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Trove: Find and get Australian resources. Books, images, historic newspapers, maps, archives and more. Samarkand - Maalouf Amin Download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd Amin. Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist and writer. He was formerly director of. Editorial Reviews. From Library Journal. Edward Fitzgerald's Victorian-era translation of Omar bestthing.info: Samarkand eBook: Amin Maalouf: site Store.


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Feel it. It has the same qualities as silk. He cleared his throat before going on. I had a brother, ten years older than I.

He died when he was as old as you. He had been banished to Balkh for having written a poem which displeased the ruler of the time.

He was accused of formenting heresy. I dont know if that was true, but I resent my brother for having wasted his life on a poem, a miserable poem hardly longer than a rubai. His voice shook, and he went on breathlessly. Keep this book. Whenever a verse takes shape in your mind, or is on the tip of your tongue, just hold it back. Write it down on these sheets which will stay hidden, and as you write, think of Abu Taher.

Did the qadi know that with that gesture and those words he was giving birth to one of the best-kept secrets in the history of literature, and that the world would have to wait eight centuries to discover the sublime poetry of Omar Khayyam, for the Rubaiyaat to be revered as one of the most original works of all time even before the strange fate of the Samarkand manuscript was known?

Near him on a low table lay a quill and ink-pot, an unlit lamp and his book open at the first page which was still blank. At first light there was an apparition. A beautiful slave-girl brought him a plate of sliced melon, a new outfit and a winding-scarf of Zandan silk for his turban.

She whispered a message to him. The master will await you after the morning prayer. The room was already packed with plaintiffs, beggars, courtiers, friends and visitors of all sorts, and amongst them was Scar-Face who had doubtless come for news. As soon as Omar stepped through the door the qadis voice steered everyones gaze and comment to him. Welcome to Imam Omar Khayyam, the man without equal in knowledge of the traditions of the Prophet, a reference that none can contest, a voice that none can contradict.

One after another, the visitors arose, bowed and muttered a phrase before sitting down again. Out of the corner of his eye, Omar watched Scar-Face who seemed very subdued in his corner, but still had a timid smirk on his face. In the most formal manner, Abu Taher bid Omar take his place at his right, making a great show of dismissing those near him.

He then continued, Our eminent visitor had a mishap yesterday evening. This man who is honoured in Khorassan, Fars and Mazandaran, this man whom every city wishes to receive within its walls and whom every prince hopes to attract to his court, this man was molested yesterday in the streets of Samarkand.

Expressions of shock could be heard, followed by a commotion which the qadi allowed to grow a little before signalling for quiet and continuing. Worse still, there was almost a riot in the bazaar. A riot on the eve of the visit of our revered sovereign, Nasr Khan, the Sun of Royalty, who is to arrive this very morning from Bukhara, God willing!

I dare not imagine what distress we would be in today if the crowd had not been contained and dispersed. I tell you that heads would not be resting easy on shoulders! He stopped to get his breath, to drive his point home and let fear work its way into the audiences hearts.

Happily one of my old students, who is with us here, recognized our eminent visitor and came to warn me. He pointed a finger towards Scar-Face and invited him to rise.

How did you recognize Imam Omar? He muttered a few syllables in answer. Our old uncle here cannot hear you! I recognized the eminent visitor by his eloquence, Scar-Face could hardly get the words out.

You did well. Had the riot continued, there might have been blood-shed.

You deserve to come and sit next to our guest. As Scar-Face was approaching with an air of false submission, Abu Taher whispered in Omars ear, He may not be your friend, but he will not dare to lay into you in public.

He continued in a loud voice, Can I hope that in spite of everything that he has been through, Khawaja Omar will not have too bad a memory of Samarkand? I have already forgotten whatever happened yesterday evening, replied Khayyam. In the future, when I think of this city, a completely different image will spring to mind, the image of a wonderful man. I am not speaking of Abu Taher.

The highest praise one can give to a qadi is not to extol his qualities but the honesty of those for whom he has responsibility. As it happens, on the day I arrived my mule had struggled up the last slope leading to the Kish Gate, and I myself had hardly put my feet on the ground when a man accosted me.

Welcome to this town, he said. Do you have family, or friends here? I replied that I did not, without stopping, fearing that he might be some sort of crook, or at the very least a beggar or irksome. But the man went on: Do not be mistrustful of my insistence, noble visitor. It is my master who has ordered to wait here and offer his hospitality to all travellers who turn up. The man seemed to be of a modest background, but he was dressed in clean clothes and not unaware of the manners of respectable people.

I followed him. A few steps on, he had me enter a heavy door and I crossed a vaulted corridor to find myself in the courtyard of a caravansary with a well in the centre and men and animals bustling all about.

Around the edges, on two floors, there were rooms for travellers. The man said, You can stay here as long as you wish, be it one night or the whole season. You will find a bed and food and fodder for your mule. When I asked him how much I had to pay, he was offended. You are my masters guest. Tell me where my generous host is, so that I can address my thanks to him. My master died seven years ago, leaving me a sum of money which I must spend to honour visitors to Samarkand.

What was your masters name, so that I can tell of his acts of kindness? You should give thanks to the Almighty alone. He knows whose acts of kindness are being carried out in His name.

That is how it came about that I stayed with this man for several days.

Oh no, there's been an error

I went out and about, and whenever I came back I found plates piled high with delicious dishes and my horse was better cared for than if I myself had been looking after him.

Omar glanced at this audience, looking for some reaction, but his story had not caused any looks of surprise or mystery. The qadi, guessing Omars confusion, explained. Many cities like to think that they are the most hospitable in all the lands of Islam, but only the inhabitants of Samarkand deserve the credit.

As far as I know, no traveller has ever had to pay for his lodgings or food. I know whole families who have been ruined honouring visitors or the needy, but you will never hear them boast of it. The fountains you have seen on every street corner, filled with sweet water to slake the thirst of passers-by of which there are more than two thousand in this city made of tile, copper or porcelain have all been provided by the people of Samarkand.

But do you think that a single man has had his name inscribed on one to garner gratitude? I must confess that I have nowhere met such generosity. Would you allow me to pose a question which has been bothering me? The qadi took the words out of his mouth, I know what you are going to ask: how can people who so esteem the virtues of hospitality be capable of violence against a visitor such as yourself?

Or against a poor old man like Jaber the Lanky? The answer I am going to give you is summed up in one word fear. All violence here is born of fear. Our faith is being attacked from all sides by the Qarmatians in Bahrain, the Imamis of Qom, the seventy-two sects, the Rum in Constantinople, infidels of all denominations and above all the Ismailis in Egypt who have a massive following right in the heart of Baghdad and even here in Samarkand. Never forget that our cities of Islam Mecca, Medina, Isfahan, Baghdad, Damascus, Bukhara, Merv, Cairo, Samarkand are no more than oases that will revert to being desert if neglected for a moment.

They are constantly at the mercy of a sand-storm! Through a window to his left the qadi expertly calculated the suns passage. He stood up. It is time to go and meet our sovereign, he said. He clapped his hands. Bring us some fortification for the journey. It was his practice to supply himself with raisins to munch on his way, a practice much imitated by those around him and those who came to visit him. Hence the immense copper platter which was brought in to him piled high with a mound of these pale treats for everyone to stuff their pockets.

When it was Scar-Faces turn, he grabbed a small handful which he held out to Khayyam with the words, I suppose that you would prefer me to offer these to you as wine. He did not speak in a very loud voice, but as if by magic everyone present fell silent. They stood with bated breath, watching Omar lips. He spoke. When one wishes to drink wine, one chooses carefully ones cupbearer and drinking companion. Scar-Faces voice rose a little. For my part, I would not touch a drop.

