[Go back to The Three Princes and Princess Nouronnihar]
Prince Houssain would not honour the feast with his presence; he could scarcely endure to see the princess in the arms of Prince Ali, who, he said, did not deserve her better or love her more than himself. He left the court, and, renouncing all right of succession to the crown, turned dervish, and put himself under the discipline of a famous sheik, who had gained a reputation for his exemplary life, and had taken up his abode, together with his disciples, whose number was great, in an agreeable solitude.
Prince Ahmed did not assist at Prince Ali's and the Princess Nouronnihar's wedding, any more than his brother Houssain, but did not renounce the world as he had done. He could not imagine what had become of his arrow, so he stole away from his attendants, and resolved to search for it, that he might not have anything to reproach himself with. With this intention, he went to the place where the Princes Houssain's and Ali's were gathered up, and going straight forward from thence, looked carefully on both sides of him. He went so far, that at last he began to think his labour was in vain; yet he could not help going forwards, till he came to some steep, craggy rocks, which would have obliged him to return, had he been ever so anxious to proceed. They were situated in a barren country, about four leagues distant from whence he set out. When Prince Ahmed came near these rocks, he perceived an arrow, which he picked up, looked earnestly at it, and was in the greatest astonishment to find it was the same he shot. 'Certainly,' said he to himself, 'neither I nor any man living could shoot an arrow so far'; and finding it laid flat, not sticking into the ground, he judged that it had rebounded from the rock. 'There must be some mystery in this,' said he to himself again, 'and it may be to my advantage. Perhaps fortune, to make me amends for depriving me of what I thought the greatest happiness of my life, may have reserved a greater blessing for my comfort.' As these rocks were full of sharp points and crevices between them, the prince, full of these thoughts, entered a cavity, and looking about, cast his eyes on an iron door, which seemed to have no lock. He feared it was fastened; but pushing against it, it opened, and discovered an easy descent, but no steps. He walked down with his arrow in his hand. At first he thought he was going into a dark place, but presently a quite different light succeeded that which he had come out of. Coming upon a spacious square, fifty or sixty paces distant, he perceived a magnificent palace; but he had not time to look at it, for at the same moment a lady of majestic air, and of a beauty to which the richness of her clothes and the jewels which adorned her person added nothing, advanced as far as the porch, attended by a troop of ladies, of whom it was difficult to distinguish which was the mistress.
As soon as Prince Ahmed perceived the lady, he hastened to pay his respects; and the lady, on her part, seeing him coming, was beforehand with him. Raising her voice, she said, 'Come near, Prince Ahmed; you are welcome.'
It was no small surprise to the prince to hear himself named in a palace he had never heard of, though so near his father's capital, and he could not comprehend how he should be known to a lady who was a stranger to him. At last he returned the lady's salutation, by throwing himself at her feet, and rising up again, said to her, 'Madam, I return you a thousand thanks for welcoming me to a place where I had reason to believe my imprudent curiosity had made me penetrate too far. But, madam, may I, without being guilty of rudeness, presume to ask you how you know me? and why you, who live in the same neighbourhood should be so little known by me?'
'Prince,' said the lady, 'let us go into the hall; there I will gratify your request.'
After these words, the lady led Prince Ahmed into the hall, the noble structure of which, and the gold and azure which embellished the dome, and the inestimable richness of the furniture, appeared to him so wonderful that he had never in his life beheld anything like it, and believed that nothing was to be compared to it. 'I can assure you,' replied the lady, 'that this is but a small part of my palace, and you will say so when you have seen all the apartments.' Then she sat down on a sofa; and when the prince at her entreaty had seated himself, she said, 'You are surprised, you say, that I should know you, and not be known by you; but you will no longer be surprised when I inform you who I am. You cannot be ignorant that the world is inhabited by genies as well as men: I am the daughter of one of the most powerful and distinguished of these genies, and my name is Pari Banou: therefore I know you, the sultan your father, the princes your brothers, and the Princess Nouronnihar. I am no stranger to your love or your travels, of which I could tell you all the circumstances, since it was I myself who exposed for sale the artificial apple which you bought at Samarcand, the carpet which Prince Houssain met with at Bisnagar, and the tube which Prince Ali brought from Schiraz. This is sufficient to let you know that I am not unacquainted with anything that relates to you. The only thing I have to add is, that you seemed to me worthy of a still better fortune than that of marrying the Princess Nouronnihar. I was present when you drew your arrow, and foresaw it would not go beyond Prince Houssain's. I took it in the air, and made it strike against the rocks near which you found it. It is in your power to avail yourself of this favourable opportunity.'
As the fairy Pari Banou pronounced these words Prince Ahmed began to consider that the Princess Nouronnihar could never be his, and that the fairy Pari Banou excelled her infinitely in beauty and agreeableness, and, so far as he could judge from the magnificence of the palace where she resided, in immense riches. 'Madam,' replied he, 'should I, all my life, have had the happiness of being your slave, I should think myself the happiest of men. Pardon me my boldness, and do not refuse to admit into your court a prince who is entirely devoted to you.'
'Prince,' answered the fairy, 'as I have been a long time my own mistress, and am not dependent on my parents' consent, it is not as a slave that I would admit you into my court, but as my husband, pledging your faith to me. I am, as I said, mistress here; and must add, that the same customs are not observed among fairies as among other ladies.'
Prince Ahmed made no answer, but was so full of gratitude that he thought he could not express it better than by coming to kiss the hem of her garment. 'Then,' answered the fairy, 'you are my husband, and I am your wife. But as I suppose,' continued she, 'that you have eaten nothing to-day, a slight repast shall be served up for you while preparations are making for our wedding feast this evening, and then I will show you the apartments of my palace, and you shall judge if this hall is the smallest part of it.'
