raveling by the light of the silver blue moon, the merchant from Tabriz heard the unmistakeable sounds of a scuffle as his caravan neared the oasis. Scimitar in hand, he slid from his camel and crept behind a thicket of reeds to surprise the thieves as they beat and robbed an elderly stranger. With a terrifying roar the merchant leapt from his hiding place brandishing his weapon. In a panic, the thieves dropped their prey and scattered towards the four corners of the earth.

The old man lay on the sandy grass, barely conscious, as a trickle of blood made its way into his neatly trimmed white beard. The merchant determined the extent of the man’s injuries and turned to his saddle pack where he kept a collection of herbs and medicaments for emergencies. After cleansing and binding the wounds, he offered the man sips of date wine to ease his discomfort. Next, he pitched his tent and arranged his carpets to form a bed onto which he eased the stranger. He then carefully folded a very old silken carpet which had been in his family for generations into a soft pillow for his guest. All of this done, the merchant promised to stay with the man until he should recover.

Fortunately, by the next evening, the old man had greatly improved and was able to offer his prayers of thanksgiving to Allah. He also asked that the merchant be blessed for his kindness. They shared a simple meal of bread, dates and cheese which they washed down with cool water from the oasis. Relaxing contentedly by the fire, the travellers watched the coils of smoke reach sinously towards the deep sapphire sky.

When many quiet minutes had passed, the old man patted the merchant’s sleeve. “You, my friend, have risked your life for me, when you knew nothing about me. This is the sign of a truly great soul.” The merchant shrugged in embarrassment, for he was a very modest man and had been happy to help.

The stranger continued. “ What I wish now is to give you a gift in return.” he said. “You see, what you did not know is that I am a magician and can give you anything your heart desires!”

The merchant regarded his guest thoughtfully for a time. Then he spoke. “You are very kind, sir, but in truth, Allah has granted me and my family a very good and happy life. We are not wealthy, for our life is rich in many other ways. My trade has kept us comfortable in our small home in Tabriz, though...” he paused wistfully, ...”I do wish that I could be there more often to ease my wife’s loneliness now that our children are grown with families of their own.”

Absently tracing the intricate patterns of vines, flowers and animals on the silken carpet ‘pillow’, the merchant observed how well this carpet had served the many generations of travelling merchants in his family. Then he added, “although I look forward to resuming my trade tomorrow, I am also perfectly happy just to sit near this lovely and peaceful oasis, watch the fire form its smoky calligraphy, and make foolish attempts to count the stars!” “So you see, sir,” the merchant smiled apologetically, “I can think of nothing I really need.”

The magician stroked his beard deep in thought. Then he nodded sagely and said, “So be it. Though you have not asked for riches, your story has made its own request which I shall honor by creating a special gift. It shall contain all that you have told me, serving you, your family and your descendants for generations to come.”

Intrigued, the merchant watched as the magician unfolded the silken carpet ‘pillow’

and smoothed it on the ground. Next, he recited an series of incantations summoning the light of two far-away stars, four sparks of fire and a delicate curling ribbon of smoke, which hung suspended above the carpet. The magician then grasped the corners of the carpet so that they formed an envelope around the starlight, the fire sparks and the smoke. The merchant was amazed, for the carpet was not consumed!

The magician pronounced a second incantation, and soon the carpet envelope rose of its own accord to the height of the magician’s waist, where he proceeded to mold it as though it were clay. The merchant could see the many-colored threads of the carpet working loose as they danced their way into the magicians’ swiftly moving hands. He began again to fear for the safety of his precious heirloom. But soon the starlight vanished, the smoke dispersed, and the small fire glowing strangely inside the envelope diminished in brightness as the carpet slowly descended to the ground.

The magician closed his eyes, thanked Allah for his magical gifts, and carefully unfolded the silken carpet, which thankfully had remained intact. As he did so, a soft mewing sound could be heard, and a small animal yawned, stretched and stepped delicately out of the carpet! It began to play with the carpet fringe and its soft gray tail seemed to swirl like the smoke from which it was formed. Tiny sparks flew from its tongue, complimenting the animals’ two star-bright eyes. Finally, the magician reached his cupped palm into the waters of the oasis and brought forth some water with which the tiny creature satisfied its thirst.

”Wonder of wonders,” exclaimed the merchant, noting that the animal’s furry body seemed to reflect the silk carpet patterns. “what is this marvelous creature?

“Why, it is your Persian cat!” the magician smiled. “Now you must take this great soul home. She will be one of your most beautiful and treasured possessions, for she and her descendants will keep your dear wife company when you are away, and will be a good friend to your family for the rest of your lives and for generations to come.”

The merchant was delighted. He thanked the magician and held out his hand as his

new friend, purring happily, made herself at home in his arms.

And so began the colorful history of the Persian cat. The merchant’s wife adored her new companion, and everyone in Tabriz joked that Persian rugs were not just for sitting on anymore!

But nobody would admit that now they looked more carefully at the intricate animal patterns on their carpets, for one never knew when magic might make them come to life!

  1994 Ilene Winn-Lederer