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The Prince And The Lions

from The Diamond Fairy Book





From the Persian.


IN an Eastern city there once lived a young Prince named Azgid. He was
virtuous and accomplished, but had one fault--he was a bit of a coward!

Prince Azgid's father had recently died, and he was looking forward to
his coronation. A few days before the day fixed for the ceremony, the
old Vizier called upon the Prince and informed His Royal Highness that
before he could ascend the throne he must in accordance with an ancient
custom, fight a certain huge red lion which was kept in a den within the
precincts of the palace.

The Prince, upon hearing this, was so frightened that he made up his
mind to run away. He rose in the night, dressed himself hastily,
mounted his horse, and left the city. Thus he journeyed for three days.

In the course of the third day, as he rode through a beautiful
thickly-wooded country, he heard the sound of exquisite music, and
presently overtook a handsome youth, who was leading a few sheep, and
playing upon a flute.

The young man having courteously saluted the stranger, Prince Azgid
begged him to go on playing, for never in his life before, said the
Prince, had he listened to such enchanting strains.

The player then told Azgid that he was the slave of the wealthy shepherd
named Oaxus, to whose abode, which was close at hand, he offered to
conduct the traveller.

The Prince gladly accepted this invitation, and in a few moments was
entering the house of Oaxus, who accorded him a hearty welcome, and
placed food and drink before him. When Azgid had finished his meal, he
felt it incumbent upon him to make some sort of explanation to his host.

"Doubtless," said he, "you wonder who I am, and what is my errand in
coming hither? I can tell you this much--that I am a Prince whom trouble
has driven from home. Pardon me if I do not divulge my name; that is a
secret which must be securely locked within my own breast. If convenient
to you, I would gladly remain in this delightsome spot. I have ample
means, and can remunerate you for your kindness."

Oaxus assured his guest that nothing would give him greater pleasure
than to entertain him for as long a period as he cared to stay, and he
begged him not to think of offering any remuneration.

"And now, Isdril," added Oaxus, addressing his slave, "show the Prince
our fountains and waterfalls, our rocks and vales, for I perceive that
he is one who can appreciate Nature's beauties."

The youth took up his flute and went out with the Prince.

After wandering awhile amidst romantic scenery, the two young men sat
down to rest upon a rock in a shady valley. The slave put his flute to
his lips, and began to play. The prince loved music passionately, and
the idea had already occurred to him that, if he ever left this fair
retreat, he would like to purchase from Oaxus his accomplished slave.

Suddenly Isdril broke the spell of the Prince's enjoyment by rising to
his feet, with the words: "It is time for us to be going."

"Wherefore?" queried the Prince. "Why should we quit this delicious spot
so soon?"

"Because," replied the other, "the neighbourhood is infested with lions.
It is well, therefore, to retire early within our abodes, and close the
gates. Upon one occasion I lagged behind, and see the consequence!"

He rolled up his sleeve and revealed a big scar upon his arm. Azgid
turned pale, and upon reaching the house, informed his host that he had
changed his mind and found himself obliged to ride on farther. He
thanked Oaxus, bade farewell to him and to Isdril, and galloped off.

Again he journeyed for three days, and came to a vast desert, in the
midst of which he beheld an Arab encampment.

Thankfully he rode up to the black tents, for both he and his horse were
worn out with hunger and fatigue.

He was received by a dignified Sheik, to whom he made the same speech
that he had addressed to the kindly Oaxus.

Sheik Hajaar, like the shepherd, answered to the effect that he desired
no other remuneration than the pleasure of the Prince's society, and
that he should be delighted to keep his guest for ever, if so it might
be. He introduced Azgid to a large number of his friends, and provided
for his use a magnificent steed.

A week passed. Day by day the Prince accompanied the Sheik in his
antelope-hunting expeditions, which he enjoyed exceedingly. He quite
thought that he was now happily settled for life, when one night, after
he had retired to rest, Sheik Hajaar approached his couch, and said:

"My son, I have come to tell you how pleased my people are with you,
more especially with the spirit you have shown in the chase. But our
life is not wholly taken up in such easy recreations; we frequently
engage in hard fighting with other tribes. All my men are seasoned
warriors, and before they can have perfect confidence in you it is
necessary that they should have some proof of your prowess. Two leagues
to the south is a range of hills infested with lions. Go, then, early in
the morning, mounted upon your horse, and armed with sword and spear.
Slay one of these fierce beasts and bring us his skin; so shall we know
that we may rely upon you in the day of battle."


301).]

When the Sheik had left him, Azgid rose, dressed himself, slipped
quietly out of his tent, and bade a sorrowful, affectionate farewell to
the horse which the Sheik had allowed him to use, now tethered with the
others. Then he mounted his own steed, and rode forth into the night.

By the middle of the next day, he was rejoiced to find that he was
leaving the desert, and entering a fair region of hill and dale, meadows
and streams. Soon he came to a splendid palace, built of porphyry, and
standing in the midst of a magnificent garden.

The owner of the palace, a rich Emir, was sitting in the porch, with his
golden-haired daughter, Perizide.

Here, again, the Prince was most kindly received. The interior of the
building proved to be even more beautiful than the exterior. The rooms
blazed with gold and precious stones; walls and ceilings were covered
with valuable paintings; the windows were of the costliest stained
glass. The Emir set before his guest a collection of delicate viands.

The Prince made his accustomed speech, avowing his rank, but concealing
his name. He added also his customary request, that he might be allowed
to remain for a time in the house of his present entertainer.

The Emir replied politely that the prince was heartily welcome to remain
until the end of his life, if he chose to do so. Then he begged his
guest to excuse him for a few minutes, as he was expecting some friends,
and wished to make preparations for their reception.

