The Flesh Reveals What’s in the Bones
By Pasithea Chan
Long ago an Abbasid King heard a man shout, “I am a statesman I specialize in resolving problems between families, tribes & states.”
The King asked his high guard to return to court with the man. Terrified at having been flung at the feet of the King, he asked for mercy.
“Well, you said you were a stableman and I have a mare I want you to tend to.”
“Your Excellency, I am a statesman. I solve problems; not a stableman.”
“You are a stableman and you will tend to my mare or you shall hang.”
Fearing for his life, the statesman nodded, and responded; “Your wish is my command.”
“Prepare a room for this man and give him some rice and broth, for he shall tend to my mare.” On his way out, a servant whispered to the statesman, “Whatever happens, never ever tell the King that there is something wrong with his mare lest you hang!”
After a while, the King summoned the statesman and asked, “How do you find my Mare?”
“Your Highness, your mare is a pure bred mare with all the traits that make her the fastest and most stunning creature among her ilk” said the statesman.
“I sense there is still more you wish to say, but you chose to hold back” said the King. “If your Excellency, would be so kind to relieve me of my duties, I am a statesman not a stableman. I do not possess the expertise to assess your mare” said the statesman.
“You shall tell me the truth and the whole truth or you shall hang” said the King angrily.
“I will Sire, but you must promise me safety from punishment or death first!” said the statesman.
“Granted, proceed.” said the King.
“My Lord, your Mare Sabiha is pure bred but she was never nursed by her mother.” said the Statesman.
“What? How dare you? Guards, take him away and do not give him any food till I come back. Send for my Vizier to come now into my chambers!” shouted the King furiously. The terrified Vizier soon presented himself to the infuriated King, who asked him, “Tell me the truth old man, or you shall sit on the Khazook (a greased stake that was used to impale prisoners); Is my mare pure bred and was she not nursed by her mother?”
“Your Highness, I beg your forgiveness, I promised you the best mare I have in my land but what I couldn’t predict was that her mother would die shortly after birth. I had no other means but to let her nurse from my cow” said the Vizier who was now shaking like a leaf.
“I shall spare you for now because you told me the truth. Guards bring me the stableman and show my Vizier his way out.” demanded the King.
Pretty soon the guards presented the statesman to the king who said to him, “You said you were a statesman not a stableman. How did you know that my mare did not nurse from its mother. Tell me now and I shall reward you handsomely?”
“My Lord, from the shape and muscles of your mare, it is clear she is a pure bred, but pure bred horses feed from a feeds’ container or a sack hanged in their necks with their heads high. Your mare chooses to throw her food on the ground or look for it on the ground and that is the attitude of a grazing cow” said the statesman.
“Guards, let my servants prepare chicken rice, and broth for this man” ordered the King. “Tomorrow you shall be moved to the queen’s chambers. I want you to serve my queen and tell me about her demeanour,” said the King.
“My Lord, have mercy on me. I have no experience with women or being a butler or a jack of all trades. Please relieve me of this charge. I beg you my Lord,” pleaded the statesman.
“I have given you an order. I will hang you if you do not do as I wish. I am King and your orders are to look after my queen and observe her and get back to me with your observations” said the King.
Afraid for his life, the statesman moved to the room next to the queen’s chambers and began serving her and observing her. Months later, the King summoned the statesman and said, “How do you find my queen, stableman. Tell me the truth or you shall sit on the Khazook for three days before you finally die!”
“Your Majesty, please relieve me of this charge or grant me safety from punishment or death for what I am about to say,” pleaded the statesman.
“Consider your request done, now tell me what I need to know” demanded the King.
“My Lord, your queen is regal in looks, behavior, tastes, intellect and outlook but not roots” said the stableman.
“How in God’s name can you say such things about my queen, I shall have you hanged for this insolence, Guards! Shouted the King.“
“My Lord, you promised me, please listen to me, please ask her parents, I beg you…” pleaded the statesman.
The King was so furious, he rode his horse fastest stallion, Khamis, to a nearby Kingdom and drew his sword to the throat of his queen’s father saying, “Tell me now, is my queen from your loins or not. Lie to me and I shall slit your throat.”
The terrified old King replied, “My Lord, I lived serving your father and my kingdom was spared because my daughter was promised from age two to be your bride. But one day my daughter had measles and died, but it just so happened we were ordered to wipe out the gypsies revolting against your father. As I marched with my men into their camps burning their tents and taking their women prisoners and looting what they had, I spotted this little girl who was two years old then lying by the wedge of a tent about to collapse. She resembled my daughter very much so I took her in and raised her as mine and gave her to you as your bride to save my people and my kingdom… Please take pity on me, I am an old man and I did what I did to protect my people, my kingdom and my life. I raised my daughter well. Has she done anything to displease his majesty?” Begged the old King. The Young King sheathed his sword and left his queen’s kingdom without saying a word. That night, on the way back home, the King thought to himself. This man is definitely shrewd and wise. I could use his knowledge. I need him to help me improve myself and learn his ways if I am to remain king and all powerful. I shall promote him as my advisor and teacher.
