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Book Excerpt

“To understand the story of the sultana,” Aracelia Zahorí began, “one has to understand the legacy left by the Moors in these lands.  These were times of enlightenment in commerce, art, medicine, agriculture and literature.  The Caliph-Al-Hakam is credited with founding a library of thousands of volumes of literature, the greatest in Europe at the time.  Within the library of the Alhambra palace, amongst many glorious manuscripts, there was a fourteenth-century Syrian manuscript known as Alf Layla — The One Thousand and One Nights — containing collections of fables and stories written by many authors over hundreds of years.  These folk tales were later known as The Tales of the Arabian Nights.”

Zora nodded, familiar with some of the stories of The Arabian Nights, but remained silent.

“The early hand written manuscripts,” her mother continued, “were based on tales that the woman Shahrazad told to King Shahrayar on successive nights.  You see, the king’s wife had been unfaithful to him; and her infidelity poisoned his view of marriage.  He was convinced that there was not a single chaste woman anywhere in the kingdom.  After he killed his wife, he then vowed that he would wed for only one night and then would kill the woman the next morning — and so he did.  The king’s custom to take every night the daughter of one of his army officers, or of a merchant, or even a commoner, soon led to great unrest in the land.  Mothers and fathers would cry to their God to bring evil upon the head of Shahrayar, before all the girls in the kingdom were gone.  With a vow to save the kingdom, Shahrazad, the daughter of the king’s most trusted vizier, volunteered to marry the king.  Despite protests from her father, Shahrazad and the king were married; and with the assistance of her sister, Dunyazad, Shahrazad created her clever conspiracy.”

Aracelia bent closer to her daughter, who was mesmerized by her mother’s words, enhanced by the flickering shadows and the intoxicating aroma of frankincense that permeated the air.  Almost in a whisper, Aracelia continued her tale.  “That night, and what transpired to be many nights, Shahrazad comforted the king with a special story.  The tales Shahrazad told to the king were actually a labyrinth of stories within stories, each successive tale taking elements from the previous story to build a new one, making elaborate use of metaphors to beguile the king.  The nights carried into days and weeks and months, as Shahrazad tantalized the king with the promise of an even more enchanting story the next night, if he permitted her to live.  Legend has it that over this time, Shahrazad bore the king three sons.  The king learned to love her and, more importantly, trust her.  He spared her life and kept her as queen, saving the lives of the young women of the kingdom and saving the kingdom itself.

“And why do I tell you of these tales, my daughter?” Aracelia said, her voice strengthening.  “Because they are the keys to the return of the Kingdom of Granada. Boabdil, you see, was a young and inexperienced leader.  Upon his ascendency to the throne he sought to gain prestige by invading Castilla.  The king was taken prisoner and only gained his release by consenting to make Granada a tributary kingdom to the Christian monarchy.  With her son’s capture and capitulation, the sultana realized that the kingdom was lost.  But the stories of Shahrazad intrigued and inspired her, and she spent many hours in the Alhambra library, reading of the wiles and bravery of this woman.   She recognized the cleverness of Shahrazad to save her kingdom.  This was the seed that led the sultana to build her own plan.