The Tale of the King of Yunan and His Unfaithful Wife

The Tale of the King of Yunan and His Unfaithful Wife

(An extract from the Arabian Nights)

by Dave Potter

arabian nights

The Five Hundred and Forty-Second Night

The following night Dinarzad said, “Please sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us a tale to while away the night.” The king added, “Finish the Tale of the Merchant and the Poor Man.” Shahrazad replied, “Very well”.

It is related, O King, that the poor man then said to the merchant, “‘Trust you, sir, after all that you have done to me. If I trusted you now I should be as stupid as the King of Yunan who was asked to trust to trust his wife, the unfaithful Queen Zubaida.’ The merchant frowned when he heard this. ‘But poor man,’ he replied, ‘I know nothing of neither the King of Yunan or the Queen Zubaida. Why should he not trust his own wife?’ The poor man smiled. ‘There was good reason and let me tell it to you:’

[The Tale of the King of Yunan and his Unfaithful Queen]

Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Yunan, there lived a young king named Harun who was as good and wise a ruler as any king in Islam. Indeed, all was fine and prosperous in his kingdom save for one thing; that being that the king was no married. Knowing that it is a man’s duty in Islam to be married, the king decided to find himself a wife, so he set out on a tour of his domain, searching for the most beautiful maiden in Yunan to take as his wife. Now the king travelled for a full forty days and forty nights, but no girl who could match his high expectations could he find and he was beginning to lose hope when he entered the city of Samarkand, whereupon he met with an old man who bade him come to his house. His curiosity picqued, the King of Yunan did so and was let to a large mansion…”

But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said, “O my lady, what an amazing and entertaining story!” Shahrazad replied, “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if I live, the Almighty God willing!”

 

The Five Hundred and Forty-Third Night

The following night Dinarzad said to her sister Shahrazad, “Please sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us one of your lovely little tales to while away the night.” The king added, “Finish the Tale of the King of Yunan and his Unfaithful Queen.” Shahrazad replied, “With the greatest pleasure.”

“So the mysterious old man of Samarkand led the King of Yunan to his home, which was a large mansion with domes on the roof and ornate blue tiles around the door. Together they entered and were led down countless corridors until they came to a spacious, well-appointed and splendid hall. It had arched compartments and niches with carved woodwork; it had a booth hung with drapes; and it had closets and cupboards covered with curtains. In the middle stood a large pool full of water, with a fountain in the centre, and at the far end stood a couch of black juniper wood, covered in white silk and set with gems and pearls, with a canopy-like mosquito net of red silk, fastened with pearls as big as hazelnuts or bigger. The curtain was unfastened, and a dazzling girl emerged, with genial charm, wise mien, and features as radiant as the moon. She had an elegant figure, the scent of ambergris, sugared lips, Babylonian eyes, with eyebrows as arched as a pair of bent bows, and a face whose radiance put the shining sun to shame, for she was like a great star soaring in the heavens, or a dome of gold, or an unveiled bride, or a splendid fish swimming in a fountain, or a morsel of luscious fat in a bowl of milk soup. She was like her of whom the poet said:

Her smile reveals twin rows of pearls

Or white daisies or pearly hail.

Her forelock like the night unfurls;

Before her light the sun is pale.

‘I have found my bride!’ declared the king.

‘My only daughter is yours,’ replied the old man.

The girl only smiled submissively before being led away to marry.

After his wedding, the king took his new bride, the Queen Zubaida, of whom it was said that there was no equal in beauty throughout the whole of Islam, back to his palace in Yunan and all seemed well. However, after a few weeks, his vizier and courtiers noticed a profound change in their ruler. Whereas before he had been meticulous in his duties, just in his dealings and content in his heart, now he seemed forever worried, nervous and ill at ease, and was forever neglecting the tasks of kingship. Greatly perturbed, the vizier decided to speak to his master to ask him just what the problem might be. When he did so the good king turned to him with sad eyes and said…”

But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said, “O my lady, what an amazing and entertaining story!” Shahrazad replied, “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if I live, the Almighty God willing!”

