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There was a sultan who had peaceably filled the throne of India many years, and had the satisfaction in his old age to have three sons the worthy imitators of his virtues, who, with the princess his niece, were the ornaments of his court. The eldest of the princes was called Houssain, the second Ali, the youngest Ahmed, and the princess his niece Nouronnihar.
The princess Nouronnihar was the daughter of the younger brother of the sultan, to whom in his lifetime he had allowed a considerable revenue. But that prince had not been married long before he died, and left the princess very young. The sultan, in consideration of the brotherly love and friendship that had always subsisted between them, besides a great attachment to his person, took upon himself the care of his daughter's education, and brought her up in his palace with the three princes; where her singular beauty and personal accomplishments, joined to a lively wit and irreproachable virtue, distinguished her among all the princesses of her time.
The sultan, her uncle, proposed to marry her when she arrived at a proper age, and by that means to contract an alliance with some neighbouring prince; and was thinking seriously on the subject, when he perceived that the three princes his sons loved her passionately. This gave him much concern, though his grief did not proceed from a consideration that their passion prevented his forming the alliance he designed, but the difficulty he foresaw to make them agree, and that the two youngest should consent to yield her up to their eldest brother. He spoke to each of them apart; and remonstrated on the impossibility of one princess being the wife of three persons, and the troubles they would create if they persisted in their attachment. He did all he could to persuade them to abide by a declaration of the princess in favour of one of them; or to desist from their pretensions, to think of other matches which he left them free liberty to choose, and suffer her to be married to a foreign attachment. But as he found them obstinate, he sent for them all together, and said, "My children, since I have not been able to dissuade you from aspiring to marry the princess your cousin; and as I have no inclination to use my authority, to give her to one in preference to his brothers, I trust I have thought of an expedient which will please you all, and preserve harmony among you, if you will but hear me, and follow my advice. I think it would not be amiss if you were to travel separately into different countries, so that you might not meet each other: and as you know I am very curious, and delight in every thing that is rare and singular, I promise my niece in marriage to him who shall bring me the most extraordinary rarity; chance may lead you to form your own judgment of the singularity of the things which you bring, by the comparison you make of them, so that you will have no difficulty to do yourselves justice by yielding the preference to him who has deserved it; and for the expense of travelling, I will give each of you a sum suited to your rank, and for the purchase of the rarity you shall search after; which shall not be laid out in equipage and attendants, as much display, by discovering who you are, would not only deprive you of the liberty to acquit yourselves of your charge, but prevent your observing those things which may merit your attention, and may be most useful to you."
As the three princes were always submissive and obedient to the sultan's will, and each flattered himself fortune might prove favourable to him, and give him possession of the princess Nouronnihar, they all consented to the proposal. The sultan gave them the money he promised; and that very day they issued orders for the preparations for their travels, and took leave of their father, that they might be ready to set out early next morning. They all went out at the same gate of the city, each dressed like a merchant, attended by a trusty officer, habited as a slave, and all well mounted and equipped. They proceeded the first day's journey together; and slept at a caravanserai, where the road divided into three different tracks. At night when they were at supper together, they all agreed to travel for a year, to make their present lodging their rendezvous; and that the first who came should wait for the rest; that as they had all three taken leave together of the sultan, they might return in company. The next morning by break of day, after they had embraced and wished each other reciprocally good success, they mounted their horses, and took each a different road.
Prince Houssain, the eldest brother, who had heard wonders of the extent, power, riches, and splendour of the kingdom of Bisnagar, bent his course towards the Indian coast; and after three months' travelling, joining himself to different caravans, sometimes over deserts and barren mountains, and sometimes through populous and fertile countries, arrived at Bisnagar, the capital of the kingdom of that name, and the residence of its maharajah. He lodged at a khan appointed for foreign merchants; and having learnt that there were four principal divisions where merchants of all sorts kept their shops, in the midst of which stood the castle, or rather the maharajah's palace, on a large extent of ground, as the centre of the city, surrounded by three courts, and each gate distant two leagues from the other, he went to one of these quarters the next day.
Prince Houssain could not view this quarter without admiration. It was large, divided into several streets, all vaulted and shaded from the sun, but yet very light. The shops were all of the same size and proportion; and all who dealt in the same sort of goods, as well as all the artists of the same profession, lived in one street.
The number of shops stocked with all kinds of merchandizes, such as the finest linens from several parts of India, some painted in the most lively colours, and representing men, landscapes, trees, and flowers; silks and brocades from Persia, China, and other places; porcelain from Japan and China; foot carpets of all sizes; surprised him so much, that he knew not how to believe his eyes: but when he came to the shops of the goldsmiths and jewellers (for those two trades were exercised by the same merchants), he was in a kind of ecstasy, at beholding such prodigious quantities of wrought gold and silver, and was dazzled by the lustre of the pearls, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones exposed to sale. But if he was amazed at seeing so many treasures in one place, he was much more surprised when he came to judge of the wealth of the whole kingdom, by considering, that except the brahmins, and ministers of the idols, who profess a life retired from worldly vanity, there was not an Indian, man or woman, through the extent of the kingdom, but wore necklaces, bracelets, and ornaments about their legs and feet, made of pearls, and precious stones, which appeared with the greater lustre, as they were blacks, which colour admirably set off their brilliancy.
Another object which prince Houssain particularly admired was the great number of flower-sellers who crowded the streets; for the Indians are such great lovers of flowers that not one will stir without a nosegay of them in his hand, or a garland of them on his head; and the merchants keep them in pots in their shops, so that the air of the whole quarter, however extensive, is perfectly perfumed.
After prince Houssain had passed through that quarter, street by street, his thoughts fully employed on the riches he had seen, he was much fatigued; which a merchant perceiving, civilly invited him to sit down in his shop. He accepted his offer; but had not been seated long, before he saw a crier pass with a piece of carpeting on his arm, about six feet square, and crying it at thirty purses. The prince called to the crier, and asked to see the carpeting, which seemed to him to be valued at an exorbitant price, not only for the size of it, but the meanness of the materials. When he had examined it well, he told the crier that he could not comprehend how so small a piece of carpeting, and of so indifferent an appearance, could be set at so high a price.
The crier, who took him for a merchant, replied, "Sir, if this price seems so extravagant to you, your amazement will be greater when I tell you, I have orders to raise it to forty purses, and not to part with it under." "Certainly," answered prince Houssain, "it must have something very extraordinary in it, which I know nothing of." "You have guessed right, sir," replied the crier, "and will own it when you come to know, that whoever sits on this piece of carpeting may be transported in an instant wherever he desires to be, without being stopped by any obstacle."
At this account, the prince of the Indies, considering that the principal motive of his tour was to carry the sultan his father home some singular rarity, thought that he could not meet with any which would afford him more satisfaction. "If the carpeting," said he to the crier, "has the virtue you attribute to it, I shall not think forty purses too much; but shall make you a present besides.' "Sir," replied the crier, "I have told you the truth; and it will be an easy matter to convince you of it, as soon as you have made the bargain for forty purses, on condition I shew you the experiment. But as I suppose you have not so much with you, and to receive them, I must go with you to the khan where you lodge; with the leave of the master of this shop we will go into the back warehouse, where I will spread the carpeting; and when we have both sat down, and you have formed the wish to be transported into your apartment at the khan, if we are not conveyed thither, it shall be no bargain, and you shall be at your liberty. As to your present, as I am paid for my trouble by the seller, I shall receive it as a favour, and feel much obliged by your liberality."
On this assurance of the crier, the prince accepted the conditions, and concluded the bargain; then having obtained the master's leave, they went into his back-shop, where they both sat down on the carpeting; and as soon as the prince had formed his wish to be transported into his apartment at the khan, he in an instant found himself and the crier there: as he wanted not a more convincing proof of the virtue of the carpeting, he counted to the crier forty purses of gold, and gave him twenty pieces for himself.
In this manner prince Houssain became the possessor of the carpeting, and was overjoyed that at his arrival at Bisnagar he had found so rare a curiosity, which he never doubted must of course gain him the possession of Nouronnihar. In short, he thought it impossible for the princes, his younger brothers, to meet with any thing to be compared with ir. It was in his power, by sitting on this carpeting, to be at the place of rendezvous that very day; but as he would be obliged to wait there for his brothers, as they had agreed, and as he was desirous of seeing the maharajah of Bisnagar and his court, and to inform himself of the strength, laws, customs, and religion of the kingdom, he chose to make a longer abode in this capital, and to spend some months in satisfying his curiosity.
It was the custom of the maharajah of Bisnagar to give all foreign merchants access to his person once a week; so that in his assumed character prince Houssain saw him often: and as this prince was of an engaging presence, sensible and accomplished, he distinguished himself among the merchants, and was preferred before them all by the maharajah, who addressed himself to him to be informed of the person of the sultan of the Indies, and of the government, strength, and riches of his dominions.
The rest of his time the prince employed in viewing what was most remarkable in and about the city; and among the objects which were most worthy of admiration, he visited a temple remarkable for being built all of brass. It was ten cubits square, and fifteen high; but its greatest ornament was an idol of the height of a man, of massive gold; its eyes were two rubies, set so artificially, that it seemed to look at those who viewed it, on which side soever they turned: besides this, there was another not less curious, in the environs of the city, in the midst of a lawn of about ten acres, which was like a delicious garden full of roses and the choicest flowers, surrounded by a low wall, breast high, to keep out the cattle. In the midst of this lawn was raised a terrace, a man's height, and covered with such beautiful cement, that the whole pavement seemed to be but one single stone, most highly polished. A temple was erected in the middle of this terrace, having a spire rising about fifty cubits high from the building, which might be seen for several leagues round. The temple was thirty cubits long, and twenty broad; built of red marble, highly polished. The inside of the spire was adorned with three compartments of fine paintings: and there was not a part in the whole edifice but what was embellished with paintings, or relievos, and gaudy idols from top to bottom.
