It was a windy, lazy day at sea. Rongar was at the tiller, his eyes half closed against the strong breeze and his legs in wide stance,just like his beloved Captain. Sinbad stood on the topmost step of the cabin stairs and leaned all around as if to check if everyone were doing their duties properly. "Rongar at the tiller - good .. Doubar down below getting the cargo sorted out.. Firouz at the mast,tightening the ropes - good and Maeve,hmm.. probably reading her book..". The sun was beginning to dip into the horizon. The nearest clouds were tinged with orange and yellow by the rays of the fading light.
"Are you feeling well enough to go on deck,little brother?",inquired an anxious voice. Sinbad turned around to find Doubar looking up at him. "Im better than last week,Doubar. Don't worry." Sinbad lay a friendly hand on his brother and climbed back down the steps. "This diease I caught in Illias was a strange one indeed!"
"Aye. First you run a high fever and then you start seeing illusions.. as if you were delirious from hunger or cold.." Sinbad shuddered lightly. He hated to think what the crew must have gone through to get him back in shape. "Well,did anything interesting happen while I was sick?"
"NO no! Of course not! What could possibly happen in these calm seas?", replied Doubar, beating a speedy retreat as if eager to get back to his duties. But Sinbad was not to be put off so easily. Doubar looked flustered and his face was turning red. This usually happened when he was trying to keep something to himself.
"Doubar,hold on", called Sinbad,crossing his arms,a teasing frown on his face. "You're hiding something!"
"Oh?Hiding what?",asked Doubar,looking as wide-eyed as possible.
"It won't work. I always find out what it is anyway. What? Is it something in your cabin?"
Sinbad wrenched open the cabin door and shot inside. His big brother uttered a cry of exasperation and followed suit."Little brother,since when do you read minds?"
"Well, from the number of times your eyes darted from your room and back,I figured what the ..hey! What's this? It looks like a letter.."
"It arrived four moons ago. Firouz was making medicine potions for you and we anchored down at an island to search for the ingredients. One of the locals gave this letter to Rongar and it was meant for you. Since you were sick,I read it.."
Sinbad unrolled the letter scroll and read out loud,
"My dear Sinbad,
Imagine my surprise when I learnt that your Nomad was sniffing around the Sourthern Islands. Why it's just a few days travel to my own humble home! I've been a busy man too.I'm a successful architect now! There,I hope Doubar is satisfied. He's never been my admirer.. always had something wicked to say about me. Anyway, yours truly has finally built that "mansion-of-our-dreams". So, put aside all the plans you might have hatched for the next few days and bring your entire crew down to my little palace. My family and I will take excellent care of you all!And I'm looking forward to having a long chat with you, Sinbad.
Sinbad's eyes brightened with joy. "After all these years...",he began, enthusiastically."This is wonderful!" But Doubar would not join him in the celebration. "Doubar, Asif is an architect. That's a fine job and he's got a family too. And you know what he means by "mansion-of-our-dreams"...".
"Im going to standby what I said seven years ago! You may have many friends, little brother, but that Asif is not one of them. He always carried a knife waiting to plunge it into your back at the first real chance he got!"
"A knife?",echoed Sinbad with skepticism.
"Those gambling debts are worse than a knife. They torture you until you can pay back every penny you owe!And remember what you and your "friend" were about to bet on.."
Sinbad's face turned pale with recollection. Doubar stormed away in anger. Both brothers didn't like to have certain memories re-kindled. He took another look at the letter and then tossed it away. "Perhaps Doubar's right."
Maeve closed her book and tried to recollect what she had read before. She gazed into the disappearing bit of the sun, a picture of concentration. She was able to remember a bit of what she read. But not everything. Maeve chewed her lip and closed her eyes in a second attempt. "Come on,Maeve. You can do better than that", were Cairpra's words. Dermott sailed upto the post above her and gave a loud squawk. Maeve stirred and looked up at her brother. She reached out her hand and gently ran her fingers through the feathers on Dermott's neck. "I'll never forget you,Dermott.", she whispered,softly. But the look of frustration didn't disappear from her eyes. She was getting distracted. She couldn't concentrate fully on her books anymore. And the reason ,she suspected, was Sinbad. "Dermott, go scout ahead. You know you like a long flight before darkness falls..". Her hawk squawked again and took off, soaring higher and higher until he was only a tiny little spot in the red sky.
