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The Sun LightTo Tobias Seamon's previous piece


A Day in the Life of the Grand Vizier

"The Thousand and One Nights is not something which has diedÖit is a part of our memory Ė and also, now, a part of tonight."
- Borges, lecturing on The Thousand and One Nights

The Grand Vizier stands on the walls, shakes sand from his beard. Cold-faced sentries stand exactly ten paces behind, scimitars in hand. The Vizier, a very large man, wears the black robes of his office, and three rings upon every finger and toe. Upon his member as well. Not one of the stones is semi-precious.

The Vizier is tired of black robes. His amethyst-dyed eyes blink against the amethyst sunrise. All the empire must bow to these robes. Except the Sultan. The Star of the Heavens bows to no one. Not even himself in the mirror.

Fingering the cloth, the Vizier is thankful he closed the theaters. All roles disgust him somewhat. Playing the Sultanís overseer disgusts him somewhat.

Yesterday, a slave in the Sultanís orangerie sneezed. For this crime, he received the requisite punishment: thirty-five stabs with a sawtoothed dirk to the big toe. Now the slave is climbing a ladder in the orchard below. His blood drips, leaves stains. Along with the toe, his nose is heavily wrapped as well, to prevent a recurrence.

Just once to wear red. Or purple. The Grand Vizier closes the thought. Such thinking leads to a requisite punishment.

Beard smoothed of sand, the Grand Vizier turns, goes to have his whiskers combed with sandalwood. The sentries follow exactly ten paces behind his figure, or rather, precisely three inches behind the Vizierís long, black hem.

*

Meetings all day. Beseechers circle the courtyard in confused, sulky lines. They wait. Water tinkles in the polished, quartz fountain. The supplicants are tired, the heat immense. White water runs off clear gems. The beseechers all need to pee.

It is though all the tea in China has requested an audience. Six flautists, three songbirds, two frond-waving houris and a sherbet-cooled hookah will barely suffice to curb the Vizierís temper. First into the Grand Vizierís windowless reception room, the Old Man of the Mountain. Flanked by blue-eyed hashish fanatics, the Old Man of the Mountain is very, very old. Conversely, his age makes him appear as if he were a newborn sparrow, fallen from the nest and bedecked in silver silks. He has traveled from the far Caucasus for this audience. Most of the caravan remained behind, to dust the dunes with bones.

After receiving the requisite seventeen minutes of flattery, the Grand Vizier speaks. His voice is as fluid as the moon, with many craters of meaning. It took years to perfect such a tongue.

What do you want, Old Man?

The Old Man of the Mountain, King of the Caucasus, Eagle Lord, Keeper of Assassins, and one of three-hundred-and-seventy-six potentates in thrall to the Sultan, stands crosslegged and quivering.

Mr. Vizier, to pee.

One of the crystal fountainís many sublime effects. I do not apologize. Mr. Vizier, I am the Old Man of the Mountain. As was my father before me, his father before him, his father beforeÖ

I see.

Mr. Vizier, I am in fact shah of many mountains. Have you ever graced the Caucasus with your presence?

Many years ago. My visit and the attendant pleasures bankrupted your father, and his father before him.

Ah, I remember well. Getting all those peacocks was a bitch.

I cannot imagine.

The hashish fanatics shudder. It is not going well.

Mr. Vizier, here it is. I would like my title amended to ďOld Man of Multiple Mountains.Ē

Sounds like a sexual matter.

Pained look on sparrow face.

Mr. Vizier.

Old Man, the title simply sounds better as is.

Mr. VizierÖ

Would you care to become ďOld Man of the Ravine?Ē

Great pain on sparrow face.

I thought not. You may add to your official seal the inscription, ďMaster of the Stone Multitudes.Ē

Mr. Vizier, thatís wonderful news.

Then go spread it. Next.

After the requisite twelve minutes of gracious adieus, the Old Man of the Mountain, Keeper of Assassins, Master of the Stone Multitudes, hobbles out, desperate to piss.