Some of the fairy's women who came into the hall with them, and guessed her intentions, immediately went out, and returned presently with some excellent meat and wine.
When Prince Ahmed had eaten and drunk as much as he wanted, the fairy Pari Banou took him through all the rooms, where he saw diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and all sorts of fine jewels, intermixed with pearls, agate, jasper, porphyry, and all kinds of the most precious marbles; not to mention the richness of the furniture, everything was in such profusion, that the prince acknowledged that there could not be anything in the world that could come up to it. 'Prince,' said the fairy, 'if you admire so much my palace, which is indeed very beautiful, what would you say to the palaces of the chiefs of our genies, which are much more beautiful, spacious, and magnificent? I could also charm you with my garden; but we will leave that till another time. Night draws near, and it will be time for supper.'
The next hall into which the fairy led the prince, where the cloth was laid for the feast, was the only room the prince had not seen, and it was not in the least inferior to the others. He admired the infinite number of wax candles perfumed with amber which formed an agreeable and pleasant sight. A large sideboard was set out with all sorts of gold plate, so finely wrought that the workmanship was much more valuable than the weight of the gold. Several beautiful women richly dressed, whose voices were ravishing, began a concert, accompanied with all kinds of the most harmonious instruments he had ever heard. When they had sat down to table, the fairy Pari Banou took care to help Prince Ahmed to most delicious meats, which the prince had never heard of, but found so nice that he commended them in the highest terms, saying that they far surpassed those among men. He found also the same excellence in the wines, which neither he nor the fairy tasted till the dessert was served up, which consisted of the choicest sweetmeats and fruits.
After the dessert, the fairy Pari Banou and Prince Ahmed rose from the table, which was immediately carried away, and sat on a sofa with cushions of fine silk, curiously embroidered with all sorts of large flowers, at their backs, and a great number of genie and fairies danced before them.
The days following the wedding were a continual feast, which the fairy Pari Banou, who could do it with the utmost ease, knew how to diversify by new dishes, new concerts, new dances, new shows, and new diversions; which were all so extraordinary, that Prince Ahmed, if he had lived a thousand years among men, could not have imagined.
At the end of six months, Prince Ahmed, who always loved and honoured the sultan his father, felt a great desire to know how he was; and as that desire could not be satisfied without his absenting himself to go and hear it in person, he mentioned it to the fairy, and desired she would give him leave.
This discourse alarmed the fairy, and made her fear it was only an excuse to leave her.
'My queen,' replied the prince, 'if you are offended at the leave I asked, I entreat you to forgive me, and I will make all the reparation I can. I did not do it with any intention of displeasing you, but from a motive of respect towards my father, whom I wish to free from the affliction in which my long absence must have overwhelmed him; indeed I have reason to think he believes me dead.'
'Prince,' said she, 'I am so fully convinced that I can depend upon your sincerity, that I grant you leave to go, on condition that your absence shall not be long.'
Prince Ahmed would have thrown himself at the fairy's feet, to show his gratitude; but she prevented him.
'Prince,' said she, 'go when you please; but first do not take it amiss if I give you some advice how you shall conduct yourself where you are going. First, I do not think it proper for you to tell the sultan your father of our marriage, nor what I am, nor the place where you are settled. Beg him to be satisfied with knowing that you are happy, and that you desire no more; and let him know that the sole end of your visit is to make him easy about your fate.'
She appointed twenty horsemen, well mounted and equipped, to attend him. When all was ready, Prince Ahmed took leave of the fairy, embraced her, and renewed his promise to return soon. Then his horse, which was as beautiful a creature as any in the Sultan of the Indies' stables, was brought, and he mounted him with an extraordinary grace, which gave great pleasure to the fairy, and after he had bid her a last adieu, set out on his journey.
As it was not a great way to his father's capital, Prince Ahmed soon arrived there. The people, glad to see him again, received him with acclamations, and followed him in crowds to the sultan's palace. The sultan received and embraced him with great joy; complaining at the same time with a fatherly tenderness, of the affliction his long absence had been to him; which he said was the more grievous, since as fortune had decided in favour of Prince Ali his brother, he was afraid he might have committed some act of despair.
'Sir,' replied Prince Ahmed, 'your majesty knows that when I shot my arrow the most extraordinary thing that ever befell anybody happened to me, that in so large and level a plain it should not be possible to find my arrow. Though thus vanquished, I lost no time in vain complaints; but to satisfy my perplexed mind, I gave my attendants the slip, and returned back again alone to look for my arrow. I sought all about the place where Prince Houssain's and Prince Ali's arrows were found, and where I imagined mine must have fallen; but all my labour was in vain, until after having gone four leagues, to that part of the plain where it is bounded by rocks, I perceived an arrow. I ran and took it up, and knew it to be the same which I had shot. Far from thinking your majesty had done me any injustice in declaring for my brother Prince Ali, I interpreted what had happened to me quite otherwise, and never doubted but there was a mystery in it to my advantage; the discovery of which I ought not to neglect, and which I found out without going further from the spot. But as to this mystery, I beg your majesty to let me remain silent, and that you will be satisfied to know from my own mouth that I am happy and contented. This was the only motive which brought me hither; the only favour I ask of your majesty is to give me leave to come often and pay you my respects, and inquire after your health.'
'Son,' answered the Sultan of the Indies, 'I cannot refuse you the leave you ask me; but I would much rather you would resolve to stay with me. At least tell me where I may hear of you, if you should fail to come, or when I may think your presence necessary.'
'Sir,' replied Prince Ahmed, 'what your majesty asks of me is part of the mystery I spoke of. I beg of you to give me leave to remain silent on this head; for I shall come so frequently where my duty calls, that I am afraid I shall sooner be thought troublesome than be accused of negligence in my duty.'
