Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger (6 page)

BOOK: Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger
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“And his sister?” Zenobia asked.

Sinbad smiled and made a half-bow. “My heart is bound in love to both of them. I intend to ask Caliph Kassim for the hand of the Princess Farah in marriage.”

Zenobia’s voice was like a sheathed knife—steel beneath the smooth exterior. “There is no Caliph to consent to your marriage.” She made a small, negligent gesture with a beringed hand. “Kassim has not yet been crowned. Nor is he likely to be.”

Sinbad’s face grew as hard as her own. “I’ve been told of what has happened. I shall help if I can.”

Zenobia rose up from the soft cushions of her shaded litter, and her voice rose in anger. “Do not be blinded by love, Sinbad. Kassim is
beyond
help!” Her fiery eyes flicked toward the ship, then back to the tall sailor. “And Balsora must be made to understand once and for all—no one can help! And I shall tell him!”

She swung her feet out of the litter and Sinbad stepped aside as she dropped down to the stones of the quay. He followed as she strode angrily to the gangplank, pursued by a desperate eunuch with an umbrella, who was trying to shade her.

Balsora blanched and tried to hide his superstitious fear as he whispered to Farah. “She is coming aboard! Farah, I beg you not to provoke her.” Farah gave her uncle a dark look but said nothing as the hooded Zenobia strode onto the ship.

The queenly figure gave no one a glance, except Balsora, not even when Aboo-seer came down a rope from the mast. Sinbad stepped back onto his ship and watched with Hassan as Zenobia advanced upon Balsora with a determined look.

“Foolish old man!” she sneered. “Why do you interfere?” Her head came up and she smiled a most wicked smile. “You can do nothing for Kassim!”

Farah took a step forward and spoke defiantly. “Captain Sinbad will help us!”

Balsora touched her arm. “I implore you, Farah, be silent,” he said in a low growl.

Zenobia turned to Sinbad and pinned him with her fierce eyes. Involuntarily, the sailor’s hand went to his sword hilt, but she ignored his gesture contemptuously. “What can
you
do when they have consulted all the wise men, the doctors, the priests, and astrologers . . .” She waved a long-nailed hand to dismiss them all.

Sinbad, spoke quietly, carefully. He saw Bahadin the Helmsman grip his dagger, and shook his head almost imperceptively. “There may be another . . .”

Zenobia snorted, cutting him off. “No one! Abandon this false hope. Kassim is doomed forever.”

Farah stepped forward, shaking off Balsora’s restraining hand. She blurted out her accusation loudly as Zenobia swung angrily toward her. “You lie! You
want
him doomed! You!”

As Zenobia began to smile Farah looked around, almost in hysteria. Her hand snaked out and plucked Hassan’s knife from his belt and she lunged at Zenobia with the blade held high, coming down in a glittering arc toward the hooded figure’s breast. But Sinbad was too quick for her. He caught her wrist and restrained her as she struggled to attack Zenobia.

Zenobia laughed, a gleeful, triumphant sneer. “If Kassim is not crowned within seven moons he will lose his right to be Caliph forever!” Her hand went up and a ringed finger pointed at the sky. “That is the law!”

Farah shouted at her from Sinbad’s arms. “And that is why you bewitched him! You want your son, Rafi, to be Caliph!”

Zenobia smiled in contempt, raising her chin and slitting her eyes. “Let me go,” Farah said angrily, still struggling. “Let me cut the smile from her face!”

Balsora waved his hands at her, seeking to calm her. “Farah, my child! You will bring an eternal curse on all our heads if you draw one drop of blood of any relation of the Royal Family . . .”

Farah shook her head angrily. “It is only for
that
she has not
murdered
Kassim!” She fought Sinbad’s muscles as hard as ever, her anger giving her strength. “She’s as cunning as a snake! As malicious as a shark!” Her eyes flashed fire. “But Rafi will
never
be Caliph!”

“There is no one to prevent it!” Zenobia said archly.

Farah snorted and blurted out triumphantly,
“Melanthius
will prevent it!”

There was a stunned silence as Farah inadvertently let slip the name and Zenobia’s sudden shift of mood brought them all to even more fearful alertness. Her eyes slitted as they burned anger at Farah. After a moment she spoke, but there was a worried undertone to her voice.

“Melanthius is a myth and his powers are a legend,” she said. “He does not exist.”

Sinbad spoke up, his first encouragement being Zenobia’s sudden and obvious doubt. “We shall soon discover if the myth and the legend exist.” He raised his voice to his crew. “We sail tonight!”

