“In that city,” says the merchant, and the guests settle in at the table, as eager for the tale as for the food, “it was the custom that no one should long outlive their spouse, and so it was that when my wife took sick and died, I was lowered into the tomb beside her with nothing more than a jug of sweet water and seven loaves of bread.” The waiters began bringing in the meal, and he paused to offer thanks.
“I stretched those scant supplies as long as I could, there among the piled dead of the city, but eventually there came a day when I took my last bite of bread and my last swallow of water. I prayed to God the merciful for a swift death, and cursed my folly in again taking to the seas, when a spear of light stabbed in from above—the first in who knows how long!—and the sound of weeping, sadly familiar. Another funeral!”
The merchant pauses to soothe his throat with a glass of wine, and his guests hang suspended with food halfway to their lips, scarcely daring to breath until he resumes. “I crept close in the dark, the long shinbone of a corpse in my hand, and bludgeoned the disoriented husband that was lowered down with his bloodless bride. I wept as I did, and gave thanks to God, but the hardest trial was yet to come, for search as I might I could find no trace of bread, but only another jug of sweet water.”
It is at this point that the guests look across the table and realize there is no meat at all, merely a harvest’s worth of fruit and grain, cunningly prepared and masterfully spiced. The swifter guests blanch in horror, but Sinbad the Porter nods; he too has been hungry. Sinbad the Merchant smiles as he resumes his story, but his eyes above his beard are flat and clouded.