Scheherazade’s Last Tale
Scheherazade stepped quietly into the large bedroom and walked regally to the grand bed. â€œYou sent for me, my husband,â€ she said humbly, her eyes to the floor.
The tired and weak old man in the bed smiled up at her. â€œI was thinking of the early years of our marriage,â€ he told her, his voice no more than a forced, painful whisper. â€œMy distrust of women and your perseverance.â€
â€œI was just trying to stay alive,â€ she told him humbly, her eyes not once leaving the floor.
â€œYou were, and remain, clever beyond your gender.â€
â€œYou are too kind.â€
â€œIt is the truth,â€ he stated. His voice was weak and his body fragile, but she did not dare argue with him.
â€œIt has been more than twenty years since I took you as my bride,â€ he stated. â€œI was not a young man, even then. You have been a good and dutiful wife. You have left me no reason to doubt your fidelity and have given me many sons.â€
â€œIt was my duty as your wife to be faithful and to bear your children,â€ she replied. â€œIt was also my honor.â€
â€œYou are too modest, even now,â€ he told her. â€œI am too weak to subdue you and still you show me the respect due a man and husband.â€
â€œIt is the will of Allah.â€
â€œSit,â€ he commanded. It was obvious that it took all of his energy to pat the bed next to where he lay.
She did as instructed, shifting her gaze from the floor to the comforter under his hand.
â€œI am a dying man,â€ he told her. â€œI do not have much longer.â€
She did not argue. â€œWhat do you wish of me when you are gone?â€ she asked instead.
â€œYou are my favored wife and I wish for you to live,â€ he told her. â€œI do not have any brothers left to take you as theirs. I have decided to arrange a marriage to take place after a suitable grieving period. You are still young enough to bear children for a man and I have picked out a suitable husband of a mere ten years older than your thirty-five. He will be here tomorrow and I will announce my decision to him.â€
â€œThat is most kind of you,â€ she told him as she fiddled with a ruby on her left index finger. â€œIs there anything else I can do for you to make your last moments more comfortable?â€
â€œYes,â€ he replied. â€œI would like you to tell me one more story, something to keep me going until tomorrow. I have missed your stories.â€
â€œA story, my husband?â€ she questioned, she seemed to perk up ever so slightly at the idea.
â€œYes,â€ he told her. â€œI would like to hear another story. I know it is a lot to ask of you, but I always loved your stories. Grant a dying man his last wish.â€
â€œOf course, my husband,â€ she said with a smile. â€œIt would be my honor. Please give me a few moments to prepare a story,â€ she added. â€œIt has, after all, been many years since I needed to have one at the ready.â€
â€œOf course,â€ he replied. â€œDon’t take too long, though. I would like to hear it before I die.â€ He laughed at his own joke, coughing at the end of it.
â€œYou will,â€ she replied. She got up off the bed and poured him a glass of wine, her back to him as she did it. She returned to him and held it to his mouth so he could drink.
â€œYou’re welcome, my husband. And I know the perfect story,â€ she told him. â€œI just need to think through it to make sure I don’t leave anything out. It is a story I had been saving all these years as my last story, in case I ever ran out before you granted me a reprieve.â€
â€œI am intrigued by this build up.â€
â€œThen perhaps I should stop now and come back tomorrow to tell the tale,â€ she said. Her eyes bulged and her hands covered her mouth. After a few seconds she lowered her hands. â€œForgive me, my husband,â€ she whispered modestly. â€œI was too bold.â€
â€œYou are forgiven,â€ he replied, a smile dancing in his old eyes, â€œso long as you do start the story.â€
â€œOf course,â€ she said. â€œIt is called The Maiden Assassin.â€
â€œIt sounds fanciful,â€ he said.
â€œLet me tell a bit of it,â€ she replied humbly, â€œif you are still unhappy with it I will think of another.â€
â€œAll right,â€ he said. â€œI will allow this fanciful tale.â€
The Maiden Assassin
Once long ago there was a young girl, Parsa, an orphan at the age of ten. She was low born and had no family outside of her deceased parents. So mere weeks after she lost her family she found herself on the slave block, having been sold by the neighbor who had promised to care for her, but decided instead to turn a profit.
