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The Story Of The Fair Circassians

from The Grey Fairy Book





'We were born in Circassia of poor people, and my sister's name
is Tezila and mine Dely. Having nothing but our beauty to help us
in life, we were carefully trained in all the accomplishments
that give pleasure. We were both quick to learn, and from our
childhood could play all sorts of instruments, could sing, and
above all could dance. We were besides, lively and merry, as in
spite of our misfortunes we are to this day.

'We were easily pleased and quite content with our lives at home,
when one morning the officials who had been sent to find wives
for the Sultan saw us, and were struck with our beauty. We had
always expected something of the sort, and were resigned to our
lot, when we chanced to see two young men enter our house. The
elder, who was about twenty years of age, had black hair and very
bright eyes. The other could not have been more than fifteen, and
was so fair that he might easily have passed for a girl.

'They knocked at the door with a timid air and begged our parents
to give them shelter, as they had lost their way. After some
hesitation their request was granted, and they were invited into
the room in which we were. And if our parents' hearts were
touched by their beauty, our own were not any harder, so that our
departure for the palace, which had been arranged for the next
day, suddenly became intolerable to us.

'Night came, and I awoke from my sleep to find the younger of the
two strangers sitting at my bedside and felt him take my hand.

'"Fear nothing, lovely Dely," he whispered, "from one who never
knew love till he saw you. My name," he went on, "is Prince
Delicate, and I am the son of the king of the Isle of Black
Marble. My friend, who travels with me, is one of the richest
nobles of my country, and the secrets which he knows are the envy
of the Sultan himself. And we left our native country because my
father wished me to marry a lady of great beauty, but with one
eye a trifle smaller than the other."

'My vanity was flattered at so speedy a conquest, and I was
charmed with the way the young man had declared his passion. I
turned my eyes slowly on him, and the look I gave him caused him
almost to lose his senses. He fell fainting forward, and I was
unable to move till Tezila, who had hastily put on a dress, ran
to my assistance together with Thelamis, the young noble of whom
the Prince had spoken.

'As soon as we were all ourselves again we began to bewail our
fate, and the journey that we were to take that very day to
Constantinople. But we felt a little comforted when Thelamis
assured us that he and the prince would follow in our steps, and
would somehow contrive to speak to us. Then they kissed our
hands, and left the house by a side-way.

'A few moments later our parents came to tell us that the escort
had arrived, and having taken farewell of them we mounted the
camels, and took our seats in a kind of box that was fixed to the
side of the animal. These boxes were large enough for us to sleep
in comfortably, and as there was a window in the upper part, we
were able to see the country through which we passed.

'For several days we journeyed on, feeling sad and anxious as to
what might become of us, when one day as I was looking out of the
window of our room, I heard my name called, and beheld a
beautifully dressed girl jumping out of the box on the other side
of our camel. One glance told me that it was the prince, and my
heart bounded with joy. It was, he said, Thelamis's idea to
disguise him like this, and that he himself had assumed the
character of a slave-dealer who was taking this peerless maiden
as a present to the Sultan. Thelamis had also persuaded the
officer in charge of the caravan to let him hire the vacant box,
so it was easy for the prince to scramble out of his own window
and approach ours.

This ingenious trick enchanted us, but our agreeable conversation
was soon interrupted by the attendants, who perceived that the
camel was walking in a crooked manner and came to find out what
was wrong. Luckily they were slow in their movements, and the
prince had just time to get back to his own box and restore the
balance, before the trick was discovered.

'But neither the prince nor his friend had any intention of
allowing us to enter the Sultan's palace, though it was difficult
to know how we were to escape, and what was to become of us when
once we had escaped. At length, one day as we were drawing near
Constantinople, we learned from the prince that Thelamis had made
acquaintance with a holy dervish whom he had met on the road, and
had informed him that we were his sisters, who were being sold as
slaves against his will. The good man was interested in the
story, and readily agreed to find us shelter if we could manage
to elude the watchfulness of our guards. The risk was great, but
it was our only chance.

'That night, when the whole caravan was fast asleep, we raised
the upper part of our boxes and by the help of Thelamis climbed
silently out. We next went back some distance along the way we
had come, then, striking into another road, reached at last the
retreat prepared for us by the dervish. Here we found food and
rest, and I need not say what happiness it was to be free once
more.

'The dervish soon became a slave to our beauty, and the day after
our escape he proposed that we should allow him to conduct us to
an inn situated at a short distance, where we should find two
Jews, owners of precious talismans which did not really belong to
them. "Try," said the dervish, "by some means to get possession
of them."

'The inn, though not on the direct road to Constantinople, was a
favourite one with merchants, owing to the excellence of the
food, and on our arrival we discovered at least six or eight
other people who had stopped for refreshment. They greeted us
politely, and we sat down to table together.

'In a short time the two men described by the dervish entered the
room, and at a sign from him my sister made room at her side for
one, while I did the same for the other.

'Now the dervish had happened to mention that "their brother had
danced." At the moment we paid no attention to this remark, but
it came back to our minds now, and we determined that they should
dance also. To accomplish this we used all our arts and very soon
bent them to our wills, so that they could refuse us nothing. At
the end of the day we remained possessors of the talismans and
had left them to their fate, while the prince and Thelamis fell
more in love with us than ever, and declared that we were more
lovely than any women in the world.