 

The Five Hundred and Forty-Fourth Night

The following night Dinarzad said, “Please sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us a tale to while away the night.” The king added, “Finish the Tale of the King of Yunan and his Unfaithful Queen.” Shahrazad replied, “I hear and obey”:

“And so O king, the vizier asked the good King of Yunan what was ailing him and the king looked towards his devoted servant with sad eyes and said, ‘Alas, it is my wife, the Queen Zubaida. I suspect that she is unfaithful, that she cavorts with the slaves when I am away, and this saddens me immensely.’

‘Well then my Lord,’ replied the vizier, ‘there is but one course of action to take, kill her immediately so that she may trouble you no more.’

‘No, no, if only it were so easy!’ declared the king. ‘Alas, I cannot have her killed as I love her truly. Because I love her so deeply, I am distracted from my work because of her great beauty. If she were to be killed, then I must also, for without her I can no longer live. No, I do not wish her killed, only taught to be faithful to her lord and master for all eternity.’

The vizier looked grave and frowned. ‘It is a difficult case, sire,’ he said, ‘ but I shall see what I can do.’

‘Vizier, you have a month. If you have cured her of her ways by then, then I shall shower you with gold and riches, but if not, then it shall be you whom will be beheaed, not my wife!’

The vizier shuddered at these terrible words and hurried off home, where he flung himself onto his bed and cried out in anguish, realising the hopelessness of the task that he had been set. Whilst he was on his bed, his daughter came to him and asked him what was the trouble. He explained all to her and ended by instructing her to fetch a lawyer so that he may settle up his worldly affairs before meeting certain death. To his surprise however, his daughter smiled instead and said, ‘Father, that will not be necessary, for I have a plan which, if you follow to the letter will render you a rich man and I the happiest girl in Islam. Are you prepared to trust me?’

‘Of course, my love.’

Now the daughter of the vizier, unbeknownst to even her father, had for a long time been the mistress of a terrible demon who possessed magical powers and with whose help great changes could be affected. So it was, that straight after her meeting with her father, she left the house and went to the domed mausoleum where the demon lived and told him of her father’s plight. ‘Can you not kill the queen?’ she asked and then all will be alright.

‘No, no,’ said the fiend for her beauty, as you can probably imagine, is not natural but was created by a djinn under whose protection she lives. Neither we nor anyone else in Islam may do anything to harm her or mar that beauty. However, that does not mean that all is lost. Drink two drops of this vial tonight at midnight and then give your father this letter to give to the king on the morrow.’

‘Very well, my love,’ she replied, ‘before settling down to lie with the loathsome creature.

That evening, just as the clocks struck twelve, she took the vial that the demon had given to her and let two drops of the liquid within the fall into her mouth. She felt nothing however, and wondered quite what her lover’s schemes were, until she turned and looked into her mirror. To her astonishment, in the glass she saw a full-bosomed girl, about five feet tall. She was all charm, beauty and perfect grace, with a forehead like the new moon, eyes like those of a deer or wild heifer, eyebrows like the crescent in the month of Sha’ban, cheeks like red anemones, mouth like the seal of Solomon, lips like red carnelian, teeth like a row of pearls set in coral, neck like a cake for a king, bosom like a fountain, breasts like a pair of big pomegranates resembling a rabbit with uplifted ears, and a belly with a navel like a cup that holds a pound of benzoin ointment. She was like her of whom the poet aptly said:

On stately sun and full moon cast your sight;

Savour the flowers and lavender’s delight.

Your eyes have never seen such white in black,

Such radiant face with hair so deeply dark. With rosy cheeks, Beauty proclaimed her name,

To those who had not received her fame.

Her swaying heavy hips I joyed to see,

But her sweet, slender waist brought tears to me.

‘He has turned me into a beauty that surpasses the queen herself!’ she exclaimed, realising the demon’s plan. Then she went to bed happy with her new form and in the morning gave the letter to her father who immediately took it to the palace and…”

But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said, “O my lady, what an amazing and entertaining story!” Shahrazad replied, “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if I live, the Almighty God willing!”