I am hoping for a place in paradise. You do not seem anxious to join me there. The whole of eternity in the company of sententious ulema? No, thank you. God promised us something else. The exchange stopped there. Omar hurried to join the qadi who was calling him. The townspeople must see you ride next to me. That will dispel their impressions of yesterday evening. In the crowd gathered around the residence, Omar thought he could make out the almond-seller concealed in the shadow of a pear-tree.

He slowed down and looked around for her, but Abu Taher badgered him.

Woe betide you should the Khan arrive before us. These cities have only ever submitted to government through force. They follow the straight path only when it is traced by the sword. The Prophet reduced the arrogance of the Meccans by the sword and it is by the sword that I will reduce the arrogance of the people of Samarkand! Nasr Khan, the master of Transoxania, a bronzed giant in flowing embroidered robes, gesticulated standing in front of his throne.

His voice caused trembling amongst his household and visitors. His eyes sought out amongst those present a victim, a lip that might dare to tremble, an insufficiently contrite look, the memory of some treachery. By instinct everyone slipped behind his neighbour, letting his back, neck and shoulders slump, and waited for the storm to pass.

Having found no prey for his claws, Nasr Khan grabbed armfuls of his ceremonial robes and in a fury flung them one after another into a pile at his feet, yelling insult after insult in the sonorous TurcoMongol dialect of Kashgar. According to custom, sovereigns would wear three, four or sometimes seven layers of embroidered robes, which they peeled off during the day, solemnly placing them on the backs of those whom they wish to honour.

Behaving in such a manner, Nasr Khan showed that day that he had no intention of gratifying any of his numerous visitors. As with every sovereigns visit to Samarkand, this was to have been a day of festivities, but any trace of joy was extinguished in the first minutes.

Having climbed the paved road leading up from the River Siab, the Khan effected his solemn entry by the Bukhara Gate at the north of the city.

He smiled with his whole face, making his small eyes seem more deeply set, more slanting than ever, and making his cheekbones glow in the amber reflection of the sun. Then suddenly he lost his good humour. He approached a group of some two hundred notables who were gathered around the qadi Abu Taher, focusing a worried and almost suspicious gaze upon the group in whose midst was Omar Khayyam.

Apparently not having seen those he sought, he abruptly made his horse rear up, jerked hard on the reins and moved off, grumbling inaudibly. Rigid on his black mare, he no longer smiled, nor did he respond with the slightest gesture to the repeated cheers of the thousands of citizens who had been gathering there since dawn to greet him.

Some of them held up petitions, composed by some public scribe. In vain, for no one dared to present his petition to the sovereign, but rather applied to the chamberlain who leaned over again and again to accept the sheets, mouthing a vague promise to take action. Preceded by four horsemen, holding aloft the brown standards of the dynasty, followed on foot by a slave naked to the waist and bearing a huge parasol, the Khan crossed the great thoroughfares lined with twisting mulberry trees without stopping.

He avoided the bazaars and went along the main irrigation canals, called ariks, until he came to the district of Asfizar. There he had had set up a temporary palace, directly adjoining Abu Tahers residence. In the past, sovereigns would lodge inside the citadel, but since recent battles had left it in a state of extreme dilapidation, it had had to be abandoned.

Now, only the Turkish garrison would periodically erect its yurts there. Having observed the sovereigns bad humour, Omar hesitated to go to the palace to give his respects, but the qadi urged him, no doubt in the hope that the presence of his eminent friend would provide a favourable distraction.

Samarkand - Maalouf Amin

On the way, Abu Taher took it upon himself to brief Khayyam on what had just transpired. The religious dignitaries of the city had decided to boycott the reception, accusing the Khan of having burnt down the Grand Mosque of Bukhara where armed opponents had entrenched themselves. Between the sovereign and the religious establishment, explained the qadi, the war rages on as ever.

Sometimes it is overt and bloody, but most often clandestine and insidious. It was even rumoured that the ulema had made contact with a number of officers who were exasperated by the behaviour of the prince. His forbears used to eat with the troops, they said, omitting no occasion to state that their power derived from the bravery of their peoples warriors. But from one generation to the next, the Turkish khans had acquired the regrettable habits of the Persian monarchs. They thought of themselves as demi-gods, surrounding themselves with an increasingly complex ceremonial which was incomprehensible and humiliating for their officers.

A number of the latter had thus consulted the religious chiefs. They took pleasure in hearing the officers vilify Nasr and accuse him of having cast aside the ways of Islam.

To intimidate the military, the sovereign reacted harshly against the ulema.

Had not his father, a pious man moreover, inaugurated his reign by cutting off an abundantly turbaned head?

In this year of , Abu Taher was one of the few religious dignitaries who managed to maintain close ties with the prince, visiting him often in the citadel of Bukhara, his main residence and receiving him with solemnity each time he stopped at Samarkand.

Certain of the ulema eyed warily Abu Tahers conciliatory attitude, but most of them welcomed the presence of this intermediary. Yet again the qadi easily fell into the role of conciliator. He avoided contradicting Nasr, profiting of the slightest glimmer of an improvement of his humour to buoy up his spirits.

He waited until the difficult moments were over, and when the sovereign returned to his throne and Abu Taher had seen him finally settle himself firmly against a soft cushion, he undertook a subtle and imperceptible resumption of control which Omar watched with relief. Upon a sign from the qadi the chamberlain summoned a young slave-girl to pick up the robes which were abandoned on the ground like corpses after a battle. Instantly, the atmosphere became less stifling, people discreetly stretched their limbs and some chanced to whisper a few words into the nearest ear.

Then, striding towards the space in the centre of the room, the qadi positioned himself in front of the monarch, lowered his head and said nothing. The manoeuvre was so well-executed that after a long silence, when Nasr finally declared, with a strength tinged with fatigue, Go and tell all the ulema of this city to come at dawn to prostrate themselves at my feet.

The head which is not bowed will be cut off. Let no one attempt to flee, for no land can give shelter from my anger, everyone understood that the storm had passed and that a resolution was in sight. The clerics had only to make amends and the monarch would forego taking harsh measures. The next day, when Omar again accompanied the qadi to the court, the atmosphere was hardly recognizable. Nasr was on his throne, a type of raised platform covered with a dark carpet, next to which a slave was holding up a plate of crystallized rose petals.

The sovereign would choose one, place it on his tongue, let it melt against his palate, before nonchalantly holding his hand out to another slave who sprinkled perfumed water on his fingers and wiped them attentively. The ritual was repeated twenty or thirty times, while the delegations filed past. They represented the districts of the city, notably Asfizar, Panjkhin, Zagrimach, Maturid, the bazaar corporations, the trade guilds of coppersmiths, papermakers, silkworm breeders and water-carriers, as well as the protected communities: Jews, Parsees and Nestorian Christians.

They all began by kissing the ground. They then raised themselves up, and made another bow which they held until the monarch signalled them to rise. Their spokesman uttered a few phrases and they went out backwards, it actually being forbidden to turn ones back to the sovereign before leaving the room. A curious practice. Was it introduced by a monarch over-keen on respect, or by a particularly distrustful visitor?

Then the religious dignitaries came, awaited with curiosity but also with apprehension. There were more than a score of them. Abu Taher had had no difficulty convincing them to come.

Since they had shown their feelings to ample extent, to persevere in that path would be to ask for martyrdom which none of them desired. Now they too presented themselves in front of the throne, each bending as low as his age and joints would allow him, awaiting the sign from the prince to rise.

But the sign did not come. Ten minutes went by and even the youngest of them could not remain in such an uncomfortable pose indefinitely. What could they do? To rise without having been authorised would be to expose themselves to condemnation by the monarch.

One after another they fell on their knees, a pose which was just as respectful but less exhausting. Only when the last kneecap had touched the ground did the sovereign make the sign that they might get up and leave with no further ado. No one was surprised by the turn of events. That was the price to pay. Such is the order of affairs of the kingdom. Turkish officers and groups of notables then approached, as well as some dihkans, headmen from neighbouring villages.

