The Skadivers’ Tale
By Wes Hanson
December 4, 2020
Prince Bohemond watched the trebuchet hurl another stone through the air. Again, the weighty projectile hit the tower, this time just below an arched opening. It simply bounced off, causing no damage. The castle was not particularly large, and certainly not impressive. This was not the lord’s first siege either. None of his army could believe it as the stones repeatedly struck their marks and had no effect whatsoever. There was rumor of witchcraft.
To believe in such things was common among the people in the times of the Crusades (and indeed for many centuries to follow), but Bohemand knew the truth of it. The year before this turn of the century, an Armenian soldier of fortune had stolen an artifact from the Prince’s tent. Since that time, Bohemand’s miraculous victories had dried up, and the thief had grown to become the thing of legends.
He had taken Malatia, which guarded one of the Cilician Gates. Prince Bohemand had heard the stories, and he immediately knew who had stolen his ‘magic’, and he was desperate to reclaim it. He did not care, particularly, about the city or its significance to the Byzantine Empire. He wanted the lamp.
Such was his frustration, watching his modern weaponry fail his cause, and his men losing faith. This was the twenty-first day of the siege, and they had only succeeded in depleting their own rations. The men would soon start to eat their horses.
Inside the castle, Nassar Abdul was growing weary of this troublesome army at his gates. He knew who was trying to defeat him, and he knew why. Nassar had ambitions in Antioch, and being penned in by this infidel rabble was interfering with his larger plans. Perhaps, it was time to do something about it. Surrender was not a consideration, for he had a weapon that transcended such a quaint notion. To use this weapon indiscriminately bore a certain amount of danger. It would require a good plan, and three weeks had certainly given him time to think. He began making preparations.
This ‘ultimate’ weapon had been employed numerous times during the last year. The most notable victory using it had been when he was infiltrating the camp of the northern Europeans. These Crusaders had many things to covet, and so, he became a guide for the regiment and its compliment. They had been on course to attempt to take the city of Antioch until they mysteriously vanished. This mysterious magic was currently protecting the castle in Malatia. Nassar’s plan was to set a trap to ensnare every last one of these enemies and send them to oblivion. To do that, he would have to deal with the jinn.
It is never safe dealing directly with a jinn, despite any tales to the contrary. The parts about them granting wishes were true, but only to the extent that the jinn would be agreeable. A jinn almost certainly had his own agenda. At this moment, the jinn involved was named Jaeder. He was unusually benevolent (as Jinnkind goes), and that was his downfall. He had given access to ancient knowledge and wealth to his ‘master’. Abdul Nassar had found ancient scrolls that laid out many facts about Jinnkind, and he had learned how to exploit such a being. Beyond that, he had, at great cost, procured an ancient dagger that had been created with great magic by one of Jinnkind itself, and its sole purpose was to eliminate their rivals among Jinnkind.
That dagger was currently stuck in Jaeder’s back with the tip just touching the jinn’s heart. He was helpless in his iron restraints, and at the mercy of his captor. That statement would have been more accurate, if Nassar had any mercy. He did not. The jinn knew he was as good as dead, and was therefore unwilling to do anything he did not agree with—even if it meant his own death. He had been deceived by Nassar after granting certain things to him. The fortitude of the castle, for instance. When he refused to destroy the enemies of the man, however, he received the proverbial ‘knife in the back’.
Lingering close to death with his lamp in close proximity, there formed a cloudlike mist. It was in this mist that a jinn retreats back to his dimension between appearances in our dimension. With a disruption in his life-force, in this case, the magic dagger, the tear in the continuum, which they called ‘Rent’, was vulnerable to uses for which it was not intended.
It was this that Nassar had been continuing to use as his secret weapon because it was not dependent on Jaeder’s cooperation. What he had learned was that if he could maneuver his enemies into the mist, they were never seen again. He did not assume that they died. In fact, he just thought they went somewhere else, as the jinn had done. At this moment, he was contemplating how to lure his enemies into the mist and dispatch the entire invading army to this other place. He did not know where that might be, nor did he care.