 

The Five Hundred and Forty-Fifth Night

The following night Dinarzad said to her sister Shahrazad, “Please sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us one of your lovely little tales to while away the night.” The king added, “Finish the Tale of the King of Yunan and his Unfaithful Queen.” Shahrazad replied, “With the greatest pleasure.”

“I heard O Happy King, that the vizier took the letter to the King of Yunan who opened it and read the following words: ‘Command your wife to wear a veil across her face.’

“What do these words mean?” the king asked his vizier. “Please my lord, just follow the instructions,” replied the vizier, unable to comprehend the demon’s motive himself. The king, although unsure, decided to follow the letter’s instructions and bade his wife to come before him. When she did so, the Queen Zubaida appeared so handsome and radiant with beauty that she was like her of whom the poet said:

With face as lovely as the dazzling moon,

In beauty she excels the antelopes and deer.

The Glorious God has given her honour, fame,

Virtue, a golden shape, and all the graces dear.

Seven stars shine on her heavenly face

To guard her cheeks and all intruders bar,

So that if one dares steal an impish look,

At once she shoots him with a falling star.

“My queen, I have decided that you are to wear a veil across your face,” commanded the king. “As you desire my lord,” replied Queen Zubaida, who then went away to follow his instructions. Now the queen was mystified by the king’s request, but did not worry about following it, for she had read that in the Land of Persia most women covered their faces with veils and in doing so excited their husband’s and other menfolk to great lust. And so it was that she chose a light silk veil, tied it across her nose, put kohl on her eyes, dressed in her finest silk outfit and draped herself in gold and jewels before reappearing before her husband and performing a dance for him that was so enchanting that every man in the hall desired her more than any women on earth and the King of Yunan was so lustful that he burnt inside and sent everyone out of the chamber so that he could enjoy his wife to the full. Afterwards though, he felt ashamed at his weakness and angry at the lust that his wife had caused in other men, so his sent for his vizier and said, “I asked you to stop my wife from inciting other men, not making her worse! If a solution is not found soon, I shall make your death painful indeed!”

The vizier, much afraid, went away and sought out his daughter’s demon-lover. He explained what had taken place and asked, “What can I do? I am lost!” The demon smiled at him and handed the vizier another letter. “You are not lost,” he said. “Tell the king to follow the instructions in this letter.” The vizier bowed and went away to the palace…”

But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said, “O my lady, what an amazing and entertaining story!” Shahrazad replied, “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if I live, the Almighty God willing!”

 

The Five Hundred and Forty-Sixth Night

The following night Dinarzad said to her sister Shahrazad, “Please sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us one of your lovely little tales to while away the night.” The king added, “Finish the Tale of the King of Yunan and his Unfaithful Queen.” Shahrazad replied, “As you desire.”

“I heard O king, that the vizier went back to the palace and handed the King of Yunan the demon’s second letter. The king opened it and read the following words: ‘Command your wife to don a thick cloak of black that reaches her feet, a thick black scarf of the same material over her head and a thick black veil so that only her eyes may be viewed.’

“What do these words mean?” the good king asked. “Please my lord, just follow the instructions,” replied the vizier, unable to comprehend the demon’s motive himself. The king decided to follow his vizier’s advice and so summoned his queen before him and commanded her to don the clothing proscribed by the demon. “As you desire my lord,” replied Queen Zubaida, who then went away to follow his instructions. Now the queen was not happy at all with these new instructions, for she was now beginning to perceive the intentions of the vizier. However, she knew that no veil could hide immense beauty, so she had the garments made, donned them but then applied kohl to her eyes so that they appeared as those of which the poet said:

Eyes that subdue all men with their charm

All fall before those two heavenly pearls

Then the queen returned to her husband’s presence clad all in black. Her beautiful eyes however, shone through and captivated all men, causing great lust to all. The King of Yunan was so overtaken with desire that once again he commanded all save the queen to depart and enjoyed his marital rights there and then. Afterwards however, he repented of his actions and commanded the vizier back into his presence. “You ask me to cover her, but now her eyes excite me more than they ever did before!” he said. “I shall make your death most painful indeed unless you solve this problem!” Much perturbed, the vizier left and went to see his daughter and her demon-lover. “Worry not,” said the demon, “but give the king this letter and tell him to follow the instructions within.” Then the daughter turned to her father, “but please father, do not forget me. Now that I am as beautiful as the moon, show me to the king and then he will be taken with my looks and not those of his hidden wife…” Her father agreed and hurried away to the palace and then…”

But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said, “O my lady, what an amazing and entertaining story!” Shahrazad replied, “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if I live, the Almighty God willing!”

 

The Five Hundred and Forty-Seventh Night

The following night Dinarzad said to her sister Shahrazad, “Please sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us one of your lovely little tales to while away the night.” The king added, “Finish the Tale of the King of Yunan and his Unfaithful Queen.” Shahrazad replied, “With the greatest pleasure.”

“It is related O King, that the vizier returned to the palace and handed the king the demon’s third letter. The king opened it and read the following words: ‘Command your wife to don all the clothes that I have previously requested twice over and then in addition, gloves on her hand and a veil so thick that nothing may be seen through it over the whole of her face so that nothing, not one inch of her flesh or features may be viewed by anyone.’

“What do these words mean?” the good king asked. “Please my lord, just follow the instructions,” replied the vizier, unable to comprehend the demon’s motive himself. The king decided to follow his vizier’s advice and so summoned his queen before him and commanded her to don the clothing proscribed by the demon. “As you desire my lord,” replied Queen Zubaida, who then went away to follow his instructions. Now the queen was not happy at all with these new instructions, for she now knew full well what the intentions of the vizier were. She knew also that it was in fact not the vizier who was commanding such, but instead a demon, for no human could have ever thought of such a devious and brilliant plan, but nonetheless she obeyed. “I shall defeat that demon yet with my inner beauty.” Even so, when she put on all the clothing proscribed by the demon, she was most unhappy. Wearing the black cloak and lower face-veil was annoying enough. They were hot and restricted her movements. The additions however, reduced her vision of the world to a dim blur and the heat and constriction was most overpowering.

Queen Zubaida returned to the hall where she stood, unseen and hidden by the entire crowd. For the first time not one man was incited to lust by her presence and the King of Yunan, pleased, was about to congratulate his vizier when his wife began to sing the following verse:

I wander through the halls where Leyla lived,

And in my sorrow kiss the stony walls.

‘Tis not for the stones that I burn with love

But for the dear one who dwelt in the halls.

As she sang, her voice, like that of a bird of paradise, echoed through the hall and filled every male heart with desire, for only a woman of exceptional beauty could possess such a heavenly voice. Once again, the King of Yunan sent all men out and once again he repented of his actions and threatened his vizier with a death of excruciating pain.

On his last legs, the vizier returned to the demon, who once more said, “Do not be afraid, this plan will work. Here is the fourth and final letter.” The demon handed the vizier a letter and with it a small box inlaid with fine jewels. “What is this?” asked the vizier. “Do not ask, you do not need to know.” The vizier did not question the demon but instead returned to his king in the palace and handed him the fourth and final letter. The king opened it and read the following words: ‘Command your wife to don all the contents of the box that accompanies this letter.’

