'Well?' said the sultan. 'What happened next? What was behind the door?'
'Sir, there's light in the sky,' said Sheherezade. 'You're going to kill me now!
'But you can't stop there.You have to finish the story.'
Sheherezade is beautiful and clever. She also knows many wonderful stories. Night
after night, she tells them to Sultan Shahriar. She always stops in an exciting place, so he wants to hear the end of the story. She knows stories for a thousand and one nights. The Arabic name for these stories (Alf Leila wa Leila) means The Thousand and One Nights. The stories in this book are very different. Some are sad and some are funny. Some are exciting. We meet many interesting people — an unhappy young man, a clever servant girl, a boy judge, a stupid barber and forty bad thieves. The stories aren't new, but you can find the same people in the world today — a young man in love, a good friend or a clever young boy.
Everybody enjoys a good story, and before the days of television and cinema stories were very important. The stories in Tales from the Arabian Nights are very old. People in Europe first read them in French between 1704 and 1717. They don't come from one place, but from many different countries — the Middle East, India and Pakistan. At that time Europeans didn't know much about the countries in the Middle East. So these stories were very strange and exciting, and they opened a wonderful new world.
The Sultan and Sheherezade
Sultan Shahriar had a beautiful wife. She was his only wife and he loved her more than anything in the world. But the sultan's wife took other men as lovers. One day, the sultan found her with another man. He was very angry and cut off the man's head. Then he cut off his wife's head too.
From that time the sultan began to hate all women.
' From today,' he said to his vizir,' I'll marry a new wife every day. She'll stay with me for one night.Then the next morning, I'll cut off her head. So no woman will hurt me again.'
The vizir had to find a new wife for the sultan every day. But this was a very difficult job. Every family was afraid. No girl wanted to be the sultan's wife for one night and then die. Fathers began to send their daughters away.
The vizir too was afraid. 'What will happen to me?' he thought.' I can't find any more girls. Perhaps the sultan will kill me too.'
The vizir had two daughters. One of them, Sheherezade, was beautiful and very clever. One day she said,' Dear Father, please do something for me. It will make me, the sultan and the people very happy.'
' I would like to make everybody happy,' said the vizir.' What is it, my daughter ? Ask, and I will do it for you.'
' Give me to the sultan. I will be his wife,' answered Sheherezade.
The vizir's face turned white. ' Never!' he said. ' The sultan will kill you. I can't do that. Please don't ask me.'
'Please do it,' answered Sheherezade. 'Everything will be all right, you'll see. I want to be the sultan's wife.'
The vizir put his head in his hands. He was very unhappy. He loved Sheherezade very much and he didn't want to do this thing. But Sheherezade asked again and again, and in the end the vizir said sadly, 'All right, my daughter. But I don't understand. Why do you want to throw your life away ?'
Sheherezade went to her sister, Dunyazade, and told her everything. Dunyazade began to cry, but Sheherezade said,' Don't cry, dear sister. I don't want to die. Everything will be all right, you'll see. But you have to help me. I want you to sleep in the room with the sultan and me. Wake me up one hour before morning. Say to me,"Please tell me a story."That's all.'
The next day, Sheherezade went with her father to see the sultan. The sultan was very surprised. Why did the vizir want his daughter to be the sultan's wife? But Sheherezade was beautiful and the sultan was very happy with her. So he married her. That night, Sheherezade said to the sultan,' Sir, please can my sister stay with me tonight — my last night ?'
' All right,' said the sultan.
Nobody slept that night. The sultan always slept badly. Sheherezade was excited and Dunyazade was afraid. One hour before morning, Dunyazade spoke.
' Dear sister,' she said,' please tell me a story.'
So Sheherezade began.
Behind the Door
Salem's father was very rich. When he died, he left his money and houses to his son. But Salem was young and lost the money very quickly. Then he sold the houses and lost that money too. In the end he had nothing.
He sat in the streets and waited for work. Sometimes he carried things for people.
One day an old man spoke to him.
'You had a better place in life,' said the old man.' I can see it in your face. I live with ten other old men in one house. Come and be our servant.'
Salem walked through the city with the old man and they stopped outside the old
man's house. Before they went in, the old man turned to Salem and said, ' This house is a very unhappy place. But never ask any questions about that.'
' I'll remember that,' said Salem, and he followed the old man through the door.