According to his rank, each kissed the foot or shoulder of the sovereign. Then a poet came forward to recite a pompous eulogy to the glory of the monarch who very quickly looked ostensibly bored. With a gesture he interrupted the poet, made a sign to the chamberlain to lean over and gave the order which he was to transmit. Our master wishes the poets assembled here to know that he is tired of hearing the same themes repeated, he wishes to be compared neither to a lion nor an eagle, and even less to the sun.

Let those who have nothing else to say depart. CHAPTER 5 The chamberlains words were followed by murmurs, clucking and a general din from the twenty-odd poets who had been awaiting their turn. Some of them even took two steps backward before quietly slipping away. Only a woman stepped out of the ranks and approached with a steady tread. Quizzed by Omars glance, the qadi whispered, A poetess from Bukhara. She has herself called Jahan, meaning the vast world.

She is a fickle young widow. His tone was that of rebuke, but Omars interest was only heightened and he could not turn his gaze away. Jahan had already raised the bottom of her veil, revealing lips without make-up. She recited a pleasantly worked poem in which, strangely, the Khans name was not mentioned one single time.

Praise was given to the River Soghd which dispenses its bounty to Samarkand and then to Bukhara before losing itself in the desert since there is no sea worthy of receiving its waters. You have spoken well. Let your mouth be filled with gold, said Nasr, pronouncing his usual phrase.

The poetess lent over a huge platter of golden dinars and started putting the coins into her mouth one by one as the audience counted them aloud. When Jahan hiccupped and almost choked, the whole court, with the monarch at the fore, let out a laugh. The chamberlain signalled to the poetess to return to her place. They had counted forty-six dinars. Khayyam alone did not laugh. With his eyes fixed on Jahan, he tried to work out what emotion he felt toward her.

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Her poetry was so pure, her eloquence so dignified, her gait so courageous, but here she was stuffing her mouth with yellow metal and being subjected to this humiliating reward. Before pulling her veil back down, she lifted it a little more and cast a glance which Omar noticed, inhaled and tried to hold on to.

It was a moment too fleet to be detected by the crowd but an eternity for the lover. Time has two faces, Khayyam said to himself. It has two dimensions, its length is measured by the rhythm of the sun but its depth by the rhythm of passion.

This sublime moment between them was interrupted by the qadi tapping Khayyams arm and bringing him back to himself. Too late, the woman had gone.

There were only veils left. Abu Taher wanted to present his friend to the Khan. He uttered the formula, Your august roof today shelters the greatest intellect of Khorassan, Omar Khayyam, for whom the plants hold no secrets and the stars no mystery. It was not serendipity that made the qadi note medicine and astrology out of all the disciplines in which Omar excelled, as they were always in favour with princes; the former to try and preserve their health and life, and the latter to preserve their fortune.

The princes expression cheered up and he said that he was honoured. However, not being in a mood to engage in intellectual conversation and apparently mistaking the visitors intentions, he chose to reiterate his favourite formula, Let his mouth be filled with gold! Omar was taken aback and suppressed a retch. Abu Taher noticed this and was worried. Fearing lest a refusal offend the sovereign, he gave his friend an insistent and serious look and pushed him forward by the shoulder but to no avail.

Khayyam had already made his decision. Would my Lord be so kind as to excuse me. I am in a period of fasting and can put nothing in my mouth. But the month of fasting finished three weeks ago, if I am not mistaken! During Ramadan I was travelling from Nishapur to Samarkand. I had to break my fast with the vow that I would complete it later. The qadi took fright and all those assembled fidgeted, but the sovereigns face was blank.

He chose to question Abu Taher. Can you tell me, you who have knowledge of all the minutiae of the faith, can you tell me if putting gold coins in his mouth and taking them out quickly thereafter constitutes breaking the fast for Khawaja Omar? The qadi adopted his most neutral tone; Strictly speaking, anything that goes into the mouth can constitute breaking the fast.

It has happened that a coin was swallowed by accident. Nasr accepted the argument, but he was not satisfied. He questioned Omar: Have you told me the real reason for your refusal?

Khayyam hesitated for a moment and then said: That is not the only reason. Speak, said the Khan. You have nothing to fear from me. Then Omar pronounced these verses: It was not poverty that drove me to you I am not poor for my desires are simple.

The only thing I seek from you is honour The honour of a free and steadfast man. May God darken your days, Khayyam! He did not know what to think, but his fear was tangible. There still rang in his ears the echo of an all too recent anger and he was not sure if he would again be able to tame the beast. The Khan remained silent and still, as if frozen in unfathomable deliberation.

Those close to the Khan were awaiting his first word as if it were a verdict and some courtiers chose to leave before the storm.

Omar profited from the general disarray to seek out Jahans eyes. She was leaning with her back against a pillar with her face buried in her hands. Could it be for him that she was trembling? Finally the Khan arose. He marched resolutely toward Omar, gave him a vigorous hug, took him by the hand and led him off. The master of Transoxania, the chroniclers report, developed such an esteem for Omar Khayyam that he invited him to sit next to him on the throne.

So now you are the Khans friend, Abu Taher called out to Khayyam when they had left the palace. His joviality was as great as the anguish which had gripped his throat, but Khayyam replied coolly: Could you have forgotten the proverb which says, The sea knows no neighbours, the prince knows no friends? Do not scorn the open door. It seems to me that your career is marked out at court!

Court life is not for me; my only ambition is that one day I will have an observatory with a rose garden and that I will be able to throw myself into contemplating the sky, a goblet in my hand and a beautiful woman at my side. As beautiful as that poetess? Omar could think of nothing but her, but he did not reply. He was afraid that the smallest word uttered carelessly might betray him.

Feeling a little light-hearted, the qadi changed both his tone and the subject: I have a favour to ask of you! It is you who has showered me with your favours. Abu Taher quickly conceded that point. Let us say that I would like something in exchange. They had arrived at the gateway of his residence. He invited Khayyam to continue their conversation around a table laden with food.

I have thought up a project for you, a book project. Let us forget your Rubaiyaat for a moment. As far as I am concerned they are just the inevitable whims of genius. The real domains in which you excel are medicine, astrology, mathematics, physics and metaphysics. Am I mistaken when I say that since Ibn Sinas death there is none who knows them better than you? Khayyam said nothing. Abu Taher continued: It is in those areas of knowledge that I expect you to write the definitive book, and I want you to dedicate that book to me.

I dont think that there can be a definitive book in those disciplines, and that is exactly why I have been content to read and to learn without writing anything myself.

Explain yourself! Let us consider the Ancients the Greeks, the Indians and the Muslims who have come before me. They wrote abundantly in all those disciplines. If I repeat what they have said, then my work is redundant; if I contradict them, as I am constantly tempted, others will come after me to contradict me. What will there remain tomorrow of the writings of the intellectuals? Only the bad that they have said about those who came before them.

People will remember what they have destroyed of others theories, but the theories they construct themselves will inevitably be destroyed and even ridiculed by those who come after. That is the law of science. Poetry does not have a similar law. It never negates what has come before it and is never negated by what follows. Poetry lives in complete calm through the centuries.

That is why I wrote my Rubaiyaat. Do you know what fascinates me about science? It is that I have found the supreme poetry: the intoxicating giddiness of numbers in mathematics and the mysterious murmur of the universe in astronomy. But, by your leave, please do not speak to me of Truth. He was silent for a moment and then continued: It happened that I was taking a walk round about Samarkand and I saw ruins with inscriptions that people could no longer decipher, and I wondered, What is left of the city which used to exist here?

Let us not speak about people, for they are the most ephemeral of creatures, but what is left of their civilisation? What kingdom, science, law and truth existed here? Nothing, I searched around those ruins in vain and all I found was a face engraved on a potsherd and a fragment of a frieze. That is what my poems will be in a thousand years shards, fragments, the detritus of a world buried for all eternity. What remains of a city is the detached gaze with which a half-drunk poet looked at it.

