Novella: The Number Thief by Darius Jones

If it hadn’t been for the rabbits, the infidel child never would have had the courage to approach the man in the medina. But just as he was about to return home, he had turned the corner and there they were. The rabbits huddled together in a cramped wooden cage in the courtyard under an ancient, gnarled cypress tree. The boy stepped forward so that the shadow of the minaret at the far end of the courtyard fell across his face. The rabbit seller laughed loudly as he finished telling a story to his friend, but caught himself and stopped when he saw the boy approach.

As if mesmerized, the dark-haired boy, Leonardo, walked toward the wooden cage and gently stuck his finger into it. A beam of sunlight piercedthe dark courtyard, bathing half of the cage in light. The rabbits’ fur was warm and brownish gold in the sun. A rabbit nuzzled and licked his fingers, tickling him slightly. He smiled.

“How much?” Leonardo asked the rabbit seller in Arabic.

“What?” the man answered.

“How much are they? The rabbits?”

“Three dirhams each.”

Leonardo moved his finger back and forth from rabbit to rabbit, feeling their soft downy fur. His lips moved silently as he counted them.

“And when were they born?” Leonardo asked.

The man leaned forward and studied Leonardo for a brief moment. The boy was dressed in a crimson cloak, wore a hat set back far on his head and had a gold chain around his neck. His cheeks, which had never been shaved, were pinkish red. His eyes darted sharply from the rabbits to the merchant.

“Where did you learn our tongue?” the rabbit seller asked.

“I was born here in Béjaïa. I have spoken it since I was a child.”

The man nodded. “These rabbits were born three days ago.”

“And how many were in the litter?”

“Well.” The man paused and moved his fingers slowly. “Eight. One was a runt and the mother wouldn’t take it. It died.”

“Yes, this morning.”

“And how long will it take for these little ones to grow and have their own children? The next generation?”

“Their own?” The seller turned his head to one side. “Five months more and each female will have its own litter, Inshallah.”

Leonardo pulled back his finger and turned his eyes up to the heavens. The man saw his ruby lips move quickly without making a sound.

“Why so many questions, son?” the man asked.

The boy didn’t seem to hear.

“I said,” the man repeated, “why do you want to know all that?”

“What?” Leonardo blinked. “Why? Curiosity, I suppose.”

Someone unseen sang the adhan, the call to prayer, from the courtyard’s minaret. The men working at the stalls looked around at one another. The call came again. The merchants stopped bargaining and chatting. They put down the money they held and started to head toward the mosque’s entrance at the far end of the courtyard. Only the rabbit seller stayed rooted in his spot.

“For two dirhams I will give you that one there.”

“The small one?”

The man nodded. The rest of the merchants were at the entrance to the mosque, taking off their sandals. One of them shot the rabbit seller a disapproving glance as he passed.

“I don’t want just one,” Leonardo said.

The man grunted. “Wait here. I will return.”

The man turned and trotted to the mosque’s entrance. Leonardo watched the man slip off his sandals and saw him disappear into the mosque. The call to prayer continued and ended on a morose, triumphant note. The infidel boy was alone in the courtyard.

He took his finger out of the rabbit cage and stepped away from it. He looked up and down the alleyway leading back down into the depth of the medina. His eyes searched the rooftops and peered at the grated windows overlooking the courtyard. Everything was quiet. Now was his chance.

Leonardo crept around the edge of the rabbit cage. Behind it was a small desk attached to a bench. He surveyed the courtyard quickly again, ducked under the bench and came up on the other side. He took a small pocketknife out from under his robe and jammed the blade into a panel on the front of the desk. He jiggled the knife and the panel fell open. He pulled the desk drawer open and found a few small coins, mostly dirhams, inside. Leonardo took the dirhams out and gently placed them on the table in little stacks. Beneath the dirhams was a collection of papers with small tight writing. Leonardo snatched the papers and placed them on the table, smoothing them out. The foreign symbols on the rough paper danced before his eyes.

“Yes, that’s it,” he whispered.

He stuffed the papers deep into his robe. He was about to slam the desk shut when he saw the dirhams lying on the table. He grabbed them, placed them back where they had been, and eased the drawer shut. He looked toward the mosque; sandals were stacked in wooden shelves near the entrance. He ducked under the desk, came out on other side and placed his finger in the cage, running his finger across the soft down of a rabbit’s back. The courtyard was still deserted. He turned and ran down the alleyway in the direction opposite of the mosque’s entrance.

He didn’t stop until he was almost out of the medina and met an Arab man coming in the opposite direction, guiding a sullen donkey by a tether. They glanced at each other and diverted their eyes, like two pickpockets working the same territory who knew each other. They passed one another silently and moved on.


At first, there is only a light. A small spit of flame swinging in the dark, casting a sickly pallor on ancient cobblestones. Then, sallow bricks come into focus, embedded in an ancient stone floor. In a few more steps, there is a hand clutching the lantern, a hooded visage, the determined gait.

The man cut a gaunt figure in the maze of stone. His djellaba[1] hung loosely over his body. As his figure passed, the light on the stones faded behind him as the flickering, disembodied light moved ahead. The light paused at a fork and forged ahead to the left.

The ball of light cast a small shadow. A black cat arched its back.

“Accursed creature!” the man said, pausing abruptly.

The cat hissed, turned and scampered into the darkness.

“Calm, Yusuf. Calm.”

The man ducked under a stone archway with a rough Byzantine cross hewn into it. In a few more paces, the man had entered a small enclosed courtyard.

He lifted his lantern before a tall portal. He brought the lantern to his side and blew it out. Only the light from the half-moon remained, just enough to see by on a clear night. The open portals on the second level of the courtyard were dark and silent. He lifted his hand to the door and knocked twice sharply, followed by three slow, resolute strikes with his closed fist. He stepped back and waited. A few moments later, the door opened a crack.

“Who’s there?” a voice from inside asked.


The door yawned open, pulled back from inside. Yusuf walked inside and bolted the door shut behind him.

“Atrocious,” Yusuf said, removing the hood of his djellaba. “Utterly ridiculous.”

A man’s laugh came from the shadows as a torch sputtered to life on the far wall at the back of a small room.

“Like a thief in the night,” Yusuf said. “And for what!?”

“For the sweetest fruit of all, the forbidden fruit.”

Yusuf’s face broke into a twisted smile.

As another torch was lit on the stone wall, a man emerged out of the darkness. The light illuminated shelves behind him, cluttered with dusty wine bottles. The torchlight was reflected weakly in the bottom of each bottle.

Michael had always thought Yusuf resembled a bird of prey. His eyes were dark and always active under a small outcropping of dark, knitted brows. His hair was dark, but his beard already showed a few gray hairs. His hands were gaunt and bony as if they were made to grasp and clutch, and his frame was thin and wiry.

Yusuf writhed slightly and the pack slid off his back.

“Well, what do you have for me this time?” Michael asked.

Yusuf took a few books out of his pack. He placed them on the table before Michael, announcing their titles one by one. “The Book of Gems…The Birds of Hind…The Secret of Secrets.”[2]

Michael picked up the second book and thumbed through it, page by page. He came to a ruby- and gold-colored page with houris[3] bent over an azure stream issuing from a delicate marble fountain. Peacocks, flamingos, herons, cranes and ibises launched and landed in the stream and waded through the blue water. The houris held out sparkling, golden feed in the palms of their hands to the gathered birds.

“Exquisite work,” Michael said.

“Masterful,” Yusuf said. “You’ll find nothing like them in the Maghreb.”

Michael slapped the book shut. “But not what I’m looking for.”

“What about…this one?” Yusuf asked, placing a thick tome on the table. “A commendable compendium[4]. Equations, formulae, all the numbers you could want.”

Michael slowly leafed through the book. He turned the pages faster and faster, flipped forward a section and abruptly slammed the book shut. “Closer, but no.”

“Close enough for one of those?” Yusuf asked, pointing to the wine on the top shelf.

“Those? No. But maybe a couple from the bottom shelf, maybe.”

“And for the black wine, the black wine of Sicily?[5] What kind of book is equal to its worth?” Yusuf asked.

“I’ve told you before, Yusuf. I’m looking for something specific. Something very specific. And for that…the black wine will be yours. A whole cask, in fact.”

Yusuf leaned back. “You won’t soon get a book like that. They’re exceedingly rare. The local imams have raised suspicions about such things. Few in the umma[6] will dare write about them.”

“My Sicilian wine is just as rare.”

“And why are you so keen on those books? You’re not one to stay up nights, poring over mathematical treatises.”

“I’ve been told they will fetch a good price abroad, that’s all.”

“Abroad?” Yusuf asked. “I’ll keep my eyes open. What do you say for these three books?”

“Two bottles of Kelibian wine.”

“Kelibian?” Yusuf asked. “Make it three or no deal.”

“Fine,” Michael said through pursed lips.

Michael took the books Yusuf placed on the table and put them underneath it. He turned to the shelves behind them and scanned the bottles.

“All this sneaking around is giving me stomach trouble,” Yusuf muttered. “Another couple of nights like this and I’ll be in my grave.”

Michael turned to the shelves and searched for the Kelibian wine.

“You know,” Michael said, “my grandfather would talk of a time when all men could buy alcohol. Christians, Jews—even Muslims.”

“My great-uncle Ahmed was a merchant in Fes,” Yusuf said. “He hired a Jewish neighbor to sell his wines from a storefront in the Jewish quarter. They worked out a deal to split the profits. Ahmed died a wealthy, respected man.”

“Is that so?” Michael slid the three bottles across the table to Yusuf.