Parsa was scared, as any girl on the auction block should be. She had heard stories of what girls are bought to do.
She found herself bought by a foreign merchant, or so he had identified himself to the auction house. She very quickly learned that he was not a merchant.
After he paid for Parsa, the auction staff released her to him. Her wrists were tied together and he was given the lead.
â€œWhat’s your name?â€ he asked her, his accent thick and hard to follow.
â€œParsa,â€ she answered, looking him in the eye.
â€œI am Agha,â€ he told her. â€œYou will address me as master.â€
He looked her up and down and finally said, â€œIt will do for now. Come along.â€ he turned and pulled her rope as he did so. She was jerked roughly forward, but managed to keep her balance, although barely.
He turned his head to look at her and smiled. â€œI may have made the correct choice,â€ he commented to himself as he led her out of the stall and into the marketplace.
By that evening they were outside the city limits. Parsa had never been so far from home and was scared. She did her best to keep her face devoid of any emotion. She refused to let him see her fear.
He had set up his camp, leaving her tied to a tree to do it, and was now making his dinner. She was hungry, but would not ask for food. She was too proud to admit she needed anything of his. And she was afraid of the price.
â€œYou have not said one word to me since we left town,â€ he finally commented as he sat down by the fire to eat.
â€œYou did not tell me to speak,â€ she replied. She closed her eyes and waited for the blow to come.
He laughed and she opened an eye. He hadn’t budged. She relaxed.
â€œAre you hungry?â€ he asked.
â€œI’ll manage,â€ she said, staring hungrily at the bubbling pot.
â€œChained to a tree?â€
â€œYou are a spirited one,â€ he said. â€œTraining you will be fun.â€
â€œYou will be an assassin,â€ he told her.
â€œI’m a girl.â€
â€œI’ve noticed. Girls are sometimes the best assassins,â€ he told her. â€œThey can go places that men cannot and they can easily make themselves blend in. Also, nobody ever expects a woman to be sent to kill them.â€
â€œBecause it’s absurd,â€ she told him.
â€œIt is not,â€ he told her. â€œI have trained six before you. All have proven to be very lucrative investments.â€
Parsa did not reply. She didn’t know what to say. He asked the impossible of her and she didn’t like it one bit what he was asking her to do. She realized that this life would only be moderately better than one offered at the brothels.
He thrust a bowl of beans under her nose and said, â€œEat. This will be your last free meal.â€
She took it ungratefully and ate quickly, her attempts at dignity temporarily forgotten.
The two did not speak again that night. He retired early, not the least bit concerned for her or any attempt to escape.
She tried to undo her ties, mostly with her teeth, until exhaustion overtook her and she fell asleep. She slept poorly tied to the tree as she was.
To Parsa it felt as though she had just fallen asleep when he doused her with the previous night’s cooking water to wake her.
â€œIt’s time we were on our way,â€ he told her. He untied her restraints from the tree and she took advantage of the situation. She hit him with all her might with her bound hands. He stumbled back and she ran. She didn’t know which way she ran, just that it was away from him. Even if it lead to death, it was her freedom.
She ran until she couldn’t run anymore and fell to her knees. She looked around, she was alone. Free. She knew she would probably die, but at least she was free. She laughed until the tears came.
The sun was coming up and she knew it would be unbearable out in the open like this. She sniffled back the tears and assessed her situation.
Parsa saw a large rock and walked over and burrowed under it on the shaded side. She curled up there and before she knew it sleep overtook her.
When she woke it was dark. She was cold and hungry. She crawled out from under her rock and was startled by what she saw. In front of her was Agha’s horse and campsite rebuilt. Her quick scan did not reveal him present.
She fell back into her hole and thought. She decided that he was probably sleeping and that she could sneak away, maybe steal some food before she did.
She slowly made her way out again and crawled a few feet away. She looked from side to side and then behind her. He was perched on top of her rock, a large grin on his face. She quickly scrambled to her feet to run, but he was quicker and had the energy. He was upon her in seconds.
