The Sharazad Project: Week 48

Trigger warning: references to incest, rape and torture

In this last post of the Sharazad Project we return to night 141, in which King Sasan realises that usurping his nephew’s throne was not the best plan ever and the vizier Dandan reminds everyone he’s the real political force in Baghdad. Seriously, no one gave a damn about Prince Kana-ma-Kana except his mother, aunt and cousin until he left town, now there’s a massive army trying to put him in charge of the kingdom and he’s not even there to claim it. Fortunately Kana-ma-Kana hears what’s happening from passing merchants and hurries home on his gorgeous new horse Qatul. It’s the equivalent of zipping home in a hot new sports car. The horse  gets a name. Not even Sasan got a name for most of his time in this story!

Kana-ma-Kana gets a monarch’s welcome on his return. He greets his mother – does not apologise for disappearing into the middle of nowhere, I note – and goes to reassure his uncle, even offering Qatul as a gift. Sasan accepts it only to gift it right back, recognising its worth. (He remembers it from the Constantinople campaign seventeen years ago but can I just point out the horse probably wouldn’t be up to much by now if that were true? Unless it is a magic horse. Let’s go with that explanation.)

Sasan then showers his nephew in money and honour in the hope of averting a civil war. In his new chambers in the palace, Kana-ma-Kana asks his mother for word of the beautiful Qudiya-fa-Kana. His mother admits the princess still loves him but tells him to give up on the love since it will only bring trouble. He retorts by saying he’ll have to go avenge himself on Dhat al-Dawahi for the grief she brought on his family and sulks off to find a more amenable go-between in the shape of an elderly woman called Sa’dana. The old lady is efficient. She returns with a message that Qudiya-fa-Kana will meet her beloved cousin at midnight.

Turns out the whole ‘lovers don’t sleep or eat or exist in any comfort at all’ idea is more widespread than the murderous ladies from Dandan’s story in Week 45 because when Qudiya-fa-Kana comes in to find her cousin asleep she wakes him and reproaches him for not waiting on tenterhooks. He neatly replies he was hoping to dream of her. She squeezes an apology out of him anyway and they sit down to talk about how awful it’s been to be apart. At dawn they separate. Unfortunately, some of the princess’s attendants find out where she went and tell the king. Sasan savagely overreacts, about to cut off the poor girl’s head before Nuzhat al-Zaman intervenes. She warns him his actions will be despised; that Kana-ma-Kana is Qudiya-fa-Kana’s friend from childhood, and oh, remember that CIVIL WAR? Dandan is still out there with his army, agitating for Kana-ma-Kana to take the throne. Killing either of the young lovers would be one hell of a tipping point.

Nuzhat al-Zaman deserved so much more than Sasan. How come she couldn’t take the throne? She has a better right to it than anyone.

Anyway, what he gets out of their chat is: cannot kill nephew, must RUIN NEPHEW UTTERLY. And maybe he has a point because Kana-ma-Kana’s next life choice is to become a highwayman, thereby building up a suitable fortune for winning Qudiya-fa-Kana’s hand. His mum points out this is a dangerous occupation. As usual, Kana-ma-Kana doesn’t listen.

After a tearful farewell from Qudiya-fa-Kana, he sets out, unexpectedly encountering his old not-really-a-friend Sabbah on the way. The companions fall in together. Coming to a rich valley where animals are grazing and children are playing, Kana-ma-Kana proves he’s a truly horrible person by suggesting they ransack the place. Sabbah reminds him they are two people and this valley is clearly well-defended. Kana-ma-Kana is all ‘whatever!’ and rides down alone.

He starts driving the camels away from their pastures. The local guards, all slaves, come riding out to stop him, shouting warnings. These animals belong to the Circassian clan, Rumi people (aka subjects of the land of Rum) who have become self-governing and incidentally, they want that horse back. Yes, it turns out these are the people who stole Qatul, only to have him stolen in turn. Kana-ma-Kana fights viciously and orders the terrified slaves – those who are still alive – to drive the animals away. Sabbah comes down now he sees the battle is won. Then he rides straight back up, because the free fighters are coming back, led by Kahardash.

