THE BOOK OF THE THOUSAND NIGHTS AND ONE NIGHT:
Now First Completely Done Into English Prose and Verse, From The Original Arabic,
By John Payne (Author of "The Masque of Shadows," "Intaglios: Sonnets," "Songs of Life and Death," "Lautrec," "The Poems of Master Francis Villon of Paris," "New Poems," Etc, Etc.).
In Nine Volumes:
VOLUME THE SECOND.
Contents of The Second Volume.
9. The History of King Omar Ben Ennuman and His Sons Sherkan and Zoulmekan a. Story of Taj El Mulouk and the Princess Dunya aa. Story of Aziz and Azizeh b. Bakoun's Story of the Hashish-Eater c. Hemmand the Bedouin's Story
THE BOOK OF THE THOUSAND NIGHTS AND ONE NIGHT
THE HISTORY OF KING OMAR BEN ENNUMAN AND HIS SONS SHERKAN AND ZOULMEKAN.
There reigned once in the City of Peace, (Baghdad), before the Khalifate of Abdulmelik ben Merwan,[FN#1] a king called Omar ben Ennuman, who was of the mighty giants and had subdued the kings of Persia and the Emperors of the East, for none could warm himself at his fire[FN#2] nor cope with him in battle, and when he was angry, there came sparks out of his nostrils. He had gotten him the dominion over all countries, and God had subjected unto him all creatures; his commands were obeyed in all the great cities and his armies penetrated the most distant lands: the East and West came under his rule, with the regions between them, Hind and Sind and China and Hejaz and Yemen and the islands of India and China, Syria and Mesopotamia and the land of the blacks and the islands of the ocean and all the famous rivers of the earth, Jaxartes and Bactrus, Nile and Euphrates. He sent his ambassadors to the farthest parts of the earth, to fetch him true report, and they returned with tidings of justice and peace, bringing him assurance of loyalty and obedience and invocations of blessings on his head; for he was a right noble king and there came to him gifts and tribute from all parts of the world. He had a son called Sherkan, who was one of the prodigies of the age and the likest of all men to his father, who loved him with an exceeding love and had appointed him to be king after him. The prince grew up till he reached man's estate and was twenty years old, and God subjected all men to him, for he was gifted with great might and prowess in battle, humbling the champions and destroying all who made head against him. So, before long, this Sherkan became famous in all quarters of the world and his father rejoiced in him: and his might waxed, till he passed all bounds and magnified himself, taking by storm the citadels and strong places.
Now King Omar had four lawful wives, but God had vouchsafed him no son by them, except Sherkan, whom he had gotten of one of them, and the rest were barren. Moreover he had three hundred and threescore concubines, after the number of the days of the Coptic year, who were of all nations, and he had lodged them all within his palace. For he had built twelve pavilions, after the number of the months of the year, in each thirty chambers, and appointed to each of his concubines a night, which he lay with her and came not to her again for a full year. As providence would have it, one of them conceived and her pregnancy was made known, whereupon the King rejoiced with an exceeding joy, saying, "Mayhap it will be a son, in which case all my offspring will be males." Then he recorded the date of her conception and made much of her. But when the news came to Sherkan, he was troubled and it was grievous to him, for he said, "Verily, there cometh one who shall dispute the kingdom with me." So he said to himself, "If this damsel bear a male child, I will kill it." But he kept this his intent secret in his heart. Now the damsel in question was a Greek girl, by name Sufiyeh,[FN#3] whom the King of Roum,[FN#4] lord of Caesarea, had sent to King Omar as a present, together with great store of rarities. She was the fairest of face and most graceful of all his women and the most careful of his honour and was gifted with abounding wit and surpassing loveliness. She had served the King on the night of his lying with her, saying to him, "O King, I desire of the God of the heavens that He grant thee of me a male child, so I may rear him well and do my utmost endeavour to educate him and preserve him from harm." And her words pleased the King. She passed the time of her pregnancy in devout exercises, praying fervently to God to grant her a goodly male child and make his birth easy to her, till her months were accomplished and she sat down on the stool of delivery. Now the King had given an eunuch charge to let him know if the child she should bring forth were male or female; and in like manner his son Sherkan had sent one to bring him news of this. In due time, Sufiyeh was delivered of a child, which the midwives took and found to be a girl with a face more radiant than the moon. So they announced this to the bystanders, whereupon the eunuch carried the news to the King and Sherkan's messenger did the like with his master, who rejoiced with exceeding joy; but after these two had departed, Sufiyeh said to the midwives, "Wait with me awhile, for I feel there is yet somewhat in my entrails." Then she moaned and the pains of labour took her again but God made it easy to her and she gave birth to a second child. The midwives looked at it and found it a boy like the full moon, with flower-white forehead and rose-red cheeks; whereupon the damsel and her eunuchs and attendants rejoiced and she was delivered of the afterbirth, whilst all who were in the palace set up cries of joy. The other damsels heard of this and envied her; and the news came to Omar, who was glad and rejoiced. Then he rose and went to her and kissed her head, after which he looked at the boy and bending down to it, kissed it, whilst the damsels smote the tabrets and played on instruments of music; and he commanded that the boy should be named Zoulmekan and the girl Nuzbet ez Zeman, which was done accordingly. Then he appointed nurses, wet and dry, and eunuchs and attendants to serve them and assigned them rations of sugar and liquors and oil and other necessaries, such as the tongue fails to set out. Moreover the people of Baghdad heard of the children that God had vouchsafed to the King; so they decorated the city and made proclamation of the good news. Then came the amirs and viziers and grandees and wished the King joy of his son and daughter, wherefore he thanked them and bestowed dresses of honour and favours and largesse on them and on all who were present, gentle and simple. Then he bade carry great store of jewellery and apparel and money to Sufiyeh and charged her to rear the children carefully and educate them well. After this wise, four years passed by, during which time the King sent every few days to seek news of Sufiyeh and her children; but all this while, his son Sherkan knew not that a male child had been born to his father, having news only of the birth of his daughter Nuzhet ez Zeman, and they hid the thing from him, until years and days had passed by, whilst he was busied in contending with the men of war and tilting against the cavaliers.
One day, as the King was sitting on his throne, there came in to him his chamberlains, who kissed the earth before him and said, "O King, there be come ambassadors from the King of the Greeks, lord of Constantinople the mighty, and they desire to be admitted to pay their respects to thee: so if the King give them leave to enter, we will admit them, and if not, there is no appeal from his decree." He bade admit them, and when they entered, he turned to them and asked them how they did and the reason of their coming. They kissed the earth before him and replied, "O illustrious King and lord of the long arm,[FN#5] know that King Afridoun, lord of the lands of the Greeks and of the Nazarene armies, holding the empire of Constantinople, hath sent us to make known to thee that he is now waging grievous war with a fierce rebel, the lord of Caesarea; and the cause of this war is as follows. One of the kings of the Arabs, awhile since, chanced, in one of his conquests, upon a treasure of the time of Alexander, from which he carried away countless riches and amongst other things, three round jewels, of the bigness of an ostrich's egg, from a mine of pure white jewels, never was seen the like. Upon each of these jewels were graven talismans in the Greek character, and they had many properties and virtues, amongst the rest that if one of them were hung round the neck of a new-born child, no ailment would hurt him nor would he moan or be fevered, so long as it was about his neck. When they came to the hands of the Arabian King and he knew their virtues, he sent the three jewels, together with other presents and rarities, as a gift to King Afridoun, and to that end fitted out two ships, one bearing the treasure and presents and the other men to guard them against whoso should offer them hindrance on the sea, being nevertheless assured that none would dare waylay them, for that he was King of the Arabs, more by token that their way lay through the sea in the dominions of the King of Constantinople and they were bound to him, nor were there on the shores of that sea any but subjects of the most mighty King Afridoun. The ships set out and sailed till they drew near our city, when there sallied out on them certain corsairs of the country and amongst them troops of the King of Caesarea, who took all the treasures and rarities in the ships, together with the three jewels, and slew the men. When the news came to our King, he sent an army against them, but they defeated it; then he sent another army, stronger than the first, but they put this also to the rout; whereupon the King was wroth and swore that he would go out against them in person at the head of his whole army and not turn back from them, till he had left Caesarea in ruins and laid waste all the lands and cities over which its King held sway. So he craves of the lord of the age and the time, the King of Baghdad and Khorassan, that he succour us with an army, to the end that glory may redound to him; and he has sent by us somewhat of various kinds of presents and begs the King to favour him by accepting them and accord us his aid." Then they kissed the earth before King Omar and brought out the presents, which were fifty slave-girls of the choicest of the land of the Greeks, and fifty white male slaves in tunics of brocade, rich girdles of gold and silver and in their ears pendants of gold and fine pearls, worth a thousand dinars each. The damsels were adorned after the same fashion and clad in stuffs worth much money. When the King saw them, he rejoiced in them and accepted them. Then he commanded that the ambassadors should be honourably entreated and summoning his viziers, took counsel with them of what he should do. Accordingly, one of them, an old man named Dendan, arose and kissing the earth before King Omar, said, "O King, thou wouldst do well to equip numerous army and set over it thy son Sherkan, with us as his lieutenants; and to my mind it behoves thee to do thus, for two reasons: first, that the King of the Greeks hath appealed to thee for aid and hath sent thee presents, and thou hast accepted them; and secondly, that no enemy dares attack our country, and that if thy host succour the King of the Greeks and his foe be put to the rout, the glory will fall to thee and the news of it will be noised abroad in all cities and countries; and especially, when the tidings reach the islands of the ocean and the people of Western Africa, they will send thee presents and tribute." When the King heard the Vizier's speech, it pleased him and he approved his counsel: so he bestowed on him dress of honour and said to him, "It is with such as thee that kings take counsel and it befits that thou command the van of the army and my son Sherkan the main battle." Then he sent for Sherkan and expounded the matter to him, telling him what the ambassadors and the Vizier had said, and enjoined him to take arms and prepare to set out, charging him not to cross the Vizier Dendan in aught that he should do. Then he bade him choose from among his troops ten thousand horsemen armed cap-a-pie and inured to war and hardship. Accordingly, Sherkan rose at once and chose out ten thousand horsemen, in obedience to his father's commandment, after which he entered his palace and mustered his troops and distributed money to them, saying, "Ye have three days to make ready." They kissed the earth before him and proceeded at once to make their preparations for the campaign; whilst Sherkan repaired to the armouries and provided himself with all the arms and armour that he needed, and thence to the stables, whence he took horses of choice breeds and others. When the three days were ended, the troops marched out of Baghdad, and King Omar came forth to take leave of his son, who kissed the earth before him, and he gave him seven thousand purses.