In Fes the people speak of a jinn who came from the East and laid waste a quarter of the city in a violent fire. They did not know what had brought him or how to placate him. They watched as their bravest men attacked the jinn who had assumed the shape of a man but could not hide his evil essence. He cut them down mercilessly and scattered their bodies and bones across the streets. He came to the house of a Berber elder the locals identify as Hajji Mousafa. The hajji approached the jinn with nothing but a wooden staff topped with an emerald charm. He chanted to the jinn in an unknown language. The jinn was entranced for a moment, but then shook his head and seized the hajji and tore him in half. He took the staff and crumbled it in his hands as though it were made of sand and not oak, and then tore his way through the house, knocking down walls and setting fire to all that could burn. The houses on either side caught fire as well but the jinn paid it no heed. He tore apart the walls, ripping one stone from the other and hurling them onto the ground to shatter. At last he found a hollow stone, and when it shattered he took from the rubble two blood red jewels that glowed with the intensity of small suns. The jinn roared in delight and pressed the jewels hard against his heart, and the flames around him rose up, surrounded him and consumed him, and the mighty jinn, his prize now claimed, turned before their very eyes into an enormous black bird and flew back to the East from whence he had come.

Sir Edwin Gappard of Lancaster when in the service of the First Crusade visited the ancient city of Tyre and learned of a demigod said to be the child of Ares and a Colchean witch. Zeus, upset by the union, granted the child immortality but contained that power in a golden effigy of his father murdering his mother. The statue offended Ares but the witch could not bear to part with the proof of her connection to the gods. The gruesome nature of the image was well-known, and Ares was shunned by gods and mortals alike. When the witch refused to destroy the statue and thus end her child’s immortality, Ares slew her, and in spite of himself re-enacted faithfully the scene captured in the effigy. With a strike of his spear he shattered it to pieces, leaving the boy his son to weep over the body of his mother and his own now-inevitable death. The boy collected the pieces and left, and soon realized that he could continue to find strength in the statue, even if it was in pieces. He grew to be a man, but the sight of the broken statue reminded him of his mother’s broken body, and the hate and anger distorted his soul and his heart so he became wicked, tearing a hole through the country so gods and men would continue forever to hate him and his father. At last he came to the city of Tyre, where the townspeople proved more wicked than he and stole his effigy, dividing the treasure amongst themselves and scattering the pieces across the world. The people fled across the sea to an island, and from the shore they taunted him as he had already grown too weak to cross the narrow channel protecting him. He disappeared into a shade, but for as long as the effigy continued to exist, even scattered across the world as it was, he remained immortal, and he continued to haunt the city, aiding its enemies to carry out its eternal destruction.

A Russian trader in Heidelberg reported a tale shared to him by fisherman on the Volga of a Turcoman khan who was tricked by a shaman into concealing his soul in a jeweled scepter, so that should his body die he could pass the soul to another, and in this way defy death. The khan agreed, and the shaman promptly stole the scepter, saving the people from the khan’s cruel and capricious rule. The scepter was entrusted to an order of knights who spirited the item to Russia, where for centuries they have passed it in secret from village to village, always staying ahead of the restless spirit of the khan, who has vowed ever greater cruelty and revenge if and when he is able to return to a physical state.

In Santiago de Compostela there is a monastery carved into a hillside, and within that monastery is a small chapel, entirely bricked in except for a narrow and concealed passage through which food and drink can be delivered. Inside the chapel there is but a single relic, a small black stone, exquisitely polished with a diamond center. It is said to be the heart of Lucifer himself, to have been cast down from Heaven during the battles of the angels. Its presence in Spain predates then even the creation of the world we know. Since that earliest time the relic has been guarded by knights. Three mighty warrior monks are sealed in the chamber with the relic, where they live their days divided between prayer and combat training, awaiting the day that the Adversary finds his heart and seeks at long last to reclaim his throne. When one of the knights dies, the stone wall is dismantled, the three knights are replaced, and the wall is rebuilt to such exacting detail that it appears to the outside as natural as a cave. The brothers of the monastery sustain the knights with food and drink that they feed through the small hole. This has continued for more than a hundred centuries and will continue until the end of time.