We get a little snippet into this warrior’s life. Around these parts is a very beautiful girl called Fatin who will not marry a man who cannot defeat her in battle, and has everyone in awe of her abilities. Afraid he’ll lose, Kahardash won’t fight her, though his friends assure him she’d probably throw the fight for love of him. (Don’t do it, Fatin.) Upon seeing Kana-ma-Kana’s equally gorgeous face, he mixes up the two. “Damn you, Fatin,” he says, “have you come to show me how brave you are?” He asks ‘her’ to marry him. Insulted at being taken for a girl, Kana-ma-Kana shouts a challenge and Kahardash realises his mistake. He sends one of his men to charge the prince. Kana-ma-Kana kills him with a powerful blow; the same fate meets every rider to go against him until in a fury they abandon the usual rules of honour and attack him all at once.

And all die, leaving Kahardash quite unwilling to have a go himself. He offers Kana-ma-Kana all the animals he wants and the prince lightly mocks him, since it’s no gift at all. Enraged, Kahardash charges him. He holds out better than the others, but is eventually speared through. Upon seeing this Sabbah comes back down to praise Kana-ma-Kana’s skills and chop off the dead warrior’s head. He wants a share in the spoils. The prince agrees he’ll have it if he helps guard them on the way to Baghdad. The local merchants (who have all suffered at Kahardash’s hands) are delighted to see the severed head raised on a spear and Kana-ma-Kana distributes goods like a king, thereby winning the affections of everyone else. Except King Sasan, obviously.

According to Sasan, many of his troops were closely associated with Kahardash (law and order really take top priority in this kingdom, huh) and now with Dandan stirring up trouble, Sasan’s position is at risk. His loyal officers offer to kill Kana-ma-Kana on the spot. Sasan binds them to a covenant that they will do this, thereby ridding Dandan of a prince to put on the throne – though personally I don’t think that would stop him for a minute. Their opportunity comes when the prince and Sabbah go on a hunting trip. Sabbah doesn’t want to be there. Kana-ma-Kana is laughing at his complaint when a group of horsemen come riding at them in a cloud of dust. One of Sasan’s emirs, Jami’, has brought twenty riders, all with the same instructions: to kill Kana-ma-Kana.

It doesn’t work. Kana-ma-Kana kills the lot of them. When Sasan rides out himself and finds all his men dead, he returns to Baghdad only to be seized and tied up by the rebelling populace. Kana-ma-Kana and Sabbah take a slower route, stopping for lunch with a random young man. The prince won’t touch the food, brooding over his lost throne. “I have good news for you,” the unnamed young man says cheerfully. “…Sasan is being held prisoner, and I think that he will soon be dead.” In a nearby domed building, Sasan has become entertainment for the angry populace, who are beating him to death.

Kana-ma-Kana calmly accepts the food. I really don’t like him.

When night falls and his host is asleep, the prince goes into the domed building and brings up the murder attempt with Sasan, who swears he never tried to kill him. Deciding to accept that at face-value, Kana-ma-Kana has a sudden change of heart and helps his uncle get out Baghdad. They ride through the night – not easy for the injured man, surely – until they reach an orchard where they stop to rest and talk. What they discuss isn’t very clear, but peace is apparently made and they return to Baghdad in a friendly enough state. Qudiya-fa-Kana comes out to greet them. What with the overwhelming wave of popularity that Kana-ma-Kana is surfing, Nuzhat al-Zaman sees no reason why the lovers shouldn’t marry. She disapproves of her husband’s plan, which is to kill Kana-ma-Kana ONCE AND FOR ALL.

It’s a rubbish plan that already failed once but he yells a death threat at his wife for disagreeing with it and she calms him down by promising to come up with a viable way to kill this unkillable prince. Well, actually, she’ll task her servant Bakun to do it. This old lady was nurse to both cousins and a favourite with Kana-ma-Kana, so if anyone can get close enough to murder him, it should be her.

Taking a sharp dagger, Bakun goes to meet Kana-ma-Kana. He’s in a highly distracted state, waiting to meet with Qudiya-fa-Kana, so she offers to soothe him with stories about love. So, segue.

A man loved a woman and spent all his money on her until he had none left, then while he was wandering around miserable, pierced his toe on a nail. Bandaging it, he walked on in pain. He stopped at a bath house and washed to the point of exhaustion, proving he has no sense of moderation in anything at all. The story continues into night 143, when he took some hashish and hallucinated a massage. Various slaves attended him in the dream, calling him master and eventually leading him to a luxurious hall where he sits on a dais with a girl in his lap. At this point in the dream he was abruptly woken, with an erection and a circle of very amused onlookers.