The inside of the house was very beautiful. The rooms were large, with floors of
different colours. In the middle of the house was a lovely garden with many flowers. Salem could hear the sound of water and birdsong.
Then he heard other sounds. They came from the other old men.The men wore black, and they cried in their rooms. The first old man took Salem into his room. He showed him a box with pieces of gold inside.
' Use this gold when you buy things for us,' he said.
Salem also saw a door in the old man's room. He wanted to ask,'What's behind that
door?' But you didn't ask questions in that house.
Salem worked hard in the house for many years. One old man after another old man died, and he put them under the ground in the garden. In the end there was only one old man — Salem's first friend. Then he was ill too.
' I'm going to die, my son,' he said to Salem.
'Then please tell me something,' said Salem. 'Why are you so unhappy ? And what's behind the door in your room ?'
' I can't tell you that,' said the old man.' But don't try to open the door.
You'll be unhappy every day of your life.' The old man died. He left the house and his money to Salem. Now Salem was rich again, but he wasn't happy. He thought about the old men and the door. Why were the old men unhappy ? What was behind the door ? Salem had to know the answers to these questions. He took a piece of heavy wood and broke the door. The door was open.
'Well?' said the sultan. 'What happened next? What was behind the door?'
' Sir, there's light in the sky,' said Sheherezade. 'You're going to kill me now.'
' But you can't stop there.You have to finish the story.'
' Then please give me another day' said Sheherezade.
The sultan was angry, but he said, 'All right, I'll give you one more day. But after that.
The next night, Sheherezade started her story again.
Behind the door, everything was very dark and quiet. Then Salem saw some stairs. He took a lamp and walked down the stairs. The stairs went down for a long way into the ground and came out into a cave. Salem walked through the cave and came to the sea. He stood there and looked round him. Then he saw something in the sky. It got bigger and bigger. It was a very large bird. It came down and caught him by his clothes. Then it flew with him across the sea. Salem was afraid, but then he slept. The bird flew all night. Early next morning Salem woke up and saw a beautiful beach below him. A lot of people waited on the beach. The bird flew down into the middle of the people. The people were very friendly to Salem. They brought him a fine horse and helped him onto it. Then they took him through lovely gardens to a beautiful house. Inside the house there was a lovely woman sitting on a chair. When she saw Salem, she got up. 'You're here, my love! I'm very happy now,' she said.
She took Salem's hand and walked with him through the house and gardens.
' Everything here is mine,' she said.' Stay with me and be my husband. Then this will be yours too.'
' I would like that,' answered Salem.
'But there is one thing,' said the woman. They went back to the first room and she
showed Salem a door. 'Don't open that door,' she said,' or you'll be unhappy every day of your life.'
Salem took the woman's hand.' I don't want to open the door,' he said.' I only want you.'
Salem married the beautiful woman, and they lived happily for many years. He wasn't interested in the door. But then he began to think about it more and more.
' I opened the first door, at the old man's house,' he thought, 'and I found this lovely
place.When I open this door, perhaps I'll find a more wonderful place.'
One day he couldn't wait. This time he didn't have to break the door. He pushed it and it opened easily. Everything was dark behind the door. After some minutes Salem saw a large eye. Then he saw a large bird. It was the bird from the cave outside the first door. The bird jumped into the room. Salem tried to run away but it was too late. The bird caught him by his clothes and pulled him outside. It flew up into the sky and the house and garden got smaller and smaller. The bird started to fly over the sea, and Salem slept.
After a day and a night Salem woke up. He was in the cave by the sea again. The bird wasn't there. Salem walked through the cave and found some stairs. He walked slowly up the stairs and found a door. He went through the door and he was in his old house in the city again.
For many months, he tried to find a way back to the wonderful country. But nobody knew anything about it. In the end he understood. No ship could take him to that lovely country and his beautiful wife.
'Now I understand about the old men,' he thought. 'They were unhappy because they made the same journey. They found that wonderful place. Then they lost everything too.'
Salem lived in the house all his life. He dressed in black clothes and he cried every day. He never laughed again.
' That was a very sad story,' said the sultan. ' But the world is a very sad place.' He too never laughed these days.
' But is the world really sad ?' said Sheherezade. ' Everybody has to laugh sometimes. I can tell you a funny story about a great man — oh, but it's too late.'
' But I want to know,' said the sultan.' I think I can give you another day.You will tell me the story tonight.'