I understand your words, stuttered Abu Taher, rather at sea. However you would not dedicate to a qadi of the Shafi ritual poems which smack of wine! In fact, Omar would be able to appear conciliatory and grateful. He would water down his wine, so to speak. During the following months, he undertook to compile a very serious work on cubic equations.

To represent the unknown in this treatise on algebra, Khayyam used the Arabic term shay, which means thing. This word, spelled xay in Spanish scientific works, was gradually replaced by its first letter, x, which became the universal symbol for the unknown.

This work of Khayyams was completed at Samarkand and dedicated to his protector: We are the victims of an age in which men of science are discredited and very few of them have the possibility of committing themselves to real research. The little knowledge that todays intellectuals have is devoted to the pursuit of material aims. I had thus despaired of finding in this world a man as interested in the scientific as the mundane, a man preoccupied by the fate of mankind, until God accorded me the favour of meeting the great qadi, the Imam Abu Taher.

His favours permitted me to devote myself to these works. That night, when he went back toward the belvedere which was serving him as a house, Khayyam did not take a lamp with him, telling himself that it was too late to read or write.

However, his path was only faintly illuminated by the moon, a frail crescent at the end of the month of shawwal. Omar kept his gaze down and waited for the qadi to pluck more thoughts from his head.

Abu Taher, however, took a deep breath and gave a crisp order to his men to leave. As soon as they had shut the door behind them, he made his way towards a corner of the diwan, lifted up a piece of tapestry, and opened a damask box. He took out a book which he offered to Omar with a formality softened by a paternal smile. Now that book was the very one which I, Benjamin O. Lesage, would one day hold in my own. I suppose it felt just the same with its rough, thick leather with markings which looked like a peacock-tail and the edges of its pages irregular and frayed.

When Khayyam opened it on that unforgettable summer night, he could see only two hundred and fifty-six blank pages which were not yet covered with poems, pictures, margin commentaries or illuminations.

To disguise his emotions, Abu Taher spoke with the tones of a salesman. Its made of Chinese kaghez, the best paper ever produced by the workshops of Samarkand.

A Jew from the Maturid district made it to order according to an ancient recipe. It is made entirely from mulberry. Feel it. It has the same qualities as silk. He cleared his throat before going on. I had a brother, ten years older than I. He died when he was as old as you. He had been banished to Balkh for having written a poem which displeased the ruler of the time. He was accused of formenting heresy. I dont know if that was true, but I resent my brother for having wasted his life on a poem, a miserable poem hardly longer than a rubai.

His voice shook, and he went on breathlessly. Keep this book. Whenever a verse takes shape in your mind, or is on the tip of your tongue, just hold it back. Write it down on these sheets which will stay hidden, and as you write, think of Abu Taher. Did the qadi know that with that gesture and those words he was giving birth to one of the best-kept secrets in the history of literature, and that the world would have to wait eight centuries to discover the sublime poetry of Omar Khayyam, for the Rubaiyaat to be revered as one of the most original works of all time even before the strange fate of the Samarkand manuscript was known?

That night, Omar tried in vain to catch some sleep in a belvedere, a wooden pavilion on a bare hillock in the middle of Abu Tahers huge garden. Near him on a low table lay a quill and ink-pot, an unlit lamp and his book open at the first page which was still blank.

At first light there was an apparition. A beautiful slave-girl brought him a plate of sliced melon, a new outfit and a winding-scarf of Zandan silk for his turban. She whispered a message to him. The master will await you after the morning prayer.

The room was already packed with plaintiffs, beggars, courtiers, friends and visitors of all sorts, and amongst them was Scar-Face who had doubtless come for news. As soon as Omar stepped through the door the qadis voice steered everyones gaze and comment to him.

Welcome to Imam Omar Khayyam, the man without equal in knowledge of the traditions of the Prophet, a reference that none can contest, a voice that none can contradict.

One after another, the visitors arose, bowed and muttered a phrase before sitting down again. Out of the corner of his eye, Omar watched Scar-Face who seemed very subdued in his corner, but still had a timid smirk on his face. In the most formal manner, Abu Taher bid Omar take his place at his right, making a great show of dismissing those near him. He then continued, Our eminent visitor had a mishap yesterday evening. This man who is honoured in Khorassan, Fars and Mazandaran, this man whom every city wishes to receive within its walls and whom every prince hopes to attract to his court, this man was molested yesterday in the streets of Samarkand.

Expressions of shock could be heard, followed by a commotion which the qadi allowed to grow a little before signalling for quiet and continuing.

Worse still, there was almost a riot in the bazaar. A riot on the eve of the visit of our revered sovereign, Nasr Khan, the Sun of Royalty, who is to arrive this very morning from Bukhara, God willing! I dare not imagine what distress we would be in today if the crowd had not been contained and dispersed. I tell you that heads would not be resting easy on shoulders!

He stopped to get his breath, to drive his point home and let fear work its way into the audiences hearts. Happily one of my old students, who is with us here, recognized our eminent visitor and came to warn me.

He pointed a finger towards Scar-Face and invited him to rise. How did you recognize Imam Omar? He muttered a few syllables in answer. Our old uncle here cannot hear you! I recognized the eminent visitor by his eloquence, Scar-Face could hardly get the words out.

You did well. Had the riot continued, there might have been blood-shed. You deserve to come and sit next to our guest. As Scar-Face was approaching with an air of false submission, Abu Taher whispered in Omars ear, He may not be your friend, but he will not dare to lay into you in public.

He continued in a loud voice, Can I hope that in spite of everything that he has been through,. Khawaja Omar will not have too bad a memory of Samarkand? I have already forgotten whatever happened yesterday evening, replied Khayyam. In the future, when I think of this city, a completely different image will spring to mind, the image of a wonderful man. I am not speaking of Abu Taher. The highest praise one can give to a qadi is not to extol his qualities but the honesty of those for whom he has responsibility.

As it happens, on the day I arrived my mule had struggled up the last slope leading to the Kish Gate, and I myself had hardly put my feet on the ground when a man accosted me. Welcome to this town, he said. Do you have family, or friends here?

I replied that I did not, without stopping, fearing that he might be some sort of crook, or at the very least a beggar or irksome. But the man went on: Do not be mistrustful of my insistence, noble visitor. It is my master who has ordered to wait here and offer his hospitality to all travellers who turn up.

The man seemed to be of a modest background, but he was dressed in clean clothes and not unaware of the manners of respectable people. I followed him. A few steps on, he had me enter a heavy door and I crossed a vaulted corridor to find myself in the courtyard of a caravansary with a well in the centre and men and animals bustling all about. Around the edges, on two floors, there were rooms for travellers.

The man said, You can stay here as long as you wish, be it one night or the whole season. You will find a bed and food and fodder for your mule.

When I asked him how much I had to pay, he was offended. You are my masters guest. Tell me where my generous host is, so that I can address my thanks to him. My master died seven years ago, leaving me a sum of money which I must spend to honour visitors to Samarkand.

What was your masters name, so that I can tell of his acts of kindness? You should give thanks to the Almighty alone. He knows whose acts of kindness are being carried out in His name. That is how it came about that I stayed with this man for several days. I went out and about, and whenever I came back I found plates piled high with delicious dishes and my horse was better cared for than if I myself had been looking after him.

Omar glanced at this audience, looking for some reaction, but his story had not caused any looks of surprise or mystery. The qadi, guessing Omars confusion, explained. Many cities like to think that they are the most hospitable in all the lands of Islam, but only the inhabitants of Samarkand deserve the credit. As far as I know, no traveller has ever had to pay for his lodgings or food.

I know whole families who have been ruined honouring visitors or the needy, but you will never hear them boast of it. The fountains you have seen on every street corner, filled with sweet water to slake the thirst of passers-by of which there are more than two thousand in this city made of tile, copper or porcelain have all been provided by the people of Samarkand. But do you think that a single man has had his name inscribed on one to garner gratitude?

