The Most Precious Thing - JP

An abstract and somewhat introspective pitch - write a story about that which you believe is most


            In the third age of his time among men, Azhrehk-who-walked-the-earth came upon a man sitting on the side of the road amongst a pile of baubles. The man was little and sun-seared, his face like leather, but calm as the ocean on a day without rain, and he held a sign out in front of him for the world to see. In uneven Akkaydian script, it read, “Seller of Precious Things.”

            Azhrehk stopped and surveyed the mound of bottles and bags and trinkets. “Have you anything for me?” he asked.

            The seller of precious things looked him up and down. He gazed coolly into the old king’s eyes. He swished his jaw from side to side and muttered to himself for a long moment.

            “Nothing for a man of your age,” he said at last, “nothing for a wanderer of your wisdom.” The sun was high overhead, and the sand gleamed like knives all around. “I can make you a deal,” he said, “perhaps find something to suit you. There’s nothing I have that you might desire, but much that you have to benefit me, I think.”

            “Is this so?” asked the king. “I have nothing but my bag, and it is a simple bag at that. Surely nothing so much as to be called precious.”

            The seller chuckled, and as he chuckled his lips cracked like they had not had a chuckle in some time. “It is not me, who is interested in your wares, old wanderer, but my customers may find you of use. I have been thinking of leaving this spot for some time now. No shade, you see. Come and travel with me for awhile and aid me in my business, and by the end, I give my oath that you will have that which is most precious to you.”

            Azhrehk nodded, having all the time in the world and plenty to spare. His kingdom lay in ruins some centuries behind him, his queen lost beneath the sands of time, his fortunes riddled away and his legacy squandered. What mattered it to him what days he wasted with the little man? Especially with the promise of such reward before him?

            So it was that Azhrehk took up company with the seller of precious things, and they wandered onward down the dusty road in the middle of day. As they walked, Azhrehk related to his companion, with a little prodding, the sad story of how his ambition and arrogance had lead him to scoff at the face of the Guardians of East, West, North and South, and how they had condemned him to walk the earth to witness his glorious majesty crumble before time and men and fate. The seller bobbed his head steadily throughout, and made occasional remarks like “yes, yes, might have guessed it,” or “ah, now it comes together,” and in this way their days were filled.

            At length they came to the walls of Jalkabad, still small in those days, and made their way to the market place. The seller purchased two pomegranates and passed one to Azhrehk, and they ate together in silence. Scarcely had they plucked out their last seed when the little man snaked out a quick hand to grab hold of a passing journeyman and pull him over to where they sat.

            “Now see here, what business have you molesting me?” asked the journeyman.

            The seller smiled, and his lips cracked anew, and he waved his arms towards his products. “As you see, I sell precious things. I thought perhaps I could sell something precious to you?”

            “Now see here,” said the journeyman again, “I have no time for such nonsense.”

“Time?” asked the seller of precious things, and cocked a knowing glance at Azhrehk.

“Yes, time. No time! I am the sultan’s chief scrivener, you see, and a very important man, you should know. I must keep about my business at all hours, running errands, fetching papers, making copies, and still be ready to capture his words when they dribble, er, usher forth. I have no time for a wife, no time for a family, and certainly no time for you!”

“Hold a moment,” said the seller, “perhaps I can help you. My friend here just happens to have time without measure. To be sure, he could spare you some days.”

“Could he now?” asked the journeyman. “Would that that were true! Why if I had some time, in one of your bottles there, I would cast it about me like finest silk! I would stretch it across the door of my little mud hut, and run my hands through it daily like water!”

“My days are numberless,” said Azhrehk, “my time without end. Have it, if you want it, drape yourself in it, if you can.”

The seller of precious things nodded and grabbed up a bottle, and scraped into it sands from Azhrehk’s shoulders. These he gave to the journeyman, who nearly wept with joy, and paid a handsome price from his wallet.

“Well met,” said the seller of precious things. “Pounds and pence, nothing more, I’m afraid. We will have to seek more business to get your reward.” And so they traveled on.

They had not yet left Jalkabad when they were approached, and quickly, by a man with a maddened look in his eye. “I hear you sell precious things,” he said, “I am in need of that which is most precious. I am an artisan, you see, a sculptor of renown, but of late my misery has no solace. I see nothing to achieve, nothing to live for or any beauteous goal, and now I am bereft of subject matter for my sculpting. If only I could have a dream, a dream of majesty, something to bring to my patron!”