Next, seven eminent magi from the oasis of Merv. They range in ages from eleven to one-hundred-and-four. No one is exactly sure about the magi selection process. Looks are rumored to play a part. They all wear their dress robes, with the usual obscure symbols embroidered in formerly-leaden threads. Scrolls poke from every pocket. As a group, they reek of goat cheese and lilac.

The niceties are observed, then the leader of the delegation steps forward. His nostrils are pierced five times apiece with emerald hoops. The magus states their business in a whine: to warn the Sultan.

Of what?

First, a young apprentice has outstepped his bounds, and created in cats the ability to laugh.

Laughing cats?

Yes, Mr. Vizier. Laughing cats.

Have a number of these felines delivered to me personally. By nightfall.

Mr. VizierÖ

If an apprentice can work such sorcery, surely you gentlemen can expeditiously fulfill a routine shipping order?

Yes, Mr. Vizier.

What else?

Mercury is in retrograde.

The Vizier sips tea. This is bad?

Cataclysmic. Mr. Vizier.

Slurp. The last time you made such a dire forecast, slurp, the sultanate broke out in unaccountable wealth and conquests.

I do not understandÖ

That was me slurping.

Mr. Vizier. Please.

The Grand Vizier sighs. How bad?

The stars forecast the universe is turning upside down. Or at the very least inside out. All babies born in these times will be quarrelsome, meddlesome and generally misled. The industrious are becoming sodden, the wise like dunces or Christians. Also, multitudes are going to be stricken with the shits.

Oh my. The shits?

Mr. Vizier, the stars donít lie.

But magi do. You claim the wise are becoming idiots?

Actually I said like dunces or Christians.

Dunces, Christians or idiots? Which is it, man?

A moment is taken to check with the Court Recorder. Nonplussed, the Vizier continues.

Ah yes, dunces and Christians. Does this include everyone?

Raising himself to his fullest height, puffing his chest, flaring with goatish smells and staring directly into the Vizierís amethyst eyes, the magus responds: Irrefutably. Everybody.

Excellent! As the wisest among us, you must now be considered the most idiotic or Christian, and the basis of your report construed as irrefutably flawed. How unfortunate. My sympathies regarding the shits. Prepare a memo detailing this phenomenal retrograde. Sign it, notarize it, send it, and it shall be delivered to the Sultanís desk. Undoubtedly he will peruse said memo with the deepest of glances sometime within the next five years. Gentlemen, thank you.

The magi shuffle out, unread scrolls of prophecy rasping within their pockets.

*

Exhausted, out of patience, bored, the Vizier turns to the Court Recorder.

Take ten everybody.

As this utterance is recorded, the Vizier repairs with the houris to the antechamber behind the throne. Pipes filled with cold water from an underground cistern keep the chamber temperate at all times. The houris are almost identical: dusk complexions, gibbous breasts, crescent thighs, full asses. They wear tiny chiming bells in their ebon hair. Oneís eyes are dyed lavender, the otherís a soft tangerine. The Grand Vizier calls them Plum and Day Lily.

Plum and Day Lily go down on the Grand Vizier. The houris take turns removing his rings with dusky lips, then replacing them. Bells chime. Afterwards, they mop his brow with lime-chilled cloths.

Ladies. Thank you. So, what news in the Seraglio?

The houris glance at each other. It is Day Lily who answers.

The Sultan, the Star of the Heavens, Desert SwordÖ

Yes yes yes.

The Sultan wants to toss all the girls off the cliff.

Plum, hold my balls.

Sure thing. I felt the same way when I heard.

This is not good.

We know. The girls are upset.

Meaning thereís grim whispers?

Meaning we wouldnít care to be the Sultanís food taster. If thatís what you mean.

Thatís exactly what I mean. Whatís the Sultanís schedule today?

The Star of the Heavens is sleeping. He has also penciled in time to flip through magazines distractedly.

Does he perchance have the shits?

Not that weíve heard of.

At least thereís that. Cancel all my meetings.

The Vizier sighs for the second time that day.

