One morning, the Sultan woke feeling old and asked for his eldest son to be brought to his chambers. The time had come for the young man to take a bride. His son agreed, and a search began in the usual places. Scarcely a week had passed before the daughter of a rich and valued ally stood before the two men with her proud father at her side. In keeping with tradition, the girl’s face remained veiled. But the dark doe eyes sweeping the floor were said to belong to a young woman of exceptional beauty.
The Sultan’s son rose from his seat. He circled the girl—examining her from every possible angle. “No,” he finally said, shaking his head in frustration. “I must see her face.”
The young woman’s father looked to the Sultan for help. Such requests were unheard of. A girl’s beauty was the present she gave to her husband. But the Sultan was eager to see his son wed. Once the room had been emptied of onlookers, the girl’s veil removed. She was far lovelier than any treasure in the Sultan’s own harem.
“That is not my wife,” his son announced sadly, leaving his father bewildered and the girl in tears.
The Sultan had never been known for his kindness. But his son’s mother had been his very first wife. And he had loved her enough to make her a promise while she lay on her deathbed.
“Our son was born with a hole in his heart,” she had told him. “Give him time to find the girl who can fill it.”
The boy had always been a dreamer, with moods that shifted faster than the desert sands. The Sultan watched him grow, and he knew the boy’s mother had been right. Their son seemed to be missing some part of himself. Unless he found it, he would never be fit to rule.
So the Sultan allowed his son to continue his search for a bride, until every young woman in the land had been seen and sent home in tears. At last, the Sultan’s patience reached its end, and he began to rage day and night. His son bore the abuse, but he wouldn’t surrender. He wandered the Sultan’s vast palace like a man tormented by invisible djinn.
One afternoon, he was sitting by the fountain outside his mother’s old rooms when he heard the sound of a girl laughing.
“Who’s there?” he demanded.
A peasant girl emerged from behind a column. Her robes were faded and her veil was threadbare, and yet she seemed to be laughing at him.
“What do you find so amusing?” he demanded.
“They say you’re looking for a wife,” the girl said.
“And that’s something to laugh about?”
“Yes, because you’re not going to find her unless you stop looking.” By the time the last word reached his ears, the girl had already disappeared.
That evening, when the Sultan began to rage, the son finally fought back.
“You say I’ve seen every girl in the land. But today I spoke with one living here in our palace who has yet to be brought before me. Why should I stop searching when my wife might be waiting within these very walls?”
So the Sultan sent his men to scour the palace, and before dinner had found its way to their table, the girl was hauled before the ruler and his son. She was named Tasnim—or haven in her mother’s strange tongue. Her father worked at the palace as a humble servant, but such facts meant nothing to the Sultan’s son.
“Show me your face,” he demanded.
“No,” was her answer. “You’ve seen the most beautiful woman in the world. If their faces didn’t please you, what hope does mine have?”
“Remove your veil, girl, or I’ll have your head,” the Sultan told her.
“No,” Tasnim stubbornly replied.
“Then prepare to meet your fate at dawn.” The Sultan clicked his fingers, and the girl was whisked away to his dungeons.
That night, the Sultan’s son couldn’t sleep. He thought only of the laughing girl—the one girl in the land who’d refused to be seen. At last, he left his bed and paid a visit her to her cell, where she greeted him as if she’d known he was coming. He pleaded with her to show him her face, but once again, Tasnim refused.
“If you’re searching for someone you’ve known in your dreams, you won’t see her beneath my veil,” the girl told him. “But if you close your eyes, I think we might be able to find her.”
The cell was dark, and Tasnim’s voice felt like an old, familiar song. The Sultan’s son shut his eyes and listened as the sound of his beating heart began to blend with the rhythm of her words.
“Once, there was a man and his wife who lived in a cold land, not far from the sea . . .”
The young man who’d known nothing but desert heat suddenly detected a chill in the air. He’d never seen the ocean, but he could hear its waves crashing against a distant coast. He found a fire blazing in a poor man’s house, and a woman sleeping in a fur-covered bed. He crawled in beside her, and for first time in his life, the Sultan’s son felt at peace.
Tasnim’s story ended as the sun was rising. When the palace executioner came to collect her, the Sultan’s son sent him away.
“How many tales like that do you know?” he asked the prisoner.
“Tonight was just the beginning,” the girl said.
“Then you’ll have another day to show me your face,” he announced. “Take her to my mother’s quarters,” he told the guards as he passed. “And make sure she is treated well.”
The next night, they traveled to a mountain realm where white wild flowers lined a path that led to his lover’s door. On the third night Tasmin took him to a strange kingdom where other men carved their gods’ faces into the walls—while he secretly worshipped a goddess with dark skin and dancing eyes.
One Thousand and One Nights they spent together. Every night, the girl told a different tale, and her life was spared each morning at dawn. Until the day the Sultan’s son opened his eyes and found Tasnim in tears.
“You’ve heard all my stories,” she said, sounding spent and defeated. “If there are more, I can’t remember them.”
“Then lets start all over,” he told her. “Tell me again about our life by the sea.”
The next day they were married. And the following night, Tasmin showed him her face. The Sultan’s son recognized nothing about it, but he’d known its owner in a thousand and two lifetimes. She was the only girl he ever wanted to find.