If He Yawned, She Lost Her Head!

January 07, 2021

One Thousand and One Nights Book

Stories from The Thousand and One Nights (Introduction)

The Sultan had a habit of beheading each dawn his beautiful bride of the night before, until he encountered Scheherazade. Cleverly she saved her life a thousand and one mornings.

PRAISE be to God, the Beneficent King, the Creator of the universe, who hath raised the heavens without pillars, and spread out the earth as a bed; and blessing and peace be on the lord of apostles, our lord and our master Mohammad, and his Family; blessing and peace, enduring and constant, unto the day of judgment.

To proceed:—The lives of former generations are a lesson to posterity; that a man may review the remarkable events which have happened to others, and be admonished; and may consider the history of people of preceding ages, and of all that hath befallen them, and be restrained. Extolled be the perfection of Him who hath thus ordained the history of former generations to be a lesson to those which follow. Such are the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights, with their romantic stories and their fables.

It is related (but God alone is all-knowing, as well as all-wise, and almighty, and all-bountiful), that there was, in ancient times, a King of the countries of India and China, possessing numerous troops, and guards, and servants, and domestic dependents; and he had two sons; one of whom was a man of mature age; and the other, a youth. Both of these princes were brave horsemen; but especially the elder, who inherited the kingdom of his father, and governed his subjects with such justice that the inhabitants of his country and whole empire loved him. He was called King Shahriyar: his younger brother was named Shah-Zeman, and was King of Samarkand. The administration of their governments was conducted with rectitude, each of them ruling over his subjects with justice during a period of twenty years with the utmost enjoyment and happiness. After this period, the elder King felt a strong desire to see his brother, and ordered his Wezir to repair to him and bring him.

Having taken the advice of the Wezir on this subject, he immediately gave orders to prepare handsome presents, such as horses adorned with gold and costly jewels, and memluks, and beautiful virgins, and expensive stuffs. He then wrote a letter to his brother, expressive of his great desire to see him; and having sealed it, and given it to the Wezir, together with the presents above mentioned, he ordered the minister to strain his nerves, and tuck up his skirts, and use all expedition in returning. The Wezir answered, without delay, I hear and obey; and forthwith prepared for the journey: he packed his baggage, removed the burdens, and made ready all his provisions within three days; and on the fourth day, he took leave of the King Shahriyar, and went forth towards the deserts and wastes. He proceeded night and day; and each of the kings under the authority of King Shahriyar by whose residence he passed came forth to meet him, with costly presents, and gifts of gold and silver, and entertained him three days; after which, on the fourth day, he accompanied him one day’s journey, and took leave of him. Thus he continued on his way until he drew near to the city of Samarkand, when he sent forward a messenger to inform King Shah-Zeman of his approach. The messenger entered the city, inquired the way to the palace, and, introducing himself to the King, kissed the ground before him, and acquainted him with the approach of his brother’s Wezir; upon which Shah-Zeman ordered the chief officers of his court, and the great men of his kingdom, to go forth a day’s journey to meet him; and they did so; and when they met him, they welcomed him, and walked by his stirrups until they returned to the city. The Wezir then presented himself before the King Shah-Zeman, greeted him with a prayer for he divine assistance in his favour, kissed the ground before him, and informed him of his brother’s desire to see him; after which he handed to him the letter. The King took it, read it, and understood its contents; and answered by expressing his readiness to obey the commands of his brother. But, said he (addressing the Wezir), I will not go until I have entertained thee three days. Accordingly, he lodged him in a palace befitting his rank, accommodated his troops in tents, and appointed them all things requisite in the way of food and drink: and so they remained three days. On the fourth day, he equipped himself for the journey, made ready his baggage, and collected together costly presents suitable to his brother’s dignity.

These preparations being completed, he sent forth his tents and camels and mules and servants and guards, appointed his Wezir to be governor of the country during his absence, and set out towards his brother’s dominions. At midnight, however, he remembered that he had left in his palace an article which he should have brought with him; and having returned to the palace to fetch it, he there beheld his wife sleeping in his bed, and attended by a male negro slave, who had fallen asleep by her side.

On beholding this scene, the world became black before his eyes; and he said within himself, If this is the case when I have not departed from the city, what will be the conduct of this vile woman while I am sojourning with my brother? He then drew this sword, and slew them both in the bed: after which he immediately returned, gave orders for departure, and journeyed to his brother’s capital.