Plum, Day Lily, as always. Thank you. I love you.

We love you too.

Black robes replacing pale knees, the Grand Vizier rises to find the Sultan.

*

The palace corridors stretch for a total of nine miles. Itís a mere league from the antechamber to the Sultanís apartments. The Grand Vizier moves quickly in his felt-bottomed slippers. Behind him, the robes swirl like a scimitar unsheathed.

To reach the Sultan, the Vizier must pass three-hundred-and-seventy-eight immense windows. Each is adorned with gilded lattice script relating the history of the world. With every passing window, lattice shadows scroll across the Vizierís face.

Only once is he stopped. A eunuch in yellow pantaloons brandishes an open parchment before the Grand Vizierís angry amethyst eye.

Mr. Vizier, you must sign.

What is this? Who are you?

Mr. Vizier, it is for receipt of a shipment of laughing cats.

Oh. Here.

Flourish of indigo-tipped quill.

There.

Sir, where shall we place these cats?

Just open the cage. Let them go where they may. Have you heard them laugh?

Not as yet, Mr. Vizier.

Hmm. Anything else?

The Thief of Baghdad. He has struck again.

Damn him. I wish heíd leave us be. Go to London or something.

London, sir?

Is that all, you crumb?

Yes, Mr. Vizier.

The Grand Vizier continues down the corridor. Outside, clouds move in. The gilded shadows blur into the marble floor.

*

The Grand Vizier enters the Sultanís apartments through the front door. He desires the sentries know his presence within. He kneels, prostrates himself upon the gold-flecked, lion-tiled floor. The lions greet his obeisance with open maws, silently. The only two misters in the sultanate greet one another.

Mr. Sultan?

Mr. Vizier.

The Vizier rises, inspects the dimness. The Sultan is strewn on the window seat. At his feet, magazines carpet the floor with the goods of Samarkand, Tashkent and Belgium. The little lions appear to want to eat these as well.

The Sultan stares listlessly. Imported samovars are tossed through the room, listlessly leaking thick green tea.

Mr. Sultan. Your chin!

In lieu of praying, the Sultan prefers to be shaved five times a day. To whom could the Stars of the Heavens possibly beseech? Now, stubble covers the Sultanís chin. Despite the overall disrepair, his eyelashes are freshly-hennaed.

Clouds cross the window. The Sultan responds.

Donít trip over the tea sets.

Iíll try not to. Thank you for the warning.

How did the meetings go?

Sir. The harem.

Will be dead by nightfall.

Sir. Please. Itís Shahr-azad again, isnít it? Iíll speak with her.

You wonít. And itís all of them. Is that laughter outside?

Pay that no mind, sir, itís just the wind. Perchance a cat. Mr. Sultan, speak to me.

Yes, damn it, itís Shahr-azad. Again. So I figured, just chuck it. A cat?

The Sultan is up, his gold robes brushing against gold-painted toes. His gold-dyed eyes glare at the Grand Vizier. His gold powdered cheeks grimace.

Sir, carefulÖ

Ow. Damn it damn it damn it.

The clatter of samovar kicked off wall. Doors begin to open.

Guards, nevermind. Just the tea again. Iím fine.

Sir, what has she done this time?

The same. The usual.

Which never once have you discussed with me in actual detail.

Nor will I now.

Perhaps you might consider marrying her?

Mr. Vizier, I swear I hear laughter outside. Which is fortunate for you, otherwise I might have caught that last remark.

The Grand Vizier goes to the window. Steps gingerly over the magazines. The Sultan gestures towards one with a gold-lacquered nail.

Thereís one, the one youíre stepping on, yes that, a guns and ammo journal. The Christian dogs have a new cannon. Fodder as well. I want it.

We shall have it by the weekend. Armenia?

Yes. That name on the map. It bothers me.

Perhaps after the conquest, call it Penzance?

Iíll call you Penzance.

The Grand Vizier coughs in a deliberate manner.

Mr. Vizier, how may I help you today?

You may help me by not tossing the harem over the cliff.