He grabbed her wrist, dragged her to the campsite and threw her in front of the fire. She looked up at him and then tried to run in the opposite direction. He grabbed one of her feet and dragged her back.
This time he tied her feet together and then her hands.
He laughed as he ladled food out of a pot on the fire. He handed her the first bowl. â€œYou’ve earned this,â€ he told her.
â€œYou passed the test,â€ he told her.
â€œToday was a test,â€. he informed her. â€œI am a highly skilled assassin. The mistakes I made when untying you were completely intentional. I wanted to test your resolve. I know that your defense skillsÂ would be lacking, but I wanted to test your cunning.â€
â€œAlthough you ran in a random direction, you hid yourself quite well. It took me almost an hour to find you. None of the other six had ever been that good on the first attempt. Your complete disregard for your life is commendable.â€
â€œHow many escape attempts have they made?â€ she asked.
â€œThey usually tried to escape once a day for the first week and then about once a month after.â€
â€œAnd each time they failed?â€
Parsa stayed quiet as she processed this information. She decided that she would stay with him for the time being and see what he would teach her. She would bide her time before escaping.
And so, for two years she bided her time and absorbed everything he taught her as he took her through the Orient to places where different types of fighting skills were taught. She would study briefly in these places before moving on. They spent several months with a former concubine who taught her how to look and act like a lady, how to be desirable to men.
She learned to kill with her hands, to kill with weapons and even to kill with common objects. She learned how to kill silently and how to kill without leaving a mark.
At first he would ask her why she never tried to run and she would remind him that he had told her the attempt would be futile, so she decided to stay. She knew that every day she was closer to her freedom.
In the beginning of the third year of her training he sent her on her first assignment. It was an easy kill, done afar with a bow and arrow. She wouldn’t even have to look him in the eye as she made her first kill. To this point she had never had to actually kill a person and the reality of it made her nervous. She hadn’t realized how hard it would be, even from this distance, to kill a man.
She walked into the harem of the palace that morning pretending to be a new servant. She bided her time and when the hour drew near she slipped out the door to the courtyard and ascended the retaining wall.
She waited nervously for the lord to return home. His procession finally came down the street and she took aim.
She shook terribly.
Parsa closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. She opened her eyes and put him in her sights. She nocked an arrow and pulled the string taught. She checked her sights once more and closed her eyes before releasing the arrow.
Opening her eyes, Parsa cursed her mistake. She had merely taken down a guard, and now all the men were scrambling, looking for the assailant.
She hurried to nock another arrow. Before the window of opportunity closed, she aimed for the center of crowd of men. They were gathered around her target now and her nerves were shot.
It felt like hours, but was barely a minute when she finally had him in her sights again. Keeping her eyes open this time, Parsa took her target out. Watching this time, the arrow hit the man’s heart and sent him bleeding to the ground.
She dropped the bow and quiver of arrows outside the barrier and jumped back into the harem’s courtyard.
She was creeping back into the door when a voice behind her said, â€œYou killed my husband.â€
She had a knife in hand as she turned to face her accuser. A girl,Â much her own age, jumped down from a shaded section of the wall. Parsa cursed herself for the second time that night. Why hadn’t she checked to make sure there were no witnesses? Now she had to kill this girl.
The girl jumped down to the ground. â€œI sit up here every night wishing that I could be brave enough to jump to freedom or do what you have done.â€ She took a few steps closer to Parsa. â€œIn the end I know there is nothing for me out there. I wish I could be free like you.â€
Parsa sheathed her knife. â€œI don’t know what you mean.â€
â€œYou are going to leave these walls shortly and do whatever you want,â€ the girl replied. â€œYour life is yours. Mine is his.â€ She pointed vaguely in the direction of the man bleeding to death in the street. â€œI will be passed on to one of his brothers now that he is dead. You will go wherever you want.â€
â€œI’m not as free as you think,â€ Parsa admitted.