The Sultan of the Indies pressed Prince Ahmed no more; but said to him, 'Son, I penetrate no further into your secrets, but leave you at your liberty. I can only tell you, that you could not do me a greater pleasure than to come and by your presence restore to me the joy I have not felt for a long time, and that you will always be welcome when you come.'
Prince Ahmed stayed but three days at the sultan his father's court, and on the fourth returned to the fairy Pari Banou, who received him with great joy, as she did not expect him so soon.
A month after Prince Ahmed's return from paying a visit to his father, as the fairy Pari Banou had observed that since the time that the Prince gave her an account of his journey and his conversation with his father, in which he asked his leave to come and see him from time to time, he had never spoken of the sultan, as if there had been no such person in the world, whereas before he was always speaking of him, she said to him one day, 'Tell me, prince, have you forgotten the sultan your father? Do you not remember the promise you made to go and see him from time to time? For my part, I have not forgotten what you told me at your return, and put you in mind of it. Pay him another visit to-morrow, and after that go and see him once a month, without speaking to me, or waiting for my leave. I readily consent.'
Prince Ahmed went the next morning with the same attendants as before, but much finer, and himself more magnificently mounted, equipped, and dressed, and was received by the sultan with the same joy and satisfaction. For several months he constantly paid him visits, and always in a richer and more brilliant equipage.
At last some viziers, the sultan's favourites, who judged of Prince Ahmed's grandeur and power by the figure he made, abused the liberty the sultan gave them of speaking to him, to make him jealous of his son. They represented to him that it was but common prudence to know where the prince had retired, and how he could afford to live at such a rate, since he had no revenue or income assigned him; that he seemed to come to court only to brave him; and that it was to be feared he might stir up the people's favour and dethrone him.
The Sultan of the Indies was so far from thinking that Prince Ahmed could be capable of so wicked a design as his favourites would make him believe, that he said to them, 'You are mistaken; my son loves me, and I am assured of his tenderness and fidelity. Be it as it will, I do not believe my son Ahmed is so wicked as you would persuade me he is; however, I am obliged to you for your good advice, and do not doubt that it proceeds from a good intention.'
The Sultan of the Indies said this that his favourites might not know the impression their hints had made on his mind. He was, however, so much alarmed that he resolved to have Prince Ahmed watched, unknown to his grand vizier. For this end he sent for a sorceress, who was introduced by a private door into his room. 'My son Ahmed comes to my court every month; but I cannot learn from him where he resides, and I do not wish to force his secret out of him; but I believe you are capable of satisfying my curiosity, without letting him, or any of my court, know anything of the matter. You know that at present he is here with me, and is used to go away without taking leave of me, or any of my court. Go immediately out on the road, find out where he retires, and bring me word.'
The magician left the sultan, and knowing the place where Prince Ahmed found his arrow, went thither and hid herself near the rocks, so that nobody could see her.
The next morning Prince Ahmed set out by daybreak, without taking leave either of the sultan or of any of his court, according to custom. The magician, seeing him coming, followed him with her eyes, till all of a sudden she lost sight of him and his attendants.
The steepness of the rocks formed an insurmountable barrier to men, whether on horseback or on foot, so that the magician judged that there were but two ways; the prince had retired either into some cavern, or into some place underground, the abode of genies or fairies. When she thought the prince and his attendants were out of sight, she came out of the place where she had hidden herself, and went direct to the hollow where she had seen them go in. She entered it, and proceeded to the spot where it terminated in many windings, looking carefully about on all sides. But notwithstanding all her diligence she could perceive no opening, nor the iron gate which Prince Ahmed discovered. For this door was to be seen by and opened to none but men, and only to men whose presence was agreeable to the fairy Pari Banou, and not at all to women.
The magician, who saw it was in vain for her to search any further, was obliged to be satisfied with the discovery she had made, and returned to give the sultan an account. When she had told him what she had done, she added, 'Your majesty may easily understand, after what I have had the honour to tell you, that it will be no difficult matter to give you the satisfaction you desire concerning Prince Ahmed's conduct. To do this, I only ask time, and that you will have patience, and give me leave to do it without inquiring what measures I intend to take.'
The sultan was very well pleased with the magician's conduct, and said to her, 'Do as you think fit: I will wait patiently,' and to encourage her, he made her a present of a diamond of great value, telling her it was only an earnest of the ample reward she should receive when she had done him that important service, which he left to her management.
As Prince Ahmed, after he had obtained the fairy Pari Banou's leave to go to the Sultan of the Indies' court, never failed once a month, and the magician knew the time, she went a day or two before to the foot of the rock where she had lost sight of the prince and his attendants, and waited there with a plan she had formed.
The next morning Prince Ahmed went out as usual at the iron gate with the same attendants as before, and passed by the magician, whom he knew not to be such. Seeing her lie with her head on the rock, complaining as if she were in great pain, he pitied her, turned his horse about and went and asked her what was the matter, and what he could do to relieve her.
The artful sorceress, without lifting up her head, looked at the prince, and answered in broken words and sighs, as if she could hardly fetch her breath, that she was going to the city, but on the way thither was taken with so violent a fever that her strength failed her, and she was forced to stop and lie down, far from any habitation, and without any hope of assistance.
'Good woman,' replied Prince Ahmed, 'you are not so far from help as you imagine. I am ready to assist you, and to convey you where you shall not only have all possible care taken of you, but where you will find a speedy cure; only get up, and let one of my people take you.'
At these words, the magician, who pretended illness only to know where the prince lived, did not refuse the kind offer he made her so freely, and to show her acceptance rather by action than by word, she made many affected efforts to get up, pretending that her illness prevented her. At the same time two of the prince's attendants alighted off their horses, helped her up, and set her behind another. They mounted their horses again, and followed the prince, who turned back to the iron gate, which was opened by one of his retinue who rode before. When he came into the outer court of the fairy's palace, without dismounting, he sent to tell her he wanted to speak to her.
