The Sultan 

Once upon a time, the sultan baked a royal pie, filling it with all of the glorious and delicious fruits of his secret and sacred garden. While the pie was cooling, an assassin crept into the palace, cut the pie into twelve pieces, replacing all but one with inferior and poisonous pie slices, identical from the outside to the single original slice. Then the assassin fled before his knavery could be discovered. The sultan served the pie to the haseki sultan, who was an expert in algebra and daydreaming. As she was about to eat the pie, she thought, what if this wonderful pie were not whole? What if only one piece belonged to the original pie her beloved sultan had baked? And what if all the other pieces had been poisoned by a crafty assassin? What formula could she employ to solve the problem? 

The Mound

The mound of sand rose pale and smoky in the blue night of great stars as a light breeze constantly added and subtracted grains of sand to and from its mass. The lost assassin thus perceived the merciless impossibility of death, the momentous eternity, the shattering and reassembling of numbers and words, and the distance of distance.

The Caravans

One of the assassins was entrusted with leading an armed caravan into the deserts. Perhaps it was to stalk and kill an escaped conspirator, perhaps it was to escape a conspiracy or a trial, or perhaps it was a secret mission to better determine the way of the sands and clouds, the history of his nation, the possibilities of empire and the nature of trade routes. The caravan took up its arms, tools, merchandise and machines and departed for the dry oblivion. As they drifted deeper into the soft dunes and burning blue sky, the assassin felt that they were transforming into a song. The caravan was a strong and strange piece of music. Lost in ecstasy, he did not notice the approach of the sandstorm. All of the warriors and camels, except for the assassin, were buried alive. The assassin made his way to a desolate oasis and survived for many years on water, wild grains, and non-integers of birds. One day, a caravan stopped at the oasis and found the bewildered survivor. The travelers decided to take him along. As they crossed the wastes, the assassin spoke of all that he had learned of clouds, sands, and little creatures. When the caravan arrived back in civilization, the assassin learned that his language, nation and cities were no more. Other caravans were departing for newer cities and different times and places, with stronger and stranger music. Lost, the assassin made haste to join their sand-blasted journeys into oblivion.

The Manuscripts

One manuscript turned up in a desert well. Although the language was scriptural, and could have been classified as philosophy or wisdom literature, the text was a long vulgate poem of lectures about harvests and departures, addressing all of the great questions of the soul. The second manuscript was found buried along the great highway. It was clear that the second manuscript was an imitation of the first. It suffered from poor grammar and pointless meditations, but the fictional framework of this second text was just as intriguing and appealing: the discourse of a stranger in a city on the verge of destruction. Ashes are more appetizing than grain, as the ancient proverb says. The man who found the manuscripts read both again and again over the course of the day, in the empty fields of scattered trees. The man came to know the texts well, the sources of their genius, the unrealized heights of expression possible, the unreached horizons of thought and dream that had been left behind. It were as though the very minimal and mediocre seeds of these texts suggested an invisible and imaginary harvest somewhere else, in some other unwritten text. It was clear that both texts were imitations of earlier works, in a tradition that saw the fading of form and depth with each successive edition, but perhaps they were not. Perhaps every text is the same as another, a futile attempt of one person to become an author, to become a text, in a time when all authors are already dead, when all souls are as readable or as burnable as texts, when all texts are as stable as the papyrus that turns to dust in fresh air and bright sun. To write is to die, and to live. Returning to his home, the man began to pen his own manuscript, to stretch for the landscapes missing from the other texts. It occured to him that he was a mere copyist, but it became unclear as to who or what he would be copying–the first manuscript, the second manuscript, their unknown sources, or the imaginary texts they had failed to write? The man wrote his own manuscript anyway. It was a text of winters, departures, and long abandoned cities. An assassin was the main speaker. There was almost nobody worthwhile there to listen. The assassin’s discourse would be the itinerary of a soul addressed to stray cats, thieves, and the thirty-two winds. They would ask and he would answer. Or perhaps he would ask and they would answer. Someone would say, Speak of confession, of contagion, of deterioration, of migration, of depression, of contemplation, of ingression, of resurrection, of origination, of convolution, of radiation.

The Bonesetter

The bonesetter worked in a shop not far from the radiant blue sea. The shop consisted of four rectangular chambers surrounding a courtyard lined with porticos and a pluvium at its center. The walls bore mosaics of animal and human skeletons in pale blue paint and square spirals at the tops and bottoms. The bonesetter had painted them himself. One chamber was dedicated to receiving visitors, the second to display various skeletons he had collected, the third to healing, and the fourth to his library and sleeping quarters. Whenever his assistants posed questions, he would remind them to read the bones first. In the evenings, the bonesetter sat down with his wife to a simple meal of bread, wine, and other things. They were happy, and the people loved them for the healing they brought. One day, a great earthquake killed his wife, destroyed his shop, burned his books, and crushed his collection of skeletons into rubble and dust. Most of the island and its towns lay in ruins. The bonesetter managed to dig up his savings and collect whatever else he had deposited at a local shrine. With a handful of other refugees, the bonesetter embarked on a longship for other islands and lands. He came to a small city on a remote shore. The politarchs, pleased that a healer and philosopher had come to their distant land, invited him to lecture in their court on the acropolis. When the bonesetter began to speak of anatomy, bone structures, and skeletons, the court laughed. They did not believe in bones. Confused, the bonesetter asked them to explain. Bones were just the fossils of old medicine, they said. Nobody believed in them anymore. The bonesetter suggested that they feel their own skulls, bodies and limbs. They instructed him that while indeed there were hardened portions of flesh in their bodies, these were not to be consideres bones. The bonesetter requested that a cadaver be brought. No cadavers were available, since the barbarians threw all dead bodies, weighted with stones, into the sea. The bonesetter asked that a convicted assassin, adulteress, or traitor be brought forward. They brought one who fit all three requirements. The bonesetter asked which arm she had used to strike down her victim. The right, she replied. Then bonesetter severed her left arm, and proceeded to strip it, cut it open and to reveal the humerus, radius, ulna, carpus and phalanges as the poor adulteress bled out on the ground. Straightaway, the court condemned him as a heretic, magician, and murderer. They chained him to the dead woman, weighted them with stones, and threw their bodies into the sea. One headsman secretly said to another that one day the sea would give up all of its dead and their skeletons. The other remarked that in the meantime the dead would have someone to set their bones.