â€œIf that’s true, it’s your own fault,â€ the girl told her. â€œYou are strong enough to be your own master.â€ She seemed to think and then added, â€œYou should probably go. They’ll be searching the harem soon.â€ She passed Parsa and headed for the door inside. â€œThere’s a door that the eunuchs use just over here. You would normally have to take out a guard, but I’m sure he’s gone to help with my husband.â€
Once outside, Parsa wanted to run, but her training told her to walk, to blend in. She walked to the agreed upon meeting spot. It was a five minute walk that she had made seven times in the last two days as a test. This night, she did it much quicker.
â€œA bit nervous, were you?â€ Agha asked, a smile on his face, as he stepped out of the shadows.
â€œI did the job,â€ she replied.
â€œAnd made me a nice profit,â€ he replied.
â€œWhat do I get?â€ she asked.
â€œYou get a bed to sleep in, the clothes that you’re wearing and food,â€ he told her. â€œWhat more could you want?â€
The abaya, and the clothes underneath it, she had stolen at the palace, the bed, as he called it, was fashioned from moldy hay and the food were his cast offs. All of these she realized, she had either obtained herself or, as of tonight, were obtained from the money she earned. It suddenly bothered her that she did not get that money.
â€œI want to be free of you,â€ she finally said. Thinking back to the words her victim’s wife said was giving her the strength of her convictions to feel she could do this.
â€œDon’t be foolish,â€ he told her as though she had just told a particularly funny joke. â€œLet’s go. I have another job lined up for you. I’ll give you the details as we head out.â€
She lowered her head and walked three steps behind him, listening as he told her what would be expected of her on the next assignment. â€œIt won’t be much different than this one,â€ he told her. â€œIn the next village to the east. You are to take out a nobleman. He has developed many enemies among the elite, but the common people love him. You will need to make this death look natural. I’m thinking a poison.â€
â€œHave you already been paid?â€ she asked.
â€œHalf up front,â€ he told her, patting the purse on his belt. â€œThe other half when you complete the job.â€
â€œWho is paying you?â€
â€œNone of your concern,â€ he told her. â€œFinances aren’t for women.â€
â€œI understand, master,â€ she said meekly as sheÂ slowly pulled her blade from its sheath. â€œI am sorry to have asked.â€ As she passed an alley, she grabbed him from behind and pulled him into it. Her knife finding a home in his back, penetrating through her abaya.
â€œUngrateful bitch,â€ he whispered. He tried to reach around to grab her, but he was already weakening.
She flung the abaya up over their heads and pulled tight as it drifted to his neck. She kept pulling it as he started losing fight.
â€œI have been patiently waiting for the time I could slip your watch,â€ she told him as they sank to their knees. â€œThis is as good a time as any.â€
â€œYou will go to hell for this,â€ he choked out.
â€œAmongst other things,â€ she admitted. â€œI’m sure killing you will be very low on the list of reasons why I am going to hell.â€
He fell to the ground dead and she fell on top of him, still pulling the taut abaya across his neck. A moment later she let go, sure he was dead.
But he had always taught her to be certain of a kill, so she pulled the knife from his back and slit his throat. She cleaned off the blade on the abaya, cut off his purse and stood. She looked around the alley until she spotted a line of clothes drying a bit away, sticking to the shadows she walked down the alley until she reached it. She pulled an abaya off the line and put it on before heading east, out of the city.
Two days later she found herself in a small town not much different than the previous. Her first order of business was to scout out the town. She mingled with the townswomen in the market to see if she could figure out her target.
From what her mentor had told her about her victim and what the women were saying, she quickly knew the man’s name: Panjwani. He was the city ruler and he was much loved. He was fair and just and obviously the nobles hated him, most notably a man named Mirza. She would pay him a visit first.
She wound her way up the street and walked around his residence a few times before seeing her point of entry. She walked away and waited for evening.
Shortly after nightfall she walked up to the servants’ door and quietly walked in. she stayed in the shadows and observed her surroundings before moving, keeping quiet to avoid detection. Because of her slow, cautious speed, she made it to the master bedroom in about an hour. She waited there for three more hours for Mirza to retire.
He came into his room alone. He went about his nightly routine without noticing the young girl sitting on his bed watching him.
