by Paulus the Woodgnome

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

It is said (but God alone knows all things) that on the one-thousandth and twelfth night, the passions of the bedchamber being somewhat spent, the Sultan Shahriyar spoke unto Shahrazad, the wise, the wonderful, the teller of tales, saying:

"Beloved I am tired and yet I can not sleep. My ear misseth the sound of your voice, and my spirit, I deem, is parched for the cool water of your tales. Will you not tell another ?"

And Shahrazad smiled to herself, for even this very thing had she predicted to Dunyazad her sister, that morning by the fountains of the Women's Quarters, as they supped the sherbet perfumed with rose and musk. "And verily," she had vowed, "I will tell him such a tale as is fitting between man and wife, that will raise him to new peaks of manhood."

So settling her head in the lap of the Sultan, as he reclined upon his divan of silk the colour of peacocks, Shahrazad the Clever told this tale.

The Tale of Hassan and the Merchant of Enlightenment

There was once a certain merchant dwelling in Aleppo, who had only one son, born to his middle age. Now the merchant was wealthy, and doted upon the boy, who grew up surpassingly handsome but extremely spoiled; and the boy was named Hassan, and every wish that he expressed, that was within his father's power to grant, was granted on the hour.

Now it came about that in the nineteenth year of Hassan's life, being bored and troubled in spirit (as are many to whom the joys of the world come too easy), that he gazed with a heavy heart through the lattice of a high window upon the street below. And he saw there a boy, dressed in plain stuff but well made, who moved through the street light as the gazelle of the desert. And his heart skipped within him, for the boy was beautiful, and Hassan was desirous of a more intimate knowledge of this youth. Running down to the street he flung aside the iron door of his father's house, and pursued the other almost to the Souk of the Spicesellers, and there caught up with him.

And when he gazed upon the face of the youth, he saw to his surprise that he was not as comely of feature as he, Hassan, had thought, but yet his beauty resided in a lightness of spirit that shone from him as the clear oil shines in the lamps of the mosques to illumine the Believers.

"Tell me, Oh Stranger," asked Hassan, "wherefore this joy that shines in your face ?"

"Oh Gracious One, peace be upon you. I am the apprentice of Abu Darb, the Merchant of Enlightenment, and if you would learn the happiness that is mine, then you too must serve him. But I must go, lest my master's kindness be ill-repaid by my tardiness." And with a smile, he was gone, leaving Hassan thoughtful.

And after that, nothing would please Hassan but that he should be bound apprentice unto Abu Darb, although his father and mother wept that the staff of their old age should be gone from them. And the term of his service was to be a year and a day, or until Abu Darb had no more to teach him, and all this was agreed in letters most beautifully written between the house of Abu Hassan, and the house of Abu Darb. And on the day appointed Hassan rode with his servants and his clothes and all the luxuries that his father could press upon him, until people thought that a young Prince rode through the streets of Aleppo, and so he came to the door of Abu Darb.

And the doorkeeper came out to them, and said:

"Young master, you will have no need for all these things, for all that you require shall be provided by Abu Darb, my master and now yours; and besides excess is hateful to God, the Chastiser of the Greedy." And he brought Hassan within, but his servants and his baggage must needs return to the house of his father.

And Hassan was brought to meet Abu Darb. And the Merchant of Enlightenment was a tall man, and vigorous, of middle years, with a stern brow but eyes that twinkled like stars.

"Hassan," he said, "you are welcome to my house, and you shall be to me like a son. But you must know that my law is strict, and I will not suffer it to be disobeyed, for Enlightenment is a precious good, and difficult of achievement. Therefore you must obey me in all things without question, that you may profit the more greatly from your stay. For tonight, though, I would but have you rest, that you may begin refreshed in the morning."

And Hassan was shown to his room, which was plain, and his bed, which was somewhat harder than that to which he was accustomed, and with linens of the plainest. And he flew into petulance, and demanded of the servants that pillows of down be brought, and soft mattresses, that he might rest as he was accustomed. And so great was the fuss that he made that Abu Darb must needs come to see what it was about, and his frown was severe when he heard.

"Oh Hassan," he said, "I see that you have much to learn, and there is little profit in delaying the lesson. Come to the Chamber of Enlightenment, where I am about to teach your fellow pupil Ali his evening lesson, and we shall begin to enlighten you." And Abu Darb took him by the arm, and led him into another part of the house, where unlocking a door, he brought Hassan into a curious room. Much furniture was there, of strange design, and also some implements of a sinister appearance.

In the centre of the room was a divan, and upon it lay face down, and quite unclothed, the youth that Hassan had seen in the street, his rosy buttocks raised by a pillow beneath them.

"Oh Ali !" exclaimed Abu Darb. "Surely God the Compassionate loves even sinners such as you, for this evening another has come to save you."

The youth sprang up with alacrity, a smile upon his face, but Hassan shook his head in perplexity.

"I do not understand," he said.

The Merchant of Enlightenment smiled.

"That is because you are not yet enlightened," he said, and with a nod to Ali, the two seized Hassan and divested him of all he wore, until he was as naked as Ali. Then drawing him over to the divan, they chained him by fetters of gold, arms and legs each to a corner so that he was drawn across the cushion at its centre, his buttocks raised and his legs parted as Ali's had been, but in this case quite unable to move.

"Oh Master, is it not as I said ?" asked the impudent Ali. "Is his face not a very sun of beauty, his skin like amber and musk, his lips like the wine-flushed rose and his eyes like the stars of the night sky ?"