Balsora and Farah broke into smiles and the princess stopped struggling. She changed her struggles into an embrace.

“O my beloved! May your days always be blessed!”

Aboo-seer spoke to Hassan under his breath. “And now his nights, too.”

Zenobia’s voice was as hard as splintered stone. “Sail for Rhodes or Tripoli, Captain,” she warned. “You’ll find richer cargo there. Don’t meddle in this affair. You will find yourself in dangerous waters!” Her feline gaze swept over Sinbad, then she bore into him with the force of her personality, trying to impress him with the force of her will. “Cargoes are richer elsewhere, Captain, and the women generous.” She smiled knowingly. “Tripoli . . . a sailor’s paradise! Sail for Casgar . . .” She paused, her eyes hot upon him, menace growing in her throaty voice. “Sail in search of Melanthius and you will be setting a course for Hell and Damnation!”

Sinbad’s face was determined. “Danger is an everyday risk for a sailor.” Sinbad gave her a thin smile. “Our course is set.”

Zenobia gave Sinbad a long and intense stare, her eyes narrowing, increasing the naturally feline quality of her expression. Then abruptly she turned and strode to the gangplank, crossing it in a flurry of black skirts. She rejoined her escort of beautiful women and without a word they left the quay.

The horses of Balsora’s escort whinnied and shied at the sight of Queen Zenobia’s escort. A horse reared and backed into another horse, which staggered sideways. Both riders cursed and fought to control the animals, who were terrified by the scent of Zenobia’s caravan.

The trailing cloaks of the Nubian women stirred up clouds of dust that clogged the nostrils, mixing with the salt of the sea, the frightened sweat of the prancing horses, the faint odor of fish and dung. Sinbad watched the haughty, silent cavalcade of black women, lead by the elegant Zenobia, until they disappeared over the first rise. His eyes were speculative and his fingers still toyed with the hilt of his sword.

Sinbad turned toward his crew. “Aboo-seer! Hassan! Bahadin! Prepare the ship for sea!” He turned to the princess and the Vizier, his voice hard with authority and determination. “Order your men to bring aboard the treasure for Melanthius,” he said to Balsora. “We sail for Casgar at the turn of the tide.” He raised a warning hand. “One thing I advise . . . set a careful watch on Zenobia. If she
is
a witch she will try somehow to stop us.”

Balsora nodded sagely. “My men will watch her castle by day and night.” He pointed down at the captain of his guards, who was calming the disturbed horses and reforming the guards. “Zabid there will be in command. He’s the best soldier I have.”

Sinbad smiled thinly. “Then you’d be wise to order him to cut her throat!
He’s
no family relation!”

Sinbad turned away briskly and began snapping orders. Men ran ashore and began gathering up supplies while others began readying the ship for a long voyage.

Farah watched Sinbad with a worried frown, then sighed. “It is in Allah’s hands,” she whispered to herself.

CHAPTER
5

Z
enobia’s castle was an edifice that automatically gave shivers to whomever looked upon it. It was built on a narrow peninsula of black rock that reached out into the sea, making approach from the ocean difficult because of the sharp offshore rocks over which the waves crashed. The narrow spit of land also made approach difficult from the land, without being observed. It was an isolated, secret stronghold. Everyone knew where it was, but few had seen the interior. Most of Balsora’s subjects avoided the whole area, if possible, and hurried by with averted eyes if they had to pass by on the narrow road.

Within the forbidding walls of her castle, Zenobia was stalking the long corridors. At length, before her was a winding stone staircase. The first few steps were formed from carved black rock, cemented in place. But as she descended, the steps were carved from the native bedrock, a black basalt, webbed with faint lines of gray granite. Each step was worn, the evidence of centuries of footsteps. A few guttering torches were set in rusting iron brackets on the walls. As Zenobia descended the walls became wet and dank, evidence that she had passed below the level of the sea outside. The stairs curved downward, with the black stone arching overhead, further blackened by the soot of unknown centuries of smoking torches.

Zenobia came to the end of the carved steps, then crossed a small space, ducked through a low arch, and came into a cavernous room. She threaded her way between the primitive metal presses and the anvils to the far end of the subterranean workshop. There she found her son Rafi working next to a long, narrow bench. His arm was bandaged, but his other arm rose and fell as he hammered on a piece of metal. Behind him, along the long bench, was a shape, under sheets, that resembled the outline of a giant man. Rafi did not see his mother approach and continued his hammering. He was forming a metal heart of bronze. On the bench sat his model—the real heart of an animal, pulsating inside a glass container filled with a translucent liquid that supported the living heart like a gobbet of raw offal in a protective cocoon of aspic.