“Yes.” Yusuf sighed. “But those days are gone. A Muslim caught selling such libations would be stoned today. Now, even butchers and fishermen need instruction in the true faith. Why just last week Abulzaid, the butcher, got a visit from the imam’s compatriots. He had somehow let a slice of pork find its way onto his butcher’s block. He got away with a fine this time, but next time they warned, next time…”

Michael smiled wryly. “Well, Yusuf, you’ll enjoy these. Harvested from the slopes of Kerkouane. A light, delicate style.”

“But not too light?” Yusuf said, clutching the bottles and placing them gently into his pack.

“No,” Michael said.

“Tell me,” Yusuf said. “Tell me the tale. What does it taste like?”

“When you first drink, there is a flavor of citrus or peach. It lingers on the tongue, just so…and then there is a long, lingering finish of wet stone after a rainfall.”

“Exquisite,” Yusuf said. “My clients will be pleased.”

“Your clients?”

“Have you forgotten?”

“No, no,” Michael said, solemnly putting his hand on his chest. “I know you don’t drink. Never have, never will. Besides, I wouldn’t dream of leading my loyal Muslim customers astray.”

Yusuf shoved the bottles deep into his pack and cinched the top shut with a drawstring.

“Watch what you say, Michael. The new authorities are not as understanding of a joke as you think,” Yusuf said.

“Is that so?”

Yusuf placed the pack on his back. “Did you ever hear about Abu Hasan?”

“No,” Michael said.

“He was a fish seller in Essaouira on the coast of the Great Sea when the Almohads[7] first swept down from the southern mountains and came to power. At that time, all our women, the Faithful as well as the Frankish[8] and Jewish women, went about unveiled. It was the Maghrebi men who went about ‘veiled,’ wearing their djellabas with the hood tightly drawn. It was not impious, it was simply our way and had been for as long as anyone could remember.

“Well, the new leaders would have none of it. They explained that things would be different now and that we would live according to the Law and all women would have to go about veiled. So, the fisherman, Abu Hasan, stood and asked the new leaders and their learned men: ‘Why?’ He explained that things with us had been different. It was our men who wore the veil to mask themselves from the heat and wind-blown dust of the desert. While our women, who lived and worked in the cities or on the edge of town, went without the veil, as had been their custom. They replied that men had no need to wear the veil anymore and women could wear the veil as they worked. And Abu Hasan stood up again and said, ‘That is all fine and good, my lords, but our gentlewomen of the plains are far more beautiful than your mountain women, and it is only right that they share their beauty and not hide their ugliness behind a veil!’ And the entire crowd, except for the imams, fell to laughter. They laughed and laughed.”

Yusuf’s eyes glazed over as if he was carried back to that time and place far away and long ago.

“I would wager no one laughs anymore,” Michael said.

“That, my friend, is the problem.”

Yusuf turned, climbed the steps to the door and unbolted it.

“What happened?” Michael blurted out. “What happened to Abu Hasan?”

“The fisherman? One day he woke up and went down to the sea to his boat. The bottom had been broken and his nets ripped to shreds. He understood. The next week, he and his entire family left town during the night. No one ever heard from them again.”

Yusuf paused. “Good night, Michael.”

“Good night, Yusuf. Be well.”

Yusuf slipped out the door. Michael approached the door, bolted it shut and checked it twice before returning to bed.


The Frankish boy emerged at the clearing near the top of the hill and caught a glimpse of the sea gleaming in the distance. Three Arab men sat on a small carpet spread out in the shadow cast by a short, squat white wall. Bees flew out of gaps around circles carved in the side of the wall and covered with clay caps. Two of the men stood and walked over to one of the circles. The first man removed one of the caps, covered his exposed arm and hand with the end of his robe, and reached inside the hive. He deftly pulled out a piece of honeycomb, placed it gently in a wooden pail and broke off a piece of the honeycomb and placed it in his mouth. He chewed slowly and nodded his head.

“Very fine,” the man said, spitting the wax onto the ground. “Take this to Mukhtar. His stall is just past the western gate,” he said, addressing the other man.

“Yes, Hassan,” the man replied.

“Come back this afternoon. We should have another like it then.”

The man grabbed the pail, stood and started to stride down the hill, back to town, passing Leonardo as he went by. Hassan walked back to the carpet and sat down. As Leonardo approached, the men stopped speaking to one another. The master beekeeper, Sahir, drew something indistinct with a stick in the dirt.

“A’Sallam Aleikum,” Leonardo said.

“Waʿalaykumu salām,” the men replied.

“I was wondering,” Leonardo said in the local tongue, “How much for a ratl[9] of honey?”

“A ratl? We have no way of knowing,” Hassan replied. “We have no weights and measures here. We sell by sight, based on length and width.”

“I see,” Leonardo said.

“What about this much?” Sahir gestured, making a small rectangle with his thumb and forefinger.

“Yes, how much for that?”

“Two dirhams.”

“Yes. I’ll take it.”

Hassan stood and walked over to the wall as the other man watched quietly.

Leonardo turned to Sahir. “Is it true that a male bee does not have a father?” he asked.

Sahir studied Leonardo for a moment and said, “Well, the male, any male bee, comes from a female, the queen. The queen creates males as she needs them by her powers alone.”

“And who creates her? How is she born?”

“The queen starts the hive herself without aid from a male.”

“But where does she come from? She must be begotten somehow?”

“It must come from both a female and a male. Only so coupled will they make a female, a queen. And then, as ordained, the queen makes as many males as she likes.”

“So,” Leonardo said, “two bees, female and male, must be the grandparents of any male bee?”

“Two bees?” Sahir thought. “Yes, I see your meaning. The male and female are the grandparents. The female is the parent. She gives birth to a male. So, yes, I suppose you are right.”

“It should be true all down the line of generations, I think,” Leonardo said. “Every male bee has one parent—the queen. But two grandparents—a male and a female queen.”

Hassan walked back to them, grasping the honeycomb in a small cloth.

“Place it here,” Sahir said, indicating a small jar near his feet.

“And what then?” Leonardo said. “Who are the parents of the next generation? Who would be the great-grandparents of a male bee? They must be…three? A female and male create the female queen—the grandmother. While one female is needed to create the male—the grandfather? Yes?”

Sahir frowned. “If you say so, yes. But who cares? Why ask such impertinent questions?”

“Yes,” Hassan interrupted. “Who cares if they have one father or a million? What difference does it make?”

“It is just interesting to know,” Leonardo said. Sahir handed the small jar over to Leonardo and he gave him the dirhams.

“Thank you,” Leonardo said.

He turned to go, but stopped and turned back. “And what of the generation before that? The great-great-grandparents of one solitary male bee? How many would that be?”

“What!?” Sahir said and turned to Hassan. “This child!”

“I will wager it’s five. It must be five!” Leonardo addressed Sahir, “But how many is it really? Tell me. I must know!”

“How many? How many? How would I know?” Sahir nodded his head. “Only Allah knows.”

“Yes, but…” Leonardo hesitated. “What if…what if…what if Allah wanted us to know?”

“Watch what you say!” Sahir said, raising his stick over Leonardo’s head. The boy stepped back.

“Sahir!” the man next to him said, grasping the master beekeeper’s forearm. “He’s a child, leave him!”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Sahir replied.

“He meant nothing by it,” Hassan said.

“I-I…” Leonardo stammered.

“Listen, infidel, leave us our religion and we will leave you yours,” Sahir said.

“I’m sorry,” Leonardo said, clutching the jar of honeycomb.

Sahir let his stick fall slowly to the ground.

“I did not mean to cause offense, forgive me,” Leonardo said. He bowed slightly, turned and started to run down the hill.

The men watched him go.

“Bah!” Sahir said, striking the earth with his stick.

The beekeepers watched the Frankish boy’s head bob above the dried golden grass at the top of the hill and disappear.

But Leonardo did not run back to town. Instead, he stopped halfway down the hill and, using a different path, snuck back up. Leonardo stopped and crouched under a nearby outcropping, watching the beekeepers. Sahir, the one with the stick, began to draw something with his stick in the loose dirt. It was the branching generations leading to the birth of a single male bee. From time to time he would scratch out his rough diagram and draw something new. The afternoon wore on and it became hot as noon approached. Behind a nearby rock, Leonardo took the honeycomb from the jar and started to nibble at it.

Leonardo watched as Sahir motioned to Hassan and pointed at the sun. They stood, rolled up the carpet they were sitting on and wandered off a little from the summit to a clearing overlooking the sea. Leonardo watched as they placed the carpet sidewise and started to pray, facing east. He crept out from behind the outcropping and approached the place where Sahir and his companion had sat. Jars, spoons and a few tools were placed next to the wall, but there was no money and no papers. Leonardo frowned and was about to walk away when he glanced down at the dirt. And there, drawn in the dust, was what he had been looking for.


Yusuf stirred, turned onto his back and slowly sat up. The mosque was almost empty. A man sat alone in the far corner, quietly praying. A lone sunbeam shone through the horseshoe-shaped entrance of the mosque as midday turned to afternoon. Yusuf heard soft footsteps on the carpet behind him and turned to the sound.

“Efendi,”[10] the man said, folding his legs under him and sitting.

“Nasir,” Yusuf replied.

“I bring news,” Nasir said. “Something stirs among the Franks.”

“What?” Yusuf asked, rubbing his face.

“We should never have allowed the Franks to grab a foothold in Béjaïa,” Nasir said.

“That decision was made by others, not me,” Yusuf said.

“Still,” Nasir said, “it was a mistake.”

“What news do you bring, Nasir?”