[FN#6] Then he turned to the Vizier Dendan and commended to his care his son Sherkan's army and charged the latter to consult the Vizier in all things, to which they both promised obedience. After this, the King returned to Baghdad and Sherkan commanded the officers to draw out the troops in battle array. So they mustered them and the number of the army was ten thousand horsemen, besides footmen and followers. Then they loaded the beasts and beat the drums and blew the clarions and unfurled the banners and the standards, whilst Sherkan mounted, with the Vizier Dendan by his side and the standards waving over them, and the army set out and fared on, with the ambassadors in the van, till the day departed and the night came, when they halted and encamped for the night. On the morrow, as soon as God brought in the day, they took horse and continued their march, nor did they cease to press onward, guided by the ambassadors, for the space of twenty days. On the twenty-first day, at nightfall, they came to a wide and fertile valley, whose sides were thickly wooded and covered with grass, and there Sherkan called a three days' halt. So they dismounted and pitched their tents, dispersing right and left in the valley, whilst the Vizier Dendan and the ambassadors alighted in the midst. As for Sherkan, when he had seen the tents pitched and the troops dispersed on either side and had commanded his officers and attendants to camp beside the Vizier Dendan, he gave reins to his horse, being minded to explore the valley and himself mount guard over the army, having regard to his father's injunctions and to the fact that they had reached the frontier of the land of Roum and were now in the enemy's country. So he rode on alone along the valley, till a fourth part of the night was passed, when he grew weary and sleep overcame him, so that he could no longer spur his horse. Now he was used to sleep on horseback; so when drowsiness got the better of him, he fell asleep and the horse paced on with him half the night and entered a forest; but Sherkan awoke not, till the steed smote the earth with his hoof. Then he started from sleep and found himself among trees; and the moon arose and lighted up the two horizons. He was troubled at finding himself alone in this place and spoke the words, which whoso says shall never be confounded, that is to say, "There is no power and no virtue but in God the Most High, the Supreme!" But as he rode on, in fear of the wild beasts, behold, the trees thinned and the moon shone out upon a meadow as it were one of the meads of Paradise and he heard therein a noise of talk and pleasant laughter such as ravishes the wit of men. So King Sherkan dismounted and tying his horse to a tree, fared on a little way, till he espied a stream of running water and heard a woman talking and saying in Arabic, "By the virtue of the Messiah, this is not handsome of you! But whoso speaks a word, I will throw her down and bind her with her girdle." He followed in the direction of the voice and saw gazelles frisking and wild cattle pasturing and birds in their various voices expressing joy and gladness: and the earth was embroidered with all manner of flowers and green herbs, even as says of it the poet in the following verses:
Earth has no fairer sight to show than this its blossom-time, With all the gently running streams that wander o'er its face. It is indeed the handiwork of God Omnipotent, The Lord of every noble gift and Giver of all grace!
Midmost the meadow stood a monastery, and within the enclosure was a citadel that rose high into the air in the light of the moon. The stream passed through the midst of the monastery and therenigh sat ten damsels like moons, high-bosomed maids, clad in dresses and ornaments that dazzled the eyes, as says of them the poet:
The meadow glitters with the troops Of lovely ones that wander there. Its grace and beauty doubled are By these that are so passing fair. Virgins that, with their swimming gait, The hearts of all that see ensnare; Along whose necks, like trails of grapes, Stream down the tresses of their hair: Proudly they walk, with eyes that dart The shafts and arrows of despair, And all the champions of the world Are slain by their seductive air.
Sherkan looked at the ten girls and saw in their midst a lady like the moon at its full, with ringleted hair and shining forehead, great black eyes and curling brow-locks, perfect in person and attributes, as says the poet:
Her beauty beamed on me with glances wonder-bright: The slender Syrian spears are not so straight and slight: She laid her veil aside, and lo, her cheeks rose-red! All manner lovelyness was in their sweetest sight. The locks, that o'er her brow fell down, were like the night, From out of which there shines a morning of delight.
Then Sherkan heard her say to the girls, "Come on, that I may wrestle with you, ere the moon set and the dawn come." So they came up to her, one after another, and she overthrew them, one by one, and bound their hands behind them with their girdles. When she had thrown them all, there turned to her an old woman, who was before her, and said, as if she were wroth with her, "O wanton, dost thou glory in overthrowing these girls? Behold, I am an old woman, yet have I thrown them forty times! So what hast thou to boast of? But if thou have strength to wrestle with me, stand up that I may grip thee and put thy head between thy feet." The young lady smiled at her words, although her heart was full of anger against her, and said, "O my lady Dhat ed Dewahi, wilt indeed wrestle with me, or dost thou jest with me?" "I mean to wrestle with thee in very deed," replied she. "Stand up to me then," said the damsel, "if thou have strength to do so." When the old woman heard this, she was sore enraged and the hair of her body stood on end, like that of a hedge-hog. Then she sprang up, whilst the damsel confronted her, and said, "By the virtue of the Messiah, I will not wrestle with thee, except I be naked." "O baggage!" So she loosed her trousers and putting her hand under her clothes, tore them off her body; then, taking a handkerchief of silk, she bound it about her middle and became as she were a bald Afriteh or a pied snake. Then she turned to the young lady and said to her, "Do as I have done." All this time, Sherkan was watching them and laughing at the loathly favour of the old woman. So the damsel took a sash of Yemen stuff and doubled it about her waist, then tucked up her trousers and showed legs of alabaster and above them a hummock of crystal, soft and swelling, and a belly that exhaled musk from its dimples, as it were a bed of blood-red anemones, and breasts like double pomegranates. Then the old woman bent to her and they took hold of one another, whilst Sherkan raised his eyes to heaven and prayed to God that the damsel might conquer the old hag. Presently, the former bored in under the latter, and gripping her by the breech with the left hand and by the gullet with the right, hoisted her off the ground; whereupon the old woman strove to free herself and in the struggle wriggled out of the girl's hands and fell on her back. Up went her legs and showed her hairy tout in the moonlight, and she let fly two great cracks of wind, one of which smote the earth, whilst the other smoked up to the skies. At this Sherkan laughed, till he fell to the ground, and said, "He lied not who dubbed thee Lady of Calamities![FN#7] Verily, thou sawest her prowess against the others." Then he arose and looked right and left, but saw none save the old woman thrown down on her back. So he drew near to hear what should pass between them; and behold, the young lady came up to the old one and throwing over her a veil of fine silk, helped her to dress herself, making excuses to her and saying, "O my lady Dhat ed Dewahi, I did not mean to throw thee so roughly, but thou wriggledst out of my hands; so praised be God for safety!" She returned her no answer, but rose in her confusion and walked away out of sight, leaving the young lady standing alone, by the other girls thrown down and bound. Then said Sherkan to himself, "To every fortune there is a cause. Sleep fell not on me nor did the steed bear me hither but for my good fortune; for of a surety this damsel and what is with her shall be my prize." So he turned back and mounted and drew his scimitar; then he gave his horse the spur and he started off with him, like an arrow from a bow, whilst he brandished his naked blade and cried out, "God is Most Great!" When the damsel saw him, she sprang to her feet and running to the bank of the river, which was there six cubits wide, made a spring and landed on the other side, where she turned and standing, cried out in a loud voice, "Who art thou, sirrah, that breakest in on our pastime, and that with thy whinger bared, as thou wert charging an army? Whence comest thou and whither art thou bound? Speak the truth, and it shall profit thee, and do not lie, for lying is of the loser's fashion. Doubtless thou hast strayed this night from thy road, that thou hast happened on this place. So tell me what thou seekest: if thou wouldst have us set thee in the right road, we will do so, or if thou seek help, we will help thee." When Sherkan heard her words, he replied, "I am a stranger of the Muslims, who am come out by myself in quest of booty, and I have found no fairer purchase this moonlit night than these ten damsels; so I will take them and rejoin my comrades with them." Quoth she, "I would have thee to know that thou hast not yet come at the booty: and as for these ten damsels, by Allah, they are no purchase for thee! Indeed, the fairest purchase thou canst look for is to win free of this place; for thou art now in a mead, where, if we gave one cry, there would be with us anon four thousand knights. Did I not tell thee that lying is shameful?" And he said, "The fortunate man is he to whom God sufficeth and who hath no need of other than Him." "By the virtue of the Messiah," replied she, "did I not fear to have thy death at my hand, I would give a cry that would fill the meadow on thee with horse and foot; but I have pity on the stranger: so if thou seek booty, I require of thee that thou dismount from thy horse and swear to me, by thy faith, that thou wilt not approach me with aught of arms, and we will wrestle, I and thou. If thou throw me, lay me on thy horse and take all of us to thy booty; and if I throw thee, thou shalt be at my commandment. Swear this to me, for I fear thy perfidy, since experience has it that, as long as perfidy is in men's natures, to trust in every one is weakness. But if thou wilt swear, I will come over to thee." Quoth Sherkan (and indeed he lusted after her and said to himself, "She does not know that I am a champion of the champions."), "Impose on me whatever oath thou deemest binding, and I will swear not to draw near thee till thou hast made thy preparations and sayest, 'Come and wrestle with me.' If thou throw me, I have wealth wherewith to ransom myself, and if I throw thee, I shall get fine purchase." Then said she, "Swear to me by Him who hath lodged the soul in the body and given laws to mankind, that thou wilt not beset me with aught of violence, but by way of wrestling; else mayst thou die out of the pale of Islam." "By Allah," exclaimed Sherkan, "if a Cadi should swear me, though he were Cadi of the Cadis, he would not impose on me the like of this oath!" Then he took the oath she required and tied his horse to a tree, sunken in the sea of reverie and saying in himself, "Glory to Him who fashioned her of vile water!"