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This fanciful tale was first transcribed in the Falador Tribune, by a journalist purported to have heard the famous rogue Ozan spinning an exotic yarn in the Rising Sun tavern.
Hardly an unbiased or unembellished account, I'm sure. Nevertheless, having done some research, I believe the details (at least in this story) are largely true.
I’m feeling nostalgic tonight, and if it’s a little colour you’re after, my friends, then I’d like to tell you of my childhood in Al Kharid.
I never knew my father, and my mother passed before I could ask her who he might be. With no one left to raise me, I found myself on the streets. But this is not a sad tale – at least, I hope not, since here I stand, as the dashing scoundrel you see before you, and my life is still very much a tale in the telling.
My favourite place in Al Kharid was the bazaar – it never failed to overwhelm the senses. The cocktail of incense and spices, the dark and muggy scent of the shisha stalls - all cut through with the tang of sq'irk. And the sounds! The hubbub of the crowd, the whine of a snake charmer's flute, chittering monkeys, tweeting birds, spitting camels...
It was not just the heady scents and bustle of the city that so intoxicated those who frequented her streets, my friends. The sights... carpets of swirling cerulean that shamed the sky, fine silks of a thousand hues from faraway lands, and – most beguiling of all to a wide-eyed, quick-fingered rascal such as I – glittering jewellery and precious stones.
To this day, my friends, Al Kharid is a place a man can lose himself in wonders unheard and sights unseen - although he can just as easily lose his coin purse while he's at it.
This tale takes place when I was a boy, when a deep, glistening ruby - displayed by a foolish merchant in the market - begged to find a new owner. I could almost hear it calling out to me:
Come and get me. I'm yours.
I see some of you good Falador folk baulk, but I hope you’d not begrudge a hungry orphan a little sleight of hand, and such a prize as would feed him for a month.
Anyway, I must have been hungry, as I was slower than usual. Yes, I’d done it a few times before and never been spotted, but it was always for a worthy cause, ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps it was the gem trader, more alert than usual on a particularly cool day. It doesn’t matter - either way, he spied my hand slipping the gem into my pocket.
I knew as soon as he drew breath that I was discovered, hairs prickling on the back of my neck and my stomach sinking. I was already running when he bellowed out across the bazaar: ‘THIEF!’ ‘STOP HIM!’. Despite his round belly and short legs, he was surprisingly swift, and was after me in a shot, barrelling through the throng to shouted protests.
The thrill of the chase shoved aside my hunger, and I ducked and weaved through the crowd, always a step ahead. My luck was in, for I spotted a scaffold and managed to swing and twist my way through it. I shot another glance behind, just in time to see the shopkeeper crash headlong into it, bringing planks down on him. I made my escape to the sounds of angry bellows, threats and curses.
Elated at my escape and marvelling at how clever I was, I ducked into an alleyway to lay low until the heat was off. Glancing behind me to ensure that I wasn't followed, I didn't expect to run into what felt like a brick wall. I gasped in shock and fell back, but an iron grip took me and I found myself tossed further into the alleyway like a rag doll.
I righted myself mid-air, and landed on my feet; dirk drawn and hissing like a gutter rat. My bravado quickly turned to fear, however, for a giant loomed before me. In the low light, I could see that he towered six - no, seven! - feet tall, and that he was clad in thick leather armour. A scimitar almost as large as I was glinted at his belt, and his bear-like paw rested on its pommel. I stole a glance left - then right - but there was nowhere to run or hide and then...then he spoke.
'You've quick hands, little thief...' he rumbled in a voice like thunder, his hand moving toward the grip of his great blade, 'It’d be a shame to see you lose them.'
But then he laughed, and that huge hand planted itself squarely on my head and ruffled my hair. He stepped forward a little so the light fell onto his face, and I saw that it was Khnum, one of the palace guard...and an old friend. I swatted his hand away and punched him in the belly, but I soon found myself laughing along with him.
Khnum had always looked out for me, kept me out of trouble... serious trouble, at least. He never said, but I assumed his childhood had been much like mine. Maybe he thought that as he’d been able to make something of himself – a palace guard, no less – then he might help me do the same.
