Just when Master Osman and Black have finished poring over the illustrations for the book, one of the Commander’s men brandishes a new piece of paper. Black is in the middle of doing an eye exercise that is supposed to help prevent blindness when he notices that the new piece of paper is a letter from Shekure accompanied by a painting. Osman takes the painting and hands the letter to Black. Shekure tells Black that Esther visited Kabilye, who gave her the enclosed painting, which was found on Elegant’s dead body. Kalbiye insists that Elegant did not draw the horses on the piece of paper and that they must have been done by someone else. Master Osman comments that whoever drew the horses is the same miniaturist who drew the horse for the book; yet they are not sure who that is. Black wonders aloud why the horses are so entrancing. The horses themselves are beautiful, but it is the realist style in which the scene has been depicted that has such a magically appealing effect.
This passage further emphasizes the idea that there is something both magical and dangerous about the European-influenced realist style of painting. After all, a horse painted in the Islamic style would not be able to serve as a clue to the murderer’s identity, as it would likely resemble countless other horses rendered according to the same strict formula. The horses on the piece of paper, however, are “real” in a double sense; they are drawn from real life in a lifelike manner, and they serve an important role in the real event of Elegant’s murder. As a potential clue, the horses come to life through their ability to impact reality.
Master Osman states that “no miniaturist in his right mind would depict a horse using a real horse as a model.” He believes that artists always draw from their own memories, rather than from what they can see. Osman decisively announces that none of the miniaturists could have done the illustration of the horses, and that they should forget the horses. Yet he and Black notice something unusual about the depiction of the horses’ nostrils. They continue to search through the other books illustrated by the miniaturists, but cannot find a clue that links any of these illustrations to the picture of the horses. Black suddenly notices the presence of the Sultan, who, along with the Head Treasurer has been listening to Master Osman’s words. The Sultan tells Black that he loved and misses Enishte, but Black is so stunned that he misses some of the Sultan’s words. The Sultan tells Black that he must discover the identity of the murderer, and that, if he doesn’t, all the master miniaturists will be tortured. The Sultan mentions that his favorite story by the Poet Nizami is the one in which doctors compete to the death. As Black hurries home that night, he recalls the story of the doctors with horror.
Once again, the stakes are raised in this passage as the Sultan reminds Black and Osman that they have a very limited time period in which to discover the identity of the murderer. Black’s shock at being in the presence of the Sultan further increases the sense of drama in this scene. Although the Sultan is threatening to (unjustly) torture Black if he doesn’t find the murderer in an incredibly short period of time, Black still exhibits a sense of absolute loyalty to and reverence for the Sultan, such that he can barely even stand to be in his presence. The Sultan’s mention of the story of the doctors who compete to the death is sinister, suggesting he actually enjoys the power of life and death he holds over the miniaturists. Yet the Sultan’s power is so absolute that Black does not even think to question its possible abuse.