(continued from Part I)
Cries of terror brought Karem back to the reality of his precarious situation. The horsemen, who were responsible for the city’s massacre were moving fast in his direction. Mounting a startled horse, Karem fled, catching up with a family of merchants being escorted by some old soldiers. Their plan was finding temporary refuge at a place called the eagle’s nest.
Without luggage and food, the road proved difficult. Eventually, Karem found himself in Alamut, where a rich merchant welcomed him with open arms as the great poet. The merchant would later recall the history of the city to Karem. Alamut was founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, the spiritual guide of the Nizarites, who was looking for a haven to shelter his people. At the time, the Nizarites were a minority and considered a disgrace to the empire. So, Hassan, following the flight of an eagle was led to a fortified location where the bird landed and stood watch over its surroundings. Such is the legend of the birth of Alamut.
To have been so close to death had numbed Karem. But the city continued to occupy his thoughts. Alamut was a small fortified city with a green inner valley. Within the fortress’s walls, Karem found numerous writings that had been created, including those stolen or bartered by Alamut’s merchants and mercenaries. A veritable library akin to the legendary city of Alexandria existed with no one in charge since the librarian died during the last full moon the very night that Karem had attended the poetry contest in Samarkand. Having witnessed Karem’s performance in Samarkand, the merchant recommended that he become the master of the fortress’s writings. Such were the wages of Karem’s glory. Struck by the fact that he found no objection to accepting the position, Karem dived into his work. He wanted to forget his recent past—full of memories that continued to haunt him during soulless hours.
The Dust of Time
Heartbroken by the transience of glory and the illusion of possession, Karem became absorbed in reading and sorting documents; having abandoned poetry for the preservation of the written word. Some twenty years passed but Karem had found a new vocation.
He had devised a method of filing that made it easier to find the right documents. His system for storing manuscripts allowed him to retrieve specific documents at a moment’s notice. But the more scripts he read, the more he realized that this new knowledge was complicating his storage method. Also, the accumulation of scrolls in certain areas forced him to recognize certain nuances. How do you sort out what you do not know in its entirety? The question troubled him, but a practical solution revealed itself: read as much as possible.
Time turned Karem into a wise old man who also became indifferent to the wear, tear and appearance on his body. People traveled from all around to consult him. However, the master of the fortress demanded that certain visitors bring gold to talk to the librarian. Conspirators used this opportunity to discreetly inquire about the service of an assassin as manuscripts continued to pour into the fortress from as far away as Venice on the Adriatic, Madras in India and Kiev in the Polish Steppes.
The legendary city of Alamut had become less and less fearless. Though the assassins were still active, they were few and far between and less reliable. One morning, Karem heard the alarm being sounded. He awakened to a bitter memory. Rushing outside, he saw the city burning at the bottom of the walls. A horde of warriors had attacked Alamut. The empire, tired of the latent threat of assassins, had thrown gold to a horde of barbarians to achieve their goal.
Men armed with torches burst in, threatening the library. Karem thrust himself in their path, barricading their movement and complaining to Allah about the blindness of angry men. The irritation of the old hermit put doubts in the heart of the aggressors causing their commander to step forward.
“What is happening?”
“I am the one who is called the old wise man. I take care of this place, » Karem said, standing in front of him.
Men immediately grabbed him. The complaint of the woman on her knees sprung to Karem’s mind, a vivid reminder despite the years.
« You will burn treasures of wisdom, » Karem continued. “There are thousands of scrolls in these rooms. You can’t destroy them all!”
Moments pass, as Karem holds the gaze of the young soldier. The sounds of fighting and shouting echoed around them.
As the men continue to guard Karem, another man enters, glancing around him under the pale light of the oil lamps. The musty smell and the dry air chase him away. Once outside, he gives an order. Another warrior returns and looks Karem straight in the eyes. A scar marks his left cheek. He is no older than thirty and Karem figures he cannot read or write. Karem understands that he is still a child in spirit.
“Invaluable treasures, you say, old man?”
“Yes. Brought here from all over the known world. You can’t burn them all.”
The warrior signals the men to release Karem.
“Then save the priceless ones. Go! You have fifteen minutes and a wheelbarrow”
With hunched shoulders, his face partly hidden by his long grey hair and a sloppy beard, Karem looked at him, discouraged. Remembering the massacre of Samarkand, he suddenly understands his luck and resolutely sets to work. In the silence of the walls, he picks up his fourth and last illumination: an arch saves the essential, allowing us to rebuild the story.