Once upon a time there was a powerful king who ruled the world.
At the king’s opulent court many artists were employed. There were painters, sculptors, architects, poets and dancers. Everyone knew the king paid more attention to his two musicians, Nurran and Mizrab, than to any other artists. More than anyone else, they observed and understood the ebb and flow of their king’s subtle and powerful emotions.
Nurran and Mizrab read the king’s moods like two mind readers. They played all the songs that the king wanted to hear. They knew when the king’s love for his queen was ready to be rekindled, when he was angry and needed to calm down or when he just wanted to relax and let his imagination roam over his proud kingdom. They created new melodies for him and played different instruments. They entertained their king in his various states of mind. The king in return rewarded the musicians with whatever they wished for.
One day the older musician, Nurran, learned that the king had sent for Mizrab and not for him. Rivalry and jealousy entered his heart. This had never happened before. The king either sent for both of them or for Nurran alone. He feared he was falling out of favour with his king, for he was getting old and at times he found it hard to keep up with the king’s relentless entertainments and banquets. Although the king had never told them which one of them he liked best, he had always assumed it was him, for he was the king’s first court musician.
Then it occurred to Nurran that if the other musician didn’t exist, he would remain the king’s favourite for as long as he lived. Only he would play for the king and no one else could take his place. After all, he had taught Mizrab how to play and please the king, how to read his various moods, and when and what to play for him.
Using his influence and connections at the court, Nurran plotted Mizrab’s murder and the second musician was killed. Nurran believed he had covered his tracks and would never be discovered as the mastermind.
When the king heard that Mizrab was dead he was stricken with grief. It was as though he had lost a member of his family or a part of himself. He promised to abstain from eating and drinking until the murderer was found.
After weeks of relentless investigation by the king’s best officers, Nurran was implicated in the murder and was brought before the king.
“You know the law, don’t you?” the king asked him. “You have murdered an innocent man in my kingdom and the punishment for this crime is execution. Do you understand the seriousness of your crime?”
“Yes,” the musician replied, keeping his head down.
“I don’t know why you killed him, but your crime is hideous.” The king paused. “Although I know you personally and my relationship to you is as deep and firm as the root of an oak tree to the ground, I still need to carry out what justice requires of me.”
The musician looked remorseful.
“Tell me,” the king asked, “why did you kill him? Was it because you loved the same woman? It never occurred to me that you two didn’t like each other. I gave you both whatever you wanted. There was nothing either of you desired that the other couldn’t have.”
The culprit kept his silence.
“I guess you don’t want to reveal the reason. It doesn’t matter. Your fate is sealed. And I cannot change it. But do you have anything to say before you are taken away?” the king asked with regret.
The musician raised his head and stared at the king with the same penetrating gaze he always used to detect his mood.
“Do you remember once you said to us that we were both your favourite musicians?” he asked the king.
The king stared back at him, wondering for a moment the meaning of this question.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Do you remember one night after you returned from one of your long and exhausting campaigns and you sent for us to come and play for you? Do you remember after drinking wine from your silver chalice you said to me that my music expressed half of your world and the other musician, who is no longer with us, the other half?”
“Yes,” the king replied softly. He was trying to remember the night as clearly as Nurran, but he was yet to understand the purpose of the musician’s questions.
“Now, for whatever reason, just or unjust, half of your world is dead. Do you really want to destroy the other half?”
The king’s face fell into uncertainty. Sitting on his peacock throne, he felt a paralysis that spread quickly all over his body. This was not the kind of question his wise ministers could help him find the answer for.
The king wished he had never told his musicians how deeply he loved their music. He cursed the wine which had made him open up to them. But it was too late. He couldn’t deny it. Their music had lifted him from feelings of despair and abandonment. It had given him meaning whenever he felt empty or out of favour with his God. For a moment he imagined the rest of his life without his songs and melodies. It was not a world he could easily tolerate. The king had fought many battles; he had defeated great armies, but he had never felt so apprehensive and indecisive.
Silence reigned as both faced each other like brothers, like two inseparable beings
The king stood up, walked across his court, and stood next to a tall window of his castle that looked over his vast kingdom. All the beauty of his land, his wealth, his army and his family were dear to him. He had risked his life many times to protect them against all enemies. There was a tugging at his heart for the first time. Did his heart, like the harp have its own strings? He could not deny the transcendent joy he felt when melodies on the harp mingled with chords on the dulcimer. The kingdom he had conquered faded in significance compared with all those mysterious places that music touched in his soul. He had always wondered where the place in his body was that responded to the enchantment of the music. Now he felt it in his heart, in his head, in his belly. He wanted to be true to this longing.
He walked back slowly and sat on his throne. He stared at the man who had tested him like no other. The musician had made the king look within himself and discover feelings he didn’t know he had.
Nobody had escaped the justice he had established all over his kingdom. Nurran stood still. His life hung in the balance. He had left the king with the most difficult decision of his life. The verdict had to come from the core of his being, not from the laws that were written by his learned lawmakers, wise advisors or astrologers. The decision to let Nurran live would change everything for him. Perhaps even a new kingdom would be born. New laws would have to be written. Above all, he would no longer be the same person, believing that good laws could solve all the problems in his kingdom. He knew that without Nurran’s music a source of enchantment would leave him. He felt a heaviness in his heart. How could he reflect on the mystery of art and life if music was no longer there to allure him? How could his mind let go of the earthly kingdom and attach itself to that intangible world of rapture and beauty.
“I’ll let you live,” the king suddenly pronounced.
It was a relief that both of them felt deeply.
“But you are going to stay in prison for the rest of your life,” he said to Nurran.
The musician was taken away and was locked up in the castle. He would remain there for the rest of his life.
Whenever the king’s mind was out of concord with his spirit he sent for Nurran. Only his music was capable of bringing him back to the rapturous plain of his soul. Nurran’s music made the king believe that there was another kingdom that could not be conquered by force, where everyone was invited to reside.
(a new rendering of a Persian fairly tale)
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