The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, or to
persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
The Chieftain's Ring – A Cautionary Tale
Mysterious are the ways of the desert. Secrets there are easily buried under the shifting sands
of time. Stranger yet are the ways of the city. The secrets there, while not so easily buried, may
still lurk in the shadows, eluding the seeker's lantern. The work of the scribe may be honest, as
he sees it – but who is to say whether his vision is clouded, or who guided his hand? Thus
spake the seer in the Year of the Red-Eyed Locust.
Twilight cast its blue magic over the bazaars of ancient Babel, and the torches were being lit
as Assurbentophet, the mighty, summoned his chamberlain, his scribe, his general, and his chief
assassin. These men, well-versed in the ways of power, awaited instructions expectantly. They
did not wait long, for Assurbentophet was resolved upon action. He gazed upon them serenely
beneath his jewelled crown, and thoughtfully stroked his well-curled beard.
'The time has come,' he informed them. 'The hour is ripe. The tribes of the north are
weakened, distracted. The kingdom of the south is at ease. We may act to good purpose on the
As the scribe unpacked the tools of his trade, sharpening his stylus and taking fresh clay,
the chamberlain nodded eagerly. 'The wedding of Princess Hotscatsup has all the world aflutter.
They won't notice anything we get up to,' he put in. 'We have what Your Magnificence might
call a window of opportunity. No,' to the scribe, 'Don't write that down, you fool.'
The scribe, a meek man, smoothed clay, waited.
The general twirled his moustache, and patted the slight paunch he had developed from the
years of soft living in the capital. 'Your Munificence,' he began. 'The army is ready to attack the
evildoers of the east. We await your signal. A thousand thousand troops stand ready. We even
have stealth elephants.' Assurbentophet nodded graciously. This was what he wanted to hear.
But the chamberlain looked alarmed. 'Your Haughtiness,' he protested. 'How can we invade
the east? Even with the distraction of the Princess' wardrobe, surely the news-criers will notice
that we...er...' he faltered beneath his monarch's gaze,'...that we, er, have no reason to
invade the east. We will look like, er, aggressors. Bad guys, in short.' The chamberlain looked
down, ashamed to have mentioned this, but feeling that it was his duty.
Assurbentophet smiled condescendingly. 'That, too, has been thought of, my faithful
servant.' He struck an even more regal pose as he announced, 'The kingdom will invade the east,
because the east has been sheltering Harun al-Rashomon, the notorious bandit, whose raids have
made Babel unsafe these many years.' His royal eyes glowed. 'This very night,' he nodded to his
chief assassin, who bowed, 'Cohort VI of the Royal Liberation Assassins has, well, assassinated
the villain in his lair, which they finally found after a dozen years of painful searching.' He
smiled benevolently. 'They have done well, and will all receive medals.'
The general's eyes widened. 'But, oh, Plenipotency, forgive the objection, but was not Harun
al-Rashomon killed? Lo, these many years ago, seven, I think, in the fighting at the
Fortress of Kresh?' The others glared at him. The general, being made of stern stuff, stood up
to their gaze, although the knuckles of his clenched fist were white with the strain of it. 'I'm just
playing devil's advocate here,' he added lamely.
The chief assassin cleared his throat – a sound that, as always, caused the others to
shudder involuntarily, as if a goose had walked over their graves. 'Your Mightiness,' he ventured,
in a voice as smooth as oil on the palm of a harem girl, 'I have brought the tokens you require.'
Into his monarch's outstretched hand, the assassin placed the ruby ring of Harun al-Rashomon,
as well as a bracelet and torque, easily recognised by all the viewers of the Nightly News Re-
enactments: these things, indeed, had belonged to Harun al-Rashomon, and had been taken at his
death seven years before by the hand of the chief assassin himself. They had merely been laid by
for a more convenient occasion. The general and chamberlain gasped in comprehension, as the
scribe began picking furiously in the clay.
The chamberlain noticed, fortunately. 'Stop that, you imbecile!' he hissed. 'Do not write what
you see.' The scribe shrugged, and re-smoothed the clay, muttering under his breath, 'Why do I
Assurbentophet grinned an imperial grin as he transferred these tokens from the assassin to
the general. 'You understand now, my military friend? You have only to find a suitable corpse
– I recommend a size 40, long, al-Rashomon was a large fellow – and place these
tokens upon him. The rest, as they say, will be History.'
The general, the assassin, and the chamberlain bowed low – nay, grovelled –
before the genius that was Assurbentophet. 'Surely, you were born to rule over us,' they
The scribe, an insignificant fellow, piped up, but cautiously, visions of the headsman in the
forefront of his thoughts. 'Er, it's obvious you don't want anybody to know about this stuff,' he
ventured. 'So can anybody tell me why I'm here?'
Assurbentophet beamed at the scribe. 'Why, my friend, yours is the most important task
of all. When the general here finds the body of the hated, the loathed, the despised Harun al-
Rashomon, may his name be forever cursed for insulting my father, and parades it in the palace
square of Babel, he will of course announce to all and sundry that Harun al-Rashomon has left
behind many, many private writings...outlines of his further nefarious schemes, his plans for
mischief, allowing us to take action against his many, many conspirators, some near, some
far...Harun al-Rashomon has been very, very busy...we will have much to do.'
The scribe gulped, and nodded. He refrained from remarking that Harun al-Rashomon,
like all his tribe, was illiterate. He refrained from saying anything that might draw attention to
himself. Instead, he smoothed his clay again and picked up his stylus.
'Let us write History, then, Your Elegance,' he said simply, as he prepared to take