Every night and morning there were superstitious ceremonies performed in this temple, which were always succeeded by sports, concerts of music, dancing, singing, and feasts. The brahmins of the temple, and the inhabitants of this suburb, had nothing to subsist on but the offerings of pilgrims, who came in crowds from the most distant parts of the kingdom to perform their vows.
Prince Houssain was also spectator of a solemn festival, which was celebrated every year at the court of Bisnagar, at which all the governors of provinces, commanders of fortified places, all heads and magistrates of towns, and the brahmins most celebrated for their learning, were usually present; and some lived so far off, that they were four months in coming. This assembly, composed of such innumerable multitudes of Hindoos encamped in variously coloured tents, on a plain of vast extent, was a splendid sight, as far as the eye could reach. In the centre of this plain was a square of great length and breadth, closed on one side by a large scaffolding of nine stories, supported by forty pillars, raised for the maharajah and his court, and those strangers whom he admitted to audience once a week: within, it was adorned and furnished magnificently with rich carpets and cushions; and on the outside were painted landscapes, wherein all sorts of beasts, birds, and insefts, even flies and gnats, were drawn very naturally. Other scaffolds of at least four or five stories, and painted almost all with the same fanciful brilliancy, formed the other three sides. But what was more particular in these scaffolds, they could turn, and make them change their fronts so as to present different decorations to the eye every hour.
On each side of the square, at some little distance from each other, were ranged a thousand elephants, sumptuously caparisoned, each having upon his back a square wooden stage, finely gilt, upon which were musicians and buffoons. The trunks, ears, and bodies of these elephants were painted with cinnabar and other colours, representing grotesque figures.
But what prince Houssain most of all admired, as a proof of the industry, address, and inventive genius of the Hindoos, was to see the largest of these elephants stand with his four feet on a post fixed into the earth, and standing out of it above two feet, playing and beating time with his trunk to the music. Besides this, he admired another elephant as large as the former, placed upon a plank, laid across a strong beam about ten feet high, with a sufficiently heavyweight at the other end, which balanced him, while he kept time, by the motions of his body and trunk, with the music, as well as the other elephant. The Hindoos, after having fastened on the counterpoise, had drawn the other end of the board down to the ground, and made the elephant get upon it.
Prince Houssain might have made a longer stay in the kingdom and court of Bisnagar, where he would have been agreeably diverted by a great variety of other wonders, till the last day of the year, whereon he and his brothers had appointed to meet. But he was so well satisfied with what he had seen, and his thoughts ran so much upon the object of his love, that after such success in meeting with his carpet, reflecting on the beauty and charms of the princess Nouronnihar increased every day the violence of his passion, and he fancied he should be the more easy and happy the nearer he was to her. After he had satisfied the master of the khan for his apartment, and told him the hour when he might come for the key, without mentioning how he should travel, he shut the door, put the key on the outside, and spreading the carpet, he and the officer he had brought with him sat down upon it, and as soon as he had formed his wish, were transported to the caravanserai at which he and his brothers were to meet, and where he passed for a merchant till their arrival.
Prince Ali, the second brother, who had designed to travel into Persia, in conformity with the intention of the sultan of the Indies, took that road, having three days after he parted with his brothers joined a caravan; and in four months arrived at Sheerauz, which was then the capital of the empire of Persia; and having in the way contracted a friendship with some merchants, passed for a jeweller, and lodged in the same khan with them.
The next morning, while the merchants opened their bales of merchandises, prince Ali, who travelled only for his pleasure, and had brought nothing but necessaries with him, after he had dressed himself, took a walk into that quarter of the town where they sold precious stones, gold and silver works, brocades, silks, fine linens, and other choice and valuable articles, and which was at Sheerauz called the bezestein. It was a spacious and well-built street, arched over, within the arcades of which were shops. Prince Ali soon rambled through the bezestein, and with admiration judged of the riches of the place by the prodigious quantities of the most precious merchandises exposed to view.
But among the criers who passed backwards and forwards with several sorts of goods, offering to sell them, he was not a little surprised to see one who held in his hand an ivory tube, of about a foot in length, and about an inch thick, which he cried at forty purses. At first he thought the crier mad, and to inform himself, went to a shop, and said to the merchant who stood at the door, "Pray, sir, is not that man" (pointing to the crier, who cried the ivory tube at forty purses) "mad? If he is not, I am much deceived." "Indeed, sir," answered the merchant, "he was in his right senses yesterday; and I can assure you he is one of the ablest criers we have, and the most employed of any, as being to be confided in when any thing valuable is to be sold; and if he cries the ivory tube at forty purses, it must be worth as much or more, on some account or other which does not appear. He will come by presently, when we will call him, and you shall satisfy yourself: in the mean time sit down on my sofa, and rest yourself."
Prince Ali accepted the merchant's obliging offer, and presently afterwards the crier arrived. The merchant called him by his name, and pointing to the prince, said to him, "Tell that gentleman, who asked me if you were in your right senses, what you mean by crying that ivory tube, which seems not to be worth much, at forty purses? I should indeed be much amazed myself, if I did not know you were a sensible man." The crier, addressing himself to prince Ali, said, "Sir, you are not the only person that takes me for a madman, on account of this tube; you shall judge yourself whether I am or no, when I have told you its property; and I hope you will value it at as high a price as those I have shewed it to already, who had as bad an opinion of me as you have.
"First, sir," pursued the crier, presenting the ivory tube to the prince, "observe, that this tube is furnished with a glass at both ends; by looking through one of them, you will see whatever object you wish to behold." "I am," said the prince, "ready to make you all proper reparation for the reflection I have cast upon you, if you can make the truth of what you advance appear; and" (as he had the ivory tube in his hand, after he had looked at the two glasses), he said, "shew me at which of these ends I must look, that I may be satisfied." The crier presently shewed him, and he looked through; wishing, at the same time, to see the sultan his father, whom he immediately beheld in perfect health, sitting on his throne, in the midst of his council. Next, as there was nothing in the world so dear to him, after the sultan, as the princess Nouronnihar, he wished to see her; and instantly beheld her laughing, and in a gay humour, with her women about her.
Prince All wanted no other proof to persuade him that this tube was the most valuable article, not only in the city of Sheerauz, but in all the world; and believed, that if he should neglect to purchase it, he should never meet with an equally wonderful curiosity. He said to the crier, "I am very sorry that I have entertained so erroneous an opinion of you, but hope to make amends by buying the tube, for I should be sorry if any body else had it; so tell me the lowest price the owner has fixed; and do not give yourself any farther trouble to hawk it about, but go with me and I will pay you the money." The crier assured him, with an oath, that his last orders were to take no less than forty purses; and if he disputed the truth of what he said, he would carry him to his employer. The prince believed him, took him to the khan where he lodged, told him out the money, and received the tube.
Prince Ali was overjoyed at his purchase; and persuaded himself, that as his brothers would not be able to meet with any thing so rare and admirable, the princess Nouronnihar must be the recompense of his fatigue and travels. He thought now of only visiting the court of Persia incognito, and seeing whatever was curious in and about Sheerauz, till the caravan with which he came might be ready to return to the Indies. He satisfied his curiosity, and when the caravan took its departure, the prince joined the former party of merchants his friends, and arrived happily without any accident or trouble, further than the length of the journey and fatigue of travelling, at the place of rendezvous, where he found prince Houssain, and both waited for prince Ahmed.
Prince Ahmed took the road of Samarcand, and the day after his arrival, went, as his brothers had done, into the bezestein; where he had not walked long before he heard a crier, who had an artificial apple in his hand, cry it at five-and-thirty purses. He stopped the crier, and said to him, "Let me see that apple, and tell me what virtue or extraordinary property it possesses, to be valued at so high a rate?" "Sir," replied the crier, giving it into his hand, "if you look at the mere outside of this apple it is not very remarkable; but if you consider its properties, and the great use and benefit it is of to mankind, you will say it is invaluable, and that he who possesses it is master of a great treasure. It cures all sick persons of the most mortal diseases, whether fever, pleurisy, plague, or other malignant distempers; for even if the patient is dying, it will recover him immediately, and restore him to perfect health: and this merely by the patient's smelling to it."
"If one may believe you," replied prince Ahmed, "the virtues of this apple are wonderful, and it is indeed invaluable: but what ground has the purchaser to be persuaded that there is no exaggeration in the high praises you bestow on it?" "Sir," replied the crier, "the truth is known by the whole city of Samarcand; but without going any farther, ask all these merchants you see here, and hear what they say; you will find several of them will tell you they had not been alive this day had they not made use of this excellent remedy; and that you may the better comprehend what it is, I must tell you it is the fruit of the study and experience of a celebrated philosopher of this city, who applied himself all his lifetime to the knowledge of the virtues of plants and minerals, and at last attained to this composition, by which he performed such surprising cures, as will never be forgotten; but died suddenly himself, before he could apply his own sovereign remedy; and left his wife and a great many young children behind in very indifferent circumstances, who, to support her family, and to provide for her children, has resolved to sell it."
While the crier was detailing to prince Ahmed the virtues of the artificial apple, many persons came about them, and confirmed what he declared; and one amongst the rest said he had a friend dangerously ill, whose life was despaired of; which was a favourable opportunity to shew the experiment. Upon which prince Ahmed told the crier he would give him forty purses for the apple if it cured the sick person by smelling to it.
The crier, who had orders to sell it at that price, said to prince Ahmed, "Come, sir, let us go and make the experiment, and the apple shall be yours; and I say this with the greater confidence, as it is an undoubted fact that it will always have the same effect, as it already has had whenever it has been applied to save from death so many persons whose lives were despaired of." In short, the experiment succeeded; and the prince, after he had counted out to the crier forty purses, and had received the apple from him, waited with the greatest impatience for the departure of a caravan for the Indies. In the mean time he saw all that was curious at and about Samarcand, and principally the valley of Sogd, which is reckoned by the Arabians one of the four paradises of this world, for the beauty of its fields, gardens, and palaces, and for its fertility in fruit of all sorts, and all the other pleasures enjoyed there in the fine season.
