Stories of Arabian Nights -
One thousand one Arabian Nights
The Story of the Second Calender, Son of a King
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"Madam," said the young man, addressing Zobeida,
"if you wish to know how I lost my right eye, I shall have to tell you the story
of my whole life."
I was scarcely more than a baby, when the king my father, finding me unusually
quick and clever for my age, turned his thoughts to my education. I was taught
first to read and write, and then to learn the Koran, which is the basis of our
holy religion, and the better to understand it, I read with my tutors the ablest
commentators on its teaching, and committed to memory all the traditions
respecting the Prophet, which have been gathered from the mouth of those who
were his friends. I also learnt history, and was instructed in poetry,
versification, geography, chronology, and in all the outdoor exercises in which
every prince should excel. But what I liked best of all was writing Arabic
characters, and in this I soon surpassed my masters, and gained a reputation in
this branch of knowledge that reached as far as India itself.
Now the Sultan of the Indies, curious to see a young prince with such strange
tastes, sent an ambassador to my father, laden with rich presents, and a warm
invitation to visit his court. My father, who was deeply anxious to secure the
friendship of so powerful a monarch, and held besides that a little travel would
greatly improve my manners and open my mind, accepted gladly, and in a short
time I had set out for India with the ambassador, attended only by a small suite
on account of the length of the journey, and the badness of the roads. However,
as was my duty, I took with me ten camels, laden with rich presents for the
We had been travelling for about a month, when one day we saw a cloud of dust
moving swiftly towards us; and as soon as it came near, we found that the dust
concealed a band of fifty robbers. Our men barely numbered half, and as we were
also hampered by the camels, there was no use in fighting, so we tried to
overawe them by informing them who we were, and whither we were going. The
robbers, however, only laughed, and declared that was none of their business,
and, without more words, attacked us brutally. I defended myself to the last,
wounded though I was, but at length, seeing that resistance was hopeless, and
that the ambassador and all our followers were made prisoners, I put spurs to my
horse and rode away as fast as I could, till the poor beast fell dead from a
wound in his side. I managed to jump off without any injury, and looked about to
see if I was pursued. But for the moment I was safe, for, as I imagined, the
robbers were all engaged in quarrelling over their booty.
I found myself in a country that was quite new to me, and dared not return to
the main road lest I should again fall into the hands of the robbers. Luckily my
wound was only a slight one, and after binding it up as well as I could, I
walked on for the rest of the day, till I reached a cave at the foot of a
mountain, where I passed the night in peace, making my supper off some fruits I
had gathered on the way.
I wandered about for a whole month without knowing where I was going, till at
length I found myself on the outskirts of a beautiful city, watered by winding
streams, which enjoyed an eternal spring. My delight at the prospect of mixing
once more with human beings was somewhat damped at the thought of the miserable
object I must seem. My face and hands had been burned nearly black; my clothes
were all in rags, and my shoes were in such a state that I had been forced to
abandon them altogether.
I entered the town, and stopped at a tailor s shop to inquire where I was. The
man saw I was better than my condition, and begged me to sit down, and in return
I told him my whole story. The tailor listened with attention, but his reply,
instead of giving me consolation, only increased my trouble.
"Beware," he said, "of telling any one what you have told me, for the prince who
governs the kingdom is your father's greatest enemy, and he will be rejoiced to
find you in his power."
I thanked the tailor for his counsel, and said I would do whatever he advised;
then, being very hungry, I gladly ate of the food he put before me, and accepted
his offer of a lodging in his house.
In a few days I had quite recovered from the hardships I had undergone, and then
the tailor, knowing that it was the custom for the princes of our religion to
learn a trade or profession so as to provide for themselves in times of
ill-fortune, inquired if there was anything I could do for my living. I replied
that I had been educated as a grammarian and a poet, but that my great gift was
"All that is of no use here," said the tailor. "Take my advice, put on a short
coat, and as you seem hardy and strong, go into the woods and cut firewood,
which you will sell in the streets. By this means you will earn your living, and
be able to wait till better times come. The hatchet and the cord shall be my
This counsel was very distasteful to me, but I thought I could not do otherwise
than adopt it. So the next morning I set out with a company of poor
wood-cutters, to whom the tailor had introduced me. Even on the first day I cut
enough wood to sell for a tolerable sum, and very soon I became more expert, and
had made enough money to repay the tailor all he had lent me.