The fairy Pari Banou came with all haste, not knowing what made Prince Ahmed return so soon. Not giving her time to ask him, he said, 'My princess, I desire you would have compassion on this good woman,' pointing to the magician, who was taken off the horse by two of his retinue: 'I found her in the condition you see, and promised her the assistance she stands in need of. I commend her to your care, and am persuaded that you will not abandon her.'
The fairy Pari Banou, who had her eyes fixed upon the pretended sick woman all the time that the prince was talking, ordered two of the women who followed her to take her from the two men that held her up, and carry her into the palace, and take as much care of her as they could.
Whilst the two women executed the fairy's commands, she went up to Prince Ahmed, and whispering in his ear said, 'Prince, I commend your compassion, which is worthy of you, but give me leave to tell you that I am afraid it will be but ill rewarded. This woman is not so ill as she pretends to be; and I am very much mistaken if she is not sent hither on purpose to cause you great trouble. But do not be concerned, let what will be devised against you; be persuaded that I will deliver you out of all the snares that may be laid for you. Go and pursue your journey.'
This discourse of the fairy's did not in the least alarm Prince Ahmed. 'My princess,' said he, 'as I do not remember I ever did, or designed to do, anybody an injury, I cannot believe anybody can have a thought of doing me one; but if they have, I shall not forbear doing good whenever I have an opportunity.' So saying, he took leave of the fairy, and set out again for his father's capital, where he soon arrived, and was received as usual by the sultan, who restrained himself as much as possible, to disguise the trouble arising from the suspicions suggested by his favourites.
In the meantime, the two women to whom the fairy Pari Banou had given her orders carried the magician into a very fine apartment, richly furnished. First they set her down upon a sofa, with her back supported with a cushion of gold brocade, while they made a bed, the quilt of which was finely embroidered with silk, the sheets of the finest linen, and the coverlid cloth of gold. When they had put her into bed (for the old sorceress pretended that her fever was so violent that she could not help herself in the least), one of the women went out and soon returned again with a china cup in her hand full of a certain liquor, which she presented to the magician, while the other helped her to sit up. 'Drink this,' said she, 'it is the water of the fountain of lions, and a sovereign remedy against all fevers whatsoever. You will find the effect of it in less than an hour's time.'
The magician, to dissemble the better, took it after a great deal of entreaty, as if she was very much averse to having it, but at last taking the china cup, and shaking her head, as if she did great violence to herself, swallowed the liquor. When she had lain down again, the two women covered her up. 'Lie quiet,' said she who brought her the china cup, 'and get a little sleep if you can; we will leave you, and hope to find you perfectly cured when we come an hour hence.'
The magician, who came not to act a sick part long, but only to discover Prince Ahmed's retreat, and what made him leave his father's court, being fully satisfied in what she wanted to know, would willingly have declared that the potion had had its effects then, so great was her desire to return to the sultan, and inform him of the success of her commission; but as she had been told that the potion did not operate immediately, she was forced to await the women's return.
The two women came again at the time they said they should, and found the magician up and dressed, and seated on the sofa; when she saw them open the door she cried out, 'Oh, the admirable potion! it has wrought its cure much sooner than you told me it would, and I have waited a long time with impatience, to desire you to take me to your charitable mistress to thank her for her kindness, for which I shall always be obliged to her. Being thus cured as by a miracle, I had rather not lose time, but continue my journey.'
The two women, who were fairies as well as their mistress, after they had told the magician how glad they were that she was cured so soon, walked before her, and conducted her through several apartments into a large hall, the most richly and magnificently furnished of all the palace.
Pari Banou was seated in this hall, on a throne of massy gold, attended on each hand by a great number of beautiful fairies, all richly dressed. At the sight of so much majesty, the magician was so dazzled, that after she had prostrated herself before the throne, she could not open her lips to thank the fairy, as she proposed. However, Pari Banou saved her the trouble, and said to her, 'Good woman, I am glad I had the opportunity of obliging you, and to see you are able to pursue your journey. I will not detain you, but perhaps you may not be displeased to see my palace; follow my women, and they will show it to you.'
The old sorceress, who had not power nor courage to say a word, prostrated herself a second time, with her head on the carpet that covered the foot of the throne, and so took her leave, and was conducted by the two fairies through all the apartments which were shown to Prince Ahmed on his first arrival there. But what surprised her most of all was, that the two fairies told her that all she saw and admired so much was a mere sketch of their mistress's grandeur and riches, and that in the extent of her dominions she had so many palaces that they could not tell the number of them, all of different architecture, equally magnificent and superb. They led her at last to the iron gate at which Prince Ahmed brought her in, and after she had taken her leave of them, and thanked them for their trouble, they opened it, and wished her a pleasant journey.
After the magician had gone a little way, she turned back again to observe the door and know it again, but all in vain, for, as was before observed, it was invisible to her and all other women. Except in this, she was very well satisfied with her work, and posted away to the sultan. When she came to the capital, she went by a great many by-ways to the private door of the palace. The sultan being informed of her arrival, sent for her into his apartment and perceiving a melancholy look on her countenance, he thought she had not succeeded, and said to her, 'By your looks I guess that you have not made the discovery I expected from you.'
'Sir,' replied the magician, 'your majesty must give me leave to represent that you ought not to judge by my looks whether or no I have acquitted myself well as regards the commands you were pleased to honour me with. The melancholy you observe proceeds from another cause than the want of success.'
Then the magician related to the Sultan of the Indies the whole story of all that happened from beginning to end.