[FN#8] Then he girt himself and made ready for wrestling and said to her, "Cross the stream to me." Quoth she, "It is not for me to come to thee: if thou wilt, do thou cross over to me." "I cannot do that," replied he, and she said, "O boy, I will come to thee." So she gathered her skirts and making a spring, landed on the other side of the river by him; whereupon he drew near to her, wondering at her beauty and grace, and saw a form that the hand of Omnipotence had tanned with the leaves of the Jinn and which had been fostered by Divine solicitude, a form on which the zephyrs of fair fortune had blown and over whose creation favourable planets had presided. Then she called out to him, saying, "O Muslim, come and wrestle before the day break!" and tucked up her sleeves, showing a fore-arm like fresh curd; the whole place was lighted up by its whiteness and Sherkan was dazzled by it. Then he bent forward and clapped his hands and she did the like, and they took hold and gripped each other. He laid his hands on her slender waist, so that the tips of his fingers sank into the folds of her belly, and his limbs relaxed and he stood in the stead of desire, for there was displayed to him a body, in which was languishment of hearts, and he fell a-trembling like the Persian reed in the hurricane. So she lifted him up and throwing him to the ground, sat down on his breast with buttocks like a hill of sand, for he was not master of his reason. Then she said to him, "O Muslim, it is lawful among you to kill Christians; what sayst thou to my killing thee?" "O my lady," replied he, "as for killing me, it is unlawful; for our Prophet (whom God bless and preserve!) hath forbidden the slaying of women and children and old men and monks." "Since this was revealed unto your prophet," rejoined she, "it behoves us to be even with him therein; so rise: I give thee thy life, for beneficence is not lost upon men." Then she got off his breast and he rose and brushed the earth from his head, and she said to him, "Be not abashed; but, indeed, one who enters the land of the Greeks in quest of booty and to succour kings against kings, how comes it that there is no strength in him to defend himself against a woman?" "It was not lack of strength in me," replied he; "nor was it thy strength that overthrew me, but thy beauty: so if thou wilt grant me another bout, it will be of thy favour." She laughed and said, "I grant thee this: but these damsels have been long bound and their arms and shoulders are weary, and it were fitting I should loose them, since this next bout may peradventure be a long one." Then she went up to the girls and unbinding them, said to them in the Greek tongue, "Go and put yourselves in safety, till I have brought to nought this Muslim's craving for you." So they went away, whilst Sherkan looked at them and they gazed at him and the young lady. Then she and he drew near again and set breast against breast; but, when he felt her belly against his, his strength failed him, and she feeling this, lifted him in her hands, swiftlier than the blinding lightning, and threw him to the ground. He fell on his back, and she said to him, "Rise, I give thee thy life a second time. I spared thee before for the sake of thy prophet, for that he forbade the killing of women, and I do so this second time because of thy weakness and tender age and strangerhood; but I charge thee, if there be, in the army sent by King Omar ben Ennuman to the succour of the King of Constantinople, a stronger than thou, send him hither and tell him of me, for in wrestling there are divers kinds of strokes and tricks, such as feinting and the fore-tripe and the back-tripe and the leg-crick and the thigh-twist and the jostle and the cross-buttock." "By Allah, O my lady," replied Sherkan, (and indeed he was greatly incensed against her), "were I the chief Es Sefedi or Mohammed Caimal or Ibn es Seddi,[FN#9] I had not observed the fashion thou namest; for, by Allah, it was not by thy strength that thou overthrewest me, but by filling me with the desire of thy buttocks, because we people of Chaldaea love great thighs, so that nor wit nor foresight was left in me. But now if thou have a mind to try another fall with me, with my wits about me, I have a right to this one bout more, by the rules of the game, for my presence of mind has now returned to me." "Hast thou not had enough of wrestling, O conquered one?" rejoined she. "However, come, if thou wilt; but know that this bout must be the last." Then they took hold of each other and he set to in earnest and warded himself against being thrown down: so they strained awhile, and the damsel found in him strength such as she had not before observed and said to him, "O Muslim, thou art on thy guard!" "Yes," replied he; "thou knowest that there remaineth but this bout, and after each of us will go his own way." She laughed and he laughed too: then she seized the opportunity to bore in upon him unawares, and gripping him by the thigh, threw him to the ground, so that he fell on his back. She laughed at him and said, "Thou art surely an eater of bran; for thou art like a Bedouin bonnet, that falls at a touch, or a child's toy, that a puff of air overturns. Out on thee, thou poor creature! Go back to the army of the Muslims and send us other than thyself, for thou lackest thews, and cry us among the Arabs and Persians and Turks and Medes, 'Whoso has might in him, let him come to us.'" Then she made a spring and landed on the other side of the stream and said to Sherkan, laughing, "It goes to my heart to part with thee; get thee to thy friends, O my lord, before the morning, lest the knights come upon thee and take thee on the points of their lances. Thou hast not strength enough to defend thee against women; so how couldst thou make head against men and cavaliers?" And she turned to go back to the monastery. Sherkan was confounded and called out to her, saying, "O my lady, wilt thou go away and leave the wretched stranger, the broken-hearted slave of love?" So she turned to him, laughing, and said, "What wouldst thou? I grant thy prayer." "Have I set foot in thy country and tasted the sweetness of thy favours," replied Sherkan, "and shall I return without eating of thy victual and tasting thy hospitality? Indeed I am become one of thy servitors." Quoth she, "None but the base refuses hospitality; on my head and eyes be it! Do me the favour to mount and ride along the bank of the stream, abreast of me, for thou art my guest." At this Sherkan rejoiced and hastening back to his horse, mounted and rode along the river-bank, keeping abreast of her, till he came to a drawbridge, that hung by pulleys and chains of steel, made fast with hooks and padlocks. Here stood the ten damsels awaiting the lady, who spoke to one of them in the Greek tongue and said to her, "Go to him and take his horse's rein and bring him over to the monastery." So she went up to Sherkan and led him over the bridge to the other side and he followed her, amazed at what he saw and saying in himself, "Would the Vizier Dendan were with me, to look on these fair faces with his own eyes." Then he turned to the young lady and said to her, "O wonder of beauty, now art thou doubly bound to me, firstly, by the bond of comradeship, and secondly for that thou carriest me to thy house and I accept of thy hospitality and am at thy disposal and under thy protection. So do me the favour to go with me to the land of Islam, where thou shalt look upon many a lion-hearted prince and know who I am." His speech angered her and she said to him, "By the virtue of the Messiah, thou art keen of wit with me! But I see now what depravity is in thy heart and how thou allowest thyself to say a thing that proves thee a traitor. How should I do what thou sayest, when I know that, if I came to thy King Omar ben Ennuman, I should never win free of him? For he has not the like of me among his women nor in his palace, all lord of Baghdad and Khorassan as he is, with his twelve palaces, in number as the months of the year, and his concubines therein, in number as the days thereof; and if I come to him, he will not respect me, for that ye hold it lawful to take possession of the like of me, as it is said in your scripture, 'That which your right hand possesses.'[FN#10] So how canst thou speak thus to me? As for thy saying, 'Thou shalt look upon the champions of the Muslims,' by the Messiah, thou sayst that which is not true; for I saw your army, when it reached our country, these two days ago, and I did not see that your ordinance was that of kings, but beheld you only as a rabble of men collected together. And as for thy saying, 'Thou shalt know who I am,' I did not show thee courtesy of any intent to honour thee, but out of pride in myself; and the like of thee should not say this to the like of me, even though thou be Sherkan himself, King Omar ben Ennuman's son, who is renowned in these days." "And dost thou know Sherkan?" asked he. "Yes," replied she; "and I know of his coming with an army of ten thousand horse, for that he was sent by his father with these troops to the succour of the King of Constantinople." "O my lady," rejoined Sherkan, "I conjure thee, as thou believest in thy religion, tell me the cause of all this, that I may know truth from falsehood and with whom the fault lies." "By the virtue of thy faith," replied she, "were it not that I fear lest the news of me be bruited abroad that I am of the daughters of the Greeks, I would adventure myself and sally forth against the ten thousand horse and kill their chief, the Vizier Dendan, and take their champion Sherkan. Nor would there be any reproach to me in this, for I have read books and know the Arabic language and have studied good breeding and polite letters. But I have no need to vaunt my own prowess to thee, for thou hast tasted of my quality and proved my strength and skill and pre-eminence in wrestling; nor if Sherkan himself had been in thy place to-night and it had been said to him, 'Leap this river,' could he have done so. And I could wish well that the Messiah would throw him into my hands here in this monastery, that I might go forth to him in the habit of a man and pull him from his saddle and take him prisoner and lay him in fetters." When Sherkan heard this, pride and heat and warlike jealousy overcame him and he was minded to discover himself and lay violent hands on her but her beauty held him back from her, and he repeated the following verse:
Their charms, whatever fault the fair commit, A thousand intercessors bring for it.