Shahriyar, rejoicing at the tidings of his approach, went forth to meet him, saluted him, and welcomed him with the utmost delight. He then ordered that the city should be decorated on the occasion, and sat down to entertain his brother with cheerful conversation: but the mind of King Shah-Zeman was distracted by reflections upon the conduct of his wife; excessive grief took possession of him; and his countenance became sallow; and his frame emaciated. His brother observed his altered condition, and, imagining that it was occasioned by his absence from his dominions, abstained from troubling him or asking respecting the cause, until after the lapse of some days, when at length he said to him, O my brother, I perceive that thy body is emaciated, and thy countenance is become sallow. He answered, O brother, I have an internal sore:—and he informed him not of the conduct of his wife which he had witnessed. Shahriyar then said, I wish that thou wouldest go out with me on a hunting excursion; perhaps thy mind might so be diverted:—but he declined; and Shahriyar went alone to the chase.

Now there were some windows in the King’s palace commanding a view of his garden; and while his brother was looking out from one of these, a door of the palace was opened, and there came forth from it twenty females and twenty male black slaves; and the King’s wife, who was distinguished by extraordinary beauty and elegance, accompanied them to a fountain, where they all disrobed themselves, and sat down together. The King’s wife then called out, O Mes’ud! and immediately a black slave came to her, and embraced her; she doing the like. So also did the other slaves and the women; and all of them continued revelling together until the close of the day. When Shah-Zeman beheld this spectacle he said within himself, By Allah! my affliction is lighter than this! His vexation and grief were alleviated, and he no longer abstained from sufficient food and drink.

When his brother returned from his excursion, and they had saluted each other, and King Shahriyar observed his brother Shah-Zeman, that his colour had returned, that his face had recovered the flush of health and that he ate with appetite, after his late abstinence, he was surprised, and said, O my brother, when I saw thee last, thy countenance was sallow, and now thy colour hath returned to thee: acquaint me with thy state.—As to the change of my natural complexion, answered Shah-Zeman, I will inform thee of its cause; but excuse my explaining to thee the return of my colour.—First, said Shahriyar, relate to me the cause of the change of thy proper complexion, and of thy weakness: let me hear it.—Know then, O my brother, he answered, that when thou sentest thy Wezir to me to invite me to thy presence, I prepared myself for the journey, and when I had gone forth from the city, I remembered that I had left behind me the jewel that I had gone forth from the city, I remembered that I had left behind me the jewel that I have given thee; I therefore returned to my palace for it, and there I found my wife sleeping in my bed, and attended by a black male slave; and I killed them both, and came to thee: but my mind was occupied by reflections upon this affair, and this was the cause of the change of my complexion, and of my weakness: now, as to the return of my colour, excuse my informing thee of its cause.—But when his brother heard these words, he said, I conjure thee by Allah that thou acquaint me with the cause of the return of thy colour:—so he repeated to him all that he had seen. I would see this, said Shahriyar, with my own eye.—Then, said Shah-Zeman, give out that thou art going again to the chase, and conceal thyself here with me, and thou shalt witness this conduct, and obtain ocular proof of it.

Shahriyar, upon this, immediately announced that it was his intention to make another excursion. The troops went out of the city with the tents, and the King followed them; and after he had reposed awhile in the camp, he said to his servants, Let no one come in to me:—and he disguised himself, and returned to his brother in the palace, and sat in one of the windows overlooking the garden; and when he had been there a short time, the women and their mistress entered the garden with the black slaves, and did as his brother had described, continuing so until the hour of the afternoon-prayer.

When King Shahriyar beheld this occurrence, reason fled from his head, and he said to his brother, Shah-Zeman, Arise, and let us travel whither we please, and renounce the regal state, until we see whether such a calamity as this have befallen any other person like unto us; and if not, our death will be preferable to our life. His brother agreed to his proposal, and they went out from a private door of the palace, and journeyed continually, days and nights, until they arrived at a tree in the midst of a meadow, by a spring of water, on the shore of the sea. They drank of this spring, and sat down to rest; and when the day had a little advanced, the sea became troubled before them, and there arose from it a black pillar, ascending towards the sky, and approaching the meadow. Struck with fear at the sight, they climbed up into the tree, which was lofty; and thence they gazed to see what this might be: and behold, it was a Jinni of gigantic stature, broad-fronted and bulky, bearing on his head a chest. He landed, and came to the tree into which the two kings had climbed, and, having seated himself beneath it, opened the chest, and took out of it another box, which he also opened; and there came forth from it a young woman, fair and beautiful, like the shining sun. When the Jinni cast his eyes upon her, he said, O lady of noble race, whom I carried off on thy wedding-night, I have a desire to sleep a little: and he placed his head upon her knee, and slept. The damsel then raised her head towards the tree, and saw there the two Kings; upon which she removed the head of the Jinni from her knee, and, having placed it on the ground, stood under the tree, and made signs to the two Kings, as though she would say, Come down, and fear not this ‘Efrit. They answered her, We conjure thee by Allah that thou excuse us in this matter. But she said, I conjure you by the same that ye come down; and if ye do not, I will rouse this ‘Efrit, and shall put you to a cruel death. So, being afraid, they came down to her; and, after they had remained with her as long as she required, she took from her pocket a purse, and drew out from this a string, upon which were ninety-eight seal-rings; and she said to them, Know ye what are these? They answered, We know not.—The owners of these rings, said she, have, all of them, been admitted to converse with me, like as ye have, unknown to this foolish ‘Efrit; therefore, give me your two rings, ye brothers. So they gave her their two rings from their fingers; and then she said to them, This ‘Efrit carried me off on my wedding-night, and put me in the box, and placed the box in the chest, and affixed to the chest seven locks, and deposited me thus imprisoned, in the bottom of the roaring sea, beneath the dashing waves; not knowing that, when one of our sex desires to accomplish any object, nothing can prevent her. In accordance with this, says one of the poets:
Never trust in women; nor rely upon their vows;
For their pleasure and displeasure depend upon their passions.
They offer a false affection; for perfidy lurks within their clothing.
By the tale of Yusuf be admonished, and guard against their stratagems.
Dost thou not consider that Iblis ejected Adam by means of woman?

