The Monks of Irihd: Being an Excerpt From the Travel Diary of Abu Sin Byeed
By Jeff Baker
It was during the year following our ill-fated journey to Baghdad that our party, having found the remaining part of the Lebshanti Manuscript, did turn at the proscribed place (the rock formation) and headed across the Great Desert. We had stayed in Egypt and had an audience with the fabled Shajar ad-Durr (on her name be peace!) as she and I were both of the Bedouin tribe. Nonetheless, in spite of her entreaties we went along on our way.
It was upon the second day in the desert, having stopped at an oasis with a fig tree, that Malek the Younger (whom I felt the wisest among us, in spite of his youth) did point upward during the evening and say: “That star is not where it should be.”
I glanced up. The twilight was fading and the stars were emerging in their jeweled brilliance. To me, the stars were the stars.
“There,” he said, pointing to a bright blue point of light. “At this time of day and time of year, it should be setting, not high in the sky. And that pair; I have never seen before in the sky.”
“I agree,” said the young man we had bought as an addition to our carriers (for we were not foolish enough to carry more provisions than we needed, but every bit helps!) This young man (whose name I had not learned) was proving valuable in that he had a wealth of knowledge of all sorts, and could also read!
“Here, Master,” (he said) “behold the map. Here we are, and here is the oasis.”
I looked. In the flickering light of our campfire I did indeed see an indication of the small oasis, and also a thin line in a strange color of ink which crossed the path we had taken to get here. I did not remember the oasis or the line from when I had studied the map after purchasing it in Egypt and paid dearly for it to a tomb robber! Further north was an area marked with a strange symbol. We agreed that we would head there the next day.
After seemingly endless walking we saw before us in the desert a dome of the purest white. Upon coming closer, we found a structure some two stories tall and curved on the outside and inside like a sea-shell. We were met by a group of white-robed monks or mystics who explained that we could not stay but fed us and gave us water for our journey. I did not press them with questions, for I had read in the manuscript of this place and of the ancient wisdom that these monks jealously guarded. Our quest would take us elsewhere. But the domed building was one of the structures of the fabled City of Irihd whose name is spoken of in whispers.
It was within a day’s journey that we found ourselves on the outskirts of a city which I knew, but I also knew that it was south of the place where we had entered the desert, and we had been traveling by the stars so there was no doubt as to our northward progress. In fact, after replenishing our supplies we went briefly back along the route we had come and quickly realized that it was not the same as before.
So, we made peace with the wonders and spent the season in the city with its ordinary pleasures and knew not to speak of the domed building in the desert, for such things are beyond the pale of this world.
Note to the 1899 edition: Like the fabled Abu Sin Byeed, I was able to piece this manuscript together after arduous searching in out-of-the-way shops and bazaars (some of them truly bizarre!) and I believe I have found not only the lost fragment of the map, but have (on my last visit to the Middle East) uncovered the landmarks spoken of. I should return with the scholar’s greatest treasure: the knowledge the fabled monks sought to hide for centuries, knowledge I shall bring to a civilized world.
Note to the 1978 edition: The above note was found among the papers of Sir Ralph Kirkwood following his disappearance in 1897 and was published in the aforementioned edition. No sign of the map or the hidden monastery has ever been found.