“How can one value the honor of a city?”


They watched the beating go on in silence for a moment. Félicien gave Shasha a questioning look. Shasha rolled her eyes in reply.

“What has this old man done, honored one,” Johanna said, “that he should be punished so severely?”

The official gave a mournful shake of his head. “He has represented himself as a holy man, and accepted alms from the citizens of Kashgar. The law requires that such a one be beaten once for each alm.”

Johanna lowered her eyes to show her respect and said,

“Truly, a just and equitable law, worthy of the rulers of such a great city.”

The magistrate bowed slightly, accepting the compliment. Twice more the stick was raised and lowered against the man’s shrinking back.

“He is not holy, then?”

The magistrate shrugged. “He drinks sulphur and quicksilver once a day. He says he is a hundred and fifty years old. This may make him holy in the city of Calicut, but not in the city of Kashgar.”

The stick rose and fell. At last Johanna said, “It is not for this unworthy one to suggest such a punishment is unmerited, yet I have pity for the old man. Is there no way to redeem this sinner to the path of righteousness?”

The magistrate was silent. At last he said, “There is one way. If the offender be able to ransom himself by paying nine times the value of the thing stolen, he is freed and released from further punishment.” Another stroke fell.

“And nine times the value of the thing stolen is what, in this instance, honored one?”

The magistrate folded his hands beneath his sleeves and regarded his shoes, the toes of which were pointed, curled and embroidered with gold thread. “How can one value the honor of a city?” he said piously, and Johanna knew at once that it was going to be expensive.

If I’d written all I’d wanted to about Hari this book would have been twice as long. –Dana

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Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

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