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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments vol. 4 - 2/71 -
of Persia interrupted him. "I am willing," said he, "to give you whatever you may ask in exchange. You know my kingdom is large, and contains many great, rich, and populous cities; I will give you the choice of which you like best, in full sovereignty for life."
This exchange seemed royal and noble to the whole court; but was much below what the Hindoo had proposed to himself, who had raised his thoughts much higher. "I am infinitely obliged to your majesty for the offer you make me," answered he, "and cannot thank you enough for your generosity; yet I must beg of you not to be displeased if I have the presumption to tell you, that I cannot resign my horse, but by receiving the hand of the princess your daughter as my wife: this is the only price at which I can part with my property."
The courtiers about the emperor of Persia could not forbear laughing aloud at this extravagant demand of the Hindoo; but the prince Firoze Shaw, the eldest son of the emperor, and presumptive heir to the crown, could not hear it without indignation. The emperor was of a very different opinion, and thought he might sacrifice the princess of Persia to the Hindoo, to satisfy his curiosity. He remained however undetermined, considering what he should do.
Prince Firoze Shaw, who saw his father hesitated what answer to make, began to fear lest he should comply with the Hindoo's demand, and regarded it as not only injurious to the royal dignity, and to his sister, but also to himself; therefore to anticipate his father, he said, "Sir, I hope your majesty will forgive me for daring to ask, if it is possible your majesty should hesitate about a denial to so insolent a demand from such an insignificant fellow, and so scandalous a juggler? or give him reason to flatter himself a moment with being allied to one of the most powerful monarchs in the world? I beg of you to consider what you owe to yourself, to your own blood, and the high rank of your ancestors."
"Son," replied the emperor of Persia, "I much approve of your remonstrance, and am sensible of your zeal for preserving the lustre of your birth; but you do not consider sufficiently the excellence of this horse; nor that the Hindoo, if I should refuse him, may make the offer somewhere else, where this nice point of honour may be waived. I shall be in the utmost despair if another prince should boast of having exceeded me in generosity, and deprived me of the glory of possessing what I esteem as the most singular and wonderful thing in the world. I will not say I consent to grant him what he asked. Perhaps he has not well considered his exorbitant demand: and putting my daughter the princess out of the question, I may make another agreement with him that will answer his purpose as well. But before I conclude the bargain with him, I should be glad that you would examine the horse, try him yourself, and give me your opinion."
As it is natural for us to flatter ourselves in what we desire, the Hindoo fancied, from what he had heard, that the emperor was not entirely averse to his alliance, and that the prince might become more favourable to him; therefore, he expressed much joy, ran before the prince to help him to mount, and shewed him how to guide and manage the horse.
The prince mounted without the Hindoo's assisting him; and no sooner had he got his feet in both stirrups, but without staying for the artist's advice, he turned the peg he had seen him use, when instantly the horse darted into the air, quick as an arrow shot out of a bow by the most adroit archer; and in a few moments the emperor his father and the numerous assembly lost sight of him. Neither horse nor prince were to be seen. The Hindoo, alarmed at what had happened, prostrated himself before the throne, and said, "Your majesty must have remarked the prince was so hasty, that he would not permit me to give him the necessary instructions to govern my horse. From what he saw me do, he was ambitious of shewing that he wanted not my advice. He was too eager to shew his address, but knows not the way, which I was going to shew him, to turn the horse, and make him descend at the wish of his rider. Therefore, the favour I ask of your majesty is, not to make me accountable for what accidents may befall him; you are too just to impute to me any misfortune that may attend him."
This address of the Hindoo much surprised and afflicted the emperor, who saw the danger his son was in to be inevitable, if, as the Hindoo said, there was a secret to bring him back, different from that which carried him away; and asked, in a passion, why he did not call him the moment he ascended?
"Sir," answered the Hindoo, "your majesty saw as well as I with what rapidity the horse flew away. The surprise I was then, and still am in, deprived me of the use of my speech; but if I could have spoken, he was got too far to hear me. If he had heard me, he knew not the secret to bring him back, which, through his impatience, he would not stay to learn. But, sir," added he, "there is room to hope that the prince, when he finds himself at a loss, will perceive another peg, and as soon as he turns that, the horse will cease to rise, and descend to the ground, when he may turn him to what place he pleases by guiding him with the bridle."