I must confess that I have nowhere met such generosity. Would you allow me to pose a question which has been bothering me? The qadi took the words out of his mouth, I know what you are going to ask: Or against a poor old man like Jaber the Lanky? The answer I am going to give you is summed up in one word fear.

All violence here is born of fear. Our faith is being attacked from all sides by the Qarmatians in Bahrain, the Imamis of Qom, the. Never forget that our cities of Islam Mecca, Medina, Isfahan, Baghdad, Damascus, Bukhara, Merv, Cairo, Samarkand are no more than oases that will revert to being desert if neglected for a moment.

They are constantly at the mercy of a sand-storm!

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Through a window to his left the qadi expertly calculated the suns passage. He stood up. It is time to go and meet our sovereign, he said. He clapped his hands. Bring us some fortification for the journey. It was his practice to supply himself with raisins to munch on his way, a practice much imitated by those around him and those who came to visit him. Hence the immense copper platter which was brought in to him piled high with a mound of these pale treats for everyone to stuff their pockets.

When it was Scar-Faces turn, he grabbed a small handful which he held out to Khayyam with the words, I suppose that you would prefer me to offer these to you as wine. He did not speak in a very loud voice, but as if by magic everyone present fell silent. They stood with bated breath, watching Omar lips. He spoke. When one wishes to drink wine, one chooses carefully ones cupbearer and drinking companion. Scar-Faces voice rose a little. For my part, I would not touch a drop.

I am hoping for a place in paradise. You do not seem anxious to join me there. The whole of eternity in the company of sententious ulema? No, thank you. God promised us something else. The exchange stopped there. Omar hurried to join the qadi who was calling him. The townspeople must see you ride next to me. That will dispel their impressions of yesterday evening. In the crowd gathered around the residence, Omar thought he could make out the almond-seller concealed in the shadow of a pear-tree.

He slowed down and looked around for her, but Abu Taher badgered him. Woe betide you should the Khan arrive before us. Since the dawn of time astrologers have proclaimed that four cities were born under the sign of revolt, Samarkand, Mecca, Damascus and Palermo, and their words are truth!

These cities have only ever submitted to government through force. They follow the straight path only when it is traced by the sword. The Prophet reduced the arrogance of the Meccans by the sword and it is by the sword that I will reduce the arrogance of the people of Samarkand!

Nasr Khan, the master of Transoxania, a bronzed giant in flowing embroidered robes, gesticulated standing in front of his throne. His voice caused trembling amongst his household and visitors. His eyes sought out amongst those present a victim, a lip that might dare to tremble, an insufficiently contrite look, the memory of some treachery. By instinct everyone slipped behind his neighbour, letting his back, neck and shoulders slump, and waited for the storm to pass.

Having found no prey for his claws, Nasr Khan grabbed armfuls of his ceremonial robes and in a fury flung them one after another into a pile at his feet, yelling insult after insult in the sonorous TurcoMongol dialect of Kashgar. According to custom, sovereigns would wear three, four or sometimes seven layers of embroidered robes, which they peeled off during the day, solemnly placing them on the backs of those whom they wish to honour.

Behaving in such a manner, Nasr Khan showed that day that he had no intention of gratifying any of his numerous visitors. As with every sovereigns visit to Samarkand, this was to have been a day of festivities, but any trace of joy was extinguished in the first minutes. Having climbed the paved road leading up from the River Siab, the Khan effected his solemn entry by the Bukhara Gate at the north of the city. He smiled with his whole face, making his small eyes seem more deeply set, more slanting than ever, and making his cheekbones glow in the amber reflection of the sun.

Then suddenly he lost his good humour. He approached a group of some two hundred notables who were gathered around the qadi Abu Taher, focusing a worried and almost suspicious gaze upon the group in whose midst was Omar Khayyam. Apparently not having seen those he sought, he abruptly made his horse rear up, jerked hard on the reins and moved off, grumbling inaudibly.

Rigid on his black mare, he no longer smiled, nor did he respond with the slightest gesture to the repeated cheers of the thousands of citizens who had been gathering there since dawn to greet him. Some of them held up petitions, composed by some public scribe. In vain, for no one dared to present his petition to the sovereign, but rather applied to the chamberlain who leaned over again and again to accept the sheets, mouthing a vague promise to take action. Preceded by four horsemen, holding aloft the brown standards of the dynasty, followed on foot by a slave naked to the waist and bearing a huge parasol, the Khan crossed the great thoroughfares lined with twisting mulberry trees without stopping.

He avoided the bazaars and went along the main irrigation canals, called ariks, until he came to the district of Asfizar. There he had had set up a temporary palace, directly adjoining Abu Tahers residence.

In the past, sovereigns would lodge inside the citadel, but since recent battles had left it in a state of extreme dilapidation, it had had to be abandoned. Now, only the Turkish garrison would periodically erect its yurts there. Having observed the sovereigns bad humour, Omar hesitated to go to the palace to give his respects, but the qadi urged him, no doubt in the hope that the presence of his eminent friend would provide a favourable distraction.

On the way, Abu Taher took it upon himself to brief Khayyam on what had just transpired. The religious dignitaries of the city had decided to boycott the reception, accusing the Khan of having burnt down the Grand Mosque of Bukhara where armed opponents had entrenched. Between the sovereign and the religious establishment, explained the qadi, the war rages on as ever. Sometimes it is overt and bloody, but most often clandestine and insidious. It was even rumoured that the ulema had made contact with a number of officers who were exasperated by the behaviour of the prince.

His forbears used to eat with the troops, they said, omitting no occasion to state that their power derived from the bravery of their peoples warriors. But from one generation to the next, the Turkish khans had acquired the regrettable habits of the Persian monarchs.

They thought of themselves as demi-gods, surrounding themselves with an increasingly complex ceremonial which was incomprehensible and humiliating for their officers. A number of the latter had thus consulted the religious chiefs. They took pleasure in hearing the officers vilify Nasr and accuse him of having cast aside the ways of Islam.

To intimidate the military, the sovereign reacted harshly against the ulema. Had not his father, a pious man moreover, inaugurated his reign by cutting off an abundantly turbaned head? In this year of , Abu Taher was one of the few religious dignitaries who managed to maintain close ties with the prince, visiting him often in the citadel of Bukhara, his main residence and receiving him with solemnity each time he stopped at Samarkand.

Certain of the ulema eyed warily Abu Tahers conciliatory attitude, but most of them welcomed the presence of this intermediary. Yet again the qadi easily fell into the role of conciliator. He avoided contradicting Nasr, profiting of the slightest glimmer of an improvement of his humour to buoy up his spirits. He waited until the difficult moments were over, and when the sovereign returned to his throne and Abu Taher had seen him finally settle himself firmly against a soft cushion, he undertook a subtle and imperceptible resumption of control which Omar watched with relief.

Upon a sign from the qadi the chamberlain summoned a young slave-girl to pick up the robes which were abandoned on the ground like corpses after a battle. Instantly, the atmosphere became less stifling, people discreetly stretched their limbs and some chanced to whisper a few words into the nearest ear. Then, striding towards the space in the centre of the room, the qadi positioned himself in front of the monarch, lowered his head and said nothing. The manoeuvre was so well-executed that after a long silence, when Nasr finally declared, with a strength tinged with fatigue, Go and tell all the ulema of this city to come at dawn to prostrate themselves at my feet.

The head which is not bowed will be cut off. Let no one attempt to flee, for no land can give shelter from my anger, everyone understood that the storm had passed and that a resolution was in sight. The clerics had only to make amends and the monarch would forego taking harsh measures. The next day, when Omar again accompanied the qadi to the court, the atmosphere was hardly recognizable.