“There have been thefts in the medina,” Nasir said.

“So? Run and tell the emir. They’re no concern of mine.”

“Not of money.” Nasir leaned forward. “But accounts, ledgers have been stolen. The records of merchants.”

“What?” Yusuf asked. “How many?”

“Half a dozen, maybe. They come back from prayers and the ledgers are gone, but the dirhams are untouched.”

“I see,” Yusuf said. “Tell me, Nasir. What method of account do these merchants use? The Iron Method? Or the one I have spoken of?”

“They all use the new method, Efendi. The numbers of Hind.”

“I see.” Yusuf turned away from Nasir.

“What are we to do, Efendi?”

“Spread the word. Tell the merchants to lock down their ledgers at night or take them home. We must not allow more of them to fall into the hands of this thief.”


“Let me pray,” Yusuf said. “Let me think.”

Nasir blinked. “Just one more thing, I beg, Efendi. These ledgers are just numbers on a page without context or meaning. Are they really of such import?”

Yusuf’s eyes narrowed and he knitted his brow. “Of all the things in the mind of Allah, numbers most closely approach his Majesty. They stand closer than the djinns, closer than the angels. For”—Yusuf raised his voice slightly—“‘Not an atom’s weight in earth or heaven escapes your Lord, nor is there any object smaller or greater, but is recorded in a glorious book.’”[11]

The man praying in the corner turned and looked at Yusuf and Nasir.

“Besides, these numbers in the wrong hands could do much damage,” Yusuf said.

“Yes, Efendi,” Nasir said, bowing his head slightly, “I should not have—”

“No matter,” Yusuf interrupted. “Leave me. I will think of something.”

Nasir bowed slightly, stood and walked away.

Yusuf rolled his neck. He leaned forward, prostrated and began to pray.


“Nonius! Nonius Datus!” Yusuf bellowed, emerging from the cave. “It’s just as he said.”

“A dead end,” Nasir said.

They emerged out of the cool, dark tunnel into the gathering heat of the morning.

“The work crews missed one another,” Yusuf said. “Each one went too far to the right.”

Yusuf and Nasir extinguished their torches, rolling them in the dirt near the cave’s entrance.

“The first crew began here,” Yusuf said. “The other crew began to the west. They never met.”

“So it should be repairable?”

“Without a doubt,” Yusuf said. “The downward pressure will grow steadily. There’s no leak.”

“Then why didn’t it work before?”

“Something in the western tunnel, some sort of debris or blockage,” Yusuf said. “We simply must go back to the main entrance and go further. Qasim is mistaken.”

A boy ran toward them, coming up the trail leading to the cave.

“We must forge ahead, Nasir,” Yusuf said. He inhaled deeply and pronounced each Latin word in a low, booming tone. “‘Patientia, Virtus, Spes.’ Patience, energy, confidence. It was the last we lacked, Nasir. We must start again and not lose the true path.”

The boy approached and breathlessly said, “Efendi, the emir is ready for you.”

“Good,” Yusuf replied. “Tell him we bring good news.”

“Yes, Efendi,” the boy replied, turned and started to run back down the hill.

Yusuf gazed down to the sea. He could see the emir’s hunting party on top of the opposite ridge.

“It’s plain to see,” Yusuf said, lost in thought.

“What is plain?”

“As it was with Datus, so it is with us,” Yusuf said as they walked along. “Delayed a decade, robbed by bandits, laid low by illness, prey to accusations from Caesar above and the workmen below.[12] And yet he triumphed. Slowly, drop by drop, water presses against all barriers and overcomes them. So it is with the Mind. If he is to mirror the Mind, man must persist. Only persist. Persist against all obstacles. A thousand years later, and water still flows through this qanat,[13] all that is left for us to do is unblock it.”

Nasir glanced at Yusuf, but did not reply. They had come to a turn in the path. The hunting party was just a few more paces ahead.

“So much for the lesson,” Yusuf said. “Let me ascertain the emir’s disposition. Remain silent unless I call upon you.”

“Yes, Efendi.”

They were about to step onto the carpets laid out for the hunting party, when two large men, dressed in black robes, stepped forward from behind some brush.

“Halt!” the men said, placing their hands on Yusuf’s and Nasir’s chests.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Yusuf asked.

“You are to be searched,” one of them said. “Orders of the emir.”

The emir heard, but pretended to be in a deep conversation with one of his aides.

“More hysteria?” Yusuf asked. “Is that it?”

The two men ran their hands across their robes, searching for weapons.

As they worked, Yusuf said, “If it’s hashashin you seek, I think I saw some inside the qanat. You may want to investigate. How many was it, Nasir, forty, fifty men?”

Nasir and the bodyguards glared at Yusuf.

“Then again, it was rather dark,” Yusuf said. “Perhaps I was mistaken. One can never be too sure these days.”

The guards motioned for Yusuf and Nasir to step forward. They walked past the guards, removed their sandals on the edge of the carpet and sat cross-legged across from the emir and three of his ministers, including Qasim. Two more guards stood behind the emir. To the side, a falconer dressed in a crimson robe kneeled beside two hooded Saker falcons on their perch.

“As-salāmu ʿalaykum, Your Highness,” Yusuf and Nasir said, bowing slightly.

“Waʿalaykumu salām, Yusuf,” the emir replied.

“Qasim,” Yusuf said.

“Yusuf.” Qasim nodded in response.

“Tell me,” the emir said, “What is the state of my qanat?”

“Your?” Yusuf stopped himself and shifted in his seat. “The state of your qanat, my lord, is quite good. As I suspected, there is no leak. The cave entrance here comes to a dead end. We simply must go back to the original tunnel and go further.”

“With respect, my lord, we have already tried that approach,” Qasim said.

“But with all respect, my lord, we did not persist,” Yusuf said. “And persist we must. I will need more men, more equipment, and we will break through and re-establish the waterway the ancient infidels began. My assistant and I have surveyed the whole length of the water line from above and below and are now certain it goes the whole way through. The cave we just came from leads to a blank face of rock. We found it just as the long-dead infidel, Datus, had said we would: one tunnel led too far to the right and was simply abandoned. The original tunnel should still go from the mountains to the city.”

“Are you certain?” the emir said.

“We have dug and dug, Yusuf,” Qasim said. “It will not work.”

“And I say it will. Give me a hundred men and another month. And if we do not break through, I will return home to Qurtuba[14] and forfeit my fee.”

The emir and Qasim were silent.

“Your Highness,” Nasir began as Yusuf shot him a withering look, “my master is an expert in qanat, ancient and modern. He does not make these claims lightly. If there is a way to deliver water to Béjaïa, he will find it.”

“Very well,” the emir said. “Qasim!”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“See that Yusuf is given what he needs.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Qasim replied.

“Your Highness,” Yusuf said, bowing.

Qasim motioned to the guards. “I will send for you tomorrow, Yusuf. Now, the emir must—”

“One moment,” the emir said. “I have one more thing, Yusuf.”

“Yes, my lord?”

“What is this I hear about these…numbers?” the emir asked. “The numbers from…”

“Hind,” Qasim said.

“Yes, Hind?”

“What of them, Highness?” Yusuf said.

“You have requested that we no longer teach those numbers to Frankish children.”

“Yes, a most urgent request.”

“I am aware of the request,” the emir answered. “I am just befuddled.”


“Well,” the emir began, “for one, are they of such import? That we would deny teaching them to children?”

“They are of the greatest import, as is everything we teach our children,” Yusuf said.

Qasim smirked.

“Yes, but this is about not teaching children. Infidel children, but children all the same,” the emir said. “The Pisans have grown agitated on this topic. They have warned me that such a measure is beyond the pale. They are threatening some sort of retaliation. Why are we making such a fuss over these numbers in the pages of children’s workbooks?”

“They are no mere trifles, Your Highness,” Yusuf said.

The emir frowned, turning to Qasim.

“The emir awaits your explanation,” Qasim said.

“Your Highness,” Yusuf said, “number is of primary importance. And the numbers of Hind are the most important numbers to yet fall into the minds of men.”

“I’m afraid if that’s your best explanation, I have no choice but to yield to the Franks on this point,” the emir said.

“No, wait, Efendi,” Yusuf said. He reached into his robe and the guards behind the emir stepped forward. “It is not so much a matter of numbers as it is of this.” Yusuf slowly pulled a dinar from his pocket and held it up. “Our armies can never hope to repel the infidels without this.”

“Nonsense,” the emir said. “It is the piety of the Faithful that is our true shield. Money cannot buy valor or sacrifice or Allah’s benediction. That is what has carried our armies to victory. Not dinars.”

“Yes,” Qasim said. “What connection is there between these numbers and dinars anyway?”

“There is no doubt, my lord, that the piety of the Faithful is far greater than the confusion and unbelief that misleads the Franks,” Yusuf said. “And yet…”

“And yet what, Yusuf?” Qasim said. “Speak plainly, the emir does not have time to waste.”

“Money does not fall outside the plans and reckonings of Allah. Without dinars to buy armor, to buy food, to pay men, the great armies and fleets of the Faithful would fall into disrepair and eventually melt away.”

“Your ruminations, my friend, are—” Qasim said.

“Most extraordinary?” Yusuf asked.

“Among other things,” Qasim said.

“And not only is money within the purview of Allah, but so is number,” Yusuf continued briskly, putting away his dinar. “For Allah, in his mercy, has given us these numbers and cast a veil over the minds of the infidels. It is the numbers of Hind that allow our merchants to trade quickly, accurately and fairly. The Frankish merchants use the ancient Iron Method[15] of the long-dead pagans of Rum.[16] The same men who built the qanat. Every transaction the Franks perform is slower, more cumbersome, more likely to have mistakes. Let the numbers of Hind fall into the hands of the infidels and our advantage—and it is no small thing—disappears.”

