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- The Brown Fairy Book - 6/54 -
could ask information about the riddle of Mihr-afruz. He spent seven days thinking it over in silence. From the first day of his coming he had made friends with a young cloth-merchant, and a great liking had sprung up between them. One day he said abruptly to his companion: 'O dear friend! I wish you would tell me what the rose did to the cypress, and what the sense of the riddle is.' The merchant started, and exclaimed: 'If there were not brotherly affection between us, I would cut off your head for asking me this! ' 'If you meant to kill me,' retorted the prince, ' you would still have first to tell me what I want to know.' When the merchant saw that the prince was in deadly earnest, he said: ' If you wish to hear the truth of the matter you must wait upon our king. There is no other way; no one else will tell you. I have a well-wisher at the Court, named Farrukh-fal,[FN#12] and will introduce you to him.' 'That would be excellent,' cried the prince. A meeting was arranged between Farrukhfal and Almas, and then the amir took him to the king's presence and introduced him as a stranger and traveller who had come from afar to sit in the shadow of King Sinaubar.
Now the Simurgh had given the prince a diamond weighing thirty misqals, and he ordered this to the king, who at once recognised its value, and asked where it had been obtained. 'I, your slave, once had riches and state and power; there are many such stones in my country. On my way here I was plundered at the Castle of Clashing Swords, and I saved this one thing only, hidden in my bathing-cloth.' In return for the diamond, King Sinaubar showered gifts of much greater value, for he remembered that it was the last possession of the prince. He showed the utmost kindness and hospitality, and gave his wazir orders to instal the prince in the royal guest-house. He took much pleasure in his visitor's society; they were together every day and spent the time most pleasantly. Several times the king said: 'Ask me for something, that I may give it you.'One day he so pressed to know what would pleasure the prince, that the latter said: 'I have only one wish, and that I will name to you in private.' The king at once commanded every one to withdraw, and then Prince Almas said: ' The desire of my life is to know what the rose did to the cypress, and what meaning there is in the words.' The king was astounded. 'In God's name! if anyone else had said that to me I should have cut off his head instantly.' The prince heard this in silence, and presently so beguiled the king with pleasant talk that to kill him was impossible.
Time flew by, the king again and again begged the prince to ask some gift of him, and always received this same reply: 'I wish for your Majesty's welfare, what more can I desire?'One night there was a banquet, and cupbearers carried round gold and silver cups of sparkling wine, and singers with sweetest voices contended for the prize. The prince drank from the king's own cup, and when his head was hot with wine he took a lute from one of the musicians and placed himself on the carpet border and sang and sang till he witched away the sense of all who listened. Applause and compliments rang from every side. The king filled his cup and called the prince and gave it him and said: 'Name your wish! it is yours.' The prince drained off the wine and answered: 'O king of the world! learn and know that I have only one aim in life, and this is to know what the rose did to the cypress.'
'Never yet,' replied the king, 'has any man come out from that question alive. If this is your only wish, so be it; I will tell you. But I will do this on one condition only, namely, that when you have heard you will submit yourself to death.' To this the prince agreed, and said: ' I set my foot firmly on this compact.'
The king then gave an order to an attendant; a costly carpet overlaid with European velvet was placed near him, and a dog was led in by a golden and jewelled chain and set upon the splendid stuffs. A band of fair girls came in and stood round it in waiting.
Then, with ill words, twelve negroes dragged in a lovely woman, fettered on hands and feet and meanly dressed, and they set her down on the bare floor. She was extraordinarily beautiful, and shamed the glorious sun. The king ordered a hundred stripes to be laid on her tender body; she sighed a long sigh. Food was called for and table-cloths were spread. Delicate meats were set before the dog, and water given it in a royal cup of Chinese crystal. When it had eaten its fill, its leavings were placed before the lovely woman and she was made to eat of them. She wept and her tears were pearls; she smiled and her lips shed roses. Pearls and flowers were gathered up and taken to the treasury.
'Now,' said the king, ' you have seen these things and your purpose is fulfilled.' 'Truly,' said the prince, 'I have seen things which I have not understood; what do they mean, and what is the story of them? Tell me and kill me.'
