The simum blew that day as it had never blown before
The simum blew that day as it had never blown before. For generations thereafter, the Arabs recounted the legend of a boy who had turned himself into the wind, almost destroying a military camp, in defiance of the most powerful chief in the desert.
When the simum ceased to blow, everyone looked to the place where the boy had been. But he was no longer there; he was standing next to a sand-covered sentinel, on the far side of the camp.
The men were terrified at his sorcery. But there were two people who were smiling: the alchemist, because he had found his perfect disciple, and the chief, because that disciple had understood the glory of God.
The following day, the general bade the boy and the alchemist farewell, and provided them with an escort party to accompany them as far as they chose.
* * *
They rode for the entire day. Toward the end of the afternoon, they came upon a Coptic monastery. The alchemist dismounted, and told the escorts they could return to the camp.
“From here on, you will be alone,” the alchemist said. “You are only three hours from the Pyramids.”
“Thank you,” said the boy. “You taught me the Language of the World.”
“I only invoked what you already knew.”
The alchemist knocked on the gate of the monastery. A monk dressed in black came to the gates. They spoke for a few minutes in the Coptic tongue, and the alchemist bade the boy enter.
“I asked him to let me use the kitchen for a while,” the alchemist smiled.
They went to the kitchen at the back of the monastery. The alchemist lighted the fire, and the monk brought him some lead, which the alchemist placed in an iron pan. When the lead had become liquid, the alchemist took from his pouch the strange yellow egg. He scraped from it a sliver as thin as a hair, wrapped it in wax, and added it to the pan in which the lead had melted.
The mixture took on a reddish color, almost the color of blood. The alchemist removed the pan from the fire, and set it aside to cool. As he did so, he talked with the monk about the tribal wars.
“I think they’re going to last for a long time,” he said to the monk.
The monk was irritated. The caravans had been stopped at Giza for some time, waiting for the wars to end. “But God’s will be done,” the monk said.
“Exactly,” answered the alchemist.
When the pan had cooled, the monk and the boy looked at it, dazzled. The lead had dried into the shape of the pan, but it was no longer lead. It was gold.
“Will I learn to do that someday?” the boy asked.
“This was my destiny, not yours,” the alchemist answered. “But I wanted to show you that it was possible.”
They returned to the gates of the monastery. There, the alchemist separated the disk into four parts.
“This is for you,” he said, holding one of the parts out to the monk. “It’s for your generosity to the pilgrims.”
“But this payment goes well beyond my generosity,” the monk responded.
“Don’t say that again. Life might be listening, and give you less the next time.”
The alchemist turned to the boy. “This is for you. To make up for what you gave to the general.”
The boy was about to say that it was much more than he had given the general. But he kept quiet, because he had heard what the alchemist said to the monk.
“And this is for me,” said the alchemist, keeping one of the parts. “Because I have to return to the desert, where there are tribal wars.”
He took the fourth part and handed it to the monk.
“This is for the boy. If he ever needs it.”
“But I’m going in search of my treasure,” the boy said. “I’m very close to it now.”
“And I’m certain you’ll find it,” the alchemist said.
“Then why this?”
“Because you have already lost your savings twice. Once to the thief, and once to the general. I’m an old, superstitious Arab, and I believe in our proverbs. There’s one that says, ‘Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.’”
They mounted their horses.