The Missing Emerald Elephant
Five brothers were apprehended in the palace and thrown at the sultan's feet. One of them, the guards asserted, had stolen the prized emerald elephant of Damascus, a precious gift of both monetary and sentimental value to the sultan. Whichever man was deemed guilty of the treason would suffer the sultan's favorite punishment: beheading.
The sultan looked over the five terrified men, all of whom looked equally innocent. When the sultan pointed his scimitar at the first man, the second spoke up. "Your highness, I stole the elephant, behead me." As the sultan turned his gaze, a third spoke up. "My brother is a fool. I stole the elephant; spare him and take me instead." Then the fourth, "No, I stole the elephant. I am the guilty one." Finally the fifth, "Alas, all my brothers are protecting me, for I stole the elephant."
They fell into one another's arms sobbing. The sultan was touched by the loyalty and loving kinship between the brothers. And seeing that he could not discern a single guilty member, beheaded them all.
Two days after their execution, the sultan found his emerald elephant. It was under a big Turkish carpet. Of all the dumb luck!
The Concubine and the Dream
There once was a concubine deeply in love with the sultan. One night she dreamed a wondrous dream. She wandered the deserts alone at night and encountered an enormous fig tree. As if pulled by the stars, the concubine scaled the tree, climbing higher and higher until she could speak to the heavens. The heavens told her that the sultan would fall victim to an assassination plot, which brewed within his own palace walls. If the concubine saved him, she would be chosen as 'the favorite' in the harem, be wed to the sultan, and bear him a son--an heir destined to bring decades of peace and prosperity to the empire. The heavens warned the concubine that she was the only soul capable of saving him.
The concubine woke up the next morning, fully aware of the dream and its prophecy. While attending her daily chores, she peered in the sultan's quarters to discover the grand vizier stalking the sleeping sultan with an ivory dagger! The concubine charged and leapt upon the vizier, pulling a hidden blade from her bosom, which she kept for just such emergencies. The clash of bodies woke the sultan in a sudden fit. A fierce struggled ensued, but the concubine prevailed, stabbing the grand vizier in the neck with her bosom-blade. As the sultan watched the grand vizier crumple lifelessly to the floor, the concubine shared her prescient dream from the heavens--the premonition of the murder, her destiny to bear him a son, the ushering of a golden age for the empire. The sultan listened intently and finally understood everything: the concubine spilled blood all over his new silk sheets, which he just got. For this offense, the sultan ordered the concubine to be beheaded. Also, because she was a woman.
The Three Generals
For months, three cities endured a long protracted siege from Hungarian Crusaders. The sultan received word that each city would require a new defense against the onslaught. The general of the first city--a decorated war hero, renowned for his strategic genius and countless victories--stepped forward. "We will construct strong wooden barricades. From there our archers will volley arrows into the ranks of our foes, decimating the enemy before he even reaches our gate." The sultan nodded and the general proceeded with the tactic. The first city built the wooden barricades as the general had planned, but he had not planned on the Hungarians wielding catapults of flaming rocks. The barricades burned to the ground and the first city fell. For his failure, the sultan beheaded the general.
The second general stepped forward--a young officer eager to prove himself. He was innovative, courageous, and famous for employing bold, unorthodox gambits. "Sire, my predecessor was caught in the old ways. My forces will construct a defensive wall made of the strongest iron in the kingdom. It will easily withstand the Crusaders' cursed flaming rocks." The sultan nodded and the young general proceeded. The second city poured all the labor it could muster into building the iron wall. Unfortunately, building a giant iron wall takes years, and the Crusaders easily invaded, ransacked, and enslaved the city before anything remotely useful was built. When the second general returned in disgrace, the sultan ordered that his head be removed via beheading.
The third general--an old, hunchbacked man dressed in rags, with a scraggily beard and wild left eye--stepped forward. He was neither a lauded war hero, nor a young officer prodigy. In fact, he had no military experience whatsoever, and the sultan wasn't sure why he even made him a general in the first place, but oh well! The strange man ducked down and swiveled his head up to the sultan with a deranged glare and yelped, "Rope! Rope around the city! It'll warn the invaders that we are protected. Protected by God!" The sultan heaved a weary sigh, then nodded. "Whoopee!" the third general cried, fist in his mouth, and hobbled off. When the Crusaders arrived at the roped border of the third city, they were warned that the city and its inhabitants were protected by a mighty and vengeful God, and that whoever should breach the border would suffer a bitter death. The Crusaders, warriors of God themselves, backed away in fear, and finally retreated. The third general returned home a hero. The sultan was so overjoyed that he had him beheaded immediately.
The Princess and the Horn
In the midst of carousing in the palace gardens, the sultan had gotten quite drunk and accidentally thrown his bejeweled drinking horn atop a sycamore tree. The sultan, desperate to regain his royal chalice, ordered a contest to be held across the entire kingdom. The first person to shoot an arrow at the horn and knock it from the tree would be awarded the sultan's daughter's hand in marriage. For weeks, hundreds of men across the kingdom attempted, but all failed. Finally, a slender man with a golden bow approached the sycamore and took aim. He fired, and the arrow landed true, knocking the drinking horn off its perch! "Incredible," the sultan declared. "But, how did you succeed, where so many men failed?"
"Because," the archer retorted, "I am not a man." The archer removed her hat and fake mustache, revealing herself to be none other than the concubine who stopped the grand vizier assassin!
The sultan gasped, "You're that concubine with the crazy dream who saved my life!"
"The very same."
"Guards!" The sultan watched as the concubine was beheaded--to make sure they got it right this time.
The Lucky Pauper
There was once a pauper renowned for giving perfect impressions of the sultan. Cavorting around the town bazaar in rags, he would bellow, "behead him, behead her, behead that," pointing to any person or animal in sight. People laughed and cheered at the pauper's imitations, as many of their friends, relatives, and spouses had been needlessly beheaded by the sultan. When the sultan caught word of the pauper's subversive acts, he had him dragged into his court.
"You mock me as a capricious fool, who beheads anyone on the slightest whim," the sultan rebuked. A stony silence filled the palace. Then the pauper did something no one had ever done in the sultan's court: he stood up.
"What is a kingdom without free expression? If your subjects are afraid to open their mouths, then how will you ever know when actual danger approaches?"
The sultan pondered the pauper's words a moment. His face softened. "Well, I can take a joke. Who is a sultan if he cannot stand a little harmless ridicule? You've taught me a great deal, pauper--about my kingdom and myself, and I thank you for it. For your wisdom, I will grant you riches and my daughter's hand in marriage. But now, let us feast!"
And the sultan spared no expense throwing an extravagant festival in the pauper's honor. It was the most beautiful beheading the kingdom had ever seen.
Follow Doug Lieblich on Twitter: www.twitter.com/douglieblich