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Payne: King Mohammed Ben Sebaik and the Merchant Hassan

[Go back to Julnar of the Sea and Her Son King Bedr Basim of Persia]

There was once, of old days and in bygone ages and times, a king of the kings of the Persians, by name Mohammed ben Sebaïk, who ruled over the land of Khorassan and used every year to go a-raiding into the countries of the unbelievers in Hind and Sind and China and the lands beyond the river [Oxus] and other the lands of the barbarians and others. He was a just, valiant and generous king and loved table-talk and recitals and verses and anecdotes and tales and entertaining stories and traditions of the ancients. Whoso knew a rare story and related it to him, he would bestow on him a sumptuous dress of honour and clothe him from head to foot and mount him on a horse saddled and bridled and give him a thousand dinars, besides other great gifts; and the man would take all this and go his way.

One day there came an old man before him and related to him a rare story, which pleased the king and he ordered him a magnificent present, amongst other things a thousand dinars of Khorassan and a horse with all its trappings. After this, the report of the king's munificence was blazed abroad in all countries and there heard of him a man by name Hassan the Merchant, who was generous, open-handed and learned and an accomplished poet and scholar. Now the king had an envious vizier, a compend of ill, loving none, rich nor poor, and whoso came before the king and he gave him aught, he envied him and said, 'This fashion wasteth wealth and ruineth the country; and this is the king's wont.' But this was nought but envy and despite in this vizier.

Presently, the king heard of Hassan and sending for him, said to him, 'O Hassan, this vizier of mine vexeth and thwarteth me concerning the money I give to poets and story-tellers and glee-men, and I would have thee tell me a goodly history and a rare story, such as I have never heard. If it please me, I will give thee lands galore, with their strong places, in free tenure, in addition to thy fiefs; besides which I will make thee my chief vizier and put my whole kingdom in thy hands; so shalt thou sit on my right hand and rule my people. But, if thou bring me not that which I desire, I will take all that is in thy hand and banish thee my kingdom.' 'Hearkening and obedience [are due] to our lord the king,' replied Hassan. 'But thy slave beseecheth thee to have patience with him a year; then will he tell thee a story, such as thou hast never in thy life heard, neither hath other than thou heard its like nor a better than it.' Quoth the king, 'I grant thee a whole year's delay.' And he called for a splendid dress of honour, in which he clad Hassan, saying, 'Keep thy house and mount not to horse, neither go nor come for a year's time, till thou bring me that I seek of thee. If thou bring it, thou shalt have especial favour and mayst count on that which I have promised thee; but, an thou bring it not, thou art not of us nor we of thee.' And Hassan kissed the ground before the king and went out from the presence.

Then he chose out five of the best of his servants, who could all write and read and were learned, intelligent and accomplished, and gave each of them five thousand dinars, saying, 'I reared you but against the like of this day: so do ye help me to accomplish the king's desire and deliver me from his hand.' 'What wilt thou [have us] do?' said they. 'Our lives be thy ransom!' Quoth he, 'I wish you to go each to a different country and seek out diligently the learned and erudite and accomplished and the tellers of rare stories and marvellous histories and do your endeavour to procure me the story of Seif el Mulouk. If ye find it with any one, pay him what price soever he asks for it, though he seek a thousand dinars: give him what ye may and promise him the rest and bring me the story; for whoso happens on it and brings it to me, I will bestow on him a sumptuous dress of honour and largesse galore, and there shall be to me none dearer than he.'

Then said he to one of them, 'Go thou to Hind and Sind and all their provinces and dependencies.' To another, 'Go thou to the land of the Persians and to China.' To the third, 'Go thou to the land of Khorassan.' To the fourth, 'Go thou to Northern Africa and all its coasts and districts.' And to the fifth, 'Go thou to Egypt and Syria.' Moreover, he chose them out an auspicious day and said to them, 'Set forth this day and be diligent in the accomplishment of my errand and be not slothful, though the quest cost you your lives.' So they took leave of him and departed, each taking the direction prescribed to him. At the end of four months, four of them returned and told their master that they had searched towns and cities and countries for the thing he sought, but had found nought thereof, wherefore his breast was straitened.

Meanwhile, the fifth servant journeyed till he came to the land of Syria and entered Damascus, which he found a pleasant and safe city, abounding in trees and streams and fruits and birds chanting the praises of God the One, the All-powerful, Creator of Night and Day. Here he abode some days, enquiring for his master's desire, but none answered him and he was on the point of departing thence to another place, when he met a young man running and stumbling in his skirts. So he said to him, 'Whither runnest thou in such haste?' And he answered, saying, 'There is an elder here, a man of learning, who every day at this time takes his seat on a stool and relates tales and anecdotes and entertaining stories, whereof never heard any the like; and I am running to get a place near him and fear I shall find no room, because of the much people.' Quoth the stranger, 'Take me with thee.' And the young man said, 'Make haste.'