"Yes, all that you have said is true," agreed the merchant, "and what you could not know besides, his buttocks are fair as the moon and her reflection, and most ripe for learning. And because you spoke true, and this young man is sorely in need of the lessons this house can teach, you shall aid me tonight." And truly the joy on Ali's face lit the room with no need for any lamp.

"Villains and rogues," cried Hassan, somewhat muffled. "My father shall surely bring you before the Qadi for this, and all that is yours shall be taken from you in recompense !"

Abu Darb smiled kindly.

"You mistake me," he said. "I mean you no harm - quite the opposite. I am going to teach you those things your own father should long have taught you, excellent man that he is, and I mean by it nothing but fatherly kindness."

And going over to the wall, the merchant took a flat paddle of leather, being near half a hand's span at its broadest part, from the implements that hung there. And upon it was written in gold, in the finest Kufi script, "Abu Taghdhib", which being translated means The Father of Agony. Then returning to the helpless Hassan, he stood over him like the stormcloud over the desert.

"Hassan," he said sternly, "you have troubled me, and my servants, and behaved most abominably. You shall surely feel such an implement as this. Yet," and his manner softened somewhat, "perhaps you are not quite ready for such a lesson. I shall not chastise you with it." And bending down, he released the young man's ankles, and then his wrists.

Hassan's heart was filled with relief like the traveller who finds an oasis in the desert. Yet as he scrambled up, Abu Darb took him forcefully by the wrist, and before he knew what was happening he found himself pulled across the merchant's lap.

The merchant's hand came down upon the firm and beauteous buttocks of Hassan. Many more times did he do so, until the twin moons glowed as red as setting suns, and Hassan cried out with each stroke, calling upon God and his Prophet (peace be upon him) to save him. And presently his cries became sobbings, and his shiftings became writhings, by which token the merchant knew that he had done his work well, and somewhat enlightened the foolish Hassan as to the error of his ways. As for Hassan, at the first he had felt shame at so undignified a punishment, such as small children receive, and above all before another youth. Yet by the end, the fire in his rear had driven all such thoughts from him, and all of his world was shrunk to the compass of his behind and Abu Darb's hard and untiring hand.

"Now," said Abu Darb, "because I am a man of my word, I shall not strike you with Abu Taghdhib. Yet I have also said that you shall surely feel it, and because I have promised Ali his part, he shall strike you three times upon the buttocks with it while you lie here. And be assured, that if you should rise from this couch before the third stroke be given, you shall be fettered here as before, and a further three strokes shall be your lot."

And he moved the groaning Hassan aside that he might rise, and then positioned the twin roses of his cheeks where they might best feel the rough male kiss of Abu Taghdhib. And Ali skipped like a young lamb over to where Hassan lay, though his manhood had waxed so mightily at the sight of the other's punishment that it might be truer to say like a young ram. And he took Abu Taghdhib and swished it through the air.

"Old Father of Many Regrets," he said, "though I have known your fires, I never thought to wield them. Surely God is the Generous and the Forgiving ! Now Hassan, prepare to meet the Fires of the Last Day !!" And with a great crack he brought the paddle down upon the scarlet bottom of Hassan. And the sound of the paddle on flesh was eclipsed by the great howl that Hassan gave, and half rose from the couch in his agony. Yet he remembered the merchant's threat, and subsided again. Again Abu Taghdhib descended, and this time Hassan's cry was so loud that passers by in the street invoked God's name against the mischief of the jinn.

"Oh, no more, no more, I beg you," sobbed Hassan, his hand going vainly to his throbbing hinder parts to shield them.

Abu Darb sat at the head of the divan and took his hands gently.

"Be brave," he said. "Tonight you have learned that you could endure more than you believed. Endure a little longer." And he nodded to Ali, who brought down the paddle in one final swooping crack, and the sobbing Hassan was quit of his punishment for that night.

And Ali led him to his own bed, and rubbed soothing unguents of myrrh and almond oil into the blistered behind of Hassan, and presently Hassan discovered that the fire in his buttocks had become a fire elsewhere, and the events of the night took a more pleasing course. And as for the Merchant of Enlightenment, he was tolerably pleased, for he foresaw that both Hassan and Ali had still much to learn, and he thought that Hassan might come in time to be a man of whom both his father and Abu Darb might be proud.

And much later in the night, Hassan whispered to Ali:

"Yet why did you look so happy that day I saw you in the street ? The pleasures of this learning are dearly bought."

And Ali said:

"Why dear friend, I had that very morning escaped, by the most fortunate of coincidences, an interview with Abu Taghdhib far more prolonged than your own ! I will tell you the how and the why of it."

The Tale of Ali and the Narrow Escape

It had come to pass that morning . . .

"Enough !" cried Sultan Shahriyar. "You are doing it again !"

"What is that, my beloved ?" asked Shahrazad, innocently.

"Braiding one tale within another until there is no finding the end of any of them. One tale is good, but in these a man might be lost forever. So you beguiled me for one thousand nights and a night, but I will be beguiled no longer. And you yourself have instructed me in the best means of ending it !" And seizing Shahrazad, he threw up her silken robe and drew her creamy buttocks across his lap. And the Sultan spanked her until she surrendered her obedience unto him entirely, which had been her intention from the beginning.

And from that time forth, Shahrazad the clever told only simple tales, unless it was her intention to be reminded, over her husband's knee, of the wisdom of seeming to do as her husband wished.

Copyright © 2001

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