After a few minutes Parsa got bored of waiting for him to notice her and said, â€œYou should be more careful. If you were my target I could have killed you by now.â€
He jumped, startled, before regaining his composure and turning to face her. â€œYou are Agha’s girl, then?â€ he questioned cautiously.
She pretended not to notice as he picked up a dagger and keep it in his hand behind his back. She merely nodded her response.
â€œYou weren’t supposed to come here,â€ he told her. â€œI didn’t want to meet you. It’s a liability.â€
â€œPlans have changed,â€ she told him. â€œMy master had an unfortunate run in with my knife,â€ she added. â€œI am here to renegotiate your agreement.â€
â€œI do not talk finances with women,â€ he told her.
â€œI keep hearing that.â€
â€œYou will continue to hear that.â€
â€œThen I am wasting my time,â€ she said, jumping off the bed. â€œPerhaps Panjwani will be moreÂ flexible when I speak with him.â€
â€œYou cannot speak with him,â€ Mirza said as he lunged at her, his dagger in hand.
She easily sidestepped the attack and used his forward momentum as she grabbed his arm. She spun him and had him on his belly on the ground in seconds, his arm and weapon tucked uselessly, but painfully, behind his back. She knelt on the wrist until his hand released the dagger. She picked it up with her free hand and put it to the man’s throat.
â€œI just want to be certain that I will receive the other half of the money when I complete the task,â€ she told him. â€œI know what you two agreed upon and I want to make sure it will be honored if I fulfill my part of the bargain.â€
â€œYes,â€ he replied between clenched teeth. â€œNow release me.â€
â€œOf course,â€ she said. â€œI’ll see you in two nights. That will give you time to verify death.â€ she flipped the dagger in her hand and hit him in the head with the ornate hilt. She slowly let up her hold on him to make sure he was unconscious and then fled through the window, glad there was a tree overlooking the next room.
Early the next morning, Parsa entered the market and wandered up to the apothecary’s tent. She looked at the wares until the apothecary’s wife came up to her.
â€œAre you looking for something special?â€ the woman asked. â€œPerhaps a little something to help you conceive?â€ She suggested.
â€œThere is no problem with conceiving,â€ Parsa stated proudly as she patted her flat belly, amazed at how easy this act was.
â€œOh, congratulations,â€ the woman beamed. â€œThen what may we help you with?â€
â€œWell, this is a bit unusual for me,â€ Parsa said, â€œbut I have had difficulty sleeping since I got pregnant,â€ she said. â€œIs there anything that can help?â€
The woman walked over to the table and spoke to her husband. They bantered back and forth and then he started mixing ingredients into a jar and finished it off with a stopper. She returned with the bottle full of a dark powder.
â€œTake a pinch of this with some tea before bed,â€ she instructed Parsa. â€œThis should be enough to get you through your pregnancy. Do not take more than a pinch a night. If it stops being effective return here. Do not take extra. It can be dangerous if too much is taken.â€
â€œThank you so much,â€ Parsa beamed. She reached into her purse and asked, â€œHow much do I owe you?â€
The woman told her the cost, Parsa haggled enough to not look overly eager for obtaining the poison and then paid and went on her way.
Parsa had to find her way into Panjwani’s palace and she wasn’t quite sure how. She wrapped herself in a thread-bare peasant’s abaya and walked around the residence several times. She finally figured that she would be sneaking in late that evening. She knew what the poison in her purse was and that she could dip an arrow or dagger blade into it and guarantee lethality. It would be obvious that he had been assassinated, but at least it will get done.
She began searching for her mode of entry when she saw an old woman walk up the lane. She stuck to the shadows hoping not to be seen.
â€œYou. Girl,â€ the old woman called.
Parsa looked around, hoping that she had not been spotted.
â€œYes, girl, you,â€ the woman said. This time it was obvious that she was speaking to Parsa.
â€œYes, ma’am,â€ Parsa said, her head down as if in shame to keep the woman from seeing her face.
