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Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Runaway Sultan

The Runaway Sultan

Chapter One
A Portent

“He’s here!” a voice cried out, echoing down the dark, silent corridors of Qataban Palace.
            Jolted awake from a dead sleep, fifteen year-old BB, Prince Bashir Baha al Din, hurled himself out of his bed.
            “It’s a boy.  It’s a boy!  I’m saved!” he crowed as he ran barefooted, clad only in his pajama bottoms .  “It’s a boy. So after Ahmed it’s the boy, NOT ME.” His laughter followed him, echoing like the messenger’s voice all the way to his brother’s wing in opposite end of the Palace.
            Throwing open the enormous carved door, BB leapt onto his brother’s sleeping form, waking him instantly.  “Ahmed! Did you hear?  Your son is here!”
             “Bonbon?  What the blazes…?  Get off me, get off!” Ahmed flung BB off his back, sat up and rubbed his eyes. “What are you talking about?”
BB bounced up, too excited to feel hurt from the tumble or being called his childhood nickname. “I heard them calling!  You have a boy! A son, a son – it’s just been announced. I have to tell Father!”
“Don’t be a ass,” he growled, “There’s no baby boy, Bashir, I'm going to kill you for this prank …”
“No you won’t.  There is so a boy!”
The pattering of more feet interrupted the night silence.
 “Prince Bashir!” two servants burst in, coming to a dead halt and folding into a deep bow. “Oh, forgive us, Your Highness,” they bowed again to Ahmed, “Permission to speak to Prince Bashir, if it pleases you sir.”
“It does NOT please me. Get out. Get out!  I don’t who care who speaks to whom, get the hell out!”

Without a second thought, they all ran, lest Ahmed begin hurling things at them.
“Hurry, Your Majesty, he’s here,” the servant pointed to one of the back staircases.
“This way is faster!” BB pointed.
“No, Highness.  These back stairs will get you to the Royal Stables much faster.”
BB stopped dead.  Three whole seconds ticked by in his head before he turned to face the men.  “The Royal Stables? But …”
“Yes, Isabella is fretting for you.”
“Yes,” bowed the servant again, “Isabella has produced her foal.  It’s male.”
“Oh no.  Oh NO.  So it’s not Ahmed’s baby? It’s Isabella’s foal… what about the Royal baby?”
The servants hung their heads, neither looked up at the Prince.  Neither made eye contact.  That could only mean one thing: one terrible thing.  “Ahmed did not have a boy then?”
They shook their heads, still not looking up.
“A girl?”
They nodded in unison.
“Argh!  Nooo.  No, no no.” BB beat his temples and stamped his feet.  “Jumping jiggery-pokery.  Argh.  Never mind; I still won’t be Sultan.  Come on – I need to celebrate with my lovely Isabella.  What are you waiting for?”