Such a life was not for me, of course - do I look like I'm cut out for the life of a guard? I appreciated the sentiment, though, and Khnum was perhaps the first person I could count as a true friend. It's been years since I last saw him, and I hear that he's fallen on hard times; got in with a bad crowd over in Draynor. Perhaps I'll return the favour to him yet.
But I digress. Later, when the afternoon was hottest - and when I had fenced the gem and treated myself to the biggest slice of baklava I could find, I found Khnum sitting on a low wall, drinking from a flask. I sat myself down next to him without a word, my mouth full. ‘What’s that you’re scoffing there, young lad?’ he said.
Khnum could turn any conversation to food – it was one of the things I liked about him. You’ve got to have a vice if you’re guarding stuff all day, and Khnum's was one shared by every hungry orphan boy.
Before I’d finished the mouthful, another guard walked past and eyed me; suspicious no doubt, at the sight of a scruffy boy scoffing a pastry worth a day's pay to him.
‘Heard there was some commotion in the bazaar this morning,' Khnum said. 'Nothing to do with you, I assume.’
I took another bite. I murmured that I’d been at the Duel Arena all day, watching the fights. Khnum made a show of shrugging shame-facedly to his colleague, who snorted, shook his head and marched away.
’Just as well,’ he told me, his face serious now. ‘Keep yourself out of trouble. There’s a new Head of the Palace Guard. Osman’s his name...breath worse than an ugthanki, and twice as mean to boot. He’d not think twice about lopping off a little thief’s hands, not even one as young as...how old are you these days?’ I remember nodding absently, but didn’t really take much heed.
Khnum and I talked for a long time, the usual– duels, gossip, a new recipe he’d been trying – and he described his new boss a little. I came up with a nickname for him: Big Snozz. He laughed, and said he'd see if he could get it to stick.
Before long, the heat of the afternoon had given way and stepped aside for cool dusk..
I heard the sweetest sound from a palace window, stunning our laughter into silence. The bazaar was an overwhelming cacophony of sound; this was a lone voice in song, pure and beautiful. I was overcome with an urge to meet the owner of that voice, and I dashed past Khnum into the palace grounds. He called after me in a harsh whisper – ‘I said STAY out of trouble, not get into MORE! You’ll get us strung up!’
There must have been twenty guards on patrol that night, but I easily picked my way through to the palace walls unseen. Within minutes I’d started my climb up to the window, pulling myself up on trellises, jutting stones and railings. When I reached the balcony, I perched for a moment listening. The song was even more beautiful up close, if that’s possible. It was an old Kharidian nursery rhyme: The Cactus Lily.
I crouched there for what felt like an age – my legs had pins and needles, like the cactus in the rhyme. I was hesitant to do anything else in case the singing stopped. I could have stayed that way all evening, but - abruptly - the singing stopped, followed by silence. After what felt like an age, a voice came from within the room, stronger and fiercer than the sweet promise of the soft melody: ‘Who is out there?’ it said, ‘I can hear you. Show yourself, or I...’
I didn’t give her the chance to finish her threat. I stepped into her room. And, like the bazaar that morning, my senses were overwhelmed – flowery perfume, the silken rustle of her dress, the fierce beauty of her eyes...
’The name is Ozan, princess,’ I declared simply. I told her how I’d heard her song from down below, while talking with a friend, and just had to meet her. Even at that young age, I knew that honesty was the best course with women...well, for the most part.
She listened while I explained myself, then she relaxed a little and said ‘That is sweet, Ozan. A little odd too, perhaps, but you really should not be here. You could get in trouble. My father...’
’I can’t be caught, princess. Even if I were, it was worth it to see you, to meet you...’
‘Look, please, do not call me ‘princess’. My father is...’
But I ignored her. I turned to the window and began a short lyric that I made up on the spot. Something about stealing hearts. I remember thinking that I had a talent for the creative arts, and that no girl could resist my charms.
In the brief moment I’d taken to gesture towards the window, she’d moved – impressively quick and precise – and when I turned back it was to a crossbow, bolt notched, aimed directly at my heart.
