They tell the tale, oh Commander of the Faithful, of how Caliph Harun al-Rashid ventured forth one day with his faithful Vizier to walk unbeknownst among his people, as was his wont. But on this day the stars were crossed most unluckily and as night fell, the Caliph found himself in a part of Bagdad neither he nor his loyal Vizier had ever seen before.
"We shall knock on the door of this mansion", the Caliph decreed. "For certain, the noble owners will be kind enough to set us on our way."
As soon as they had knocked, a handmaiden of singular beauty opened the door. Seed pearls adorned the coal-black tresses that framed her oval face and her mouth was the shape and colour of a rosebud.
The Vizier's heart skipped and he murmured the words of the poet:
"Oh, beautiful is woman! Her lips are sweetest nectar, her teeth vie with the pearls of the sea and the stars in the heavens for dominion"
"We are but humble travellers who have lost their way", began the Caliph sternly, as peals of sweet laughter from the depths of the house interrupted his carefully prepared speech.
"By God, you are welcome, strangers", laughed the girl. "The lady of the house bids you enter her humble abode. Eat, drink and be merry with us a while, and we shall show you the way when your thirst for company has been quenched and the wish to leave us overcomes you."
The Caliph and the Vizier followed the handmaid as she led them with swaying hips into the house. They came at last upon a closed double door, magnificently ornamented, where stood another girl, beautiful in whitest silk and glittering stones. Her comeliness outshone the first maid like the moon outshines the stars. Again the Vizier gasped.
"You say her cheeks are like twin roses and her breasts like pomengranates. Yet who shall fault her for punishing you with anger when she says: ‘Impudent boy, will you then pluck my beauty from me as you would a flower or a piece of fruit?'
"And have you been so rude to our guests?" the second woman chided the first. "Have you not offered them sherbet and sweetmeats, have you not relieved them yet of their travelling cloaks? Forgive her, oh noble strangers, and let me see you comfortably installed."
With that she opened the double door, and the two guests found themselves in a hall of formidable proportions. It burst with pillars, marble statues and ornaments of finest filigree. An hundred candles showered the room with a warm glow that sparkled off the numerous gold adornments. From every nook and cranny, from rafters and candleholders alike spilled vines of fresh fruit and garlands of flowers that dripped with dew.
"My hall, it seems, has found it's master", the Caliph stated coolly, eyeing his Vizier.
"Oh Protector of the Innocent, oh Light of this World" the latter answered calmly, "immediately upon our return Hasan the architect shall lose his head. How fortunate that he lives in rooms of honour in your palace upon your orders. We shall lose no time at all".
Thus they spoke, and while they had been so distracted, a third woman had entered the room.