I had been a wood-cutter for more than a year, when one day I wandered further
into the forest than I had ever done before, and reached a delicious green
glade, where I began to cut wood. I was hacking at the root of a tree, when I
beheld an iron ring fastened to a trapdoor of the same metal. I soon cleared
away the earth, and pulling up the door, found a staircase, which I hastily made
up my mind to go down, carrying my hatchet with me by way of protection. When I
reached the bottom I discovered that I was in a huge palace, as brilliantly
lighted as any palace above ground that I had ever seen, with a long gallery
supported by pillars of jasper, ornamented with capitals of gold. Down this
gallery a lady came to meet me, of such beauty that I forgot everything else,
and thought only of her.
To save her all the trouble possible, I hastened towards her, and bowed low.
"Who are you? Who are you?" she said. "A man or a genius?"
"A man, madam," I replied; "I have nothing to do with genii."
"By what accident do you come here?" she asked again with a sigh. "I have been
in this place now for five and twenty years, and you are the first man who has
Emboldened by her beauty and gentleness, I ventured to reply, "Before, madam, I
answer your question, allow me to say how grateful I am for this meeting, which
is not only a consolation to me in my own heavy sorrow, but may perhaps enable
me to render your lot happier," and then I told her who I was, and how I had
"Alas, prince," she said, with a deeper sigh than before, "you have guessed
rightly in supposing me an unwilling prisoner in this gorgeous place. I am the
daughter of the king of the Ebony Isle, of whose fame you surely must have
heard. At my father's desire I was married to a prince who was my own cousin;
but on my very wedding day, I was snatched up by a genius, and brought here in a
faint. For a long while I did nothing but weep, and would not suffer the genius
to come near me; but time teaches us submission, and I have now got accustomed
to his presence, and if clothes and jewels could content me, I have them in
plenty. Every tenth day, for five and twenty years, I have received a visit from
him, but in case I should need his help at any other time, I have only to touch
a talisman that stands at the entrance of my chamber. It wants still five days
to his next visit, and I hope that during that time you will do me the honour to
be my guest."
I was too much dazzled by her beauty to dream of refusing her offer, and
accordingly the princess had me conducted to the bath, and a rich dress
befitting my rank was provided for me. Then a feast of the most delicate dishes
was served in a room hung with embroidered Indian fabrics.
Next day, when we were at dinner, I could maintain my patience no longer, and
implored the princess to break her bonds, and return with me to the world which
was lighted by the sun.
"What you ask is impossible," she answered; "but stay here with me instead, and
we can be happy, and all you will have to do is to betake yourself to the forest
every tenth day, when I am expecting my master the genius. He is very jealous,
as you know, and will not suffer a man to come near me."
"Princess," I replied, "I see it is only fear of the genius that makes you act
like this. For myself, I dread him so little that I mean to break his talisman
in pieces! Awful though you think him, he shall feel the weight of my arm, and I
herewith take a solemn vow to stamp out the whole race."
The princess, who realized the consequences of such audacity, entreated me not
to touch the talisman. "If you do, it will be the ruin of both of us," said she;
"I know genii much better than you." But the wine I had drunk had confused my
brain; I gave one kick to the talisman, and it fell into a thousand pieces.
Hardly had my foot touched the talisman when the air became as dark as night, a
fearful noise was heard, and the palace shook to its very foundations. In an
instant I was sobered, and understood what I had done. "Princess!" I cried,
"what is happening?"
"Alas!" she exclaimed, forgetting all her own terrors in anxiety for me, "fly,
or you are lost."
I followed her advice and dashed up the staircase, leaving my hatchet behind me.
But I was too late. The palace opened and the genius appeared, who, turning
angrily to the princess, asked indignantly,
"What is the matter, that you have sent for me like this?"
"A pain in my heart," she replied hastily, "obliged me to seek the aid of this
little bottle. Feeling faint, I slipped and fell against the talisman, which
broke. That is really all."
