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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments vol. 3 - 10/74 -
great, that I ought to remain with you all my life to testify my gratitude; but since your majesty sets no limits to your generosity, I entreat you to grant me one of your ships to transport me to Persia, where I fear my absence, which has been but too long, may have occasioned some disorder, and that the queen my mother, from whom I concealed my departure, may be distracted under the uncertainty whether I am alive or dead."
The king readily granted what he desired, and immediately gave orders for equipping one of his largest ships, and the best sailors in his numerous fleet. The ship was soon furnished with all its complement of men, provisions, and ammunition; and as soon as the wind became fair, King Beder embarked, after having taken leave of the king, and thanked him for all his favours.
The ship sailed before the wind for ten days together, but on the eleventh the wind changed, and there followed a furious tempest. The ship was not only driven out of its course, but so violently tossed, that all its masts were brought by the board; and driving along at the pleasure of the wind, it at length struck against a rock and bulged.
The greatest part of the people were instantly drowned. Some few were saved by swimming, and others by getting on pieces of the wreck. King Beder was among the latter, when, after having been tossed about for some time by the waves and torrents, under great uncertainty of his fate, he at length perceived himself near the shore, and not far from a city that seemed of great extent. He exerted his remaining strength to reach the land, and was at length so fortunate as to be able to touch the ground with his feet. He immediately abandoned his piece of wood, which had been of such great service to him; but when he came pretty near the shore, was greatly surprised to see horses, camels, mules, asses, oxen, cows, bulls, and other animals crowding to the shore, and putting themselves in a posture to oppose his landing. He had the utmost difficulty to conquer their obstinacy and force his way, but at length he succeeded, and sheltered himself among the rocks till he had recovered his breath, and dried his clothes in the sun.
When the prince advanced to enter the city, he met with the same opposition from these animals, who seemed to intend to make him forego his design, and give him to understand it was dangerous to proceed.
King Beder, however, entered the city, and saw many fair and spacious streets, but was surprised to find no human beings. This made him think it was not without cause that so many animals had opposed his passage. Going forward, nevertheless, he observed divers shops open, which gave him reason to believe the place was not so destitute of inhabitants as he imagined. He approached one of these shops, where several sorts of fruits were exposed for sale, and saluted very courteously an old man who was sitting within.
The old man, who was busy about something, lifted up his head, and seeing a youth who had an appearance of grandeur in his air, started, asked him whence he came, and what business had brought him there? King Beder satisfied him in a few words; and the old man farther asked him if he had met anybody on the road? "You are the first person I have seen," answered the king, "and I cannot comprehend how so fine and large a city comes to be without inhabitants." "Come in, sir; stay no longer upon the threshold," replied the old man, "or peradventure some misfortune may happen to you. I will satisfy your curiosity at leisure, and give you a reason why it is necessary you should take this precaution."
King Beder entered the shop, and sat down by the old man. The latter, who had received from him an account of his misfortunes, knew he must want nourishment, therefore immediately presented him what was necessary to recover his strength; and although King Beder was very earnest to know why he had taken the precaution to make him enter the shop, he would nevertheless not be prevailed upon to tell him anything till he had done eating, for fear the sad things he had to relate might spoil his appetite. When he found he ate no longer, he said to him, "You have great reason to thank God that you got hither without any accident." "Alas! why?" demanded King Beder, much surprised and alarmed.
"Because," answered he, "this city is the City of Enchantments, and is governed by a queen, who is not only one of the finest of her sex, but likewise a notorious and dangerous sorceress. You will be convinced of this," added he, "when you know that these horses, mules, and other animals which you have seen, are so many men, like ourselves, whom she has transformed by her diabolical art. And when young men, like you, enter the city, she has persons planted to stop and bring them, either by fair means or force, before her. She receives them in the most obliging manner; caresses them, regales them, lodges them magnificently, and gives them so many reasons to believe that she loves them, that she never fails of success. But she does not suffer them long to enjoy this happiness. There is not one of them but she has transformed into some animal or bird at the end of forty days. You told me all these animals presented themselves to oppose your landing, and hinder you entering the city. This was the only way in which they could make you comprehend the danger you were going to expose yourself to, and they did all in their power to prevent you."
