A rare excursion to the Jolly Boar Inn was granted to me by the King because of one thing: I was to take to Ali an offer of residence at court. The contract was for a wage of 5,000 gold coins per month, private quarters, and access to the King’s court during sessions in which peripatetic artisans would seek the patronage of the royal family. By all accounts it was a generous offer; Bouvard had started out on a wage of 4,000 gold coins (though under popular pressure it was raised to 6,000 some time later), and Johann, in his long period of undistinguished residence at court, had not yet been given quarters of his own, merely a room, and earned some 3,000 gold coins per month.
In effect, Ali was being offered the old wage and living space of Felix Ambrose. Though he had recovered from his injury, the disgrace of losing a duel meant that he voluntarily resigned his place at court immediately upon his return. The King was saddened, but nevertheless had no means of preventing this. In the time since Ambrose left the court, I hear he has made a name for himself in Kandarin, writing panegyrics for King Arthur and the court in Camelot. It was the hope of the King that Ali would fill the gap left by Ambrose.
Upon my arrival in the Jolly Boar Inn, I surreptitiously made my way over to speak with the publican, who directed me to Ali’s room. There I was met with a most bizarre sight, wonderfully exotic, and of the sort that I imagined the oriental world was full of: inside his room, a small one, Ali was attired in a robe unlike any other I had seen. Upon his head was a strange hat, similar to a fez. His arms were contorted, his head cocked, and he stood in the centre of the room, spinning without moving his upper body. Even his face was expressionless. Later on, much later on, Ali would tell me that this dance was a “tasawwuf”, a religious dance that originated with the Bedabin people in the west of the desert, and he and a group of pupils from across the city would perform it for me again. On said occasion I had the foresight to enlist a court painter who diligently recreated the event on canvas.
Let us return to the day in question. After entering his room, it took me a minute or so to pluck up the courage to distract Ali from his dancing. I believe I did so by clearing my throat. Ali stopped immediately, opened his eyes, and looked at me. The dark eyes were piercing, especially so close up. Undeterred by his charm, I spoke in my most authoritative tone, presenting the contract to him as I did so.
“By request of His Majesty, King Roald III of the realm of Misthalin, Knight of the Order of the Splendid Sword, 8th in line to the Ducal Succession of Lumbridge, and so on, I hereby present a royal request that Ali, poet of Pollnivneach, be invited to reside at the most gracious sovereign’s court.”
Ali poured over the contract, his line of vision slowly moving down the parchment, for quite some time before I could elicit a response from him.
“Answer me one question, courier,” Ali said softly, “is there wine?”
“Indeed, in great quantities,” I responded, somewhat taken aback. Surely this man was not such an alcoholic that an offer such as this hinged on wine alone?
There was a brief period of silence, during which Ali scribbled something hastily onto one of his little scraps of paper. This scrap, which I thought it ill mannered to read before my allotted time, was shoved into an envelope, sealed with an exotic green-tinged wax, and handed to me. Ali instructed me that I was to give the envelope “to the King, or to nobody at all.” I asked him whether or not he would sign the contract, thereby securing his place at court. Ali did so, though he muttered something in his native tongue as he wrote. Years of courtly presence had taught me to hide my emotions well, but nevertheless inside I was overjoyed at the prospect of Ali taking up residence in the poets’ wing and bringing to court his mysterious, exotic charm.
That evening, once the duties of the day had been concluded, I presented the King with the envelope from Ali. Inside there was, as I had suspected, a poem, hastily scrawled to mark the occasion of his being invited to court (or so I presume). The poem was rather bold, to say the least, but rather than take offence, the King and I were merely charmed by its outlandish content.
You offer me the poison drawn from ore
That I may come and live behind your door.
Spare me the promise of gold and treasure,
Give me but wine, o giver of pleasure.
The King inquired as to when Ali would be arriving at court. I realised then that it had slipped my mind to make such an arrangement with Ali. The King, contrary to my expectations, seemed amused by my oversight.
“Ah, well,” the King chuckled, “we will have to let him surprise us again.”