Nasr was on his throne, a type of raised platform covered with a dark carpet, next to which a slave was holding up a plate of crystallized rose petals. The sovereign would choose one, place it on his tongue, let it melt against his palate, before nonchalantly holding his hand out to another slave who sprinkled perfumed water on his fingers and wiped them attentively.

The ritual was repeated twenty or thirty times, while the delegations filed past.

They represented the districts of the city, notably Asfizar, Panjkhin, Zagrimach, Maturid, the bazaar corporations, the trade guilds of coppersmiths, papermakers, silkworm breeders and water-carriers, as well as the protected communities: Jews, Parsees and Nestorian Christians.

They all began by kissing the ground. They then raised themselves up, and made another bow which they held until the monarch signalled them to rise. Their spokesman uttered a few phrases and they went out backwards, it actually being forbidden to turn ones back to the sovereign before leaving the room.

A curious practice. Was it introduced by a monarch over-keen on respect, or by a particularly distrustful. Then the religious dignitaries came, awaited with curiosity but also with apprehension.

There were more than a score of them. Abu Taher had had no difficulty convincing them to come. Since they had shown their feelings to ample extent, to persevere in that path would be to ask for martyrdom which none of them desired. Now they too presented themselves in front of the throne, each bending as low as his age and joints would allow him, awaiting the sign from the prince to rise.

But the sign did not come. Ten minutes went by and even the youngest of them could not remain in such an uncomfortable pose indefinitely. What could they do? To rise without having been authorised would be to expose themselves to condemnation by the monarch. One after another they fell on their knees, a pose which was just as respectful but less exhausting. Only when the last kneecap had touched the ground did the sovereign make the sign that they might get up and leave with no further ado.

No one was surprised by the turn of events. That was the price to pay. Such is the order of affairs of the kingdom. Turkish officers and groups of notables then approached, as well as some dihkans, headmen from neighbouring villages. According to his rank, each kissed the foot or shoulder of the sovereign. Then a poet came forward to recite a pompous eulogy to the glory of the monarch who very quickly looked ostensibly bored. With a gesture he interrupted the poet, made a sign to the chamberlain to lean over and gave the order which he was to transmit.

Our master wishes the poets assembled here to know that he is tired of hearing the same themes repeated, he wishes to be compared neither to a lion nor an eagle, and even less to the sun. Let those who have nothing else to say depart. The chamberlains words were followed by murmurs, clucking and a general din from the twenty-odd poets who had been awaiting their turn. Some of them even took two steps backward before quietly slipping away.

Only a woman stepped out of the ranks and approached with a steady tread. Quizzed by Omars glance, the qadi whispered, A poetess from Bukhara. She has herself called Jahan, meaning the vast world.

She is a fickle young widow. His tone was that of rebuke, but Omars interest was only heightened and he could not turn his gaze away. Jahan had already raised the bottom of her veil, revealing lips without make-up. She recited a pleasantly worked poem in which, strangely, the Khans name was not mentioned one single time.

Praise was given to the River Soghd which dispenses its bounty to Samarkand and then to Bukhara before losing itself in the desert since there is no sea worthy of receiving its waters. You have spoken well.

Let your mouth be filled with gold, said Nasr, pronouncing his usual phrase. The poetess lent over a huge platter of golden dinars and started putting the coins into her mouth one by one as the audience counted them aloud. When Jahan hiccupped and almost choked, the whole court, with the monarch at the fore, let out a laugh.

The chamberlain signalled to the poetess to return to her place. They had counted forty-six dinars. Khayyam alone did not laugh. With his eyes fixed on Jahan, he tried to work out what emotion he felt toward her. Her poetry was so pure, her eloquence so dignified, her gait so courageous, but here she was stuffing her mouth with yellow metal and being subjected to this humiliating reward.

Before pulling her veil back down, she lifted it a little more and cast a glance which Omar noticed, inhaled and tried to hold on to. It was a moment too fleet to be detected by the crowd but an eternity for the lover. Time has two faces, Khayyam said to himself.

It has two dimensions, its length is measured by the rhythm of the sun but its depth by the rhythm of passion. This sublime moment between them was interrupted by the qadi tapping Khayyams arm and bringing him back to himself. Too late, the woman had gone. There were only veils left. Abu Taher wanted to present his friend to the Khan.

He uttered the formula, Your august roof today shelters the greatest intellect of Khorassan, Omar Khayyam, for whom the plants hold no secrets and the stars no mystery. It was not serendipity that made the qadi note medicine and astrology out of all the disciplines in which Omar excelled, as they were always in favour with princes; the former to try and preserve their health and life, and the latter to preserve their fortune.

The princes expression cheered up and he said that he was honoured. However, not being in a mood to engage in intellectual conversation and apparently mistaking the visitors intentions, he chose to reiterate his favourite formula, Let his mouth be filled with gold!

Omar was taken aback and suppressed a retch. Abu Taher noticed this and was worried. Fearing lest a refusal offend the sovereign, he gave his friend an insistent and serious look and pushed him forward by the shoulder but to no avail.

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Khayyam had already made his decision. Would my Lord be so kind as to excuse me. I am in a period of fasting and can put nothing in my mouth. But the month of fasting finished three weeks ago, if I am not mistaken! During Ramadan I was travelling from Nishapur to Samarkand. I had to break my fast with the vow that I would complete it later. The qadi took fright and all those assembled fidgeted, but the sovereigns face was blank.

He chose to question Abu Taher. Can you tell me, you who have knowledge of all the minutiae of the faith, can you tell me if putting gold coins in his mouth and taking them out quickly thereafter constitutes breaking the fast for Khawaja Omar? The qadi adopted his most neutral tone; Strictly speaking, anything that goes into the mouth can constitute breaking the fast. It has happened that a coin was swallowed by accident. Nasr accepted the argument, but he was not satisfied. He questioned Omar: Have you told me the real reason for your refusal?

Khayyam hesitated for a moment and then said: That is not the only reason. Speak, said the Khan. You have nothing to fear from me. Then Omar pronounced these verses: It was not poverty that drove me to you I am not poor for my desires are simple. The only thing I seek from you is honour The honour of a free and steadfast man.

May God darken your days, Khayyam! He did not know what to think, but his fear was tangible. There still rang in his ears the echo of an all too recent anger and he was not sure if he would again be able to tame the beast. The Khan remained silent and still, as if frozen in unfathomable deliberation.

Those close to the Khan were awaiting his first word as if it were a verdict and some courtiers chose to leave before the storm. Omar profited from the general disarray to seek out Jahans eyes. She was leaning with her back against a pillar with her face buried in her hands. Could it be for him that she was trembling? Finally the Khan arose. He marched resolutely toward Omar, gave him a vigorous hug, took him by the hand and led him off.

The master of Transoxania, the chroniclers report, developed such an esteem for Omar Khayyam that he invited him to sit next to him on the throne. So now you are the Khans friend, Abu Taher called out to Khayyam when they had left the palace. His joviality was as great as the anguish which had gripped his throat, but Khayyam replied coolly: Could you have forgotten the proverb which says, The sea knows no neighbours, the prince knows no friends? Do not scorn the open door.

It seems to me that your career is marked out at court! Court life is not for me; my only ambition is that one day I will have an observatory with a rose garden and that I will be able to throw myself into contemplating the sky, a goblet in my hand and a beautiful woman at my side.

As beautiful as that poetess? Omar could think of nothing but her, but he did not reply. He was afraid that the smallest word uttered carelessly might betray him. Feeling a little light-hearted, the qadi changed both his tone and the subject:. I have a favour to ask of you! It is you who has showered me with your favours. Abu Taher quickly conceded that point.

Let us say that I would like something in exchange. They had arrived at the gateway of his residence. He invited Khayyam to continue their conversation around a table laden with food. I have thought up a project for you, a book project. Let us forget your Rubaiyaat for a moment. As far as I am concerned they are just the inevitable whims of genius. The real domains in which you excel are medicine, astrology, mathematics, physics and metaphysics.