The emir glanced at Qasim as if waiting.

“You have a point, Yusuf, but the difference is minor,” Qasim said. “We have our way and the Franks have theirs. You have given these numbers too much weight. We will not ban the teaching of these numbers to Frankish children.”

Yusuf gazed at the ground, looked at the sky, and the emir’s falcons caught his eye.

“Your falcons, Highness,” Yusuf said. “Where do you house them?”

Qasim frowned and leaned forward.

“In the mews near the stables in my palace,” the emir said. “Why?”

“And do you feed them? Every day?”

“Yusuf!” Qasim said. “This impertinence!”

The emir raised his hand. “Let him finish,” he said. “I feed them only the finest fare.”

“And do you train them? What to attack and when and how?”

“I hone their natural instincts given to them by the grace of Allah,” the emir said.

“We should be wise to do the same with all our warriors. Give praise for what Allah has endowed them with, while offering them the best training and equipment. Then, truly, they will triumph as sure as the sun brings a new day.”

Yusuf studied the birds. “They are fine birds, Emir. From the desert?”

“Yes, from the Thar,” the emir said.[17]

“Ah, they too are from the Hind?”

“Yes,” the emir said.

“Have you been there?” Yusuf asked.

“To the Thar?” the emir asked, smiling. “No!”

“Well, I have,” Yusuf said. “It is a harsh and unrelenting place. But man, praise be to the mercy of Allah, has found his way even there.”

“What is this tale-telling, Yusuf?” Qasim asked, leaning forward. “If we had need for a fool, we would have—”

“They say on the far edge of the desert there are two cities,” Yusuf said. “One is Christian and uses the old numbers, the Iron Method. The other is a city of the Faithful, who now use the numbers of Hind, a gift from Allah. The two cities are in every other way alike. They have the same number of people, the same marketplaces, the same walls, the same camels, the same money, and the same beautiful women.”

The emir smiled.

“But”—Yusuf raised his finger—“the Christian city is poor. The marketplaces have few customers. The goods pile up and remain unused. The camels are idle and the caravanserais[18] are full of loafers and idlers, not merchants. The soldiers’ armor is leather and their swords are dull and worn.”

“I sincerely doubt, my Emir, that what Yusuf is saying has any—” Qasim began.

“Oh! I assure you it’s all true,” Yusuf said. “For I saw it with my own eyes. But see! The Muslim city is alike in every respect to that of the infidel except for the numbers of Hind. In it, the goods never pile up because they come and are gone the same day. Camels, donkeys and men groan under the weights of goods. The caravanserais are full, yes. But there are no idlers or gossips. Only merchants who spend the night and then are off with their laden caravans the next day at dawn. And why? Because for each merchant at each stall with each passing hour the transactions are carried out that much faster, more clearly, more accurately. And all because of the numbers of Hind. They are, in fact, of vital importance.”

“But what about the soldiers there? How are they dressed?” the emir asked.

“Why, Your Highness, what do you think?”

“They must be dressed head to foot in white linen covered by gleaming tightly woven mail. With the finest steel blades that gleam in the desert sun and bows of cedar slung over their shoulders ever at the ready. And not far away, the finest large-eyed she-camels ready to ride out into the desert night.”

“Ah! And so it is!” Yusuf said. “It’s as if you had been to the Thar yourself.”

Qasim glared at Yusuf.

“And so, you can see the importance of the numbers,” Yusuf continued, “Of the danger of letting them fall into the hands of the infidel, even their children. Let the numbers of Hind slip into their grasp, even once, and their trade will increase that much more. And all the profits we now realize will be theirs. And it is their horses and their men and their ships that will benefit. You can forget about ever chasing them from the Maghreb. In fact, they will descend in ever-denser clouds like locusts on our shores. Allah is merciful and wise. But He is unforgiving to those who are ungrateful. To the Faithful, Allah gives much and expects much in return.”

“What do you say to that, Qasim?” the emir asked.

Qasim moved his mouth, but nothing came out.

“I grant your wish,” the emir said. “Teach the numbers of Hind only to the Faithful.”

“A wise decision, Emir,” Yusuf said, bowing slightly.


“Go away?” Leonardo asked. “But why?”

“By order of the emir,” Tarif replied.

“Yes, but why?” the boy asked.

“The emir’s decision,” Tarif, their teacher, said.

Leonardo met his gaze. Gathered behind him were five others, the sons of local Pisan diplomats and merchants.

“The emir has declared that you Frankish children will no longer be instructed in the subject of mathematics,” Tarif said.

“Yes!” one of the boys in the back shouted.

“Shut up, Richard!” another said.

“But why?” Leonardo said, stepping forward so that he was looking straight up at Tarif. “Why us? And why not let us in for our other lessons?”

“We—” Tarif said. “We have cancelled all classes today for you, the Frankish children. We will resume them tomorrow, but without the math portion.”

“But why?” Leonardo said. “Why not teach us? What is the emir thinking, banning such things?”

“He has deemed it inappropriate to teach numbers to the Frankish children at this time, my son. That is all.”

“But you’re not—”

“That is all!” Tarif interrupted. “Return tomorrow!”

He abruptly turned and slammed the door shut, leaving the group of boys out in the alley.

“Let’s go,” Antonio said.

“There’s no reason to stay,” Richard said.

Leonardo looked up at the closed door and sighed. He turned to the boys and said, “It’s not fair. You must teach children. You must. It’s the decent thing to do.”

Antonio had seen this look on his friend’s face before. He watched as Leonardo stood up straighter, as his face turned slightly upwards and his eyes narrowed.

“Wait. Wait, you’ll see,” Leonardo said, making a fist. “You will all see. They’ll come to regret this. The emir will think better of his rash decision.”

“But how?” Antonio said. “How will you change his mind?”

“Will you go to the emir’s palace for an audience?” Richard asked.

The other boys laughed quietly.

“You won’t be laughing this time tomorrow!” Leonardo said. “Wait until my father hears about this. Come! Let’s go!”

With that, Leonardo started to march through the medina, taking the path back to the Pisan trading house in the heart of the Christian quarter. His schoolmates, one and all, marched behind him, not because of any devotion to learning, but out of curiosity.

At the entrance of the Pisan trading house, the guards gave Leonardo a quick, sharp salute as the rest of the boys trailed behind him. Leonardo strode across the flagstones of the courtyard and began to shout. And from an inner room on the upper floor, his father, Guglielmo, could hear the shouts reverberate off the stone.

“Father! Father! Where are you?”


A breeze drifted up from the listless sea. The mid-afternoon sun sparkled on the waves in the distance. Wooden tables with eight by eight squares were set out under cypress trees edging a rectangular terrace overlooking the sea. On the tables small black and white pieces were arranged for shatranj.[19]

“Shah Mat!”[20] Antonio said, moving his rukh[21] forward to reveal an attack on his adversary’s king.

“Ah!” Leonardo gasped, rolling his eyes.

“You’re not yourself today,” Antonio said. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it school?”

“No…Yes…I don’t know.”

Leonardo glared at the first square in the far right of the shatranj board closest to him. His eyes flickered, moving forward to the second, the third and the fourth square. As his eyes moved, the boy’s lips quivered.

“You’re counting again!” Antonio said. “Stop it!”

“Sorry,” Leonardo said.

“Don’t worry. They’ll open the school again soon.”

“How do you know? If my father can’t open it again, who will?”

“Someone will,” Antonio said. “Besides, we can just—”

Someone laughed out loud and clapped their hands at the other end of the terrace, where the men were playing shatranj. Leonardo and Antonio turned and saw a group of men and boys gathered around a game being played in the shadow of an ancient plane tree.

“Come on!” Antonio said.

The two boys ran over and stood on a bench at a nearby empty table so they could see the game more clearly. Yusuf was facing off against a man who was absentmindedly touching a piece he had just captured. Yusuf had one hand under his chin and another placed lightly on the shatranj table. He quietly studied the board, his eyes darting from piece to piece. The game was approaching its conclusion: only a few pieces remained on the board. The crowd buzzed with whispered conjecture on the next moves around the edges, while those in the first rows stood silently, analyzing the state of play.

“He’s got him,” one of the men on the far edge of the crowd whispered.

Yusuf touched one of his rukhs and paused. He looked at the board intently, picked up the rukh, and moved it. His opponent blinked and grasped the side of the board. He looked at Yusuf, who was stone-faced; he only breathed calmly and studied the board. His opponent lifted his fil[22] and captured Yusuf’s rukh. Several members of the crowd gasped.

“A rukh[23]!” Antonio said. “He’s in trouble!”

“No,” Leonardo said. “Not yet.”


Yusuf raised his eyebrows, bent forward and carefully studied the board. He mumbled something to himself, brought his hand to his chin and studied the board for what seemed an eternity. Then, he resolutely picked up his last rukh, moved it to almost the opposite end of the board and placed it down firmly.

“Yes!” Leonardo gasped, and everyone, including Yusuf, turned to him. Yusuf glared at the boy, but quickly returned his gaze to the board.

“Your move, Abbas,” Yusuf said.

“What?” Abbas said.

“Your move.”

“Yes, of course.”

Abbas studied the board, his eyes moving back and forth feverishly. He fidgeted with his newly captured rukh. He lifted his hand as if about to move a piece and then held back.

“That’s it, come on!” Leonardo whispered.

“What?” Antonio asked.


