Fatima and Zaïre are slaves of Orosmane, sultan of Jerusalem, but their lot is not an unpleasant one. Although Orosmane has the power to treat them as mere chattel and to use them for his pleasure, he treats them with respect and consideration. Nevertheless, Fatima is disturbed to find that Zaïre not only is resigned to her fate but also appears actually to enjoy it. When she asks Zaïre to explain why she no longer weeps or looks forward to the return of Nerestan, who has gone to France to seek ransom for them, Zaïre replies that she finds it difficult to yearn for a mode of life she has never known. Since childhood she has been confined to the sultan’s seraglio under the care of Orosmane, and she has grown fond of her life and even of her master.
Fatima then reminds Zaïre that Nerestan, who conducted himself nobly in the battle of Damas as part of the Christian army fighting against the Turks, had been captured by Orosmane but, because of his courage, was later released on his word to return with ransom for the Christian prisoners, including Fatima and Zaïre. Zaïre replies that two years have passed since Nerestan’s departure and that perhaps Nerestan made the promise to return with ransom for ten slaves only because there was no other way for him to escape a similar servitude. She admits that she admired Nerestan at the time of his promise, but she has decided to think of the matter no longer. Zaïre then confesses to Fatima that Orosmane is her slave—that he loves her and she loves him. She quickly adds that this love does not mean that she has consented to become his mistress. The truth is that Orosmane’s love for her is so strong and pure that he plans to wed her.
Fatima, delighted to hear that Zaïre will be elevated from the place of a slave to that of sultana, has but one misgiving—Zaïre is forgetting that she is a Christian. Zaïre replies that she does not even know who her parents were; she has only Nerestan’s surmise, because of the cross she has worn since childhood, that she is a Christian. Since she has been a slave from her childhood, it is only natural that her faith reflects the customs of the place where she was reared. With Fatima, Zaïre admits, the situation is different; Fatima was captured in adulthood, and she had deliberately embraced Christianity before becoming a slave. Although Zaïre regards herself as Muslim, she admits that she is impressed by the Christian faith, but she assures Fatima that her love for Orosmane is so strong that she no longer considers becoming a Christian.
Orosmane then enters and expresses his love for Zaïre and his intention to marry her. As he professes his love, a servant comes in and announces the arrival of Nerestan, who enters and tells the sultan that he has come with ransom for the prisoners and that he is willing to remain as Orosmane’s slave. The sultan, impressed by Nerestan’s honor, replies that he will release not ten but one hundred prisoners. The only ones who will have to remain are Lusignan, a French nobleman who claims the hereditary right to rule in Jerusalem, and Zaïre.
Nerestan protests that Orosmane had promised to release the prisoners, and Zaïre in particular, if the ransom money were brought from France. Orosmane, however, permits no discussion of his decision. He dismisses Nerestan and orders Zaïre to prepare to assume her place as his sultana.
After the others have gone, Orosmane remarks to Corasmin, one of his officers, that Nerestan had sighed and fixed his eyes on Zaïre. When Corasmin warns his...
(The entire section is 1456 words.)