CASTLE IN THE AIR
DIANA WYNNE JONES
Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a young carpet merchant called Abdullah lived in the city of Zanzib. As merchants go, he was not rich. His father had been disappointed in him, and when he died, he had only left Abdullah just enough money to buy and stock a modest booth in the northwest corner of the Bazaar. The rest of his father’s money, and the large carpet emporium in the center of the Bazaar, had all gone to the relatives of his father’s first wife.
Abdullah had never been told why his father was disappointed in him. A prophecy made at Abdullah’s birth had something to do with it. But Abdullah had never bothered to find out more. Instead, from a very early age, he had simply made up daydreams about it. In his daydreams, he was really the long-lost son of a great prince, which meant, of course, that his father was not
really his father. It was a complete castle in the air, and Abdullah knew it was. Everyone told him he inherited his father’s looks. When he looked in a mirror, he saw a decidedly handsome young man, in a thin, hawk-faced way, and knew he looked very like the portrait of his father as a young man, always allowing for the fact that his father wore a flourishing mustache, whereas Abdullah was still scraping together the six hairs on his upper lip and hoping they would multiply soon.
Unfortunately, as everyone also agreed, Abdullah had inherited his character from his mother – his father’s second wife – who had been a dreamy and timorous woman and a great disappointment to everyone. This did not bother Abdullah particularly. The life of a carpet merchant holds few opportunities for bravery, and he was, on the whole, content with it. The booth he had bought, though small, turned out to be rather well placed. It was not far from the West Quarter, where the rich people lived in their big houses surrounded by beautiful gardens. Better still, it was the first part of the Bazaar the carpet makers came to when they came into Zanzib from the desert to the north. Both the rich people and the carpet makers were usually seeking the bigger shops in the center of the Bazaar, but a surprisingly large number of them were ready to pause at the booth of a young carpet merchant when that young merchant rushed out into their paths and offered them bargains and discounts with most profuse politeness.
In this way, Abdullah was quite often able to buy best-quality carpets before anyone else saw them, and sell them at a profit, too. In between buying and selling he could sit in his booth and continue with his daydream, which suited him very well. In fact, almost the only trouble in his life came from his father’s first wife’s relations, who would keep visiting him once a month in order to point out his failings.
“But you’re not saving any of your profits!” cried Abdullah’s father’s first wife’s brother’s son Hakim (whom Abdullah detested), one fateful day.
Abdullah explained that when he made a profit, his custom was to use that money to buy a better carpet. Thus, although all his money was bound up in his stock, it was getting to be better and better stock. He had enough to live on. And as he told his father’s relatives, he had no need of more since he was not married.
“Well, you should be married!” cried Abdullah’s father’s first wife’s sister, Fatima (whom Abdullah detested even more than Hakim).