|Posted by Sana Baloch on March 10, 2014 at 5:00 AM|
This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one here.
Preparations for the wedding were elaborate. Sheherezade’s dress was sewn with golden threads. Seas were emptied to bring pearls for her. A diamond, as big as an egg, adorned her necklace. Choicest perfumes were brought from all over the kingdom and beyond.
Oils, ointments and herbs were applied to her for days to make her look even more beautiful than she was. Delicate patterns were made on her feet and hands with henna.
On the wedding night, the bride’s chamber was decorated with flowers collected from gardens far and near. Seven pieces of incense were burned inside the room, one in each of the four corners and two under the bed.
But please do not think this was done on the king’s order. He was more interested in preparations for the morning after than the wedding night, heaviest and the sharpest swords were chosen and large vessels were placed on the floor to collect the blood of the bride after the beheading.
The king personally selected the executioner for each of his victim, the fairest the bride, the fiercest the executioner. Then there were special cleaners who wiped the floor clean after the execution. The king wanted all traces removed within minutes, even if a drop of blood was found the entire team of cleaners was executed too.
The king wanted his subjects only to remember how he was wronged by the first queen, who slept with a slave in his absence and had an orgy in the royal garden.
He depicted his madness as an act of kindness. He wanted people to believe that he saved them from a great evil by marrying a new virgin every night and executing her early in the morning.
He did not only want all traces of the execution removed. He also made sure that the outside world never learned about what happens inside the place, how brides were dragged out of the chamber, crying and pleading him to spare their lives, how their young bodies struggled to return to life even after the slaying, how the blood stained everything, sometimes even the king’s dress. No, he did not want these stories to leak out.
So, he had molten lead poured into the ears of the entire staff involved in this gruesome business. This ensured that they would not hear the cries and pleadings of the poor brides. Even if they did, they could not have shared their stories with anyone because their tongues were cut off as well.
This may cause you to think that all those elaborate arrangements for the bride were made by Sheherezade’s father; after all he was the prime minister. No, he did not have anything to do with it either. He did not want to have anything to do with it because he knew that the path his daughter had chosen led to a sudden death.
She was going to the death chamber, not to the bridal bed.
But there was little he could do. He had brought hundreds of innocent girls to this chamber on the king’s order. Not a single virgin was left in the kingdom except his two daughters, Sheherezade and Dunyazad. Hundreds were killed and thousands migrated to other lands, as people do when they have a cruel ruler.
The prime minister also tried to run away with his daughters when the king ordered him to bring Sheherezade but she refused. She wanted to stay and fight and end this cruel practice.
He knew she was young and weak and had no supporters. He also knew that she that as a woman she was no match for a powerful and vicious king.
But Sheherezade knew that as woman she was the source of all powers. She was aware of her weaknesses but knew how to turn them into strength, unlike those who came before her and were slain.
The king also knew that Sheherezade was stubborn and strong. His spies had also told him that his prime minister tried to run away to save his daughters but Sheherezade stopped him. So he too had come with a trick or two to subdue Sheherezade.
“What are these?” asked the king, pointing at the incense-sticks and censers, as he entered the bridal chamber.
“The incense of passion, your majesty,” said Sheherezade.
“I prefer the scent of blood,” said the king, turned towards the flowers and asked: “Why are there so many flowers in this room?”
“These are flowers of love, your majesty,” said Sheherezade.
“Hmm,” said the king, walked to a window to the garden and opened it.
There stood a ferocious-looking man on a well-lit platform, sharpening a sword.
“Do you see this?” the king asked.
“Tonight, I am love-blind, your majesty,” said Sheherezade, “tomorrow I will see and hear the mundane.”
“There will be no tomorrow,” the king said.
“The sun shines behind the clouds too,” said Sheherezade, “so there will be a tomorrow.”
“We shall see,” said the king and opened a door. A slave threw a big sack into the room and something inside the sacked shrieked in pain and anger.
As the sack opened, a large wild cat jumped out of it and made to the open window. But before he could jump out, the king drew his sword and cut the cat into two.
Then brandishing his sword near Sheherezade’s face, he said: “I do not like being disturbed.”
She smiled. “It was a he-cat. Had it been a she-cat, it would not have tried to escape.”
The smile unnerved the king. He sheathed his sword and stood in the middle of the room for what seemed like an eternity. Then he pulled a chair and said to her: “Give me a glass of water.”
“Absolutely, your majesty,” she said and while handing her the glass, she added: “Water heals because it is an agent of change, like a woman.”
“Women are not agents of change, men are,” said the king. “Women have no power.”
“If you think the water is powerless then women are powerless too,” said Sheherezade and smiled again.
“Two things I must do before I have her beheaded: Make her admit that women are powerless and wipe that smile out of her face,” the king said to himself.