One Thousand and One Nights

(The Beginning)

The Story of King Shahrayar and His Brother Shahzaman

It was said (and God knows more) that in the old times and the eras past, one of the kings of Sassan had two children, the older one and the younger one. Both of them were heroic knights, although the older one was the greater rider, and was given rule over the lands; he ruled among the people justly, and his name was king Shahrayar. His younger brother's name was Shahzaman, and he was the king of Persian Samarkand. For twenty years, the two sibling kings ruled their kingdoms righteously, and their people justly.

This remained so until one day the older brother missed the younger one and sent word asking him to visit, which he agreed to and so, prepared for travel. Shahzaman appointed his vizier as ruler of his land in his absence and headed out to reunite with his brother. At midnight, he remembered something he needed to bring with him but had left behind in his palace, so he returned and entered the palace, only to find his wife laying in his bed, embracing a black slave. The world turned into darkness in his eyes, and he picked up his sword and struck the two on the bed, killing them, then turned around and gave the order to resume their travel. When he finally arrived to his brother's city, his brother was extremely delighted to receive him, as he had the entire city decorated to celebrate his visit, and sat with him and chatted away at ease, until king Shahzaman recalled what had happened with his wife, putting him in a state of excessive gloom; his face color got pale and his body waned. When his brother saw him in that condition, he thought it was because he was feeling homesick, so he left him be and did not ask him about it.

A few days later he said to his younger brother, "I would like you to accompany me on a hunting trip. It might lift the weight off your chest," but he refused. And so the older one went out alone on his hunting trip.

In his palace, there were many windows overlooking a big garden. And while Shahzaman was looking at that garden through one of the windows, he saw the palace gate open, and into the garden entered twenty maids [female slaves] and twenty servants [male slaves], along with his older brother's wife walking amongst them. She was so beautiful and so perfect. They walked until they reached a fountain, and everyone took off their clothes and sat together around the fountain. Then the king's wife said, "O' Masoud." And a black servant got up to her and embraced her, and she embraced him, and they made love, and so did the rest of the servants with the maids, and they kept doing it all day long. When the king's younger brother saw all this, his gloom and anguish waned, and he regained his appetite.

After all this, the king had returned from his hunting trip and the two brothers greeted each other. And when king Shahrayar looked at his brother's face which had recovered its color, having regained his appetite for food and drink, he was surprised by that change and said, "I saw you with a pale face before, and now that your face's color has returned to you, tell me what has happened." And he replied: "Brother, when you had sent your vizier asking me to visit you and I had packed and left my city, I remembered that I had left the beads (which I had given you as a gift) back in the palace, so I returned to get them and found my wife laying with a black slave in my bed, and I killed them, then came to you and I couldn't stop thinking about it. That was the reason for the paleness of my face and the waning of my body. As for what has recovered my color, spare me from telling you."

When his brother heard all this, he said to him, "by God, tell me what brought your color back to you!" And so his brother told him exactly what he has seen. Shahrayar said to Shahzaman, "what I want is to see that with my own eyes." Shahzaman said: "pretend that you are going out on another hunting trip and come hide here with me, and witness what I have told you and confirm it with your own eyes."

And thus, the king called for preparation for another hunting trip, and the king's men went out and set up tents at the outskirts of the city, after which the king himself headed out there. He sat in the tents for a while, then he clandestinely went back to the palace and sat with his brother at the window that overlooked the garden. They sat there for a while, and then it happened. Maids entered the garden with his wife, along with the servants, and they did exactly what his brother had told him they have done, and they kept at it till late afternoon.

When king Shahrayar saw all this he went mad and said to his brother: "get up, come with me, let us leave regality behind and travel the lands until we find out whether what has happened to us has happened to others or not; our death would be better than continuing to live." Shahzaman agreed to this, and they both exited the palace through a secret door, and kept on traveling until they arrived at a tree in the middle of a meadow that was right next to a water well, beside a sea. They drank from the well and sat down to rest. After an hour of the day had passed, all of a sudden the sea waters moved about wildly, and a black column jolted out towards the sky and began to move towards the meadow. When the two kings saw that they climbed up the tree, and it was a tall tree, and stared down to look at what was to come out of all the commotion: it was a very tall, broad-shouldered, wide-chested genie, carrying a chest over his head. He walked out onto land and towards the tree the two brothers had climbed, and sat down underneath its shade. Then he opened the chest and from it he pulled out a box, then he opened the box and behold, a girl stepped out of that box. She was so beautiful and radiant as though she was the shining sun. When the genie looked at her, he said: "O mistress of the free, whom I have kidnapped on her wedding night, I would like to sleep for a while." And so the genie lied down and placed his head over her lap and fell asleep. The girl then looked up and saw the two kings on the tree. So she lifted the genie's head off her lap and placed it on the ground, then she stood up under the tree and said in signs: "Come down here and don't be frightened by this demon." So they climbed down and stood there before her. She said to them, "stop there," and she pulled out a bag from her pocket, and from the bag a necklace that contained five hundred and seventy rings. She said to them, "do you know what this is?" They answered: "we don't." She said: "the owners of these rings have all made love to me while this demon was asleep. So you, too, give me your rings." And they gave her out of their hands one ring each. Then she went on saying, "this demon has kidnapped me on my wedding night and put me in a box, and the box in a chest, and put seven locks on it and placed it at the bottom of the deep sea with the plangent waves. The demon did not know that when a woman wants to do something, nothing can overcome or obstruct her will."

The two kings were in complete shock, then a while later they left and returned to Shahrayar's city and entered his palace. Shahrayar then executed his wife along with all those maids and servants. Since then, whenever king Shahrayar had a virgin girl and after taking away her virginity, he killed her on that same night. And he remained this way for three years; until the people could no longer stand him and those who had daughters fled the city, as no girl could bear this fate.

And on one day the king ordered his vizier to fetch him a new girl, as usual, and the vizier looked and looked but found none. So he went back to his home angery, defeat; afraid of what the king would do to him. And it just so happened that the vizier had two gorgeous, very beautiful daughters, the older one's name was Shahrazad and the younger one Dunyazad. The older one was very well-read in history and the biographies of ancient kings and the tales of nations past. She said to her father, "why do I see you have become different, as though carrying a heavy load of worry and sadness?" And so he told her what had happened with the king from beginning to end. She said to him, "O father, by God, marry me to this king. Either I live or I shall sacrifice myself for the daughters of this city and become the key to their deliverance from his hands." He said to her, "by God do not risk your life," and she said, "it has to be done."

And so the vizier prepared his daughter and took her to the king. But prior to this, she had asked a favor of her younger sister, saying, "once I get there, I will request that you come. And when you arrive, I want you to say: 'Sister, tell me a story to pass the evening with,' and I will tell you a story that shall possess the key to our deliverance, God willing."

And when she arrived and was at the king's presence, she cried. The king asked her what was wrong, and she told him that she wanted to say goodbye to her sister, and so the king sent after her sister. When the two sisters reunited, along with the king, Dunyazad quickly swayed the conversation and said: "by God, sister, tell us a story to pass this delightful evening with." And she replied: "certainly, with pleasure, should the king permit."


Translated by: Oday Baddar