Stories of Arabian Nights -
One thousand one Arabian Nights
The Story of Two Sisters Who Were Jealous of Their Younger Sister
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Once upon a time there reigned over Persia a
Sultan named Kosrouschah, who from his boyhood had been fond of putting on a
disguise and seeking adventures in all parts of the city, accompanied by one of
his officers, disguised like himself. And no sooner was his father buried and
the ceremonies over that marked his accession to the throne, than the young man
hastened to throw off his robes of state, and calling to his vizir to make ready
likewise, stole out in the simple dress of a private citizen into the less known
streets of the capital.
Passing down a lonely street, the Sultan heard women's voices in loud
discussion; and peeping through a crack in the door, he saw three sisters,
sitting on a sofa in a large hall, talking in a very lively and earnest manner.
Judging from the few words that reached his ear, they were each explaining what
sort of men they wished to marry.
"I ask nothing better," cried the eldest, "than to have the Sultan's baker for a
husband. Think of being able to eat as much as one wanted, of that delicious
bread that is baked for his Highness alone! Let us see if your wish is as good
"I," replied the second sister, "should be quite content with the Sultan's head
cook. What delicate stews I should feast upon! And, as I am persuaded that the
Sultan's bread is used all through the palace, I should have that into the
bargain. You see, my dear sister, my taste is as good as yours."
It was now the turn of the youngest sister, who was by far the most beautiful of
the three, and had, besides, more sense than the other two. "As for me," she
said, "I should take a higher flight; and if we are to wish for husbands,
nothing less than the Sultan himself will do for me."
The Sultan was so much amused by the conversation he had overheard, that he made
up his mind to gratify their wishes, and turning to the grand-vizir, he bade him
note the house, and on the following morning to bring the ladies into his
The grand-vizir fulfilled his commission, and hardly giving them time to change
their dresses, desired the three sisters to follow him to the palace. Here they
were presented one by one, and when they had bowed before the Sultan, the
sovereign abruptly put the question to them:
"Tell me, do you remember what you wished for last night, when you were making
merry? Fear nothing, but answer me the truth."
These words, which were so unexpected, threw the sisters into great confusion,
their eyes fell, and the blushes of the youngest did not fail to make an
impression on the heart of the Sultan. All three remained silent, and he
hastened to continue: "Do not be afraid, I have not the slightest intention of
giving you pain, and let me tell you at once, that I know the wishes formed by
each one. You," he said, turning to the youngest, "who desired to have me for an
husband, shall be satisfied this very day. And you," he added, addressing
himself to the other two, "shall be married at the same moment to my baker and
to my chief cook."
When the Sultan had finished speaking the three sisters flung themselves at his
feet, and the youngest faltered out, "Oh, sire, since you know my foolish words,
believe, I pray you, that they were only said in joke. I am unworthy of the
honour you propose to do me, and I can only ask pardon for my boldness."
The other sisters also tried to excuse themselves, but the Sultan would hear
"No, no," he said, "my mind is made up. Your wishes shall be accomplished."
So the three weddings were celebrated that same day, but with a great
difference. That of the youngest was marked by all the magnificence that was
customary at the marriage of the Shah of Persia, while the festivities attending
the nuptials of the Sultan's baker and his chief cook were only such as were
suitable to their conditions.
This, though quite natural, was highly displeasing to the elder sisters, who
fell into a passion of jealousy, which in the end caused a great deal of trouble
and pain to several people. And the first time that they had the opportunity of
speaking to each other, which was not till several days later at a public bath,
they did not attempt to disguise their feelings.
"Can you possibly understand what the Sultan saw in that little cat," said one
to the other, "for him to be so fascinated by her?"
"He must be quite blind," returned the wife of the chief cook. "As for her
looking a little younger than we do, what does that matter? You would have made
a far better Sultana than she."
"Oh, I say nothing of myself," replied the elder, "and if the Sultan had chosen
you it would have been all very well; but it really grieves me that he should
have selected a wretched little creature like that. However, I will be revenged
on her somehow, and I beg you will give me your help in the matter, and to tell
me anything that you can think of that is likely to mortify her."
In order to carry out their wicked scheme the two sisters met constantly to talk
over their ideas, though all the while they pretended to be as friendly as ever
towards the Sultana, who, on her part, invariably treated them with kindness.
For a long time no plan occurred to the two plotters that seemed in the least
likely to meet with success, but at length the expected birth of an heir gave
them the chance for which they had been hoping.
They obtained permission of the Sultan to take up their abode in the palace for
some weeks, and never left their sister night or day. When at last a little boy,
beautiful as the sun, was born, they laid him in his cradle and carried it down
to a canal which passed through the grounds of the palace. Then, leaving it to
its fate, they informed the Sultan that instead of the son he had so fondly
desired the Sultana had given birth to a puppy. At this dreadful news the Sultan
was so overcome with rage and grief that it was with great difficulty that the
grand-vizir managed to save the Sultana from his wrath.
Meanwhile the cradle continued to float peacefully along the canal till, on the
outskirts of the royal gardens, it was suddenly perceived by the intendant, one
of the highest and most respected officials in the kingdom.
"Go," he said to a gardener who was working near, "and get that cradle out for
The gardener did as he was bid, and soon placed the cradle in the hands of the
The official was much astonished to see that the cradle, which he had supposed
to be empty, contained a baby, which, young though it was, already gave promise
of great beauty. Having no children himself, although he had been married some
years, it at once occurred to him that here was a child which he could take and
bring up as his own. And, bidding the man pick up the cradle and follow him, he
turned towards home.
"My wife," he exclaimed as he entered the room, "heaven has denied us any
children, but here is one that has been sent in their place. Send for a nurse,
and I will do what is needful publicly to recognise it as my son."
The wife accepted the baby with joy, and though the intendant saw quite well
that it must have come from the royal palace, he did not think it was his
business to inquire further into the mystery.
The following year another prince was born and sent adrift, but happily for the
baby, the intendant of the gardens again was walking by the canal, and carried
it home as before.
The Sultan, naturally enough, was still more furious the second time than the
first, but when the same curious accident was repeated in the third year he
could control himself no longer, and, to the great joy of the jealous sisters,
commanded that the Sultana should be executed. But the poor lady was so much
beloved at Court that not even the dread of sharing her fate could prevent the
grand-vizir and the courtiers from throwing themselves at the Sultan's feet and
imploring him not to inflict so cruel a punishment for what, after all, was not
"Let her live," entreated the grand-vizir, "and banish her from your presence
for the rest of her days. That in itself will be punishment enough."
His first passion spent, the Sultan had regained his self-command. "Let her live
then," he said, "since you have it so much at heart. But if I grant her life it
shall only be on one condition, which shall make her daily pray for death. Let a
box be built for her at the door of the principal mosque, and let the window of
the box be always open. There she shall sit, in the coarsest clothes, and every
Mussulman who enters the mosque shall spit in her face in passing. Anyone that
refuses to obey shall be exposed to the same punishment himself. You, vizir,
will see that my orders are carried out."
The grand-vizir saw that it was useless to say more, and, full of triumph, the
sisters watched the building of the box, and then listened to the jeers of the
people at the helpless Sultana sitting inside. But the poor lady bore herself
with so much dignity and meekness that it was not long before she had won the
sympathy of those that were best among the crowd.
But it is now-time to return to the fate of the third baby, this time a
princess. Like its brothers, it was found by the intendant of the gardens, and
adopted by him and his wife, and all three were brought up with the greatest
care and tenderness.
As the children grew older their beauty and air of distinction became more and
more marked, and their manners had all the grace and ease that is proper to
people of high birth. The princes had been named by their foster-father Bahman
and Perviz, after two of the ancient kings of Persia, while the princess was
called Parizade, or the child of the genii.
The intendant was careful to bring them up as befitted their real rank, and soon
appointed a tutor to teach the young princes how to read and write. And the
princess, determined not to be left behind, showed herself so anxious to learn
with her brothers, that the intendant consented to her joining in their lessons,
and it was not long before she knew as much as they did.
From that time all their studies were done in common. They had the best masters
for the fine arts, geography, poetry, history and science, and even for sciences
which are learned by few, and every branch seemed so easy to them, that their
teachers were astonished at the progress they made. The princess had a passion
for music, and could sing and play upon all sorts of instruments she could also
ride and drive as well as her brothers, shoot with a bow and arrow, and throw a
javelin with the same skill as they, and sometimes even better.
In order to set off these accomplishments, the intendant resolved that his
foster children should not be pent up any longer in the narrow borders of the
palace gardens, where he had always lived, so he bought a splendid country house
a few miles from the capital, surrounded by an immense park. This park he filled
with wild beasts of various sorts, so that the princes and princess might hunt
as much as they pleased.
When everything was ready, the intendant threw himself at the Sultan's feet, and
after referring to his age and his long services, begged his Highness's
permission to resign his post. This was granted by the Sultan in a few gracious
words, and he then inquired what reward he could give to his faithful servant.
But the intendant declared that he wished for nothing except the continuance of
his Highness's favour, and prostrating himself once more, he retired from the
Five or six months passed away in the pleasures of the country, when death
attacked the intendant so suddenly that he had no time to reveal the secret of
their birth to his adopted children, and as his wife had long been dead also, it
seemed as if the princes and the princess would never know that they had been
born to a higher station than the one they filled. Their sorrow for their father
was very deep, and they lived quietly on in their new home, without feeling any
desire to leave it for court gaieties or intrigues.
One day the princes as usual went out to hunt, but their sister remained alone
in her apartments. While they were gone an old Mussulman devotee appeared at the
door, and asked leave to enter, as it was the hour of prayer. The princess sent
orders at once that the old woman was to be taken to the private oratory in the
grounds, and when she had finished her prayers was to be shown the house and
gardens, and then to be brought before her.
Although the old woman was very pious, she was not at all indifferent to the
magnificence of all around her, which she seemed to understand as well as to
admire, and when she had seen it all she was led by the servants before the
princess, who was seated in a room which surpassed in splendour all the rest.
"My good woman," said the princess pointing to a sofa, "come and sit beside me.
I am delighted at the opportunity of speaking for a few moments with so holy a
person." The old woman made some objections to so much honour being done her,
but the princess refused to listen, and insisted that her guest should take the
best seat, and as she thought she must be tired ordered refreshments.
While the old woman was eating, the princess put several questions to her as to
her mode of life, and the pious exercises she practiced, and then inquired what
she thought of the house now that she had seen it.
"Madam," replied the pilgrim, "one must be hard indeed to please to find any
fault. It is beautiful, comfortable and well ordered, and it is impossible to
imagine anything more lovely than the garden. But since you ask me, I must
confess that it lacks three things to make it absolutely perfect."
"And what can they be?" cried the princess. "Only tell me, and I will lose no
time in getting them."
"The three things, madam," replied the old woman, "are, first, the Talking Bird,
whose voice draws all other singing birds to it, to join in chorus. And second,
the Singing Tree, where every leaf is a song that is never silent. And lastly
the Golden Water, of which it is only needful to pour a single drop into a basin
for it to shoot up into a fountain, which will never be exhausted, nor will the
basin ever overflow."
"Oh, how can I thank you," cried the princess, "for telling me of such
treasures! But add, I pray you. to your goodness by further informing me where I
can find them."
"Madam," replied the pilgrim, "I should ill repay the hospitality you have shown
me if I refused to answer your question. The three things of which I have spoken
are all to be found in one place, on the borders of this kingdom, towards India.
Your messenger has only to follow the road that passes by your house, for twenty
days, and at the end of that time, he is to ask the first person he meets for
the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree, and the Golden Water." She then rose, and
bidding farewell to the princess, went her way.
The old woman had taken her departure so abruptly that the Princess Parizade did
not perceive till she was really gone that the directions were hardly clear
enough to enable the search to be successful. And she was still thinking of the
subject, and how delightful it would be to possess such rarities, when the
princes, her brothers, returned from the chase.
"What is the matter, my sister?" asked Prince Bahman; "why are you so grave? Are
you ill? or has anything happened?"
Princess Parizade did not answer directly, but at length she raised her eyes,
and replied that there was nothing wrong.
"But there must be something," persisted Prince Bahman, "for you to have changed
so much during the short time we have been absent. Hide nothing from us, I
beseech you, unless you wish us to believe that the confidence we have always
had in one another is now to cease."
"When I said that it was nothing," said the princess, moved by his words, "I
meant that it was nothing that affected you, although I admit that it is
certainly of some importance to me. Like myself, you have always thought this
house that our father built for us was perfect in every respect, but only to-day
I have learned that three things are still lacking to complete it. These are the
Talking Bird, the Singing Tree, and the Golden Water." After explaining the
peculiar qualities of each, the princess continued: "It was a Mussulman devotee
who told me all this, and where they might all be found. Perhaps you will think
that the house is beautiful enough as it is, and that we can do quite well
without them; but in this I cannot agree with you, and I shall never be content
until I have got them. So counsel me, I pray, whom to send on the undertaking."
"My dear sister," replied Prince Bahman, "that you should care about the matter
is quite enough, even if we took no interest in it ourselves. But we both feel
with you, and I claim, as the elder, the right to make the first attempt, if you
will tell me where I am to go, and what steps I am to take."
Prince Perviz at first objected that, being the head of the family, his brother
ought not to be allowed to expose himself to danger; but Prince Bahman would
hear nothing, and retired to make the needful preparations for his journey.
The next morning Prince Bahman got up very early, and after bidding farewell to
his brother and sister, mounted his horse. But just as he was about to touch it
with his whip, he was stopped by a cry from the princess.
"Oh, perhaps after all you may never come back; one never can tell what
accidents may happen. Give it up, I implore you, for I would a thousand times
rather lose the Talking Bird, and the Singing Tree and the Golden Water, than
that you should run into danger."
"My dear sister," answered the prince, "accidents only happen to unlucky people,
and I hope that I am not one of them. But as everything is uncertain, I promise
you to be very careful. Take this knife," he continued, handing her one that
hung sheathed from his belt, "and every now and then draw it out and look at it.
As long as it keeps bright and clean as it is to-day, you will know that I am
living; but if the blade is spotted with blood, it will be a sign that I am
dead, and you shall weep for me."
So saying, Prince Bahman bade them farewell once more, and started on the high
road, well mounted and fully armed. For twenty days he rode straight on, turning
neither to the right hand nor to the left, till he found himself drawing near
the frontiers of Persia. Seated under a tree by the wayside he noticed a hideous
old man, with a long white moustache, and beard that almost fell to his feet.
His nails had grown to an enormous length, and on his head he wore a huge hat,
which served him for an umbrella.
Prince Bahman, who, remembering the directions of the old woman, had been since
sunrise on the look-out for some one, recognised the old man at once to be a
dervish. He dismounted from his horse, and bowed low before the holy man, saying
by way of greeting, "My father, may your days be long in the land, and may all
your wishes be fulfilled!"
The dervish did his best to reply, but his moustache was so thick that his words
were hardly intelligible, and the prince, perceiving what was the matter, took a
pair of scissors from his saddle pockets, and requested permission to cut off
some of the moustache, as he had a question of great importance to ask the
dervish. The dervish made a sign that he might do as he liked, and when a few
inches of his hair and beard had been pruned all round the prince assured the
holy man that he would hardly believe how much younger he looked. The dervish
smiled at his compliments, and thanked him for what he had done.
"Let me," he said, "show you my gratitude for making me more comfortable by
telling me what I can do for you."
"Gentle dervish," replied Prince Bahman, "I come from far, and I seek the
Talking Bird, the Singing Tree, and the Golden Water. I know that they are to be
found somewhere in these parts, but I am ignorant of the exact spot. Tell me, I
pray you, if you can, so that I may not have travelled on a useless quest."
While he was speaking, the prince observed a change in the countenance of the
dervish, who waited for some time before he made reply.
"My lord," he said at last, "I do know the road for which you ask, but your
kindness and the friendship I have conceived for you make me loth to point it
"But why not?" inquired the prince. "What danger can there be?"
"The very greatest danger," answered the dervish. "Other men, as brave as you,
have ridden down this road, and have put me that question. I did my best to turn
them also from their purpose, but it was of no use. Not one of them would listen
to my words, and not one of them came back. Be warned in time, and seek to go no
"I am grateful to you for your interest in me," said Prince Bahman, "and for the
advice you have given, though I cannot follow it. But what dangers can there be
in the adventure which courage and a good sword cannot meet?"
"And suppose," answered the dervish, "that your enemies are invisible, how
"Nothing will make me give it up," replied the prince, "and for the last time I
ask you to tell me where I am to go."
When the dervish saw that the prince's mind was made up, he drew a ball from a
bag that lay near him, and held it out. "If it must be so," he said, with a
sigh, "take this, and when you have mounted your horse throw the ball in front
of you. It will roll on till it reaches the foot of a mountain, and when it
stops you will stop also. You will then throw the bridle on your horse's neck
without any fear of his straying, and will dismount. On each side you will see
vast heaps of big black stones, and will hear a multitude of insulting voices,
but pay no heed to them, and, above all, beware of ever turning your head. If
you do, you will instantly become a black stone like the rest. For those stones
are in reality men like yourself, who have been on the same quest, and have
failed, as I fear that you may fail also. If you manage to avoid this pitfall,
and to reach the top of the mountain, you will find there the Talking Bird in a
splendid cage, and you can ask of him where you are to seek the Singing Tree and
the Golden Water. That is all I have to say. You know what you have to do, and
what to avoid, but if you are wise you will think of it no more, but return
whence you have come."
The prince smilingly shook his head, and thanking the dervish once more, he
sprang on his horse and threw the ball before him.
The ball rolled along the road so fast that Prince Bahman had much difficulty in
keeping up with it, and it never relaxed its speed till the foot of the mountain
was reached. Then it came to a sudden halt, and the prince at once got down and
flung the bridle on his horse's neck. He paused for a moment and looked round
him at the masses of black stones with which the sides of the mountain were
covered, and then began resolutely to ascend. He had hardly gone four steps when
he heard the sound of voices around him, although not another creature was in
"Who is this imbecile?" cried some, "stop him at once." "Kill him," shrieked
others, "Help! robbers! murderers! help! help!" "Oh, let him alone," sneered
another, and this was the most trying of all, "he is such a beautiful young man;
I am sure the bird and the cage must have been kept for him."
At first the prince took no heed to all this clamour, but continued to press
forward on his way. Unfortunately this conduct, instead of silencing the voices,
only seemed to irritate them the more, and they arose with redoubled fury, in
front as well as behind. After some time he grew bewildered, his knees began to
tremble, and finding himself in the act of falling, he forgot altogether the
advice of the dervish. He turned to fly down the mountain, and in one moment
became a black stone.
As may be imagined, Prince Perviz and his sister were all this time in the
greatest anxiety, and consulted the magic knife, not once but many times a day.
Hitherto the blade had remained bright and spotless, but on the fatal hour on
which Prince Bahman and his horse were changed into black stones, large drops of
blood appeared on the surface. "Ah! my beloved brother," cried the princess in
horror, throwing the knife from her, "I shall never see you again, and it is I
who have killed you. Fool that I was to listen to the voice of that temptress,
who probably was not speaking the truth. What are the Talking Bird and the
Singing Tree to me in comparison with you, passionately though I long for them!"
Prince Perviz's grief at his brother's loss was not less than that of Princess
Parizade, but he did not waste his time on useless lamentations.
"My sister," he said, "why should you think the old woman was deceiving you
about these treasures, and what would have been her object in doing so! No, no,
our brother must have met his death by some accident, or want of precaution, and
to-morrow I will start on the same quest."
Terrified at the thought that she might lose her only remaining brother, the
princess entreated him to give up his project, but he remained firm. Before
setting out, however, he gave her a chaplet of a hundred pearls, and said, "When
I am absent, tell this over daily for me. But if you should find that the beads
stick, so that they will not slip one after the other, you will know that my
brother's fate has befallen me. Still, we must hope for better luck."
Then he departed, and on the twentieth day of his journey fell in with the
dervish on the same spot as Prince Bahman had met him, and began to question him
as to the place where the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree and the Golden Water
were to be found. As in the case of his brother, the dervish tried to make him
give up his project, and even told him that only a few weeks since a young man,
bearing a strong resemblance to him-self, had passed that way, but had never
come back again.
"That, holy dervish," replied Prince Perviz, "was my elder brother, who is now
dead, though how he died I cannot say."
"He is changed into a black stone," answered the dervish, "like all the rest who
have gone on the same errand, and you will become one likewise if you are not
more careful in following my directions." Then he charged the prince, as he
valued his life, to take no heed of the clamour of voices that would pursue him
up the mountain, and handing him a ball from the bag, which still seemed to be
half full, he sent him on his way.
When Prince Perviz reached the foot of the mountain he jumped from his horse,
and paused for a moment to recall the instructions the dervish had given him.
Then he strode boldly on, but had scarcely gone five or six paces when he was
startled by a man's voice that seemed close to his ear, exclaiming: "Stop, rash
fellow, and let me punish your audacity." This outrage entirely put the
dervish's advice out of the prince's head. He drew his sword, and turned to
avenge himself, but almost before he had realised that there was nobody there,
he and his horse were two black stones.
Index of stories of Arabian nights