Hold on, I’m coming. I’m coming. BB’s forearms and neck prickled as he skidded into the vast stable. The entrance was ablaze with flickering torchlight, excited whispers and the sweet smell of fresh straw. Men parted and quieted as he hurtled toward the ample birthing section.
I’m coming. He ran smack into someone. “S- sorry…” Winded, BB doubled over, clutching his knees.
“No, it is I you who begs your pardon, Prince BB,” Agad bowed and stepped aside, revealing Isabella.
There she stood, silver-white and shining in the late-night moonlight.
BB gaped.
She nickered the moment she spotted him, pushing the musky smell of her recent foaling toward him, warm and milky.
“Hi … I’m here.” He looked straight at her.
She bobbed her head.
Ignoring the bloodied straw and afterbirth, he inched forward, wrapped his arms around her sweaty neck and buried his face in her matted mane.
“You did it, you wonderful, beautiful, clever girl,” BB rubbed her arched neck and then blew into her nostrils.  Snorting and blowing in response, Isabella nickered, turning her head to one side.
BB stepped back, “Ah, you have something to show me?” he teased.
Huddled in the cool safety of her shadow, still damp but upright on wobbly legs, was Isabella’s foal.  She licked its head and nudged it forward so BB could have a better look.
“Isabella,” he whispered falling to his knees. “He’s beautiful … perfect and beautiful.  Come here little one, yes, that’s it.  I’m not going to hurt you,” BB placed a hand on the newborn’s damp back.  “Eleven months we’ve been waiting for you, did you know that, little chap?”
Without a sounds, someone handed BB a clean towel and he began the slow and gentle process of cleaning off the sticky amniotic fluid.  “You’re so handsome little one and by the time the sun comes up, you’ll be ready to run around outside, did you know that?” A gentle ripple of laughter warmed his heart.  Everyone loved an easy birth.
He was almost finished rubbing the foal’s face, when he gasped, “Double faint-star?  Isabella, did you make a double faint-star?” he turned to look at his mare and then returned to her foal’s forehead.
Isabella whinnied and curled back her lips, tossing her neck, flailing her mane, delighted.
“Come, Agad,” BB called to the head groom, “Tell me about these markings.”
Crouching low, Agad put his hands together and faced BB. “Begging your pardon, Prince BB, but you must not inspect the horse before putting its horse-cloth on.”
“Horse-cloth? Agad, I don’t care about the horse-cloth, or the value of the foal.  Horse-cloths are for people who are buying horses.  This one’s not for sale and never will be.” BB waved a dismissive hand, “I want you to tell me about these,” he pointed to the two pinprick markings on the foal’s forehead.
“Very well then.  Let us take a closer look. Inspection torch,” he called out, making the foal jump.
“Shh.” BB stroked the skittish baby, “Be gentle, Agad if you please.”
“Ah, he doesn’t mind,” Agad grinned.
“But I mind.  I don’t want him startled.  Not now. Not ever.  Please treat him with kindness and consideration.”
Agad dropped his head, “Of course, Prince BB.  I’m foolishly excited and lost my head.”
BB patted the man’s arm, “I know.  Now tell me what you see.”
“Hmm.” The head-groom’s voice seemed stuck in his throat as he illuminated the shivering body nostril to rump.
“What do you mean, ‘Hmm’?  Spit it out, man.”
“Hmm.  Yes definitely twin faint-stars, which would usually be good but …” Agad’s voice trailed off.
“But, what? Agad?”
Every movement froze.  Every sound stilled.  Even Isabella seemed to be holding her huge breath.
“Oh, Prince BB, this is difficult.  So difficult.  There is more, but I do not wish to be the bearer of this portent.  It is too heavy even for me to say aloud.” Agad bowed his head.
“Nonsense.” BB returned to rubbing the damp foal pulling him closer.  “Everything looks perfect.  I know a double faint-star is a sign of good things to come.  What the blazes do you see that I don’t?” BB motioned for the Royal Veterinarian to come close.  “Come, come.  You look too and don’t dare tell me he doesn’t look perfect.”
The two men muttered, poked, lifted, splayed and further examined the colt until BB could contain himself no further. “That’s enough!  Tell me what you’ve found.  Whatever it is, I’m going to keep the foal, I tell you.”
“Well, it’s not that easy,” the veterinarian pushed back his white hair.  Agad mirrored his expression and shook his head.
“It’s this right here,” the older man pointed to the foal’s armpit.
“What?  Smelly armpits already?” BB chortled a ripple of laughter echoed behind him. “Really Isabella, I’m shocked,” BB looked up at her feigning a stern look.  She tossed her head and continued to stare down at them.
“Your Highness, Prince Bashir …” Agad began.  BB sobered up, knowing that the head groom meant business when he addressed him by his full name. “This marking in the armpit, this feather-marking is called a Kukhapit.  It is a powerful portent.”
The silence that followed was brittle.
Everyone seemed to lean in.
The foal edged closer to its dam.
“Portent?” BB’s voice cracked.
“Yes.  It means all relatives of owner will die before him.”


  1. I like that, a sting in the tail of a highly evocative tale! Up to your usual, very high standard.

    1. Thank you, Anon. It's fun to have a secret supporter.


Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Cath Rathbone. (Copyright Catherine (Cath) Rathbone and Noony Brown)