Trigger warning: references to incest
Last week was a welcome break from Dau’ al-Makan’s holy war, with the vizier Dandan telling a story about a variety of weird people falling in lust and very occasionally, love. That’s now over and we are back to the fighting. Four years of it. After so long a siege even Dau’ al-Makan is getting tired. Dandan advises that they go home, revitalise and come back for another go later on. What with his son Kana-ma-Kana and niece Qudiya-fa-Kana both growing up without him, Dau’ al-Makan agrees. To everyone’s delight – INCLUDING MINE – they finally abandon Constantinople and head for Baghdad. I thought I was going to have to recap another slaughter. Someone gave up! They actually gave up! It’s a miracle!
Kana-ma-Kana is now seven years old and has never met his father. Upon his return to Baghdad, Dau’ al-Makan sees him first then calls on his old friend the furnace man, to whom nothing has ever been explained. He doesn’t even recognise Dau’ al-Makan at first, and when he does, can’t imagine how he became king. Pressed to ask for some favour, the furnace man asks at first to be put in charge of the other furnace men in Jerusalem. This inspires much amusement. Upon discovering he can ask for something rather fancier, he goes for the vacated post of sultan of Damascus. He’s even given a name for the first time – al-Ziblkan al-Malk al-Muhjahid. The citizens welcome him, the officials greet him and he prepares to send Qudiya-fa-Kana to her family in Baghdad.
She is eight and has never met her uncle. For the love of her dead father, Dau’ al-Makan showers her in gifts. She lives with Kana-ma-Kana, the two of them growing up well-educated and brave. Apparently. Qudiya-fa-Kana is the careful one, while Kana-ma-Kana is the reckless one. They both like riding out into the country to practice swordplay. That is not a euphemism.
While the kids grow up, Dau al’Makan is planning his second holy war. Because the last one worked out so well. He plans to appoint his young son as king, an idea Dandan gently points out is really bad. For one thing, Kana-ma-Kana is a child. For another, handing over power to someone else, even his own son, pretty guarantees that Dau’ al-Makan won’t ever get it back. Dau al’Makan explains that he means to place Kana-ma-Kana under the care of his brother-in-law, the royal chamberlain. Recognising that his king is resolute, Dandan gives up.
The handover is duly made and the young cousins are betrothed at the same time. Nuzhat al-Zaman, Dau’ al-Makan’s twin, promises to take care of both. It turns out that Dau’ al-Makan is actually sick, a disease that has plagued him for four years. Commissioning his son with destroying Dhat al-Dawahi if he possibly can, Dau’ al-Makan takes to his bed while the chamberlain runs the country.
Kana-ma-Kana and Qudiya-fa-Kana are definitely preparing for war. They spend all day together practicing their skills with a lance and bow. Confident of his son’s future greatness, Dau’ al-Makan passes away.
People get over it pretty fast. He wasn’t in Baghdad much anyway. The royal chamberlain rules; Kana-ma-Kana is pushed aside, unable to take the throne, and falls into poverty. His mother goes to plead her case with Nuzhat al-Zaman, who is shocked to learn of their financial distress – she assures them of a welcome in her home, a sentiment seconded by her husband.
In night 138, we see Kana-ma-Kana and Qudiya-fa-Kana at the age of fifteen: beautiful, accomplished and very awkward. Well, Kana-ma-Kana is anyway. Trying to make his express his crush, he succeeds in offending Qudiya-fa-Kana, who goes to complain about his bad poetry to her mother. Despite the rejection, word spreads of Kana-ma-Kana’s love. In night 139 the chamberlain – now known as al-Malik Sasan – hears of it and decides it’s no longer appropriate for Kana-ma-Kana to visit his cousin. Nuzhat al-Zaman reluctantly passes the message on.
Kana-ma-Kana is upset. His mother is not sympathetic, telling him he should have just kept his mouth shut. All things they have now depend on the new king’s kindness; there appears to be no chance that Kana-ma-Kana will ever take the throne. After some dramatic sad poetry, he insists he and his mother go and be beggars rather than live on his aunt’s charity. Most beggars can’t acquire their meals from the palace, but it still really sucks for his mother. She is stopped on one trip to the palace when Qudiya-fa-Kana asks after Kana-ma-Kana. The princess is shocked to hear of her cousin’s misery; she loves him too, just knows he doesn’t think things through and brings down trouble on himself as a result. She gives Kana-ma-Kana’s mother a reassuring couplet to take back to her son. It sort of helps but also sort of doesn’t because they still can’t meet.
By the time Kana-ma-Kana turns seventeen, he is sick to death of waiting around. He leaves Baghdad barefoot with only a stale loaf of bread for provisions. He doesn’t even offer his mother the courtesy of telling her he’s leaving – she waits for him, and when he doesn’t return, grieves loudly. “My darling son, you have brought down sorrows on me, although I had enough of these before you left home.” Tell it, lady. Her distress draws attention and people start muttering about how Dau’ al-Makan was actually a pretty good king, something like this wouldn’t have happened in his day.
