Short Stories

The Badguerd Bath (Part 1)

Queen Housan Banou reigned in Shahabad. She was beautiful and much loved by Prince Mounir, but she did not feel at heart capable of making this man of great value happy. In fact, more than anything else in the world, she wanted to unravel the mystery of a bathing resort called Badguerd, a far-flung abode of hellish reputation. None of those who had ventured there had returned. Prince Mounir had a friend: Hatim Täi. This precious companion, who had a great reputation for bravery and generosity, then decided that his brother-in-arms could receive the queen’s love, travel, however costly, to Badguerd’s bathhouse and overcome his own. puzzle. Prince Mounir was moved to tears to see Hatim resolved to face the dangers of such a company for his happiness. He escorted him to the city gates, entrusted him with a queen talisman powerful enough to protect him from foreseeable dangers, then squeezed him in his arms and bid him farewell.

Hatim Tai set off along the dusty roads of Persia to this place so obscured by dangerous magic that no living man knew his exact situation. He walked seven times seven days with the sun on his shoulders, and before his steps the dark desert. On the last morning of the seventh week, he glimpsed a city of sand in the distance, where it was twilight. In front of the high door of the citadel he found an old man who held out a long staff before him and, stopping him like this, asked him where he was going.

“I’m looking for Badguerd baths,” Hatim Täi replied.

The old man shook his thin head sadly, stroking his beard simultaneously.

“None of your madmen to this day have returned from there.” Did you know that?

“I know and care little,” said Hatim. “I have sworn to discover the secret this place hides, and I will find it.”

“If so,” said the old man, “listen to me.”

He pointed at the horizon with his staff outstretched.

“Take this road, which leads to the citadel of Qa’tam, ruled by a king named Harith.” Only he knows where the Badguerd bath is, but he is an unpredictable man. He ordered the border guards to arrest those who seek this place. I don’t know if you order them to kill or give them information. To get to Qa’tam you will have to climb a high mountain and cross an extensive plain, after which you will come across two paths. Take the one on the left. The one on the right is apparently better, but hides more dangers.

Hatim thanked the old man, rested for half a night, and resumed the desert crossing again. The mists of the morning soon broke over a distant, blue mountain populated with cypress trees. He climbed it. At the summit, he discovered at the foot of the mountain an endless plain. He went down to her and walked so long that his worn boots fell to pieces. Finally, he came to the place where the road split in two. The one on the right seemed the least abrupt. He took it, too tired and eager to reach the end of the journey, to remember the wise advice of the old man he had found at the door of a now forgotten city from so far away.

Walked an hour at no cost. Then suddenly the surrounding bushes brightened, like treacherous beasts, spread the sharp branches to him, clung to his garments. Four days he fought them, advancing with great effort and losing much blood. On the night of the fourth day he finally came to the entrance of a pale gray desert. Depleted of strength, he dropped to a slab. No sooner had his forehead landed on the crook of his arm than he felt the ground move. He raised his head and saw galloping toward him in the twilight gloom, monstrous animals, oversized foxes, snake-headed lions, huge wolf-snouted tigers. “I’m lost,” Hatim said to himself, shaking with fear. He got up, determined to die on his feet. Then the old man appeared at his side and said to him:

“Young man, this is what it costs to despise the words of the wise.” Throw away this talisman that Queen Housan Banou offered you and may Allah’s will be done.

Hatim obeyed. The old man crumbled like a vapor. At that moment the earth became yellowish, then black, green, red. The monsters, driven mad by this prodigy, threw themselves at each other and devoured themselves with frightening noises.

Hatim continued the journey, hoping to have overcome the most serious dangers. It was wrong. Shortly thereafter, he entered a forest whose trees and brushwoods were of sharp iron. How long have you walked in its gray light? I didn’t know it. It came out of her thinner than a wraith, dressed in bloody rags; he walked for long days on his bent back, but finally came close to the walls of Qa’tam. (continued …) Henri Gougaud The Treasure Tree Lisbon, Gradiva, 1998

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