The story begins
Stories of Arabian Nights -
One thousand one Arabian Nights
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In the chronicles of the ancient dynasty of the
Sassanidae, who reigned for about four hundred years, from Persia to the borders
of China, beyond the great river Ganges itself, we read the praises of one of
the kings of this race, who was said to be the best monarch of his time. His
subjects loved him, and his neighbors feared him, and when he died he left his
kingdom in a more prosperous and powerful condition than any king had done
The two sons who survived him loved each other very much, and it was a real
grief to the elder, Schahriar, that the laws of the empire forbade him to share
his dominions with his brother Schahzeman. Indeed, after ten years, during which
this state of things had not ceased to trouble him, Schahriar cut off the
country of Great Tartary from the Persian Empire and made his brother king.
Now the Sultan Schahriar had a wife whom he loved more than all the world, and
his greatest happiness was to surround her with splendour, and to give her the
finest dresses and the most beautiful jewels. It was thus with the deepest shame
and sorrow that he accidentally discovered, after several years, that she had
deceived him completely, and her whole conduct turned out to have been so bad,
that he felt himself obliged to carry out the law of the land, and order the
grand vizier to put her to death. The blow was so heavy that his mind almost
gave way, and he declared that he was quite sure that at bottom all women were
as wicked as the sultana, if you could only find them out, and that the fewer
the world contained the better. So every evening he married a fresh wife and had
her strangled the following morning before the grand vizier, whose duty it was
to provide these unhappy brides for the Sultan. The poor man fulfilled his task
with reluctance, but there was no escape, and every day saw a girl married and a
This behavior caused the greatest horror in the town, where nothing was heard
but cries and lamentations. In one house was a father weeping for the loss of
his daughter, in another perhaps a mother trembling for the fate of her child;
and instead of the blessings that had formerly been heaped on the Sultan's head,
the air was now full of curses . The grand vizier himself was the father of two
daughters, of whom the elder was called Scheherazade, and the younger Dinarzade.
Dinarzade had no particular gifts to distinguish her from other girls, but her
sister was clever and courageous in the highest degree. Her father had given her
the best masters in philosophy, medicine, history and the fine arts, and besides
all this, her beauty excelled that of any girl in the kingdom of Persia.
One day, when the grand vizier was talking to his eldest daughter, who was his
delight and pride, Scheherazade said to him, "Father, I have a favor to ask of
you. Will you grant it to me?"
"I can refuse you nothing," replied he, "that is just and reasonable."
"Then listen," said Scheherazade. "I am determined to stop this barbarous
practice of the Sultan's, and to deliver the girls and mothers from the awful
fate that hangs over them."
"It would be an excellent thing to do," returned the grand vizier, "but how do
you propose to accomplish it?"
"My father," answered Scheherazade, "it is you who have to provide the Sultan
daily with a fresh wife, and I implore you, by all the affection you bear me, to
allow the honor to fall upon me."
"Have you lost your senses?" cried the grand vizier, starting back in horror.
"What has put such a thing into your head? You ought to know by this time what
it means to be the sultan's bride!"
"Yes, my father, I know it well," replied she, "and I am not afraid to think of
it. If I fail, my death will be a glorious one, and if I succeed I shall have
done a great service to my country."
"It is of no use," said the grand vizier, "I shall never consent. If the Sultan
was to order me to plunge a dagger in your heart, I should have to obey. What a
task for a father! Ah, if you do not fear death, fear at any rate the anguish
you would cause me."
"Once again, my father," said Scheherazade, "will you grant me what I ask?"
So the Sultan told the grand vizier he might bring his daughter as soon as he
liked. The grand vizier took back this news to Scheherazade, who received it as
if it had been the most pleasant thing in the world. She thanked her father
warmly for yielding to her wishes, and, seeing him still bowed down with grief,
told him that she hoped he would never repent having allowed her to marry the
Sultan. Then she went to prepare herself for the marriage, and begged that her
sister Dinarzade should be sent for to speak to her.
When they were alone, Scheherazade addressed her thus: "My dear sister; I want
your help in a very important affair. My father is going to take me to the
palace to celebrate my marriage with the Sultan. When his Highness receives me,
I shall beg him, as a last favour, to let you sleep in our chamber, so that I
may have your company during the last night I am alive. If, as I hope, he grants
me my wish, be sure that you wake me an hour before the dawn, and speak to me in
these words: "My sister, if you are not asleep, I beg you, before the sun rises,
to tell me one of your charming stories." Then I shall begin, and I hope by this
means to deliver the people from the terror that reigns over them."
Dinarzade replied that she would do with pleasure what her sister wished.
When the usual hour arrived the grand vizier conducted Scheherazade to the
palace, and left her alone with the Sultan, who bade her raise her veil and was
amazed at her beauty. But seeing her eyes full of tears, he asked what was the
matter. "Sire," replied Scheherazade, "I have a sister who loves me as tenderly
as I love her. Grant me the favour of allowing her to sleep this night in the
same room, as it is the last we shall be together." Schahriar consented to
Scheherazade's petition and Dinarzade was sent for.
An hour before daybreak Dinarzade awoke, and exclaimed, as she had promised, "My
dear sister, if you are not asleep, tell me I pray you, before the sun rises,
one of your charming stories. It is the last time that I shall have the pleasure
of hearing you." Scheherazade did not answer her sister, but turned to the
Sultan. "Will your highness permit me to do as my sister asks?" said she.
"Willingly," he answered. So Scheherazade began.
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