And another poet says:—
Abstain from censure; for it will strengthen the censured, and increase desire into violent passion.
If I suffer such passion, my case is but the same that as of many a man before me:
For greatly indeed to be wondered at is he who hath kept himself safe from women’s artifice.

When the two Kings heard these words from her lips they were struck with the utmost astonishment, and said, one to the other, If this is an ‘Efrit, and a greater calamity hath happened unto him than that which hath befallen us, this is a circumstance that should console us:—and immediately they departed, and returned to the city.

As soon as they had entered the palace, Shahriyar caused his wife to be beheaded, and in like manner the women and black slaves; and thenceforth he made it his regular custom, every time that he took a virgin to his bed, to kill her at the expiration of the night. Thus he continued to do during a period of three years; and the people raised an outcry against him, and fled with their daughters, and there remained not a virgin in the city of a sufficient age for marriage. Such was the case when the King ordered the Wezir to bring him a virgin according to his custom; and the Wezir went forth and searched, and found none; and he went back to his house enraged and vexed, fearing what the King might do to him.

Now the Wezir had two daughters; the elder of whom was named Shahrazad; and the younger, Dunyzad. The former had read various books of histories, and the lives of preceding kings, and stories of past generations: it is asserted that she had collected together a thousand books of histories, relating to preceding generations and kings, and works of the poets: and she said to her father on this occasion, Why do I see thee thus changed, and oppressed with solicitude and sorrows? It has been said by one of the poets:—
Tell him who is oppressed with anxiety, that anxiety will not last:
As happiness passeth away, so passeth away anxiety.

When the Wezir heard these words from his daughter, he related to her all that had happened to him with regard to the King: upon which she said, By Allah, O my father, give me in marriage to this King: either I shall die, and be a ransom for one of the daughters of the Muslims, or I shall live, and be the cause of their deliverance from him. I conjure thee by Allah, exclaimed he, that thou expose not thyself to such peril:—but she said, It must be so. Then, said he, I fear for thee that the same will befall thee that happened in the case of the Ass and the Bull and the husbandman.—And what, she asked, was that, O my father?

Know, O my daughter, said the Wezir, that there was a certain merchant, who possessed wealth and cattle, and had a wife and children; and God, whose name be exalted, had also endowed him with the knowledge of the languages of beasts and birds. The abode of this merchant was in the country; and he had, in his house, an ass and a bull. When the bull came to the place where the ass was tied, he found it swept and sprinkled; in his manger were sifted barley and sifted cut straw, and the ass was lying at his ease; his master being accustomed only to ride him occasionally, when business required, and soon to return: and it happened, one day, that the merchant overheard the bull saying to the ass, May thy food benefit thee! I am oppressed with fatigue, while thou art enjoying repose: thou eatest sifted barley, and men serve thee; and it is only occasionally that thy master rides thee, and returns; while I am continually employed in ploughing, and turning the mill.—The ass answered, When thou goest out to the field, and they place the yoke upon thy neck, lie down, and do not rise again, even if they beat thee; or, if thou rise, lie down a second time; and when they take thee back, and place the beans before thee, eat them not, as though thou wert sick: abstain from eating and drinking a day or two days, or three; and so shalt thou find rest from trouble and labour.—Accordingly, when the driver came to the bull with his fodder, he ate scarcely any of it; and on the morrow, when the driver came again to take him to plough, he found him apparently quite infirm: so the merchant said, Take the ass, and make him draw the plough in his stead all the day. The man did so; and when the ass returned at the close of the day, the bull thanked him for the favour he had conferred upon him by relieving him of his trouble on that day; but the ass returned him no answer, for he repented most grievously. On the next day, the ploughman came again, and took the ass, and ploughed with him till evening; and the ass returned with his neck flayed by the yoke, and reduced to an extreme state of weakness; and the bull looked upon him, and thanked and praised him. The ass exclaimed, I was living at ease, and nought but my meddling hath injured me! Then said he to the bull, Know that I am one who would give thee good advice: I heard our master say, If the bull rise not from his place, take him to the butcher, that he may kill him, and make a nat’ of his skin:—I am therefore in fear for thee, and so I have given thee advice; and peace be on thee!—When the bull heard these words of the ass, he thanked him, and said, To-morrow I will go with alacrity:—so he ate the whole of his fodder, and even licked the manger.—Their master, meanwhile, was listening to their conversation.

