The Shaving of Shagpat, by George Meredith

The Genie Karaz

Now, when the voice of the Vizier had ceased, Shibli Bagarag exclaimed, ‘O Vizier, this night, no later, I’ll surprise Shagpat, and shave him while he sleepeth: and he shall wake shorn beside his spouse. Wullahy! I’ll delay no longer, I, Shibli Bagarag.’

Said the Vizier, ‘Thou?’

And he replied, ‘Surely, O Vizier! thou knowest little of my dexterity.’

So the Vizier laughed, and Noorna bin Noorka laughed, and he was at a loss to interpret the cause of their laughter. Then said Noorna, ‘O my betrothed, there’s not a doubt among us of thy dexterity, nor question of thy willingness; but this shaving of Shagpat, wullahy! ’tis longer work than what thou makest of it.’

And he cried, ‘How? because of the Chief of Identicals planted by thee in his head?’

She answered, ‘Because of that; but ’tis the smallest opposer, that.’

Then the Vizier said, ‘Let us consult.’

So Shibli Bagarag gave ear, and the Vizier continued, ‘There’s first, the Chief of Identicals planted by thee in the head of that presumptuous fellow, O my daughter! By what means shall that be overcome?’

She said, ‘I rank not that first, O Feshnavat, my father; surely I rank first the illusions with which Rabesqurat hath surrounded him, and made it difficult to know him from his semblances, whenever real danger threateneth him.’

The Vizier assented, saying, ‘Second, then, the Chief of Identicals?’

She answered, ‘Nay, O my father; second, the weakness that’s in man, and the little probability of his finishing with Shagpat at one effort; and there is but a sole chance for whoso attempteth, and if he faileth, ’tis forever he faileth.’

So the Vizier said, ‘Even I knew not ’twas so grave! Third, then, the Chief of Identicals?’

She replied, ‘Third! which showeth the difficulty of the task. Read ye not, first, how the barber must come upon Shagpat and fix him for his operation; second, how the barber must be possessed of more than mortal strength to master him in so many strokes; third, how the barber must have a blade like no other blade in this world in sharpness, in temper, in velocity of sweep, that he may reap this crop which flourisheth on Shagpat, and with it the magic hair which defieth edge of mortal blades?’

Now, the Vizier sighed at the words, saying, ‘Powerful is Shagpat. I knew not the thing I undertook. I fear his mastery of us, and we shall be contemned — objects for the red finger of scorn.’

Noorna turned to Shibli Bagarag and asked, ‘Do the three bonds of enterprise — vengeance, ambition, and love — shrink in thee from this great contest?’

Shibli Bagarag said, ”Tis terrible! on my head be it!’

She gazed at him a moment tenderly, and said, ‘Thou art worthy of what is in store for thee, O my betrothed! and I think little of the dangers, in contemplation of the courage in thee. Lo, if vengeance and ambition spur thee so, how will not love when added to the two?’

Then said she, ‘As to the enchantments and spells that shall overreach him, and as to the blade wherewith to shear him?’

Feshnavat exclaimed, ‘Yonder ‘s indeed where we stumble and are tripped at starting.’

But she cried, ‘What if I know of a sword that nought on earth or under resisteth, and before the keen edge of which all Illusions and Identicals are as summer grass to the scythe?’

They both shouted, ‘The whereabout of that sword, O Noorna!’

So she said, ”Tis in Aklis, in the mountains of the Koosh; and the seven sons of Aklis sharpen it day and night till the adventurer cometh to claim it for his occasion. Whoso succeedeth in coming to them they know to have power over the sword, and ’tis then holiday for them. Many are the impediments, and they are as holes where the fox haunteth. So they deliver to his hand the sword till his object is attained, his Event mastered, smitten through with it; and ’tis called the Sword of Events. Surely, with it the father of the Seven vanquished the mighty Roc, Kroojis, that threatened mankind with ruin, and a stain of the Roc’s blood is yet on the hilt of the sword. How sayest thou, O Feshnavat — shall we devote ourselves to get possession of that Sword?’

So the Vizier brightened at her words, and said, ‘O excellent in wisdom and star of counsel! speak further, and as to the means.’

Noorna bin Noorka continued, ‘Thou knowest, O my father, I am proficient in the arts of magic, and I am what I am, and what I shall be, by its uses. ’Tis known to thee also that I hold a Genie in bondage, and can utter ten spells and one spell in a breath. Surely my services to the youth in his attainment of the Sword will be beyond price! Now to reach Aklis and the Sword there are three things needed — charms: and one is a phial full of the waters of Paravid from the wells in the mountain yon-side the desert; and one, certain hairs that grow in the tail of the horse Garraveen, he that roameth wild in the meadows of Melistan; and one, that the youth gather and bear to Aklis, for the white antelope Gulrevaz, the Lily of the Lovely Light that groweth in the hollow of the crags over the Enchanted Sea: with these spells he will command the Sword of Aklis, and nothing can bar him passage. Moreover I will expend in his aid all my subtleties, my transformations, the stores of my wisdom. Many seek this Sword, and people the realms of Rabesqurat, or are beasts in Aklis, or crowned Apes, or go to feed the Roc, Kroojis, in the abyss beneath the Roc’s-egg bridge; but there’s virtue in Shibli Bagarag: wullahy! I am wistful in him of the hand of Destiny, and he will succeed in this undertaking if he dareth it.’

Shibli Bagarag cried, ‘At thy bidding, O Noorna! Care I for dangers? I’m on fire to wield the Sword, and master the Event.’