â€œHow would you like to earn a few dinars?â€
â€œI am going into the palace that you have been admiring there.â€ She nodded towards Panjwani’s palace. â€œI am the cook and my assistant got herself a husband last week. I need someone to chop vegetables. How are you with a knife?â€
Parsa looked up and smiled proudly, amazed at her luck. â€œI’m only the best,â€ she told the woman.
â€œGood,â€ the woman told her. â€œI’m Fahmida.Â What’s your name?â€
â€œParsa,â€ she responded, not quite sure why she couldn’t lie to the woman.
â€œNow run down to the market and collect my orders from the butcher and the produce stalls. Come back here when you have collected it and go to that entrance.â€ she pointed to a small door that almost blended in with the wall. â€œKnock and I will let you in. If I like your work, I will keep you. Now run along.â€
Parsa did as instructed for the easy entrance to the palace. Two hours later she found herself, overburdened with food, at the small door, knocking.
The door opened and Fahmida stood in the doorway. She smiled and laughed. â€œGirl, I have never seen another girl carry so large a burden,â€ she commented with an amused smile. â€œMost just take a cart or make several trips and here you manage. You are impressing me already. Come in. Come in.â€ She stepped aside and let Parsa in. She kindly took some of the load as the girl passed.
The smell of cooking foods brought tears to the young assassin’s eyes. She was suddenly brought back to the life she had been forced to leave behind when her parents died.
â€œWhat’s the matter with you, girl?â€ the old woman asked as she returned to a table and started kneading dough.
â€œThis smells like my mother’s kitchen,â€ Parsa admitted. â€œIt has been three years now since she and my father died. I have not since been in a kitchen and the food I have eaten has been for survival only.â€
â€œWell, you’re in luck,â€ the woman told her. â€œYou are permitted to eat any scraps returned from the dining hall.â€ Fahmida leaned over her dough and whispered. â€œAnd as a special treat, tonight, and tonight only, you may help taste test things as we’re making them. You can start with this.â€ She pulled a bit of dough off the ball and handed it to Parsa.
The girl took it and began eating.
â€œNow get to chopping those vegetables. I need small pieces for a soup,â€ she instructed.
Parsa smiled as she started chopping.
The poisoning was easy. Lacing Panjwani’s soup with a lethal dose of the sleeping powder, she didn’t even have to see him. She mixed it into his bowl and a server took it to him. She left through the kitchen door after the dishes were brought back to the kitchen and she had verified that he had eaten the entirety of the bowl of soup and with it the poison.
She waited until sun up the next morning to come back to verify death. She stayed at a distance to watch the chaos ensue surrounding the discovery of the death of the master of the house.
The first signs came from the harem. The wailing of Panjwani’s wives and children was loud and quickly followed by the cries of the servants. Shortly a servant ran out the door and into the street to fetch a doctor.
Satisfied with his death, Parsa walked towards the city center and the market. The women’s gossip would soon confirm what the palace’s chaos had told her.
That night, many hours after the town had gone to sleep, Parsa silently climbed the tree up to Marza’s second floor and followed the thin ledge to his room. She silently slit the throat of the man waiting for her and watched as he fell to the ground. She quietly walked into the room, closing the door behind her and looked around.
She smiled at Marza’s confidence in his lone, dead man. She walked up to his bed and calmly shook him awake.
He opened his eyes and blearily looked at her momentarily until his brain caught up with him. â€œGuard!â€ he yelled, looking at the balcony window.
â€œOh, him,â€ she said. â€œI’m afraid he’s not going to help you kill me tonight,â€ she told him. â€œYou’ll have to pay me if you want to get rid of me. And my price just went up.â€
â€œI am not paying a little girl,â€ he told her.
â€œI can kill you and be out of here with a lot of valuable gems before anybody comes.â€ she told him. â€œI really don’t care which of the two scenarios you prefer. You live or you die, either way I get paid. It’s not much more work on my part.â€
He glowered at her and then threw the blanket off of him. â€œFine, I’ll get you the money,â€ he told her angrily as he got up and walked to his dresser. He fumbled around in the top drawer for a moment growling to himself. Finally he turned and threw a purse of money at her. â€œNow go. I never want to see you again.â€
â€œOh don’t worry. You won’t,â€ she replied. â€œBut if I ever see you.â€Â Â She let her words fade as she smirked, letting the man fill in the blanks for himself.
