Read The Book of Wonders Online
Authors: Jasmine Richards
For David Nasralla,
slayer of beasts,
traverser of battlements,
corrector of commas,
and bona fide hero
heard the noise first. A howl, which sounded like all the djinnis in the world were crying out as one.”
The sailor stared out at his audience, green eyes sparkling. “I looked up to see the scaled underbelly of a beastâthe width of a leathery wingâand knew at once that it wasâ”
“A dragon!” Zardi shouted.
The sailor frowned. “Yes, a dragon. The great dragon, Thuban, in fact andâ”
“Was it big?” Zardi asked eagerly.
The sailor's chiseled face darkened with annoyance. “Well, yes, as big as the sultan's grandest ship. Thuban's tail alone was as long asâ”
“But could he breathe fire?” Zardi queried.
“Will you be quiet?” someone behind her snapped. “Stop interrupting the story.”
Zardi turned round to see the exasperated faces among the crowd that stood with her on the docks. “Sorry,” she mumbled, her cheeks warming with embarrassment. But she needn't have worried; she was already forgotten. Everyone was looking past her at the ship's captain, who was telling the story.
“Thuban was here to do battle,” the seafarer declared, leaping up onto his moored vessel, “and I would not disappoint him.” He strode over to the boat's falcon-shaped figurehead, his jewel-bright clothing a rippling flag in the breeze. He turned to face the crowd. “I wrapped my hand in a roughly woven cloth, took a red-hot spit from the cook's fire, and climbed the mast.” The sailor looked up to the sky and bared his teeth as if he could see the dragon circling above his head. “Thuban lunged at me with a roar and I swung out, thrusting the glowing spit into the beast's eyeball.” He smiled grimly. “It exploded with a sizzle and a pop, and then with a shriek, the dragon crashed into the sea.” The captain's eyes gleamed with satisfaction. “My dear listeners, Thuban was dead, but my adventure was not over yet.”
Zardi found herself leaning in closer as the seafarer's voice became low and smoky, and for a moment imagined that she too was a member of the captain's crew, ready to start the next part of the quest. “A map drawn by the ancient wizard Eria guided me to the caves of Kadrijt. Even the knowledge that a beast far worse than the dragon I'd just faced guarded the magical treasures hidden there could not stop me.” He thrust his shoulders back and tilted his head proudly. “I am Sinbad the sailor. When someone joins my crew I promise them adventure and, by my soul, adventure I will give them!”
A few in the audience whooped at this, while others clapped in approval. Several of the female onlookers smoothed down the pretty silk scarves pinned in their hair and shot admiring glances at Sinbad.
A grin split the captain's sun-kissed face. He bowed gallantly in the ladies' direction and continued his tale, but Zardi found it impossible to hear him over the clapping and whistling. She scowled. It wasn't fair that she got told off for interrupting the story when everyone else was now making such a racket. Listening was made even more difficult by the loud huffing noises that Rhidan was making at her side. She knew her father's ward would rather remove his toenails than listen to tales like this. He was only here because she had begged him to stop and listen to the captain's story for a while before they went on to the market.
She turned to him. “Stop that, will you?”
Rhidan's violet eyes were mutinous. “We need to get the ingredients for tonight's feast. Don't you want to celebrate your birthday?”
Zardi glared at her friend, noticing for a moment how silver his spiky hair looked amid the sea of ebony tresses that surrounded himâlike a star exploding in the night. “We'll go in a minute. I just want to see how the story ends.”
“Fine, let's stay.” Rhidan's lips became a thin line. “I mean, it's not as if mentioning wizards or magic is forbidden in Arribitha or we could get arrested by the sultan's guard for even listening to this nonsense.” He snorted and pulled anxiously on the silver amulet that hung around his neck. “Oh, wait, all those things are true.”
Zardi's gaze caught on the two engraved snakes that bordered Rhidan's silver talisman. Their sinewy length twisted around a plum-colored stone, their mouths open as if ready to bite. She shuddered. The snakes made her flesh creep, but she would never dare tell Rhidan that. The amulet was his only connection to his past, the only clue to the origins of the violet-eyed baby boy left on the shores of the Tigress River twelve years ago. According to her father, Rhidan's tiny hand could not be pried from the amulet when he was found. He only released it once he was brought to live with Zardi's family as decreed by Sultan ShahryÄr.
“A mightier monster had never been seen,” Sinbad's voice suddenly boomed, and Zardi found herself sucked back into the captain's story.
“It had three heads, teeth as sharp as sabers, and claws made to slice and dice.” With a flourish, Sinbad released his sword from its leather scabbard and made to parry and thrust, right there on the deck of his ship. “We battled the beast from dawn until dusk and finally it began to tire.” Sinbad stabbed his weapon forward with a cry. “My blade found its belly, and the rest, as they say, is history.” He sheathed his sword nonchalantly. “The beast was slain, my men and I entered the cave, and our fortunes were made.”
Applause built like a wave and Zardi couldn't help herselfâshe began to clap wildly along with everyone else. She knew she'd never get to meet a wizard like Eria or duel a vicious beast. Still, she loved hearing stories about them.
“It is, my dear friends of Taraket, an embarrassment of riches.” The captain waved his hand toward the wooden chests that his crewmen were stacking on the riverbank. “We have so many magical talismans and trinkets that it weighs down our ship and we cannot continue on our adventures.” He looked out at the crowd earnestly. “We need your help. We need you to take some of these charms off our hands. I have everything: amulets that will protect you from the evil eye, tablets that will capture curses, even pendants that will bring you luck and love.”
Sinbad flashed a smile at his listeners, but Zardi noticed that it didn't quite reach his eyesâthey remained watchful. “It has been too long. Let magic come into your lives again.” The captain's voice was soft and melodic. “Remember its taste and brightness. Here is your one chance to possess some bona fide magical treasureâany charm for thirty dirhams.”
As the words left his mouth the crowd surged forward, trapping Zardi and Rhidan in their midst. She exchanged a resigned look with her friend and they allowed themselves to be swept along by the eager buyers. Better to go with them than be trampled to death.
Sinbad raised a hand. “Form a line, please. My crew will pass down the queue with the charmsâI ask that you have your money ready, please.” There was some shuffling but no line actually appeared. Sinbad didn't bother to press the point. “And for those of you waiting to purchase something, I am happy to sign autographs.”