Tale Number Eighty-One – And So, It Begins – Part 4

And So, It Begins

First, please accept my apologies for the delay.  I had some laptop issues which kept me from posting this story on time.  All better now!  This is the final installment of this story.  It’s a bit longer than the usual post, but I hope you won’t mind that.  🙂

 

It was very late, it being far past the middle of the night, and the palace was wrapped in slumber.  The great hall was dark and silent after the raucous wedding feast.  The long halls were, likewise, dim, quiet, and empty.  There was, however, one small lamp and a small brazier still burning on the topmost floor.

The sultan’s chambers were sumptuous, as befitted the man who lived in them.  The walls were draped with heavy tapestries, the windows festooned with gauzy silks, and there were deep piles of plush cushions for sitting and sleeping.  On this evening, the flickering light of glowing coals and tiny oil lamp shimmered over the rich fabrics, filling the room with living shadows.  It was quiet save for the soft voice of the sultan’s new bride.

“And so,” said Scheherazade, “to prove his prowess to the fisherman, the jinni made himself into a vapor and so, slid easily into the vessel.”

Dunyazade sat at her sister’s feet, eyes fixed on Scheherazade as she spun the tale.  The sultan reclined on cushions nearby.  At first, he lay smiling with an indulgent expression on his face as the girls sang a few songs together.  Then, his bride began her story and he was soon as lost in the tale as the younger girl huddled on the floor before her.

“Well, no sooner had the jinni returned to the vessel, than the fisherman clapped the lid on, sealing it tightly,” Scheherazade continued.  “The jinni raged and then, began to beg.”

When she told of the bargain the fisherman made with the jinni, her little audience reacted strongly.  Dunyazade gasped in fear at the idea of again releasing the evil spirit.  The sultan, however, took a different view.

“The fisherman is a brave man,” he exclaimed.  “It is a great risk, of course, but the potential gain is even greater.”  He was sitting up now, eager to hear what came next.

“The first thing the jinni did was destroy the vessel’s lid,” said Scheherazade with a sly smile.  “However, next, he led the fisherman to the shore of a most unusual lake, teeming with colorful fish.”

The story went on, her listeners still rapt.  The fisherman made a great fortune taking the amazing fish his sultan who then asked to see this extraordinary lake himself.  Scheherazade told of the journey to the lake and, the sultan’s incredible discovery of a powerful young prince, half turned to stone.  Then, she stopped.

“Oh, then what, Scheherazade?  What next?” begged Dunyazade, rising to her knees.

“Go on, girl!” the sultan cried.  “What of this powerful prince?”

“Dear master, my husband,” answered Scheherazade with a deferential bob of her head, “I cannot.  Look, the dawn breaks and there is not time to finish the story.  If you will allow my sister to return tonight, I will finish the tale then.”

The sultan rose and drew aside one of the silk curtains.  How could the night have passed so quickly?  He turned and examined the face of his young bride with more interest than she had previously inspired.  Clever girl, she had found a way to charm from him another day to live.  With a wry smile, he nodded.

“Very well, Scheherazade.  Tonight, your sister may return so you might complete the story.”

And so it was.  Dunyazade returned to her father in the early morning hours and told him what Scheherazade had done.  Hatim wept with relief.  So, that was his beautiful daughter’s plan.  So simple, yet so very clever.

That night, the sultan’s rooms were much as they had been the night before.  However, this time, the sultan placed himself at his bride’s side so as to catch every word, see every nuance of the storyteller’s expression.  Sure enough, he learned the fate of the ensorcelled prince.  That tale, however, gradually spun into another as mesmerizing as the first.  Again, as the story reached its climax, his bride stopped.  The dawn had come again.

The sultan was enchanted.  The days passed, each evening bringing another tale, not quite told.  Days became weeks and still, Scheherazade held her husband spellbound.  Weeks became month which turned to years.  A thousand nights and a thousand dawns came and went.  On night one thousand and one, the sultan went eagerly to his chambers.  However, upon entering, he found Scheherazade all alone, her head bowed.

“Sweet girl,” he said in surprise, “where is your sister?  Is it not time for the rest of the tale?”

Scheherazade didn’t look up.

“Yes, my husband.  It is time and I will tell you the rest of the tale.”

“What troubles you?”

She didn’t answer right away.  Several long moments passed and then, she finally lifted her face which was tracked with tears.

“It is the last, my husband, my master.  Alas, I have no more tales for you.”

The sultan was stunned.  It had not occurred to him that there would ever be a last story.  All these nights, all through the long months since their marriage, he had allowed Scheherazade to live on so that she might finish her tale.  Now, with no new tale to follow, the story seemed ended.  He frowned and turned to gaze out a window.  Scheherazade saw his frown and began to weep softly.

The small, hopeless sound of her tears gripped the sultan’s heart painfully.  He felt a sudden desire to comfort her, dry her tears, and draw from her one of the sparkling, sly smiles she so often bestowed upon him.  Then, he saw it for what it was.  He had fallen in love with the clever girl who had turned aside his murderous plans for so many days.  For so long, he had remained blind, hearing only the fascinating stories and missing the beauty of the woman who told them, all to save her life.  And so she had.  She had saved her own life and the lives of countless other women who would have taken her place, day after day.

Filled with remorse, he dropped to his knees before the weeping girl.  Gently, he drew her hands from her face and forced her to meet his gaze.

“If you have not another tale for me, then, I must tell a story for you.”  He moved to sit beside her and drew her close in a gentle embrace.  “Fear not, my love.  I am sure I can spin many fancies to amuse you, if you will allow me.”  He pulled back to look into her eyes.  “Will you, dear one?”

Scheherazade stared in wonder.

“My life is not forfeit?”

“Indeed not,” the sultan replied, again pulling her close.  “For if that were true, it would be the end of mine, as well.  For surely, your delicate frame holds your life but also my heart.  There cannot be one without the other.  With you to help and guide me, I will spend days making reparations to my long-suffering people.  But at night, we shall escape from responsibilities and tell one another tales all our lives.”

So, the brave volunteer bride had, in fact, learned what must be done and saved not just her own life, but the lives of all the young women of the sultanate.  More, she saved the sultan himself.

 

Author’s Note:  “The Fisherman and the Jinni” is one of the stories from the original 1.001 Arabian Nights.  Obviously, you didn’t get the complete story here so I encourage you to find a copy and read.  The stories are fun.  🙂

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