Am I mistaken when I say that since Ibn Sinas death there is none who knows them better than you? Khayyam said nothing. Abu Taher continued: It is in those areas of knowledge that I expect you to write the definitive book, and I want you to dedicate that book to me. I dont think that there can be a definitive book in those disciplines, and that is exactly why I have been content to read and to learn without writing anything myself. Explain yourself!

Let us consider the Ancients the Greeks, the Indians and the Muslims who have come before me. They wrote abundantly in all those disciplines. If I repeat what they have said, then my work is redundant; if I contradict them, as I am constantly tempted, others will come after me to contradict me. What will there remain tomorrow of the writings of the intellectuals? Only the bad that they have said about those who came before them. People will remember what they have destroyed of others theories, but the theories they construct themselves will inevitably be destroyed and even ridiculed by those who come after.

That is the law of science. Poetry does not have a similar law. It never negates what has come before it and is never negated by what follows. Poetry lives in complete calm through the centuries.

That is why I wrote my Rubaiyaat. Do you know what fascinates me about science? It is that I have found the supreme poetry: But, by your leave, please do not speak to me of Truth. He was silent for a moment and then continued: It happened that I was taking a walk round about Samarkand and I saw ruins with inscriptions that people could no longer decipher, and I wondered, What is left of the city which used to exist here? Let us not speak about people, for they are the most ephemeral of creatures, but what is left of their civilisation?

What kingdom, science, law and truth existed here? Nothing, I searched around those ruins in vain and all I found was a face engraved on a potsherd and a fragment of a frieze.

That is what my poems will be in a thousand years shards, fragments, the detritus of a world buried for all eternity. What remains of a city is the detached gaze with which a half-drunk poet looked at it. I understand your words, stuttered Abu Taher, rather at sea. However you would not dedicate to a qadi of the Shafi ritual poems which smack of wine! In fact, Omar would be able to appear conciliatory and grateful. He would water down his wine, so to speak. During the following months, he undertook to compile a very serious work on cubic equations.

To represent the unknown in this treatise on algebra, Khayyam used the Arabic term shay, which means thing. This word, spelled xay in Spanish scientific works, was gradually replaced by its first letter, x, which became the universal symbol for the unknown. This work of Khayyams was completed at Samarkand and dedicated to his protector: We are the victims of an age in which men of science are discredited and very few of them have the possibility of committing themselves to real research.

The little knowledge that todays intellectuals have is devoted. I had thus despaired of finding in this world a man as interested in the scientific as the mundane, a man preoccupied by the fate of mankind, until God accorded me the favour of meeting the great qadi, the Imam Abu Taher. His favours permitted me to devote myself to these works.

That night, when he went back toward the belvedere which was serving him as a house, Khayyam did not take a lamp with him, telling himself that it was too late to read or write. However, his path was only faintly illuminated by the moon, a frail crescent at the end of the month of shawwal.

As he walked further from the qadis villa, he had to grope his way along. He tripped more than once, held on to the bushes and took the grim caress of a weeping willow full in the face. He had hardly reached his room when he heard a voice of sweet reproach. I was expecting you earlier. Had he thought about this woman so much that he now believed he could hear her? As he stood in front of the door, which he slowly closed, he tried to make out a silhouette.

In vain, for only the voice broke through again, audible yet hazy. You are keeping quiet. You refuse to believe that a woman could dare to force her way into your room like this. In the palace our eyes met and lit up, but the Khan was there as well as the qadi and the court and you averted your eyes. Like so many men, you chose not to stop. What good is it to defy fate, what good is it to attract the wrath of a prince just for a woman, a widow who can only bring you as a dowry a sharp tongue and a dubious reputation?

Omar felt restrained by some mysterious power and could neither move nor loosen his lips. You are saying nothing, commented Jahan with gentle irony. Oh well, Ill go on speaking on my own, and anyway I am the only one who has made the move so far. When you left the court, I asked after you and learned where you live.

I gave out that I was going to stay with a cousin who is married to a rich Samarkand merchant. Ordinarily when I move about with the court, I go and sleep with the harem where I have some friends who appreciate my company. They devour the stories I being them. They do not see me as a rival as they know that I have no desire to be a wife to the Khan.

I could have seduced him, but I have spent too much time with kings spouses for such a fate to tempt me. Life, for me, is so much more important than men! As long as I am someone elses wife, or no ones, the sovereign loves to show me off in his diwan with my verses and my laughter. If ever he dreamt of marrying me, he would start by locking me up. Emerging with difficulty from his torpor, Omar had grasped nothing of Jahans words, and, when he decided to utter his first words, he was speaking less to her than to himself, or to a shade: How often, as an adolescent, or later, have I received a look or a smile.

At night I would dream that that look became corporeal, turned into flesh, a woman, a dazzling sight in the dark. Suddenly, in the dark of this night, in this unreal pavilion, in this unreal city, you are here a beautiful woman, a poetess moreover, and available. She laughed. How do you know? You have not even touched me, you have not seen me, and doubtless you will not see me since I shall depart well before the sun chases me away.

In the dense darkness there was a disorderly rustle of silk and a whiff of perfume. Omar held his breath, his body was aroused. He could not help asking with the navet of a schoolboy: Are you still wearing your veil? The only veil I am wearing is the night. A woman and a man. The anonymous painter imagined them in profile, stretched out and intertwined. He took away the walls of the pavilion, gave them a bed of grass with a border of roses and made a silvery brook flow at their feet.

He gave Jahan the shapely breasts of a Hindu deity. Omar caresses her hair with one hand and holds a goblet in the other.

Every day at the palace their paths would cross, but they avoided looking at each other lest they give themselves away. Every evening Khayyam would dash back to the pavilion to await his beloved. How many nights had fate granted them? Everything depended on the sovereign. When he decamped Jahan would follow. He never announced anything in advance. One morning this nomads son would jump up onto his charger and set out for Bukhara, Kish or Panjikent and the court would be thrown into panic trying to catch up with him.

Omar and Jahan dreaded this moment and their every kiss carried with it a taste of farewell, their every embrace a breathless flight. On one of the most oppressive summer nights, Khayyam had gone out to wait on the terrace of the belvedere, when he heard the qadis guards laughing from what seemed very close by and he became uneasy, but for no reason, since Jahan arrived and reassured him that no one had noticed her.

They exchanged a first furtive kiss, followed by another more intense.

That was how they rounded off a day during which they belonged to others and started off on a night which belonged to them. In this city how many lovers do you think there are who at this very moment are being united like us? Jahan whispered impishly. Omar adjusted his nightcap learnedly and puffed out his cheeks and spoke wistfully: Let us consider this carefully: In the same fashion, how many men will sleep next to a woman they love, a woman who gives herself to them for some reason other than that they have no choice?

Who knows, tonight in Samarkand there is perhaps only one such man and one such woman. Why you and why me, you will say? Because God has made us fall in love just as he has made certain flowers poisonous. He laughed and she let her tears flow. Let us go in and shut the door. They will be able to hear our happiness. Many caresses later, Jahan sat up, half covered herself and gently extricated herself from her lovers embrace.

I must pass on to you a secret which I have from the Khans senior wife. Do you know why he is in Samarkand? Omar stopped her, thinking it would be some harem tittle-tattle. The secrets of princes do not interest me. They burn the ears of those who listen to them. Just hear me out. This secret affects us too, since it can disrupt our lives. Nasr Khan has come to inspect the fortifications. At the end of the summer, when the intense heat has subsided, he is expecting an attack by the Seljuk army.

The Seljuks, Khayyam knew them. They peopled his first memories of childhood. Well before they became the masters of Muslim Asia, they had laid into the city of his birth and left behind, for generations, the memory of the Great Fear. That had taken place ten years before he was born.

