New Story Out: The Number Thief

Well, here’s some good news for this strange, grim summer. A new story of mine, The Number Thief is out now at The Magazine of History and Fiction.

It’s been a long time coming. Honestly, I was worried this story would never get traditionally published. There isn’t much of a market for historical fiction novellas! But it’s a little gem of a story, something I’m quite proud of.

It’s important for two reasons. First, it marks the long-delayed return of the protagonist of my previous story The Ghul of Yazd, Yusuf ibn Yaqzan. I always believed in this character somehow. This idea of a pupil of the historical ibn Rushd (the philosopher Averroes) breaking out and becoming this sort of combination of action hero/sleuth/scholar/philosopher hero. He’s entirely an invention, but based on a mix of historical figures (al-Razi and others). He’s somehow bewitched me and I can’t seem to let him down.

Second, it was important to me because it’s a mythological retelling of how the Arabic (really Hindi) numbers came to Europe. We know the Italian mathematician Fibonacci played at least some role in this through his book, Liber Abaci. We also know Fibonacci grew up in the Muslim port of Béjaïa (in modern day Algeria) and was the son of a man named Guglielmo, a Pisan merchant and customs house official there. It was in Béjaïa that Fibonacci first encountered the Hindi numbers. These are fairly well-established historical facts and they became the basis of my story.

The Arabic numerals are vital to many later developments: they made addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division much easier than using the clumsy Roman numerals in use at the time. Their adoption acted as a sort of accelerant for accounting, taxation (yeah!), trade, and later developments in mathematics, astronomy and physics. As such, I would argue that they had a big influence on the development of the state, science and the Renaissance. But that’s another story entirely.

Finally, to pique your interest, here’s the beginning of the story:

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.

You can find the whole story here. Enjoy and please comment below if you end up reading it. Thanks!

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