It’s a pretty pointless story. Kana-ma-Kana likes it, however, and asks for more. Obliging him with a stream of silly tales, Bakun waits until her target falls asleep then raises the dagger to strike. Suddenly the prince’s mother comes in. Bakun backs off fast. It isn’t luck that she was interrupted – Qudiya-fa-Kana overheard her mother and stepfather plotting and sent her aunt to the rescue. Upon hearing that his former nurse was about to kill him, Kana-ma-Kana decides it isn’t safe in the city any more and promptly departs to join Dandan with his rebel army. An ‘interchange’ occurs between Nuzhat al-Zaman and her husband that prompts the queen to leave Baghdad too, bringing more of Sasan’s officers with her to join Kana-ma-Kana’s cause. Qudiya-fa-Kana is later mentioned as being part of this group, so it’s quite an exodus.

But instead of marching on Baghdad they turn towards Rum and are captured by its king Rumzan, who presumably replaced Hardub. I wonder if he’s Abriza’s son? It’s about time we found out what happened to the boy. Anyway, Rumzan is quite respectful to his prisoners, because he’s recently had an odd dream and wants Dandan to interpret it. In the dream, he found himself in a deep pit from which he could not escape. Finding a girdle of gold beside him, he picked it up and it became two. When he put them on they became one again. Dandan informs him that this means he has some young male relative who is the best in the family. I’d love to know how he reached that conclusion.

Having got what he wanted, the king now plans to execute all of his prisoners. His nurse, however, interrupts and tells him that would be killing family. Because she is MARJANA, the faithful handmaiden, and Rumzan IS Abriza’s boy. In the lands of Rum Abriza is a legend for her beauty and courage (too right) but the full story of his parentage is only now being revealed to the king. Except not really because Marjana leaves out the part where dead king ‘Umar raped Abriza. In this version he ‘lay’ with her. UGH.

Hearing the story, Nuzhat al-Zaman immediately claims Rumzan as her brother. It appears she’s the only one who speaks Frankish, which is the language Marjana is using. What’s more, she actually remembers Marjana, despite having been very young at the time. Bewildered and upset, Rumzan calls her up for questioning. She convinces him of their blood ties. Overwhelmed by family feels, the estranged siblings embrace and Rumzan frees them all. In further evidence, Marjana takes the white jewel Abriza gave her son and matches it to the other two, worn respectively by Nuzhat al-Zaman and Kana-ma-Kana. To understand why that’s relevant you have to go back quite a way – it’s messy, rather unpleasant history by this point – but it cues more hugs.

Word of the royal family’s imprisonment had spread and al-Ziblkan arrives with the intention of rescuing them, only to be met by Qudiya-fa-Kana, who explains the whole bizarre reunion. She leads him back to meet with Rumzan. After some catching up, al-Ziblkan returns to Damascus with his troops. And it must have been one hell of a catch up because somehow they’ve convinced Rumzan he should join their vengeance quest against his great-grandmother Dhat al-Dawahi. How did they even do that?

Okay, it’s obvious how they did that. Reaching Baghdad, Kana-ma-Kana offers Rumzan the throne, since Sasan is basically just a paper figure in the palace now with no real authority. When Rumzan politely declines, Dandan advises he co-rule with Kana-ma-Kana, each ruling every other day. Despite this being the WORST IDEA EVER, they agree. Night 144 begins with a massive party, in which Kana-ma-Kana and Qudiya-fa-Kana finally get together.

Reunions are happening all over the place. A dust cloud heralds the approach of an army; ahead of it comes a merchant who once bought a slave girl in Damascus and sold her to the then sultan Sharkan. That girl was Nuzhat al-Zaman. He was the instigator of unintentional incest and Qudiya-fa-Kana’s conception, as it happens, but right now he’s the one in trouble – his caravan was attacked by a large party of riders who killed his men and stole his wares. The kings promise to see justice done. Tracking the raiders to a forested valley, they see that some have already left with their shares of the spoils. Those who remain are swiftly captured. There is definitely anti-Bedouin sentiment in this story, incidentally, given the way these raiders are described.

Back in Baghdad, the kings interrogate their prisoners. The three leaders are identified and held while the others are allowed to go free. After agreeing to replace any of the merchant’s missing goods, the kings are handed a pair of rather old letters. One was written by Sharkan, the other by Nuzhat al-Zaman. Kana-ma-Kana takes the second letter to his aunt and tells her the merchant’s story. Very kindly, she sends him money and fresh merchandise. They meet, the merchant delighted to see her well.