When the magician had ended, she said, 'What does your majesty think of these unheard-of riches of the fairy? Perhaps you will say you rejoice at the good fortune of Prince Ahmed your son. For my part, sir, I beg of your majesty to forgive me if I take the liberty to say that I think otherwise, and that I shudder when I consider the misfortunes which may happen to you. And this is the cause of the melancholy which you perceived. I would believe that Prince Ahmed, by his own good disposition, is incapable of undertaking anything against your majesty; but who can say that the fairy, by the influence she already has over him, may not inspire him with a dangerous design of dethroning your majesty, and seizing the crown of the Indies? This is what your majesty ought to consider serious and of the utmost importance.'
Though the Sultan of the Indies was very sure that Prince Ahmed's natural disposition was good, yet he could not help being uneasy at the remarks of the old sorceress, and said, 'I thank you for the pains you have taken, and your wholesome caution. I am so aware of the great importance it is to me, that I shall take advice upon it.'
He had been consulting with his favourites, when he was told of the magician's arrival. He ordered her to follow him to them. He acquainted them with what he had learnt, and communicated to them also the reason he had to fear the fairy's influence over the prince, and asked them what measures they thought most proper to prevent so great a misfortune. One of the favourites, taking upon himself to speak for the rest, said, 'Your majesty knows who must be the author of this mischief. In order to prevent it, now that he is in your court, and in your power, you ought not to hesitate to put him under arrest: I will not say take away his life, for that would make too much noise; but make him a close prisoner while he lives.' This advice all the other favourites unanimously applauded.
The magician, who thought it too violent, asked the sultan leave to speak, which being granted, she said, 'Sir, I am persuaded that the zeal of your councillors for your majesty's interest makes them propose arresting Prince Ahmed: but they will not take it amiss if I suggest to your and their consideration, that if you arrest the prince, you must also detain his retinue. But they are all genies. Do they think it will be so easy to surprise, seize, and secure their persons? Will they not disappear, by the property they possess of rendering themselves invisible, and transport themselves instantly to the fairy, and give her an account of the insult offered to her husband? And can it be supposed she will let it go unrevenged? But it would be better, if, by any other means which might not make so great a noise, the sultan could secure himself against any ill designs Prince Ahmed may have against him, and not involve his majesty's honour. If his majesty has any confidence in my advice, as genies and fairies can do things impracticable to men, he will touch Prince Ahmed's honour, and engage him, by means of the fairy, to procure certain advantages. For example, every time your majesty takes the field you are obliged to go to a great expense, not only in pavilions and tents for yourself and army, but likewise in mules and camels, and other beasts of burden, to carry their baggage. Might you not request him to use his interest with the fairy to procure you a tent which might be carried in a man's hand, and which should be large enough to shelter your whole army?
'I need say no more to your majesty. If the prince brings such a tent, you may make a great many other demands of the same nature, so that at last he may sink under the difficulties and the impossibility of executing them, however fertile in invention the fairy who has enticed him from you by her enchantments may be; so that in time he will be ashamed to appear, and will be forced to pass the rest of his life with his fairy, excluded from any connection with this world; and then your majesty will have nothing to fear, and cannot be reproached with so detestable an action as the shedding of a son's blood, or confining him in a prison for life.'
When the magician had finished her speech, the sultan asked his favourites if they had anything better to propose; and finding them all silent, determined to follow the magician's advice, as the most reasonable and the most suited to his mild manner of government.
The next day, when the prince came into his father's presence and had sat down by him, after a conversation on different subjects, the sultan said, 'Son, when you came and dispelled those clouds of melancholy which your long absence had brought upon me, you made the place you had chosen for your retreat a mystery to me. I was satisfied with seeing you again, and knowing that you were content with your condition, without wishing to penetrate into your secret, which I found you did not care I should. I know not what reason you had thus to treat a father. I know your good fortune; I rejoice with you, and very much approve of your conduct in marrying a fairy so worthy of your love, and so rich and powerful, as I am informed. Powerful as I am, it was not possible for me to have procured so great a match for you. Now that you are raised to so high a rank as to be envied by everybody but a father like me, I not only desire you to preserve the good understanding we have lived in hitherto, but to use all your credit with your fairy to obtain for me her assistance when I want it. I therefore will make a trial this day.
'I am persuaded you could easily procure from her a pavilion that might be carried in a man's hand, yet which would extend over my whole army; especially when you let her know it is for me. Though it may be a difficult thing, she will not refuse you. All the world knows that fairies are capable of doing the most extraordinary things.'
Prince Ahmed never expected that the sultan his father would have asked a thing which, at first sight, appeared to him so difficult, not to say impossible. Though he knew not absolutely how great the power of genies and fairies was, he doubted whether it extended so far as to furnish a tent such as his father desired. Moreover, he had never asked anything like it of the fairy Pari Banou, but was satisfied with her continual kindness; therefore he was in the greatest embarrassment what answer to make. At last he replied, 'If, sir, I have concealed from your majesty what happened to me and what course I took after finding my arrow, the reason was that I thought it was of no great importance to you to be informed of them; and though I know not how this mystery has been revealed to you, I cannot deny that your information is correct. I have married the fairy you speak of. I love her, and am persuaded she loves me. But I can say nothing as to the influence your majesty believes I have over her. It is what I have not yet made any experiment of or thought of, and should be very glad if you would dispense with my undertaking it, and let me enjoy the happiness of loving and being beloved with all the disinterestedness I proposed to myself. But the demand of a father is a command upon every child who, like me, thinks it his duty to obey him in everything. And though it is with the greatest reluctance imaginable, I will not fail to ask my wife the favour your majesty desires, but will not promise to obtain it; and if I should not have the honour to come again to pay you my respects, that shall be the sign that I have not had success: but I desire you to forgive me beforehand, and consider that you yourself have reduced me to this extremity.'
'Son,' replied the Sultan of the Indies, 'I should be very sorry that what I ask of you should prevent my ever seeing you again. Go, only ask her. Think with yourself, that as you love her, you could refuse her nothing; therefore, if she loves you, she will not deny your request.'
