Read The Very Best of F & SF v1 Online

Authors: Gordon Van Gelder (ed)

Tags: #Anthology, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction

The Very Best of F & SF v1 (71 page)

BOOK: The Very Best of F & SF v1
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Like a fading
rose that drops its petals one by one, my hopes dwindled with each passing day.
By the time the caravan reached the City of Peace, I knew it was too late, but
the moment we rode through the city gates, I asked the guardsmen if they had
heard of a mosque collapsing. The first guardsman I spoke to had not, and for a
heartbeat I dared to hope that I had misremembered the date of the accident,
and that I had in fact arrived in time.

Then another
guardsman told me that a mosque had indeed collapsed just yesterday in the
Karkh quarter. His words struck me with the force of the executioner’s axe. I
had traveled so far, only to receive the worst news of my life a second time.

I walked to the
mosque, and saw the piles of bricks where there had once been a wall. It was a
scene that had haunted my dreams for twenty years, but now the image remained
even after I opened my eyes, and with a clarity sharper than I could endure. I
turned away and walked without aim, blind to what was around me, until I found
myself before my old house, the one where Najya and I had lived. I stood in the
street in front of it, filled with memory and anguish.

I do not know
how much time had passed when I became aware that a young woman had walked up
to me. “My lord,” she said, “I’m looking for the house of Fuwaad ibn Abbas.”

“You have found
it,” I said.

“Are you Fuwaad
ibn Abbas, my lord?”

“I am, and I ask
you, please leave me be.”

“My lord, I beg
your forgiveness. My name is Maimuna, and I assist the physicians at the
bimaristan. I tended to your wife before she died.”

I turned to look
at her. “You tended to Najya?”

“I did, my lord.
I am sworn to deliver a message to you from her.”

“What message?”

“She wished me
to tell you that her last thoughts were of you. She wished me to tell you that
while her life was short, it was made happy by the time she spent with you.”

She saw the
tears streaming down my cheeks, and said, “Forgive me if my words cause you
pain, my lord.”

“There is nothing
to forgive, child. Would that I had the means to pay you as much as this
message is worth to me, because a lifetime of thanks would still leave me in
your debt.”

“Grief owes no
debt,” she said. “Peace be upon you, my lord.”

“Peace be upon
you,” I said.

She left, and I
wandered the streets for hours, crying tears of release. All the while I
thought on the truth of Bashaarat’s words: past and future are the same, and we
cannot change either, only know them more fully. My journey to the past had
changed nothing, but what I had learned had changed everything, and I
understood that it could not have been otherwise. If our lives are tales that
Allah tells, then we are the audience as well as the players, and it is by
living these tales that we receive their lessons.

Night fell, and
it was then that the city’s guardsmen found me, wandering the streets after
curfew in my dusty clothes, and asked who I was. I told them my name and where
I lived, and the guardsmen brought me to my neighbors to see if they knew me,
but they did not recognize me, and I was taken to jail.

I told the guard
captain my story, and he found it entertaining, but did not credit it, for who
would? Then I remembered some news from my time of grief twenty years before,
and told him that Your Majesty’s grandson would be born an albino. Some days
later, word of the infant’s condition reached the captain, and he brought me to
the governor of the quarter. When the governor heard my story, he brought me
here to the palace, and when your lord chamberlain heard my story, he in turn
brought me here to the throne room, so that I might have the infinite privilege
of recounting it to Your Majesty.

Now my tale has
caught up to my life, coiled as they both are, and the direction they take next
is for Your Majesty to decide. I know many things that will happen here in
Baghdad over the next twenty years, but nothing about what awaits me now. I
have no money for the journey back to Cairo and the Gate of Years there, yet I
count myself fortunate beyond measure, for I was given the opportunity to
revisit my past mistakes, and I have learned what remedies Allah allows. I
would be honored to relate everything I know of the future, if Your Majesty
sees fit to ask, but for myself, the most precious knowledge I possess is this:

Nothing erases
the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness.
That is all, but that is enough.

 

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BOOK: The Very Best of F & SF v1
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