This account exceedingly afflicted the young king of Persia: "Alas!" cried he, "to what extremities has my ill fortune reduced me! I am hardly freed from one enchantment, which I look back upon with horror, but I find myself exposed to another much more terrible." This gave him occasion to relate his story to the old man more at length, and to acquaint him of his birth, quality, his passion for the princess of Samandal, .and her cruelty in changing him into a bird the very moment he had seen her and declared his love to her.
When the prince came to speak of his good fortune in finding a queen who broke the enchantment, the old man to encourage him said, "Notwithstanding all I have told you of the magic queen is true, that ought not to give you the least disquiet, since I am generally beloved throughout the city, and am not unknown to the queen herself, who has much respect for me; therefore it was your peculiar good fortune which led you to address yourself to me rather than to anyone else. You are secure in my house, where I advise you to continue, if you think fit; and, provided you .do not stray from hence, I dare assure you, you will have no just cause to complain of my insincerity."
King Beder thanked the old man for his kind reception, and the protection he was pleased so readily to afford him. He sat down at the entrance of the shop, where he no sooner appeared, but his youth and good person attracted the eyes of all who passed that way. Many stopped and complimented the old man on his having acquired so fine a slave, as they imagined the king to be; and they were the more surprised as they could not comprehend how so beautiful a youth could escape the queen's knowledge. "Believe not," said the old man, "this is a slave: you all know that I am not rich enough nor of rank to have one of this consequence. He is my nephew, son of a brother of mine who is dead; and as I had no children of my own, I sent for him to keep me company." They congratulated his good fortune in having so fine a young man for his relation; but could not help telling him they feared the queen would take him from him. "You know her well," said they to him, "and you cannot be ignorant of the danger to which you are exposed, after all the examples you have seen. How grieved would you be if she should serve him as she has done so many others whom we knew."
"I am obliged to you," replied the old man, "for your good will towards me, and I heartily thank you for the care you seem to take of my interest; but I shall never entertain the least thought that the queen will do me any injury, after all the kindness she has professed for me. In case she happens to hear of this young man, and speaks to me about him, I doubt not she will cease to think of him, as soon as she comes to know he is my nephew."
The old man was exceedingly glad to hear the commendations they bestowed on the young king of Persia. He was as much affected with them as if he had been his own son, and he conceived a kindness for him, which augmented every day during the stay he made with him.
They had lived about a month together, when, as King Beder was sitting at the shop-door, after his ordinary manner, Queen Labe (so was this magic queen named) happened to come by with great pomp. The young king no sooner perceived the guards advancing before her, than he arose, and going into the shop, asked the old man what all that show meant. "The queen is coming by," answered he, "but stand still and fear nothing."
The queen's guards, clothed in purple uniform, and well armed and mounted, marched to the number of a thousand in four files, with their sabres drawn, and every one of their officers, as they passed by the shop, saluted the old man. Then followed a like number of eunuchs, habited in brocaded silk, and better mounted, whose officers did the old man the like honour. Next came as many young ladies on foot, equally beautiful, richly dressed, and ornamented with precious stones. They marched gravely, with half pikes in their hands; and in the midst of them appeared Queen Labe, on a horse glittering with diamonds, with a golden saddle, and a housing of inestimable value. All the young ladies saluted the old man as they passed him; and the queen, struck with the good mien of King Beder, stopped as soon as she came before the shop. "Abdallah," (so was the old man named) said she to him, "tell me, I beseech thee, does that beautiful and charming slave belong to thee? and hast thou long been in possession of him?"
Abdallah, before he answered the queen, threw himself on the ground, and rising again, said, "Madam, he is my nephew, son of a brother, who has not long been dead. Having no children, I look upon him as my son, and sent for him to come and comfort me, intending to leave him what I have when I die."
Queen Labe, who had never yet seen any one to compare with King Beder, began to conceive a passion for him, and thought immediately of getting the old man to abandon him to her. "Father," said she, "will you not oblige me so far as to make me a present of this young man? Do not refuse me, I conjure you; and I swear by the fire and the light, I will make him so great and powerful, that no individual in the world ever arrived at such good fortune. Although my purpose be to do evil to all mankind, he shall be an exception. I trust you will grant me what I desire, more on account of the friendship I am assured you have for me, than for the esteem you know I always had, and shall ever have for you."
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