A CRIME Many years ago in Persia, a traveler on horseback had just made his way through a narrow mountain pass. The downward path was rough and stony as it threaded its way around giant boulders and jagged rock formations. Snow-capped mountains towered above him, their barren slopes too hostile for even grass to grow. Over the rush of the river beside him, he could hear the eerie call of an eagle echoing above him.
It's Late!, he thought, I must get to the next village before dark, the mountain leopards will be hunting soon.
A rock fall had delayed him so he hadn't traveled as far as he hoped that day. Now the sun was getting low in the sky, making the mountains cast long black shadows.
The traveler was an old man, on a mission to solve a mystery that had puzzled him for years. The packs on his horse had some clothes, a little food, and a small leather sack. Inside the sack was a collection of old tarnished ornaments of bronze and silver, and some rubies set in a silver circle, that he had found some years ago, partly buried in a sand dune. These were very unusual, and he wanted to know more about them. They might be hundreds of years old, or they might even be magical.
Over the years he had sent messengers to learned men all over Persia, but so far nobody had given the traveler a story about the jewels that he believed. But a month ago he had received word from a newcomer to the great city of Susa in the south of Persia, which sounded a lot more interesting. So now he was on his way to Susa to meet the expert and show him the jewels. Maybe the mystery could be solved, and then perhaps he could sell them for lots of money to a man who knew their true worth.
Tired from the day's journey, the man and his horse rounded the corner, out of a shadow into the rays of the setting sun. For a moment he couldn't see, and in that moment he felt a rope pull him from his horse onto the stony ground. The horse neighed and bucked, and before the traveler could get up, he felt a knife against his throat.
“Don't move!” said a voice, “Where are the jewels?”
“Don't hurt me! Everything is in the horse packs. Take everything but just don't hurt me!” said the traveler. He knew that he would be killed if he resisted. The traveler felt his arms being tied behind him. Then the traveler realized the thief had mentioned the jewels.
“You said jewels! How did you know about the jewels?” he asked, but the thief said nothing. Instead, the traveler saw the glint of a knife out of the corner of his eye.
This is it! I am going to die! May Ahura Mazda be merciful to me! he thought, but just then there was the unmistakable growl of a mountain leopard from the shadows. The thief's horse whinnied and bolted away, but the traveler's horse loyally stayed near his master. The thief looked nervously in the direction the sound had come from. Then he panicked, jumped onto the traveler's horse, and with a sharp kick to its sides, he galloped away.
The traveler was now tied-up and all alone in a mountain pass. It was getting dark and cold, and he had no shelter or food. Worse than that, he heard the mountain leopard again, closer this time …
JAMSHID The city of Susa stood in the plains far below the mountain pass where two leopards were snarling over the bloody remains of their dinner. The city lights twinkled in the cold winter night. Burning torches lighted points along the city walls, and sometimes the walls were illuminated by the grey moonlight that shone between the clouds. Inside the city walls there were all the usual noises of a city two and a half thousand years ago. Here the rowdy drinkers laughed in a tavern, there a donkey brayed its complaint about being tied to a post. Dogs barked at the moon, and cats fought over scraps of food. Jamshid couldn't sleep.
The noises were not keeping Jamshid awake – he was used to those. He was restless. He was straining to hear his parents talking in the next room. He knew they were talking about him again because they had gone quieter.
“He really must get his act together,” said his father. “In the springtime, Jamshid will graduate from the class of Boys to the class of Youths. He really has to mature soon or he will have a hard time keeping up. I have decided he needs to have some extra coaching, a tutor who can be on his case all the time because I can't be.”
“Oh Daniel!” said his mother, “Is that really necessary? He is just a boy after all, and if he has a tutor as well as all his school work, he will spend all his time working.”
“I keep telling you, Yalda,” said Daniel, his voice louder now, “He is not just a boy! He is my son, the son of a vizier. If he is smart he has a bright future ahead of him, but also because he is my son, there are many who will want him to fail. He can't afford to be a loser. He has to try twice as hard as the other boys. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.”
BANISHED (After the theft of the Kuh-I-Noor diamond from the Spring Palace, Jamshid's family is banished, leaving Jamshid in the care of his tutor, Parthesus.) Smiling but with tears in her eyes, Yalda hugged Jamshid so tight he thought he couldn't breathe, and he hugged back as hard as he could. He didn't want to let go — ever. Then she stopped hugging him, and put something into Jamshid's hand. It was the brooch Jamshid had given her for her birthday. “My darling, I want you to look after this griffin brooch for me, can you do that? And when you look at him think of me, always?”
Jamshid noticed his mother's red eyes, fighting back her tears. He felt hollow and detached from what was happening, like and awful dream. He nodded, then Yalda kissed him, and stood back.
Daniel looked at Jamshid. Daniel was smiling, but he couldn't say anything. He just held Jamshid tight. “Just remember what I told you, we love you and this is for the best,” he said eventually. “Be brave, as I know you are, and always do your very best. If you always do your best you will make us proud.” As his father released him, Jamshid felt a cold sickness cloud over him.
Jamshid turned to Samuel and tried to hug his brother, but the little boy seemed more interested in his toy horse than in saying goodbye to his big brother. Jamshid wanted to be brave for his brother, so he managed not to cry despite the desperate pain he felt.
Daniel, Yalda, and Samuel turned to go. After a few steps they looked back.
“Why Amkid not coming mummy?” said Samuel, tugging his mother's arm. Yalda, couldn't answer, she just picked Samuel up. Daniel waved, Yalda blew a kiss, and then they were gone.
THE BATTLE (Excerpt from the penultimate chapter.) Jamshid and his griffin, Ghoreed, flew around for another go. This time he knew he could not afford to miss again. He also knew he would have to pull the bow as hard as he could and fire from up close, if the arrow was to penetrate the karibu's skin. Steadily they flew from behind the karibu's right shoulder; fortunately it still hadn't noticed them. Once again, Jamshid gripped Ghoreed tightly with his knees and pulled back the bow as hard as he could. Again it was very hard to aim with Ghoreed going up and down so much. He held his breath, but as he did so he remembered his archery lessons with Iskandar.
Relax, feel the rhythm, and move with it. Breathe with it. Once you and your horse are in harmony you will hit your target, he said to himself as he remembered Iskandar's advice.
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