She said, ’I told you NOT to call me Princess! My name is Leela, and my father is the Head of the Palace Guard!’
Well, that revelation slapped me right across the face, I can tell you! ’Your father is Big Snozz? I mean, Osman?’ I said to the girl. She fired a bolt into the window frame, inches from my head. I froze - a little shaken, yes, but also captivated, and fascinated to see what she would do next.
‘Show him some respect,’ she snarled, winding the crossbow's loading mechanism. ‘Now, what’s this about ‘stealing hearts’? I think you’ve slipped up, scoundrel. Did you get the wrong window, perhaps? Or were you trying to soften me up with compliments so you could get information on how to steal it?’
My mind raced; I had no clue of what she was talking about. ‘Speak, quickly’ she said, pulling a fresh bolt from her the cluster of what I'd first thought were pins in her hair ‘or I’ll steal your heart...with this crossbow bolt.’
I protested, and couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t believe me! I didn’t know anything about a heart, but whatever it was it must have been valuable. Mercifully, there was a loud bang at the door – guards. They must have heard her shouting. They probably didn’t know that I’d snuck in.
She turned her head to answer the guards. I regained my senses, and - before she regained her composure - stole a kiss... and her crossbow at the same time.
She reeled back – part shock, part anger. Before she could recover, I made a dash for the window and said back to her - ‘I really was only here for you, princess’, then leapt out onto the balcony, climbing to the roof. As I fled, the last thing I heard was that...charming voice:
‘DON’T CALL ME PRINCESS!’
Climbing back down was a no-go. Guards were watching me from below – including Khnum, who was shaking his head in despair - so I had to move up. It didn’t take long to clamber up to the roof, but where to get down? I made my way to the rear of the palace, looking for something I could climb down.
I saw something: a faint, pulsing white light, emanating through a hole in the roof at the back of the palace. Well, I was here now and already in trouble. How much more could I get in? Only the low light of the setting sun fell upon the roof top, but when they hit a nearby skylight, rays of brilliant, reflected light from within caught my eye. Despite my peril, this strange sight was too much for my curiosity, and I stopped, stared...and headed for the open skylight window.
This was what she was talking about: the heart, the fabled Kharid-ib diamond, pride of Al Kharid. The most brilliant and beautiful diamond I had seen. Even today, I've yet to see its equal. It shone brightly enough to light the whole room. A ruby would buy me a week’s worth of food; this would feed me like a king for a thousand lifetimes.
I must have been staring at it for an age; it hadn’t even crossed my mind to steal it before the door was broken down. I’d been caught by Osman – the Big Snozz – and a couple of his palace guards. Before I knew it, they had thrown me into a cell. The last thing I heard as the door clanged shut was Osman's voice:
"Take some time to reflect upon the gravity of your crimes. We'll deal with you in the morning."
I’d like to say I made my escape, but the bars were unmoving and the walls thick, and my mind was filled with thoughts of the diamond and the princess...and whether tomorrow would be my final dawn.
I was awoken from a fitful sleep and dragged, blinking and bound, into the yard outside. As my eyes adjusted to the glare, I saw Osman, with his guards assembled behind him, staring down at me. I looked past him and tried to catch Khnum's gaze, but he just stood in line, eyes to the front.
I was given a choice, at least of sorts: leave Al Kharid and never return, or be executed. I had to put my home, my friend, the princess and my life in Al Kharid at my back, heading north to Varrock to make my fortune.
I left its great sandstone gates for the final time to the rays of the rising sun. Even now, when the dawn comes and sun rises, I think of Al Kharid - jewel of the east...and all of the treasures it holds.
And so you find me. Graduate from the school of hard times and petty thievery, but with an ever-sunny disposition and many a story to tell. I’m not one for messages at the end of stories, but I think we can agree on this one: if life deals you a bad hand, just bluff until you start winning again.
That, my friends, is a free lesson. Although I do accept hard coin, should you wish to show your gratitude for a good tale, well told.
Author: Stephen R
|Lores & Histories|