Scheherazade



They took me from my grandmother's tent one night, 
the wind kicking up cold sand around the other villagers, 
who stood there, swaddled in their nightclothes, watching.

The men were rough and though I could not see their faces, 
I knew who they were, or at least who they worked for. 

After twelve days ride across the desert, 
we arrive at the palace of Shah-Ryar, 
Caliph of the Eastern Provinces, Monster of Arabia, 
and The Mad King of a Thousand Nights. 

I quiver when they drag me into the harem with the other girls, 
there are so many of us, of all ages, races, sizes, and kinds, 
whomever The Vizier's men could snatch. 

They say that The Caliph demands a new virgin every night,
if she displeases him, he will kill her, if he finds her boring, he will kill her,
and if she does please him, so that no other man may know his pleasure, he will kill her. 

They say power has made him bored, but remember his first bride, 
who betrayed him so deeply that he had her publicly executed 
and forbade her name from being given to any child, for all of time. 

Some day very soon I will be brought into The King's chambers, 
to please or defy him, as I will, it makes little difference to Shah-Ryar, 
a cruel, twisted man amused by any little surprise that wanders under his nose. 

They will dress me up, making me smell of mint and saffron,
The Vizier will present me and leave us alone together, 
that is when The Caliph will ask my name. 

And I will ask him, What's a story worth to you? 
He will be surprised for a moment, perhaps a grin spreading across his face.
This is not a normal girl, he might think.
He will try to find out my name, but I will not give him the satisfaction, not yet. 

Because I know a secret: 
there is nothing The Caliph loves more than a finely crafted tale.

I will tell him a story and inside that story, 
will be another story, waiting to be told,
this will happen again and again and again. 

He will be amused, he will be intrigued, 
and by the end of the night, he will be dead. 

Fictions, songs, poems, as well as certain music and maths, 
many are new, but some have been around for millennia or longer,
the oldest stories, in their purest form, are known only to a few,
my grandmother was a Teller, as her grandmother was before her, and so on. 

I have a story I could tell you that would change your luck, 
another to make you fall in love, 
and if I told a specific set of stories, 
in just the right way, I could kill a man. 

Thirty-two stories, layered in the proper fashion, 
fictions in fictions, each story never quite finishing:

Side characters becoming narrators to stories overheard
of dreams they had when they lived with their father
who told a tall tale about a small man with a large destiny 
who was the second such man to find the lamp
and the Djinn said, Ah, that reminds me of an old legend...
said the Princess to Al-Din Ali, While we wait, I know of a fable to pass the time...
the porters gather the women on the boat, Who would like to hear a tale?
and just as the sun is about to rise over the dunes, What's a story worth to you?

For the first time in a long while, 
Caliph Shah-Ryar will look puzzled,
he is beginning to feel it, after all,
we are one story away from the end. 
I will lean in close, kiss him on the cheek 
and he will smile an uneasy smile...
then I will whisper in his ear, one last tale,
the title is a name, the name Shah-Ryar has forbidden: 

Scheherazade

Chosen as bride by The Mad King, 
she served him for three years, 
day and night meeting his every demand, 
however dark his desires became,
until one day, she became pregnant with The Caliph's child. 

She did not tell The King, her love of what was not yet born so strong,
that she chose to run away, to an oasis village and give birth to the child in secret;
when The King found her, he had her publicly beheaded and outlawed her name. 

But he never found the child. 

The Caliph will be shaking then, unable to move 
and I will utter the last sentence that he will ever hear: 
I am that child, Scheherazade, 
it is my name and the name of my mother 
and you Shah-Ryar...you have killed yourself.