All this discourse of the Sultan of the Indies could not persuade Prince Ahmed, who would rather he had asked anything than the risk of displeasing his dear Pari Banou; and so great was his vexation, that he left the court two days sooner than usual.
When he returned, the fairy, to whom he had always before appeared with a cheerful countenance, asked him the reason of the alteration; and finding that instead of answering her, he inquired after her health to avoid satisfying her, she said to him, 'I will answer your question when you have answered mine.' The prince declined it a long time, protesting that nothing was the matter with him; but the more he denied it, the more she pressed him, and said, 'I cannot bear to see you in this condition: tell me what makes you so uneasy, that I may remove the cause of it, whatever it may be; for it must be very extraordinary if it is out of my power.'
Prince Ahmed could not long withstand the fairy. 'Madam,' said he, 'God prolong the sultan my father's life, and bless him to the end of his days. I left him alive, and in perfect health: therefore that is not the cause of the melancholy you perceive in me. The sultan has imposed upon me the disagreeable task of worrying you. You know the care I have taken, with your approbation, to conceal from him my happiness at home with you. How he has been informed of it I cannot tell.'
Here the fairy Pari Banou interrupted Prince Ahmed, and said, 'But I know. Remember what I told you of the woman who made you believe she was ill, on whom you took so much compassion. It is she who has acquainted the sultan your father with what you took so much care to hide from him. I told you that she was no more sick than you or I, for, after the two women whom I charged to take care of her had given her the water sovereign against all fevers, which, however, she had no occasion for, she pretended that the water had cured her, and was brought to take leave of me, that she might go sooner to give an account of the success of her undertaking. She was in so much haste that she would have gone away without seeing my palace, if I had not, by bidding my two women show it her, given her to understand that it was worth her seeing. But go on and tell me what is the necessity your father has imposed on you which has made you feel troublesome to me, which I desire you will be persuaded you can never be.'
'Madam,' pursued Prince Ahmed, 'you may have observed that hitherto I have never asked you any favour, for what, after the possession of so kind a wife, can I desire more? I know how great your power is, but I have taken care not to make trial of it. Consider then, I beg you, that it is not me, but the sultan my father, who, indiscreetly, as I think, asks of you a pavilion large enough to shelter him, his court, and his army, from the violence of the weather, when he takes the field, and yet small enough for a man to carry in his hand. Once more remember it is not I, but the sultan my father who asks this favour.'
'Prince,' replied the fairy, smiling, 'I am sorry that so small a matter should disturb you, and make you so uneasy. I see plainly two things have contributed towards it: one is, the law you have imposed upon yourself, to be content with loving me and being beloved by me, and to deny yourself the liberty of asking me the least favour that might try my power. The other, I do not doubt, whatever you may say, was that you thought what your father asked of me was out of my power. As to the first, I commend you for it, and shall love you the better, if possible; and for the second, I must tell you that what the sultan your father asks of me is a trifle; and upon occasion, I can do much more difficult things. Therefore be easy, and persuaded that, far from feeling worried, I shall always take great pleasure in whatever you can desire me to do for your sake.' Then the fairy sent for her treasurer, to whom she said 'Nourgihan' (which was her name), 'bring me the largest pavilion in my treasury.' Nourgihan returned presently with a pavilion, which could not only be held but concealed in the palm of the hand when it was closed, and presented it to her mistress, who gave it to Prince Ahmed to look at.
When Prince Ahmed saw the pavilion, which the fairy called the largest in her treasury, he fancied she was joking, and his surprise appeared in his face. Pari Banou burst out laughing. 'What! Prince,' cried she, 'do you think I jest with you? You will see presently that I am in earnest. Nourgihan' said she to her treasurer, taking the tent out of Prince Ahmed's hands, 'go and set it up, that the prince may judge whether the sultan his father will think it large enough.'
The treasurer immediately went out from the palace, and carried it to such a distance that when she had set it up one end reached to the palace. The prince, so far from thinking it small, found it large enough to shelter two armies as numerous as that of the sultan his father; and then said to Pari Banou, 'I ask my princess a thousand pardons for my incredulity: after what I have seen, I believe there is nothing impossible to you.'
'You see,' said the fairy, 'that the pavilion is larger than your father may have occasion for; but you are to observe that it becomes larger or smaller, according to the army it is to cover, without being touched.'
The treasurer took down the tent again, reduced it to its first size, and brought it and put it into the prince's hands. He took it, and next day mounted his horse and went with the usual attendants to the sultan his father.
The sultan, who was persuaded that such a tent as he asked for was beyond all possibility, was in great surprise at the prince's diligence. He took the tent and admired its smallness. But when he had set it up in the great plain, and found it large enough to shelter an army twice as large as he could bring into the field, his amazement was so great that he could not recover himself. As he thought this might be troublesome in use, Prince Ahmed told him that its size would always be proportionate to his army.
To outward appearance the sultan expressed great obligation to the prince his son for so noble a present, desiring him to return his thanks to the fairy Pari Banou; and to show what a value he set on it, he ordered it to be carefully laid up in his treasury. But within himself he became more jealous than ever; considering that by the fairy's assistance the prince his son might perform things that were infinitely above his own power, notwithstanding his greatness and riches; and, therefore, more intent upon his ruin, he went to consult the magician again, who advised him to request the prince to bring him some of the water of the fountain of lions.
In the evening, when the sultan was surrounded as usual by all his court, and the prince came to pay his respects among the rest, he said to him: 'Son, I have already expressed how much I am obliged to you for the present of the tent you have procured me, which I look upon as the most valuable thing in my treasury; but you must do one thing more for me. I am informed that the fairy your wife makes use of a certain water, called the water of the fountain of lions, which cures all sorts of fevers, even the most dangerous; and as I am perfectly sure that my health is dear to you, I do not doubt that you will ask her for a bottle of that water for me, and bring it me as a sovereign remedy, which I may make use of when I have occasion. Do me this service, and complete the duty of a good son towards a tender father.'