Then said the king: 'The woman you see there in chains is my wife; she is called Gul, the Rose, and I am Sinaubar, the Cypress. One day I was hunting and became very thirsty. After great search I discovered a well in a place so secret that neither bird nor beast nor man could find it without labour. I was alone, I took my turban for a rope and my cap for a bucket. There was a good deal of water, but when I let down my rope, something caught it, and I could not in any way draw it back. I shouted down into the well: "O! servant of God! whoever you are, why do you deal unfairly with me? I am dying of thirst, let go! in God's name." A cry came up in answer, "O servant of God! we have been in the well a long time; in God's name get us out!" After trying a thousand schemes, I drew up two blind women. They said they were peris, and that their king had blinded them in his anger and had left them in the well alone.
' "Now," they said, "if you will get us the cure for our blindness we will devote ourselves to your service, and will do whatever you wish."
' "What is the cure for your blindness?"
' "Not far from this place," they said, "a cow comes up from the great sea to graze; a little of her dung would cure us. We should be eternally your debtors. Do not let the cow see you, or she will assuredly kill you."
'With renewed strength and spirit I went to the shore. There I watched the cow come up from the sea, graze, and go back. Then I came out of my hiding, took a little of her dung and conveyed it to the peris. They rubbed it on their eyes, and by the Divine might saw again.
'They thanked heaven and me, and then considered what they could do to show their gratitude to me. "Our peri-king," they said, "has a daughter whom he keeps under his own eye and thinks the most lovely girl on earth. In good sooth, she has not her equal! Now we will get you into her house and you must win her heart, and if she has an inclination for another, you must drive it out and win her for yourself. Her mother loves her so dearly that she has no ease but in her presence, and she will give her to no one in marriage. Teach her to love you so that she cannot exist without you. But if the matter becomes known to her mother she will have you burned in the fire. Then you must beg, as a last favour, that your body may be anointed with oil so that you may burn the more quickly and be spared torture. If the peri-king allows this favour, we two will manage to be your anointers, and we will put an oil on you such that if you were a thousand years in the fire not a trace of burning would remain."
'In the end the two peris. took me to the girl's house. I saw her sleeping daintily. She was most lovely, and I was so amazed at the perfection of her beauty that I stood with senses lost, and did not know if she were real or a dream. When at last I saw that she was a real girl, I returned thanks that I, the runner, had come to my goal, and that I, the seeker, had found my treasure.
'When the peri opened her eyes she asked in affright: "Who are you? Have you come to steal? How did you get here? Be quick! save yourself from this whirlpool of destruction, for the demons and peris. who guard me will wake and seize you."
'But love's arrow had struck me deep, and the girl, too, looked kindly on me. I could not go away. For some months I remained hidden in her house. 'We did not dare to let her mother know of our love. Sometimes the girl was very sad and fearful lest her mother should come to know. One day her father said to her: "Sweetheart, for some time I have noticed that your beauty is not what it was. How is this? Has sickness touched you? Tell me that I may seek a cure." Alas! there was now no way of concealing the mingled delight and anguish of our love; from secret it became known. I was put in prison and the world grew dark to my rose, bereft of her lover.
'The peri-king ordered me to be burnt, and said: "Why have you, a man, done this perfidious thing in my house?" His demons and peris. collected amber-wood and made a pile, and would have set me on it, when I remembered the word of life which the two peris. I had rescued had breathed into my ear, and I asked that my body might be rubbed with oil to release me the sooner from torture. This was allowed, and those two contrived to be the anointers. I was put into the fire and it was kept up for seven days and nights. By the will of the Great King it left no trace upon me. At the end of a week the pert-king ordered the ashes to be cast upon the dust-heap, and I was found alive and unharmed.
'Peris who had seen Gul consumed by her love for me now interceded with the king, and said: "It is clear that your daughter's fortunes are bound up with his, for the fire has not hurt him. It is best to give him the girl, for they love one another. He is King of Waq of Qaf, and you will find none better."
'To this the king agreed, and made formal marriage between Gul and me. You now know the price I paid for this faithless creature. O prince! remember our compact.'
'I remember,' said the prince; ' but tell me what brought Queen Gul to her present pass?'
'One night,' continued King Sinaubar,'I was aroused by feeling Gul's hands and feet, deadly cold, against my body. I asked her where she had been to get so cold, and she said she had had to go out. Next morning, when I went to my stable I saw that two of my horses, Windfoot and Tiger, were thin and worn out. I reprimanded the groom and beat him. He asked where his fault lay, and said that every night my wife took one or other of these horses and rode away, and came back only just before dawn. A flame kindled in my heart, and I asked myself where she could go
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