Abbas pulled back his hand and hesitated. Yusuf silently glared at him. With swift resolution, Abbas took Yusuf’s last remaining rukh.

“There!” Abbas gasped.

Yusuf blinked.

“Defenseless!” someone mumbled.

“He’s done for,” Antonio said.

Yusuf studied the board. He quietly moved forward a single sarbaz[24] at the far edge of the board, revealing a long-distance attack from his last remaining fil on Abbas’s king. He placed the piece down delicately, without making a sound.

“Shah mat,” Yusuf said.

The crowd gasped. Someone clapped; another man shouted. Abbas blinked and stared at the board as if seeing the pieces for the first time.

“Shah? Shah?” Abbas mumbled, scanning the board for some sort of escape. His king had fallen into an intricate, invisible cage. There was no escape.

Yusuf leaned back and smiled. The crowd began to clap and shout.

“Yusuf!” someone cried. “The master.”

Abbas clutched his hands to his head in disbelief and one of his friends placed his hand on his shoulder. There was scattered clapping in the crowd. Abbas looked up to the heavens, placed his hand on his heart and bowed slightly to Yusuf. Yusuf smiled and they warmly shook hands.

“Two rukhs!” Antonio said. “Have you ever seen such a sacrifice?”

“No,” Leonardo said, “but I’ve read about it. It’s possible. Think of it! To sacrifice so much, all the while keeping in mind precisely what you would gain, only if your opponent didn’t realize…until it was too late, too late.”

“You read about it? Where?” Antonio asked.

Leonardo hesitated. “Oh, some book I found.”


“Lying outside a mosque. I can show you. It’s at home.”

“Let’s go,” Antonio said. “I’ll race you.”

Antonio jumped down from the table and started to run. Leonardo jumped down from the bench, but ran into a tall Arab man at the back of the crowd who had been watching the game. The tall man stumbled back, and through the gap in the crowd, Leonardo and Yusuf locked eyes for an instant. In that moment, Leonardo felt Yusuf’s gaze boring into him, almost pinning him with a physical force. Leonardo tore his eyes away from Yusuf and looked up at the man towering over him.

“A thousand pardons, Efendi!” Leonardo said.

The man backed away and raised his hands to show he meant no harm. Leonardo darted around him, following Antonio back into the medina.

Yusuf’s eyes followed Leonardo as he ran away. He leaned forward and grabbed his pupil Nasir’s arm.

“Nasir!” Yusuf said. “Who is that boy running away?”

“What? The boy with the dark hair? The Frank?” Nasir said.


“That is Leonardo. Son of Guglielmo Bonacci, the Pisan consul. Why?”

“Because he was the only one here who guessed my next move.”


Tarif sat at a table, examining his students’ work. There was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” Tarif asked.

No one answered. Tarif continued to correct his students’ assignments.

There was another knock.

“Who…?” Tarif yelled. He slammed the table, laid down his pen and strode over to the door. “Is it?”

Tarif flung open the door. It was Yusuf.

“Are you Tarif ibn Sameer?” Yusuf asked.

“Yes. What of it?” Tarif said.

“I need to speak to you.”

“What about?”

“A pupil of yours. Leonardo,” Yusuf said, “Bonacci.”

“Leonardo? He’s not a student of mine now,” Tarif said, beginning to close the door.

Yusuf placed his hand on the door. “I must speak with you, by order of the emir.”

“Come in,” Tarif said, frowning and walking back to his desk at the front of the room.

Yusuf followed him. A few rays of light filtered through chinks in the roof, illuminating dust floating in the air. There was a long table at the front of the room—where Tarif sat, pretending to be busy—and several small workbenches facing it.

“I won’t be long,” Yusuf said. “Tell me, what is this boy Leonardo like?” “There’s not much to tell. He’s the son of the Pisan consul, you know,” Tarif said, without looking up from his work.

“Yes, I’ve heard. But what kind of student is he?”

Tarif looked up. “He’s a bit of a dreamer, seems to always be drifting away during my instruction.”

“Go on.”

“I call upon him and ask him for an answer to some question and he has absolutely no idea, no idea, what I’m talking about!”

“Is he slow?”

“No, no. Just the opposite. If you watch him work, there’s nothing like it. He’s thorough and fast, very fast. But leave him to his own devices and…”

“And what?”

“You’ll never get anything out of him,” Tarif said. “He’s always daydreaming or mumbling.”


“At first, I thought he was praying or something, but no…”

“What is he doing?”

“Counting, I think,” Tarif said. “Or doing figures, it’s always numbers. And then, he’ll catch himself, notice you’re there and suddenly stop.”

“I see.”

“And then there are these,” Tarif said, rearranging the papers on his desk. “His sketches.”

“Let me see,” Yusuf said.

Tarif shuffled through a stack of papers, picked up a few sheaves of yellowish parchment and handed them to Yusuf. Yusuf examined them. A single bee or shatranj piece was hurriedly sketched at the top or bottom of the page. And leading from each single thing there were branching lines that, step-by-step, led to more and more bees and shatranj pieces until they clustered together and seemed to spill off the page.

“Now that you mention it, he is an odd boy,” Tarif said. “He asks the most bizarre, impudent questions.”

“Like what?” Yusuf asked, without looking up.

“Oh! What doesn’t he ask? About the father and grandfather and great-grandfather of bees. Bees!? The sons and grandsons and great-grandsons and great-great grandsons of rabbits. Utter nonsense!”

“Yes, nonsense,” Yusuf said, scanning the pape

“Or!” Tarif said. “He asks what if you put one grain of sand on the first square on a shatranj board? And then two on the second? And four on the third? And eight on the fourth? And so on and so forth…How many grains of sand would you have on the sixty-fourth square?”

“Yes, I see,” Yusuf said.

“Who’s constantly filling his head with such garbage, do you think?” Tarif said. “Or is the boy just coming up with it himself?

“I wouldn’t know,” Yusuf said, placing the papers back on the desk.

“You know, one time we were studying grammar, Arabic verbs, and I called on him and he didn’t even know what we were doing! I walked over to him and what did I see?”


“Behind his workbook was this,” Tarif said, handing him a piece of scrap, “this drawing of bunnies. Rabbit after rabbit after rabbit. One at the top of the page, then two, then three and going down and down to a whole mob of them. Can you imagine?”

“And what did you do?”

“I scolded him and had him stay after class and copy out, double, all the lessons he had missed.”

“What about his other work? Is it high quality?”

“It’s completely middling in every way; what would you expect from such a daydreamer?” Tarif paused. “Except…”

“Except what?”

“In math. In numbers, he is quite good,” Tarif said. “He is always adding and multiplying and doing figures in his head. He’s quite a show-off.”

“I see. What do you teach in mathematics?”

“Just the basic operations so far, nothing advanced.”

“And what numbers do you use?”

“Well, the ones the emir bids us to use.”

“The numbers of Hind?”

“Yes, that is, until earlier this week. When the emir said we were no longer to teach such things to the Franks.”

“Tell me, do you have any more of Leonardo’s work here? His mathematical work in particular.”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

Tarif searched through the papers on his desk and pulled some out. “Here, look. These are Leonardo’s.”

Yusuf’s eyes focused on the papers in the dim light. In the margins were more miniature drawings of shatranj pieces, bees and rabbits. The marks on the actual exercise numbers were simple, stark, austere. Some quick work and then, directly below, the correct answer.

“They’re all correct,” Yusuf said. “Every last one.”

“Yes, yes. That’s what I said! The fact of the matter is—”

“He finishes his exams early, doesn’t he? Far ahead of the others.”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“His work is economical. He seems to be doing most of the work in his head. With plenty of time left over,” Yusuf said, placing the papers neatly on the table. Yusuf turned to face the door.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Tarif said.

“Where can he be found, this boy?” Yusuf asked, without turning to Tarif.

“How would I know? He’s probably running around in the streets, getting into all kinds of trouble.”

“Or in the Pisan’s consul house?”


“Good, I’m going to see to it that he gets a new assignment.”


“Something to challenge him. For a change.”


“Master Tarif, the boy’s no daydreamer.” Yusuf turned to Tarif and opened the door a crack, allowing a shaft of light to fall across Tarif’s face. “He’s bored.”

Without waiting for a response, Yusuf slammed the door shut.


“It’s all set, then?” Yusuf asked.

“Yes, the boy suspects nothing,” Nasir said.

Yusuf leaned back on the warm tiles, placed his hands behind his head and stared at the dark ceiling of the hammām.[25] Wisps of steam swirled up and around them.

“Lovely,” Yusuf replied.

“You want me to deliver the goods?”

“No, that was only a ruse. I will do it. I have something very exact in mind. Where did you plan to meet?”

“Down by the port, the night after tomorrow, at midnight. By al-Husayn’s apothecary.”

“Very good.”

“What do you intend to do to the boy, Master?” Nasir asked.

“I intend to end the problem once and for all,” Yusuf replied. “This will be the last we hear from our little number thief.”


Yusuf gazed up at the marble statues glowing in the moonlight. The blank eyes of the ancient infidels gazed down upon him.

He gripped the marble archway as he passed underneath and felt tiny grains of marble come off in his hand. He breathed in the salt air and drew the hood of his djellaba tightly over his head. He paused, looking up and down the alleyway. He was alone. He gazed at the worn busts of the long-dead infidels and addressed them in their long-dead tongue.

“Guide me, O Zeus, and you, O Destiny,

To wherever you have assigned me;

I’ll follow unwaveringly, or if my will fails,

Wretched though I be, I’ll follow nonetheless.”[26]

Yusuf strained his ears, listening. There was no reply, not a sound. No ghosts, no jinn, no infidel or believer, living or dead, had heard. He bowed slightly to the busts on the archway and strode on through the medina, heading down to the port. As he walked, he repositioned a small sack slung over his shoulder and drew his djellaba close against the cold.

