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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments Complete - 140/272 -
advice you gave me concerning the wickedness of this queen; but this last action of hers gives me reason to fear she intends to observe none of her promises or solemn oaths .to you. I thought of you immediately, and I esteem myself happy that I have obtained permission to come to you."
"You are not mistaken," replied old Abdallah with a smile, which showed he did not himself believe she would have acted otherwise; "nothing is capable of obliging a perfidious woman to amend. But fear nothing. I know how to make the mischief she intends you fall upon herself. You are alarmed in time; and you could not have done better than to have recourse to me. It is her ordinary practice to keep her lovers only forty days; and after that time, instead of seeding them home, to turn them into animals, to stock her forests and parks; but I thought of measures yesterday to prevent her doing you the same harm. The earth has borne this monster long enough, and it is now high time she should be treated as she deserves."
So saying, Abdallah put two cakes into king Beder's hands, bidding him keep them to be used as he should direct. "You told me," continued he, "the sorceress made a cake last night; it was for you to eat; but do not touch it. Nevertheless, do not refuse to receive it, when she offers it you; but instead of tasting it, break off part of one of the two I shall give you, unobserved, and eat that. As soon as she thinks you have swallowed it, she will not fail to attempt transforming you into some animal, but she shall not succeed; when she sees that she has failed, she will immediately turn her proceeding into pleasantry, as if what she had done was only out of joke to frighten you; but she will conceal a mortal grief in her heart, and think she has omitted something in the composition of her cake. As for the other cake, you shall make a present of it to her, and press her to eat it; which she will not refuse to do, were it only to convince you she does not mistrust you, though she has given you so much reason to mistrust her. When she has eaten of it, take a little water in the hollow of your hand, and throwing it in her face, say, "Quit that form you now wear, and take that of such or such animal," as you shall think fit; which done, come to me with the animal, and I will tell you what you shall do afterwards."
King Beder expressed to Abdallah, in the warmest terms, his great obligations to him, for his endeavours to defend him from the power of a pestilent sorceress; and after some further conversation took his leave of him, and returned to the palace. Upon his arrival, he understood that the queen waited for him with great impatience in the garden. He went to her, and she no sooner perceived him, than she came in great haste to meet him. "My dear Beder!" exclaimed she, "it is said, with a great deal of reason, that nothing more forcibly shews the excess of love than absence from the object beloved. I have had no quiet since I saw you, and it seems ages since I have been separated from you. If you had stayed ever so little longer, I was preparing to come and fetch you once more to my arms."
"Madam," replied king Beder, "I can assure your majesty, I was no less impatient to rejoin you; but I could not refuse to stay with an uncle who loves me, and had not seen me for so long a time. He would have kept me still longer, but I tore myself away from him, to come where love calls me. Of all the collations he prepared for me, I have only brought away this cake, which I desire your majesty to accept." King Beder, having wrapped up one of the two cakes in a handkerchief, took it out, and presented it to the queen, saying, "I beg your majesty to accept of it."
"I do accept it with all my heart," replied the queen, receiving it, "and will eat it with pleasure for yours and your good uncle's sake; but before I taste of it, I desire you will, for my sake, eat a piece of this, which I have made for you during your absence." "Fair queen," answered king Beder, receiving it with great respect, "such hands as your majesty's can never make anything but what is excellent, and I cannot sufficiently acknowledge the favour you do me."
King Beder then artfully substituted in the place of the queen's cake the other which old Abdallah had given him, and having broken off a piece, he put it in his mouth, and cried, while he was eating, "Ah! queen, I never tasted anything so excellent in my life." They being near a cascade, the sorceress seeing him swallow one bit of the cake, and ready to eat another, took a little water in the palm of her hand, and throwing it in the king's face, said, "Wretch! quit that form ofa man, and take that of a vile horse, blind and lame."
These words not having the desired effect, the sorceress was strangely surprised to find King Beder still in the same form, and that he only started for fear. Her cheeks reddened; and as she saw that she had missed her aim, "Dear Beder," cried she, "this is nothing; recover yourself. I did not intend you any harm; I only did it to see what you would say. I should be the most miserable and most execrable of women, should I attempt so black a deed; not only on account of all the oaths I have sworn, but also of the many testimonies of love I have given you."
"Puissant queen," replied King Beder, "persuaded as I am, that what your majesty did was only to divert yourself, I could not help being surprised. What could hinder me from being a little moved at the pronouncing of so strange a transformation? But, madam," continued he, "let us drop this discourse; and since I have eaten of your cake, would you do me the favour to taste mine?"
