She didn't remember what woke her that day. A sudden noise, perhaps.
What she did remember, however, was her older sister Sayeh, dressed in her best attire, leaning over her. With sharp clarity she could recall her sister's eyes, filled with emotions she couldn't quite fathom at that age.
"Farideh…" Sayeh had whispered, seemingly to herself more than to anyone else.
In an attempt to answer, Farideh had only managed a slight, inaudible moan.
Her sister stroked her hair.
"Shut your eyes and go back to sleep," she murmured.
A brief kiss on the forehead, and she was gone.
It had been a year after the former sultana's betrayal and the sultan's resulting proclamation.
He was true to his word; every day he took a bride and executed her the next morning.
It was like a room of death. It made the walls, the floor, the ceiling. There were no windows. And every day, the walls would inch closer to each other, slowly but surely, until all would be crushed between them.
Hundreds of women were killed, along with those who spoke out against the practice and those who had failed in their attempts to escape. Along with their lives, went the life of the once great kingdom.
Every day, they grieved. They grieved for the one lost today, the ones lost from before, and for the ones they would no doubt lose soon after.
Some said that only the worst plagues could put such dread into the hearts of the people. Unlike any pestilence however, there seemed to be no cure.
"What was it like?" little Sara asked.
Farideh glanced up at her little sister.
"What do you mean?"
"Persia," was her reply, "What was it like before? Do you remember?"
Oh, yes. Back before Sayeh's execution, years before the sultana was discovered, she still could remember.
The smell of the flowers from gardens long untended, Sayeh's rich, smooth laughter, the clamor of the once crowded bazaars. She remembered all of it. She told Sara of the once venerable sultan, who had ruled justly and found it hard to believe she was speaking of the same man who now cast a malevolent shadow over the kingdom.
"It seems like a fairy tale now," she mused.
The thought of stories reminded her of the grand vizier's daughter. The one with the gift of storytelling that made children like Sara, perhaps anyone, gravitate towards her. They listened to her intently, savoring every word, in hopes of being sucked into another world.
It's no wonder, Farideh thought, Who would want to be here?
Now, as she nears the age of marriage, her fear continues to grow.
She's worried for herself and her family, especially Sara, who would be left alone.
She knows why Sayeh had come to her bedside that morning. She knew she would soon do the same.
Sayeh's last words to her echo in her mind. She wishes that she could say something else to Sara. But it would be a lie.
Open your eyes; it's only a dream.