He came to the appointed place and stepped under a nearby arch, obscured by the shadows cast by the moon. Yusuf laid the sack of books on the ground behind him and waited.

A few moments later, he sensed something in the darkness. A small form came around the corner and Yusuf felt for the blade under his robe. Two glowing eyes momentarily caught the moonlight, glowing like shards of crystal. A black cat crept out of the shadows.

“You! Again!” Yusuf said. “Be gone!”

He took a half step forward and the cat hissed and arched its back. The cat turned and scurried into the darkness.

“You shouldn’t do such things!” a voice said.

Yusuf turned. The Frankish boy, Leonardo, stepped forward into the moonlight.

“You’re not—” Leonardo froze.

“Nasir?” Yusuf said, stepping forward. “Is that who you were expecting?”

Leonardo pressed his back against the wall opposite and his eyes looked down the darkened alleyway to a shard of sea glinting in the moonlight.

“Go ahead,” Yusuf said. “Run. But you won’t get what you came for.”

“No,” Leonardo said, standing up as straight as he could.

“What makes you play this little game?”

“It’s not a game.”

“You’re right about that,” Yusuf said. “Still, it’s best to give it up before the stakes get too high.”

“Too high?” Leonardo said, taking a small step forward from the wall. “What do you mean?”

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go into detail. You can probably imagine.”

“I won’t be intimidated.”

“I see, a fanatic. Very well, I’ve dealt with your kind before.”

“I am not a fanatic, I am simply”—Leonardo was breathing quickly now—“curious. I want to learn. Is that a crime?”


“Then why punish me?”

“Do you think this is some little child’s game? Something to play at until you grow tired and then pick up something else? Like your shatranj? Because if you do, let me assure you, you are mistaken. Much greater things are at stake. Things far beyond your reckoning.”

The boy clinched his fists. Yusuf wasn’t certain, but he thought he saw Leonardo’s eyes well with tears.

“I thought”—Leonardo’s voice was full of rage—“you were different.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“They say…” the boy stammered.

“They say what?”

“They say you stay up at night until the dawn, ensconced in your keep on the edge of town.” Leonardo spoke with suppressed tension. “Studying ancient manuscripts in forgotten tongues by long-dead men. The works and thoughts of pagans and infidels and saints and sinners. You read them all greedily, lustfully, caring not which hand wrote them.”

“And what else do they say?”

“That you are well versed in all the arts and sciences, ancient and modern. Nothing is beyond your interest and skill. Alchemy and geography and mathematics and astrology and medicine. But above all, you are a lover of knowledge, one of the falsafa,[27] without peer in this land.”

“I take pride in being a learned man,” Yusuf said. “It is true that I gather manuscripts far and wide, not caring who wrote them—whether they are written by Muslims or not, they still may have something to offer us, and need not lead the faithful astray. Discretion is the privilege of learned maturity.”

“They say more.”

“More of what?”

“They say you are one of the Brethren, the Brethren of Purity.[28] And an acolyte of their esoteric dogma and rituals.”

“A Frank lecturing me about the Brethren? And their secret doctrines?” Yusuf said. “This is too much! Please do go on.”

“And that at night you drink ruby red wine from golden goblets and bid slave boys dance the ahwach[29] for you and that you swear by the works of Aristotle as if they were Holy Writ.”

“Is that so?” Yusuf said, smirking.

“And that on certain nights when the moon is full, you lock away your Quran in a tall cabinet and curse the mosque and your Prophet and all he stood for and bow down in homage to a bust of Socrates.”

Yusuf laughed so darkly and long, the boy shivered.

“The full moon!” Yusuf said. “What a charming detail. Tell me, do you believe all the idle chatter you hear in the souk? Or only the lies?”

“But it’s true, isn’t it?” Leonardo said, stepping forward into the moonlight, his face illuminated in the sallow light from above. “Not the salacious rumors, but the deeper truth? That the ancient philosophers mean more to you than all your holy men and saints? That you would rather study their words than those of your holy book?”

“Nonsense,” Yusuf said, placing his hands on his chest and slightly bowing his head. “You will not find a Muslim more devout and punctilious than I in all the Maghreb.”

Leonardo, his hand trembling, felt inside his robe for something. Without changing his stance, Yusuf’s hand slid down to the handle of his dagger.

“If that is so,” Leonardo said, taking a piece of paper out of his robe and holding it up, “then what’s this?”

Yusuf glared at the dark paper and focused his eyes. It took a moment, but he saw it plain as day. It was a note in his own hand, a record of a debt owed to the wine merchant Michael.

“Where did you get that?” Yusuf said.

“That doesn’t matter.”

Yusuf ripped the paper from Leonardo’s hand and tore it in half.

“I have more,” the boy said.

“Where?” Yusuf asked.

“Safe. Far from here.”

Yusuf lunged at Leonardo, grabbed him by the edges of his robe and pinned him to the wall.

“Is this a game to you?” Yusuf shouted. “Do you know how many infidels and Muslims have shed their blood on these very shores? Enough to turn the tide red! Do you know what I was brought here to do this very night? Do you?”

Leonardo looked down sullenly, as if entranced.

“To kill you!” Yusuf hissed, unsheathing his dagger and brandishing it in front of the boy’s eyes. “And I would be within my rights!”

“Then do it. Kill me!” Leonardo said, staring at the blade.

Yusuf tightened his grip on Leonardo’s robes, feeling him lying limply beneath them. He brought the edge of the blade to Leonardo’s throat and thought how the boy’s skin glowed like the marble archway in the moonlight, softly and luminously. The skin of Allah’s angels could not burn brighter.

“But you won’t,” Leonardo said morosely, “will you?”

“And how can you be so sure?”

“Because if you wanted to, you would have done it already.”

“Curse you!” Yusuf shouted. “Always guessing my next move!”

Yusuf let go of the boy, trudged backward and put away his blade. Leonardo sidled to one side and ran his fingers across his neck. He looked at his hand in the moonlight. There was no blood.

“I brought the books,” Yusuf said. “They’re over there.” He nodded to the sack of books lying in the darkness.

“I have the dinars,” Leonardo said.

Yusuf laughed. “Keep them. You’ll need them.”

“For what?”

“Your journey.”


Yusuf laid the sack at Leonardo’s feet. “If you do not take these now and leave, I really will be forced to kill you,” Yusuf said. “Take them and never return to Béjaïa.”

“But—” Leonardo stammered.

“Go now before I sound the alarm. A skiff is waiting at the dock to take you to your father’s ship.”

“My father’s—?”

“You must go!” Yusuf said, pointing his blade at Leonardo.

Leonardo grabbed the sack of books and opened it.

“It’s all there,” Yusuf said. “All the numbers of Hind a man could ever want.”

Leonardo saw the swooping script of Arabic blazoned across the front of a book in the moonlight and cinched the bag shut again.

“Thank you,” Leonardo said.


Leonardo slung the bag over his shoulder, turned and ran down the alley toward the glinting sea. Yusuf watched Leonardo run.

“Run,” Yusuf said. “Run, you beautiful fool!”

The boy’s figure darted around a corner and disappeared. Yusuf walked across the alleyway to a small terrace overlooking the sea. He could see the skiff and merchant galley waiting below. A figure of a boy ran across the pale, moonlit stones of the port, running toward the waterfront. Leonardo jumped into the waiting skiff and it began to pull away from the dock.

Yusuf nodded sharply. He took his blade, inhaled deeply and made a small, quick cut from below his knee to above his ankle. The wound stung sharply and blood began to flow. Yusuf winced.

“Guards!” Yusuf shouted, gripping his leg and wiping some of the blood on his chest. “Guards! Come quick. The infidel! Oh, he escapes! Help! Help me!”


The setting sun graced the sea. Leonardo gripped the ship’s railing and gazed out to sea.

“The wine-dark sea,” Leonardo said and slowly, languorously repeated it, “The…wine…dark…sea.”[30]

The ship rolled across the reddish-purple waves stretching to infinity behind it. Leonardo closed his eyes for a moment and listened. He heard the waves lapping the ship and the wind pulling the sails taut. Leonardo opened his eyes, breathed in the salt air deeply and sighed. He sat down nearby and opened a cloth sack at his feet.

He let the first book slide out of the sack into his palm. He flipped it open to a random page and the letters and numbers danced for a moment before his eyes came into focus. In a small grid on the upper right were the numbers of Hind. He began to read, but he found he couldn’t. The words and letters, though written in Arabic script, held no meaning. He tried sounding out the words one by one, but it was gibberish.

“It’s not Arabic!” Leonardo cursed.

He read a phrase more, sounding out the words. It was vaguely familiar. He knew this language; he had heard it somewhere. He closed his eyes and imagined himself strolling through the souk in Béjaïa’s medina. Snatches of Arabic and Pisan reached his ear. Men, goods and camels weaved around him in the crowded streets. He emerged on the central square and walked out into the sun of the main marketplace, and there he heard a third tongue. The soft, sibilant language of the mountain tribes written in Arabic script, but wholly different.[31] He slammed the book shut and poured the rest of the books out on the deck. He grabbed one book and then another, looking at the cover and casting them aside in turn. Each time he found the tongue of the mountain tribes on the cover, a language he did not know.

“That trickster!” Leonardo said. “I should never have trusted him!”

