A Thousand One Stanbul Steampunk Nights by M.J. Frost

 

 

The Story of the Sultan of Industry and Şehrazad

Once there was and once there wasn’t in a land very close to far, far away, a happy Industrialist who had no joy. His name was Hamid.

Hamid was happy because he was a very successful Industrialist.  He was a Sultan of Industry.

From very humble beginnings, Hamid built an Industrial Empire.  He began as a poor clockwork maker in a little shop on the outskirts of the city of Stanbul.  He was small, thin, unimposing and shy; but, he had a keen intellect and adroit fingers.  He was soon making marvelous mechanisms.  He made clockwork toys, clockwork music boxes, clockwork clocks (of course) and even a life-sized clockwork soldier that marched and saluted at a turn of a key.

The clockwork soldier was purchased by the Grand Vizier and given to the Sultan as a gift.  The Sultan was so pleased, the Grand Vizier moved the young Hamid to the palace to make more marvelous mechanisms for the royal family.  Among other marvelous things, he made royal birthday presents for all of the Sultan’s wives: clockwork jewelry, clockwork music boxes with little clockwork dancing girls on the lids and even life-sized clockwork vibrating tubes to massage away the long, lonely hours of the harem.

Hamid was very popular among the harem wives.  That is why he had no joy.  For one day, the small, thin, unimposing and shy Hamid fell in love with one of the Sultan’s daughters.  Her name was Gülbahar; her face was as bright as the moon, her eyes as dark as the night.

To get the beautiful Gülbahar’s attention, the shy Hamid made her many marvelous little toys with which to play.  He made her a miniature clockwork horse that trotted around the garden fountain, he made her a miniature dragon that moved its wings when she laughed, he made her a clockwork nightingale that played as melodious as a real nightingale, and he made her a clockwork stage with puppets that enacted Layla and Majnun at the turn of a key.

And despite Hamid being small, thin, unimposing and shy, the beautiful Gülbahar began to develop affection for him.

But, alas, Gülbahar was betrothed to one of the Sultan’s rich industrialist political supporters, Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş.  Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş was twice Gülbahar’s age and half as pretty.

Hamid determined he would ask the beautiful Gülbahar to forsake the rich Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş and run away with him.  As a token of his devotion, Hamid made the most intricate clockwork heart ever devised.  At the turn of a key, the clockwork heart would rhythmically beat to the soulful music of the ney and recite love poetry in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu.  He wrapped his clockwork heart in a swath of the finest crimson silk and placed it in a special clockwork box that would unfold itself at Gülbahar’s command.

On the day Gülbahar was to marry Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş, Hamid stood by the palace fountain to present his gift to her as she was being escorted past by her maids.  Gülbahar saw Hamid and stopped.  She waved to her maids to continue.  The maids raised their brows at her and looked down their noses at him.  Neither Gülbahar nor Hamid cared.

With small tears welling in her eyes, Gülbahar lifted her veil and accepted Hamid’s gift from his hand.  “My dearest Hamid,” she smiled as sweetly as she was able, “I shall miss you most dearly.  Thank you for the wedding gift.  You have always made the most wondrous gifts.”

Hamid summoned the courage to say: “It is not a wedding gift, my Gülbahar.”

Gülbahar examined the box carefully from all angles.  “If it is not a wedding gift,” she asked, “then what is it?”

“Open it,” was the shy Hamid’s reply.

Gülbahar again examined the box from all angles.  She could see neither latch nor keyhole.  “How does one open it?”

But at her utterance of the word “open,” the box unfolded to reveal Hamid’s heart.

Shy Hamid took a deep breath and said as quickly as his courage would last: “It is a token of my love.”

Gülbahar’s head tilted slightly and her brows furrowed.  “I don’t understand.”

“Do not marry Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş,” Hamid spurted out.

Gülbahar still did not understand.  “Why?”

Hamid tried to speak.  He tried to make words come forth.  He tried to explain.  He tried but his courage failed him.

Gülbahar lowered her gaze and extended her hands to return Hamid’s heart.

Hamid would not reach up to take his heart back from Gülbahar.

Gülbahar could not raise her gaze.  “I cannot disobey my father.  I am my father’s daughter; I must obey him until I marry.  Then I must obey my husband.”

Hamid’s eyes dropped, but no words could be found in the dust.  His mouth opened, but no words would come out.

Since Hamid would not take his heart back, Gülbahar placed it on the edge of the fountain.  She shook her head and slowly walked off to her wedding to the rich Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş.

Hamid did not take his heart back; it was broken.  His joy was gone.  He wept.  He wept for days, weeks, months.  He wept until he had no more tears.

The day the young Hamid exhausted his tears was the day he determined to become rich, richer than the rich Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş.  He wanted to become so rich Sultans would send their daughters to him.  He saved his money and opened his own shop.  He saved the money he earned from his shop to open a bigger shop.  He made bigger and bigger mechanisms.  He worked long hours.  He never left his shop.  He did not take days off; he did not take vacations.  He worked.  Dedicated to his goal, he worked.  From trinkets and toys, he turned to making weapons for the Sultan’s army.  He made guns that fired many bullets with a single pull of the trigger.  He made life-sized clockwork soldiers that could fire guns that fired many bullets with a single pull of the trigger.  He made ships that could sail under the water.  He made ships that could sail in the air.  He put his clockwork soldiers in his ships that could sail under the water and his ships that could sail in the air and sold them to the Sultan.