The people of Nishapur had woken up one. A message came to the citys notables: It is told that your men are proud and that you have sweet water running in underground canals. If you attempt to resist us, your canals will soon be open to the heavens and your men will be in the ground. This was the type of bragging which was frequent at the time of a siege. The notables of Nishapur nevertheless made speed to capitulate in return for a promise that the inhabitants lives would be spared and that their goods, houses and canals would be safe.

But of what value are the promises of a conqueror? When the horde entered the city, Tchagri wanted to loose his men in the streets and the bazaar. Tughrul was of a different opinion, wanting the month of Ramadan to be honoured, during which period of fasting a city of Islam could not be pillaged.

This argument won the day, but Tchagri was not disarmed and he resigned himself to waiting until the population was no longer in a state of grace. When the citizens got wind of the dispute between the two brothers and realized that at the beginning of the coming month they would be handed over to be pillaged, raped and massacred, that was start of the Great Fear.

Worse than rape is the announcement of impending rape, combined with a passive and humiliating wait for the unavoidable. The stalls emptied, men went to ground and their wives and daughters saw them bewail their impotence.

What could they do, how could they flee, by what route? The occupier was everywhere. Soldiers with braided hair lurked in the bazaar of the Grand Square, the various districts of the city and its suburbs, the area around the Burnt Gate. They were constantly drunk and on the lookout for ransom or plunder, and their disorderly hordes infested the neighbouring countryside. Does one not usually desire the fast to come to an end and the feast day to arrive? That year they wanted the fast to go on forever and hoped that the Feast of Breaking would never come.

When the crescent moon of the new month was spotted, no one thought to rejoice or to slit the throat of a lamb. The whole city felt like a gigantic lamb fattened for slaughter. The night before the feast, this night when every wish is granted, was a night of agony, tears and prayers spent by thousands of families in the precarious shelter of mosques, and the mausoleums of saints.

In the citadel, there was now a stormy discussion raging between the Seljuk brothers. Tchagri shouted that his men had not been paid for months, and that they had only agreed to fight because they had been promised a free hand in this opulent city, that they were on the verge of revolt and that he, Tchagri, could no longer hold them back.

Tughrul spoke another language: We are only at the start of our conquests. There are so many cities to take, Isfahjan, Shiraz, Ray, Tabriz and others further on.

If we pillage Nishapur after it has surrendered, after all our promises, no other gate will open for us, no other garrison will show any weakness.

How will we be able to conquer all those cities of which you are dreaming if we lose our army and our men abandon us? The most loyal are already complaining and threatening.

The two brothers were surrounded by their lieutenants and the elders of the clan who unanimously confirmed Tchagris words. Encouraged by this, he rose and decided to bring things to a conclusion: We have spoken too much.

I am going to tell my men to do as they wish with the city. If you wish to restrain your men, do so. To each of us his own troops. Caught on the horns of a dilemma, he did not move. Suddenly he sprang away from them and. Tchagri, for his part, had also unsheathed his sword. No one knew whether to intervene or, as was the custom, let the Seljuk brothers settle their difference with blood, when Tughrul called out: Brother, I cannot force you to obey me.

I cannot restrain your men, but if you set them on the city I will plant this dagger in my heart. As he said that he clutched the handle of the dagger with both hands and pointed the blade down toward his chest. His brother hesitated little, but walked toward him with his arms open and gave him a long embrace, promising not to go against his will. Nishapur was saved, but it would never forget the Great Fear of Ramadan. That is how the Seljuks are, Khayyam observed.

Uneducated looters and enlightened sovereigns who are capable of great meanness and sublime gestures. Tughrul Beg above all had the temperament of an empire builder. I was three years old when he took Isfahan and ten years old when he conquered Baghdad, imposing himself as the protector of the Caliph and wheedling out of him the title of Sultan, King of the East and West and at seventy marrying the Prince of the Believers very own daughter.

Omar recounted in a tone of admiration, perhaps with even a touch of solemnity, but Jahan let out a very irreverent laugh. He was offended and gave her a sharp look, unable to understand this sudden hilarity.

She excused herself and explained: When you mentioned the marriage, I remembered what they told me in the harem. Omar vaguely remembered the episode whose every detail Jahan had greedily retained. When he received the message from Tughrul demanding the hand of his daughter Sayyida, the Caliph had become wild with rage.

The emissary of the Sultan had hardly withdrawn before he exploded: This Turk who has just stepped out from his yurt! This Turk whose fathers in the very recent past were still worshipping some idol or another and who painted pigs snouts on their standards!

How dare he demand in marriage the daughter of the Prince of the Believers, descendant of the most noble lineage? If he was trembling so violently in all his august limbs it was because he knew that he could not deflect the claim. After months of hesitation and two messages of appeal, he ended up by formulating a reply. One of his old counsellors was charged with conveying it and he left for the city of Ray, whose ruins are still visible in the area of Teheran.

Tughruls court was there. The Caliphs emissary was first of all received by the Vizir who confronted him with these words: The Sultans patience is running out and he is harassing me.

I am happy that you at last have arrived with a reply.

You will be less happy when you hear it: The Vizir did not seem particularly concerned. He continued to finger his jade worry-beads. And so, he said, you are going to walk down this corridor and go through that tall doorway and announce to the master of Iraq, Fars, Khorassan and Azerbaijan, to the conqueror of Asia, the sword who defends the true Religion, to the protector of the Abbassid throne: No, the Caliph will not give you his daughter!

Very well. This guard will show you the way. The latter presented himself and the emissary arose to follow him, when the Vizir added innocuously: I assume, wise man that you are, that you have paid your debts, shared out your fortune among your sons and married off all your daughters!

The emissary sat back down, suddenly exhausted. What do you advise me to do? Did the Caliph give you no other directive, no other way of settling affairs? He told me that if there was really no way of escaping from this marriage, he wished for three hundred thousand gold dinars as compensation.

There we have already a better way of proceeding. However, I do not think it is reasonable for him. We could reach the same result without offending Tughrul Beg. You will tell him that the Caliph offers him his daughters hand, and I, for my part, will make use of the moment of intense satisfaction to suggest that he gives a gift of dinars commensurate to such a personage.

That was what happened. The Sultan, in a state of excitement, put together a great convoy comprising the Vizir, several princes, dozens of officers and dignitaries, and aged female relatives with hundreds of guards and slaves who carried to Baghdad for him presents of great value camphor, myrrh, brocade and boxes full of gems as well as a hundred thousand pieces of gold. The Caliph held an audience for the principal members of the delegation and exchanged polite but amorphous greetings.

Then, during his talk with the Sultans Vizir, he told him bluntly that the marriage did not have his consent and that if they tried to coerce him he would leave Baghdad. If that is the stance of the Prince of Believers, why did he propose an arrangement in dinars? I could not simply turn him down with a single no. I hoped that the Sultan would understand by my attitude that he could not obtain such a sacrifice from me.Abu Taher raised his voice and almost shouted, Omar, son of Ibrahim, tent-maker from Nishapur, can you not recognize a friend?

Anyway, the only confusion with Nizam al-Mulk is that which he deems fit to create. Then he honoured her, the chronicles confirm, while she did not remove the veil from her face, say a word or give heed to his presence.

Emerging with difficulty from his torpor, Omar had grasped nothing of Jahans words, and, when he decided to utter his first words, he was speaking less to her than to himself, or to a shade: How often, as an adolescent, or later, have I received a look or a smile.

Men with no knowledge who rule the world! We want no failasuf in Samarkand! Am I mistaken when I say that since Ibn Sinas death there is none who knows them better than you? Its only Jaber the Lanky! Lesage to obtain the fictional original copy of the Rubaiyat, witnessing Persian history throughout the Persian Constitutional Revolution of , only to lose this manuscript in the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

As he mimed a deep bow, he fluttered his fingers on both sides of his turban and succeeded in drawing out the guffaws of the onlookers, How did I not recognize the man who composed such a pious and devotional rubai:

NOVA from Mission Viejo
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