Ahmed joined himself to the first caravan that set out for the Indies, and notwithstanding the inevitable inconveniences of so long a journey, arrived in perfect health at the caravanserai, where the princes Houssain and Ali waited for him.
Ali, who had arrived some time before Ahmed, asked Houssain how long he had been there? who told him, "Three months;" to which he replied, "Then certainly you have not been very far." "I will tell you nothing now," said prince Houssain, "of where I have been, but only assure you, I was above three months travelling to the place I went to." "But then," replied prince Ali, "you made a short stay there." "Indeed, brother," said prince Houssain, "you are mistaken; I resided at one place above four months, and might have stayed longer." "Unless you flew back," returned Ali again, "I cannot comprehend how you can have been three months here, as you would make me believe."
"I tell you the truth," added Houssain, "and it is a riddle which I shall not explain to you, till our brother Ahmed joins us; when I will let you know what rarity I have purchased in my travels. I know not what you have got, but believe it to be some trifle, because I do not perceive that your baggage is increased." "And pray what have you brought?" demanded prince Ali, "for I can see nothing but an ordinary piece of carpeting, with which you cover your sofa; and therefore I think I may return your raillery; and as you seem to make what you have brought a secret, you cannot take it amiss that I do the same with respect to what I have procured."
"I consider the rarity I have purchased," replied Houssain, "to excel all others whatever, and should not make any difficulty to shew it you, and make you allow that it is so, and at the same time tell you how I came by it, without being in the least apprehensive that what you have got is to be preferred to it: but it is proper that we should wait till our brother Ahmed arrives, when we may communicate our good fortune to each other."
Prince All would not enter into a dispute with prince Houssain on the preference he gave his rarity, but was persuaded, that if his perspective glass was not preferable, it was impossible it should be inferior to it; and therefore agreed to stay till prince Ahmed arrived, to produce his purchase.
When prince Ahmed joined his brothers, they embraced with tenderness, and complimented each other on the happiness of meeting together at the same place they had set out from. Houssain, as the eldest brother, then assumed the discourse, and said to them, "Brothers, we shall have time enough hereafter to entertain ourselves with the particulars of our travels. Let us come to that which is of the greatest importance for us to know; and as I do not doubt you remember the principal motive which engaged us to travel, let us not conceal from each other the curiosities we have brought, but shew them, that we may do ourselves justice beforehand, and judge to which of us the sultan our father may give the preference.
"To set the example," continued Houssain, "I will tell you, that the rarity which I have brought from the kingdom of Bisnagar is the carpeting on which I sit, which looks but ordinary, and makes no shew; but when I have declared its virtues, you will be struck with admiration, and confess you never heard of any thing like it. Whoever sits on it, as we do, and desires to be transported to any place, be it ever so far distant, he is immediately carried thither. I made the experiment myself, before I paid the forty purses, which I most readily gave for it; and when I had fully satisfied my curiosity at the court of Bisnagar, and wished to return here, I made use of no other conveyance than this wonderful carpet for myself and servant, who can tell you how long we were on our journey. I will shew you both the experiment whenever you please. I expect now that you should tell me whether what you have brought is to be compared with this carpet."
Here prince Houssain finished his commendations of the excellency of his carpet; and prince Ali, addressing himself to him, said, "I must own, brother, that your carpet is one of the most surprising curiosities, if it has, as I do not doubt, the property you speak of. But you must allow that there may be other rarities, I will not say more, but at least as wonderful, in another way; and to convince you there are, here is an ivory tube, which appears to the eye no more a prodigy than your carpet; it cost me as much, and I am as well satisfied with my purchase as you can be with yours; and you will be so just as to own that I have not been imposed upon, when you shall know by experience, that by looking at one end you see whatever object you wish to behold. I would not have you take my word," added prince Ali, presenting the tube to him; "take it, make trial of it yourself."
Houssain took the ivory tube from prince Ali, and put that end to his eye which Ali directed, with an intention to see the princess Nouronnihar; when Ali and prince Ahmed, who kept their eyes fixed upon him, were extremely surprised to see his countenance change in such a manner, as expressed extraordinary alarm and affliction. Prince Houssain did not give them time to ask what was the matter, but cried out, "Alas! princes, to what purpose have we undertaken such long and fatiguing journeys, but with the hopes of being recompensed by the possession of the charming Nouronnihar, when in a few moments that lovely princess will breathe her last. I saw her in her bed, surrounded by her women and eunuchs, all in tears, who seem to expect her death. Take the tube, behold yourselves the miserable state she is in, and mingle your tears with mine."
Prince Ali took the tube out of Houssain's hand, and after he had seen the same object with sensible grief, presented it to Ahmed, who took it, to behold the melancholy sight which so much concerned them all.
When prince Ahmed had taken the tube out of Ali's hands, and saw that the princess Nouronnihar's end was so near, he addressed himself to his two brothers, and said, "Princes, the princess Nouronnihar, equally the object of our vows, is indeed just at death's door; but provided we make haste and lose no time, we may preserve her life." He then took the artificial apple out of his bosom, and shewing it to his brothers, resumed, "This apple cost me as much and more than either the carpet or tube. The opportunity which now presents itself to shew you its wonderful property makes me not regret the forty purses I gave for it. But not to keep you longer in suspense, it has this virtue; if a sick person smells to it, though in the last agonies, it will restore him to perfect health immediately. I have made the experiment, and can show you its wonderful effect on the person of the princess Nouronnihar, if we hasten to assist her."
"If that be all," replied prince Houssain, "we cannot make more dispatch than by transporting ourselves instantly into her chamber by means of my carpet. Come, lose no time, sit down, it is large enough to hold us all: but first let us give orders to our servants to set out immediately, and join us at the palace."
As soon as the order was given, the princes Ali and Ahmed sat down by Houssain, and as their interest was the same, they all framed the same wish, and were transported instantaneously into the princess Nouronnihar's chamber.
The presence of the three princes, who were so little expected, alarmed the princess's women and eunuchs, who could not comprehend by what enchantment three men should be among them; for they did not know them at first; and the eunuchs were ready to fall upon them, as people who had got into a part of the palace where they were not allowed to come; but they presently found their mistake.
Prince Ahmed no sooner saw himself in Nouronnihar's chamber, and perceived the princess dying, but he rose off the carpet, as did also the other two princes, went to the bed-side, and put the apple to her nostrils. The princess instantly opened her eyes, and turned her head from one side to another, looking at the persons who stood about her; she then rose up in the bed, and asked to be dressed, with the same freedom and recollection as if she had awaked out of a sound sleep. Her women presently informed her, in a manner that shewed their joy, that she was obliged to the three princes her cousins, and particularly to prince Ahmed, for the sudden recovery of her health. She immediately expressed her joy at seeing them, and thanked them all together, but afterwards prince Ahmed in particular. As she desired to dress, the princes contented themselves with telling her how great a pleasure it was to them to have come soon enough to contribute each in any degree towards relieving her from the imminent danger she was in, and what ardent prayers they had offered for the continuance of her life; after which they retired.
While the princess was dressing, the princes went to throw themselves at the sultan their father's feet; but when they came to him, they found he had been previously informed of their unexpected arrival by the chief of the princess's eunuchs, and by what means the princess had been so suddenly cured. The sultan received and embraced them with the greatest joy, both for their return, and the wonderful recovery of the princess his niece, whom he loved as if she had been his own daughter, and who had been given over by the physicians. After the usual compliments, the princes presented each the rarity which he had brought: prince Houssain his carpet, prince Ali his ivory tube, and prince Ahmed the artificial apple; and after each had commended his present, as he put it into the sultan's hands, they begged of him to pronounce their fate, and declare to which of them he would give the princess Nouronnihar, according to his promise.
The sultan of the Indies having kindly heard all that the princes had to say in favour of their rarities, without interrupting them, and being well informed of what had happened in relation to the princess Nouronnihar's cure, remained some time silent, considering what answer he should make. At last he broke silence, and said to them in terms full of wisdom, "I would declare for one of you, my children, if I could do it with justice; but consider whether I can? It is true, Ahmed, the princess my niece is obliged to your artificial apple for her cure: but let me ask you, whether you could have been so serviceable to her if you had not known by Ali's tube the danger she was in, and if Houssain's carpet had not brought you to her so soon? Your tube, Ali, informed you and your brothers that you were likely to lose the princess your cousin, and so far she is greatly obliged to you. You must also grant, that the knowledge of her illness would have been of no service without the artificial apple and the carpet. And as for you, Houssain, the princess would be very ungrateful if she did not show her sense of the value of your carpet, which was so necessary a means towards effecting her cure. But consider, it would have been of little use, if you had not been acquainted with her illness by Ali's tube, or if Ahmed had not applied his artificial apple. Therefore, as neither the carpet, the ivory tube, nor the artificial apple has the least preference to the other articles, but as, on the contrary, their value has been perfectly equal, I cannot grant the princess to any one of you; and the only fruit you have reaped from your travels is the glory of having equally contributed to restore her to health.
"As this is the case," added the sultan, "you see that I must have recourse to other means to determine me with certainty in the choice I ought to make; and as there is time enough between this and night, I will do it to-day. Go and procure each of you a bow and arrow, repair to the plain where the horses are exercised; I will soon join you, and will give the princess Nouronnihar to him who shoots the farthest.
"I do not, however, forget to thank you all in general, and each in particular, for the present you have brought me. I have many rarities in my collection already, but nothing that comes up to the miraculous properties of the carpet, the ivory tube, and the artificial apple, which shall have the first places among them, and shall be preserved carefully, not only for curiosity, but for service upon all proper occasions."
