Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Story of the First Royal Mendicant
KNOW, O my mistress, that the cause of my having shaved my beard, and of the loss of my eye, was this:My father was a king, and he had a brother who was also a King, and who resided in another capital. It happened that my mother gave birth to me on the same day on which the son of my uncle was born; and years and days passed away until we attained to manhood. Now, it was my custom, some years, to visit my uncle, and to remain with him several months; and on one of these occasions my cousin paid me great honour; he slaughtered sheep for me, and strained the wine for me, and we sat down to drink; and when the wine had affected us, he said to me, O son of my uncle, I have need of thine assistance in an affair of interest to me, and I beg that thou wilt not oppose me in that which I desire to do. I replied, I am altogether at thy service:and he made me swear to him by great oaths, and, rising immediately, absented himself for a little while, and then returned, followed by a woman decked with ornaments, and perfumed, and wearing a dress of extraordinary value. He looked towards me, while the woman stood behind him, and said, Take this woman, and go before me to the burial-ground which is in such a place: and he described it to me, and I knew it. He then added, Enter the burial-ground, and there wait for me.
I could not oppose him, nor refuse to comply with this request, on account of the oaths which I had sworn to him; so I took the woman, and went with her to the burial-ground; and when we had sat there a short time, my cousin came, bearing a basin of water, and a bag containing some plaster, and a small adze. Going to a tomb in the midst of the burial-ground, he took the adze, and disunited the stones, which he placed on one side; he then dug up the earth with the adze, and uncovered a flat stone, of the size of a small door, under which there appeared a vaulted staircase. Having done this, he made a sign to the woman, and said to her, Do according to thy choice:whereupon she descended the stairs. He then looked towards me, and said, O son of my uncle, complete thy kindness when I have descended into this place, by replacing the trap-door and the earth above it as they were before: then, this plaster which is in the bag, and this water which is in the basin, do thou knead together, and plaster the stones of the tomb as they were, so that no man may know it, and say, This hath been lately opened, but its interior is old:for, during the space of a whole year I have been preparing this, and no one knew it but God: this is what I would have thee do. He then said to me, May God never deprive thy friends of thy presence, O son of my uncle!and, having uttered these words, he descended the stairs.
When he had disappeared from before my eyes, I replaced the trap-door, and busied myself with doing as he had ordered me, until the tomb was restored to the state in which it was at first; after which I returned to the palace of my uncle, who was then absent on a hunting excursion. I slept that night, and when the morning came, I reflected upon what had occurred between me and my cousin, and repented of what I had done for him, when repentance was of no avail. I then went out to the burial-ground, and searched for the tomb; but could not discover it. I ceased not in my search until the approach of night; and, not finding the way to it, returned again to the palace; and I neither ate nor drank; my heart was troubled respecting my cousin, since I knew not what had become of him; and I fell into excessive grief. I passed the night sorrowful until the morning, and went again to the burial-ground, reflecting upon the action of my cousin, and repenting of my compliance with his request; and I searched among all the tombs; but discovered not that for which I looked. Thus I persevered in my search seven days without success.
My trouble continued and increased until I was almost mad; and I found no relief but in departing, and returning to my father; but on my arrival at his capital, a party at the city-gate sprang upon me and bound me. I was struck with the utmost astonishment, considering that I was the son of the Sultan of the city, and that these were the servants of my father and of myself: excessive fear of them overcame me, and I said within myself, What hath happened to my father? I asked, of those who had bound me, the cause of this conduct; but they returned me no answer, till after a while, when one of them, who had been my servant, said to me, Fortune hath betrayed thy father, the troops have been false to him, and the Wezir hath killed him; and we were lying in wait to take thee.They took me, and I was as one dead, by reason of this news which I had heard respecting my father; and I stood before the Wezir who had killed my father.
Now, there was an old enmity subsisting between me and him; and the cause of it was this:I was fond of shooting with the crossbow; and it happened, one day, that as I was standing on the roof of my palace, a bird alighted on the roof of the palace of the Wezir, who was standing there at the time, and I aimed at the bird; but the bullet missed it, and struck the eye of the Wezir, and knocked it out, in accordance with the appointment of fate and destiny, as the poet hath said:
We trod the steps appointed for us: and the man whose steps are appointed must tread them.
He whose death is decreed to take place in one land will not die in any land but that.
When I had thus put out the eye of the Wezir, he could say nothing, because my father was King of the city. This was the cause of the enmity between him and me: and when I stood before him, with my hands bound behind me, he gave the order to strike off my head. I said to him, Wouldst thou kill me for no offence?What offence, he exclaimed, could be greater than this?and he pointed to the place of the eye which was put out. I did that, said I, unintentionally. He replied, If thou didst it unintentionally, I will do the same to thee purposely:and immediately he said, Bring him forward to me:and, when they had done so, he thrust his finger into my left eye, and pulled it out. Thus I became deprived of one eye, as ye see me. He then bound me firmly, and placed me in a chest, and said to the executioner, Take this fellow, and draw thy sword, and convey him without the city; then put him to death, and let the wild beasts devour him.
Accordingly, he went forth with me from the city, and, having taken me out from the chest, bound hand and foot, was about to bandage my eye, and kill me; whereupon I wept, and exclaimed,
How many brothers have I taken as armour! and such they were; but to guard my enemies.
I thought they would be as piercing arrows: and such they were; but to enter my heart!
The executioner, who had served my father in the same capacity, and to whom I had shewn kindnesses, said, on hearing these verses, O my master, what can I do, being a slave under command?but presently he added, Depart with thy life, and return not to this country, lest thou perish, and cause me to perish with thee. The poet saith,
Flee with thy life if thou fearest oppression, and leave the house to tell its builders fate.
Thou wilt find, for the land that thou quittest, another: but no soul wilt thou find to replace thine own.
As soon as he had thus said, I kissed his hands, and believed not in my safety until I had fled from his presence. The loss of my eye appeared light to me when I considered my escape from death; and I journeyed to my uncles capital, and, presenting myself before him, informed him of what had befallen my father, and of the manner in which I had lost my eye: upon which he wept bitterly, and said, Thou hast added to my trouble and my grief; for thy cousin hath been lost for some days, and I know not what hath happened to him, nor can any one give me information respecting him. Then he wept again, until he became insensible; and when he recovered, he said, O my son, the loss of thine eye is better than the loss of thy life.
Upon this I could no longer keep silence respecting his son, my cousin; so I informed him of all that happened to him; and on hearing this news he rejoiced exceedingly, and said, Shew me the tomb.By Allah, O my uncle, I replied, I know not where it is; for I went afterwards several times to search for it, and could not recognize its place. We, however, went together to the burial-ground, and, looking to the right and left, I discovered it; and both I and my uncle rejoiced. I then entered the tomb with him, and when we had removed the earth, and lifted up the trap-door, we descended fifty steps, and arriving at the bottom of the stairs, there issued forth upon us a smoke which blinded our eyes; whereupon my uncle pronounced those words which relieve from fear him who uttereth them,There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great!After this, we proceeded, and found ourselves in a saloon, filled with flour and grain, and various eatables; and we saw there a curtain suspended over a couch, upon which my uncle looked, and found there his son and the woman who had descended with him, lying side by side, and converted into black charcoal, as if they had been thrown into a pit of fire. And when he beheld this spectacle, he spat in his sons face, and exclaimed, This is what thou deservest, O thou wretch! This is the punishment of the present world, and there remaineth the punishment of the other world, which will be more severe and lasting!and he struck him with his shoes. Astonished at this action, and grieved for my cousin, seeing him and the damsel thus converted into charcoal, I said, By Allah, O my uncle, moderate the trouble of thy heart, for my mind is perplexed by that which hath happened to thy son, and by thinking how it hath come to pass that he and the damsel are converted into black charcoal. Dost thou not deem it enough for him to be in this state, that thou beatest him with thy shoes?
O son of my brother, he replied, this my son was, from his early years, inflamed with love for his [foster-] sister, and I used to forbid him from entertaining this passion for her, and to say within myself, They are now children, but when they grow older a base act will be committed by them:and, indeed, I heard that such had been the case, but I believed it not. I, however, reprimanded him severely, and said to him, Beware of so foul an action, which none before thee hath committed, nor will any commit after thee: otherwise we shall suffer disgrace and disparagement among the Kings until we die, and our history will spread abroad with the caravans: have a care for thyself that such an action proceed not from thee; for I should be incensed against thee, and kill thee. I then separated him from her, and her from him: but the vile woman loved him excessively; the Devil got possession of them both; and when my son saw that I had separated him, he secretly made this place beneath the earth, and, having conveyed hither the provisions which thou seest, took advantage of my inadvertence when I had gone out to hunt, and came hither; but the Truth (whose perfection be extolled, and whose name be exalted!) was jealously vigilant over them, and consumed them by fire; and the punishment of the world to come will be more severe and lasting.He then wept, and I wept with him; and he said to me, Thou art my son in his stead.I remained a while reflecting upon the world and its vicissitudes, upon the murder of my father by the Wezir, and his usurping his throne, and the loss of my eye, and the strange events which had happened to my cousin, and I wept again.
We then ascended, and, having replaced the trap-door and the earth above it, and restored the tomb to its former state, returned to our abode; but scarcely had we seated ourselves when we heard the sounds of drums and trumpets, warriors galloped about, and the air was filled with dust raised by the horses hoofs. Our minds were perplexed, not knowing what had happened, and the King, asking the news, was answered, The Wezir of thy brother hath slain him and his soldiers and guards, and come with his army to assault the city unawares; and the inhabitants, being unable to withstand, have submitted to him:whereupon I said within myself. If I fall into his hand, he will slay me.Griefs overwhelmed me, and I thought of the calamities which had befallen my father and my mother, and knew not what to do; for if I appeared, the people of the city would know me, and the troops of my father would hasten to kill and destroy me. I knew no way of escape but to shave off my beard; so I shaved it, and, having changed my clothes, departed from the city, and came hither, to this abode of peace, in the hope that some person would introduce me to the Prince of the Faithful, the Khalifeh of the Lord of all creatures, that I might relate to him my story, and all that had befallen me. I arrived in this city this night; and as I stood perplexed, not knowing whither to direct my steps, I saw this mendicant, and saluted him, and said, I am a stranger. He replied, And I, too, am a stranger:and while we were thus addressing each other, our companion, this third person, came up to us, and, saluting us, said, I am a stranger. We replied, And we, also, are strangers. So we walked on together, and darkness overtook us, and destiny directed us unto your abode:This was the cause of the shaving of my beard, and of the loss of my eye.
The lady then said to him, Stroke thy head, and depart;but he replied, I will not depart until I have heard the stories of the others. And they wondered at his tale; and the Khalifeh said to Jafar, Verily I have never known the like of that which hath happened to this mendicant.