"You are an impudent liar!" cried the genius. "How did this hatchet and those
shoes get here?"
"I never saw them before," she answered, "and you came in such a hurry that you
may have picked them up on the road without knowing it." To this the genius only
replied by insults and blows. I could hear the shrieks and groans of the
princess, and having by this time taken off my rich garments and put on those in
which I had arrived the previous day, I lifted the trap, found myself once more
in the forest, and returned to my friend the tailor, with a light load of wood
and a heart full of shame and sorrow.
The tailor, who had been uneasy at my long absence, was, delighted to see me;
but I kept silence about my adventure, and as soon as possible retired to my
room to lament in secret over my folly. While I was thus indulging my grief my
host entered, and said, "There is an old man downstairs who has brought your
hatchet and slippers, which he picked up on the road, and now restores to you,
as he found out from one of your comrades where you lived. You had better come
down and speak to him yourself." At this speech I changed colour, and my legs
trembled under me. The tailor noticed my confusion, and was just going to
inquire the reason when the door of the room opened, and the old man appeared,
carrying with him my hatchet and shoes.
"I am a genius," he said, "the son of the daughter of Eblis, prince of the
genii. Is not this hatchet yours, and these shoes?" Without waiting for an
answer--which, indeed, I could hardly have given him, so great was my fright--he
seized hold of me, and darted up into the air with the quickness of lightning,
and then, with equal swiftness, dropped down towards the earth. When he touched
the ground, he rapped it with his foot; it opened, and we found ourselves in the
enchanted palace, in the presence of the beautiful princess of the Ebony Isle.
But how different she looked from what she was when I had last seen her, for she
was lying stretched on the ground covered with blood, and weeping bitterly.
"Traitress!" cried the genius, "is not this man your lover?"
She lifted up her eyes slowly, and looked sadly at me. "I never saw him before,
she answered slowly. I do not know who he is."
"What!" exclaimed the genius, "you owe all your sufferings to him, and yet you
dare to say he is a stranger to you!"
"But if he really is a stranger to me," she replied, "why should I tell a lie
and cause his death?"
"Very well," said the genius, drawing his sword, "take this, and cut off his
"Alas," answered the princess, "I am too weak even to hold the sabre. And
supposing that I had the strength, why should I put an innocent man to death?"
"You condemn yourself by your refusal," said the genius; then turning to me, he
added, "and you, do you not know her?"
"How should I?" I replied, resolved to imitate the princess in her fidelity.
"How should I, when I never saw her before?"
"Cut her head off," then, "if she is a stranger to you, and I shall believe you
are speaking the truth, and will set you at liberty."
"Certainly," I answered, taking the sabre in my hands, and making a sign to the
princess to fear nothing, as it was my own life that I was about to sacrifice,
and not hers. But the look of gratitude she gave me shook my courage, and I
flung the sabre to the earth.
"I should not deserve to live," I said to the genius, "if I were such a coward
as to slay a lady who is not only unknown to me, but who is at this moment half
dead herself. Do with me as you will-- I am in your power--but I refuse to obey
your cruel command."
"I see," said the genius, "that you have both made up your minds to brave me,
but I will give you a sample of what you may expect." So saying, with one sweep
of his sabre he cut off a hand of the princess, who was just able to lift the
other to wave me an eternal farewell. Then I lost consciousness for several
When I came to myself I implored the genius to keep me no longer in this state
of suspense, but to lose no time in putting an end to my sufferings. The genius,
however, paid no attention to my prayers, but said sternly, "That is the way in
which a genius treats the woman who has betrayed him. If I chose, I could kill
you also; but I will be merciful, and content myself with changing you into a
dog, an ass, a lion, or a bird--which-ever you prefer."
I caught eagerly at these words, as giving me a faint hope of softening his
wrath. "O genius!" I cried, "as you wish to spare my life, be generous, and
spare it altogether. Grant my prayer, and pardon my crime, as the best man in
the whole world forgave his neighbour who was eaten up with envy of him."
Contrary to my hopes, the genius seemed interested in my words, and said he
would like to hear the story of the two neighbours; and as I think, madam, it
may please you, I will tell it to you also.
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