The next day, the King summoned the servants and ordered that the statesman be moved to a room close to his study room and decreed that the man shall be fed a baby lamb for breakfast, another for lunch and another for dinner. “Bring me the statesman said the King. Yes you heard me, he is a statesman not a stableman. He is all I need, said the King”.
“How did you know that my wife wasn’t from noble blood?” Asked the King.
“My King, your wife is very regal in all her ways and looks but she had three traits that revealed her common gypsy blood. First she only rides horses like men not sideways, second she whistles using her two pinky fingers, and third she has the habit of winking when she speaks to those who are close to her. All these traits are traits of gypsies not royal born brides” said the statesman.
The King smiled thinking to himself how lucky he must be to have such a sharp man at his service and said to him: “Come my statesman, today you will share your wisdom with me and make your King great by accepting the honor of becoming his teacher”.
The statesman, trembling with fear, flung himself at the slippers of the King and pleaded “I beg thee my Lord, spare me and I shall be your humble and most grateful subject for as long as I live. All I ask is that you set me free and I shall never ever say I am a statesman for I am just a stableman, I promise”.
“Now look here, I am your King and you shall do as I say. You shall guide me and teach me about myself by finding what are the defects in me that could cost me my throne,” said the King in a most commanding tone.
Three months went by when one day the King summoned the statesman to his Gazebo and said: “Tell me what you have observed so I can better myself”.
Shaken by the King’s sudden request, he replied: “I will tell you Sire, only and only if you promise to set me free after I reveal to you my observations.”
“I am a man of my word, I will set you free if you answer my request and give me answers I can benefit from,” said the King with one eyebrow raised.
“Your Highness, you yourself are not of royal blood. You are a commoner and I think you should ask your mother where you really come from. I suggest you see your mom before you decide to hang me for my audacity” said the poor statesman who was certain he would hang for what he had said.
The King was struck with anger and ordered the poor statesman thrown in the dungeon with no food until further notice. Later that evening the King went to see his mother who was now very old and confronted her.
She fell to her knees and said, “Forgive me my son, I am not of noble blood. I was born and raised on a farm. My father belonged to a village which was charged with supplying your father’s palace with milk and crops. Your father had had many wives and concubines whom he slaughtered after 9 months of marriage for not conceiving. By the time I was brought to your father, half of the young women in my village were hanged for not conceiving. The King threatened to burn my father in the square before hanging me if I fail to conceive. I had no choice. There was a cook in the palace who was very handsome and so he was your father. I conceived you and the King spared my life, my father, and the village from taxes”. The King was infuriated by this but was even more dazzled as to how on earth did that statesman know that he wasn’t the King’s own. He was decided to beat that man until he told him how he figured that out especially given that he wasn’t from Baghdad.
The King arrived at the palace and headed straight to the dungeon where our poor statesman was held in chains, terrified for his life in the dark. The king said to him; “you are going to tell me all I need to know as to how you knew I wasn’t the King’s son or I will flog you then put you on a Khazook to die.”
“My Lord, there is no need to be so harsh. I figured this one out because Kings give jewels, positions, estates, and concubines or brides for reward to those who prove their loyalty or provide their King with services but you reward your subjects with food. I thought to myself only a cook rewards his close ones with food and deprives them from food when upset. You rewarded me first with rice and broth then chicken and rice then lambs and now that you are mad you deprived me of food” said the feeble statesman.”
“Indeed,” said the King, “my father is the King’s cook.”
“Your Highness ‘the flesh reveals what’s inside the bones’, is a maxim I learned first hand working on my father’s farm with pure bred horses and people are like horses or ores, they are with traits from their roots. Please pardon me and relieve me of this charge for I have given you all that I know in this matter. I wish to go back to my family” pleaded the statesman.
And so the King set the statesman free after he promised to keep the King’s secrets safe and to return once his son turned seven to teach his son. The man agreed, but was never seen again. For as he said: the flesh reveals what is inside the bones, and he was truly the son of a politician, someone who makes promises he never keeps.
Author's Notes: This piece is an Iraqi folklore from the Abbasid era inspired by the Islamic Hadeeth "تخيرو لنطفكم فإن العرق دساس" read as Takhayyaro linotafikom fa inna al irqa dasas which literally means: choose well for your seed for the root comes from the earth it was planted it(influenced by it trait wise). The man is often referred to as the seed and the woman the earth. The locals adopted this tale with only the second half of the hadeeth as its fable aka "al irqa dasas which literally translates in English when alone as the flesh reveals what's in the bones. I hope you enjoyed this tale. Thank you for reading.
Pasithea is a budding Lebanese Filipino impressionist who enjoys writing poetry in symbolism laced with philosophy and psychology. She writes in various styles but prefers pieces that have double meanings to allow a reader to delve deeper into her works.
Pasithea has been featured in several magazines and anthologies including: Envision Arts, Rigorous, Fevers of the Mind, Osprey’s Empire, Voices of the Real and Suicide.