The Farmer’s Wife and the Baby
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.” Shahrazad replied, “With the greatest pleasure.”:
One morning, Khayriyyah, a farmer’s wife, went out to care for the animals as was expected as a dutiful wife. This morning, after caring for the chickens, she was confronted by one of her husband’s dogs. This dog was usually quiet and calm, content to wander around and enjoy his old age, but today he was barking and whining at the woman. As this was very unusual for the old dog, Khayriyyah asked the dog, “What is wrong with you? You do not act like this. You are usually content to enjoy your well-deserved laziness.” At this, the dog turned and walked away a few paces before looking back at Khayriyyah and barking. This dog had been one of her husband’s best guard dogs when he was young, so the wife followed him. After a long walk, the old dog had led the woman to the top of a hill with a date tree. Under the tree lay a bundle of rough spun cloth. The old dog lay beside the cloth and looked up at his master’s wife. The woman gasped and ran to the bundle when it moved and made a noise. Picking the cloth wrapped infant up, she quickly looked around for the mother. Finding no one around, she pulled the whimpering infant closer to her. Promising the old dog a large bone from tonight’s supper, the woman quickly made her way home.
Once Khayriyyah got home, she presented the child to her husband. Looking at him with pleading eyes, she said, “Husband, I have been a good and dutiful wife to you these years, but I have not been able to give you a child. Your mistresses have failed to present you with a child either. Today, your old dog, who is content to enjoy his lazy days, led me to this child. I believe him to be a gift to us. May I raise him to be a proper son to you?” The farmer looked at the baby and found it to indeed be a male. He was healthy and looked like he would grow to be a strong man. Looking away from the fussing infant to his wife, he nodded. “You have been a dutiful wife. I will allow this. Raise him well and I will claim him as my heir.” Smiling and thanking her husband, Khayriyyah had one of the goats milked and began feeding the hungry infant.
Several days later, as the wife stepped out to once again tend to the animals, her new son strapped safely to her body, she looked up to see a large group of people riding toward the farm. Calling for her husband to warn him of their arriving guests, she turned into the house to prepare to properly greet their guests. When the group arrived, the household was surprised and fearful to find it was the king, surrounded by his fiercest warriors. After the farmer properly greeted King Yardan, he asked how his household could serve him. Glaring, King Yardan pointed to the farmer’s wife. “I demand to see that baby at once!” Trembling and speechless from the frightening glare on King Yardan’s face, the woman carefully unwound the baby from her chest and gently handed the tiny boy to her king. While everyone watched on curiously, the king delicately removed the wrapping the rest of the way from the baby’s body, inspecting the infant’s limbs. After a moment, Yardan looked at his men, “Arrest this woman and take her back to the palace. She shall be publically executed for kidnapping the king’s son and heir!”
But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then her sister said, “What an amazing story!” Shahrazad replied, “Tomorrow night I shall tell you the rest, which is even stranger and more wonderful, if the king spares me and lets me live!”
The following night Dinarzad said to her sister Shahrazad, “Sister, if you are not sleepy, finish the story of the Farmer’s wife.” Shahrazad replied, “With the greatest pleasure”:
The king ordered his men to arrest the farmer’s wife so that he could have her publically executed for kidnapping his son. As two of the king’s warriors grabbed Khayriyyah, noise exploded in the house. The farmer’s mistresses were sobbing and wailing while the farmer was protesting the arrest of his wife. His wife’s sobs and her broken pleading for a chance to explain went unheard in the chaos. “Silence!” King Yardan yelled, furious at the people who allowed this woman to take his child. In the frightened silence that followed, he clutched his son to his chest, soothing his cries at the noise from a moment ago and left the house, motioning his men to follow. Tears streaming down her face, Khayriyyah silently allowed herself to be dragged from her home. Once they reached the palace, the farmer’s wife was thrown into a dungeon where she curled into the corner, sobbing. After taking his son to his mistress who had bore him, and taking time to calm her, he went to his wife, Akilah, to tell her the news. After hearing how her husband found his son, Akilah got a thoughtful look on her face. “What are you thinking, my wife? Are you not happy that my son is back? I thought you were as happy as I when he was born.” His wife placed a comforting hand on his arm. “I am delighted that he is back and safe. I love him as if I had born him from my own womb. That is not what my look was for. I am simply confused, my husband.” Curious, King Yardan asked his wife to explain. “Well, my husband, I do not understand why this woman took him. Why would she sneak into the palace, risking her life and the humiliation to her family, to steal the king’s son? There is nothing she could have gained from this action.” King Yardan listened to his wife’s words and smiled. “The household is childless, wife. Neither Khayriyyah, nor any of the farmer’s mistresses, have been able to give him a child. She took my son to give her husband a child. That is all the reason she needed.” Patting his wife’s hand, King Yardan rose to leave. Reaching out, Akilah stopped her husband, “Wait, please. I still do not understand. Are there not other children she could have taken, ones easier to steal? I do not understand why she would do this. Did you ask her what happened? Did you ask her why?” Sitting down slowly, the king took his wife’s hand back into his own and looked her in the face. “You do not think she did it, do you.” It was not a question. Yardan had been married to Akilah for many years and knew the way she thought. She was a very intelligent woman and King Yardan had learned that it was wise to listen to her thoughts. Yardan prided himself on taking an obedient and intelligent wife. Akilah shook her head. “I do not know. But I do not think this woman should be killed without being sure that she did indeed do the crime you are punishing her for.” Nodding, King Yardan rose once again. “As you wish, my wife. I will speak with her. I will gain the truth before I act. Do not worry.” Akilah smiled and leaned back. “Thank you, my husband.” Departing from his now happy wife, King Yardan left to talk to the farmer’s wife. Reaching the cell, he saw her curled into the corner, sobbing her heart onto the straw below her. Gaining her attention, he said one word: “Why?” After properly greeting her king as any dutiful woman, she questioned softly, “What do you mean?” “Why did you steal my son? Why did you condemn your family to such shame? What did you gain from this horrible act?” Collapsing at the feet of the king, she spoke with all her sincerity, “By God, I did not do this! I would never steal another’s child. I found him, my king. I did not know he was yours. Our old dog led me to him. He was wrapped in the cloth of a commoner and laying alone under a date tree. I believed him to be abandoned and a gift from God for my obedient and dutiful actions. By God, I swear my words are true.” King Yardan looked down at the woman’s earnest and sincere face. “I do not know if you speak the truth or not, but I am inclined to trust my wife. I will not have you executed –“ He stepped back as she fell on his feet and spoke over her babble appreciation, “but you will stay here until the truth is found. If it is found that you have deceived me, your shame will be worse and you will be killed. Nodding, the woman shuffled back and wiped the tears from her face, calmer in her conviction that God would see her freed.
King Yardan, wrapped in his conflicting thoughts, wandered blindly through the palace. So caught up in his thoughts, he was not aware he had stopped until he heard softly spoken voices around the corner of the hallway he was in. He did not recognize the male voice, but he knew the other to be Lubanah, one of his mistresses. Knowing her to be the one that saw his son taken, he pressed himself into the shadows to listen.
“I do not know what we are going to do, Marid. We cannot risk taking the child from his mother again. He will be even more heavily guarded now that he is back.” The king could not make out Marid’s low response, but Lubanah’s loud exclamation was clear. “It is not fair! I should be first mistress! The only reason she fell with child first is because the king laid with her more and I had to turn to you to get with child. Our son should be heir, not theirs. We will have to find another way to get rid of the baby.” As the voices faded as they walked further down the hall, King Yardan turned and went to his guards. Ordering Lubanah and Marid to be arrested, he went to retrieve their son. Born less than a month after his heir, King Yardan had thought nothing of the fact that this boy looked nothing like his first born. He shook his head as he walked out of the boy’s room. He now knew the reason he looked nothing like him is because the child was not his son.
As King Yardan carried the infant to the dungeon, he passed Lubanah and Marid being dragged to cells. “My king!” Lubanah cried. “Why am I being arrested? Have I displeased you in some way?” Looking into her eyes, he saw the deceit and jealousy that he had never noticed before. Sneering at her and her lover he spoke cruelly. “Yes. You have displeased me. You have been scheming and betraying me. This child is not from my seed, yet you tried to pass him off as such. You stole my rightful son, my heir, and tried to lay the blame on another. You betrayed me by being with this man. You were going to allow the woman who saved my son to die for your actions.” Lubanah began stuttering, attempting to explain herself, but fell silent at the king’s glare. She silently hung her head in shame. “You do not deserve a child. As punishment for stealing my son away, I am taking yours. He will be given to Khayriyyah as reward for saving and caring for my son. I will decide the rest of your punishment later. For now, you and your lover will be staying in the darkest cells I have.” Nodding to his guards in dismissal, he went to Khayriyyah’s cell to release her and reward her with the baby. With tears of happiness in her eyes, Khayriyyah thanked King Yardan and, clutching the new babe to her breast, went home to raise her new son.
But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said, “What an amazing and entertaining story!” Shahrazad replied, “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if the king spares me and lets me live!”