The three princes had nothing to object to the decision of the sultan. When they were dismissed his presence, they each provided themselves with a bow and arrow, which they delivered to one of their officers, and went to the plain appointed, followed by a great concourse of people.
The sultan did not make them wait long for him: as soon as he arrived, prince Houssain, as the eldest, took his bow and arrow, and shot first. Prince Ali shot next, and much beyond him; and prince Ahmed last of all; but it so happened, that nobody could see where his arrow fell; and notwithstanding all the search made by himself and all the spectators, it was not to be found. Though it was believed that he had shot the farthest, and had therefore deserved the princess Nouronnihar, it was however necessary that his arrow should be found, to make the matter more evident and certain; but notwithstanding his remonstrances, the sultan determined in favour of prince Ali, and gave orders for preparations to be made for the solemnization of the nuptials, which were celebrated a few days after with great magnificence.
Prince Houssain would not honour the feast with his presence; his passion for the princess Nouronnihar was so sincere and ardent, that he could scarcely support with patience the mortification of seeing her in the arms of prince Ali: who, he said, did not deserve her better nor love her more than himself. In short, his grief was so violent and insupportable, that he left the court, and renounced all right of succession to the crown, to turn dervish, and put himself under the discipline of a famous chief, who had gained great reputation for his exemplary life; and had taken up his abode, and that of his disciples, whose number was great, in an agreeable solitude.
Prince Ahmed, urged by the same motive, did not assist at prince Ali and the princess Nouronnihar's nuptials, any more than his brother Houssain, yet did not renounce the world as he had done. But as he could not imagine what could have become of his arrow, he resolved to search for it, that he might not have any thing to reproach himself with. With this intent he went to the place where the princes Houssain's and Ali's were gathered up, and proceeding straight forwards from thence looked carefully on both sides as he advanced. He went so far, that at last he began to think his labour was in vain; yet he could not help proceeding till he came to some steep craggy rocks, which would have obliged him to return, had he been ever so desirous to continue his course.
As he approached these rocks, he perceived an arrow, which he took up, looked earnestly at it, and was in the greatest astonishment to find it was the same he had 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 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 indentures between them, the prince meditating, entered into one of the cavities, and looking about, beheld 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, which he walked down with his arrow in his hand. At first he thought he was going into a dark place, but presently a light quite different from that which he had quitted succeeded; and entering into a spacious square, he, to his surprise, beheld a magnificent palace, the admirable structure of which he had not time to look at: for at the same instant, a lady of majestic air, and of a beauty to which the richness of her habit and the jewels which adorned her person added no advantage, advanced, attended by a troop of ladies, or whom it was difficult to distinguish which was the mistress, as all were so magnificently dressed.
As soon as Ahmed perceived the lady, he hastened to pay his respects; and the lady seeing him coming, prevented him. Addressing him first, she said, "Come near, prince Ahmed, you are welcome."
It was with no small surprise that the prince heard himself named in a palace he had never heard of, though so nigh to 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 compliment, by throwing himself at her feet, and rising up, said to her, "Lady, I return you a thousand thanks for the assurance you give me of welcome to a place where I had reason to believe my imprudent curiosity had made me penetrate too far. But may I, without being guilty of rudeness, presume to inquire by what adventure you know me? and how 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 you in your request more commodiously for us both."
After these words, the lady led prince Ahmed into the hall, the noble structure of which, displaying the gold and azure which embellished the dome, and the inestimable richness of the furniture, appeared so great a novelty to him, that he could not forbear his admiration, but exclaimed, that he had never beheld its equal. "I can assure you," replied the lady, "that this is but a small part of my palace, as you will judge when you have seen all the apartments." She then sat down on a sofa; and when the prince at her entreaty had seated himself by her, she continued, "You are surprised, you say, that I know you, and am not known by you; but you will be no longer surprised when I inform you who I am. You cannot be ignorant, as the Koran informs you, that the world is inhabited by genii as well as men: I am the daughter of one of the most powerful and distinguished of these genii, and my name is Perie Banou; therefore you ought not to wonder that I know you, the sultan your father, the princes your brothers, and the princess Nouronnihar. I am no stranger to your loves or your travels, of which I could tell you all the circumstances, since it was I myself who exposed to sale the artificial apple which you bought at Samarcand, the carpet which prince Houssain purchased at Bisnagar, and the tube which prince Ali brought from Sheerauz. This is sufficient to let you know that I am not unacquainted with every thing that relates to you. I have to add, that you seemed to me worthy of a more happy fate than that of possessing the princess Nouronnihar; and that you might attain to it, I was present when you drew your arrow, and foresaw it would not go beyond prince Houssain's. I seized it in the air, and gave it the necessary motion to strike against the rocks near which you found it. It is in your power to avail yourself of the favourable opportunity which presents itself to make you happy."
As the fairy Perie Banou pronounced the last words with a different tone, and looked at the same time tenderly at the prince, with downcast eyes and a modest blush upon her cheeks, it was not difficult for him to comprehend what happiness she meant. He reflected that the princess Nouronnihar could never be his, saw that Perie Banou excelled her infinitely in beauty and accomplishments, and, as far as he could conjecture by the magnificence of the palace, in immense riches. He blessed the moment that he thought of seeking after his arrow a second time, and yielding to his inclination, which drew him towards the new objeft which had fired his heart: he then replied, "Should I, all my life, have the happiness of being your slave, and the admirer of the many charms which ravish my soul, I should think myself the happiest of men. Pardon the presumption which inspires me to ask this favour, 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, long my own mistress, and have no dependence on a parent's consent, it is not as a slave that I would admit you into my court, but as master of my person, and all that belongs to me, by pledging your faith to me, and taking me as your wife. I hope you will not think it indecorous, that I anticipate you in this proposal. I am, as I said, mistress of my will; and must add, that the same customs are not observed among fairies as with human-kind, in whom it would not have been decent to have made such advances: but it is what we do, and we suppose we confer obligation by the practice."
Ahmed made no answer to this declaration, but was so penetrated with gratitude, that he thought he could not express it better than by prostration to kiss the hem of her garment; which she would not give him time to do, but presented her hand, which he kissed a thousand times, and kept fast locked in his. "Well, prince Ahmed," said she, "will you pledge your faith to me, as I do mine to you?" "Yes, madam," replied the prince, in an ecstacy of joy. "What can I do more fortunate for myself, or with greater pleasure? Yes, my sultaness, I give it you with my heart without the least reserve." "Then," answered the fairy, "you are my husband, and I am your wife. Our fairy marriages are contracted with no other ceremonies, and yet are more firm and indissoluble than those among men, with all their formalities. But as I suppose," pursued she, "that you have eaten nothing to-day, a slight repast shall be served up for you while preparations are making for our nuptial feast this evening, and then I will shew you the apartments of my palace."
Some of the fairy's women who came into the hall with them, and guessed her intentions, went immediately out, and returned with some excellent viands and wines.
When Ahmed had refreshed himself, the fairy led him through all the apartments, 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, which was inestimable; the whole disposed in such elegant profusion, that the prince acknowledged there could not be any thing in the world equal to it. "Prince," said the fairy, "if you admire my humble abode so much, what would you say to the palaces of the chiefs of our genii, which are much more beautiful, spacious, and magnificent? I could also shew you my garden; but we will leave that till another time. Night draws near, and it will be time to go to supper."
The next hall which the fairy led the prince into, where the cloth was laid for the feast, was the only apartment he had not seen, and it was not in the least inferior to the others. At his entrance, he admired the infinite number of wax candles perfumed with amber, the multitude of which, instead of being confused, were placed with so just a symmetry, as to form an agreeable and pleasant light. A large beaufet 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 bands of beautiful women richly dressed, and whose voices were ravishing, began a concert, accompanied by the most harmonious instruments he had ever heard. When they were seated, the fairy took care to help prince Ahmed to the most delicious meats, which she named as she invited him to eat of them, and which the prince had never heard of, but found so exquisite, that he commended them in the highest terms, saying, that the entertainment which she gave him 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 Perie Banou and prince Ahmed rose and repaired to a sofa, with cushions of fine silk, curiously embroidered with all sorts of large flowers, laid at their backs. Presently after a great number of genii and fairies danced before them to the chamber where the nuptial bed was prepared; and when they came to the entrance, divided themselves into two rows, to let them pass, after which they made obeisance and retired.
The nuptial festivity was renewed the next day; or rather, every day following the celebration was a continued feast, which the fairy Perie Banou knew how to diversify, by new delicacies, new concerts, new dances, new shows, and new diversions; which were all so gratifying to his senses, that Ahmed, if he had lived a thousand years among men, could not have experienced equal enjoyment.
The fairy's intention was not only to give the prince convincing proofs of the sincerity of her love, by so many attentions; but to let him see, that as he had no pretensions at his father's court, he could meet with nothing comparable to the happiness he enjoyed with her, independently of her beauty and attractions, and to attach him entirely to herself. In this attempt she succeeded so well, that Ahmed's passion was not in the least diminished by possession; but increased so much, that if he had been so inclined, it was not in his power to forbear loving her.
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, he mentioned his wish to the fairy, and requested she would give him leave to visit the sultan.
This request alarmed the fairy, and made her fear it was only an excuse to leave her. She said to him, "What disgust can I have given to you to ask me this permission? Is it possible you should have forgotten that you have pledged your faith to me, or have you ceased to love one who is so passionately fond of you? Are not the proofs I have repeatedly given you of my affection sufficient?"
"My queen," replied the prince, "I am perfectly convinced of your love, and should be unworthy of it, if I did not testify my gratitude by a reciprocal affection. If you are offended at the permission I solicit, I entreat you to forgive me, and I will make all the reparation in my power. I did not make the request 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 so long absence must have overwhelmed him, and which must be the greater, as, I have reason to presume, he believes that I am dead. But since you do not consent that I should go and afford him that comfort, I will deny myself the pleasure, as there is nothing to which I would not submit to please you."
