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Chapter 1

Fortress of the Golden Dragon: A Persian Tale Inspired by the Shah-Nameh
Homa A. Garemani

Once in a land far away there was a small town called Kolallan. High mountains protected this peace-loving community from its unfriendly neighbors on the north side, whereas in the south, azure blue hills attracted travelers to linger. Hundreds of pomegranate trees adorned prairies surrounding the land. When ripe, their sumptuous fruit cracked, displaying ruby seeds which satisfied the most discriminating taste. At night delicious oranges lit orange groves like fiery globes illuminating the landscape. Tall palm trees decorated every house. Their branches stretched out together like umbrellas, protecting the households from summer's blazing heat and fanning out the hot air. The dates produced were the finest in the world, but their juicy and delicate nature made exportation beyond the town impossible. Along the roads, lotus trees and myrtle gracefully provided shade to weary travelers. Deep wells were the source of clear cool drinking water for the town.

In spite of all the natural resources, the people of Kolallan were poor. Their main source of income was from cotton fields. Strangely, the male population was only half as many as the female. The elders believed that a few decades ago a witch had put a curse upon the town because a group of maidens had refused to serve her food and drink.

"Without husbands you shall be spinning until your hair turns white like cotton," the witch had declared.

In fact, all the maidens of Kolallan occupied their time by gathering cotton buds, spinning, and weaving in order to save money for alluring dowries.

The people of Kolallan were good-natured and fun loving. In spite of their meager income, a month never passed during which they did not celebrate and enjoy themselves. Doors were never locked and they made strangers feel welcome to share their simple meals. Domestic animals were used only for their milk and wool. The occasional source of meat was from hunting game, which was usually shared by many households. Every morning groups of cheerful maidens carried their spindles to the hills, shared each other?s lunch, and sang songs. This ancient hymn was always the first they chanted:

O glorious queen of heavenly spring!
All water from your motherly water flow.
Part of water you make stand,
Part of water you forward flow.
A thousand lakes you possess,
A thousand rivers you own.
Your brightness carried by horses four,
All white, of the same blood,
The wind.
The rain.
The sleet.
The cloud.
And thus upon the earth rising,
Snowing, sleeting, hailing,
Crushing down hates of all hatred,
Destroying the wicked.
O glorious queen of heavenly spring!
You are life increasing and heavenly!
You are herd increasing and heavenly!
Maidens of barren wombs will beg of thee:
Grant them children of males pure in seed,
With words kind and good in deed.
O glorious queen of heavenly spring!

In the evening they returned home to deliver their spindles to their parents.

Among the maidens, the fairest of all was Allusin. With beauty and grace, she was tall and slender, with long, soft, curly hair the color of fresh dates. Her teeth were cotton-white, her cheeks as rosy as pomegranate seed, and her eyes sparkled with joy, even in sad moments, like sweet oranges at night. Her voice was crystal clear, like the water of deep wells.

Her constant companion was a white sheepdog given to her by a man traveling on foot who had stopped by their house years ago asking her for a cup of water. He had worn a long turquoise blue robe down to his ankles, and a wide leather belt with seven rows of stitches in seven colors around his waist. He carried a dragonhead staff.

It was a Wednesday, the thirteenth day of the month, and Allusin was nine years old at the time. She gave him a cup of cold water and began to pet his dog affectionately.

"What a pretty collar!" she said, noticing his neck. It had two narrow braided cotton ropes in purple and red entwined, with nine tiny lapis lazuli stars hanging from it. "What is his name?" she asked the stranger.

"His name is Saiparak," said the man in a low voice as he looked at her with piercing eyes. His face and his hands were bleached white, as were his hair and beard. "It is the name of a bright star in the sky," he continued. "A magic star! Each month, for ten days the star turns into a tall young man fifteen years of age. For ten days it becomes a bull with golden horns, and for ten days it appears as a white horse with ears and reins of gold. It is the staunchest foe of the black dragon with no wings and no tail. He seems to be taken with you. Perhaps you care to keep him?"

"Oh yes!" she said with great excitement. "May I?"

"Of course," he replied softly as he left.

"What is your name?" Allusin called after him.

Without looking back he answered: "Peerbabu."

There were myths and legends about Peerbabu in neighboring towns. Rumors were that he had lived more than a thousand years and had been in his mother's womb for seventy-two years. He was born with the bleached-white skin, white hair, and very long fingernails. His father, a cobbler, believing his newborn son to be evil, left him on a high mountain to be ripped apart by vultures, but a gigantic bird with the combined faculties of bird, beast, and human found the baby, fed and raised him. Her nest was on an island in the middle of a vast ocean. It rested upon a tree, which bore the seeds of all trees. The legend was that whenever she flew away a thousand branches grew out of that tree, and when she sat a thousand branches broke and seeds of all kinds scattered into the ocean.

Peerbabu lived on a hill in a three-story tower shaped like a cross. Each level had windows on all sides. A small garden surrounded the building, with a short waterfall on the west side. It flowed to the east through a small stream and down to a cliff. The tower was hidden by tall trees and was not visible from outside unless one could find his way up through a winding narrow passage, ending at a wide terrace upon which the tower was built. No one remembered ever having seen the interior of the tower.

Peerbabu was known for his healing powers. People from faraway towns and villages brought their terminally ill and left them under an old oak tree at the foot of the hill by his house. If they were gone the next day it was a sign that the person had a chance to be healed; other?wise the patient died. After they were healed, patients returned home with no memory of their healing process.

Peerbabu was frequently seen going to the mountains, where he stayed out of sight for days and perhaps months. Old villagers said that they had seen him riding on a white rhino with a horn as long as ten cubits. Some whispered that he could order the wind to carry him to the most remote parts of the world. People revered him, but feared him as well. Therefore, they kept their distance.

Allusin took good care of Saiparak. When she ate bread, she gave him three mouthfuls, too. She never gave him hard bones or leftover food. Saiparak, with his short tail; long, narrow head; long, rough hair; and pointed nose was a sheepdog with the character of a shepherd. Watchful and a light sleeper, he was the first to leave the house in the morning, and he tailed Allusin when she came home in the evening.

On the north side of the town of Kolallan were two castles, not far apart. One castle belonged to a young prince whose immediate family had been killed by nomadic tribesmen in an ambush when he was only an infant.

In the other castle lived Prince Sarabaress, the young prince's only uncle.

Prince Sarabaress had deep-set, light brown, melancholic eyes; a high forehead; and was tall and slender. He had the attitude and the mentality more befitting a philosopher than a royal prince. He had no children of his own, as his beloved wife had died at childbirth. Devastated by the news of his twin brother's death, instead of planning a vengeful attack, which was commonly expected of a prince, he had decided to go into seclusion and dedicate his life to writing. One week after the event though, when Peerbabu showed up at his castle, his plan took a new course. Peerbabu was carrying a baby who was wrapped in the royal white blanket bearing his family emblem, a rosette. Peerbabu handed the baby boy over to Prince Sarabaress. ...

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