In night 140, King Sasan hears the story from his leading emirs, who remind him Kana-ma-Kana is of royal blood. Sasan is so angry he has them all hanged. Amazingly, this does not have a positive effect on his reputation. Getting over his homicidal snit, Sasan remembers that Dau’ al-Makan was a good friend to him and decides to look for the missing prince. He sends someone called Tarkash to look with a hundred riders but after ten days searching there is no sign of the boy.
So what has befallen Kana-ma-Kana? He had no idea where he was going so just wandered the desert feeling sorry for himself, living off what he could forage, until he came at length to a beautiful green plain. Having fallen asleep on the grass, Kana-ma-Kana wakes in the middle of the night to a man’s voice reciting love poetry remarkably akin to his own. He gets up to look for the reciter, sure they’ll be good friends. When he can’t find the man, he calls out an invitation and is mistaken for a jinni. After much crying and reciting of poetry the sun rises and the two men see each other.
The reciter is a ragged young Bedouin man called Sabbah ibn Rammah ibn Hammam who thinks Kana-ma-Kana won’t make a good friend so much as a good servant. When Kana-ma-Kana gently prods him for an explanation for his vocal woe, he says that he’s in love with his cousin Najma but as a penniless member of his clan, Najma’s father sees him as an unworthy suitor. In order to win her Sabbah must return with a massive dowry of horses, camels and slaves. His only hope of amassing so much wealth is to stalk the merchants of Baghdad and rob them.
Obviously Kana-ma-Kana disapproves of this plan. He tells Sabbah of his own hopeless love for a king’s daughter and Sabbah snorts at the very idea, since all he sees is a young man even more ragged than himself. Kana-ma-Kana indignantly defends his lineage. Sabbah rejoices, because now he has a fantastic hostage. The prince’s protests that his family won’t pay a coin for him and really friendship is better than abduction fall on deaf ears. Seeing that Sabbah is determined to take him for ransom, Kana-ma-Kana neatly goads him into throwing aside his weapons for a wrestling contest to prove his worth. Sabbah laughs. He’ll regret that. There are a lot of things Kana-ma-Kana can’t do, but fighting is in his bones.
Before long, he has an unshakeable grip on his opponent and is preparing to throw him into the river. Sabbah appeals to him for clemency, which he gets, then retrieves his weapons and contemplates a second attack, this time fully armed. From the way this scene is written, I think some anti-Bedouin sentiment has gone into constructing his character. Certainly he’s being painted as fairly treacherous. Kana-ma-Kana sees his resentment and offers another bout – Sabbah armed with the sword, Kana-ma-Kana with just the shield. Deflecting each blow until his opponent tires, the prince seizes his first opportunity to overpower and bind Sabbah and drag him back to the river.
Once again Sabbah convinces him to change his mind. They agree to become friends instead. After lunch and a chat, Sabbah heads for Baghdad and Kana-ma-Kana stays on the green plain. He is praying for a chance at a better life when up rides a badly wounded horseman who promises to end his poverty if he will only give him some water. Kana-ma-Kana obliges and asks after the source of the injury. The rider admits he is a horse thief of some renown. His name is Ghassan and the beautiful horse he rides is Qatul, a treasure of Emperor Afridun. While he was awaiting his chance to steal the horse, Ghassan saw Dhat al-Dawahi ride out with it and ten slaves to head for Baghdad, where she meant to make peace with King Sasan. The slaves were very competent and Ghassan was beginning to give up on his theft when a gang of much nastier robbers led by the warrior Kahardash swept up.
In night 141 the warrior tied up everyone and took the horse, but Dhat al-Dawahi soon talked Kahardash into freeing her and all the slaves, and Ghassan took his opportunity to steal the incomparable horse. It’s an amazing mount in battle, as was proven when the robbers pursued, but Ghassan had precious little time to enjoy his success – badly wounded in the escape, he’s now on the point of death. Kana-ma-Kana introduces himself and Ghassan offers the horse in exchange for help returning him to his own land. Kana-ma-Kana assures him he needs no reward for such a service, but it’s too late anyway. Ghassan dies. The prince buries him on the plain and goes to admire the horse. “No one is lucky enough to have a stallion like this,” he observes and adds, perhaps a little smugly, “not even King Sasan.”
King Sasan is not having much luck at all right now, as it happens. Dandan has rustled up a rebellion with half the royal army on his side, swearing they’ll have no king but Kana-ma-Kana. The vizier goes one further, swearing he won’t sheath his sword until Dau’ al-Makan’s boy is on the throne. For an elderly man, he’s got a lot of tenacity. Talking up reinforcements as he goes, he marches on Baghdad.
I would like to state for the record that I never did trust the chamberlain – not in the general ‘these people are jerks’ way I’ve felt about most of the characters in this story but a specific ‘he’s hella ambitious and probably a usurper’ kind of a way, so. Ha. I’m getting what satisfaction I can at this point.
As it turns out, this will be the penultimate post of the Sharazad Project! Join me next Tuesday as I conclude the saga of two wildly dysfunctional royal families.