My most beloved of brothers has had me locked in this cell for two weeks; I graciously and figuratively spit upon his head.
“Brother,” I said, resting on my knees before him, “becoming Khan has made you oversuspicious. I, Tevfik, blood of your blood, heart of your heart, beseech you to do nothing you will regret.”
“Dear Tevfik,” he said, “your words are false flowers, but your advice is wise.” His nostrils narrowed like a snake’s, showing how much he enjoyed my agitation, “I have been considering this matter all night, reviewing each of your words and actions.” My heart began to hammer. Sensing this, my brother paused and smiled like a dead goat. “You are a threat Tevfik,” he said. “I never regret eliminating those.”
My mouth opened like a startled bird. As his guards dragged me away, I begged him to reconsider, explained that he'd misconstrued my actions, and cursed when he laughed at my distress.
He did not relent, so here I am.
My spirit dies in this room. The walls are a casket and each heartbeat takes a year. Days trickle through my fingers. If I had accepted my brother's appointment as Khan, I would not be here. But he has never understood, never imagined as I have. My mind is a forest full of great creatures and wild ferns. Who, having once tasted the kebabs of Danistan, would settle for a moldy pastry?
Today I discovered that I have been here two months. It frightens me if it’s true. Where have I been all these days? Unconscious? Dreaming? My memory is a cloud-sky, white and wispy.
Drastic measures are called for. I won’t allow my life to fly blankly by. No food will pass my lips from this moment on. A strong whiff of death should jolt me from this stupor.
Laughter has made me drunk. It shakes my hand as I write, but I cannot stop the monsoon of mirth. This was my fifth day of fasting, and the guards grew nervous. When I refused to eat at midday, they attempted to stuff the food down my throat. It took two of them to pin me to the floor, another clamping my head, and another forcing the gruel between my teeth, pinching my nose so I had to swallow. They got bruises and bitten fingers for their trouble and left in disgust after only three spoonfuls. I have been laughing like a maniac ever since. I am winning; I have not felt so alive since I was a boy.
Someone has reported my malady to the illustrious Khan, otherwise I would not have received a visitor this evening. It was Zuhal, bearing the tray with my evening meal, her dark hair studded with jasmine flowers. “Zuhal,” I said, “you are a swan-ship filled with spices.”
“You don’t look well,” she said, perching by my bed.
“I’m a falcon in the air currents of heaven.”
“A falcon who searches and soars, but cannot find a scrap of prey to feed on?” said Zuhal. “Please, eat with me. I prepared this food for you myself.”
I smiled, “Dear, sweet Zuhal, I need nothing but to drink up the sight of you. Your presence nourishes the hollow, wanting spaces in me.”
Her eyes filled with quick tears at my words, so I touched her cheek, “Do not cry.”
“How can you say, ‘do not cry’ and force me to watch you wasting away?”
“Isn’t it better to die with a full spirit than live a blank and empty life? That is what you have given me. Tell the Khan that I thank him for the gift of seeing you.”
I kissed her forehead and sent her away, thinking of a phrase from an ancient script: “her slanted eyes weep obsidian tears.”
Now I must sleep. Tomorrow they will try new ways of making me eat and I must be ready.
Zuhal’s report must have been dramatic, for upon waking I discovered the Khan sitting by my bedside. I could not decide by his expression whether he was amused or annoyed with me.
“Sit up, will you?” he asked, “you look so innocent when you sleep that I must inspect your waking face.” I did as he asked. He peered at me for a moment, then sat back with a rueful smile. “Brother, always you insist on making trouble. Does the family honor mean nothing to you? Rumors are spreading that you, my dear Tevfik, have gone insane.”
“Forgive me my confusion, but isn’t it also dishonorable to lock up your brother for months on end?”
He smiled and opened his hands, “Thus my dilemma. I can’t risk freeing you, but it is disagreeable to watch you going insane under my roof.”
“You could kill me,” I offered.
“I think not,” said the Khan. “No, I would prefer to send you a great deal farther away than the grave.”
“I see.” I said, though I didn’t.
“Do you remember the fleet our Father sent to bring back Tarkhan Baghatur?”
“I remember,” I said. As if anyone could forget that fiasco.
“You may also remember that I put many people into investigating the affair? Yes. Well, that investment paid off. Last week, my scientists discovered an aberration in space at the same coordinates where Baghatur and Kushinasan’s fleets disappeared. It is, in colloquial terms, a wormhole.” The Khan steepled his hands under his chin and then graced me with another smile. I wondered if his good humor toward me bode ill. “Of course, we have no way of knowing what befalls those who traverse it.”
I tried not to show my fascination. “And yet?” I asked.
“Baghatur was misguided and fanatical. I don’t deny his faults, but he was a genius. Considering he took the risk of going through himself, it's possible there is a whole new galaxy on the other side.”
I was getting an idea what being sent “farther than the grave” might mean. Perceptive as alway, the Khan noticed that I understood. “As you can see,” he said, “this a great opportunity - a chance to populate new worlds, establish new khanates, even discover how to bring profitable materials back through the wormhole…”
“And rid yourself of a troublesome brother,” I finished.
“I won’t force you to go, but it would get you out of this room. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a world to rule on the other side, in which case you have my full permission to name yourself Khan.”
He was laughing at me, but I decided I didn’t care. “I accept,” I said.
“Excellent, I will go ahead with my plans. Endure here a while longer, Brother. If you promise to eat again, I will send Zuhal to keep you company.”
“I need books and exercise.”
“Agreed. Oh, and Tevfik, keep this to yourself. No one is ever to know I’m sending a ship.”
“Khans don’t condone suicide missions or encourage irrational behavior among the populace. Imagine if we had a mass exodus through this wormhole? The loss of resources would be astronomical.”
Suicide mission, I decided, was not a comfortable term. I focused on something else. “How do you plan to pull it off without people noticing?”
“I have a cover story in the works.”
Exclusive Interview with Prince Tevfik as aired on Geri National News:
“Is it true you have joined a monastery?”
The prince smiled, eyes narrowed, “Let’s say I’ve realized my true calling does not lie in the mundane world. As part of this new order of monks, I will be free to pursue other, loftier frontiers.”
“Do you mean the realm of the supernatural?”
The prince’s smile widened, “you could say that, yes.”
“What more can you tell us?”
“Part of a monk’s calling is to avoid distractions, so the monastery’s location is confidential. I, for one, expect to live out my days in seclusion, a prospect I find spiritually invigorating.”
“What does the Khan think of your decision to join the Order?”
“He respects my choice and wishes me the best.”
“Last year there was speculation you and the Khan were at odds, is this true?”
“We’ve always enjoyed friendly competition, but to say we were at odds is an exaggeration. I esteem my brother and hope to emulate him.”
We are in space, and the stars are silver. It makes me think of the Khan, of how people called him the Silver Prince. It made me jealous before, but now I smile. If I could see him at this moment I would say, “You, Brother, may be the prince of silver, but I shall be prince of the universe.”
Go to Universe Prince Part 2.