The Tale of Shir Shaheen and the Caravanserai - Chapter 6: This Batter’d Caravanserai


Feb 12, 2007

“As I foresaw, dearest and best of friends, my tale of Sima’s sweetmeats did restore thy appetite. So what prodigies of eating wilt thou in thy recovery achieve when now our story turns to the great festival of New Year? And since New Year brings always new hope and new beginnings, what shall I tell of the boy Roshan and Shir Shaheen?”

Many long years had rolled beneath time’s wheel since last had Shir Shaheen celebrated New Year in Paridiz and walked in a garden there beside a human. Then had he roamed the palace grounds beside the prince, the mortal man he’d thought the bosom friend of his brother, Safar; the mortal man who, so soon after, would betray Safar. Now he strolled within a courtyard some twenty paces square with Roshan, his own friend, and memories sharp and bitter rose around him like stinging insects.

Well did Shaheen remember the prince’s words that day. “In gardens are we most near to God, and glad I was that I persuaded thy brother to create so many here in Paridiz. Yet even this great garden now reeks to me of the Accursed One. Evil grows within the city. Canst not feel it?” But Shaheen had not felt it, not known he walked beside it.

Well also did Shaheen remember his own words when he learned of his brother’s fate, for he had cursed the prince and his line, that henceforward their gardens should bring forth only bitter fruit and tamarisk. And as Safar’s magic decayed, and the city failed and the desert claimed it for its own, in those gardens of which the prince had been so proud, naught indeed thrived but saltbush and camel thorn and earth-poisoning tamarisk.


The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Nov 10, 2008
nearly the New Forest
In case anyone is wondering about the rather odd title I've given this month's story, and indeed about the others that have so far appeared, this is a good time for me to explain what's going on!

I wanted a significant link between the chapter titles but rather than basing them all on the same template over the year as in the past ("Akiowa Finds..."/"Remembering...") this year they're all taken from lines in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald, a very free translation/re-imagining of some of the quatrains written by the medieval Persian poet and polymath, and an eminently quotable poem in its own right. This month's title comes from verse 16:

Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai​
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,​
How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp​
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.​

The reason I wanted to explain now is because a chap called Edmund J Sullivan produced images for an edition of The Rubaiyat, and the one for this verse is simply wonderful -- the caravanserai has become the Globe Tavern (echoes of Shakespeare's Globe theatre, perhaps) and the "Sultans" are represented by a Caesar and a Pope about to take the ferry across the Styx:


The publican is Bonyface, who is licensed to sell aqua vitae (ie the water of life) but only for consumption on the premises! He also appears to be selling lacrimae cristi ie the tears of Christ (which is also a real wine from Italy) and blue ruin, aka mother's ruin or cheap and deadly gin.

A selection of other images by Sullivan can be found here Gallery 2A, Folder 1 - Sullivan's Rubaiyat


Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Oct 13, 2008
West Sussex, UK
A fabulous chapter. At the halfway stage the story has taken a firm turn in a new and interesting direction, but with six chapters left, one can assume it won't be exactly straightforward.

I'd also like to praise the voice. Not a word nor phrase rings false. I don't think there are many modern writers who could pull this off.