Harem Girl

   The young woman sat patiently while her visitor studied her.
   "What story would you have me tell?" the Tale-Weaver asked the young woman.
   "I would like to hear a story of myself," she replied. "Do you know any stories of me?"
   The storyteller replied, "I was once a young woman, I know all the stories of you. Here is your tale."
   The Girl awoke in the harem as if from a dream. She held no knowledge of who or where she was. Time did not seem to have ever existed. She had awakened to the voices of other women - some were singing, some were talking, and some were crying. The Girl called out to them and they came to her. They could not tell her who she was, but they comforted her. They told of the harem and their respective roles in it. She heard of the palace and the riches of the Lord of All to be Perceived, the Sultan. Finally, they told of how they were counted among the Sultan's riches, and also how they were ruled, abused, pampered, cloistered, adored and despised.
   But one of them did not join the chorus of revelations. She stood apart from the crowd, surveying the Girl and watching the others with contempt. She interrupted their litany.
   "I am my own kingdom. I belong to no one. He may hold my body, but when he does, I am not in it. Only a fool could ever believe that I am his."
   The others told the Girl not to pay heed to the words of the Bold One. "You are now one of us. Our course is set. We have each other. Our Master commands. It is Kismet."
   "Who is this Master?" asked the inquisitive Girl.
   The answers were many.
   "He is my beloved," said one girl.
   "He is the source of all blessings and curses," said another.
   "He is the mightiest of lovers, for what man could love and satisfy so many women," said a third. "He is, and always will be, the only man you will ever know. Please him and perhaps Allah will bless you with a child. He will be your ruler, forever!"
   She did not believe any of this until she met him in her dreams. He was her lover and he became her god. In her dreams she was given every consideration, every pleasure imaginable. His passion was boundless. Knowing it was only a dream; she shook at the thought of really being with him. The dream lingered until she opened her eyes.
   " You have slept three whole days," she was told by the Head Eunuch. "You must eat. You must be healthy, for your Lord is pleased with you."
   "Does my Lord come to me only in my dreams? " she asked.
   "Perhaps, perhaps not," said the Head Eunuch, smiling vaguely as he retired.
   And so it was she came to believe that the Sultan was all-powerful. He seemed to be able to cross all the boundaries of her dream life and she wondered if all of her thoughts were open to him.
   The Bold One dismissed her ideas. You are given drugs in what you eat and drink. Pray that you are always drugged when you are with his Worship."
   "Can I see him now? she asked.
   "He will summon you soon enough. It will be at his pleasure. You will dream again, and soon, no doubt."
   And she did. Again, so much of the dream filled her senses to overflowing. Her lover, like before, was the one of her fantasies. She wanted so much to tell her of her love for him. She wanted to hear his voice, but she could not speak a sound. As before, she slept for days.
   "How long will this continue?" the Girl asked wearily.
   "Until you are with child," the others replied.
   She awoke from her dream but now she found herself in a new place she had never seen before. He was lying next to her, real, and in the flesh. She yearned to hold his face and kiss it. She leaned over to where he lay, and behold, it was not the man of her dreams.
   As she gasped, his hand cupped her mouth. The hand was not the perfumed hand of the master, yet its touch thrilled her.
   "Do you not know me?" he asked.
   She looked into his eyes and knew him not. "You once were mine, do you not remember? As I slept, my richest treasure was taken from me and I have come to reclaim it! Your heart must recognize its true master. Do not speak! You must leave this place with me at once!"
   But as he spoke, a great alarm was heard as his men were discovered by the harem guards. Knowing at once what all the commotion was, he cursed the Head Eunuch loudly.
   "I paid him enough and now he will pay for his treachery."
   He seized the girl and ran into a corridor, fending off single guards as he encountered them. Many lay dead and dying in his wake, as he wended his way through the labyrinth of passageways. As they turned down another unlit hallway, a small door suddenly opened for them. They leapt inside and he closed the door behind them. Once again his enormous hand covered her delicate mouth. The sounds of men running and swords ringing could be heard on the other side of the door.
   "What place is this?" he asked.
   She knew at once that it was the Sultan's bedchamber. It was a room where no guard or eunuch ever dared to enter. Perhaps they would be safe for the moment.
   The Sultan began to stir from deep repose. In the dim light he could see the intruder with the girl, who had so recently taken his fancy. The Sultan sprung to his feet and seized the sword he kept at his bedside. The intruder pulled out his sword and a furious struggle ensued.
   "Am I boring you?" the Tale Weaver suddenly asked.
   "This part is always the same. What has this to do with me?"
   "You would have an ending?"
   "Yes, please," said the Girl.
   "Very well. The struggle was brief and one-sided. The Sultan skewers the stranger with his sword and returns the Girl to the harem. She still remained his Special One and she bore him many children. They lived a long life together and no other wife ever served a Sultan so."
   "That is a strange ending," said the Girl.
   "It is certainly a real one," replied the Tale Weaver.
   "But it does not suit me," the Girl rejoined.
   "Then perhaps this will do better. The stranger split the Sultan in two with his sword. They were then set upon by the Head Eunuch and his men. He freed the two after paying him an even larger bribe. The stranger and the Girl went back to the northwestern country of his origin. There she bore him many sons and helped him to attain the wealth and dreams he sought. When she died no one had ever been more beloved to her people than she."
   "Somehow this is no more satisfying than the first ending," replied the girl.
   "What ending, if any, would please you, my dear?" the Tale Weaver asked.
   "Perhaps something like this: The Sultan slays the stranger, jeering triumphantly as he watches him die. Suddenly his gloating look changes to one of horror as he is pierced from behind by an enormous blade. As he falls forward the identity of his attacker is revealed. It is the Bold One who has long planned her escape and revenge with the Head Eunuch. Disguising herself as the Sultan, she, the Girl, and The Head Eunuch leave the palace with trunks full of riches. One of the trunks held the body of the Sultan. They sailed away on the Sultan's boat to distant lands and a lavish life," the Girl responds.
   "Is this the ending that you wish?" the Tale Weaver inquires.
   "Yes, she responds with finality, "this one suits me."




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