The Mektoub Affair

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Part One

Of all the Trykers I have ever met, my uncle was by far the biggest. Of course, this greatness wasn’t simply the fact of his height, which was actually modest as is normal for our folk. In fact his stature was even insignificant if we compared it to his inseparable friend Zhuangi. No, it was more from his largeness of spirit and his unrivalled powers of deduction. My uncle is, and will remain the hero of my childhood; his tales and deeds will always echo down my peaceful nights. Moreover, there is not a single place on Atys which does not hold fond memories of him…

But all great Homins have to begin one day, even when they were unknown and unheralded for their skills. Uncle Mac’leaffy was no exception to this, and he too had to show to the world what he was capable of. So began his very first investigation: the Affair of the Devious Mektoub.

In those days Mac’leaffy Roner was very young and his vision of the world was still limited to Fairhaven and its surrounding area.

- “Why should we roam far when our own landscape holds so much detail and so many mysteries to solve?”

Thus were his words to everybody who vainly tried to goad him into a sense of adventure.

- “Each mote of dust has his own history and somebody has to listen to all their tales”

Was his only reply. He had a passion for the infinitely small, for everything that was at the limit of the visible, unthought-of of by most Homins. This had meant that throughout his adolescence he had been a rather lonely figure, not having yet met his great friend Zhuangi; and only the notorious Tepsen and his crazy theories seemed occasionally to awake his curiosity. As for his love of justice, it might as well not have existed, because everybody who knew him before the affair dismissed him as an idle dreamer, who did not fulfill his role in Tryker society…

All was due to change on the stormy day of Thermis when this story starts. The sky had been overcast all day and the air had slowly become leaden with humidity. Each second dragged longer and more heavily then the one before, and everyone was praying for the anticipated thunderstorm to break… The weather being the ally of the patient Tryker, the thunderstorm crashed into action at the end of the afternoon. The wind tore across the lakes as the lightening scrawled yellow over the dark skies and all sensible Trykers took to their homes to sit out the storm. Mac’leaffy Roner, however, was determined not to miss the free fireworks.

After some hours, the washed out skies cleared and people filed out into the streets to enjoy the fresh cool air. The red sun was low in the sky as night fell over the now calm waters, when a sudden rumour animated the capital into agitated life. A stable boy had begun shouting and crying that he had lost valuable animals when the storm was raging over the city. Speculation and theory sprang from every corner,

The Mektoub Affair had begun…

Part Two

Every Tryker in the neighbourhood rushed to the stable. They looked questioningly at their neighbours wondering who could be guilty of this heinous act. The stable boy continued to scream robbery at the top of his lungs, uncaring who he accused. As for the Mektoubs’ owner, he was huddled with the guards, hoping vehemently that he would gain justice for this crime.

My uncle stood in the middle of the crowd, with a strange expression on his face as he gazed into nothingness. Looking at him, you would have thought him uncaring of all the fuss, as gradually a faint smile spread across his visage. Around him, conversations flowed and broke with strange theories and wild assumptions:

- “The wind must have carried away the Mektoubs!"

- "It was a big Kami who did it and teleported away! I’m sure that my explanation is correct – no you are quite wrong!”

Slowly the talk gelled and some names began to appear on peoples lips:

- "It's Aesken the merchant who has taken them! I saw him riding a mektoub during the storm earlier”

- “Aesken? But he is an honest homin! His prices are more than moderate. Besides, he has his own mektoub whereas Eoxy haven’t got one”

- “Yes that’s so true and yet I heard a rumour that he was also riding one… strange isn’t it?”

- “Stop that innuendo! Eoxy is a good homin, simple and discreet. How can you imagine him doing such a thing? You would do better to look at Gether’s activities. I don’t trust him at all. And after all, he has been seen riding a mektoub too. What could he be doing during the storm?”

Speculation surged through the crowd, the Trykers enjoying the disturbance and the guessing games. Even the guards began to listen closely to the tide of surmise…. Ropan, the chief of guards, ordered that the three main suspects Aesken, Eoxy and Gether, together with the owner and the stable boy be detained for a closer examination.

But the result was as uninteresting as we could have guessed. The stable boy had only noticed that there were Mektoubs missing as the storm raged overhead. So he could have told his boss just half an hour after the last blast of wind. As a matter of course, the owner corroborated this version. And none of the three suspects confessed to being the thief.