On the following morning, the merchant and his wife went to the bull’s crib, and sat down there; and the driver came, and took out the bull; and when the bull saw his master, he shook his tail, and showed his alacrity by sounds and actions, bounding about in such a manner that the merchant laughed until he fell backwards. His wife, in surprise, asked him, At what dost thou laugh? He answered, At a thing that I have heard and seen; but I cannot reveal it; for if I did, I should die. She said, Thou must inform me of the cause of thy laughter, even if thou die.—I cannot reveal it, said he: the fear of death prevents me.—Thou laughedst only at me, she said; and she ceased not to urge and importune him until he was quite overcome and distracted. So he called together his children and sent for the Kadi and witnesses, that he might make his will, and reveal the secret to her, and die: for he loved her excessively, since she was the daughter of his paternal uncle, and the mother of his children, and he had lived with her to the age of a hundred and twenty years. Having assembled her family and his neighbours, he related to them his story, and told them that as soon as he revealed his secret he must die; upon which every one present said to her, We conjure thee by Allah that thou give up this affair, and let not thy husband, and the father of thy children, die. But she said, I will not desist until he tell me, though he die for it. So they ceased to solicit her; and the merchant left them, and went to the stable to perform the ablution, and then to return, and tell them the secret, and die.

Now he had a cock, with fifty hens under him, and he had also a dog; and he heard the dog call to the cock, and reproach him, saying, Art thou happy when our master is going to die? The cock asked, How so?—and the dog related to him the story; upon which the cock exclaimed, By Allah! our master has little sense: I have fifty wives; and I please this, and provoke that; while he has but one one wife, and cannot manage this affair with her: why does he not take some twigs of the mulberry tree, and enter her chamber, and beat her until she dies or repents? She would never, after that ask him a question respecting anything.—And when the merchant heard the words of the cock, as he addressed the dog, he recovered his reason, and made up his mind to beat her.—Now, said the Wezir to his daughter Shahrazad, perhaps I may do to thee as the merchant did to his wife. She asked, And what did he? He answered, He entered her chamber after he had cut off some twigs of the mulberry tree, and hidden them there; and then said to her, Come into the chamber, that I may tell thee the secret while no one sees me, and then die:—and when she had entered, he locked the chamber door upon her, and beat her until she became almost senseless and cried out, I repent:—and she kissed his hands and his feet, and repented, and went out with him; and all the company, and her own family, rejoiced; and they lived together in the happiest manner until death.

When the Wezir’s daughter heard the words of her father, she said to him, It must be as I have requested. So he arrayed her, Shahriyar. Now she had given directions to her younger sister saying to her, When I have gone to the King, I will send to request thee to come; and when thou comest to me, and seest a convenient time, do thou say to me, O my sister, relate to me some strange story to beguile our waking hour:—and I will relate to thee a story that shall, if it be the will of God, be the means of procuring deliverance.

Her father, the Wezir, then took her to the King, who, when he saw him, was rejoiced, and said, Hast thou brought me what I desired? He answered Yes. When the King, therefore, introduced himself to her, she wept; and he said to her, What aileth thee? She answered, O King, I Have a young sister, and I wish to take leave of her. So the King sent to her; and she came to her sister, and embraced her, and sat near the foot of the bed; and after she had waited for a proper opportunity, she said, By Allah! O my sister, relate to us a story to beguile the waking hour of our night. Most willingly, answered Shahrazad, if this virtuous King permit me. And the King, hearing these words, and being restless, was pleased with the idea of listening to the story; and thus, on the first night of the thousand and one, Shahrazad commenced her recitations.

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