The Sultan plucks at a rubied tray on his desk.

Have you had lunch, he inquires. Still plucking.

No! Thank you sir. Suddenly, Iím very anxious.

What? Itís just grapes. Delicious.

Mr. Sultan, please. The food tasterÖ

Gives me the creeps. Mmmm.

Sir, stop eating grapes and listen to me.

Immense clatter of grapes and plate off wall. Rubies roll all over the tiles.

Guards. Nevermind. Now. Mr. Vizier, listen to me. How many brothers did I have?

Forty-three. Sir.

On the day of my ascendancy as Star of the Heavens, in my first duty as said Star, how many brothers did I personally throttle?

The Vizier is unwell. Forty-two, sir. There was a cramp.

Yes. There was a cramp. My hand. With a fresh hand, you throttled the last. Did he have a name?

None that mattered.

You mother fucker. What was my brotherís name?

Sweat drenches the Vizierís black robes.

He was called Baba. He was very young.

By very young, you mean an infant?

Yes. That is what I mean.

So, you mean, you throttled an infant, my brother, named Baba, because my hand was cramped and incapable of any more strangulation on the day of my ascendancy as Star of the Heavens?

That is entirely, and all, that I mean.

The Sultan is weeping rivulets. Henna-red tears stain his stubble. The Grand Vizier looks down. A ruby lies in a lionís open maw. Then the whoosh of gold robes, rushing. The Vizier looks up. The Sultan has seated himself behind his screen. There are sounds.

Mr. Sultan. Are you alright?

I feel sick.

O god. How many grapes did you eat?

O god.

Mr. Sultan!

More sounds. Then a smell.

Mr. Sultan, should I callÖ

Just help meÖ

Guards!

Guards, nevermind. Open a window, Mr. Vizier, damn it. I need air.

The window is opened. Magazine pages flap, rubies roll, the storm fills the room with rain and relief. The Sultan emerges from behind the screen, wipes his brow, then checks himself in the mirror. His golden, feline eyes blink at himself, at the red rivers stained in his beard, down his chin.

Mr. SultanÖ?

Look at that! What the henna did.

Yes, Mr. Sultan. The effect is striking. How do you feel?

Striking is not the word, Mr. Vizier. Regal is more like it.

The Sultan turns to face his Grand Vizier. Golden robed, gold hair wild, swept away from golden face, crimson running down at the mouth, it is the visage of a lion newly-fed. The Vizier steps back in awe.

Indeed, smiles the Sultan. I shall keep it like this. Now, Iím off to propose to Shahr-azad. Anyway, itís too windy for a trip to the cliffs today. Have the trumpeters trumpet my nuptials for seven days and seven nights. Make sure you have that fodder sooner than later. Iíd like to give her the slaves of that Penzance place as a bridal gift.

Sir, that is excellent news. Truly. But how do you feel?

Oh, for godís sake, Mr. Vizier. Itís just a case of the shits.

*

Black robed, the Grand Vizier stands on the wall. Sentries with naked scimitars stand guard precisely ten paces behind. The sun sets on the orangerie below. Knocked down by the storm, the fruits glow in the last, amethyst light. The Grand Vizier shakes sand from his beard. Beneath his black robes, he shakes all over.

Trumpets sound from all quarters of the city. Court painters are already painting the Lion-Star and Shahr-azadís marriage portrait. Court cartographers are already erasing Armenia from every map.

I shall have to add to the window lattice, the Vizier muses. Then he spies a shadow slinking from the still-open window of the Sultanís apartments. A small sack of rubies is clamped in the Thief of Baghdadís fist.

The Vizier cups his hands, shouts across the orangerie. Go to London, you bastard.

The Thief smirks, scuttles down the blood-dyed ladder, disappears with a rustle under the boughs.

The Vizier sighs for the third and final time that day. Plum and Day Lily await. A black cat rubs against his black robes. Reaching down, the Grand Vizier carries the cat, still laughing, back to his compartments. Cold-faced, the sentries follow three inches behind.


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