”
Rabble nodded, then asked, “Do you have a name?”
“Akmed, and you?”
“My name is Rabble.”
The prisoner smirked slightly, “So... what crime have you committed, Rabble?”
“Tried to run off with the jewels those men were carrying.” Rabble answered shortly.
“Jewel thief? Then why did they bring you here?” Akmed mused, “Why didn’t they just cut off your hand and be done with it?”
“I imagine it had something to do with the valuables they were carrying, maybe they thought I was more than just a simple absconder.” Rabble answered. The dancer leaped by again, her gold and gems glittering in the firelight.
“Well, I’m a thief as well,” Akmed said casually, “but a rather notorious one, if I do say so myself. I’m wanted for more than the nicking of bread. I’ve been stealing gold directly from the palace for years now, but this is the first time I’ve been caught.”
Rabble looked at his new friend with respect. All that in his tender years.
“I suppose you know what is to happen to us?” Akmed inquired after a long silence.
Rabble shook his head, which made him terribly dizzy.
“We’re to be beheaded in the morning.”