So she went up, and he after her; whilst he looked at her back and saw her buttocks smiting against each other, like the billows in the troubled sea; and he recited the following verses:
In her face an advocate harbours, who blots out her every fault From the hearts of mankind, for he is mighty to intercede. Whenas I look at her face, I cry in my wonder aloud, "The moon of the skies in the night of her full is risen indeed!" If the Afrit of Belkis[FN#11] himself should wrestle a fall with her, Her charms would throw him forthright, for all his strength and speed.
They went on till they reached a vaulted gate, arched over with marble. This she opened and entered with Sherkan into a long vestibule, vaulted with ten arches from each of which hung a lamp of crystal, shining like the rays of the sun. The damsels met her at the end of the vestibule, bearing perfumed flambeaux and having on their heads kerchiefs embroidered with all manner jewels and went on before her, till they came to the inward of the monastery, where Sherkan saw couches set up all around, facing one another and overhung with curtains spangled with gold. The floor was paved with all kinds of variegated marbles, and in the midst was a basin of water, with four-and-twenty spouts of gold around it, from which issued water like liquid silver; whilst at the upper end stood a throne covered with silks of royal purple. Then said the damsel, "O my lord, mount this throne." So he seated himself on it, and she withdrew: and when she had been absent awhile, he asked the servants of her, and they said, "She hath gone to her sleeping-chamber; but we will serve thee as thou shalt order." So they set before him rare meats and he ate till he was satisfied, when they brought him a basin of gold and an ewer of silver, and he washed his hands. Then his mind reverted to his troops, and he was troubled, knowing not what had befallen them in his absence and thinking how he had forgotten his father's injunctions, so that he abode oppressed with anxiety and repenting of what he had done, till the dawn broke and the day appeared, when he lamented and sighed and became drowned in the sea of melancholy, repeating the following verses:
I lack not of prudence and yet in this case I've been fooled; so what shift shall avail unto me? If any could ease me of love and its stress, Of my might and my virtue I'd set myself free. But alas! my heart's lost in the maze of desire, And no helper save God in my strait can I see.
Hardly had he finished, when up came more than twenty damsels like moons, encompassing the young lady, who appeared amongst them as the full moon among stars. She was clad in royal brocade and girt with a woven girdle set with various kinds of jewels, that straitly clasped her waist and made her buttocks stand out as they were a hill of crystal upholding a wand of silver; and her breasts were like double pomegranates. On her head she wore a network of pearls, gemmed with various kinds of jewels, and she moved with a coquettish swimming gait, swaying wonder-gracefully, whilst the damsels held up her skirts. When Sherkan saw her beauty and grace, he was transported for joy and forgot his army and the Vizier Dendan end springing to his feet, cried out, "Beware, beware of that girdle rare!" and repeated the following verses:
Heavy of buttocks, languorous of gait, With limber shape and breasts right delicate, She hides what passion in her bosom burns; Yet cannot I my heat dissimulate. Her maidens, like strung pearls, behind her fare, Now all dispersed now knit in ordered state.
She fixed her eyes on him and considered him awhile, till she was assured of him, when she came up to him and said, "Indeed the place is honoured and illumined by thy presence, O Sherkan! How didst thou pass the night, O hero, after we went away and left thee? Verily lying is a defect and a reproach in kings, especially in great kings; and thou art Sherkan, son of King Omar ben Ennuman; so henceforth tell me nought but truth and strive not to keep the secret of thy condition, for falsehood engenders hatred and enmity. The arrow of destiny hath fallen on thee, and it behoves thee to show resignation and submission." When Sherkan heard what she said, he saw nothing for it but to tell her the truth so he said, "I am indeed Sherkan, son of Omar ben Ennuman, whom fortune hath afflicted and cast into this place: so now do whatsoever thou wilt." She bowed her head a long while, then turned to him and said, "Reassure thyself and be of good cheer; for thou art my guest, and bread and salt have passed between us; so art thou in my safeguard and under my protection. Have no fear; by the virtue of the Messiah, if all the people of the earth sought to harm thee, they should not come at thee till the breath had left my body for thy sake; for thou art under my protection and that of the Messiah." Then she sat down by his side and began to sport with him, till his alarm subsided and he knew that, had she been minded to kill him, she would have done so on the past night. After awhile, she spoke in the Greek tongue to one of her serving-women, who went away and returned in a little with a goblet and a tray of food; but Sherkan abstained from eating, saying in himself, "Maybe she hath put somewhat in this meat." She knew what was in his thought; so she turned to him and said, "By the virtue of the Messiah, the case is not as thou deemest, nor is there aught in this food of what thou suspectest! Were I minded to kill thee, I had done so before now." Then she came to the table and ate a mouthful of every dish, whereupon Sherkan came forward and fell to. She was pleased at this, and they both ate till they were satisfied, after which she let bring perfumes and sweet-smelling herbs and wines of all colours and kinds, in vessels of gold and silver and crystal. She filled a first cup and drank it off, before offering it to Sherkan, even as she had done with the food. Then she filled a second time and gave the cup to him. He drank and she said to him, "See, O Muslim, how thou art in the utmost delight and pleasure of life!" And she ceased not to drink and to ply him with drink, till he took leave of his wits, for the wine and the intoxication of love for her. Presently she said to the serving-maid, "O Merjaneh, bring us some instruments of music." "I hear and obey," replied Merjaneh, and going out, returned immediately with a lute, a Persian harp, a Tartar flute and an Egyptian dulcimer. The young lady took the lute and tuning it, sang to it in a dulcet voice, softer than the zephyr and sweeter than the waters of Tesnim,[FN#12] the following verses:
May Allah assoilzie thine eyes! How much is the blood they have shed! How great is the tale of the shafts thy pitiless glances have sped! I honour the mistress, indeed, that harshly her suitor entreats; 'Tis sin in the loved to relent or pity a lover misled. Fair fortune and grace to the eyes that watch the night, sleepless, for thee, And hail to the heart of thy slave, by day that is heavy as lead! 'Tis thine to condemn me to death, for thou art my king and my lord. With my life I will ransom the judge, who heapeth unright on my head.
Then each of the damsels rose and taking an instrument played and sang to it in the Greek language. The lady their mistress, sang also, to Sherkan's delight. Then she said to him, "O Muslim, dost thou understand what I say?" "No," replied he; "it was the beauty of thy finger-tips that threw me into ecstasies." She laughed and said, "If I sang to thee in Arabic, what wouldst thou do?" "I should lose the mastery of my reason," replied he. So she took an instrument and changing the measure, sang the following verses:
Parting must ever bitter be; How shall one bear it patiently? Three things are heavy on my heart, Absence, estrangement, cruelty. I love a fair to whom I'm thrall, And severance bitter is to me.
Then she looked at Sherkan and found he had lost his senses for delight: and he lay amongst them insensible awhile, after which he revived and recalling the singing inclined to mirth. Then they fell again to drinking and ceased not from sport and merriment till the day departed with the evening and the night let fall her wings. Thereupon she rose and retired to her chamber. Sherkan enquired after her and being told that she was gone to her bedchamber, said, "I commend her to the safe-keeping of God and to His protection!" As soon as it was day, a waiting-woman came to him and said, "My mistress bids thee to her." So he rose and followed her, and as he drew near her lodging, the damsels received him with smitten tabrets and songs of greeting and escorted him to a great door of ivory set with pearls and jewels. Here they entered and he found himself in a spacious saloon, at the upper end of which was a great estrade, carpeted with various kinds of silk, and round it open lattices giving upon trees and streams. About the place were figures, so fashioned that the air entered them and set in motion instruments of music within them, and it seemed to the beholder as if they spoke. Here sat the young lady, looking on the figures; but when she saw Sherkan, she sprang to her feet and taking him by the hand, made him sit down by her and asked him how he had passed the night. He blessed her and they sat talking awhile, till she said to him, "Knowest thou aught touching lovers and slaves of passion?" "Yes," replied he; "I know some verses on the subject." "Let me hear them," said she. So he repeated the following verses:
Pleasure and health, O Azzeh, and good digestion to thee! How with our goods and our names and our honours thou makest free! By Allah, whene'er I blow hot, she of a sudden blows cold, And no sooner do I draw near, than off at a tangent flies she! Indeed, as I dote upon Azzeh, as soon as I've cleared me of all That stands between us and our loves, she turns and abandons me; As a traveller that trusts in the shade of a cloud for his noontide rest, But as soon as he halts, the shade flits and the cloud in the distance cloth flee.
When she heard this, she said, "Verily Kutheiyir[FN#13] was a poet of renown and a master of chaste eloquence and attained rare perfection in praise of Azzeh, especially when he says:
'If Azzeh should before a judge the sun of morning cite, Needs must the umpire doom to her the meed of beauty bright; And women all, who come to me, at her to rail and flite, God make your cheeks the sandal-soles whereon her feet alight!'
"And indeed it is reported," added she, "that Azzeh was endowed with the extreme of beauty and grace." Then she said to Sherkan, "O king's son, dost thou know aught of Jemil's[FN#14] verses to Butheineh?" "Yes," replied he; "none knows Jemil's verses better than I." And he repeated the following:
"Up and away to the holy war, Jemil!" they say; and I, "What have I to do with waging war except among the fair?" For deed and saying with them alike are full of ease and cheer, And he's a martyr[FN#15] who tilts with them and falleth fighting there. If I say to Butheineh, "What is this love, that eateth my life away?" She answers, "Tis rooted fast in thy heart and will increase fore'er." Or if I beg her to give me back some scantling of my wit, Wherewith to deal with the folk and live, she answereth, "Hope it ne'er!" Thou willst my death, ah, woe is me! thou willst nought else but that; Yet I, I can see no goal but thee, towards which my wishes fare.
"Thou hast done well, O king's son," said she, "and Jemil also did excellently well. But what would Butheineh have done with him that he says, 'Thou wishest to kill me and nought else?'" "O my lady," replied he, "she sought to do with him what thou seekest to do with me, and even that will not content thee." She laughed at his answer, and they ceased not to carouse till the day departed and the night came with the darkness. Then she rose and went to her sleeping-chamber, and Sherkan slept in his place till the morning. As soon as he awoke, the damsels came to him with tambourines and other instruments of music, according to their wont, and kissing the earth before him, said to him, "In the name of God, deign to follow us; for our mistress bids thee to her." So he rose and accompanied the girls, who escorted him, smiting on tabrets and other instruments of music, to another saloon, bigger than the first and decorated with pictures and figures of birds and beasts, passing description. Sherkan wondered at the fashion of the place and repeated the following verses:
My rival plucks, of the fruits of the necklets branching wide, Pearls of the breasts in gold enchased and beautified With running fountains of liquid silver in streams And cheeks of rose and beryl, side by side. It seemeth, indeed, as if the violet's colour vied With the sombre blue of the eyes, with antimony dyed.[FN#16]
When the lady saw Sherkan, she came to meet him, and taking him by the hand, said to him, "O son of King Omar ben Ennuman, hast thou any skill in the game of chess?" "Yes," replied he; "but do not thou be as says the poet." And he repeated the following verses:
I speak, and passion, the while, folds and unfolds me aye; But a draught of the honey of love my spirits thirst could stay. I sit at the chess with her I love, and she plays with me, With white and with black; but this contenteth me no way. Meseemeth as if the king were set in the place of the rook And sought with the rival queens a bout of the game to play. And if I looked in her eyes, to spy the drift of her moves, The amorous grace of her glance would doom me to death straightaway.
Then she brought the chess-board and played with him; but instead of looking at her moves, he looked at her face and set the knight in the place of the elephant[FN#17] and the elephant in the place of the knight. She laughed and said to him, "If this be thy play, thou knowest nothing of the game." "This is only the first bout," replied he; "take no count of it." She beat him, and he replaced the pieces and played again with her; but she beat him a second time and a third and a fourth and a fifth. So she fumed to him and said, "Thou art beaten in everything." "O my lady," answered he, "how should one not be beaten, who plays with the like of thee?" Then she called for food, and they ate and washed their hands, after which the maids brought wine, and they drank. Presently, the lady took the dulcimer, for she was skilled to play thereon, and sang to it the following verses:
Fortune is still on the shift, now gladness and now woe; I liken it to the tide, in its ceaseless ebb and flow. So drink, if thou have the power, whilst it is yet serene, Lest it at unawares depart, and thou not know.
They gave not over carousing till nightfall, and this day was pleasanter than the first. When the night came, the lady went to her sleeping-chamber, leaving Sherkan with the damsels. So he threw himself on the ground and slept till the morning, when the damsels came to him with tambourines and other musical instruments, according to their wont. When he saw them, he sat up; and they took him and carried him to their mistress, who came to meet him and taking him by the hand, made him sit down by her side. Then she asked him how he had passed the night, to which he replied by wishing her long life; and she took the lute and sang the following verses:
Incline not to parting, I pray, For bitter its taste is alway. The sun at his setting grows pale, To think he must part from the day.
Hardly had she made an end of singing, when there arose of a sudden a great clamour, and a crowd of men and knights rushed into the place, with naked swords gleaming in their hands, crying out in the Greek tongue, "Thou hast fallen into our hands, O Sherkan! Be sure of death!" When he heard this, he said to himself, "By Allah, she hath laid a trap for me and held me in play, till her men should come! These are the knights with whom she threatened me: but it is I who have thrown myself into this peril." Then he turned to the lady to reproach her, but saw that she had changed colour; and she sprang to her feet and said to the new-comers, "Who are ye?" "O noble princess and unpeered pearl," replied the knight their chief, "dost thou know who is this man with thee?" "Not I," answered she. "Who is he?" Quoth the knight, "He is the despoiler of cities and prince of cavaliers, Sherkan, son of King Omar ben Ennuman. This is he who captures the citadels and masters the most impregnable strengths. The news of him reached King Herdoub, thy father, by the report of the old princess Dhat ed Dewahi; and thou hast done good service to the army of the Greeks by helping them to lay hands on this pestilent lion." When she heard this, she looked at the knight and said to him, "What is thy name?" And he answered, "My name is Masoureh son of thy slave Mousoureh ben Kasherdeh, chief of the nobles." Quoth she, "And how camest thou in to me without my leave?" "O our lady," replied he, "when I came to the gate, neither chamberlain nor porter offered me any hindrance; but all the gate-keepers rose and forewent me as of wont; though, when others come, they leave them standing at the gate, whilst they ask leave for them to enter. But this is no time for long talk, for the King awaits our return to him with this prince, who is the mainstay of the army of Islam, that he may kill him and that his troops may depart whence they came, without our having the toil of fighting them." "Thou sayest an ill thing," rejoined the princess. "Verily, the lady Dhat ed Dewahi lied; and she hath avouched a vain thing, of which she knows not the truth; for by the virtue of the Messiah, this man who is with me is not Sherkan, nor is he a captive, but a stranger, who came to us, seeking hospitality, and we received him as a guest. So, even were we assured that this was Sherkan and did we know that it was he beyond doubt, it would suit ill with my honour that I should deliver into your hands one who hath come under my safeguard. Betray me not, therefore, in the person of my guest, neither bring me into ill repute among men; but return to the King my father and kiss the earth before him and tell him that the case is not according to the report of the lady Dhat ed Dewahi." "O Abrizeh," replied the knight Masoureh, "I cannot go back to the King without his enemy." Quoth she (and indeed she was angry), "Out on thee! Return to him with the answer, and no blame shall fall on thee." But he said, "I will not return without him." At this her colour changed and she exclaimed, "A truce to talk and idle words; for of a verity this man would not have come in to us, except he were assured that he could of himself make head against a hundred horse; and if I said to him, 'Art thou Sherkan, son of King Omar ben Ennuman?' he would answer, 'Yes.' Nathless, it is not in your power to hinder him; for if ye beset him, he will not turn back from you, till he have slain all that are in the place. Behold, he is with me and I will bring him before you, with his sword and buckler in his hands." "If I be safe from thy wrath," replied Masoureh, "I am not safe from that of thy father, and when I see him, I shall sign to the knights to take him prisoner, and we will carry him, bound and abject, to the King." When she heard this, she said, "The thing shall not pass thus, for it would be a disgrace. This man is but one and ye are a hundred. So, an ye be minded to attack him, come out against him, one after one, that it may appear to the King which is the valiant amongst you." "By the Messiah," rejoined Masoureh, "thou sayest sooth, and none but I shall go out against him first!" Then she said, "Wait till I go to him and tell him and hear what he says. If he consent, it is well but if he refuse, ye shall not anywise come at him, for I and my damsels and all that are in the house will be his ransom." So she went to Sherkan and told him the case, whereat he smiled and knew that she had not betrayed him, but that the matter had been bruited abroad, till it came to the King, against her wish. So he laid all the blame on himself, saying, "How came I to venture myself in the country of the Greeks?" Then he said to her, "Indeed, to let them tilt against me, one by one, were to lay on them a burden more than they can bear. Will they not come out against me, ten by ten?" "That were knavery and oppression," replied she. "One man is a match for another." When he heard this, he sprang to his feet and made towards them, with his sword and battle-gear; and Masoureh also sprang up and rushed on him. Sherkan met him like a lion and smote him with his sword upon the shoulder, that the blade came out gleaming from his back and vitals. When the princess saw this, Sherkan's prowess was magnified in her eyes and she knew that she had not overthrown him by her strength, but by her beauty and grace. So she turned to the knights and said to them, "Avenge your chief!" Thereupon out came the slain man's brother, a fierce warrior, and rushed upon Sherkan, who delayed not, but smote him on the shoulders, and the sword came out, gleaming, from his vitals. Then cried the princess, "O servants of the Messiah, avenge your comrades!" So they ceased not to come out against him, one by one, and he plied them with the sword, till he had slain fifty knights, whilst the princess looked on. And God cast terror into the hearts of those who were left, so that they held back and dared not meet him in single combat, but rushed on him all at once; and he drove at them with a heart firmer than a rock and smote them as the thresher smiteth the corn, till he had driven sense and life forth of them. Then the princess cried out to her damsels, saying, "Who is left in the monastery?" "None but the porters," replied they; whereupon she went up to Sherkan and embraced him, and he returned with her to the saloon, after he had made an end of the mellay. Now there remained a few of the knights hidden in the cells of the convent, and when Abrizeh saw this, she rose and going away, returned, clad in a strait-ringed coat of mail and holding in her hand a scimitar of Indian steel. And she said, "By the virtue of the Messiah, I will not be grudging of myself for my guest nor will I abandon him, though for this I abide a reproach in the land of the Greeks!" Then she counted the dead and found that he had slain fourscore of the knights and other twenty had taken flight. When she saw how he had dealt with them, she said to him, "God bless thee, O Sherkan! The cavaliers may well glory in the like of thee!" Then he rose and wiping his sword of the blood of the slain, repeated the following verses:
How often in battle I've cleft the array And given the champions to wild beasts a prey! Ask all men what happened to me and to them, When I drove through the ranks on the sword-smiting day. I left ail their lions of war overthrown: On the sun-scorched sands of those countries they lay.
When he had finished, the princess came up to him and kissed his hand; then she put off her coat of mail, and he said to her, "O my lady, wherefore didst thou don that coat of mail and bare thy sabre?" "It was of my care for thee against yonder wretches," replied she. Then she called the porters and said to them, "How came you to let the king's men enter my house, without my leave!" "O princess," replied they, "we have not used to need to ask leave for the king's messengers, and especially for the chief of the knights." Quoth she, "I think you were minded to dishonour me and slay my guest." And she bade Sherkan strike off their heads. He did so and she said to the rest of her servants, "Indeed, they deserved more than that." Then turning to Sherkan, she said to him, "Now that there hath become manifest to thee what was hidden, I will tell thee my story. Know, then, that I am the daughter of Herdoub, King of Roum; my name is Abrizeh and the old woman called Dhat ed Dewahi is my grandmother, my father's mother. She it was who told my father of thee, and she will certainly cast about to ruin me, especially as thou hast slain my father's men and it is noised abroad that I have made common cause with the Muslims. Wherefore it were wiser that I should leave dwelling here, what while Dhat ed Dewahi is behind me; but I claim of thee the like kindness and courtesy I have shown thee, for my father and I are now become at odds on thine account. So do not thou omit to do aught that I shall say to thee, for indeed all this hath fallen out through thee." At this, Sherkan was transported for joy and his breast dilated, and he said, "By Allah, none shall come at thee, whilst my life lasts in my body! But canst thou endure the parting from thy father and thy folk?" "Yes," answered she. So Sherkan swore to her and they made a covenant of this. Then said she, "Now my heart is at ease; but there is one other condition I must exact of thee." "What is that?" asked Sherkan. "It is," replied she, "that thou return with thy troops to thine own country." "O my lady," said he, "my father, King Omar ben Ennuman, sent me to make war upon thy father, on account of the treasure he took from the King of Constantinople, and amongst the rest three great jewels, rich in happy properties." "Reassure thyself," answered she; "I will tell thee the truth of the matter and the cause of the feud between us and the King of Constantinople. Know that we have a festival called the Festival of the Monastery, for which each year the kings' daughters of various countries and the wives and daughters of the notables and merchants resort to a certain monastery and abide there seven days. I was wont to resort thither with the rest; but when there befell hostility between us, my father forbade me to be present at the festival for the space of seven years. One year, it chanced that amongst the young ladies who resorted to the Festival as of wont, there came the King's daughter of Constantinople, a handsome girl called Sufiyeh. They tarried at the monastery six days, and on the seventh, the folk went away; but Sufiyeh said, 'I will not return to Constantinople, but by sea.' So they fitted her out a ship, in which she embarked, she and her suite, and put out to sea; but as they sailed, a contrary wind caught them and drove the ship from her course, till, as fate and providence would have it, she fell in with a ship of the Christians from the Island of Camphor, with a crew of five hundred armed Franks, who had been cruising about for some time. When they sighted the sails of the ship in which were Sufiyeh and her maidens, they gave chase in all haste and coming up with her before long, threw grapnels on board and made fast to her. Then they made all sail for their own island and were but a little distant from it, when the wind veered and rent their sails and cast them on to a reef on our coast. Thereupon we sallied forth on them, and looking on them as booty driven to us by fate, slew the men and made prize of the ships, in which we found the treasures and rarities in question and forty damsels, amongst whom was Sufiyeh. We carried the damsels to my father, not knowing that the King's daughter of Constantinople was among them, and he chose out ten of them, including Sufiyeh, for himself, and divided the rest among his courtiers. Then he set apart Sufiyeh and four other girls and sent them to thy father, King Omar ben Ennuman, together with other presents, such as cloth and stuffs of wool and Grecian silks. Thy father accepted them and chose out from amongst the five girls the princess Sufiyeh, daughter of King Afridoun; nor did we hear aught more of the matter till the beginning of this year, when King Afridoun wrote to my father in terms which it befits not to repeat, reproaching and menacing him and saying to him, 'Two years ago, there fell into thy hands a ship of ours, that had been seized by a company of Frankish corsairs and in which was my daughter Sufiyeh, attended by near threescore damsels. Yet thou sentest none to tell me of this and I could not make the case public, lest disgrace fall on my repute among the kings, by reason of my daughter's dishonour. So I kept the affair secret till this year, when I communicated with certain of the Frankish pirates and sought news of my daughter from the kings of the islands. They replied, "By Allah, we carried her not forth of thy realm, but we have heard that King Herdoub took her from certain pirates." And they told me all that had befallen her. So now, except thou wish to be at feud with me and design to disgrace me and dishonour my daughter, thou wilt forthright, as soon as this letter reaches thee, send my daughter back to me. But if thou pay no heed to my letter and disobey my commandment, I will assuredly requite thee thy foul dealing and the baseness of thine acts.' When my father read this letter, it was grievous to him and he regretted not having known that Sufiyeh, King Afridoun's daughter, was amongst the captured damsels, that he might have sent her back to her father; and he was perplexed about the affair, for that, after the lapse of so long a time, he could not send to King Omar ben Ennuman and demand her back from him, the more that he had lately heard that God had vouchsafed him children by this very Sufiyeh. So when we considered the matter, we knew that this letter was none other than a great calamity; and nothing would serve but that my father must write an answer to it, making his excuses to King Afridoun and swearing to him that he knew not that his daughter was among the girls in the ship and setting forth how he had sent her to King Omar ben Ennuman and God had vouchsafed him children by her. When my father's reply reached King Afridoun, he rose and sat down and roared and foamed at the mouth, exclaiming, 'What! shall he make prize of my daughter and she become a slave-girl and be passed from hand to hand and sent for a gift to kings, and they lie with her without a contract? By the virtue of the Messiah and the true faith, I will not desist till I have taken my revenge for this and wiped out my disgrace, and indeed I will do a deed that the chroniclers shall chronicle after me.' So he took patience till he had devised a plot and laid great snares, when he sent an embassy to thy father King Omar, to tell him that which thou hast heard so that thy father equipped thee and an army with thee and sent thee to him, Afridoun's object being to lay hold of thee and thine army with thee. As for the three jewels of which he told thy father, he spoke not the truth of them; for they were with Sufiyeh and my father took them from her, when she fell into his hands, she and her maidens, and gave them to me, and they are now with me. So go thou to thy troops and turn them back, ere they fare farther into the land of the Franks and the country of the Greeks; for as soon as you are come far enough into the inward of the country, they will stop the roads upon you, and there will be no escape for you from their hands till the day of rewards and punishments. I know that thy troops are still where thou leftest them, because thou didst order them to halt there three days; and they have missed thee all this time and know not what to do." When Sherkan heard her words, he was absent awhile in thought then he kissed Abrizeh's hand and said, "Praise be to God who hath bestowed thee on me and appointed thee to be the cause of my salvation and that of those who are with me! But it is grievous to me to part from thee and I know not what will become of thee after my departure." Quoth she, "Go now to thy troops and lead them back, whilst ye are yet near your own country. If the ambassadors are still with them, lay hands on them, that the case may be made manifest to thee, and after three days I will rejoin thee and we will all enter Baghdad together; but forget thou not the compact between us." Then she rose to bid him farewell and assuage the fire of longing; so she took leave of him and embraced him and wept sore; whereupon passion and desire were sore upon him and he also wept and repeated the following verses:
I bade her farewell, whilst my right hand was wiping my eyes, And still with my left, the while, I held her in close embrace. Then, "Fearest thou not disgrace?" quoth she; and I answered, "No. Sure, on the parting-day, for lovers there's no disgrace!"
Then Sherkan left her and went without the monastery, where they brought him his horse and he mounted and rode down the bank of the stream, till he came to the bridge, and crossing it, entered the forest. As soon as he was clear of the trees and came to the open country, he was aware of three horsemen pricking towards him. So he drew his sword and rode on cautiously: but as they drew near he recognized them and behold, it was the Vizier Dendan and two of his officers. When they saw him and knew him, they dismounted and saluting him, asked the reason of his absence, whereupon he told them all that had passed between him and the princess Abrizeh from first to last. The Vizier returned thanks to God the Most High for his safety and said, "Let us at once depart hence, for the ambassadors that were with us are gone to inform their king of our arrival, and belike he will hasten to fall on us and seize us." So they rode on in haste, till they came to the camp, when Sherkan commanded to depart forthright, and the army set out and journeyed by forced marches for five days, at the end of which time they alighted in a thickly wooded valley, where they rested awhile. Then they set out again and fared on till they came to the frontiers of their own country. Here they felt themselves in safety and halted to rest; and the country people came out to them with guest-gifts and victual and fodder for the cattle. They lay there and rested two days; after which Sherkan bade the Vizier Dendan fare forward to Baghdad with his troops, and he did so. But Sherkan himself abode behind with a hundred horse, till the rest of the army had been gone a day, when he mounted, he and his men, and fared on two parasangs' space, till they came to a narrow pass between two mountains and behold, there arose a great cloud of dust in their front. So they halted their horses awhile, till the dust lifted and discovered a hundred cavaliers, as they were fierce lions, cased in complete steel As soon as they came within earshot of Sherkan and his men, they cried out to them, saying, "By John and Mary, we have gotten what we hoped! We have been following you by forced marches, night and day, till we forewent you in this place. So alight and lay down your arms and yield yourselves, that we may grant you your lives." When Sherkan heard this, his eyes rolled and his cheeks flushed and he said, "O dogs of Nazarenes, how dare ye enter our country and set foot on our earth? And doth not this suffice you, but ye must adventure yourselves and give us such words as these? Do ye think to escape out of our hands and return to your country?" Then he cried out to his hundred horse, saying, "Up and at these dogs, for they are even as you in number!" So saying, he drew his sword and drove at them, without further parley, he and his hundred men. The Franks received them with hearts stouter than stone, and they met, man to man. Then fell champion upon champion and there befell a sore strife and great was the terror and the roar of the battle; nor did they leave jousting and foining and smiting with swords, till the day departed and the night came with the darkness; when they drew apart, and Sherkan mustered his men and found them all unhurt, save four who were slightly wounded. Then said he to them, "By Allah, all my life I have waded in the surging sea of war and battle, but never saw I any so firm and stout in sword-play and shock of men as these warriors!" "Know, O King," replied they, "that there is among them a Frank cavalier, who is their leader, and indeed he is a man of valour and his strokes are terrible: but, by Allah, he spares us, great and small; for whoso falls into his hands, he lets him go and forbears to slay him. By Allah, an he would, he could kill us all!" When Sherkan heard this, he was confounded and said, "To-morrow, we will draw out and defy them to single combat, for we are a hundred to their hundred; and we will seek help against them from the Lord of the heavens." Meanwhile, the Franks came to their leader and said to him, "Of a truth, we have not come by our desire of these this day." "To-morrow," quoth he, "we will draw out and joust against them, one by one." So they passed the night in this mind, and both camps kept watch till the morning. As soon as God the Most High brought on the day, King Sherkan mounted, with his hundred horse, and they betook themselves to the field, where they found the Franks ranged in battle array, and Sherkan said to his men, "Verily, our enemies are of the same mind as we; so up and at them briskly." Then came forth a herald of the Franks and cried out, saying, "Let there be no fighting betwixt us to-day, except by way of single combat, a champion of yours against one of ours!" Thereupon one of Sherkan's men came out from the ranks and spurring between the two parties, cried out, "Who is for jousting? Who is for fighting? Let no laggard nor weakling come out against me to-day!" Hardly had he made an end of speaking, when there sallied forth to him a Frankish horseman, armed cap-a-pie and clad in cloth of gold, riding on a gray horse, and he had no hair on his cheeks. He drove his horse into the midst of the field and the two champions fell to cutting and thrusting, nor was it long before the Frank smote the Muslim with his lance and unhorsing him, took him prisoner and bore him off in triumph. At this, his comrades rejoiced and forbidding him to go out again, sent forth another to the field, to whom sallied out a second Muslim, the brother of the first. The two drove at each other and fought for a little, till the Frank ran at the Muslim and throwing him off his guard by a feint, smote him with the butt-end of his spear and unhorsed him and took him prisoner. After this fashion, the Muslims ceased not to come forth and the Franks to unhorse them and take them prisoner, till the day departed and the night came with the darkness. Now they had captured twenty cavaliers of the Muslims, and when Sherkan saw this, it was grievous to him, and he mustered his men and said to them, "What is this thing that hath befallen us? To-morrow morning, I myself will go out into the field and seek to joust with their chief and learn his reason for entering our country and warn him against fighting. If he persist, we will do battle with him, and if he proffer peace, we will make peace with him." They passed the night thus, and when God brought on the day, both parties mounted and drew out in battle array. Then Sherkan was about to sally forth, when behold, more than half of the Franks dismounted and marched on foot, before one of them, who was mounted, to the midst of the field. Sherkan looked at this cavalier and behold, he was their chief. He was clad in a tunic of blue satin and a close-ringed shirt of mail; his face was as the full moon at its rising and he had no hair on his cheeks. In his hand he held a sword of Indian steel, and he was mounted on a black horse with a white star, like a dirhem, on his forehead. He spurred into the midst of the field and signing to the Muslims, cried out with fluent speech in the Arabic tongue, saying, "Ho, Sherkan! Ho, son of Omar ben Ennuman, thou that stormest the citadels and layest waste the lands, up and out to joust and battle with him who halves the field with thee! Thou art prince of thy people and I am prince of mine; and whoso hath the upper hand, the other's men shall come under his sway." Hardly had he made an end of speaking, when out came Sherkan, with a heart full of wrath, and spurring his horse into the midst of the field, drove like an angry lion at the Frank, who awaited him with calm and steadfastness and met him as a champion should. Then they fell to cutting and thrusting, nor did they cease to wheel and turn and give and take, as they were two mountains clashing together or two seas breaking one against the other, till the day departed and the night brought on the darkness, when they drew apart and returned, each to his people. As soon as Sherkan reached his comrades, he said to them, "Never in my life saw I the like of this cavalier; and he has one fashion I never yet beheld in any. It is that, when he has a chance of dealing his adversary a deadly blow, he reverses his lance and smites him with the butt. Of a truth, I know not what will be the issue between him and me; but I would we had in our army his like and the like of his men." Then he passed the night in sleep, and when it was morning, the Frank spurred out to the mid-field, where Sherkan met him, and they fell to fighting and circling one about the other, whilst all necks were stretched out to look at them; nor did they cease from battle and swordplay and thrusting with spears, till the day departed and the night came with the darkness, when they drew asunder and returned each to his own camp. Then each related to his comrades what had befallen him with his adversary, and the Frank said to his men, "To-morrow shall decide the matter." So they both passed the night in sleep, and as soon as it was day, they mounted and drove at each other and ceased not to fight till the middle of the day. Then the Frank made a shift, first spurring his horse and then checking him with the bridle, so that he stumbled and threw him; whereupon Sherkan fell on him and was about to smite him with his sword and make an end of the long strife, when the Frank cried out, "O Sherkan, this is not the fashion of champions! It is only the beaten[FN#18] who deal thus with women." When Sherkan heard this, he raised his eyes to the Frank's face and looking straitly at him, knew him for none other than the princess Abrizeh, whereupon he threw the sword from his hand and kissing the earth before her, said to her, "What moved thee to do this thing?" Quoth she, "I was minded to prove thee in the field and try thy stoutness in battle. These that are with me are all of them my women, and they are all maids; yet have they overcome thy horsemen in fair fight; and had not my horse stumbled with me, thou shouldst have seen my strength and prowess." Sherkan smiled at her speech and said, "Praised be God for safety and for my reunion with thee, O queen of the age!" Then she cried out to her damsels to loose the prisoners and dismount. They did as she bade and came and kissed the earth before her and Sherkan, who said to them, "It is the like of you that kings treasure up against the hour of need." Then he signed to his comrades to salute the princess; so they dismounted all and kissed the earth before her, for they knew the story. After this, the whole two hundred mounted and rode day and night for six days' space, till they drew near to Baghdad when they halted and Sherkan made Abrizeh and her companions put off their male attire and don the dress of the women of the Greeks. Then he despatched a company of his men to Baghdad to acquaint his father with his arrival in company with the princess Abrizeh, daughter of King Herdoub, to the intent that he might send some one to meet her. They passed the night in that place, and when God the Most High brought on the day, Sherkan and his company took horse and fared on towards the city. On the way, they met the Vizier Dendan, who had come out with a thousand horse, by commandment of King Omar, to do honour to the princess Abrizeh and to Sherkan. When they drew near, the Vizier and his company dismounted and kissed the earth before the prince and princess, then mounted again and escorted them, till they reached the city and came to the palace. Sherkan went in to his father, who rose and embraced him and questioned him of what had happened. So he told him all that had befallen him, including what the princess Abrizeh had told him and what had passed between them and how she had left her father and her kingdom and had chosen to depart and take up her abode with them. And he said to his father, "Indeed, the King of Constantinople had plotted to do us a mischief, because of his daughter Sufiyeh, for that the King of Caesarea had made known to him her history and the manner of her being made a gift to thee, he not knowing her to be King Afridoun's daughter; else would he have restored her to her father. And of a verity, we were only saved from these perils by the lady Abrizeh, and never saw I a more valiant than she!" And he went on to tell his father of the wrestling and the jousting from beginning to end. When King Omar heard his son's story, Abrizeh was exalted in his eyes, and he longed to see her and sent Sherkan to fetch her. So Sherkan went out to her and said, "The king calls for thee." She replied, "I hear and obey;" and he took her and brought her in to his father, who was seated on his throne, attended only by the eunuchs, having dismissed his courtiers and officers. The princess entered and kissing the ground before him, saluted him in choice terms. He was amazed at her fluent speech and thanked her for her dealing with his son Sherkan and bade her be seated. So she sat down and uncovered her face, which when the king saw, his reason fled and he made her draw near and showed her especial favour, appointing her a palace for herself and her damsels and assigning them due allowances. Then he asked her of the three jewels aforesaid, and she replied, "O King of the age, they are with me." So saying, she rose and going to her lodging, opened her baggage and brought out a box, from which she took a casket of gold. She opened the casket and taking out the three jewels, kissed them and gave them to the King and went away, taking his heart with her. Then the king sent for his son Sherkan and gave him one of the three jewels. Sherkan enquired of the other two, and the King replied, "O my son, I mean to give one to thy brother Zoulmekan and the other to thy sister Nuzhet ez Zeman." When Sherkan heard that he had a brother (for up to that time he had only known of his sister) he turned to his father and said to him, "O King, hast thou a son other than myself?" "Yes," answered Omar, "and he is now six years old." And he told him that his name was Zoulmekan and that he and Nuzhet ez Zeman were twins, born at a birth. This news was grievous to Sherkan, but he hid his chagrin and said, "The blessing of God the Most High be upon them!" And he threw the jewel from his hand and shook the dust off his clothes. Quoth his father, "What made thee change colour, when I told thee of this, seeing that the kingdom is assured to thee after me? For, verily, the troops have sworn to thee and the Amirs and grandees have taken the oath of succession to thee; and this one of the three jewels is thine." At this, Sherkan bowed his head and was ashamed to bandy words with his father: so he accepted the jewel and went away, knowing not what to do for excess of anger, and stayed not till he reached the princess Abrizeh's palace. When she saw him, she rose to meet him and thanked him for what he had done and called down blessings on him and his father. Then she sat down and made him sit by her side. After awhile, she saw anger in his face and questioned him, whereupon he told her that God had vouchsafed his father two children, a boy and a girl, by Sufiyeh, and that he had named the boy Zoulmekan and the girl Nuzhet ez Zeman. "He has given me one of the jewels," continued he, "and kept the other two for them. I knew not of Zoulmekan's birth till this day, and he is now six years old. So when I learnt this, wrath possessed me and I threw down the jewel: and I tell thee the reason of my anger and hide nothing from thee. But I fear lest the King take thee to wife, for he loves thee and I saw in him signs of desire for thee: so what wilt thou say, if he wish this?" "Know, O Sherkan," replied the princess, "that thy father has no dominion over me, nor can he take me without my consent; and if he take me by force, I will kill myself. As for the three jewels, it was not my intent that he should give them to either of his children and I had no thought but that he would lay them up with his things of price in his treasury; but now I desire of thy favour that thou make me a present of the jewel that he gave thee, if thou hast accepted it." "I hear and obey," replied Sherkan and gave her the jewel. Then said she, "Fear nothing," and talked with him awhile. Presently she said, "I fear lest my father hear that I am with you and sit not down with my loss, but do his endeavour to come at me; and to that end he may ally himself with King Afridoun and both come on thee with armies and so there befall a great turmoil." "O my lady," replied Sherkan, "if it please thee to sojourn with us, take no thought of them, though all that be in the earth and in the ocean gather themselves together against us!" "It is well," rejoined she; "if ye entreat me well, I will tarry with you, and if ye deal evilly by me, I will depart from you." Then she bade her maidens bring food; so they set the tables, and Sherkan ate a little and went away to his own house, anxious and troubled.
Meanwhile, King Omar betook himself to the lodging of the lady Sufiyeh, who rose to her feet, when she saw him, and stood till he was seated. Presently, his two children, Zoulmekan and Nuzbet ez Zeman, came to him, and he kissed them and hung a jewel round each one's neck, at which they rejoiced and kissed his hands. Then they went to their mother, who rejoiced in them and wished the King long life; and he said to her, "Why hast thou not told me, all this time, that thou art King Afridoun's daughter, that I might have advanced thee and enlarged thee in dignity and used thee with increase of honour and consideration?" "O King," replied Sufiyeh, "what could I desire greater or more exalted than this my standing with thee, overwhelmed as I am with thy favours and thy goodness? And God to boot hath blessed me by thee with two children, a son and a daughter." Her answer pleased the King and he set apart for her and her children a splendid palace. Moreover, he appointed for their service eunuchs and attendants and doctors and sages and astrologers and physicians and surgeons and in every way redoubled in favour and munificence towards them. Nevertheless, he was greatly occupied with love of the princess Abrizeh and burnt with desire of her night and day; and every night, he would go in to her, and talk with her and pay his court to her, but she gave him no answer, saying only, "O King of the age, I have no desire for men at this present." When he saw that she repelled him, his passion and longing increased till, at last, when he was weary of this, he called his Vizier Dendan and opening his heart to him, told him how love for the princess Abrizeh was killing him and how she refused to yield to his wishes and he could get nothing of her. Quoth the Vizier, "As soon as it is dark night, do thou take a piece of henbane, the bigness of a diner, and go in to her and drink wine with her. When the hour of leave-taking draws near, fill a last cup and dropping the henbane in it, give it to her to drink, and she will not reach her sleeping chamber, ere the drug take effect on her. Then do thou go in to her and take thy will of her." "Thy counsel is good," said the King, and going to his treasury, took thence a piece of concentrated henbane, which if an elephant smelt, he would sleep from year to year. He put it in his bosom and waited till some little of the night was past, when he betook himself to the palace of the princess, who rose to receive him; but he bade her sit down. So she sat down, and he by her, and he began to talk with her of drinking, whereupon she brought the table of wine and set it before him. Then she set on the drinking-vessels, and lighted the candles and called for fruits and confections and sweetmeats and all that pertains to drinking. So they fell to drinking and ceased not to carouse, till drunkenness crept into the princess's head. When the King saw this, he took out the piece of henbane and holding it between his fingers, filled a cup and drank it off; then filled another cup, into which he dropped the henbane, unseen of Abrizeh, and saying, "Thy health!" presented it to her. She took it and drank it off; then rose and went to her sleeping-chamber. He waited awhile, till he was assured that the drug had taken effect on her and gotten the mastery of her senses, when he went in to her and found her lying on her back, with a lighted candle at her head and another at her feet. She had put off her trousers, and the air raised the skirt of her shift and discovered what was between her thighs. When the King saw this, he took leave of his senses for desire and Satan tempted him and he could not master himself, but put off his trousers and fell upon her and did away her maidenhead. Then he went out and said to one of her women, by name Merjaneh, "Go in to thy mistress, for she calls for thee." So she went in to the princess and found her lying on her back, with the blood running down her thighs; whereupon she took a handkerchief and wiped away the blood and tended her mistress and lay by her that night. As soon as it was day, she washed the princess's hands and feet and bathed her face and mouth with rose-water, whereupon she sneezed and yawned and cast up the henbane. Then she revived and washed her hands and mouth and said to Merjaneh, "Tell me what has befallen me." So she told her what had passed and how she had found her, lying on her back, with the blood running down her thighs, wherefore she knew that the King had played the traitor with her and had undone her and taken his will of her. At this she was afflicted and shut herself up, saying to her damsels, "Let no one come in to me and say to all that I am ill, till I see what God will do with me." The news of her illness came to the King, and he sent her cordials and sherbet of sugar and confections. Some months passed thus, during which time the King's flame subsided and his desire for her cooled, so that he abstained from her. Now she had conceived by him, and in due time, her pregnancy appeared and her belly swelled, wherefore the world was straitened upon her and she said to her maid Merjaneh, "Know that it is not the folk who have wronged me, but I who sinned against myself in that I left my father and mother and country. Indeed, I abhor life, for my heart is broken and I have neither courage nor strength left. I used, when I mounted my horse, to have the mastery of him, but now I have no strength to ride. If I be brought to bed in this place, I shall be dishonoured among my women, and every one in the palace will know that he has taken my maidenhead in the way of shame; and if I return to my father, with what face shall I meet him or have recourse to him? How well says the poet: