And So, It Begins – Part 3
If you haven’t already read parts 1 and 2, you really will need to read those first. Links are to your right. Please see the author’s note at the end.
The volunteer bride was granted two days to prepare for her nuptials, a grace not accorded to lottery-drawn brides. In fact, the sultan opted for forego any lottery drawings for that two-day space and ordered a lavish wedding celebration be prepared. The novelty of a willing bride delighted him and the sultan amused himself over the ensuing forty-eight hours by sending lavish gifts to his bride-to-be and her family. Delicate filigree baskets of sugared dates, casks of wine, and trays of breads still warm from the ovens arrived at the vizier’s door throughout that first morning. By evening, Scheherazade had received several silk cushions, hand-beaded slippers, and a beautifully carved ivory hair pin. The next morning showed no signs of a reduction in the sultan’s good humor. Before the family had breakfasted, another great tray of bread and a pet nightingale in an elaborate gilded cage arrived. All through the second day, Scheherazade was showered with jewelry, rich shawls, and a bejeweled amphora of oil scented with jasmine and sandalwood.
Hatim tried to rouse himself to make the most of his remaining two days with his beloved daughter. Often, he called her to his side but when faced with her calm, smiling courage, he found himself unable to utter a word and his eyes would fill with tears. Each time, Scheherazade patiently patted his shoulder, bent to kiss his forehead, and left him, saying, “It will be well, Father. Remember, you said you would trust me.” She refused to say anything of her plan or to explain how she expected to survive this, surely, ill-fated marriage.
On the third morning, the sultan’s volunteer bride was accompanied by an extensive entourage from her home to the palace. It was a glittering procession as it wound through the streets and the sultan’s subjects all stopped what they were doing to watch and to honor the brave young woman as she rode past in the royal litter. Her youthful beauty and her unfailing smile drew tears from the spectators. This brilliant girl would be their queen consort and, as such, they would have loved her well. The knowledge that her brave sacrifice would still end in ignominious death the next morning was almost more than the people could bear. If Scheherazade heard their weeping, she made no notice, but kept her smiling gaze fixed ahead on the gates of the palace that loomed before her.
The wedding was as lavish a celebration as any new bride could desire. Then, the afternoon and evening was filled with feasting, music, entertainment from the court dancers, and toasts made to the royal couple’s good health by grim-faced courtiers. Hatim, as the vizier, had to sit at the sultan’s side, throughout. His task could not have been more cruel if he had spent the same time on the dungeon’s rack. At least the torture of the dungeon would have ended, eventually, in his death. This was so very much worse. Toward the end of the evening, he watched, his eyes blurred with tears as Scheherazade rose from her place on the sultan’s other side and bowed deeply to her husband.
“Royal master,” she said, “With your permission, I would retire to my rooms with my handmaids.”
“Very well,” the sultan said and smiled indulgently. “Go and refresh yourself, my beauty. I shall send for you shortly.”
“I await your bidding,” answered Scheherazade. “But, master, may I make one request? May my sister accompany me tonight to our chamber? She is so young and I have long sung to her and entertained her with stories before she could sleep. This one night, may I sing her a last song and tell her a last tale before I take on my royal duties?”
The sultan’s surprise was hardly unexpected. Indeed, everyone within earshot listened with wonder at the unusual request. Scheherazade took no notice of the guests around her. Her wide, bright gaze, and innocent smile seemed only for her new husband. In the face of such flattering attention, the sultan could only return her smile.
“If this would please you, sweet one, then it shall be as you request.” He waved a hand dismissively toward the waiting handmaids. “Now, run along. You shall join me shortly.”
Hatim was so surprised, he didn’t know how he responded to the sultan’s jovial remarks about young girl’s whims. Shortly after Scheherazade disappeared, followed by Dunyazade, the guests began to disperse. Hatim made his lonely way home, his heart full of wonder and fear. At his own door, he paused and looked back at the palace, overlooking the city. Still lit with hundreds of torches to honor the sultan and his volunteer bride, it looked like a place of enchantment. Somewhere in its winding halls, in one of its many chambers, Scheherazade was going to meet her fate. But what, exactly, would that fate be?
Author’s Note: Okay. I lied. It’s going to need more than three parts. So, shoot me. However, I’d prefer that you’d let me know how you feel about serialized stories and how they compare to stand-alone tales. 😉