In Constantinople I met near the Burnt Column a book vendor with a most remarkable story. He was a Serb taken by Turks into slavery and given eventually to a powerful merchant, a favorite of the Sultan. At a trading post near Palmyra the merchant was poisoned and the boy sold to a Persian, who carried him as far as Esphahan before selling him on as well. In time he found himself in the Golden City of Samarkand as a captive of the shah. One evening he seized an opportunity to free himself when a caravan bound for Bukhara was obliged to pass some time in Samarkand, for the Shah was offended that they should pass through his city without wishing to trade. The merchants traded, but their hearts remained set on continuing to Bukhara, so after four days the Shah permitted them to leave. The captive boy had discovered during his time in the palace a treasure box of considerable beauty to which the Shah paid no attention, and as the great camels began to lumber their way from the palace he took the box and secreted himself through the gathered crowd to the main gate. To the driver at the head of the caravan the slave offered himself if only he could taken from the city. “In Bukhara,” he begged, “please sell me to a merchant traveling West.” The driver agreed and allowed the boy to hide under a carpet. He kept his treasure at the bottom of a bag he was allowed to carry, intending to sell it once home and restart his life.

The caravan lumbered quietly through the stark landscape, the slave happy at last to be returning home, when he noticed that he was being followed by one solitary crow. By evening the number of crows multiplied until at last they nearly blotted out the sky, thousands of the dark creatures fluttering overhead in silence. The camels and the drivers were both frightened but had little choice other than to press ahead. Darkness fell and although all were exhausted none wanted to stop. As the gates of Bukhara appeared on the horizon, the crows took off ahead and swooped down onto the path, blocking the road. The camels stopped in terror and the caravan quickly turned from an orderly file into a scene of chaos as the beasts reared and turned and charged in every direction at once, toppling carts and riders. Wherever they went the crows blocked their path. The commotion was seen inside the city itself, and the Emir ordered the gates shut to these travelers. Surrounded, the camels’ screaming mixed in with the shouts of the people, producing a horrible din.

And then, quite suddenly, the crows began to caw, and as if by signal they attacked the desperate caravan. They clawed at the animals, and at the vehicles and especially at the people, ripping flesh and spilling blood in their terrible fury.

The slave had been knocked from his cart early on and had scrambled to find a place safe from the crows. He hid behind an overturned cart and watched for an opportunity to escape. In the distance he saw a man standing among the crows, a giant cloaked in shadow who guided the crows’ attack with the wave of a hand. Cold passed through the slave’s body. Behind him he spied an opening where the mad clamor had left open a gap into the desert. The jeweled box he had stolen in Samarkand was still in his bag, and grabbing it quickly he ran off into the forbidding wastes.

He passed through the night, clutching at his box, hearing always the sickening cries of the camels and the crows. In the morning he collapsed finally on the far side of the city. He stayed hidden for days, until at last the gates of the city opened and a small caravan passed out. He asked for help, selling himself in exchange for a trip further west, and in this way he arrived eventually in Basra. Along the way he heard the merchants on the caravan describe the scene at Bukhara, of the incredible slaughter of man and beast, none left alive by the demonic crows. The entire contents of the caravan had been rifled through by the crows, with every box opened, ripped every carpet to shreds, and shattered every piece of pottery. The Bukharans, terrified of this unnatural violence, took the caravan and its belongings and burned them all, covering the ashes then with desert sand.

In Basra the slave was sold to Venetians, and he spent the night in the stables near the market. In the morning he awoke to find a single crow at the foot of his bed, staring at him unblinkingly. His heart raced. He looked out of his window, and another crow blocked the way. The first crow hopped closer to him, watching him closely.

All at once the slave understood. Cautiously he reached out to his bag, and from it took the jeweled box. The crow stood at attention and cawed. The second crow did the same.

At that moment the door to the stable burst open, and the shadowy giant that the slave recognized from the slaughter at Bukhara entered. He strode boldly across the room and seized the box, tearing it open. Inside were a few jeweled ornaments; the giant tossed them aside. The box was lined with silk, and the giant ripped the lining out. Inside, pressed against the interior of the box, was a smooth black stone. This the giant took, clutching it in his hand. As the slave watched the giant grew taller still. He clutched the stone closely, and let the jewel box drop to the ground. The crows cawed and flew to their master, and the three of them strode away.

When the slave had gathered his wits about him he fled, leaving the box and its treasures, desperate to get home. He came as far as Constantinople, but dared not go any farther, for, he pointed out to me, the crows were still following him, and he did not want to bring that evil to his home.

Such stories are known through the East, each differing in detail and colored by a local understanding, be it a jinn or demon or a demigod, but there is an underlying consistent pattern that is not coincidence. The Roman writer Calinus named him Tantibus, and it is with this name that he became known to me at the monastery in Santiago. His true nature is unclear, obscured by legend and mystery, but he has been known for centuries, predating our own religion, perhaps predating all religions. Across time and space he pursues his lost treasure, carefully reassembling the pieces that give him his power. To what end, I know not. I expect that if I were to travel to China and beyond I would find more details, more legends that would shed more light on who he is.

But it is in Constantinople that I, at last, have found proof that he is real.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s