Ahmed did not dissemble, for he loved her at heart as much as he had assured her by this declaration; and the fairy expressed her satisfaction. But as he could not absolutely abandon his design, he frequently took an opportunity to speak to her of the great qualifications of the sultan his father: and above all, of his particular tenderness towards himself, in hopes he might at length be able to move her.
As the prince had supposed, the sultan of the Indies, in the midst of the rejoicings on account of the nuptials of prince Ali and the princess Nouronnihar, was sensibly afflicted at the absence of the other two princes his sons, though it was not long before he was informed of the resolution Houssain had taken to forsake the world, and the place he had chosen for his retreat. As a good father, whose happiness consists in seeing his children about him, especially when they are deserving of his tenderness, he would have been better pleased had he stayed at his court, near his person; but as he could not disapprove of his choice of the state of perfection which he had entered, he supported his absence more patiently. He made the most diligent search after Ahmed, and dispatched couriers to all the provinces of his dominions, with orders to the governors to stop him, and oblige him to return to court: but all the pains he took had not the desired success, and his affliction, instead of diminishing, increased. He would make it the subject of his conversation with his grand vizier; and would say to him, "Vizier, thou knowest I always loved Ahmed the most of all my sons; and thou art not insensible of the means I have in vain used to find him out. My grief is so heavy, I shall sink under it, if thou hast not compassion on me; if thou hast any regard for the preservation of my life, I conjure thee to assist and advise me."
The grand vizier, no less attached to the person of the sultan than zealous to acquit himself well of the administration of the affairs of state, considering how to give his sovereign some ease, recollected a sorceress, of whom he had heard wonders, and proposed to send for and consult her. The sultan consented, and the grand vizier, upon her arrival, introduced her into the presence.
The sultan said to the sorceress, "The affliction I have been in since the marriage of my son prince Ali to the princess Nouronnihar, my niece, on account of the absence of prince Ahmed, is so well known, and so public, that thou canst be no stranger to it. By thy art and skill canst thou tell me what is become of him? If he be alive, where he is? what he is doing? and if I may hope ever to see him again?" To this the sorceress replied, "It is impossible, sir, for me, however skilful in my profession, to answer immediately the questions your majesty asks; but if you allow me till to-morrow, I will endeavour to satisfy you." The sultan granted her the time, and permitted her to retire, with a promise to recompense her munificently, if her answer proved agreeable to his hopes.
The sorceress returned the next day, and the grand vizier presented her a second time to the sultan. "Sir," said she, "notwithstanding all the diligence I have used in applying the rules of my art to obey your majesty in what you desire to know, I have not been able to discover any thing more than that prince Ahmed is alive. This is certain, and you may depend upon it; but as to where he is I cannot discover."
The sultan of the Indies was obliged to remain satisfied with this answer; which left him in the same uneasiness as before as to the prince's situation.
To return to prince Ahmed. He so often entertained the fairy Perie Banou with talking about his father, though without speaking any more of his desire to visit him, that she fully comprehended what he meant; and perceiving the restraint he put upon himself, and his fear of displeasing her after her first refusal, she inferred, from the repeated proofs he had given her, that his love for her was sincere; and judging by herself of the injustice she committed in opposing a son's tenderness for his father, and endeavouring to make him renounce that natural affecion, she resolved to grant him the permission which she knew he so ardently desired. One day she said to him, "Prince, the request you made to be allowed to go and see the sultan your father gave me apprehension that it was only a pretext to conceal inconstancy, and that was the sole motive of my refusal; but now, as I am fully convinced by your actions and words that I can depend on your honour and the fidelity of your love, I change my resolution, and grant you the permission you seek, on condition that you will first swear to me that your absence shall not be long. You ought not to be uneasy at this condition, as if I asked it out of distrust. I impose it only because I know that it will give you no concern, convinced, as I have already told you I am, of the sincerity of your love."
Prince Ahmed would have thrown himself at the fairy's feet to shew his gratitude, but she prevented him. "My sultaness," said he, "I am sensible of the great favour you grant me; but want words to express my thanks. Supply this defect, I conjure you, by your own feelings, and be persuaded I think much more. You may believe that the oath will give me no uneasiness, and I take it more willingly, since it is not possible for me to live without you. I go, but the haste I will make to return shall shew you, that it is not the fear of being foresworn, but my inclination, which is to live with you for ever, that urges me; and if with your consent I now and then deprive myself of your society, I shall always avoid the pain a too long absence would occasion me."
"Prince," replied Perie Banou, delighted with his sentiments, "go when you please; but do not take it amiss that I give you some advice how you shall conduct yourself. First, I do not think it proper for you to inform your father of our marriage, neither of my quality, nor the place of our residence. Beg of him to be satisfied with knowing that you are happy, that you want nothing from him, and let him know that the sole end of your visit is to make him easy respecting your fate."
Perie Banou then appointed twenty horsemen, well mounted and equipped, to attend him. When all was ready, prince Ahmed took his leave of the fairy, embraced her, and renewed his promise to return soon. A charger, which was most richly caparisoned, and as beautiful a creature as any in the sultan of the Indies' stables, was brought to him, which he mounted with extraordinary grace, which gave great pleasure to the fairy; and after he had bidden her adieu, he set forward on his journey.
As it was no great distance to his father's capital, prince Ahmed soon arrived there. The people, rejoiced to see him again, received him with acclamations, and followed him in crowds to the 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 occasioned; which, he said, was the more distressing, as fortune having decided in favour of prince Ali his brother, he was afraid he might have committed some act of despair.
"Sir," replied prince Ahmed, "I leave it to your majesty to consider, if after having lost the princess Nouronnihar, who was the only object of my desires, I could bear to be a witness of Ali's happiness. If I had been capable of such unworthy apathy, what would the court and city have thought of my love, or what your majesty? Love is a passion we cannot suppress at our will; while it lasts, it rules and governs us in spite of our boasted reason. Your majesty knows, that when I shot my arrow, the most extraordinary accident that ever befell mortal happened to me, for surely it was such, that in so large and level a plain as that where the horses are exercised, it should not be possible to find my arrow. I lost your decision in my favour, which was as much due to my love, as to that of the princes my brothers. Though thus vanquished by the caprice of fate, I lost no time in vain complaints; but to satisfy my perplexed mind, upon what I could not comprehend, I left my attendants, and returned alone to look for my arrow. I sought all about the place where Houssain's and Ali's arrows were found, and where I imagined mine must have fallen, but all my labour was in vain. I was not discouraged, but continued my search in a direct line, and after this manner had gone above a league, without being able to meet with any thing like an arrow, when I reflected that it was not possible that mine should have flown so far. I stopped, and asked myself whether I was in my right senses, to flatter myself with having had strength to shoot an arrow so much farther than any of the strongest archers in the world were able to do. After I had argued thus with myself, I was ready to abandon my enterprise; but when on the point of putting my resolution in execution, I found myself drawn forward against my will; and after having gone four leagues, to that part of the plain where it is bounded by rocks, I perceived an arrow. I ran, 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 Ali, I interpreted what had happened to me quite otherwise, and never doubted 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 from the spot. But as to this mystery I beg your majesty will not be offended if I remain silent, and that you will be satisfied to know from my own mouth that I am happy, and content with my fate.
"In the midst of my happiness, the only thing that troubled me, or was capable of disturbing me, was the uneasiness I feared your majesty would experience on account of my leaving the court, and your not knowing what was become of me. I thought it my duty to satisfy you in this point. This was the only motive which brought me hither; the only favour I ask of your majesty is to give me leave to come occasionally to pay you my duty, and inquire after your health."
"Son," answered the sultan of the Indies, "I cannot refuse you the permission you ask, but I should 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 the prince, "what your majesty requires is part of the mystery I spoke of. I beg of you to allow me 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, when my presence may be necessary."
The sultan of the Indies pressed Ahmed no more, but said to him, "Son, I wish to penetrate no farther into your secrets, but leave you at your liberty. I can only tell you, that you could not have done me greater pleasure than by your presence, having restored to me the joy I have not felt for a long time; and that you shall always be welcome when you can come, without interrupting your business or your pleasure."
Prince Ahmed stayed but three days at his father's court, and on the fourth returned to the fairy Perie Banou, who received him with the greater joy, as she did not expect him so soon. His expedition made her condemn herself for suspecting his want of fidelity. She never dissembled, but frankly owned her weakness to the prince, and asked his pardon. So perfect was the union of the two lovers, that they had but one will.
A month after prince Ahmed's return from visiting his father, as the fairy had observed that since the time when he gave her an account of his journey, and his conversation with his father, in which he asked his permission to come and see him from time to time, he had never spoken of the sultan, whereas before he was frequently mentioning him, she thought he forebore on her account, and therefore took an opportunity to say to him one day, "Tell me, prince, have you forgotten the sultan your father? Do not you remember the promise you made to pay your duty to him occasionally? I have not forgotten what you told me at your return, and put you in mind of it, that you may acquit yourself of your promise when you may feel inclined."
"Madam," replied Ahmed, with equal animation, "as I know I am not guilty of the forgetfulness you lay to my charge, I rather choose to be thus reproached, however undeservedly, than expose myself to a refusal, by manifesting a desire for what it might have given you pain to grant." "Prince," said the fairy, "I would not have you in this affair have so much consideration for me, since it is a month since you have seen the sultan your father. I think you should not be longer in renewing your visits. Pay him one to- morrow, and after that, go and visit once a month, without speaking to me, or waiting for my permission. I readily consent to such an arrangement."
