Tale Number Seventy-Eight – And So, It Begins

And So, It Begins

Please see the author’s note at the end.

 

Hatim, the sutlan’s vizier, was growing old.  The wife of his youth had died very young, leaving no children to carry on her presence in his life.  It was some time before Hatim remarried.  Despite his age, this second marriage had been blessed with four children, all girls, before a summer wasting illness had taken a second wife from him.  Hatim was grateful for his daughters who lovingly cared for him, filling his home with their laughter and music.  In time, Nura and Akilah, the two eldest, married well and left his home to have homes and families of their own.  He knew it would not be much longer before the younger two, Scheherazade and Dunyazade, would likewise marry.  Then, he would be alone.

It was that dark thought that weighed on him most heavily on this particular evening.  The evening meal was over and his daughters had withdrawn to their own chamber for the night.  The rooms were so quiet, he could hear the sound of Dunyazade’s lyre accompanying Scheherazade’s sweet singing.  Hatim knew that a father should not have favorites among his children and, truly, he loved all his daughters well.  But, in his heart, there was a special affection for his third daughter.  All four of the girls were beautiful and accomplished in womanly arts but it was Scheherazade who had shown an interest and an aptitude for scholarship.

As a little girl, Scheherazade would beg her father to allow her to spend the day with him in his study at the palace.  There, she learned to read and spent many hours poring over the scrolls that recounted the history of sultanate, the stories of princes and sultans long past.  This led her to seek other tales and Hatim, doting father that he was, indulged her.  Before long, she had a collection of scrolls rarely seen outside a sultan’s palace.  She studied them all and often amused the whole household with stories she created from what she read.  Hatim smiled to himself as he listened to her sweet voice and thought of her wild tales.

It pained him to think of what would surely be coming.  As vizier, he was all too aware of the idiosyncrasies of his sultan.  Since the infidelity of the sultan’s first wife, he had sworn never to be any woman’s fool again.  To ensure this, the sultan took a virgin wife each new day, executing the previous day’s woman.  More than a thousand women had been taken and finished in this way.  It was horrible, but there was nothing anyone could do.  The sultan’s word was law and no one crossed the sultan’s wishes and lived to tell of it.  Yes, it was horrible and, worse, it became ever more difficult to find each day’s new wife.  They had been forced to use a sort of lottery, keeping the names of all young women of eligible age, subtracting them when they married elsewhere, adding them as they became old enough.  By order of the sultan, any young woman selected from this pool was brought to the palace to become his wife.  Now, however, the number of available young virgins in the sultanate had so declined, the list of available brides was piteously brief.  Soon, the sultan would have to, by treaty or brute force, acquire his wives from neighboring sultanates.

The hardest part for the vizier was that both his girls, Scheherazade and Dunyazade remained on the ever-dwindling list.  It was only a matter of days before the guard would come to claim one of them for the sultan.

Scheherazade’s song had ended and the house had fallen quiet.  Hatim slowly got to his feet, his old bones reminding him of his advancing years.  It could happen tomorrow, but tonight, tonight his daughters slept safely under his roof and it was time for him to do the same.

 

Author’s Note:  Okay, so this one is a little different from what you usually see around here.  This is a much longer story that you will get in smaller increments. Yep, I’m serializing this one.  🙂  I haven’t decided yet if you will have one or two more parts, but I doubt it will be much more than that.

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