"Maeve!",called Firouz. He waved his hands excitedly from the other end of the ship. "I see you've closed your book. Care to come and try my latest invention?"
Firouz was standing near a tall box like contraption with a funnel at the side. There were a bunch of strange levers sticking out at one end and a tiny wooden slide on the other. The inventor bent down to the basket at his feet and produced three red apples. "Now watch!". He popped each apple one by one down the funnel. "I'll just crank this up ..annndd.."
Maeve took a few steps back as the invention seemed to come alive!. It jumped and shook like a mini volcano ,threatening to slip down the deck, but Firouz had firmly secured it in place with a long rope. "What is it doing?",cried Maeve,bubbling with curiousity. "Watch and see",replied Firouz with a proud smile. He pulled down another lever and the machine seemed to jolt some more. Then finally, it slowed down and came to a complete stop. A tall mug full of thick liquid rolled down the slide on tiny wheels. "Here",said Firouz, handing it over to her.
"What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Yes. It's squashed apple"
Maeve smelt the liquid suspiciously. She sipped the contents and recognized the taste. Then she gulped it fully down. "Not bad",she said,with an approving smile.
"But I could also taste the stem and the seeds. Perhaps it would be better if we chopped up the fruit before putting it inside..."
"Not necessary! I'll just modify my machine so that it does all the work by itself. The whole idea, Maeve is that we don't do manual work of any sort.. Hmm.. Sinbad took so long to recover from his illness, i wondered why not all of us eat healthier food and build our strength. We can make fresh drink out of any fruit known to mankind. And its very good for our body.."
"How do you figure that,Firouz?"
"It's comes directly from nature. And what's natural is bound to be good! Now, let's come to the fun part. Watch what happens when I throw in a few mangoes and bananas. We can make a drink out of both!"
"Firouz wait!",yelled Maeve, as the inventor eagerly pulled the levers."The seeds!"
"Bananas have teeny tiny seeds.."
"Oh boy..". The machine shook violently. It was trying to squash thick mango seeds which were as hard as stones.
"Make it stop!"
"I..Im trying..". Firouz desperately pulled more levers but the jumping and the jolting was too much. The rope broke and the machine hopped all over the place. It began to squirt drink in all directions as well!
"What's going on here?",cried Doubar,as he bounded up the stairs. He was promptly squirted right in the eyes. A few more sailors rushed in to help. As one man, they pounced on the machine and held it tight until it quieted down again. As before, the tall mug appeared full of drink. Sinbad reached out and tasted it. "Mmmm.. Not bad",he said.
"Mixed Mangoes and Bananas",replied Firouz,his smile coming back on again."Healthy drink to live a healthy life"
"Provided the machine doesn't kill us while making it",mumbled Doubar,ordering the men to clean up the sticky floor. Sinbad frowned in mid-gulp and put his fingers into the mug. He brought out a whole mango seed covered in thick pulp. He began to laugh and soon Maeve and Firouz joined in too.
"Master, Captain Sinbad's ship crossed Beuid-Merra this morning."
"What? Are you sure?",cried Asif-el-Quidar. "But he got my letter - surely.."
"It was delivered to him five moons ago."
For a moment, words seem to fail Asif as he fumbled stupidly down the grand stairwell of his palatial home. He ran a trembling hand over his sweat flushed face.
Just then, the garden doors swung open and a beautiful raven haired woman,dressed in soft purple and pink , half-dragged and half-led by a boisterous curly haired boy entered the white marbled hall. This was Nassima and the boy was her five year old son,Abdul. "Father,look.. I can kick a ball right into the sky!"
Asif gazed fondly at his little son. "Of course you can,my boy. You're my little hero..!"
"Come here,Abdul" said Nassima. She bent down and clapped her hands. "Let's have our breakfast at the balcony together" The boy raced down the wide hall and slid straight into his Mother's open arms. Nassima laughed and swung him gently around. She looked inquiringly at her husband.
"I'll join you,my dear. Go ahead without me. I have some urgent business to attend to."
Asif watched as his wife and son disappeared down the hall. His expression changed to one of grave determination as he strode quickly to his private den. This problem of Sinbad must be sorted out as quickly as possible before the danger that threatens him, swallows up his family as well!