Prince Ahmed went the next morning with the same attendants as before, but much 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 the sultan's favourites, who judged of prince Ahmed's power by the splendour of his appearance, abused the privilege the sultan accorded them of speaking to him with freedom, to make him jealous of his son. They represented that it was but common prudence to discover where the prince had retired, and how he could afford to live so magnificently, since he had no revenue assigned for his expenses; that he seemed to come to court only to insult him, by affecting to shew that he wanted nothing from his father to enable him to live like a prince; and that it was to be feared he might court 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, that he said to them in displeasure, "You are mistaken, my son loves me, and I am the more assured of his tenderness and fidelity, as I have given him no reason to be disgusted."
At these words, one of the favourites took an opportunity to say, "Your majesty, in the opinion of the most sensible people, could not have taken a better method than you did with the three princes, respecting their marriage with the princess Nouronnihar; but who knows whether prince Ahmed has submitted to his fate with the same resignation as prince Houssain? May not he imagine that he alone deserved her; and that your majesty, by leaving the match to be decided by chance, has done him injustice?
"Your majesty may say," added the malicious favourite, "that prince Ahmed has manifested no appearance of dissatisfaction; that our fears are vain; that we are too easily alarmed, and are to blame in suggesting to you suspicions of this kind, which may, perhaps, be unfounded, against a prince of your blood. But, sir," pursued the favourite, "it may be also, that these suspicions are well grounded. Your majesty must be sensible, that in so nice and important an affair you cannot be too much on your guard, and should take the safest course. Consider, it is the prince's interest to dissemble, amuse, and deceive you; and the danger is the greater, as he resides not far from your capital; and if your majesty give but the same attention that we do, you may observe that every time he comes his attendants are different, their habits new, and their arms clean and bright, as if just come from the maker's hands; and their horses look as if they had only been walked out. These are sufficient proofs that prince Ahmed does not travel far, so that we should think ourselves wanting in our duty did we not make our humble remonstrances, in order that, for your own preservation and the good of your people, your majesty may take such measures as you shall think advisable."
When the favourite had concluded these insinuations, the sultan said, "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 advice, and do not doubt that it proceeds from good intention and loyalty to my person."
The sultan of the Indies said this, that his favourites might not know the impressions their observations had made on his mind. He was, however, so much alarmed by them, that he resolved to have prince Ahmed watched, unknown to his grand vizier. For this end he sent for the sorceress, who was introduced by a private door into his closet. "You told me the truth," said he, "when you assured me my son Ahmed was alive, for which I am obliged to you. You must do me another kindness. I have seen him since, and he comes to my court every month; but I cannot learn from him where he resides, and do not wish to force his secret from him; but believe you are capable of satisfying my curiosity, without letting him, or any of my court, know any thing of the discovery. You know that he is at this time with me, and usually departs without taking leave of me, or any of my court. Place yourself immediately upon the road, and watch him so as to find out where he retires, and bring me information."
The sorceress left the sultan, and knowing the place where prince Ahmed had found his arrow, went immediately thither, and concealed herself near the rocks, so as not to be seen.
The next morning prince Ahmed set out by daybreak, without taking leave either of the sultan or any of his court, according to custom. The sorceress seeing him coming, followed him with her eyes, till suddenly 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 sorceress judged that the prince retired either into some cavern, or some subterraneous place, the abode of genies or fairies. When she thought the prince and his attendants must have far advanced into whatever concealment they inhabited, she came out of the place where she had hidden herself, and explored the hollow way where she had lost sight of them. She entered it, and proceeding to the spot where it terminated after many windings, looked carefully on all sides. But notwithstanding all her acuteness she could perceive no opening, nor the iron gate which prince Ahmed had discovered. For this door was to be seen by or opened to none but men, and only to those whose presence was agreeable to the fairy Perie Banou, but not at all to women.
The sorceress, who saw it was in vain for her to search any farther, was obliged to be satisfied with the insufficient discovery she had made, and returned to communicate it to the sultan. When she had told him what she had explored, 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 obtain you the satisfaction you desire concerning prince Ahmed's conduct. To do this, I only ask time, that you will have patience, and give me leave to act, without inquiring what measures I design to take."
The sultan was pleased with the conduct of the sorceress, and said to her, "Do you as you think fit; I will wait patiently the event of your promises:" and to encourage her, he presented her with a diamond of great value, telling her, it was only an earnest of the ample recompense she should receive when she should have performed the important service which he left to her management.
As prince Ahmed, after he had obtained the fairy Perie Banou's leave, never failed once a month to visit his father, the sorceress knowing the time, went a day or two before to the foot of the rock where she had lost sight of him and his attendants, and waited there to execute the project she had formed.
The next morning prince Ahmed went out as usual at the iron gate, with the same attendants as before, passed the sorceress, and seeing her lie with her head on the rock, complaining as if she was in great pain, he pitied her, turned his horse, and asked what he could do to relieve her?
The artful sorceress, without lifting up her head, looked at the prince in such a manner as to increase his compassion, and answered in broken accents and sighs, as if she could hardly breathe, that she was going to the city; but in the way was taken with so violent a fever, that her strength failed her, and she was forced to stop and lie down where he saw her, far from any habitation, and without any hopes of assistance.
"Good woman," replied the prince, "you are not so far from help as you imagine. I will assist you, and convey you where you shall not only have all possible care taken of you, but where you will find a speedy cure: rise, and let one of my people take you behind him."
At these words, the sorceress, who pretended sickness only to explore where the prince resided, and his situation, did not refuse the charitable offer, and to shew her acceptance rather by her actions than her words, made many affected efforts to rise, pretending that the violence of her illness prevented her. At the same time, two of the prince's attendants alighting, helped her up, and placed 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. When he came into the outward court of the fairy's palace, without dismounting himself, he sent to tell her he wanted to speak with her.
The fairy came with all imaginable haste, not knowing what had made prince Ahmed return so soon; who, not giving her time to ask, said, "My princess, I desire you would have compassion on this good woman," pointing to the sorceress, who was taken off the horse by two of his retinue; "I found her in the condition you see her, and promised her the assistance she requires. I recommend her to your care, and am persuaded that you, from inclination, as well as my request, will not abandon her."
The fairy, who had her eyes fixed on the pretended sick woman all the time the prince was speaking, ordered two of her women to take her from the men who supported her, conduct her into an apartment of the palace, and take as much care of her as they would of herself.
Whilst the two women were executing the fairy's commands, she went up to prince Ahmed, and whispering him in the ear, said, "Prince, I commend your compassion, which is worthy of you and your birth. I take great pleasure in gratifying your good intention; but permit me to tell you I am afraid it will be but ill rewarded. This woman is not so sick as she pretends to be; and I am much mistaken if she is not sent hither on purpose to occasion 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 shall be laid for you. Go and pursue your journey."
This address 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, any body injury, I cannot believe any one can have a thought of injuring me; 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 forward again for his father's capital, where he soon arrived, and was received as usual by the sultan, who constrained himself as much as possible, to disguise the anxiety arising from the suspicions suggested by his favourites.
In the mean time, the two women to whom Perie Banou had given her orders conveyed the sorceress into an elegant apartment, richly furnished. They first set her down upon a sofa, with her back supported by a cushion of gold brocade, while they made a bed on the same sofa, 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 she could not help herself in the least), one of the women went out, and returned soon with a china cup in her hand, full of a certain liquor, which she presented to the sorceress, while the other helped her to sit up. "Drink this," said the attendant, "it is the water of the fountain of lions, and a sovereign remedy against fevers. You will find the effeft of it in less than an hour's time."
The sorceress, the better to dissemble, took it, after a great deal of entreaty, as if she did it with reluctance. When she was laid 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 recovered when we return an hour hence."
The sorceress, who came not to act a sick part long, but to discover prince Ahmed's retreat, being fully satisfied in what she wanted to know, would willingly have declared that the potion had then had its effeft, so great was her desire to return to the sultan, to 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 wait the women's return.
The two women came again at the time they had mentioned, and found the sorceress seated on the sofa; who, when she saw them open the door of the apartment, cried out, "O the admirable potion! it has wrought its cure much sooner than you told me it would, and I have waited with impatience to desire you to conduct me to your charitable mistress, to thank her for her kindness, for which I shall always feel obliged; but being thus cured as by a miracle, I would not lose time, but prosecute my journey."
The two women, who were fairies as well as their mistress, after they had told the sorceress how glad they were that she was cured so soon, walked before her, and conducted her through several apartments, all more superb than that wherein she had lain, into a large hall, the most richly and magnificently furnished of all the palace.
Perie Banou was seated in this hall, upon a throne of massive gold, enriched with diamonds, rubies, and pearls of an extraordinary size, and attended on each hand by a great number of beautiful fairies, all richly dressed. At the sight of so much splendour, the sorceress was not only dazzled, but so struck, that after she had prostrated herself before the throne, she could not open her lips to thank the fairy, as she had proposed. However, Perie Banou saved her the trouble, and said, "Good woman, I am glad I had an opportunity to oblige you, and that 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 shew it 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, took her leave, and was conducted by the two fairies through the same apartments which were shewn to prince Ahmed at his first arrival, and at sight of their uncommon magnificence she made frequent exclamations. But what surprised her most of all was, that the two fairies told her, that all she saw and so much admired was a mere sketch of their mistress's grandeur and riches; for that in the extent of her dominions she had so many palaces that they could not tell the number of them, all of different plans and architecture, but equally magnificent. In speaking of many other particulars, they led her at last to the iron gate at which prince Ahmed had 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 good journey.
After the sorceress had gone a little way, she turned to observe the door, that she might know it again, but all in vain; for, as was before observed, it was invisible to her and all other women. Except in this circumstance, she was very well satisfied with her success, and posted away to the sultan. When she came to the capital, she went by 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 hang upon her countenance, thought she had not succeeded, and said to her, "By your looks, I guess that your journey has been to no purpose, and that you have not made the discovery I expected from your diligence." "Sir," replied the sorceress, "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 in the execution of the commands you were pleased to honour me with; but by the faithful report I shall make you of all that has happened to me, and by which you will find that I have not neglected any thing that could render me worthy of your approbation. The melancholy you observe proceeds from another cause than the want of success, which I hope your majesty will have ample reason to be satisfied with. I do not tell you the cause; the relation I shall give will inform you."
The sorceress now related to the sultan of the Indies how, pretending to be sick, prince Ahmed compassionating her, had her carried into a subterraneous abode, and presented and recommended her to a fairy of incomparable beauty, desiring her by her care to restore her health. She then told him with how much condescension the fairy had immediately ordered two women to take care of her, and not to leave her till she was recovered; which great condescension, said she, could proceed from no other female, but from a wife to a husband. Afterwards the old sorceress failed not to dwell on her surprise at the front of the palace, which she said had not its equal for magnificence in the world. She gave a particular account of the care they took of her, after they had led her into an apartment; of the potion they made her drink, and of the quickness of her cure; which she had pretended as well as her sickness, though she doubted not the virtue of the draught; the majesty of the fairy seated on a throne, brilliant with jewels, the value of which exceeded all the riches of the kingdom of the Indies, and all the other treasures beyond computation contained in that vast palace.
Here the sorceress finishing the relation of the success of her commission, and continuing her discourse, said, "What does your majesty think of these unheard-of riches of the fairy? Perhaps you will say, you are struck with admiration, and rejoice at the good fortune of prince Ahmed your son, who enjoys them in common with the fairy. 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 from his present situation. And this is the cause of the melancholy which I could not so well dissemble, but that you soon perceived it. I would believe that prince Ahmed, by his own good disposition, is incapable of undertaking anything against your majesty; but who can answer that the fairy, by her attractions and caresses, and the influence she has over him, may not inspire him with the unnatural design of dethroning your majesty, and seizing the crown of the Indies? This is what your majesty ought to consider as of the utmost importance."
Though the sultan of the Indies was persuaded that prince Ahmed's natural disposition was good, yet he could not help being moved at the representations of the old sorceress, and said, "I thank you for the pains you have taken, and your wholesome caution. I am so sensible of its great importance that I shall take advice upon it."
He was consulting with his favourites, when he was told of the sorceress's arrival. He ordered her to follow him to them. He acquainted them with what he had learnt, communicated to them the reason he had to fear the fairy's influence over the prince, and asked them what measures they thought most proper to be taken to prevent so great a misfortune as might possibly happen. 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 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." This advice all the other favourites unanimously applauded.
The sorceress, who thought it too violent, asked the sultan leave to speak, which being granted, she said, "I am persuaded it is the zeal of your counsellors for your majesty's interest that makes them propose arresting prince Ahmed. But they will not take it amiss if I offer 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 her husband? And can it be supposed she will let it go unrevenged? Would it not 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, 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 rather trust prince Ahmed's honour, and engage him by means of the fairy to procure certain advantages, by flattering his ambition, and at the same time narrowly watching him. For example; every time your majesty takes the field, you are obliged to be at 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. Request the prince to procure you a tent, which can be carried in a man's hand, but so large as to shelter your whole army.
"I need say no more to your majesty. If the prince brings such a tent, you may make 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 means and inventions 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 the fairy, excluded from any commerce with this world; when your majesty will have nothing to fear from him, and cannot be reproached with so detestable an action as the shedding of a son's blood, or confining him for life in a prison."
When the sorceress had finished her speech, the sultan asked his favourites if they had any thing better to propose; and finding them all silent, determined to follow her advice, as the most reasonable and most agreeable to his mild manner of government.
The next day when the prince came into his father's presence, who was talking with his favourites, and had sat down by him, after a conversation on different subjects, the sultan, addressing himself to prince Ahmed, 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 mastery. I was satisfied with seeing you again, and knowing that you were content with your condition, sought not to penetrate into your secret, which I found you did not wish I should. I know not what reason you had thus to treat a father, who ever was and still continues anxious for your happiness. I now know your good fortune. I rejoice with you, and much approve of your conduct in marrying a fairy so worthy of your love, and so rich and powerful as I am informed she is. Powerful as I am, it was not possible for me to have procured for you so great a match. Now you are raised to so high a rank, as to be envied by all but a father, I not only desire to preserve the good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between us, but request that you will use your influence with your wife, to obtain her assistance when I may want it. I will therefore make a trial of your interest this day.
"You are not insensible at what a great expense, not to say trouble to my generals, officers, and myself, every time I take the field, they provide tents, mules, camels, and other beasts of burden, to carry them. If you consider the pleasure you would do me, I am persuaded you could easily procure from the fairy a pavilion that might be carried in a man's hand, and which would extend over my whole army; especially when you let her know it is for me. Though it may be a difficult thing to procure, she will not refuse you. All the world knows fairies are capable of executing most extraordinary undertakings."
Prince Ahmed never expected that the sultan his father would have made a demand like this, which appeared to him so difficult, not to say impossible. Though he knew not absolutely how great the power of genii and fairies was, he doubted whether it extended so far as to furnish such a tent as his father desired. Moreover, he had never asked any thing of the fairy Perie Banou, but was satisfied with the continual proofs she had given him of her passion, and had neglected nothing to persuade her that his heart perfectly corresponded without any views beyond maintaining himself in her good graces: he was therefore in the greatest embarrassment what answer to make. At last he replied, "If, sir, I have concealed from your majesty what has happened to me, and what course I took after finding my arrow, the reason was, that I thought it of no great importance to you to be informed of such circumstances; and though I know not how this mystery has been revealed to you, I cannot deny but your information is correct. I have married the fairy you speak of. I love her, and am persuaded she loves me in return. But I can say nothing as to the influence your majesty believes I have over her. It is what I have not yet proved, nor thought of trying, but could wish you would dispense with my making the experiment, and let me enjoy the happiness of loving and being beloved, with all that disinterestedness I had proposed to myself. However, the demand of a father is a command upon every child, who, like me, thinks it his duty to obey him in every thing. And though it is with the greatest reluctance, I will not fail to ask my wife the favour your majesty desires, but cannot promise you to obtain it; and if I should not have the honour to come again to pay you my respecls, it will be the sign that I have not been able to succeed in my request: but beforehand, I desire you to forgive me, and consider that you yourself have reduced me to this extremity."
"Son," replied the sultan of the Indies, "I should be sorry that what I ask should oblige you to deprive me of the gratification of seeing you as usual. I find you do not know the power a husband has over a wife; and yours would shew that her love to you was very slight, if, with the power she possesses as a fairy, she should refuse so trifling a request as that I have begged you to make. Lay aside your fears, which proceed from your believing yourself not to be loved so well as you love her. Go; only ask her. You will find the fairy loves you better than you imagine; and remember that people, for want of requesting, often lose great advantages. Think with yourself, that as you love her, you could refuse her nothing; therefore, if she loves you, she will not deny your requests."
All these representations of the sultan of the Indies could not satisfy prince Ahmed, who would rather he had asked anything else than, as he supposed, what must expose him to the hazard of displeasing his beloved Perie Banou; and so great was his vexation that he left the court two days sooner than he used to do.
When he returned, the fairy, to whom he always before had appeared with a gay countenance, asked him the cause of the alteration she perceived in his looks; and finding that instead of answering 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 a long time, protesting that nothing was the matter with him; but the more he denied the more she pressed him, and said, "I cannot bear to see you thus: tell me what makes you uneasy, that I may remove the cause, whatever it may be; for it must be very extraordinary if it is out of my power, unless it be the death of the sultan your father; in that case, time, with all that I will contribute on my part, can alone comfort you."
Prince Ahmed could not long withstand the pressing instances of 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, however, is the occasion of it, and I am the more concerned because he has imposed upon me the disagreeable necessity of importuning you. You know the care I have at your desire taken to conceal from him the happiness I have enjoyed in living with you, and of having received the pledge of your faith after having pledged my love to you. How he has been informed of it I cannot tell."
Here the fairy interrupted prince Ahmed, and said, "But I know. Remember what I told you of the woman who made you believe she was sick, on whom you took so much compassion. It is she who has acquainted your father with what you have taken so much care to hide from him. I told you that she was no more sick than you or I, and she has made it appear so; for, in short, after the two women, whom I charged to take care of her, had given her the water sovereign against all fevers, but which however she had no occasion for, she pretended that it had cured her, and was brought to take her leave of me that she might go the 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 shew it her, given her to understand that it was worth her seeing. But proceed and tell me what is the necessity your father has imposed on you to be so importunate, which, be persuaded, however, you can never be to your affectionate wife."
"Madam," pursued prince Ahmed, "you may have observed that hitherto I have been content with your love, and have never asked you any other favour: for what, after the possession of so amiable a wife, can I desire more? I know how great your power is, but I have taken care not to make proof of it to please myself. Consider then, I conjure you, that it is not myself, but the sultan my father, who, indiscreetly as I think, asks of you a pavilion large enough to shelter him, his court, and army, from the violence of the weather, when he takes the field, and which a man may 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 trifling a matter should disturb and make you so uneasy as you appear. I see plainly two things have contributed towards it: one is, the law you have imposed on yourself, to be content with loving me, being beloved by me, and deny yourself the liberty of soliciting the least favour that might try my power. The other, I do not doubt, whatever you may say, was, that you thought that what your father asked was out of my power. As to the first, I commend you, and shall love you the better, if possible, for it; and for the second, I must tell you that what the sultan your father requests is a trifle; as upon occasion I can do him more important service. Therefore be easy in your mind, and persuaded that far from thinking myself importuned I shall always take real pleasure in performing whatever you can desire." Perie Banou then sent for her treasurer, to whom, when she came, she said, "Noor-Jehaun" (which was her name), "bring me the largest pavilion in my treasury." Noor-Jehaun 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 prince Ahmed to look at.
When prince Ahmed saw the pavilion, which the fairy called the largest in her treasury, he fancied she had a mind to banter him, and his surprise soon appeared in his countenance; which Perie Banou perceiving, she burst out a laughing. "What! prince," cried she, "do you think I jest with you? You will see that I am in earnest. Noor-Jehaun," said she to her treasurer, taking the tent out of prince Ahmed's hands, "go and set it up, that he may judge whether the sultan his father will think it large enough."
The treasurer went out immediately with it 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 Perie 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 has one property, that it becomes larger or smaller, according to the extent of the army it is to cover, without applying any hands to it."
The treasurer took down the tent again, reduced it to its first size, brought it and put it into the prince's hands. He took it, and without staying longer than till the 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 had asked for was beyond all possibility, was in great surprise at the prince's speedy return. He took the tent, but after he had admired its smallness, his amazement was so great that he could not recover himself when he had set it up in the great plain before-mentioned, and found it large enough to shelter an army twice as large as he could bring into the field. Regarding this excess in its dimension as what might be troublesome in the use, prince Ahmed told him that its size would always be proportionable to his army.
To outward appearance the sultan expressed great obligation to the prince for so noble a present, desiring him to return his thanks to the fairy; and to shew what a value he set upon it, ordered it to be carefully laid up in his treasury. But within himself he felt greater jealousy than his flatterers and the sorceress had suggested to him; considering, that by the fairy's assistance the prince his son might perform things infinitely above his own power, notwithstanding his greatness and riches; therefore, more intent upon his ruin, he went to consult the sorceress again, who advised him to engage 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 addressed himself to him in these words: "Son, I have already expressed to you how much I am obliged for the present of the tent you have procured me, which I esteem the most valuable curiosity in my treasury: but you must do one thing more, which will be no less agreeable to me. I am informed that the fairy your spouse 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 well persuaded my health is dear to you, I do not doubt but you will ask her for a bottle of that water, and bring it me as a sovereign remedy, which I may use as I have occasion. Do me this important service, and complete the duty of a good son towards a tender father."
Prince Ahmed, who 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 procure which may contribute to the prolonging of your life, but I could wish it might not be by the 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 request it of her; but it will be with as great reluctance as I asked for the tent."
The next morning prince Ahmed returned to the fairy Perie Banou, and related to her sincerely and faithfully all that had passed at 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. 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 pleasure, whether you will gratify or reject this his new desire. It shall be as you please."
"No, no," replied the fairy, "I am glad that the sultan of the Indies knows that you are not indifferent to me. I will satisfy him, and whatever advice the sorceress may give him (for I see that he hearkens to her counsel), he shall find no fault with you or me. There is much 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 alternately, while the other two are awake. But let not that frighten you. I will supply you with means to pass by them without danger."
The fairy Perie Banou was at that time at work with her needle; and as she had by her several clues of thread, she took up one, and presenting it to prince Ahmed, said, "First take this clue of thread, I will tell you presently the use of it. In the second place, you must have two horses; one you must ride yourself, and the other you must lead, which must be loaded with a sheep cut into four quarters, that must be 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 clue of thread, which will roll till it reaches the gates of the castle. Follow it, and 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 alarmed, 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 return with the same expedition. The lions will be so busy eating they will let you pass unmolested."
Prince Ahmed set out the next morning at the time appointed him by the fairy, and followed her directions punctually. 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 intrepidity, got to the fountain, filled his bottle, and returned safe. When he had got a little distance from the castle gates, he turned about; and perceiving two of the lions coming after him, drew his sabre, and prepared himself for defence. But as he went forwards, he saw one of them turn out of the road at some distance, and shewed 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 had come, though not without alarming the populace, who fled or hid themselves to avoid them, notwithstanding they walked gently and shewed no signs of fierceness.
A number of officers came to attend the prince while he dismounted, and conduct him to the sultan's apartment, 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 salutary water which your majesty so much desired to store up among other rarities in your treasury; but at the same time wish you such health as never to have occasion to make use of it."
After the prince had concluded his compliment, the sultan placed him on his right hand, and said, "Son, I am much obliged to you for this valuable present; as also for the great danger you have exposed yourself to on my account (which I have been informed of by the sorceress, who knows the fountain of lions); but do me the pleasure, continued he, to inform me by what address, or rather 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 spouse, and I take no other merit than that of having followed her advice." Then he informed the sultan what that advice was, by the relation of his expedition, and how he had conducted himself. When he had done, the sultan, who shewed outwardly all the demonstrations of joy, but secretly became more and more jealous, retired into an inward apartment, whence he sent for the sorceress.
The sorceress, on her arrival, saved the sultan the trouble of telling her of the success of prince Ahmed's journey, which she had heard before she came, and therefore was prepared with a new request. This she communicated to the sultan, who declared it the next day to the prince, in the midst of all his courtiers, in these words: "Son, I have one thing yet to ask of you; after which, I shall expect nothing more from your obedience, nor your interest 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 hundred weight, which he uses as a quarter-staff, and who can speak."
Prince Ahmed, who did not believe that there was such a man in the world as his father had described, would gladly have excused himself; but the sultan persisted in his demand, and told him the fairy could do more incredible things.
Next day the prince returned to the subterraneous kingdom of Perie Banou, to whom he related his father's new demand, which, he said, he looked upon to be a thing more impossible than the two first. "For," added he, "I cannot imagine there is or can be such a man in the world; without doubt he has a mind to try whether I am silly enough to search, or if there is such a man he seeks my ruin. In short, how can we suppose that I should lay hold of a man so small, armed as he describes? what arms can I use to reduce him to submission? If there are any means, I beg you will tell me how I may come off with honour this time also."
"Do not alarm yourself, prince," replied the fairy: "you ran a risk in fetching the water of the fountain of the 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 bloody marks of his resentment for a slight offence; yet, on the other hand, is so liberal as to oblige any one in whatever they desire. He is made exactly as the sultan your father has described him; and has no other arms than a bar of iron of five hundred pounds 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; but prepare yourself not to be alarmed at his extraordinary figure." "What! my queen," replied prince Ahmed, "do you say Schaibar is your brother? Let him be ever so ugly or deformed I shall be so far from being frightened at his appearance, that 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: out of the latter she took some incense, and threw it into the fire, when there arose a thick cloud of smoke.
Some moments after, the fairy said to prince Ahmed, "Prince, there 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, which supported itself before him, and a pair of thick moustaches in proportion, tucked up to his ears, and almost covering his face: his eyes were very small, like a pig's, and deep sunk 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 and before.
If prince Ahmed had not known that Schaibar was Perie Banou's brother, he would not have been able to behold him without fear; but knowing who he was, he waited for him with the fairy, and received him without the least concern.
Schaibar, as he came forwards, looked at the prince with an eye that would have chilled his soul in his body, and asked Perie Banou, when he first accosted her, who that man was? To which she replied, "He is my husband, brother; his name is Ahmed; he is a son of the sultan of the Indies. The reason why I did not invite you to my wedding was, I was unwilling to divert you from the expedition you were engaged in, and from which I heard with pleasure you returned victorious; on his account I have taken the liberty now to call for you."
At these words, Schaibar, looking at prince Ahmed with a favourable eye, which however diminished neither his fierceness nor savage look, said, "Is there any thing, sister, wherein I can serve him? he has only to speak. It is enough for me that he is your husband, to engage me to do for him whatever he desires." "The sultan his father," replied Perie Banou, "has a curiosity to see you, and I desire he may be your guide to the sultan's court." "He needs but lead the way; I will follow him," replied Schaibar. "Brother," resumed Perie Banou, "it is too late to go to-day, therefore stay till to-morrow morning; and in the mean time, as it is fit you should know all that has passed between the sultan of the Indies and prince Ahmed since our marriage, I will inform you this evening."
The 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, as soon as they saw Schaibar, ran and hid themselves in their shops and houses, shutting their doors, while others taking to their heels, communicated their fear to all they met, who stayed not to look behind them; insomuch, that Schaibar and prince Ahmed, as they went along, found all the streets and squares desolate, till they came to the palace, where the porters, instead of preventing Schaibar from entering, ran away too; so that the prince and he advanced without any obstacle to the council-hall, where the sultan was seated on his throne and giving audience. Here likewise the officers, at the approach of Schaibar, abandoned their posts, and gave them free admittance.
Schaibar, carrying his head erect, went fiercely up to the throne, without waiting to be presented by prince Ahmed, and accosted the sultan of the Indies in these words: "You have asked for me," said he; "see, here I am, what would you have with me?"
The sultan, instead of answering, clapped 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 he had given him the trouble to come so far, that he instantly lifted up his iron bar, 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;" 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 crushed some one or other, and none escaped but those 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 court-yard with the iron bar upon his shoulder, and looking at the grand vizier, who owed his life to prince Ahmed, said, "I know there is here 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 immediately." The grand vizier instantly sent for her, and as soon as she was brought, Schaibar, knocking her down with his iron bar, said, "Take the reward of thy pernicious counsel, and learn to feign sickness again;" he left her dead on the spot.
After this he said, "This is not yet enough; I will treat the whole city in the same manner, if they do not immediately acknowledge prince Ahmed my brother-in-law as sultan of the Indies." Then all who were present made the air ring with the repeated acclamations of "Long life to sultan Ahmed;" and immediately after, he was proclaimed through the whole metropolis. Schaibar caused him to be clothed in the royal vestments, installed him on the throne, and after he had made all swear homage and fidelity, returned to his sister Perie Banou, whom he brought with great pomp, and made her to be owned sultaness of the Indies.
As for prince Ali and princess Nouronnihar, as they had no concern in the 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 Houssain, to acquaint him with the change, and make him an offer of any province he might choose; but that prince thought himself so happy in his solitude, that he desired the officer to return his brother thanks for the kindness he designed him, assuring him of his submission; but that the only favour he desired was, to be indulged with leave to live retired in the place he had chosen for his retreat.
[Go to The Sisters Who Envied Their Younger Sister]
Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. 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