Wallace, March 2005slander01

Magnifico strummed the lute softly, awaiting his next cue.  Stone flooring balanced by the sheerest of curtains against  the warm sun made the exquisite instrument’s sound carry well throughout the hall.  The strings answered his lightest touch, urging him to caution.

“Your sharbat is excellent, my lord,” said the Wazifi whose eyes lied.

William, Lord Wallace reclined, looking relaxed–no mean feat in his high-backed chair of dark, forbidding wood.  He stretched his sword arm, which fell by his side to where his dirk was slung out of sight of the embassy.  “It is last night’s untouched fruit, ibn Ja’far, sweetening the unfermented apples from last harvest.”

“Your kitchener–your cook, lord–is a clever one, perhaps well accustomed to serving the faithful,” ventured the lesser visitor, with a glance at his ambassador.

The younger Wallace, Malcolm by name, spoke up, scowling.  “A cook?  You think my father a newly-landed baron, with a single field hand pressed into service to boil his meat?  Whatever the king tells you, you are in the seat of  Wallace, an old and vast holding.  His table is the finest you will find.”  He was silenced by a fearful glance from his father.

The ambassador’s face betrayed no emotion.  “I apologize for my friend’s words, ill-chosen in a tongue he does not yet command.”  He brought the sharbat to his grey beard, and drank deliberately.  “He meant only compliments, which I now echo.”  His countryman gripped the arm of his chair, but set his mouth in a thin line and did not speak.

Magnifico slid his hand up the neck of the lute to begin the centerpiece of his performance.  He rose from the stool, and walked casually about the lord’s table, singing in the tongue of the foreigners:

O Jandal, what do Banu Numayr say
When the male organ disappears into your father’s buttocks?

Lower your eyes in shame, for you are of Numayr–
No peer of K’ab not yet Kilab!

The ambassador’s eyes widened, but he remained silent.  With an ugly look at Magnifico, ibn Ja’far said tautly, “I have heard, lord, that it is now the fashion in the west to keep feeble-minded clowns, who may slander all with impunity.  In my country, such offenders are killed.”

Lord Wallace sat in silence, smiling in satisfaction.  Leering, Magnifico continued his song:

Al-Farazdaq has declared that he shall kill Mirba–
Rejoice, O Mirba, at the prospect of long life!

“Ash-shi’r asyar, effendi,” said Magnifico, his hands still at the playful tune, and unable to resist, added in Anglish, “Poetry goes farther.”

Ibn Ja’far gritted his teeth and said, “My father’s son will not be so spoken to.  My family–”

Magnifico smiled sweetly, though his hand trembled, and shifted into Arabic again.

You have not an ass in the parliament, nor a mouth,
Nor ever had in the past any worth knowing.

The hija stung, and ibn Jafar leaped to his feet, smoothly drawing from within his robe a dagger.  “Dog!” he hissed, kicking aside his own chair.

Behind ibn Ja’far, though, Malcolm Wallace had moved more swiftly, and the Wazifi died on his blade, clutching at the table’s edge as he fell first to a knee, and then upon his face, blood gurgling from his back as he gasped his final breaths.

The reality of the murder in which he was complicit crept on Magnifico, as the blood of the Wazifi pooled on stone.  He stepped back, panting, and dropped the lute.  Malcolm Wallace calmly removed his dirk from the dead man.  Only then did His Lordship stand.

“You understand me, ibn Falan?  Your man concealed a weapon and drew in my presence.  Only the swiftness of my own son preserved my life from the assassin your Sultan sent to me.”  Wallace’s gaze bored into the blank eyes of his remaining guest.

After a pause, the ambassador’s steady hand lowered the crystal goblet to the table, placing it gently without a sound.  “I understand you, lord.  I will tell you a secret, though.  This man was sent with me not by the wishes of the Sultan, peace be unto him, but by the man’s father, a powerful voice in the kingdoms.  I have been aware these three months that he informs upon my every move.  How could you have known?  Only the wisest of lords might have foreseen the placement of a spy, and arranged for his removal a bare two days after our arrival.  Only the most devoted and sure-handed son might have chosen the precise moment at which to take offense, and trained your singer of songs in the subtle art of insult as set forth by the poet Jarir.  All this done to trick the youngster into revealing his hidden blade?  At a meal when only two of my bodyguards stand outside?  No, it is a tale not to be believed.

“I must write to my Sultan, advising him of the regrettable loss of a valued companion who nonetheless acted foolishly, violating your laws and receiving God’s judgment for his error.  And leaving me alone in a strange country.”

Lord Wallace grinned.  “Yes, we understand each other.  Now, at last, we can speak openly on certain matters.”  He waved a hand in Magnifico’s direction, and young lord Malcolm snapped his fingers, meeting the clown’s eye for an instant.

“Basmala,” muttered Magnifico, turning to flee the bloody scene.