All Along the Watchtower

 

“I said the hour… it… it is getting late,” Dajal repeated, casting his pale eyes towards the Eastern ridge as he shifted on his mount. The night would soon cede to day, the dark horizon already showing cracks of pale salmon.

“Do I seem unaware of that?” Ganev retorted, obsidian gaze locked on the palace walls. The man sat upon his black steed, still and unruffled. He held the reigns in a loose grip while the other hand sat at his hip – near the hilt of the dagger hooked in his sash.

His calm demeanor unnerved Dajal – the way he’d perched, still as stone, through the long hours of the night. He’d watched the activity surrounding the Sultan’s palace with a calculated eye, just as he had on each of the past fourteen nights in which they’d made this pilgrimage. Dajal still wasn’t sure what his role was in this scheme. Ganev had approached him a moon ago, as the Holy month was nearing its end, and spoken of a mission, one which would make them both richer than they could ever conceive.

“You’ve heard of the Sultan’s jewel, yes?”

“For his impending marriage? Who hasn’t?”

“Do you know where it hails from?” The man’s eyes were black as the grains lining his coffee cup.

“Some say the Orient, some say the far end of the Silk Road,” he’d answered with a shrug and drag of his pipe.

“She hails from the outskirts of Istanbul,” the man had said, rolling the coffee cup in his palm. “She is rare, without tarnish.” The onyx eyes flicked up to him. “Such a treasure would interest you mightily, would it not?”

Dajal had agreed without apparent hesitation, though a tremor of doubt had assailed him. He’d heard of Ganev – who this side of Jerusalem hadn’t? The man’s name was spoken in hushed, reverent tones. No one knew what his origins were, which in itself was a miracle in a society such as theirs, for the man was rarely seen and not given to conversation. Some said he was a master bandit who’d made fortunes robbing caravans that traveled in and out of the city; others maintained he was an emissary of the Sultan, sent to spy on the people.

Dajal shook himself of the recollections. It hardly mattered. He didn’t care who the man was, where he’d come from, or what he did. So long as he paid him.

“Will we take the jewels tonight?”

The man gave a solitary nod, dark eyes flitting across the village that sprawled out from the palace walls like the folds of a gypsy’s skirts. “We will approach the palace from the west, as I showed you.” Dajal straightened on his mount. “The guard there is a friend of yours, I believe; Bin Seed, from the Golan.” He nodded in response, wondering how Ganev had come across such information. “He will allow us entry through that gate, but beware,” he warned, turning to him. “He is the only guard whose manner will be so obliging.” Dajal nodded in understanding. The man’s mouth was set in a firm, disapproving, line, and Dajal wondered how he could have already disappointed him.

“Once through,” Ganev continued, turning back to the palace, “follow me across the yard; stay low and fast. We’ll enter through a side door the servants use for deliveries. Keep quiet, follow me, and do as I do until told otherwise.” Onyx eyes locked on his own pale ones. “Does any of that seem beyond your capabilities?”

“What – that’s it?” Dajal sputtered. “What do we do when we’re inside?”

“When you need to know, I will tell you,” he replied, giving a swift kick to the stallion beneath him. The horse lurched into motion, as unruffled as its rider, and headed west across the dune. With no recourse but to follow, Dajal cursed under his breath and kicked the horse beneath him.

To be continued…

Copyright © 2013 Layla AlAmmar