Leonardo spread the books out on the deck one by one to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. Immediately, one book caught his eye. It had an eight-by-eight square on its cover, a shatranj board. Two stylized king pieces flanked the board. Emblazoned across the cover was the book’s title in Arabic: The Storied Vizier: A Compendium of Shatranj Problems.[32]

Leonardo snatched the book and flipped it open to the title page. Scrawled under the title was a note written in an assured hand in flowing Arabic script.

“I send you this in the hope that you do not feel entirely shortchanged. A student of this tome would surely best Ardashir[33] himself. As for the books, the language of man which accompanies them may be obscure, but you will find the numbers of Hind glowing warm within like the brightest stars shining through the clouds of night.”

And just below, in the same hand, was an inscription in Greek: “Αριθμός κυβερνά το Σύμπαν.”[34]

He shut the book and gazed up as the darkening sea turned to gray velvet. In his mind’s eye he saw the eagle eyes of the Arab glaring at him on that moonlit night in the medina. And he wished Yusuf was back again by his side, if only for a moment. Only so he could talk to him one more time.

“Leonardo!” a voice shouted. “Leonardo!”

The boy fell out of his waking dream.

“Yes, Father!” Leonardo slapped the book shut. “Coming!”

Leonardo gathered up the books and put the sack back carefully in its hiding place.

“Leonardo!” the voice cried. “Where have you been? I’ve been calling you for—”

“Yes, yes, Father, I’m coming!”


“I confess, Master, there is still much I don’t understand,” Nasir said. “You had the boy in your grasp and just let him go?”

“It’s not so simple as that,” Yusuf said. “The boy had become infected by the numbers, totally obsessed. I’m not the only one who will attest to that, just ask his teacher, Tarif.”

Yusuf stepped forward and looked out at the sun setting over the harbor. The Pisan consul’s ship was gone, but three more Pisan ships had docked in the harbor that morning. Barques were finishing off-loading the last of the goods from the ships.

“You see,” Yusuf continued. “The boy made clear the stakes of the game: he would take the numbers with him at any price. My calculation became simple, either I had to kill the boy then and there, or he would take them.”

“And you decided to let him go?”

“I confronted him, Nasir. I had him in my grasp, my sword to his throat, and then I saw him. I saw him, Nasir, as if for the first time, there in the moonlight. It was as if I were looking into a deep pool and I saw myself, my younger self. And I couldn’t do it.” Yusuf turned to Nasir. “After all, what kind of man kills himself?”

Nasir looked away, out to the darkening, purplish sea in the distance. Small waves lapped the edge of the harbor, but the sound did not reach them from this distance.

“Still,” Nasir said, “the numbers of Hind are gone.”

“Yes, from these shores,” Yusuf said. “But they wanted to go. Like all beings, they yearned for freedom. They did not begin with the Faithful and they will not end with us.

They came already this far from the furthest reaches of Hind. And now they wander north to the benighted infidels. Who knows how far they will travel yet?”

Yusuf contemplated the scene of the port below, the fishermen tending their nets, the Pisan barques bringing in their goods, and he felt something stir inside him.

“If they wanted to be free, no mere mortal could stop them,” Yusuf continued. “After all, it was Allah’s will for them to be stolen, for the numbers of Hind to rescue all men from darkness and error. Allah is a jealous, vigilant master. He has no desire for men to remain ignorant; on the contrary, he wishes them to learn more about this world—the world he created—to greater reflect and magnify His glory.”

“Be that as it may, Yusuf. The infidels have them now and they will benefit. And we will pay the price.”

“If it is as Allah ordained, are we to question it?” Yusuf glared at his companion. “All will be well, Nasir. The hand of Allah is writing the next chapter, of which we can only ever catch glimpses in this life. No transaction comes to its conclusion, no equation can be balanced without Him guiding the hand that writes it.”

“You’re an odd one, Yusuf. Just when I think I have understood you, you wriggle out of my grasp.”

“Do I? Perhaps I have more in common with the numbers than you suspect.” Yusuf turned and started to walk away, indicating the conversation was over.

“But they will say you are the one who gave the numbers of Hind to the infidel. Down the ages of time, that will be your legacy,” Nasir called after him. “What will you say? How will you live with yourself?”

“I am at peace. How could I not be?” Yusuf spun around and paused. “I let genius live.”

With that, Yusuf headed into the darkening labyrinth of the medina of Béjaïa.


“The Devil. It is the handcraft of Satan, if I must say it a thousand times!”

“That is certain!”

“And coming from you, I can hardly doubt it! I can see you sitting around the fire with the Devil himself concocting the numbers!”


“Stop this now!” Chief Elder Niccolo said. “This bickering is beyond the pale for faithful Christians! The tone of this council must remain dignified. Even discussing this subject can lead the vulnerable among us astray. I will not have us hurling these accusations at one another. After all, the issue here is the numbers themselves.”

“You are right, Niccolo,” Elder Antonio said. “But we must examine carefully the origin of these numbers. These symbols have great power. A power to elevate, but also to corrupt and destroy.”

“They come from the Mohammedans,” another elder said. “That is enough to convince me that they must be banned.”

“Perhaps it is some trick they play on us? Another one of their plots to bring down Christendom?”

“Nonsense,” Elder Paolo said. “You give them too much credit. I have seen these same numbers in use in Constantinople as a diplomat of our esteemed city. While there, I witnessed a goodly number of God-fearing Christians using them.”

“Fah! Are the Greeks to be the measure of virtue and rectitude among us?”

There was mumbled agreement from the rest of the Pisan Council of Elders.

“Even if, even if…” Elder Paolo continued speaking over the remonstrance and catcalls of his colleagues, “we allow this is a trick, this is something we must not ban outright.”

“The Iron Method has served us for centuries. We and our forefathers have long benefited from its use,” Elder Antonio said. “They lived out their lives and the city has prospered. Why change things now?”

“Yes,” Chief Elder Niccolo said. “Why change now, Consul Bonacci?”

“Why now, Elders?” Guglielmo replied, looking from one elder to the next as he stood in the front row of the stone chamber. “For the reasons we have discussed: the new numbers are not as cumbersome and crude as the old method, illustrious as it is. Every transaction of our merchants will proceed more smoothly with the new numbers. And if we do not adopt them, the Mohammedans will continue to use them to greater and greater effect.”

“But is it true…” Elder Antonio began, his voice rising above the others, “is it true that the origin of these numbers is murky? That the Mohammedans got them secondhand from we know not whence?”

“It is true that we do not know exactly where they came from,” Guglielmo said. “But the Mohammedans themselves have a legend, a tale concerning their origin.”

Leonardo, sitting in the first row of benches behind his father, leaned forward.

“And what is that, Consul?”

“That the numbers came from over the mountains and sea, from furthest Hind.”

“And the men there, in Hind, how do they live? Are they good Christians all?” Elder Antonio asked.

The council members tittered.

“They are called Hindus, Elder,” Guglielmo replied. “Their religion is obscure to me.”

“I have heard they worship snakes and elephants,” an elder said.

“Or rather Satan in the guise of snakes and elephants!” Elder Antonio said.

There was more mumbling agreement from the council.

“Signor Bonacci,” Chief Elder Niccolo said, “is this true? Do these numbers before us come from the land of Hind, from the pagan men who live there? Is that your best estimation as a traveler, a diplomat and a representative of the government of the republic?”

Guglielmo gazed at the chief elder. “Yes, Your Grace, I have no doubt these numbers came to the Mohammedans by way of the Hindus.”

“And who is it that discovered these numbers?” Elder Paolo asked. “Among the Hindus, that is?”

“The matter is obscure, Elder.”

“But who do you suppose did?” Elder Antonio asked. “Was it their farmers or laborers?”

“No, I doubt that, my lord.”

“Or their merchants perhaps?”

“That seems unlikely, but—”

“Is it not more likely,” Elder Antonio interrupted, “that they were crafted by their most esteemed men. Their priests?”

“That, I allow, is their most likely origin,” Guglielmo said.

“And do you think”—Elder Antonio narrowed his eyes—“that they arrived at these numbers under their own power or perhaps under some dark, ethereal influence? While engaged in some dark arts associated with their various idols?”

“That would be beyond my knowing or that of any mortal man save those who crafted them,” Guglielmo answered.

“Thank you, Consul,” the elder said.

“My lord,” Guglielmo said, bowing.

“I have heard enough,” Chief Elder Niccolo said. “And I thank Signor Bonacci for bringing this issue to our attention. Is the council prepared to vote?”

“Aye,” the members of the council responded.

Leonardo looked at his father, but his father did not return his gaze. Chief Elder Antonio nodded at a servant sitting below the dais on which the elders sat. The servant stood, placed his thumb on a scroll on his desk and began to read:

“Who are those in favor of declaring the numbers of Hind heresy? And of thereby ensuring they are not used by the city of Pisa, its merchants or emissaries on pain of punishment, corporeal and spiritual, for transgressing the laws of the Holy Church and its Shepherd, the Holy Father Innocentius III. Say Aye.”

“Aye,” the council members said in unison.

“No!” Leonardo cried out from his seat. “You mustn’t!”

The Council of Elders gasped.

“Silent, my child!” Guglielmo said, turning to his son.

Leonardo stood, “Father, you can’t let them!”

“As I am your father,” Guglielmo said, “you will be seated and remain silent.”

Leonardo glared at his father. He sat down, but made a show of sitting down.

Guglielmo turned to the council. “Please forgive my son, Elders. He has a lively and passionate nature and is not yet privy to the affairs of men.”

“Very well, Signor Bonacci,” Chief Elder Niccolo said. “But make sure he remains silent for the remainder, or he will be banned from this chamber.”