Rafi’s noisy hammering stopped as he caught a glimpse of his mother watching him. He looked eagerly at her in an unspoken question, the metal-forming hammer in his fist.

“My son . . . Sinbad has agreed to help them.” Rafi’s face grew dark with anger. “We must act quickly,” Zenobia said.

Rafi’s anger gave way to cynicism. “What can the captain of a merchant ship do?”

“He is taking them to the Isle of Casgar . . . to consult the great sage, Melanthius.” Rafi’s face stiffened. “Is the heart ready?”

Rafi nodded, “Yes, but . . .” His voice was worried as he peered at his mother. “You said
no
one could help Kassim.”

Zenobia strode to the workbench without speaking and picked up the mechanical heart and studied it.

“Mother . . .”

“Exquisite, my son.” Then, in delayed answer to her son’s question, she said, “If Melanthius truly lives . . . he is the one person who could.”

Rafi’s voice flared in anger, echoing off the walls of stone. “You
promised
me!” He reached out to grab his mother’s arm. “I am to be Caliph! You swore that Kassim would never inherit Charak!” His voice floundered in anger. “If this . . . this Melanthius . . . can restore Kassim . . . !”

Zenobia raised a beringed hand. “I shall prevent it. But we must begin at once.”

“But . . . who is this . . . this Melanthius? Is he that Greek you mentioned years ago when you spoke of the great sorcerers?” He threw his hammer down scornfully, where it clattered among the tools on the bench. “A hermit.” He waved his bandaged arm, wincing, then waved his other hand. “An exile. A dreamer.” His lip curled. “There is nothing he can do.”

His mother’s voice was cautionary, but her eyes peered closely at the mechanical heart. “He is a scholar, Rafi. A man of great reputation. He is not to be ignored or dismissed, if there is the slightest chance he exists at all.” She paused and the metal heart sank to the bench in her hands. “And neither is Sinbad to be lightly dismissed.”

She crossed to the furnace window and looked in and Rafi followed her. “How are we to prevent Sinbad from . . . ? He has a ship . . . a crew . . . Balsora has Palace Guards . . .”

Zenobia’s face was bathed in the crimson glow from the fires of the furnace. “We shall have other forces at our command. That will be
our
army.”

Rafi rubbed at a blister on his hand and muttered, “If the ghouls had done their work properly . . .”

Zenobia’s head came up and her eyes flared at her son. “If you had done
yours!”
she snapped. Her son winced and extended his hands in a gesture of frustration.

“He nearly killed me!” he protested, balling his fist. His hand went ostentatiously to his wounded arm, but Zenobia was ignoring him.

“A wasted chance,” she said with a gesture of dismissal. Her eyes went to the contrivance on the anvil. “Have you finished?”

Rafi was quick to move the subject away from his deficiencies. He picked up the metal form he had been working on and held it next to the living heart in the jar. “Perfect in every detail,” he said. “An exact copy of a true heart . . . the heart of a black bull.”

Zenobia looked at him with a searching stare. “The bull was slaughtered when the moon was full?”

Her son nodded quickly. “And the heart . . . this heart . . . taken from its body while still beating. Everything was done as you commanded.”

Zenobia straightened from her close comparison. Her slanted eyes went to the huge shape under the draped sheeting. “Then all is ready,” she said. She gestured toward the figure of the giant and Rafi quickly put down the metal heart and grasped the sheets. With a flair he uncovered the creation of Zenobia’s genius.

The figure on the bench was that of a giant man, a huge creature made of bolted sheets of iron and gleaming bronze. The head was still shrouded in a sheet and Rafi hurried to uncover it. As he whisked away the covering Zenobia smiled.

“The Minaton,” she whispered.

The head of the great man-thing was that of a monstrous bull, a likeness fashioned from bronze, With fierce bulging eyes, curving horns, and flaring nostrils.

“Fit the heart,” Zenobia commanded.

Rafi swept the metallic device into his hands, looked at it closely, set it back onto the anvil to make a few last-minute taps with his smallest forming hammer. He picked it up, pronounced it completed with a satisfied nod of his head, then turned toward the huge figure of the Minaton.

BOOK: Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger
3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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