“I had many dreams,” said Azhrehk. “I would share them with you, were it possible. Dreams of glory everlasting, of kingdoms that do not die, of love untarnished by time. Take them, if you can; they have done me no good so far.”
            “Pass water into this bottle,” said the seller of precious things, and the king, after finding a place suited to his modesty, obeyed. The seller handed the bottle to the artisan, and instructed him carefully on its use.

“I can feel the visions flowing through me, just from holding it!” the artisan cried, and made promise of his next great masterpiece.

“Well met,” said the seller, “but dreams beget dreams, I suppose, and his payment is still some time in the making. Perhaps we will find your reward elsewhere.” And so they traveled on.

Just outside the city, they came across a small homestead, where several children ran and played. One juggled a scorpion, the next balanced on a gardenblade, a third dangled precariously from the roof.  Their mother ran after each in turn, scolding and spanking, but the moment one ceased, the last had started again.

“What ho!” cried the seller. “Dear lady, what is this? Your children flirt closely with danger!”

“Don’t you think I know it?” asked the mother. “Don’t you think I would do anything to make them stop? They simply cannot figure what is good for them. When each was in the womb, I wished him to be a brave boy, and the djinn that listened to me that day I curse. Not a one of them has fear, not even of death, and I can do nothing to control them for a moment!”

The seller of precious things thought a moment, then he leaned close to her. “I think I can help you,” he said. “You see, I sell precious things, and nothing is more precious to a mother than a healthy fear in her children. My traveling companion, for all of his virtue, knows a fear like none other, a fear of death so powerful, it led him to cheat Death himself. If I could give it to you, you could place a little in each child’s meal, and soon they would respect this world’s dangers.”

The mother nodded her head whole-heartedly, so the seller of precious things brought out a little leather bag. He carefully clipped each of Azhrehk’s fingernails, then the toes for extra measure, and he placed each clipping in the bag. These he handed to the mother, and she promised him all her summer’s harvest, though the seller proclaimed to prefer the winter’s better.

“Well met again,” said the seller, “a fine harvest in time. What comes in the winter is hardiest of all, as you know. But I fear it is not crops that will keep you moving, oh king. Perhaps we will find what you desire further down this road.” And so they traveled onward.

The old king had grown weary of these trades for nothing, but so far all he had lost was freely given. Still, he missed his dreams, and even his fears, and he wondered aloud if the trades had been worth it.

“Surely, surely,” said the seller of precious things. “Look ahead! A tent and a caravan in the middle of the desert. Here we will find what you seek, I am sure of it.”

They caught up to the caravan quite quickly, as it had settled in to pass the afternoon’s heat, and before long they stood before the trademaster.

“You are merchant like myself,” the trademaster laughed. “Have welcome! Perhaps we have wares to exchange!”

“I am a merchant, indeed,” said the seller of precious things, “but I think you will find me different from yourself. You see, I sell things of inestimable value, and they can be gained no other place.”

The trademaster nodded, and stroked his long beard. “Perhaps you can help me then,” he said at last. “You see, we are not just stopped to bide the day, no! We are stopped and will never get started, I fear. Our camels have lost the will to go on, their drivers have lost the will to drive them. If you could supply that missing will, well, my whole stores would be open to you.”

“Perhaps,” replied the seller, “perhaps I can.” He turned to Azhrehk, and muttered, “your will is indomitable, the will that bested the Guardians themselves! Give but a hair of it to me, and I think you will see the most precious thing revealed at last.”

Azhrehk pondered this, and ultimately agreed. The seller of precious things plucked a hair from his chest, and cut it into many tiny sections, and instructed the trademaster to give a piece to each camel and a piece to each driver, which he did. Soon, the caravan was on all its legs again and gone, and the seller of precious things stood next to a camel of his own.

“Well met, my friend,” said the seller to the king, “but I think it is here our travels end.”  

            “You leave me here?” said Azhrehk, “With your promises unfulfilled? With everything that is mine taken? My kingdoms, my loves, my legacy, this was all swept away from me by time, and now you have taken my time itself. You have taken my dreams, my fears, my will, and given nothing in exchange. I have nothing remaining yet but my self and my memories.”

            “Then I have fulfilled my promise after all,” said the seller of precious things. And he skipped and danced with an amazing lightness beneath his mass of baubles and bottles, and vanished into the rising desert wind.

           Azhrehk, left alone, gathered his memories tight about him, for they were all he had left. In them he found fruit that grew in heavy clusters from the tree of his life. He ate it greedily, savoring each succulent moment, and at last plucked from it the seeds of everything he had lost. Then he turned his shoulder against the wind and set out to sow them once more.