It was at that moment that Mac’leaffy Roner commenced his new vocation; that which was to bring him such success in life.

As it was obvious that no one was going to be able to resolve this case, he decided to come to grips with the story. Taking a small notebook from his pocket, he inspected the crime scene. He believed as always that his close friends the details would cry out to him, bringing him the explanation. Carefully he ran his hands lightly along the ground, as his eyes flickered here, there and everywhere; searching the one vital clue. He stood serene, an island of calm in a lake of turmoil, unconscious and uncaring that he looked a fool indeed.

He wrote: “Two dusty Mektoubs. One injured mektoub.” His look was almost mischievous as with as smile and a flourish he added: “Aesken: guilty. Eoxy: guilty. Gether: guilty.”

And yet, Roner knew that he hasn’t found the real culprit…not yet. He mulled over all the conflicting stories he had heard. But of course!

Now he only needed one last, but by no means least, proof.

Part Three

One, two, three Mektoubs; as he gazed over them, my uncle couldn’t stand still. Two were dust laden and one was lame. Mac’leaffy walked frenetically around them, tracing circles of his passing in the dusty ground. He could count and recount the basic facts in his head, but nothing changed and the missing spark of awareness refused to come. He could almost feel his head throbbing with the knowledge that some obscure detail was eluding his grasp. Aesken, Eoxy, Gether… one two three. As he was thinking aloud, everyone began too look at him curiously.

- “He must have lost his mind – not that there was much there to lose” was the popular consensus. Suddenly, a small child appeared through the curious crowd. His eyes sought the unconscious speaker and it was almost as if he understood the turmoil that was raging through him. Cautiously the lad approached and tapped my uncle on the leg. Mac’Leaffy stopped his restless wandering, as rigid with surprise he faced the toddler.

- “Four?” added the small one, calmly joining in the rote session.

- “Four!" cried my uncle with such a joy that the child ran off scared. It was as simple as that!" cried my uncle with such a joy that the child ran off scared. It was not a case of seeing what was there in front of him, but searching rather for what was missing. The details often confused him like this until he got used to seeing their patterns, and the traces of what was not.

Immediately he ran to the stableboy and tried to extract the truth from him by looking at him straight in the eyes

- ”How many Mektoubs are you missing?”

- “Erm, four” was the response, as he asked himself nervously where all this was leading.

Four! He was approaching the goal. He questioned further – “It’s nice stock that you have there! How many animals are there in total?”

- “Twenty five” answered the stableboy mechanically…

One, two, three, four… twenty four. My uncle had his proof at last. Each and every Homin who witnessed that scene will testify that it was at that moment that my uncle truly came into his greatness.

He walked slowly towards Gether, having regained his composure.

- “An innocent homin does not have to take the blame for a theft, my friend.” he told him, all the while watching his impassive visage.

- “Why take this mektoub if it was to give it back?” he mused, considering every word.

Gether finally conceded a response “We prefer to keep our convictions to ourselves.”

Mac’Leaffy went then to Eoxy. Eoxy, eaten by fear and guilt, looked like one who was living in his own nightmares… “I believe in your innocence. But for the others to believe me, I must know your secret. I will guard it, of course…” Eoxy was on the verge of collapse, but in a last effort he whispered something to my uncle. I never knew precisely what was said; only that it was an old story of love and betrayal

Finally, my uncle walked over to Aesken, but had no further questions. He already knew everything…

What happened next is very confused in my mind and it may be that in my childish innocence I misunderstood some of the nuances. My uncle talked a long time with the Tryker authorities and it transpired that the stableboy was the real culprit. Aesken, Eoxy and Gether had all made individual mistakes, but none of them were guilty of theft.

It seemed that the stable boy had gone out to count his Mektoubs at the height of the storm and seeing that three were missing, had panicked. Taking a mount, he rode off after them, but the sharp peal of the thunder had made his mount throw him and run off. Dejectedly, he returned home, and not wishing to admit his losses, cried thief.

He was not to know that the missing mounts were quietly returned, after all.

The famous “Mektoub affair” was thus resolved, changing my uncle’s life for ever. It even had an impact on me, leaving me with a distrust of merchants that I hold to this day. Having heard, sometime later, my uncle asking Aesken to take his injured mektoub and give back the one he had taken, probably compounded this. And to be honest with you … it’s hard to not to be involved when in your childhood it was you who uttered that pivotal word: “Four”

  the investigations of Mac’leaffy Roner.

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