To God We Belong and To God We Return
The Story Of The First Night
The First Night is the story of the Merchant and the Demon. A traveling merchant stops to rest and eat. He tosses date pits onto the ground, washes, and says his prayers. Suddenly there appears an old demon, sword in hand, feet on the ground and head in the clouds, who says “I must kill you as you killed him,” because one of the dates pits the merchant tossed away struck the demon’s son and killed him. This is the justice of the pre-Islamic law of “blood for blood,” no matter what the intentions of the people involved.
The Merchant replies with Muslim piety: “To God we belong and to God we return. There is no power or strength save in God the Almighty, the Magnificent. If I killed him, I did it by mistake. Please forgive me.” But the Demon is of the old school of pre-Islamic law, and replies, “By God, I must kill you, as you killed my son.” This, of course, parallels the situation of the King who is killing a woman every night to punish a woman long dead–it is punishment without determining guilt. The pious merchant pleads, but the demon insists he MUST kill him.
Dawn comes, and Shahrazad stops the story right in the middle, but says she’ll tell an even better story if the king lets her live until the next night. He agrees, wanting to hear the end of the story, after which he will kill her.
THE STORY OF THE SECOND NIGHT
The Demon agrees to let the merchant go home and put his affairs in order. The merchant swears to God that he will return on New Year’s Day. The demon accepts this because they both believe in the same God, even though the merchant is Muslim and the demon is from an earlier time and accepts an earlier law.
True to his word, the merchant puts his affairs in order and returns on New Year’s Day. As he waits for the demon to come and kill him, an old man appears with a deer on a leash, hears the merchant’s story and says he will stay until he sees the outcome.
Dawn comes and Shahrazad stops telling her story. The intrigued King agrees to let her live yet another day to tell the rest of it.
THE STORY OF THE THIRD NIGHT
Another old man with two black dogs arrives, hears the merchant’s story, and says he’ll stay to see the outcome.
THE STORY OF THE FOURTH NIGHT
The demon appears and the first old man asks him if he will release one third of the merchant’s guilt if the old man can tell the demon a strange and wonderful story. The demon agrees and the first old man tells his tale.
He had a barren wife for thirty years and then he took a mistress who bore a son. His wife was jealous and, while the man was away, turned his mistress into a cow and the son into a bull. When the man returned, he was told that his mistress had died and his son had run away.
On a feast day, at his wife’s insistence, the old man sacrificed the cow, although the cow wept and otherwise behaved oddly. But, it proved only skin and bones, when dead, so at his wife’s insistence, he was going to sacrifice the bull, but it threw itself at his feet and behaved pathetically