And then there is the tale of Ismail, the tinker, she began.
Ismail worked in the alleys of Gana on the Pearl Coast repairing metal objects and, when commissioned, creating works of art using precious metals and the pearls brought to him by divers and sailors wishing to turn their booty into something suitable to gift to their ladies. One day, while working on the setting for a particularly large black pearl he had the chance to brush the surface of the watery jewel with a silk polishing cloth. At once, a great smoke poured from it and a genie materialised.
“You have released me from the prison of the pearl, where great Solomon bound me unknown centuries ago for crimes that were not of my doing. I would smite you out of spite to sate my rage, but since you have done me a good deed instead I shall do you one and only one. My patience is short, repulsive one, request of me one wish that you will have me grant before I depart thy company and continue my life among my own kind.”
Ismail the humble tinker looked about his squalid workshop and contemplated his lot. Wealth? Yes, wealth would be good, he thought. But what good would wealth do me when I should still be considered no more than an artisan? Glory? Yes, glory would be good, but it too would come at the cost of being no more than a perverse curiosity amongst the powerful and elite. What of love and family? The tinker sadly considered his bachelor’s lot and felt that the love of a good woman and a family to carry on his legacy would be good. But what could he offer a wife – here in the cinders of a workshop in the side streets of the richest city in the world?
“Hurry, putrid wretch, I tire of your company,” said the Genie.
Ismail scanned his workshop a second time and his eyes came to rest on one of his projects: an uncompleted copper model of a man: a man with an intricate mechanism that should have animated the thing with the simulacrum of life and with its remarkable life-like behaviour, helped him to make entrance to a higher class of company.
“Noble genie,” began Ismail, “I am indebted to you for your generous offer of a wish. Hear me now while I pronounce my desire.
“I wish for my copper automaton to become a real boy, my son in flesh. And this fine youth shall be as handsome, wholesome, intelligent, industrious, well spoken and polite as could be found in any society. And he will introduce me into the higher echelons of society, and my – our – family will become one of the first in this fair city.”
The genie smiled, for he was as wise as the rain, as ancient as the wind, and he saw at once the folly of the simple tinker’s wish.
“It shall be as you wish, beater of copper. You shall rise, your son shall marry into the best circles, and your family will become prominent and respected. For your whole life you will reap the reward of this well made bargain,” and with a thunderous laugh the genie disappeared.
The son of Ismail, who he named Mattà, of the family of the star Formalhut, grew quickly and handsomely. He was sure of feature, witty and wise of his speech. In a short time his apparently natural business talents caused him to become a successful trader, and in due time he met and fell in love with the daughter of the city’s greatest traders and ship owners, Mikhā’īl ibn Hārūn al-Nidham.
Mattà the copper automaton made flesh and his wife built together a trading empire and found themselves at the very top of society. Ismail was revered as the father of the dutiful son, cleaned, refined and educated to his new standard of living. His workshop was preserved as a memento and instead new workshops were built where Ismail supervised a crew of apprentices to produce some of the most beautiful jewelry anywhere in Zakhara. The family reputation spread far, commissions came from every corner of the land, up to and including from the grand Calif himself.
Children were born of the union of Mattà and his wife, and they too were handsome and beautiful and they chose careers and marriages and so extended the prestige of the family.
One of these children was called Andraos ibn Mattà Fam al-Hut. Andraos was different from his siblings. Instead of a career in business or politics, he felt an urge towards his grand father’s work: that of intricate metalwork. Coupled with this he felt the twin desire towards the magical arts. His father detected these leanings and had the boy educated in both arts and so, by due degrees, Andraos was producing his own copper automatons that actually could move, animated by magical forces.
The years passed. Ismail grew old. And one day, as he lay in his silken sheets watching the gentle breeze ruffle the curtains, he had a dreadful realisation. The genie’s words returned to him, ‘For your whole life you will reap the reward of this well made bargain.’ Ismail knew at once the foolishness of his wish. For now he knew that with his inevitable death all of the magic the genie had wrought would be undone. Mattà would return to being a lifeless copper simulacrum and all that his son had built would become as sham, a farce, and travesty of a lie that would echo through the ages. And what of his grandchildren? What would become of them? Would they too transform into inert metal like their father, or would they instead remain full of vitality like their mother? Or would they, horror of horrors, twist to being some ab-human life, monstrous and repellent that would be hunted down like animals?
In a fever of despair, Ismail called his most promising grandson Andraos and with a heavy heart revealed to him the truth of the family success.
Andraos bore the news patiently and with sympathy. His grandfather had always favoured him, and his revelation proved the truth that the old man had loved them all with a supernatural intensity. The young wizard determined that he would use his powers to find a way to make the genie’ enchantment permanent. He repaired to the great libraries of the city, researching any way to call a new genie to cast a new web of magic, or find a magical artefact that would glue the desired reality together.
Eventually he found clues relating to a place called The City of Brass, a place lost to mortal maps, that could be reached through traverse across impossible deserts, or found only when certain celestial conditions were met, or was found only in the realm of dreams, or by the imbibing of casually lethal drugs. The occupants of this city, it was said, had powers to summon genies and to command forces far beyond what was known today. So Andraos prepared to make the journey to this lost and forbidden place, knowing that time was short before his grandfather might draw his last breath.
At this point Shahrazād saw the approach of morning and discretely fell silent.