He sets off again on his travels and the kings return their interrogation of the robber leaders. One calmly admits to abducting children and young women to sell as slaves. And WHAT IS THIS, he’s that bloody creep who kidnapped Nuzhat al-Zaman to sell her into slavery! He recounts how he tricked her, beat her and sold her to a merchant…who sold her on to the ruler of Damascus…

Nuzhat al-Zaman hears the story and her wrath is glorious. She snatches up a sword to kill him on the spot but he promises great stories and Kana-ma-Kana, who has crappy priorities, stays his aunt’s hand in order to hear them. Kidnapper Guy tells how he was once led deep into the desert by an ostrich, to a place haunted by jinni and ghuls. Trapped in the scorching heat, they came unexpectedly on a stretch of grassland where a tent was tethered. A young man and a girl were outside of it. Kidnapper Guy fancied the girl so approached fairly politely to make inquiries. He introduced himself as Hammad ibn al-Farazi, a famous rider. The young man did not introduce himself or the girl immediately, just ordered her to fetch food and water. Tripping over her own hair, the girl did so. After the meal, the young man began by saying the girl was his sister. “I want you to marry her to me of your own free will,” Hammad promptly told him, not waiting for trifles like names, “for otherwise I will kill you and take her by force.”

The young man called him treacherous and challenged him to a fight. Hammad went back to his companions to discuss the arrangement and they decided that whoever killed the stranger would get the girl, BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL AWFUL. Brother and sister parted with tears, each assuring the other that their life was worth more. “If I die,” the young man told her, “do not allow anyone to possess you.” I am on his side. He kissed her farewell and proceeded to fight. There is a little weird aside in which he asked for his challenger’s names, implying that he’d be okay with them marrying his sister if they had the same name as himself. Which is just weird. But they didn’t. And he killed all those who fought him. Hammad didn’t get a chance to run away; the young man hauled him out of the saddle and made him a slave. The girl came up to congratulate her brother on his victory and led Hammad by his collar, like a dog.

Then the young man got drunk and everything got awful. His name was Hammad, you see, so Kidnapper Hammad could marry the girl after all. He swore never to betray his new master, but at the first opportunity that’s precisely what he did, cutting off his head while he slept. The girl turned on him in a rage and ran herself through with a sword rather than going with him. Shedding a crocodile tear or two, Hammad then ransacked the tent for valuables and left without burying either corpse.

Hearing this story, Nuzhat al-Zaman gets EVEN ANGRIER. In night 145, she cuts open his throat. When asked why she was in such a hurry to kill him, she replies, “Praise be to God, Who has permitted me to live until I could avenge myself with my own hand.” Then she has the body thrown to the dogs. Moral of the story: do not mess with Queen Nuzhat al-Zaman, you will lose.

And we are not even done. The next robber leader is Ghadban, who tried to rape Abriza and then murdered her. The confession is barely out of his mouth before Rumzan has severed his head, echoing Nuzhat al-Zaman’s vengeful cry. The last man is also known to them; he was the camel driver who dumped Dau’ al-Makan in a rubbish heap when he was a sick young man, and he only survived because the furnace man (now ruler of Damascus) took pity on him. Kana-ma-Kana takes vengeance on his father’s behalf, beheading him too. With the heat of retribution hot in his blood, Rumzan writes a deceptive letter to his great-grandmother, telling her he has conquered her enemy’s lands – well, not entirely untrue, that – and asks her to come to him with Queen Sophia (Nuzhat al-Zaman’s mum), Afridun (Sophia’s father) and any other Christian leaders she has to hand.

What happens next is hideous – Rumzan and his allies capture the entire party, Dhat al-Dawahi is publically humiliated and then crucified, and everyone else is so terrified of meeting the same fate they convert to Islam. The royal family have everything written down for posterity and live on as happily as anyone that homicidal can.

At which we return to Sharazad and her own homicidal husband Shahriyar. “I want you to tell me a story about birds,” he informs her. Sharazad’s sister remarks, “In all this time, it is only tonight that I have seen the king looking happy, and I hope that your affair with him will turn out well.” Then Shahriyar sleeps.

On that relatively optimistic note, I conclude the project. I will post a proper wrap-up tomorrow, talking about the experience as a whole, but right now as I’m writing this all I can say is I am tired. If you’ve just waded through this incredibly long post, you probably are too. Thank you for reading.

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