Echoes Of Betrayal


A sultan lived in a lavish palace
with a throne room vast and wide
and everyday he quaffed from his chalice,
his mind reeling with wine and pride.
One day he addressed his sycophantic court
and his words returned to him as if from the garret,
repeating above him, in petulant retort,
as though spoken by an irreverent parrot.
The sultan doffed his turban to better look
at its silk-and-jewel wrapped crest,
thinking a talking bird somehow mistook
its expanse for a roost or perch or nest.
When he found no stowaway bird
he scratched his head, feeling perplexed,
but soon a faint cough could be heard
from his court, and he became vexed.
“Think you safe?” he suddenly cried
at the meek members of his court;
“For that jest I shall have your neck tied
in a noose for morrow’s sport!”
And he pointed toward his vizier
whose misfortune was to be engaged
with the fool, blanching with fear,
and promptly taken and caged.
The sultan was a man of pride
and so he always kept his word—
if he said something then woe betide
anyone whom he thereby censured.
Upon the morrow the sage was hung
in the center of the public square,
and all because he had a phlegmy lung
with want of a little clearer air.

Later that day the sultan spoke again
to the great crowd gathered in his hall,
hoping to find among his many men
a new vizier to help him rule them all.
Yet, as he announced his intent
he heard his own words repeat again
and, furious, he searched for the miscreant
who had dared to commit such sin.
“Who said that?!” he demanded.
“Who dares this mockery now?”
No one came forth, but his eye landed
upon a man with a furrowed brow.
“You, there!” the sultan said with a roar,
pointing at his own captain of the guard.
“You insolent son of a whore!
Flog him through the streets! Flog him hard!”
The mamluk was thereupon taken
by his own men and immediately stripped
down to his dark skin, the whole court shaken
as he was bound and beaten and whipped.
The man’s body was a bloody mass of welts
and he could not stand—faint of breath,
his skin like the crimson inlay of pelts
until his croaking surrender to death.

The sultan’s wrath ebbed and flowed
as with the wines of his chalice
and everyday his own voice would goad
him toward greater paranoia and malice.
Soon his vast throne room was emptied
of all loyalists, guards, and servants,
yet still he heard someone in need
of punishment for their irreverence.
The hall now empty of all people except him,
the sultan heard mockery still, the taunts
making him think it was a ghost whose whim
was to make his palace into its favored haunts,
so he sent for the most revered imam
that lived in his large sultanate
requesting his service to grant him salam
and rid his palace of the reprobate.
The imam arrived and listened for the spirit,
hearing nothing except the sultan’s heavy breathing,
but nonetheless blessed the hall, and all near it,
to please his master and calm his seething.
Yet, as the imam uttered a very poetic prayer
the sultan heard the prayer thereupon repeated
and, losing his temper, grabbed the imam by his hair
and yanked him about, his rage overheated.
“You useless, rambling, imbecilic dotard!”
the Sultan exclaimed with a lion’s roar.
“You are no holy man! You are a goatherd
and I will not be led astray by the horns anymore!”
He ordered the imam bound in heavy chains,
his tongue cut out, and his minaret torn down,
and the imam was taken across the Central Asian plains
to be sold to a khan as a mute circus clown.

The sultan then looked upon his vast hall
and, seeing it empty, was nonetheless incensed
at the mocking reply of his earnest call
that his palace be at once and wholly silenced.
The ghost remained, or so it seemed,
and to purge it from his extravagant palace
was only something thereof dreamed
as he drained to dregs another chalice.
“By the power of Allah!” he suddenly cried,
“I curse you, wraith, with ridicule and laughter
so that wherever you go, wherever you hide,
you will be a famous, friendless fool forever after!”
Allah heard the sultan’s furious pleas
and answered his hasty invocation,
sending thereto a legion of djinnis
to chase the sultan from his nation.
“By Allah, I see them now!” the sultan moaned,
fleeing from the seat of his rule;
“The demons of the fiery pits,” he groaned,
“and I am but a lost, unworthy fool!”
And so it came to pass that the sultan fled
from Turkey to Palestine and even to Israel,
fleeing forever the curse put upon his own head
because he had mistaken his own echoes for betrayal.

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