Notwithstanding all these arguments of the Hindoo, which carried great appearance of probability, the emperor of Persia was much alarmed at the evident danger of his son. "I suppose," replied he, "it is very uncertain whether my son may perceive the other peg, and make a right use of it; may not the horse, instead of lighting on the ground, fall upon some rock, or tumble into the sea with him?"
"Sir," replied the Hindoo, "I can deliver your majesty from this apprehension, by assuring you, that the horse crosses seas without ever falling into them, and always carries his rider wherever he may wish to go. And your majesty may assure yourself, that if the prince does but find out the other peg I mentioned, the horse will carry him where he pleases. It is not to be supposed that he will stop any where but where he can find assistance, and make himself known."
"Be it as it may," replied the emperor of Persia, "as I cannot depend upon the assurance you give me, your head shall answer for my son's life, if he does not return safe in three days' time, or I should hear that he is alive." He then ordered his officers to secure the Hindoo, and keep him close prisoner; after which he retired to his palace in affliction that the festival of Nooroze should have proved so inauspicious.
In the mean time the prince was carried through the air with prodigious velocity; and in less than an hour's time had ascended so high, that he could not distinguish any thing on the earth, but mountains and plains seemed confounded together. It was then he began to think of returning, and conceived he might do this by turning the same peg the contrary way, and pulling the bridle at the same time. But when he found that the horse still rose with the same swiftness, his alarm was great. He turned the peg several times, one way and the other, but all in vain. It was then he grew sensible of his fault, in not having learnt the necessary precautions to guide the horse before he mounted. He immediately apprehended the great danger he was in, but that apprehension did not deprive him of his reason. He examined the horse's head and neck with attention, and perceived behind the right ear another peg, smaller than the other. He turned that peg, and presently perceived that he descended in the same oblique manner as he had mounted, but not so swiftly.
Night had overshadowed that part of the earth over which the prince was when he found out and turned the small peg; and as the horse descended, he by degrees lost sight of the sun, till it grew quite dark; insomuch that, instead of choosing what place he would go to, he was forced to let the bridle lie upon the horse's neck, and wait patiently till he alighted, though not without the dread lest it should be in the desert, a river, or the sea.
At last the horse stopped upon some solid substance about midnight, and the prince dismounted very faint and hungry, having eaten nothing since the morning, when he came out of the palace with his father to assist at the festival. He found himself to be on the terrace of a magnificent palace, surrounded with a balustrade of white marble, breast high; and groping about, reached a staircase, which led down into an apartment, the door of which was half open.
Few but prince Firoze Shaw would have ventured to descend those stairs dark as it was, and in the danger he exposed himself to from friends or foes. But no consideration could stop him. "I do not come," said he to himself, "to do anybody harm; and certainly, whoever meets or sees me first, and finds that I have no arms in my hands, will not attempt any thing against my life, before they hear what I have to say for myself." After this reflection, he opened the door wider, without making any noise, went softly down the stairs, that he might not awaken anybody; and when he came to a landing-place on the staircase, found the door of a great hall, that had a light in it, open.
The prince stopped at the door, and listening, heard no other noise than the snoring of some people who were fast asleep. He advanced a little into the room, and by the light of a lamp saw that those persons were black eunuchs, with naked sabres laid by them; which was enough to inform him that this was the guard- chamber of some sultan or princess; which latter it proved to be.
In the next room to this the princess lay, as appeared by the light, the door being open, through a silk curtain, which drew before the door-way, whither prince Firoze Shaw advanced on tip- toe, without waking the eunuchs. He drew aside the curtain, went in, and without staying to observe the magnificence of the chamber, gave his attention to something of greater importance. He saw many beds; only one of them on a sofa, the rest on the floor. The princess slept in the first, and her women in the others.
This distinction was enough to direct the prince. He crept softly towards the bed, without waking either the princess or her women, and beheld a beauty so extraordinary, that he was charmed, and inflamed with love at the first sight. "O heavens!" said he to himself, "has my fate brought me hither to deprive me of my liberty, which hitherto I have always preserved? How can I avoid certain slavery, when those eyes shall open, since, without doubt, they complete the lustre of this assemblage of charms! I must quickly resolve, since I cannot stir without being my own murderer; for so has necessity ordained."
After these reflections on his situation, and on the princess's beauty, he fell on his knees, and twitching gently the princess's
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