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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Weird Tales

December 1926

APRICOTS from ISPAHAN

By E.Hoffmann Price

THE sultan Schamas-ad-Din of Djalan-batû yawned prodigiously, rubbed his eyes, blinked, and adjusted his turban. An attendant rearranged the pile of cushions wherefrom the prince had emerged, so that His Highness might more comfortably resume the sitting posture from which he had slumped an hour ago.

A second attendant, kneeling, presented a tray of sweetmeats and a flagon of chilled wine. A third offered the sultan the stem of a narghileh. But the prince wished neither to drink nor to smoke.

"Absál," said the sultan to the scribe who sat at the foot of his master's dais, "of what were we speaking?"

"These papers, my lord."

The wrinkled, leathery old scribe thrust before the sultan's sleepy eyes a bundle of papers and documents.

"Quite so, Absál."

Another world-engulfing yawn.

"Take them out and attend to them. I am very busy today. And by the way, have the apricots arrived?"

"Not yet, my lord. It is a long, hard trip from Persia."

The scribe withdrew, scowling at the great sheaf of papers that represented the neglected affairs of the realm.

The sultan sucked a wisp of smoke from his narghileh, sipped a bit of wine, stroked his curled beard, then turned to the eunuch who guarded the entrance to the harem.

"Saoud, didn't you pick up a Kashmiri dancing girl the other day?"

"She awaits my lord's pleasure."

And without further command, the eunuch entered the seraglio to summon the Kashmiri.

From behind a carven teakwood screen at the sultan's right came the wailing, piping, mournful notes of reed instruments, and the faint pulsing of atabals. The concealed musicians had been awaiting their cue, even as had the Kashmiri girl who was about to make her debut before the sultan.

The piping subsided. Then came three thin, vibrant, shivering notes of a gong; and, as the sighing, whining reeds resumed their cadence, the Kashmiri entered the presence.

Silent, shadowlike, she picked her way across the tiled floor, each step a formal pose to display her slim, serpentine perfection for the sultan's approval. And then she danced with weaving, twining steps and sinuous arms: lithe, wondrous swift, with gesture and contortion that aroused even the phlegmatic despot from his lethargy. A silken veil rippling in the breeze; a moonbeam shimmering on a sword-blade; a wisp of smoke curling from a censer; all these, but surely not a woman it was whose gilded limbs gleamed before the nodding prince. Neither bracelet nor anklet tinkled; for this being her first appearance, she was without jewels, without any tokens of the master's approval.

Again the gong behind the screen shivered its thin, rustling note. The Kashmiri sank in obeisance before her lord to receive from his hand some trophy to flaunt before her rivals in the seraglio.

Schamas-ad-Din drew from his pouch a small, heavy purse, weighed it in his hand a moment, and replaced it. Then from his turban he removed the wondrous Father of Fire, a great, livid ruby that flared fiercely from its bed of diamonds.

"You are from the Valley of Kashmir? And your name?"

"Istalani, my lord."

The girl's eyes gleamed welcome to the magnificence that smoldered before her.

"Ah, yes, I remember now. Kashmir... a land of rich gardens..."

The sultan fingered the massive ruby and its adamantine companions.

"Rich gardens... the finest and loveliest of my apricot trees, even now on the way from Ispahan, shall be named after you," concluded the sultan as with a magnificent gesture he dismissed the girl and replaced the glowing jewel in his turban.

Whereupon Schamas-ad-Din arose from his dais and went into the gardens to prepare with his own hands the earth that was to receive the long-awaited apricot trees.

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