That made him rich.  That made him very, very rich.

He became so rich, the Sultan gave him one of his own daughters to wed.  She was half his age.

On his wedding day, he was happy.  He knew he had fulfilled his life-long dream of being richer than Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş, who had long since died.  He was successful.  He was rich.  He was powerful.  He was happy.

He had no joy.  On his wedding night, he looked upon his prize, his bride, and felt no joy.  She was there because she was sent there.  She was an obedient daughter…and now an obedient bride.  She came when told.  She sat when told.  She left when told.  Yet she brought him no joy.  So, he put his prize away, untouched, into a harem…for all time.

But in this land close to far, far away, all rich men had many, many wives.  It was the custom.  An old custom.  A custom started years and years before by rich men.  Hamid wanted to be the envy of all rich men so he decided to start a collection.  He hired a personal matchmaker to bring him only the most obedient brides in the land.  Soon he had a harem of hundreds.

He had hundreds of wives.  He was happy.  All of his wives were happy.

None of them had joy.

۞ ۞ ۞ 

One day rich Hamid’s matchmaker went to the house of the widow Gülbahar.  After the death of Gülbahar’s husband, the once rich Yıldırım Yavuz Aktaş, Gülbahar fell into debt to the Sultan of Industry, Hamid.

(Now, rich Hamid was an inventor, not a businessman.  He hired people to run his businesses and his accounts.  He lived in his workshops.  He was, therefore, unaware of Gülbahar’s debt or the visit of his matchmaker.)

The matchmaker went to the house of the widow Gülbahar to collect the debt or collect one of Gülbahar’s daughters for Hamid’s harem.  She did not have the money to pay the debt.

Now Gülbahar Aktaş had two beautiful daughters, Şehrazad Aktaş and Dünya Aktaş.  Şehrazad was a girl who wore goggles; Dünya was a girl fond of untying corsets.  When they heard that the great Sultan of Industry, Hamid, kept a harem of virgin brides, both volunteer to go—for very different reasons.

“I cannot bear it,” protested Gülbahar to the matchmaker, “that one of my daughters should marry poor Hamid.”

“He is not ‘poor,’” the matchmaker corrected her while adjusting his tiny-framed, wire spectacles with both hands.  “He is quite rich.  You must, therefore, pay your debt or forfeit one of your daughters; it is the law.”

“Whose law?” demanded Şehrazad tugging down on her embroidered vest.

The male matchmaker’s head tilted at a question coming from a daughter.  “Our law,” he managed to reply while holding his fez from falling off his head.

“Laws made by men for the benefit of men,” said Şehrazad locking on his eyes.

“I think Dünya would be the better match for my employer,” the matchmaker said to the widow Gülbahar.

Before poor Gülbahar could protest, Şehrazad again volunteered.  “I will go, Mother.  The only way for this to stop is for me to go.”

All eyes turned to Şehrazad.

“I have a plan,” she said.

“I think Dünya would be the better match for my employer,” repeated the matchmaker.

“I’ll go,” volunteered Dünya.  To the matchmaker, she inquired: “All virgins, you said, is that right?”

“We’ll both go,” interjected Şehrazad stepping forward on her soft slippers.  Then, with a wry smile: “It will be like a two for one sale.”

The poor widow Gülbahar fainted on the spot.

۞ ۞ ۞ 

In the closed carriage on the way to their wedding, Şehrazad gave Dünya her part to play in the plan.  “When we are alone with…this Sultan of Industry…asked me to tell a story for entertainment.  Tell this…Sultan…that I have a rich collection of stories.”

“Then can I go meet the virgin harem wives?”

“Yes, Dünya; then you can to meet the harem wives.”

“Okay, I’m in.”

۞ ۞ ۞ 

And so it was on the day they were to wed the Sultan of Industry, Hamid, Dünya asked Şehrazad for a story while they waited in the wedding chamber.  She was careful to ask for one from Şehrazad’s “rich collection of stories.”

“Collection, you say?” repeated the rich Hamid from his divan near the window.  He adjusted his position to look at the two women in the room—whom he had paid no attention to up to that point.  “I do like collections.  Do you have a story you could give to me?”

Şehrazad checked her long, flowing, white wedding dress before taking a small step forward.  The dress had been embroidered by her own mother; there was not a stich out of place.  “Stories are not given, my Sultan,” Şehrazad intoned kindly; “they are shared.”

Rich Hamid furrowed his brow and folded his arms.  He was unused to being refused.  “I am to be your husband in just a few hours.  What you have is mine; I would have a story.”

Şehrazad lightly laughed.  “My future husband is like the man who tried to give birth to a baby.”

Hamid kept his arms folded and leaned farther back in his divan.  “A man cannot give birth to a baby.”

“Exactly,” stated Şehrazad.  The late afternoon sunlight streamed in through the windows carrying in with it the scent of jasmine.  “So let me share with you the story of the Rich Corset Merchant and the Steam Powered Automaton.”

  ۞ ۞ ۞ 

 

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