“For a moment after the insult was hurled, the African went on eating, without looking up from the shatranj board, indeed without seeming to have heard the remark at all. Then, before anyone quite understood that calumny so fine went beyond the powers even of the myna, and that the bird was innocent, this once of slander, the African reached his left hand into his right buskin and, in a continuous gesture as fluid and unbroken as that by which a falconer looses his fatal darling into the sky, produced a shard of bright Arab steel, its crude hilt swaddled in strips of hide, and sent it hunting across the benches.”
And that is our introduction to the gentlemen – the thrower, Amram and his victim, Zelikman who loses his hat in the incident are two Silk Road con-men and adventurers who find themselves “hustling a kingdom” when they agree to provide safe passage for the heir of the deposed king of the Khazars. This is a fantastic adventure story. There is never a dull moment and Chabon obviously did his research for this one.