His ashen, fearful face told her that her tactics worked.
She left quickly and was out of town by dawn.
She impressed many in her line of work with the name she made for herself in that brief period. She quickly made contacts and was finding herself making quite a handsome fortune for her special talents.
One day, several months later, she received a letter through her sources.
â€œTo the Maiden Assassin,â€ it read. â€œI hope this finds you in good health. You may not remember me, but we met when you killed my husband some months ago. I must thank you again, his brother is much kinder. I do not have much money of my own to offer you, but I ask for your help as a woman. My sister was recently killed. Her husband had her put to death the morning after their marriage. He has done this now to twenty of his brides and shows no sign of stopping. Please go to Shushan and stop him any way that you can. My sister cannot be saved, but no other girl should meet her fate.â€
Parsa folded the letter and started packing. She would return to the city of her birth and see what needed to be done to the king.
Scheherazade sat up. â€œYou let me tell the story,â€ she said.
â€œIt was entertaining,â€ he whispered tiredly. â€œI can’t wait until tomorrow for you to finish it.â€
â€œOh, no need,â€ she told him. â€œI’m finally finishing it tonight. In a few minutes I’ll be a widow.â€
â€œScheherazade, you are being silly.â€
She leaned close to him. â€œCall me Parsa,â€ she whispered.
â€œYou are too much. Now go and come back tomorrow to finish the story.â€
â€œYou will not tell me what to do anymore,â€ she told him evenly. â€œFor too long I have let you live so that I could live in comfort.â€
â€œYou are out of line.â€ he warned her, but his energy was dwindling fast.
â€œI’m out of line?â€ she questioned angrily, barely managing to keep her voice quiet. â€œI’m out of line? I spent almost three years under your mental torture, never knowing if I could keep you interested in those stupid stories. Do you understand how long you kept me believing I would die the next morning? Do you?â€
He shrank back into the bed as she poked him in the chest for added emphasis.
â€œNo man in the palace would even look at me because of your obsession,â€ she continued, all those years of anger and frustration coming out at once. â€œI finally seduced a young guard to get me to bring me some sleeping powder. I was going to poison you the night you finally pardoned me. I pardoned you that night, too.â€ she stopped and regained her calm. â€œAnd now you’re about to sell me to some stranger. You want me to start over from the bottom? And then you have the audacity to ask for another story after all these years. Another story?â€
â€œYou are taking this story too far,â€ he told her, barely able to speak.
â€œI always keep my sleeping powder with me,â€ she told him, holding up an empty bottle. â€œNow I’m glad I did. You had three monthsâ€™ worth in your wine. The tiredness you’re feeling,â€ she added. â€œThat’s the first stage. The stomach ache is getting to be too much, isn’t it?â€
â€œGuard,â€ he called, his voice barely a whisper.
â€œThat is so cute,â€ she giggled maliciously.
â€œScheherazade,â€ he pleaded.
â€œParsa,â€ she told him. â€œScheherazade was a good and noble girl. She understood what was asked of her and the sacrifice she would have to make, but I am not her.â€ She smiled sweetly at him. â€œYou should be dead soon, too,â€ the told him consolingly as she stroked his hair. â€œDon’t fight it; I don’t want to be here all night. I have plans.â€
He looked at her, fear in his hazy eyes. He was too tired to fight and his eyes closed once, twice and then stayed closed.
Parsa smoothed his hair and got up. She grabbed the wine glass and rinsed it out. She walked back over to him and put her hand on his chest and waited. When she felt nothing, she put her ear to his chest and listened.
Satisfied, she walked over to the mirror and looked at her reflection, fixed her hair and then started wailing. â€œHelp,â€ she yelled frantically. â€œHelp.â€ She ran to the door and was met by the guard. â€œCall for a doctor,â€ she pleaded with the man as she fell into his arms. â€œI think my husband is dead. Please, do something.â€ She sank to the floor and sobbed.