Queen Labe, who could not better justify herself than by showing this mark of confidence in the king of Persia, broke off a piece of his cake and ate it. She had no sooner swallowed it than she appeared much troubled, and remained as it were motionless. King Beder lost no time, but took water out of the same basin, and throwing it in her face, cried, "Abominable sorceress ! quit the form of woman, and be turned instantly into a mare."
The same moment, Queen Labe was transformed into a very beautiful mare; and her confusion was so great to find herself in that condition, that she shed tears in great abundance. She bowed her head to the feet of King Beder, thinking to move him to compassion; but though he could have been so moved, it was absolutely out of his power to repair the mischief he had done. He led her into the stable belonging to the palace, and put her into the hands of a groom, to bridle and saddle; but of all the bridles which the groom tried upon her, not one would fit. This made him cause two horses to be saddled, one for the groom and the other for himself; and the groom led the mare after him to old Abdallah's.
Abdallah seeing at a distance King Beder coming with the mare, doubted not but he had done what he had advised him. "Cursed sorceress!" said he immediately to himself in a transport of joy, "heaven has at length punished thee as thou deservest." King Beder alighted at Abdallah's door and entered with him into the shop, embracing and thanking him for all the signal services he had done him. He related to him the whole matter, with all its circumstances, and moreover told him, he could find no bridle fit for the mare. Abdallah bridled the mare himself, and as soon as King Beder had sent back the groom with the two horses, he said to him, "My lord, you have no reason to stay any longer in this city: mount the mare, and return to your kingdom. I have but one thing more to recommend to you; and that is, if you should ever happen to part with the mare, be sure not to give up the bridle." King Beder promised to remember this; and having taken leave of the good old man, he departed.
The young king of Persia had no sooner got out of the city, than he began to reflect with joy on his deliverance, and that he had the sorceress in his power, who had given him so much cause to tremble. Three days after he arrived at a great city, where, entering the suburbs, he met a venerable old man, walking towards a pleasure- house. "Sir," said the old man, stopping him, "may I presume to ask from what part of the world you come?" The king halted to satisfy him, and as they were conversing together, an old woman came up; who, stopping likewise, wept and sighed heavily at the sight of the mare.
King Beder and the old man left off discoursing, to look at the old woman, whom the king asked, what cause she had to be so much afflicted? "Alas ! sir," replied she, "it is because your mare resembles so perfectly one my son had, and which I still mourn the loss of on his account, and should think yours were the same, did I not know she was dead. Sell her to me, I beseech you; I will give you more than she is worth and thank you too.'
"Good woman," replied King Beder, "I am heartily sorry I cannot comply with your request: my mare is not to be sold." "Alas! sir," continued the old woman, "do not refuse me this favour for the love of God. My son and I shall certainly die with grief, if you do not grant it." "Good mother," replied the king, "I would grant it with all my heart, if I were disposed to part with so good a beast; but if I were so disposed, I believe you would hardly give a thousand pieces of gold for her, and I could not sell her for less." "Why should I not give so much?" replied the old woman: "if that be the lowest price, you need only say you will take it, and I will fetch you the money."
King Beder, seeing the old woman so poorly dressed, could not imagine she could find such a sum; and said, to try her, "Go, fetch me the money, and the mare is yours." The old woman immediately unloosed a purse she carried fastened to her girdle, and desiring him to alight, bade him tell over the money, and in case he found it came short of the sum demanded, she said her house was not far off; and she could quickly fetch the rest.
The surprise of King Beder, at the sight of the purse, was not small. "Good woman," said he, "do you not perceive I have bantered you all this while? I assure you my mare is not to be sold."
The old man, who had been witness to all that had passed, now began to speak. "Son," said he to King Beder, "it is necessary you should know one thing, which I find you are ignorant of; and that is, that in this city it is not permitted to any one to tell a lie, on any account whatsoever, on pain of death. You cannot refuse taking this good woman's money, and delivering your mare, when she gives you the sum according to the agreement; and this you had better do without any noise, than expose yourself to what may ensue."
King Beder, mortified to find himself thus trapped by his rash proffer, alighted with great regret. The old woman stood ready to seize the reins, immediately unbridled the mare, and taking some water in her hand, from a stream that ran in the middle of the street, threw it in the mare's face, uttering these words, "Daughter, quit that strange shape, and re-assume thy own." The
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