Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 11
Once upon a time there was a thief named Rashid. At first he found great wealth and had many wondrous adventures, but as his fame spread people began to grow wise to his tricks, and Rashid grew hungry. One day, having not eaten anything for a considerable time, he did something he had wanted never to do: he crept inside the great burial mound that lay not far out of town, and which all knew to be cursed.
Within the mound, which was ringed round by standing stones, Rashid found vast piles of treasure. The thief needed no torch to see the riches he had discovered, for the quantity of gold there was so great, its lustre so brilliant, that it gave off its own light. However, though hungry, Rashid was not foolish. He took only a single golden cup, that surely could not be missed. And so Rashid stole quietly away, and neither wraith nor fiend nor devil pursued him from that place.
First, Rashid took the golden cup to the jeweller. “Look at this fine cup I found in the desert,” he said, presenting it to her. “Surely you can appreciate its worth.”
“Indeed I can,” said the jeweller, “and I would pay handsomely, had it been brought to me by anyone but a thief.”
Second, Rashid took the golden cup to the merchant. “Look at this fine cup,” he exclaimed. “A djinn appeared from the ground and presented it to me, but I would much rather have some bread. Perhaps you would like to trade?”
But “No no no,” said the merchant, mopping his brow. “You are a thief, Rashid. A thief and a trickster. If this cup is not stolen, it is cursed.”
Finally, Rashid took the golden cup to the king. “Eminent Highness,” he said, bowing, “I…”
“Leave my palace or I will have you thrown in jail,” said the king.
And so Rashid beat a hasty retreat.
But the true danger was already upon him, for as night fell, a great dragon awoke within the mound. Knowing that some small part of its hoard was missing, and catching the scent of man about the place, it flew screeching for the city lights on the horizon.
The dragon flew above the houses, raking their roofs with its vicious claws and spewing flame down into the streets. “Bring to me my treasure before the sun rises,” it cried, “or I shall burn this city down!”
As soon as they heard this, the jeweller and the merchant and the king all realised what had happened, and before long everybody was tearing through the streets with torches and spears, desperately seeking Rashid.
But no sooner than he had been driven from the palace, Rashid had gone back to the jewellers shop and—having let himself in—begun to melt down the golden cup. The cup was trouble, that was plain enough. But surely no shopkeeper could find fault with a few shapeless blobs of gold.
However, though the golden cup was small and unassuming, it held a secret unmatched by any other treasure of that desert mound. As the final remnants of the drinking vessel’s form melted in the crucible, a face appeared in the molten metal.
“Thank you, kind stranger!” said the face, with a peculiar golden voice. “Thank you for freeing me from the chalice!”
Rashid stumbled away from the fire. “Who are you?”
“I was once a hero,” explained the face of gold, “sworn to defeat the dark priest who dwelled within the halls of the dead. But I was found wanting: he cast a spell upon me, and for a thousand years I have remained sealed in that cup.”
At that moment the jeweller burst in, for she had realised at last what Rashid must have done. “There you are!” She slapped Rashid soundly. “A terrible dragon sits atop the palace and has threatened all kinds of things, should its cup not be returned before a new sun rises.”
“That is no dragon!” exclaimed the hero in the gold. “Long have I watched with emerald eyes: that is a noble princess, who was also cursed. Always is she doomed to watch over the dark priest’s hoard, for if it should be divided from her when the sun rises, she shall surely die.”
This, the jeweller thought, was even worse than the city being razed, since the princess was blameless. She turned to Rashid. “See what your thieving ways have done?” And she slapped him again for good measure.
But Rashid’s thieving ways were not all bad, for he had cunning. “Wait!” he shouted. “Bid the townspeople bring the whole hoard here, to your shop. I see a way that all can be resolved.”
So, after some coaxing, the jeweller did this. And after more coaxing, the king agreed. A great procession filed forth from the city, and before even the faintest touch of dawn had lit the sky, every treasure of the mound was gathered in the jeweller’s shop.
“Now,” said Rashid, “The hoard is with the dragon, and the dragon with the hoard, and this is good.”
This time, it was the king’s turn to slap Rashid. “Is this dragon to perch atop my palace forever?” he cried. “This is not good at all!”
But Rashid was more cunning still. He bade the jeweller make a vast and wondrous mould, and pour into it all the melted gold of the dark priest’s hoard. And when this was done, all the people of the town saw at last what Rashid had devised. Because what emerged from that clay form was no mere trinket, but a hero’s body all of gold, as well proportioned as any statue, and as intricate as any clockwork.
And so both the dragon and the golden man were free from the necropolis at last. Though each is bound to the other’s company, neither much minds. And neither do the jeweller and Rashid, who were wed not a week later.