Prince Ahmed, who had believed that the sultan his father would have been satisfied with so singular and useful a tent as that which he had brought, and that he would not have imposed any new task upon him which might hazard the fairy's displeasure; was thunderstruck at this new request, notwithstanding the assurance she had given him of granting him whatever lay in her power. After a long silence, he said, 'I beg of your majesty to be assured that there is nothing I would not undertake to prolong your life, but I wish it might not be by means of my wife. For this reason I dare not promise to bring the water. All I can do is to assure you I will ask her; but it will be with as great reluctance as when I asked for the tent.'
The next morning Prince Ahmed returned to the fairy Pari Banou, and related to her sincerely and faithfully all that had passed at the sultan his father's court, from the giving of the tent, which he told her he received with the utmost gratitude, to the new request he had charged him to make, and when he had done, he added: 'but, my princess, I only tell you this as a plain account of what passed between me and my father. I leave you to your own discretion to gratify or reject this new desire. It shall be as you please.'
'No, no,' replied the fairy Pari Banou, 'whatever advice the magician can give him (for I see that he hearkens to her), he shall find no fault with you or me. There is a great deal of wickedness in this demand, as you will understand by what I am going to tell you. The fountain of lions is situated in the middle of a court of a great castle, the entrance into which is guarded by four fierce lions, two of which sleep while the other two are awake alternately. But let not that frighten you. I will give you means to pass by them without any danger.'
The fairy Pari Banou was at that time hard at work with her needle; and as she had by her several balls of thread, she took up one, and presenting it to Prince Ahmed, said, 'First take this ball of thread; I will tell you presently the use of it. In the second place, you must have two horses; one you will ride yourself, and the other you will lead, which must be loaded with a sheep cut into four quarters, and killed to-day. In the third place, you must be provided with a bottle, which I will give you, to bring the water in. Set out early to-morrow morning, and when you have passed the iron gate, throw before you the ball of thread, which will roll till it comes to the gates of the castle. When it stops, as the gates will be open, you will see the four lions. The two that are awake will, by their roaring, wake the other two. Be not frightened, but throw each of them a quarter of the sheep, and then clap spurs to your horse, and ride to the fountain. Fill your bottle without alighting, and then return with the same speed. The lions will be so busy eating that they will let you pass.'
Prince Ahmed set out the next morning at the time appointed by the fairy, and followed her directions carefully. When he arrived at the gates of the castle, he distributed the quarters of the sheep among the four lions, and passing through the midst of them with haste, got to the fountain, filled his bottle, and returned as safe and sound as he went. When he was a little distance from the castle gates, he turned round; and perceiving two of the lions coming after him, he drew his sabre, and prepared for defence. But as he went forward, he saw one of them turned off the road, and showed by his head and tail that he did not come to do him any harm, but only to go before him, and that the other stayed behind to follow. He therefore put his sword again into its scabbard. Guarded in this manner he arrived at the capital of the Indies; but the lions never left him till they had conducted him to the gates of the sultan's palace; after which they returned the way they came, though not without frightening all that saw them, who fled or hid themselves, though they walked gently, and showed no signs of fierceness.
A great many officers came to attend the prince while he dismounted, and conducted him to the apartments of the sultan, who was at that time conversing with his favourites. He approached the throne, laid the bottle at the sultan's feet, kissed the rich carpet which covered the footstool, and rising, said, 'I have brought you, sir, the health-giving water which your majesty so much desired to keep in your treasury; but at the same time wish you such health that you may never have occasion to make use of it.'
After the prince had finished speaking, the sultan placed him on his right hand, and then said, 'Son, I am very much obliged to you for this valuable present; also for the great danger you have exposed yourself to upon my account, which I have been informed of by the magician who knows the fountain of lions; but do me the pleasure,' continued he, 'to tell me by what incredible power you have been preserved.'
'Sir,' replied Prince Ahmed, 'I have no share in the compliment your majesty is pleased to make me; all the honour is due to the fairy my wife; I merely followed her good advice.' The sultan showed outwardly all the demonstrations of joy, but secretly became more and more jealous, retired into an inner apartment, and sent for the magician.
After conferring with her, the sultan next day said to the prince, in the midst of all his courtiers, 'Son, I have one thing more to ask of you; after which, I shall expect nothing more from your obedience, nor your influence with your wife. This request is, to bring me a man not above a foot and a half high, whose beard is thirty feet long, who carries upon his shoulders a bar of iron of five hundredweight which he uses as a quarterstaff, and who can speak.'
Prince Ahmed, who did not believe that there was such a man in the world as his father described, would gladly have excused himself; but the sultan persisted in his demand, and told him that the fairy could do more incredible things.
Next day the prince returned to the subterranean kingdom of Pari Banou, to whom he told his father's new demand, which, he said, he looked upon as more impossible than the first two; 'for,' added he, 'I cannot imagine that there is or can be such a man in the world: either he has a mind to try whether I am silly enough to go and seek him; or if there is such a man, he seeks my ruin. How can he suppose that I should get hold of a man so small, armed as he describes? What arms could I make use of to reduce him to submission?'
'Do not affright yourself, prince,' replied the fairy; 'you ran a risk in fetching the water of the fountain of lions for your father; but there is no danger in finding this man. It is my brother, Schaibar, who is so far from being like me, though we both had the same father, that he is of so violent a nature that nothing can prevent his giving gory marks of his resentment for a slight offence; yet, on the other hand, he is so good as to oblige any one in whatever they desire. He is made exactly as the sultan your father has described him; and he has no other arms than a bar of iron five hundred pounds in weight, without which he never stirs, and which makes him respected. I will send for him, and you shall judge of the truth of what I tell you; and prepare not to be frightened when you see him.'