“Yes, Elder,” Guglielmo said with a bow.

“Continue,” Chief Elder Niccolo said with a perfunctory wave to the servant.

“And those opposed to declaring the numbers of Hind heretical?” the servant asked.

Most of the elders stayed silent, some chatted, and others read the next orders of business on scrolls placed before them.

“So it is done,” Chief Elder Niccolo said. “The numbers of Hind are herewith declared heretical and banned by the illustrious Republic of Pisa. And now, a reconsideration of the license fees for wool carders, as we said upon the twelfth of April past…”

Guglielmo bowed and took his seat in the first row of the crowd of men called before the council. In the back row, Leonardo listened as the elders droned on about wool carders, import taxes, and shipping fees. But not one of the words touched him; they only flowed over and around him. In his mind’s eye, he saw pieces arranged on a shatranj board, bees emerging from the tightly packed hexagons of a hive, baby rabbits nuzzled at their mother’s breast, the intersecting lines along the blue tiles adorning Béjaïa’s mosque, the angle the qanat made with the earth at the city gate, the cone of a cresting wave just as it broke. And driving through them all—and controlling and ruling them—he saw the numbers of Hind. And he felt, and knew, that he was right. That the Council of Elders was wrong and that he, though a boy, was right.

“Leonardo! Leonardo!” It was his father speaking. “They are gone! It’s time to go!”

The boy blinked and looked up. He looked around. They were the only ones left in the room.

“I must have been dreaming,” Leonardo said.

Guglielmo smiled at his son. “I know. It’s time to go.”

Father and son walked out of the room and down the courtyards of the somber palazzo, emerging on to the vast, silent Piazza dei Miracoli. It was still morning and shreds of fog passed above and around them, obscuring the border between the towers, churches and firmament. Out of the mist, a dark figure emerged. Slowly, it strolled up to them.

The man doffed his cap with a slight bow and said, “Giovanni Colombo, at your service.”[35]

“I’m not sure I know you, my friend,” Guglielmo replied.

“I am a merchant from the city of Genoa.”

“I trust this is the first time we have met?” Guglielmo asked.

“Yes, you are right. Our paths have not yet crossed,” Giovanni said. “I hear you and your son have some knowledge of the numbers of the Arabs.”[36]

“We are not to speak of them,” Guglielmo said. “They have been declared heretical by the council.”

“By the council of Pisa, but not of Genoa,” Giovanni said.

“What is it that you want, my friend?” Guglielmo said.

Giovanni continued to walk along idly and Guglielmo and his son followed. As they walked along, hooded figures emerged and disappeared in the thick fog.

“I have heard that your son has in his possession some notebooks containing Arabic numbers,” Giovanni said. “With explanations of their proper usage. If those notebooks were to emerge on the black market, say, in Genoa, they could—”

Guglielmo stopped and placed his hand on Giovanni’s chest. “Those numbers, I repeat, have been declared heretical,” Guglielmo said. “And the notebooks you have mentioned have been destroyed. I beg you, speak no more of them.”

“Very well,” Giovanni said, tilting his head. “We shall speak no more of them.”

Guglielmo let his hand fall to his side and the three continued to walk through the gloomy piazza.

“Only listen, Guglielmo,” Giovanni continued as he pretended to look off into the distance. “I would like to invite you—and your son—to my palazzo. It is not far from here on the road heading north to Massa. Myself and a few select friends, learned men among the Genoans, meet there to discuss natural science and philosophy every month upon the night of the full moon. We would be honored to have you and your son indulge us with your presence.”

The three walked in silence through the gloom.

“There will be no discussion of numbers,” Guglielmo said.

“None whatsoever,” Giovanni said. “You have my word of honor. What do you say?” Giovanni glanced at Leonardo and his father.

“Very well,” Guglielmo answered. “My son and I will attend.”

“Excellent,” Giovanni replied. “The next moon falls on the 23rd of September. Ask for me at the Palazzo di Genovese near La Spezia. Arrive just as the sun sets.”

“We shall,” Guglielmo said.

“Delightful,” Giovanni replied. “We are honored.”

“Likewise,” Guglielmo replied.

With a small bow, Giovanni disappeared back into the fog from which he had emerged. Father and son walked along silently as the fog turned to shreds below the drab yellow orb of the sun.

Guglielmo grabbed his son’s arm, pulled him closer and whispered, “Do you still have the books? The ones the Arab gave you?”

“Yes, Father. I wouldn’t dream of parting with them.”

“You always were a smart lad, my son,” Guglielmo said. “What I said before the elders, I—”

“Father, I understand,” Leonardo said. “They could hardly have decided otherwise. It was…their fate.”

“Their fate?” Guglielmo said. “What do you mean?”

“The numbers of Hind are not the property of one man or one city, Father. They belong to God and, hence, to all men. It little concerns Him what the elders of Pisa decide to do. He has proposed the numbers, he will dispose them. As He sees fit, not as we do. The numbers issued from the Mind of God, and like him, are eternal. If the men of Pisa reject them, there are a thousand other cities ready to pick them up.”

Guglielmo looked at his son and he was about to speak, but his son went first.

“Look up, Father,” Leonardo said. “Do you see the stars? The stars of night? No? For all that, they are still there, I assure you. It is only the sun that blinds us to them temporarily. Come the night, cool and clear, and they will reappear. So it is with the numbers of Hind. Men’s ignorance and failure to recognize them makes them no less sure and true. Who would deny the stars?”

Guglielmo gazed at his son and felt as if he were seeing him for the first time. “You always were a smart boy, you always were.”

Without a word more, the two walked on silently through the gray stone and fog. They walked until they became dark figures on the Campo—two shadows drifting through the mists of the Pisan morning. Then, they disappeared into the gray silences surrounding them.

# # #


[1] A long, loose-fitting outer robe popular in North Africa.

[2] Only the last book is known. It is a pharmacology by the Persian polymath, physician and alchemist Muhammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (854 CE–925 CE). The two other books are only known from this manuscript.

[3] The “gazelle-eyed” companions of paradise referenced in the Quran.

[4] A possible reference to The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, (c. 780–c. 850 CE), a Persian mathematician and astronomer active in Baghdad. The book established algebra as an independent discipline.

[5] Likely a reference to Nero d’Avola, “the black wine of Avola,” an indigenous grape of Sicily that yields oaky, heavy and ponderous wines. References to the grape date back to the fifteenth century, so this may be the first reference to this particular grape in history. Avola is in southeastern Sicily.

[6] The greater Muslim community.

[7] The Almohads conquered northwestern Africa around 1160 and were the local power at the time. They were a pious reform movement focused on strict application of sharia law in contrast to the relatively more lax Almoravid dynasty that preceded them.

[8] “Frank” was a vernacular, catch-all term for Christians in the Mediterranean at the time.

[9] A medieval measurement of weight in the Muslim world. Its exact value ranged greatly based on locale, ranging from 3 to 300 grams.

[10] An honorific usually translated as “Master.”

[11] Quran 10:61.

[12] A pillar with a Latin inscription detailing the life and works of Nonius Datus still stands in Béjaïa’s main square.

[13] The Arabic word for aqueduct. The qanat, like many others, was a restoration of a Roman aqueduct.

[14] Cordoba, Spain.

[15] The Iron Method refers to Roman numerals. Roman numerals are far more cumbersome to add, subtract, multiply and divide than Arabic numbers.

[16] The Arabic term for “Rome.”

[17] The Thar is a large desert in northwestern India.

[18] Literally, a “caravan palace.” Caravanserais were the equivalent of modern motels. Merchants could spend the night on the second floor, while their goods and camels would be lodged below.

[19] An early form of chess.

[20] From the Persian phrase “Your King is helpless.” The phrase is the origin of the English “checkmate.”

[21] From the Persian for “chariot.” This piece evolved into the rook in chess.

[22] The Persian word for “elephant.” This piece evolved into chess’s bishop.

[23] The rukh was the most powerful piece in shatranj and evolved into the rook in chess. The rukh was roughly equivalent to the queen in modern chess. The queen in shatranj was a relatively weak piece.

[24] From Persian for “foot soldier,” this piece evolved into the pawn in chess. In both games, it is the weakest and most numerous piece.

[25] An Arab bathhouse.

[26] From Epictetus’ Enchiridion, Chapter 53. The quote references Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus.

[27] The Arabic term for philosophers.

[28]The Brotherhood of Purity, or Ikhwān aṣ-Ṣafā, were a secret society of Muslim philosophers based in Basra from the eighth to the tenth century CE. The first and original historical reference to Yusuf was in a footnote in the Brotherhood’s Encyclopedia, a collection of epistles that helped to popularize Neo-Platonic thought.

[29] A Berber dance from southern Morocco.

[30] Homer, Odyssey, Book I:178.

[31] Perhaps Berber, which was written in Arabic script at the time.

[32] A common literary genre of the time. No record of this volume is known to exist.

[33] An ancient Persian king, considered the ultimate master of shatranj.

[34] “Number rules the universe.” – Pythagoras.

[35] This name indicates the document may, somehow, be a forgery or a later addition to an earlier text. Giovanni Colombo was the grandfather of Cristoforo Colombo, the discoverer of the New World. Although Giovanni was from near Genoa, the dates of his life (died 1442 CE) make it impossible for him to be a contemporary of Leonardo Fibonacci. Further, the scant documentation on his life indicates he was a prosperous peasant, not a merchant.

[36] The Genoan confuses the ultimate origin of the numbers. Throughout the Middle Ages the numbers would be called “Arabic,” a term (or misnomer) the West still uses today.