Abd al bari's prelude:
A Father's Wish
An old man sits in a small store deep within the heart Alruz, the third largest city state of Shakkadia; ancient desert kingdom of the east, and home to 1000 wonders. There are shelves upon shelves of old and worn items; none of which seems at all valuable. This is the curio shop of Mahdi the merchant. He has been at this location, far off of the busy main street of merchant’s row, for well over forty years. How he has remained open is a mystery to anyone who is at all familiar with the place.
Mahdi is willing to buy, sell or trade for any manner of antique or item, but it is a rarity if he receives more than five customers per week. It can safely be said that he spends more money buying useless items than he does selling them.
The day is hot and dusty. The desert winds have been particular unforgiving this past week, but like most Shakkadians, he is born to this heat.
The old man sits, wire glasses pushed to the tip of his nose, and examines a small tin pot with interest. The table he sits at is cluttered with lamps, pots and other such household items. He is sorting through them and categorizing them one by one.
Mahdi drops a small brown date in his mouth and absently reaches over to dip his fingers into a grey bowl of lemon water to rinse them clean. He wipes his hands on his shirt before continuing his work.
A soft brown leather bag crashes onto the table, knocking some of the brick-a-brack to the floor.
“Matal watch over this old fool.” Mahdi says to himself, though he doesn’t start at the sudden disturbance. “Guard over a father who’s son seeks to give him a heart attack.”
There is a laugh from the window up, and behind Mahdi. It is that of Abd al bari, adopted son and apprentice to the old man.
“You have truly gotten old my father.” Abd al bari giggles. “You pray to the god of dimwitted lawgivers for protection from your most favored son.”
“My only son.” Mahdi corrects disapprovingly, as he returns to his work investigating his wares. “If only a baboon were my second son. He would have more sense than the one I am burdened with now, and would certainly be my favorite.”
Abd al bari, laughs loudly as he drops from the windowsill that he had climbed through. The dust and sands of the desert cloud the air as he lands lightly, and makes his way around the piles of household items.
“You have not even looked in the bag my father.” Abd says as he walks to stand next to the old man.
“Do I need to look?” Mahdi replies distractedly. Something about a ceramic cup seems to have drawn his attention.
“Indeed not.” Abd replies. Abd does not look like his father, even in the slightest sense, but he has the older man’s way about him, and that same glimmer of eye, though Mahdi’s glimmer may have faded a bit with age.
“All eleven of the Tolemy coins are there as ordered.” Abd says proudly. “I outwitted that buffoon Daghful the Snake and his lackeys once again. He couldn’t find a lost cat for his life.”
Abd laughs and his aged father grins as well.
“I will see to the coins and get have your cut by next week.” Madi says. “But you won’t be here to receive it.”
“What do you mean?” Replies Abd. His father had always been cryptic, and it is one of the few things that annoy him about the man.
“Come and sit.” Mahdi says to his son gently. Abd pulls up a stool and sits next to the older man.
“I was a ruthless adventurer and grave robber.” Mahdi begins earnestly. “I felt I was above any law or moral. I lived my life this way; stealing and not caring what I ruined or desecrated as I did so.”
Mahdi’s serious manner has dissipated all of his you protégé’s humor, and Abd listens intently.
“One day I robbed the tomb of Aamal, high priestess of Sennicheb, goddess of beauty, but unfortunately for me, she is also the goddess of jealousy. Her patience for those who have what should be hers is most short indeed. I was cursed for my heresy, and because of this I changed my ways.” Mahdi says with a sorrow in his voice. “This I have told you because it is so.”
Mahdi touches his sons hand in a show of unusual tenderness. Abd looks at his father’s hand with dismay and sees a feint quivering there. The shakes have come more frequently of late, and have become more pronounced. Sometimes he has to remind himself of his father’s advanced age.
“What I haven’t told you was that the curse put upon me robbed me of my ability to have sons, and any maiden I took for myself would too become barren.” Mahdi says looking down. “This is why I have been alone these many years.”
“Father I…” Abd begins, but is silenced by a look from Mahdi.
“Knowing that I would have no sons to give my future to, I looked back at my life and saw the trail of tears I had left behind.” Mahdi continues. “Guardsman executed for failing their duties; their families destitute at their loss. Riches stolen and lives ruined, so that I can finance my carousing and whoring.”
Mahdi looks back at Abd.
“This weight came crashing down on me and I have wondered for years if I would ever be able to make amends for what I had done.” He says. “When I found you; orphaned in these very streets, I took you for my own. You have been the son I could never have, and I was the father that you had never known.”
Mahdi releases Abd’s hands and continues.
“Now I see that I have an opportunity to correct mistakes of the past.” Mahdi says. “That time is now and you will represent me in doing this good work. This I have told you, because this I believe to be so.”
It is not in his heart to question his mentor and adopted father for lo’ these twenty five years, and so Abd nods in agreement.
“Tell me what to do.” Abd says.
“The oasis temple of Umbugud the mad god has been defiled by outsiders.” The wizened old rogue says. “In their foolishness they have stolen his most sacred horn.”
Abd does not know much of the demented god or his followers, beyond the fact that they are strange and not to be bothered with lightly.
“It is written that if the horn was ever to be taken from the temple, the mad one would break free of his prison beneath the sands to walk the lands of man, until it is returned to him.” Mahdi adds.
“It is known to me that these brazen curs are South Brixians and perhaps they know not the totality of what they do.” Mahdi says ominously. “There is an errant legend that the one that controls the horn can control Umbugud himself, but this is not so for no one, not even Kumel himself can manage the mad one.”
“But these thick blooded Brixians would not know the truth of this for they do not know the truth of the holy texts.” Mahdi continues “Neither do you I fear, my dear ignorant son.”
Abd looks away chagrined. Mahdi had tutored him in ways of reading and mathematics. He had spent long hours learning ancient symbols, ancient lore and languages of his people and many others. Things that Mahdi told him a good treasure hunter and artifact hound must know to be successful. But he had always been lax and bored in his religious studies.
“Now something has begun to move beneath the sands, and the horn must be returned.” Madhi says, standing. “King Numa has sent his servants out to retrieve this artifact, but they will fail, where we will succeed.”
Abd stands as well and places his hands on his step-father’s shoulders.
“Beware my son.” Mahdi says “There are others who will seek this thing, caring nothing for the kingdom of Shakkad or her people, and seek only profit.”
“I will go into these frigid Brixian lands and do this thing for you father.” Abd says sincerely; a hint of his old smile returning. “For this is what you have asked, and this is what I shall do.”
Mahdi holds his sons head between his hands and kisses him lightly on the forehead.
“My foolish, foolish son.”