The Sultan is omnipotent in his desert because he controls the water supply. He rations it strictly: for women, a teaspoon a day; for great, stout men, a tablespoon; for infants and elders, a thimble-full. No one dares protest, for to drink any less would be fatal. Priests baptize babies with spit from their droughted mouths; wives collect the sweat off their husbands' brows to bathe in. The subjects make do as best they can, and take great pain not to displease their ruler.
One day, an incredibly beautiful maiden appears from far away. She is the Sultan's new wife, fresh from the monsoon country. Her long, black hair flows and ripples like a river; her voice is the song of a laughing brook; looking into her dark eyes, one finds oneself floating in a summer sea. The very air around her drips nectar.
The Sultan's stable boy falls in love with her. He languishes for months, living only for the rustle of her skirts, the glimpse of her moist skin. Unbeknownst to him, she too is watching him -- she likes his faraway air, his shy seriousness, the depth of feeling in his knitted brow. One morning, while the Sultan and his henchmen are away on business, the stable boy sneaks into her chamber. She is bathing in a magnificent pool.
The poor boy stands mute before her. All he has longed for his whole life, the years of parched throat, cracked lips arid isolation, is personified in her -- and he is a simple stable boy, intruding upon her. In the recklessness of desperation, he opens his mouth: a torrent of adoration pours out. It becomes a deluge; then, a psalm. She is moved; it has been a long time since has spoken to her honestly, let alone beautifully, in this barren land. She tells him to come to her after sundown.
That night, after everyone else is asleep and the moon is high in the clear sky, the stable boy leaves his tent and creeps to the tower in which the Sultan keeps his wife. The door is locked, and soldiers stand guard inside, so the boy scales the dry brick of the wall to her window. She opens it and helps him in. Hours later, the Sultan is awakened by sounds of passion from his young wife's bedchamber.
His soldiers stamp up, but it is too late. From their lovemaking flows a river so deep and so wide that all the Sultan's horses and men are unable to cross it to punish the enraptured couple. In a a rage, the Sultan orders that a mountain of dust be piled up so that his subjects will not see the new body of water. It is done, and none of them do; but the hot sun shines overhead, and soon the gypsies in the countryside are crooning a new folk song: you can outlaw the rain, they sing, but we all see the clouds are gathering.