«Even as your shelter for the night is uncertain and your destination still far away, do not despair. Know that there exist endless roads».
Hafez the Poet
The meeting-place of all merchants near, far and farther still: Ananda, named Orpiment by the poets for the honey-gold earth that built its walls.
The founder of the city, a queen with eyes of gold who went by many names and many titles, cleverly ordered its building along the side of the great mountain that cut through the Parched Plains of Kindi. The young city of Ananda soon gained exclusive control over the rocky watersprings in the heart of the mountain: this bounty of water and vegetation soon made it the main crossroads of the region.
To the rebel cities that threatened the Orpiment’s sovereignty, its leaders replied with the most efficient of weapons: thirst. Commerce became Ananda’s greatest asset, and peace took on the shape of its copper coins.
The lust for power that had moved its first rulers soon became the voluptuous insouciance of triumph. In the sweet bustle of its ornate streets, in the exuberance of its intricate plasterwork, in the dazzling smiles of its inhabitants, there seems to be nothing left of the city’s warlike past.
A strange ambivalence reigns over Ananda. Wealth is shown off in secret, modesty is no obstacle to ambition, and ruthless greed goes hand in hand with generous hospitality. Though the city was born of oppressive tyrannty, it has welcomed saints and scholars, proclaiming itself to be a shining example of independence.
The city lives by its own rhythm, that of shops and great markets. The sun’s rays determine the rest: when they disappear behind the towers and only glint though decorated shutters, then the streets transform completely. Merchants trade in their scales for cups of scalding coffee and official business becomes intimate conversation.
It would be extremely inappropriate to refuse an invitation put forth over coffee. An argument that turned sour during the day can be miraculously solved between a bitter sip and the next. This is the time for meeting secret friends, lifelong partners and demanding dealers.
Ananda holds treasures for anyone interested in precious wares and rare pigments. Orpiment no longer refers to just the divine yellow of its architecture, but to the many powders that lie in wait in the city’s bazaars, each pouch worth a fortune: silver shards, azurite, carmine and flecks of gold compete for attention with saffron, peppercorn and cinnamon sticks as wide as rolls of parchment.
What other wonders remain hidden in the back of the merchants’ stalls? There is nothing to help the traveler tell a humble tanner apart from the wealthiest trader in the city. The front of a building will never reveal that its unassuming walls conceal heavenly gardens and complex networks of fountains. “The most discreet are often the best”: in Ananda, this saying has become a way of life.
«Wine, whose logic can confound
Seventy-two squabbling sects,
the Alchemist who in an instant turns
the gold of your life into blackest lead!»
Kayyham the Philosopher