“What do these words mean?” the good king asked. “Please my lord, just follow the instructions,” replied the vizier, unable to comprehend the demon’s plan himself. The king decided to follow his vizier’s advice and so summoned his queen before him and commanded her to don all the contents of the box. “As you desire my lord,” replied Queen Zubaida, who then went away to follow his instructions. She went to her room, removed her veils, and opened the box. Inside it she found a pair of golden handcuffs, some golden ankle cuff and a large wooden replica of a male tool, attached to a leather strap. Her maid who accompanied her, fitted the cuffs and then slipped the wooden tool into her mouth, buckling the strap behind her head, before then replacing all the veils and black cloak. Blinded, hot, silenced and restrained, Queen Zubaida finally realised the genius of the demon’s plan. As a mute, faceless, almost lifeless slave, she could never even cause the king to lust, let alone the big slave whom she desired. However, she had no choice? Reluctantly she re-entered the hall where all waited for her. With great shame she stood there, defeated by the demon. No one lusted after her, not a man even noticed her. She was as wanted as the ugliest hunchback such as of whom the poet said:

Lovely the hunchback who can hide his hump,

Like a pearl hidden in an oyster shell,

A man who looks like a castor oil branch,

From which dangles a rotten citric lump.

Overjoyed, the King of Yunan embraced his vizier and said unto him, “You have solved my problem, I am forever in your debt. Whatever you wish I will grant, just say the words.” The vizier, smiled, relieved to be spared a painful death and said, “Will you just consent to view my daughter tomorrow evening?” When she heard these words, Queen Zubaida recoiled in horror, as the full genius of the demon’s plan. Obviously, he had enchanted the girl and transformed her just as she had been transformed years ago, and once the king saw her, without the sight of his queen to sway him, he would fall in love and she would be lost, forgotten and hidden. The King of Yunan smiled. “Of course I consent to this.”

That night when she lay in her bed…”

But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said, “O my lady, what an amazing and entertaining story!” Shahrazad replied, “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if I live, the Almighty God willing!”

 

The Five Hundred and Forty-Eighth Night

The following night Dinarzad said, “Please sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us a tale to while away the night.” The king added, “Finish the Tale of the King of Yunan and his Unfaithful Queen.” Shahrazad replied, “I hear and obey.”

I heard O Happy King, that when Queen Zubaida went to her bed that night she turned the events of the day over in her mind and formulated a plan. At the hour of midnight, she got up, summoned her maid fetch her a brush and paper, and wrote a letter. Pleased with her act, she then returned to her bed and slept soundly. The following morning, she was dressed in her full regalia, hobbled, silenced, restrained, and veil and led to the royal chamber. There she knelt before the King of Yunan and two gloved hands slipped out from through her cloak folds and handed a letter to her husband. The king opened the letter and read the following words:

‘My beloved husband and lord, the changes that you have imposed upon my life have taught me a happier and holier way of life and have made me realise the errors of my earlier ways. I am eternally grateful to you for that guidance. However, I wish for this assistance in morality to be given to not only I but indeed every woman in the kingdom so that all may cease their adulteress ways and find peace and contentment.’

The King of Yunan considered the words and then smiled. “My wife, your queen, speaks with great wisdom,” he said. “Therefore, from now on, I command all women in the Land of Yunan to be clad, shackled and silenced exactly as she is from this moment hence!”

And thus it was that the vizier’s daughter did meet her king that evening, but shackled, shrouded and silenced, she was unable to tempt him into accepting her as a second wife, and the king, who did not even notice her presence and with the view of all women taken from him, was left only with the memories of his wife’s incredible beauty and so loved her more than ever before and lived happily ever after. Indeed, the vizier’s daughter was very distraught and was angry with her demon-lover for failing her, so much so that the demon in his rage took her sparkling beauty away from her and turned her into a most plain and loathsome-looking girl. So ugly was she, that all suitors turned away from her and in the end the vizier was forced to marry her to a tailor from Baghdad. However, one day when she was in her husband’s house her old demon-lover reappeared to her, repenting of his ways and restored to the girl her former beauty. So overjoyed was she that she forgave him and went away with him, leaving her tailor husband alone and distraught.“Oh me, oh my!” cried that poor man. “My situation is so hopeless, that I am like the hunchback in the tale of Ali ibn-Basr of Mosul and the Hunchback!”

[The Tale of Ali ibn-Basr of Mosul and the Hunchback]

“What story is that?” asked the merchant.

“Well,” said the poor man, “once upon a time, in the city of Mosul, there lived a man named Ali ibn-Basr…”

 

 

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