'What! my queen,' replied Prince Ahmed, 'do you say Schaibar is your brother? Let him be ever so ugly or deformed, I shall love and honour him, and consider him as my nearest relation.'
The fairy ordered a gold chafing-dish to be set with a fire in it under the porch of her palace, with a box of the same metal. Taking some incense out of this, and throwing it into the fire, there arose a thick cloud of smoke.
Some moments after, the fairy said to Prince Ahmed, 'Prince, here comes my brother; do you see him?'
The prince immediately perceived Schaibar, who was but a foot and a half high, coming gravely with his heavy bar on his shoulder; his beard, thirty feet long, supported itself before him, and a pair of thick moustaches were tucked up to his ears, almost covering his face: his eyes were very small, like a pig's, and sunk deep in his head, which was of an enormous size, and on which he wore a pointed cap: besides all this, he had a hump behind and before.
If Prince Ahmed had not known that Schaibar was Pari Banou's brother, he would not have been able to look at him without fear; but knowing beforehand who he was, he waited for him with the fairy, and received him without the least concern.
Schaibar, as he came forward, looked at the prince with an eye that might have chilled his soul in his body, and asked Pari Banou who that man was.
To which she replied: 'He is my husband, brother; his name is Ahmed; he is son to the Sultan of the Indies. The reason why I did not invite you to my wedding was that I was unwilling to divert you from the expedition you were engaged in, and from which I heard with pleasure that you returned victorious; on his account I have taken the liberty now to send for you.'
At these words, Schaibar, looking at Prince Ahmed with a favourable eye, which however diminished neither his fierceness nor his savage look, said, 'Is there anything, sister, in which I can serve him? he has only to speak. It is enough for me that he is your husband.'
'The sultan his father,' replied Pari Banou, 'has a curiosity to see you, and I desire he may be your guide to the Sultan's court.'
'He need but lead the way; I will follow him,' replied Schaibar.
'Brother,' replied Pari Banou, 'it is too late to go to-day, therefore stay till to-morrow morning; and in the meantime, as it is desirable that you should know all that has passed between the Sultan of the Indies and Prince Ahmed since our marriage, I will tell you this evening.'
Next morning, after Schaibar had been informed of all that was proper for him to know, he set out with Prince Ahmed, who was to present him to the sultan. When they arrived at the gates of the capital, the people no sooner saw Schaibar than they ran and hid themselves in their shops and houses, and shut their doors; while others took to their heels, and communicated their fear to all they met, who did not wait to look behind them, but ran too; insomuch that Schaibar and Prince Ahmed, as they went along, found all the streets and squares deserted, till they came to the palace, where the porters, instead of preventing Schaibar from entering, also ran away; so that the prince and he advanced without any obstacle to the council-hall, where the sultan was seated on his throne giving audience. Here likewise the officers, at the approach of Schaibar, abandoned their posts.
Schaibar, carrying his head erect, went fiercely up to the throne, without waiting to be introduced by Prince Ahmed, and accosted the Sultan of the Indies in these words:
'You have asked for me, see, here I am: what do you want with me?'
The sultan, instead of answering, clapt his hands before his eyes, and turned away his head, to avoid the sight of so terrible an object. Schaibar was so much provoked at this uncivil and rude reception, after the Sultan had given him the trouble to come so far, that he instantly lifted up his iron bar, and saying, 'Speak then,' let it fall on his head, and killed him before Prince Ahmed could intercede in his behalf. All that he could do was to prevent his killing the grand vizier, who sat not far from him on his right hand, representing to him that he had always given the sultan his father good advice.
'These are they then,' said Schaibar, 'who gave him bad advice;' and as he pronounced these words, he killed all the other viziers on the right and left, flatterers and favourites of the sultan, who were Prince Ahmed's enemies. Every time he struck, he killed some one or other, and none escaped but they who, not rendered motionless by fear, saved themselves by flight.
When this terrible execution was over, Schaibar came out of the council-hall into the midst of the court-yard with the iron bar on his shoulder, and looking at the grand vizier, who owed his life to Prince Ahmed, he said, 'I know there is a certain sorceress, who is a greater enemy of the prince my brother-in-law than all those base favourites I have chastised; let her be brought to me at once.' The grand vizier immediately sent for her, and as soon as she was brought, Schaibar said, knocking her down with his iron bar, 'Take the reward of thy pernicious counsel, and learn to feign illness again:' and left her dead on the spot.
After this he said, 'This is not enough; I will treat the whole city in the same manner, if they do not immediately acknowledge Prince Ahmed my brother-in-law for their sultan, and Sultan of the Indies.' Then all that were present made the air ring with the repeated acclamations of 'Long life to Sultan Ahmed'; and immediately afterwards he was proclaimed throughout the whole town Schaibar made him be clothed in the royal vestments, installed him on the throne, and after he had made all do homage and fidelity to him, went and fetched his sister Pari Banou, whom he brought with great pomp, and made her acknowledged Sultaness of the Indies.
As for Prince Ali and Princess Nouronnihar, as they had no hand in the conspiracy against Prince Ahmed, nor knew of any such conspiracy, Prince Ahmed assigned them a considerable province, with its capital, where they spent the rest of their lives. Afterwards he sent an officer to Prince Houssain to acquaint him with the change, and to make him an offer of whichever province he liked best; but that prince thought himself so happy in his solitude that he bade the officer return the Sultan his brother thanks for his kindness, assuring him of his submission; and saying that the only favour he desired was leave to live retired in the place he had made choice of for his retreat.
[Go to Prince Camaralzaman and the Princess of China]
Dixon, E. Fairy Tales from the Arabian Nights. London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1893. Project Gutenberg.
1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM