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Scott: The Young King of the Black Isles

[Go back to The Fisherman (cont.) ]

You must know that my father, named Mahmoud, was king of this country. This is the kingdom of the Black Isles, which takes its name from the four small neighbouring mountains; for these mountains were formerly isles: the capital where the king my father resided was situated on the spot now occupied by the lake you have seen. The sequel of my history will inform you of those changes.

The king my father died when he was seventy years of age; I had no sooner succeeded him, than I married, and the lady I chose to share the royal dignity with me, was my cousin. I had so much reason to be satisfied with her affection, and, on my part, loved her with so much tenderness, that nothing could surpass the harmony and pleasure of our union. This lasted five years, at the end of which time, I perceived the queen, my cousin, ceased to delight in my attentions.

One day, after dinner, while she was at the bath, I found myself inclined to repose and lay down upon a sofa. Two of her ladies, who were then in my chamber, came and sat down, one at my head, and the other at my feet, with fans in their hands to moderate the heat, and to prevent the flies from disturbing me. They thought I was asleep, and spoke in whispers; but as I only closed my eyes, I heard all their conversation.

One of them said to the other, "Is not the queen wrong, not to love so amiable a prince?" "Certainly," replied the other; "I do not understand the reason, neither can I conceive why she goes out every night, and leaves him alone!" "Is it possible that he does not perceive it?" "Alas!" said the first, "how should he? she mixes every evening in his liquor, the juice of a certain herb, which makes him sleep so sound all night, that she has time to go where she pleases, and as day begins to appear, she comes and lies down by him again, and wakes him by the smell of something she puts under his nostrils."

You may guess, my lord, how much I was surprised at this conversation, and with what sentiments it inspired me; yet, whatever emotion it excited, I had sufficient self-command to dissemble, and feigned to awake without having heard a word.

The queen returned from the bath, we supped together and she presented me with a cup full of such water as I was accustomed to drink; but instead of putting it to my mouth, I went to a window that was open, and threw out the water so quickly, that she did not perceive it, and returned.

We went to bed together, and soon after, believing that I was asleep, she got up with so little precaution, that she said loud enough for me to hear her distinctly, "Sleep on, and may you never wake again!" She dressed herself, and went out of the chamber.

As soon as the queen my wife was gone, I dressed myself in haste, took my cimeter, and followed her so quickly, that I soon heard the sound of her feet before me, and then walked softly after her, for fear of being heard. She passed through several gates, which opened upon her pronouncing some magical words, and the last she opened was that of the garden, which she entered. I stopt at this gate, that she might not perceive me, as she passed along a parterre; then looking after her as far as the darkness of the night permitted, I saw her enter a little wood, whose walks were guarded by thick palisadoes. I went thither by another way, and concealing myself behind the palisadoes of a long walk, I saw her walking there with a man.

I did not fail to lend the most attentive ear to their discourse, and heard her address herself thus to her gallant: "I do not deserve to be reproached by you for want of diligence. You well know the reason; but if all the proofs of affection I have already given you be not sufficient to convince you of my sincerity, I am ready to give you others more decisive: you need but command me, you know my power; I will, if you desire it, before sun-rise convert this great city, and this superb palace, into frightful ruins, inhabited only by wolves, owls, and ravens. If you would have me transport all the stones of those walls so solidly built, beyond mount Caucasus, or the bounds of the habitable world, speak but the word, and all shall be changed."

As the queen finished these words she and her lover came to the end of the walk, turned to enter another, and passed before me. I had already drawn my cimeter, and her lover being next me, I struck him on the neck, and brought him to the ground. I concluded I had killed him, and therefore retired speedily without making myself known to the queen, whom I chose to spare, because she was my kinswoman.

The wound I had given her lover was mortal; but by her enchantments she preserved him in an existence in which he could not be said to be either dead or alive. As I crossed the garden to return to the palace, I heard the queen loudly lamenting, and judging by her cries how much she was grieved, I was pleased that I had spared her life.

As soon as I had reached my apartment, I went to bed, and being satisfied with having punished the villain who had injured me, fell asleep; and when I awoke next morning, found the queen lying. I cannot tell you whether she slept or not; but I arose, went to my closet, and dressed myself. I afterwards held my council. At my return, the queen, clad in mourning, her hair dishevelled, and part of it torn off, presented herself before me, and said; "I come to beg your majesty not to be surprised to see me in this condition. My heavy affliction is occasioned by intelligence of three distressing events which I have just received." "Alas! what are they, madam?" said I. "The death of the queen my dear mother," she replied, "that of the king my father killed in battle, and of one of my brothers, who has fallen down a precipice."

I was not displeased that she used this pretext to conceal the true cause of her grief, and I concluded she had not suspected me of being the author of her lover's death. "Madam," said I, "so far from blaming, I assure you I heartily commiserate your sorrow. I should feel surprise if you were insensible to such heavy calamities: weep on; your tears are so many proofs of your tenderness; but I hope that time and reflection will moderate your grief."

She retired into her apartment, where, giving herself wholly up to sorrow, she spent a whole year in mourning and lamentation. At the end of that period, she begged permission to erect a burying place for herself, within the bounds of the palace, where she would continue, she told me, to the end of her days: I consented, and she built a stately edifice, crowned by a cupola, which may be seen from hence, and called it the Palace of Tears. When it was finished, she caused her lover to be conveyed thither, from the place to which she had caused him to be carried the night I wounded him: she had hitherto prevented his dying, by potions which she had administered to him; and she continued to convey them to him herself every day after he came to the Palace of Tears.

Yet, with all her enchantments, she could not cure him; he was not only unable to walk or support himself, but had also lost the use of his speech, and exhibited no sign of life except in his looks. Though the queen had no other consolation but to see him, and to say to him all that her senseless passion could inspire, yet every day she made him two long visits. I was well apprised of this, but pretended ignorance.

One day my curiosity induced me to go to the Palace of Tears, to observe how the princess employed herself, and from a place where she could not see me, I heard her thus address her lover: "I am afflicted to the highest degree to behold you in this condition; I am as sensible as yourself of the tormenting pain you endure; but, dear soul, I am continually speaking to you, and you do not answer me: how long will you remain silent? Speak only one word: alas! the sweetest moments of my life are these I spend here in partaking of your grief. I cannot live at a distance from you, and would prefer the pleasure of having you always before me, to the empire of the universe."

At these words, which were several times interrupted by her sighs and sobs, I lost all patience: and discovering myself, came up to her, and said, "Madam, you have wept enough, it is time to give over this sorrow, which dishonours both; you have too much forgotten what you owe to me and to yourself." "Sire," said she, "if you have any kindness or compassion for me left, I beseech you to put no restraint upon me; allow me to indulge my grief, which it is impossible for time to assuage."

When I perceived that my remonstrance, instead of restoring her to a sense of duty, served only to increase her anguish, I gave over and retired. She continued every day to visit her lover, and for two whole years abandoned herself to grief and despair.

I went a second time to the Palace of Tears, while she was there. I concealed myself again, and heard her thus address her lover: "It is now three years since you spoke one word to me; you answer not the proofs I give you of my love by my sighs and lamentations. Is it from insensibility, or contempt? O tomb! hast thou destroyed that excess of affection which he bare me? Hast thou closed those eyes that evinced so much love, and were all my delight? No, no, this I cannot think. Tell me rather, by what miracle thou becamest the depositary of the rarest treasure the world ever contained."

I must confess, my lord, I was enraged at these expressions; for, in truth, this beloved, this adored mortal, was by no means what you would imagine him to have been. He was a black Indian, one of the original natives of this country. I was so enraged at the language addressed to him, that I discovered myself, and apostrophising the tomb in my turn; I cried, "O tomb! why dost not thou swallow up that monster so revolting to human nature, or rather why dost not thou swallow up both the lover and his mistress?"

I had scarcely uttered these words, when the queen, who sat by the black, rose up like a fury. "Miscreant!" said she "thou art the cause of my grief; do not think I am ignorant of this, I have dissembled too long. It was thy barbarous hand that brought the objets of my fondness into this lamentable condition; and thou hast the cruelty to come and insult a despairing lover." "Yes," said I, in a rage, "it was I that chastised that monster, according to his desert; I ought to have treated thee in the same manner; I now repent that I did not; thou hast too long abused my goodness." As I spoke these words, I drew out my cimeter, and lifted up my hand to punish her; but regarding me stedfastly, she said with a jeering smile, "Moderate thy anger." At the same time, she pronounced words I did not understand; and afterwards added, "By virtue of my enchantments, I command thee to become half marble and half man." Immediately, my lord, I became what you see, a dead man among the living, and a living man among the dead.

After the cruel sorceress, unworthy of the name of queen, had metamorphosed me thus, and brought me into this hall, by another enchantment she destroyed my capital, which was very flourishing and populous; she annihilated the houses, the public places and markets, and reduced the site of the whole to the lake and desert plain you have seen; the fishes of four colours in the lake are the four kinds of inhabitants of different religions, which the city contained. The white are the Moosulmauns; the red, the Persians, who worship fire; the blue, the Christians and the yellow, the Jews. The four little hills were the four islands that gave name to this kingdom. I learned all this from the enchantress, who, to add to my affliction, related to me these effects of her rage. But this is not all; her revenge not being satisfied with the destruction of my dominions, and the metamorphosis of my person, she comes every day, and gives me over my naked shoulders a hundred lashes with a whip until I am covered with blood. When she has finished this part of my punishment, she throws over me a coarse stuff of goat's hair, and over that this robe of brocade, not to honour, but to mock me.

When he came to this part of the narrative, the young king could not restrain his tears; and the sultan was himself so affected by the relation, that he could not find utterance for any words of consolation. Shortly after, the young king, lifting up his eyes to heaven, exclaimed, "Mighty creator of all things, I submit myself to thy judgments, and to the decrees of thy providence: I endure my calamities with patience, since it is thy will things should be as they are; but I hope thy infinite goodness will ultimately reward me."

[Resume The Fisherman]

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

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