The Jewel Box by D. Jarchow Full Critique

There once was a sultan who ruled a prosperous happy land. His people’s fields flourished and he felt it was time to take a wife. Or two. The first wife he chose because she was the best cook in the kingdom.

“I must have my comforts,” he declared. And Cook Wife, whipped up a glorious feast of delicacies for him. After a year, he chose a second wife with broad hips and generous bosoms.

“She will bear me many fine sons,” he declared, And the Childbearing Wife produced a new son every year for ten years. But then, her womb dried up as a tree finishes its cycle of bearing fruit,

“She looks like a map that has been creased once too many times.” He complained but then, an answer came to him.

“I’ll build her a palace and she will stay there all the rest of her days so I won’t have to look at her homely face and sagging breast.

She bragged to the Cook Wife, “Look how much the sultan values me, you stupid cow. While you labor in the hot kitchen, he has built a glorious tribute to me!” And the Cook Wife bent her head, her eyes smoldering like hot coals.

The building was perfection itself. The gleaming white quartzite sparkled and the rare copper gleamed in the sunlight.

The sultan brought her to the building and showed her the rooms and passages.

“It’s beautiful and I shall fill it with exquisite things! Thank you, my sultan!” She bowed to him and he hit her a devastating blow on her head with a bust of herself, ending her life.

“He called out to the crowds outside. “She slipped on the stairs. My sorrow fills these rooms.” He tore at his clothing and declared a week of mourning and held feasts to commemorate the sons she gave him.

A month later, he married a tiny beauty from a far part of his kingdom. She had flashing dark eyes and soft hair that swirled past her round bottom. Her toes were like the petals of a flower at the end of long shapely legs. Her voice was that of a child and indeed, if not for her generous bosom, one might take her for one. But a peasant’s practicality hid behind her feathery lashes.

It was said to be the custom of her tribe to put jewels in their nether regions to increase a man’s pleasure. But no one said what it did for the woman.

The Cook Wife redoubled her efforts to create delicious meals for the Sultan after the death of the Childbearing wife. She saw to his every comfort and took over running parts of the kingdom that were tiresome to him. He began to have stomach problems, not unusual in a man who has denied himself nothing. He picked at the cook’s offerings and she despaired.

One day, the Beauty came to the Cook. She stalked around the kitchen like a tigress over her kill. Finally, she stood before the Cook, slim arms crossing her ample bosom,

“Old woman, the sultan nears his end. He has no need of rich foods anymore. His seed is dry as well and rarely can he do more than admire my jewel box.”

“You are no one’s fool,” the Cook Wife nodded. And they both pondered the custom of cremating wives alive after the sultans died.

“Something must be done.” The Beauty muttered and walked to the herb garden. “I know this plant: Poor Woman’s Nightshade. We use it to help with sleep.”

The next day, she sent the fastest rider in the stable back to the distant hills of her home with a list. She spent the day pacing and worrying. The rider dragged a lathered horse back to the stable and the Beauty rushed out to meet it, tearing the package away from the rider.

“What are you doing?” Asked the sultan.

“I’m going to make you a delicacy from my land, from the cocoa bean. Once you try it, you’ll forever want it.”

“I have a wonderful cook but even she cannot make my appetite come alive again.”

“But she can’t make what I’m making, Just wait.”

The sultan patted her bottom. “I think I’ll nap.”

She watched him waddle painfully away.

She ground the beans into a feathery powder, adding liberally of the Poor woman’s Nightshade. She spun the sugar as she danced in the candle light and crafted her delicacy.

In the pale dawn, she bathed and scented her body with fragrant flowers. She had her servants thread more flowers through her long hair. She draped her body in fabric as thin and silky as the web of an orb spider and found the sultan.

“Your beauty shines like the silver moon. I despair that I can only admire your beauty.” She bowed gracefully and presented him with a dark shiny square on a silver platter. “I made this for you.”

The sultan studied the woman before him and the square of dark chocolate she offered. He pulled her to him and shoved the sticky thing into her mouth. She tried to scream but the air was denied her. Her body jerked with spasms and yellow foam slid out of her mouth, mixing with espresso ganache icing. He thrust her limp body away and wiped his hands on his robes.

The next day, the sultan kept a cloth to his face to hide his grieving but everyone could hear the tortured sobs. Cook Wife made a small bowl of his favorite soup, as his appetite was small in grief.

After just three delicious spoonfuls, his heart seized and he died. The Cook Wife buried him next to the Beautiful Wife in a lovely ceremony. She pulled the remaining Nightshade from the herb garden and brushed over the fine soil as if nothing had ever grown there. And then the Cook Wife, whose name was Arlene ruled the land for a 100 years.

25 thoughts on “The Jewel Box by D. Jarchow Full Critique”

  1. I liked this tale a lot. It reads almost like myth, with many corpses, as befits a self-respecting myth. I’m not sure what the moral is though. Is there supposed to be one? I think I’ll ponder it for a while.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m glad things worked out for Arlene in the end. She toiled hard all her life and ultimately survived. Being married to that sultan would have been absolutely awful!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant take on the prompt – made me laugh out loud!

    Seriously though, I really liked this flash. The voice is consistent with the fairy tale, long-ago-and-far-away tone, very effective. I also liked the use of the rule of three – three wives to illustrate the moral of the tale. Neither beauty nor fecundity will lead to success for a woman, it’s only the hard work of her own hands done over years that makes for success. Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What I love about this, other than the fairy tale telling, is the surprises! The story’s zipping along, then suddenly…kapow! Time after time. A fun read. Love it. So the Cook prevailed when all others died. Maybe the moral is to do with humility…and a nice crop of Nightshade.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The patient woman wins the prize, and the sultan got what he deserved. He seemed to care little for the life of others, and indulged himself. Well done. Interesting take on the ‘jewel box’.

    Liked by 1 person

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