So he shut his door and hastened with him to the place of recitation, where he saw an old man of a bright countenance seated on a stool, holding forth to the people. He sat down near him and addressed himself to listen to his story, till the going down of the sun, when the old man made an end of his tale and the people dispersed from about him; whereupon the messenger accosted him and saluted him, and he returned his salutation and greeted him with the utmost honour and courtesy. Then said the messenger to him, 'O my lord sheikh, thou art a comely and reverend man, and thy discourse is goodly; but I would fain ask thee of somewhat.' 'Ask of what thou wilt,' replied the old man. Then said the other, 'Hast thou the story of Seif el Mulouk and Bediya el Jemal?' 'And who told thee of this story?' asked the old man. 'None told me of it,' answered the messenger; 'but I am come from a far country, in quest of this story, and if thou have it and wilt, of thy bounty and charity, impart it to me and make it an alms to me, of the generosity of thy nature, I will pay thee whatever thou askest for its price; for, had I my life in my hand and sacrificed it to thee for this thing, yet were it pleasing to my heart.' 'Be of good cheer,' replied the old man; 'thou shalt have it; but this is no story that one telleth in the beaten way, nor do I give it to every one.' 'By Allah, O my lord,' cried the other, 'do not grudge it me, but ask of me what price thou wilt.' 'If thou wish for the story,' replied the old man, 'give me a hundred dinars and thou shalt have it; but upon five conditions.'

When the messenger knew that the old man had the story and was willing to sell it to him, he rejoiced with an exceeding joy and said, 'I will give thee the hundred dinars and ten to boot and take it on the conditions of which thou speakest.' 'Then go and fetch the money,' said the old man, 'and take that thou seekest.' So the messenger kissed his hands and returned, joyful and happy, to his lodging, where he laid a hundred and ten dinars in a purse he had by him. As soon as it was morning, he put on his clothes and taking the dinars, repaired to the story-teller, whom he found seated at the door of his house. So he saluted him and the other returned his salute. Then he gave him the money and the old man took it and carrying the messenger into his house, made him sit down. Then he set before him inkhorn and pen and paper and giving him a book, said to him, 'Write out what thou seekest of the story of Seif el Mulouk from this book.' So the man fell to work and wrote till he had made an end of his copy, when he read it to the old man, and he corrected it and said to him, 'Know, O my son, that my conditions are that thou tell not this story in the beaten road nor before women and girls nor to black slaves nor feather-heads nor boys; but read it only before kings and amirs and viziers and men of learning, such as expounders [of the Koran] and others.' The messenger accepted the conditions and kissing the old man's hand, took leave of him.

Then he set out the same day, glad and joyful, and fared on diligently, of the excess of his contentment, for that he had gotten the story of Seif el Mulouk, till he came to his own country, when he despatched his servant to carry the good news to his master and say to him, 'Thy servant is come back in safety and hath attained his desire and his aim.' (Now there wanted but ten days of the term appointed between Hassan and the king.) Then he himself went in to him and told him all that had befallen him and gave him the book containing the story of Seif el Mulouk and Bediya el Jemal, whereat Hassan rejoiced with an exceeding joy and bestowed on him all the clothes he had on and gave him ten thoroughbred horses and the like number of camels and mules and three black and ten white slaves.

Then the messenger rested in his privy chamber, whilst Hassan took the book and copied out the story plainly in his own hand; after which he presented himself before the king and said to him, 'O king, I have brought thee a story and a rare and pleasant relation, whose like none ever heard.' When the king heard this, he sent forthright for all the amirs, who were men of understanding, and all the learned doctors and folk of erudition and culture and poets and wits, and Hassan sat down and read the story before the king, who marvelled thereat and approved it, as did all who were present, and they showered gold and silver and jewels upon Hassan. Moreover, the king bestowed on him a sumptuous dress of honour of the richest of his raiment and gave him a great city with its castles and suburbs; and he appointed him one of his chief viziers and seated him on his right hand. Then he caused the scribes write the story in letters of gold and lay it up in his privy treasuries; and whenever, there-afterward, his breast was straitened, he would summon Hassan and he would read him the story, which was as follows:

[Go to Story of Prince Seif el Mulouk and the Princess Bediya el Jemal]

Payne, John (1842-1916). The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. London. 1901. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version. Wollamshram Vol. V. Wollamshram Vol. VI. Wollamshram Vol. VII. Wollamshram Vol. VIII. Wollamshram Vol. IX. Please consult the Wollamshram edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.

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

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