One thing about the Thousand and One Nights, they sure know how to keep a story moving. And, even better, they know the virtues of a slow introduction -- here, in The Tale of the Barber's Fifth Brother (must focus-group that title), we begin with a long daydream of wealth -- and not just of wealth, but of the things wealth buys, such as repercussion-free meanness to women:
I will command her to stand before me as stands the timid and the abject; and I will not look at her, on account of the haughtiness of my spirit and the gravity of my wisdom; so that the maids will say, O our master and our lord, may we be thy sacrifice! This thy wife, or rather thy handmaid, awaiteth thy kind regard, and is standing before thee: then graciously bestow on her one glance; for the posture hath become painful to her.In defense of these old tales, we know the guy is a fool, for he's daydreaming while selling bits of glass, and, when he gets too much into the daydream, he actually kicks over his tray of glass, breaking it -- ha ha! (One of the chief things I think I've learned on this project is not to be afraid of the basic jokes; they have worked for millienia.)
Anyway, that's how the B5B (Barber's Fifth Brother) gets involved in the serial-killing ring, which seems over-elaborate -- it involves meeting a bewitching woman with money, and then, the next day, an old lady who promises access to said bewitching woman. Then the nefarious plot moves into action:
...the slaves laid hold upon him, and stripped him, and struck him more than eighty blows with the flat of his sword, until he fell sprawling upon the floor; when he retired from him, concluding that he was dead, and uttered a great cry, so that the earth trembled, and the place resounded at his voice, saying, Where is El-Melihah? upon which a girl came to him, holding a handsome tray containing salt; and with this she forthwith stuffed the flesh-wounds with which my brother’s skin was gashed until they gaped open...whereupon the old woman came to my brother, and, dragging him by the feet to a deep and dark vault, threw him into it upon a heap of slain.But he survives, extolling Allah's perfection, because what is a better example of perfection than a serial-killing ring? But he gets his revenge, action-movie style:
So my brother rose, and, as the slave walked before him, he put his hand to the sword which was concealed beneath his clothes, and struck the slave with it, and cut off his head; after which he dragged him by his feet to the vault, and called out, Where is El-Melihah? The slave-girl, therefore, came, having in her hand the tray containing the salt; but when she saw my brother with the sword in his hand, she turned back and fled: my brother, however, overtook her, and struck off her head. He then called out, Where is the old woman?—and she came; and he said to her, Dost thou know me, O malevolent hag? ...The old woman exclaimed, Fear God in thy treatment of me!—but my brother, turning towards her, struck her with the sword, and clove her in twain.It will not surprise students of human nature to find out that the pretty girl gets spared. And then, just as we're wrapping things up, here's the last sentence:
Some robbers, however, came upon him, and stripped and beat him, and cut off his earsI love that, as an ending: "Oh, and also? They cut off his ears." All the people who left this story early, to beat the traffic, are denied the pleasure of that twist at the end, and it's also a twist that could really only be in print, although I guess you could do something where the guy takes off his turban at the end and someone says, "Good heavens, you're earless!" But that's not as satisfying.