Thus Azgid was left alone with Perizide, with whom he was already in
love. She took him into the garden, after exploring the beauties of
which the pair returned to the house.

The palace, now illuminated from top to bottom, was full of company.
The evening passed merrily. Observing a lute which lay upon a couch, the
music-loving young Prince begged Perizide to play to him. In the midst
of his enjoyment, however, he was startled by a strange, loud sound, and
asked his fair companion what it might be.

"Oh!" replied she, with a laugh, "that is only Boulak, our black porter,
indulging in a yawn."

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Azgid; "what uncommonly good lungs he must
have!"

After the other guests had left, and Perizide had gone to bed, the Emir
and the Prince chatted and smoked together for some time. By-and-by, the
former offered to conduct the latter to his sleeping apartment. When
they came to the foot of the grand staircase, which was of white marble,
Azgid, looking up, was horrified to behold an enormous black lion
stretched upon the topmost landing.

"What is that?" faltered he.

"That," returned his host, "is Boulak, our black porter. He is a tame
lion, and will not harm you, if you are not afraid of him. He knows when
any one fears him and then becomes ferocious."

"I fear him greatly!" whispered the Prince.

As he could not be persuaded to mount the stairs, he had to return to
the saloon, and repose upon one of the divans.

After the Emir had left him, Azgid carefully locked the door and
fastened the windows. Then he lay down, but not to sleep. For he could
hear the lion walking about, and once the beast actually came to the
door, and uttering a terrific roar, sprang against it with his forepaws.

The poor Prince made sure that the door would burst open, and that he
should be devoured. Nothing of the kind happened, however. In a few
moments Boulak went upstairs, and came down no more that night.

Azgid lay thinking. Evidently he had flown in the face of Providence
when he had fled from the lion at home. Since then, lions had met him at
every turn. He resolved to submit to what was so clearly his destined
duty--to return home and fulfil the condition required.

In the morning, therefore, he told the Emir the whole truth. The kind
old man had been acquainted with Azgid's father, the King Almamoun. He
highly approved of the young man's resolution, and, with a parting
blessing, sped him on his way. But the Prince had no opportunity of
making his adieux to the fair Perizide.

Then Azgid rode back to the Arab camp, and confessed all to the good
Sheik Hajaar. He also inquired after the beautiful horse.

"He is well," replied the other, "and I should be gratified if you could
stay with us and use him again But it would be wrong to hinder you from
your pious, undertaking. Return to your home, and do your duty like a
man."

Azgid next visited Oaxus, to whom, as to the others, he revealed his
name and parentage, confessed his fault, and expressed his repentance.



"Go, my friend!" said the kindly shepherd, "and may Heaven give you
strength to persevere in your laudable resolution!"

"Farewell!" answered Azgid; "greet Isdril from me, and tell him that I
hope some day to return and listen to his sweet music in spite of the
lions."

Without further interruption, the Prince rode straight home, and
announced to the old Vizier his intention to fight the lion.

The old man wept tears of joy at his Prince's return, and it was
arranged that the combat should take place in a week's time.

When the hour came, and the Prince entered the arena, the lion gave a
loud roar, and approached his opponent slowly, with fierce looks. Azgid
did not quail. With steady gaze he advanced, spear in hand. Suddenly the
lion bounded forward, and, with another roar, sprang clean over the
Prince's head. Then he ran joyously up to him, and began licking his
hands with every demonstration of affection.

The Vizier called out to the Prince that he had conquered, and bade him
leave the arena. The lion followed like a dog.

"As you now see, Prince Azgid," said the old Minister, "the lion is a
tame one, and would injure no one. You, however, were ignorant of this
fact, and have satisfactorily proved your courage and valour by your
readiness to fight him. Now all will know that you are worthy to ascend
the throne of your heroic ancestors."

Two men--one old, the other very young--came forward to congratulate the
Prince. They were Oaxus and Isdril.


308]

"Prince Azgid," said the old shepherd, "as a memento of this happy day,
allow me to make you a present." So saying, he pushed forward his slave,
Isdril.


308).]

"I heartily thank you, Oaxus!" said the Prince, "and you, Isdril, are no
longer a slave. From this moment you are free; but you shall be my
companion, and delight me with your skill upon the flute."

Presently another little group presented itself. It was composed of
Sheik Hajaar, some of his Arabs, and the horse which the Prince had
learned to love.

"Azgid!" said the Sheik, "I congratulate you heartily, and beg your
acceptance of this steed."

The Prince thanked and embraced the Sheik, and kissed the beautiful
creature, who returned his caresses.

The Emir was the next person to appear upon the scene. He was surrounded
by a brilliant retinue, with music and banners.

"I have come to congratulate you," said he to the Prince. "I have
brought you no present, but I and all my belongings are yours."

"I am rejoiced to see you, noble Emir!" replied Azgid. "And how is your
lovely daughter? As soon as I am crowned, I intend to set off at
lightning speed to visit her!"

"That will be needless," said the Emir; "come with me." And he led the
young man to a veiled lady, who sat upon a white horse. It was Perizide!

Then, by order of the Vizier, the whole procession wended its way
towards the palace.

Many thoughts and emotions stirred within the breast of the young
Prince. "When I fled from duty," reflected he, "everything went against
me; now that I have fulfilled it, fresh happiness meets me at every
step."

The coronation--and also a wedding--took place on the same day. Azgid
and Perizide reigned long and happily. By the King's command, his
adventures were recorded in the annals of the kingdom. And over the door
of his palace were inscribed, in golden letters, these words: "Never
run from the lion."





Next: The Tale Of The Blue Glove

Previous: The Necklace Of Tears



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