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On Justice

“He took the book and told the executioner to cut off the wise man’s head. He drew the sword and, with a single stroke, dropped the head into the tray and pressed it in the powder and the bleeding stopped. Then the wise Duban opened his eyes and said, ‘Now, Majesty, open the book.’

When the king opened the book, he found the pages stuck. He put his finger to his mouth and wet it with saliva and turned to the first page. In the same effortful way, he turned page after page, and when he had turned seven and found nothing written, he said, ‘Duban, I cannot see a written word inside this book.’

‘Keep turning,’ said Duban.

The king turned more pages and found nothing, but as he licked and turned, the drug entered his body (the book was laced with poison) and he began to sway and shake. When the wise Duban saw this, he recited:

Their reign was long and cruel
And in a moment gone
Had justice been their rule
Justice would be done
But they, brutal in power,
Have met a brutal end
And wake to hear the hour
Crowing its revenge.

As the wise man’s head finished these lines, the king fell dead. Then the head died, too.”

—The Annotated Arabian Nights, translated by Yasmine Seale

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