Last week Prince Dau’ al-Makan insisted on reeling off poetry in the middle of the night, drawing the attention of his sister Nuzhat al-Zaman, who sent a eunuch out to fetch the unknown reciter. He was given strict instructions not to harm whoever it was, which is a bit unlucky really because when confronted Dau’ al-Makan goes feral and starts spitting abuse. The eunuch patiently explains he means him no harm, quite the opposite in fact. Dau’ al-Makan consents to accompany him to Nuzhat al-Zaman’s tent and the furnace man follows some way behind, mentally penning the prince’s obituary. Then it strikes him that Dau’ al-Makan, backed into a corner, might blame him for the disruptive poetry and the furnace man starts worrying about his own life instead.
Nuzhat al-Zaman is the only one who knows what’s going on, or at least what she hopes is going on. Her eunuch’s description of the poet would seem to confirm her suspicions. She sends him back out to relay a request for more poetry. Dau’ al-Makan wants to make it clear that he won’t share his identity; that there might not be an identity to share any more. He’s obviously having a crisis. Nuzhat al-Zaman bursts into tears when she hears that, and has the eunuch play go-between again, asking Dau’ al-Makan who he has lost to cause him such grief. “I have been parted from everyone,” he replies, “but dearest of them to me was my sister.” In night seventy five, he expresses his misery through verse, referencing ‘Time’s Delight’ again – the meaning of Nuzhat al-Zaman’s name – and she throws caution to the winds, emerging from her tent to see the poet for herself. They recognise one another at once and fly into each other’s arms.
And promptly faint, because they’re highly strung kids and this is quite the shock.
The eunuch, to whom no one has explained anything, covers them up with a blanket and waits for them to come to. When Nuzhat al-Zaman awakens, it is with a surge of happy poetry. “Time swore it would not cease to sadden me,” she cries. “Time, you are forsworn, so expiate your sin.” A tearful Dau’ al-Makan responds with a few lines of his own: “We two are equal in our love, but she/ Shows hardiness at times, while I have none.” They hug some more, then go inside the tent to swap stories. She tells him everything, not the version her older brother and ex-husband Sharkan approved. Dau’ al-Makan tells her about the immense kindness of the furnace man and Nuzhat al-Zaman promises that they shall repay him for it. In the meantime, she calls in the eunuch and gifts him a purse of money as a reward from bringing her brother back. Then she sends him off to fetch her husband.
The chamberlain is acquainted with the twins’ true identities and zooms in on the key point: he is now son-in-law to the king. “I shall be made the governor of a province,” he speculates, and embraces his younger brother-in-law enthusiastically. Nuzhat al-Zaman sends him away again so she can chill with Dau’ al-Makan, passing on orders that the furnace man should be given a horse and made an official part of the procession.
The furnace man, assuming the worst, is preparing to escape. He freaks out when Nuzhat al-Zaman’s servants encircle him and the eunuch doesn’t help matters at all by shouting, “Who was it who recited the verses? You liar, how can you say: ‘I didn’t do it and I don’t know who did’ when he was your companion? I am going to stay with you from here to Baghdad, so that everything that happens to your companion will happen to you.” Secretly he’s told the other servants to take care of their new charge, but he can’t resist a little revenge. As the journey continues, the furnace man is seated on a good horse and fed fine meals whenever they stop, but still dreads the other shoe dropping and spends the whole time in tears. He’s a bit highly strung too.
He sees nothing of his friend, because the twins have forgotten that other people exist outside their bubble and are busy catching up on the miserable time they spent apart. Three days out from Baghdad, the caravan is just loading up for another day’s travel when they see an army thundering in their direction and the chamberlain goes to find out what’s going on. A company of horsemen detach from the main force to meet him. Alarmed, the chamberlain explains his position. The horsemen then tell him the news: King ‘Umar ibn al-Nu’man is dead, poisoned in his own palace.
Unfortunately his enabler, otherwise known as the vizier Dandan, is still around and in charge of things, so the chamberlain is told to go meet with him. The king’s sudden death has left a fractured powerbase, with some factions supporting Sharkan’s claim to the throne and others holding out for the long-lost Dau’ al-Makan. Nuzhat al-Zaman, being a girl, isn’t considered at all. Dandan and the army are on their way to Damascus to bring Sharkan back for a coronation.
Upon this revelation, the chamberlain sees a great big shiny opportunity. Next week, join me as the younger generation of royals stake their claims to the throne.