And So, It Begins, Part 2
If you have not read Tale Number Seventy-Eight, you will need to read that before reading this story. Please see the author’s note at the end.
“I am sorry I have not better provided for you.”
“Father, don’t say that,” answered Scheherazade. “It was not your decision to send the young men off to battle.”
No, the old vizier thought, it had not. In fact, he had cautiously advised the sultan against sending all the young men of the sultanate out to fight at one time. He understood, however, that the sultan’s motives were not so simple nor so pure as fighting for the honor and might of the sultanate. With all the young men of the higher castes off serving their sultan, it was significantly more difficult for the families of eligible young women to arrange a marriage. If the young women did not marry, their names remained in the sultan’s bride lottery. Some families were resorting to betrothing their young daughters to elderly widowers or even marrying below their caste.
“I should have arranged marriages for you years ago,” Hatim insisted. “There were a few offers but I couldn’t bear to promise you away so young.” He dropped his face into his hands. “I have been a fool.”
At this Scheherazade gave a soft cry and hurried to his side. She threw her arms around her father’s shoulders and dropped a kiss on his grizzled head.
“You mustn’t worry so, Father,” she said. “Please, calm yourself and trust that all will be well.” She put her hand out in supplication to her sister. “Isn’t that so, Dunyazade?”
“Yes, of course, Father. All will be well,” poor Dunyazade replied, obediently. Her eyes, however, showed how frightened she was.
After a moment, Scheherazade moved to a low seat across from Hatim. Gently, she pulled his hands from his face and forced him to meet her steady gaze.
“Do you trust me, Father?”
“Of course, my child,” he answered, mechanically. He patted her hand absently but dropped his gaze to the floor.
“No, Father.” She gripped his hands in her own. “I am in earnest. Do you trust me?”
Hatim looked at his daughter’s serious expression. He was silent for several moments before he answered.
“I trust you, Scheherazade.”
She sat up straight and flashed a brilliant smile.
“Very well, then. Do not worry any longer, Father. I believe I may have the solution to our troubles.” She rose and smiled down at her younger sister. “Come, Dunyazade. It is time we saw to our father’s meal. Fetch sage water so he may wash.”
All that evening and the next, it was clear that Scheherazade’s nimble mind was hard at work. She told stories and sang as she always did, but Hatim could see that her thoughts were racing on ahead. He longed to question her but held his tongue. He had given his trust and she would speak when she was ready.
On the second morning, Scheherazade was quiet as she and her sister served Hatim his morning meal. After he had eaten and the girls had sent the handmaids away with the vessels, she gestured to Dunyazade. The younger girl looked very solemn for a moment, as if she wished to argue, but then, wordlessly, slipped out of the room, leaving her sister and father alone.
“Father,” Scheherazade said, “I have figured out what must be done.”
“Have you, my child?” asked Hatim. His voice trembled with fear as much as age. “What is it that I must do?”
Scheherazade smiled and bent to kiss her father’s forehead.
“You must go to the palace and offer the sultan a bride. A volunteer.”
“And who will this foolhardy girl be?” he asked, though he could already see the answer in his daughter’s eyes.
“You must offer your third daughter to the sultan,” she answered. “I shall volunteer.”
“No, no, no,” Hatim moaned. “I cannot do that, child. You see I cannot.”
“You said you trusted me,” she answered. The sweet smile was gone and there was a hard glint in her eyes. “I told you I had figured what must be done. You must let me do it.”
“But, my child. My dearest daughter, you will die.” Hatim’s voice quavered and cracked.
“That is not at all what I have planned,” Scheherazaded answered. Her smile returned. “Did you not hear me? I have figured out what must be done and I believe it will do very well.” She took his hands with a squeeze. “Will you do as I ask?”
Not trusting himself to speak, Hatim, the sultan’s vizier, responded with a jerky nod of his head.
Author’s Note: I suppose I’ve left you with a minor cliff-hanger. Sorrynotsorry. 😛 I think I’ve pretty well settled on three parts for this story and that last part will be posted next Tuesday. I’d be very interested to hear what you all think of a serialized story as opposed to the small, stand-alone stories I generally post. Just leave a comment! 🙂