Prince Bohemand was contemplating strategy when the deserter from the castle was brought to him. The soldiers had not treated him well, but they eased off when the possibility arose that the man could be useful. The man pleaded for food, because, he claimed, the provisions in the castle had run out, and now they were all being starved. There was a possibility that this man was a spy, but he had strong, sinewy arms and the calloused hands of a tradesman. The deserter confirmed (while he ate) that the castle was indeed protected by magic, but he did not know what kind. The man seemed to have no love for Nassar, and it was suggested that he might be able to help. If he was a spy, he had not seen anything that was not already known to the enemy, and if he did betray Nassar that could certainly help matters immensely. On the other hand, if he were only saying that he would help, they released him back to the castle, and he did not help, they were only down a short meal. Therefore, the decision to allow him to help was made. He would get back into the castle the same way he got out, and unlatch the main gate. One of the captains was to go with him, but he claimed that the magic would not allow the enemy into the secret way. How could they argue?
So, the siege would continue in that manner after darkness had fallen. The deserter did as he said he would do and gave a signal from the top of the wall. The entire siege force stealthily made their way to the gate, and opened it only enough for single passage. Once in, the deserter met them and had them go to the right through a vestibule which led to a passage in the castle’s outer wall. From in there, he explained, the soldiers could work their way around the castle entirely and then move in.
As the soldiers moved in, they proceeded in near darkness, feeling the stone walls as they went. There was a stairway down a level, so they continued. The mist on the stair was hardly noticeable in the dim light, and one by one they made their way through it. They could not see that above them was a stone slab with the impaled jinn on top. They were unaware also that they were crossing over to another dimension. Such was Nassar’s trap.
The line of soldiers had been passing through the mist when Jaeder made a sound from above, but it was too late for them, as they had slipped away. The Captain about to step into the mist, however, heard the jinn and stopped the progress behind him. He pointed up and scrambled back to where he could get purchase to climb for an investigation. Upon the platform, he found the gagged jinn, restrained and enduring the pain of the knife in his back. His eyes met with Jaeder’s pleading eyes. The Captain had never seen such a being; there was something of a lizard quality to him. The gag was removed, and Jaeder quickly explained his situation. He told the captain that it was too late for those who had gone through the mist.
Knowing that half the siege force was lost, the captain gave quick instructions to the soldiers behind him to return to the main courtyard and infiltrate as they would normally do. The soldiers did as he ordered, but they would discover that they were anticipated, and would probably have to fight down to the last man. The captain, however, did not leave the jinn. Jaeder begged him to push the dagger in to finish its job, and thus end Nassar’s power. Out of mercy, the captain agreed to do it. Looking into his eyes, the jinn said, “I am Jaeder, and I am at your service.”
The captain replied, “I am Ingebriggt, and I am at yours.” And in saying so, he leaned on the dagger and vanished.
It was not as grim for the invading forces after the death of the jinn, and Nassar fled to the chamber where he had moved the jinn. There, he found three fingers lying on the steps near the base of the slab. He looked down at his own hand, which was missing two. He knew in an instant what had happened; the jinn had been killed using the dagger, and the dagger (as he had learned) extracted its price. He approached the mist and pulled out a jade lamp from the plush bag he carried over one shoulder and rubbed it as he ran back towards his treasure hold, which was just down the passageway. The mist followed him, and, when he made it into the vault, he stood and waited for the mist to catch him. Carrying the lamp with him, he passed through to the other dimension with the chests of wealth that happened to be in the mist with him. He was never seen on earth again,
The mist, however, remained since its master, the lamp, had passed into the other dimension with Nassar, thus creating a conundrum. Men had learned to not mess with this mist, and fled when they opened the vault, releasing the mist to drift out. Everyone fled its path, and eventually, it drifted out of doors, up into the clouds.
Nassar’s family was large, and with the chests of gold left behind for them, they would become powerful in a more conventional manner, without the help of a jinn. But they knew well how their patriarch had risen to power and fortune. Like Bohemand, they wanted it back too.
The Dark Ages were not all that they were cracked up to be. At the time, nobody called them that. No, they thought they were in ‘modern’ times. People in their own present time, always regard themselves as living in the ‘modern’ time. It makes them feel superior in some way. It is only with historic perspective that times are named according to how they are interpreted by someone judging them with ‘modern’ sensibilities. If we, as ‘modern’ people consider our problems and advancements with conceit, we will fail to believe that people of our future will look back and scoff at our ‘modern’ hubris, and that we are indeed as ignorant as they will inevitably judge. It is not uncommon for us to romanticize periods of the past, however. The expression, “I was born too late,” for instance, stems from that view of a previous time that seemed better for whatever reason. The thing is, some people do not wish to live in their ‘present’. Some choose to run, and therein lies the tale.