Thereupon, Noorna bin Noorka arose instantly, and took him by the cheeks a tender pinch, and praised him. Then drew she round him a circle with her forefinger that left a mark like the shimmering of evanescent green flame, saying, ‘White was the day I set eyes on thee!’ Round the Vizier, her father, she drew a like circle; and she took an unguent, and traced with it characters on the two circles, and letters of strange form, arrowy, lance-like, like leaning sheaves, and crouching baboons, and kicking jackasses, and cocks a-crow, and lutes slack-strung; and she knelt and mumbled over and over words of magic, like the drone of a bee to hear, and as a roll of water, nothing distinguishable. After that she sought for an unguent of a red colour, and smeared it on a part of the floor by the corner of the room, and wrote on it in silver fluid a word that was the word ‘Eblis,’ and over that likewise she droned awhile. Presently she arose with a white-heated face, the sweat on her brow, and said to Shibli Bagarag and Feshnavat hurriedly and in a harsh tone, ‘How? have ye fear?’

They answered, ‘Our faith is in Allah, our confidence in thee.’

Said she then, ‘I summon the Genie I hold in bondage. He will be wrathful; but ye are secure from him. He’s this moment in the farthest region of earth, doing ill, as is his wont, and the wont of the stock of Eblis.’

So the Vizier said, ‘He’ll be no true helper, this Genie, and I care not for his company.’

She answered, ‘O my father! leave thou that to me. What says the poet? —

“It is the sapiency of fools,

To shrink from handling evil tools.”’

Now, while she was speaking, she suddenly inclined her ear as to a distant noise; but they heard nothing. Then, after again listening, she cried in a sharp voice, ‘Ho! muffle your mouths with both hands, and stir not from the ring of the circles, as ye value life and its blessings.’

So they did as she bade them, and watched her curiously. Lo! she swathed the upper and lower part of her face in linen, leaving the lips and eyes exposed; and she took water from an ewer, and sprinkled it on her head, and on her arms and her feet, muttering incantations. Then she listened a third time, and stooped to the floor, and put her lips to it, and called the name, ‘Karaz!’ And she called this name seven times loudly, sneezing between whiles. Then, as it were in answer to her summons, there was a deep growl of thunder, and the palace rocked, tottering; and the air became smoky and full of curling vapours. Presently they were aware of the cry of a Cat, and its miaulings; and the patch of red unguent on the floor parted and they beheld a tawny Cat with an arched back. So Noorna bin Noorka frowned fiercely at the Cat, and cried, ‘This is thy shape, O Karaz; change! for it serves not the purpose.’

The Cat changed, and was a Leopard with glowing yellow eyes, crouched for the spring. So Noorna bin Noorka stamped, and cried again, ‘This is thy shape, O Karaz; change! for it serves not the purpose.’

And the Leopard changed, and was a Serpent with many folds, sleek, curled, venomous, hissing.

Noorna bin Noorka cried in wrath, ‘This is thy shape, O Karaz; change! or thou’lt be no other till Eblis is accepted in Paradise.’

And the Serpent vanished. Lo! in its place a Genie of terrible aspect, black as a solitary tree seared by lightning; his forehead ridged and cloven with red streaks; his hair and ears reddened; his eyes like two hollow pits dug by the shepherd for the wolf, and the wolf in them. He shouted, ‘What work is it now, thou accursed traitress?’

Noorna replied, ‘I’ve need of thee!’

He said, ‘What shape?’

She answered, ‘The shape of an Ass that will carry two on its back, thou Perversity!’

Upon that, he cried, ‘O faithless woman, how long shall I be the slave of thy plotting? Now, but for that hair of my head, plucked by thy hand while I slept, I were free, no doer of thy tasks. Say, who be these that mark us?’

She answered, ‘One, the Vizier Feshnavat; and one, Shibli Bagarag of Shiraz, he that’s destined to shave Shagpat, the son of Shimpoor, the son of Shoolpi, the son of Shullum; and the youth is my betrothed.’

Now, at her words the whole Genie became as live coal with anger, and he panted black and bright, and made a stride toward Shibli Bagarag, and stretched his arm out to seize him; but Noorna, blew quickly on the circles she had drawn, and the circles rose up in a white flame high as the heads of those present, and the Genie shrank hastily back from the flame, and was seized with fits of sneezing. Then she said in scorn, ‘Easily, O Karaz, is a woman outwitted! Surely I could not guess what would be thy action! and I was wanting in foresight and insight! and I am a woman bearing the weight of my power as a woodman staggereth under the logs he hath felled!’

So she taunted him, and he still sneezing and bent double with the might of the sneeze. Then said Noorna in a stern voice, ‘No more altercation between us! Wait thou here till I reappear, Karaz!’

Thereupon, she went from them; and the two, Feshnavat and Shibli Bagarag, feared greatly being left with the Genie, for he became all colours, and loured on them each time that he ceased sneezing. He was clearly menacing them when Noorna returned, and in her hand a saddle made of hide, traced over with mystic characters and gold stripes.

So she cried, ‘Take this!’ Then, seeing he hesitated, she unclosed from her left palm a powder, and scattered

it over him; and he grew meek, and the bending knee of obedience was his, and he took the saddle. So she said, ”Tis well! Go now, and wait outside the city in the shape of an Ass, with this saddle on thy back.’

The Genie groaned, and said, ‘To hear is to obey!’ And he departed with those words, for she held him in bondage. Then she calmed down the white flames of the circles that enclosed Shibli Bagarag and the Vizier Feshnavat, and they stepped forth, marvelling at the greatness of her sorceries that held such a Genie in bondage.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09