'The sun had set before we quitted the inn, and we had made no
plans as to where we should go next, so we readily consented to
the prince's proposal that we should embark without delay for the
Isle of Black Marble. What a place it was! Rocks blacker than jet
towered above its shores and shed thick darkness over the
country. Our sailors had not been there before and were nearly as
frightened as ourselves, but thanks to Thelamis, who undertook to
be our pilot, we landed safely on the beach.

'When we had left the coast behind us, with its walls of jet, we
entered a lovely country where the fields were greener, the
streams clearer, and the sun brighter than anywhere else. The
people crowded round to welcome their prince, whom they loved
dearly, but they told him that the king was still full of rage at
his son's refusal to marry his cousin the Princess Okimpare, and
also at his flight. Indeed, they all begged him not to visit the
capital, as his life would hardly be safe. So, much as I should
have enjoyed seeing the home of my beloved prince, I implored him
to listen to this wise advice and to let us all go to Thelamis's
palace in the middle of a vast forest.

'To my sister and myself, who had been brought up in a cottage,
this house of Thelamis's seemed like fairyland. It was built of
pink marble, so highly polished that the flowers and streams
surrounding it were reflected as in a mirror. One set of rooms
was furnished especially for me in yellow silk and silver, to
suit my black hair. Fresh dresses were provided for us every day,
and we had slaves to wait on us. Ah, why could not this happiness
have lasted for ever!

'The peace of our lives was troubled by Thelamis's jealousy of my
sister, as he could not endure to see her on friendly terms with
the prince, though knowing full well that his heart was mine.
Every day we had scenes of tender reproaches and of explanations,
but Tezila's tears never failed to bring Thelamis to his knees,
with prayers for forgiveness.

'We had been living in this way for some months when one day the
news came that the king had fallen dangerously ill. I begged the
prince to hurry at once to the Court, both to see his father and
also to show himself to the senators and nobles, but as his love
for me was greater than his desire of a crown, he hesitated as if
foreseeing all that afterwards happened. At last Tezila spoke to
him so seriously in Thelamis's presence, that he determined to
go, but promised that he would return before night.

'Night came but no prince, and Tezila, who had been the cause of
his departure, showed such signs of uneasiness that Thelamis's
jealousy was at once awakened. As for me, I cannot tell what I
suffered. Not being able to sleep I rose from my bed and wandered
into the forest, along the road which he had taken so many hours
before. Suddenly I heard in the distance the sound of a horse's
hoofs, and in a few moments the prince had flung himself down and
was by my side. "Ah, how I adore you!" he exclaimed; "Thelamis's
love will never equal mine." The words were hardly out of his
mouth when I heard a slight noise behind, and before we could
turn round both our heads were rolling in front of us, while the
voice of Thelamis cried:

'"Perjured wretches, answer me; and you, faithless Tezila, tell
me why you have betrayed me like this?"

'Then I understood what had happened, and that, in his rage, he
had mistaken me for my sister.

'"Alas," replied my head in weak tones, "I am not Tezila, but
Dely, whose life you have destroyed, as well as that of your
friend." At this Thelamis paused and seemed to reflect for an
instant.

'"Be not frightened," he said more quietly, "I can make you whole
again," and laying a magic powder on our tongues he placed our
heads on our necks. In the twinkling of an eye our heads were
joined to our bodies without leaving so much as a scar; only
that, blinded with rage as he still was, Thelamis had placed my
head on the prince's body, and his on mine!

'I cannot describe to you how odd we both felt at this strange
transformation. We both instinctively put up our hands--he to
feel his hair, which was, of course, dressed like a woman's, and
I to raise the turban which pressed heavily on my forehead. But
we did not know what had happened to us, for the night was still
dark.

'At this point Tezila appeared, followed by a troop of slaves
bearing flowers. It was only by the light of their torches that
we understood what had occurred. Indeed the first thought of both
of us was that we must have changed clothes.

'Now in spite of what we may say, we all prefer our own bodies to
those of anybody else, so notwithstanding our love for each
other, at first we could not help feeling a little cross with
Thelamis. However, so deep was the prince's passion for me, that
very soon he began to congratulate himself on the change. " My
happiness is perfect," he said; "my heart, beautiful Dely, has
always been yours, and now I have your head also."

'But though the prince made the best of it, Thelamis was much
ashamed of his stupidity. "I have," he said hesitatingly, "two
other pastilles which have the same magic properties as those I
used before. Let me cut off your heads again, and that will put
matters straight." The proposal sounded tempting, but was a
little risky, and after consulting together we decided to let
things remain as they were. "Do not blame me then," continued
Thelamis, "if you will not accept my offer. But take the two
pastilles, and if it ever happens that you are decapitated a
second time, make use of them in the way I have shown you, and
each will get back his own head." So saying he presented us with
the pastilles, and we all returned to the castle.

'However, the troubles caused by the unfortunate exchange were
only just beginning. My head, without thinking what it was doing,
led the prince's body to my apartments. But my women, only
looking at the dress, declared I had mistaken the corridor, and
called some slaves to conduct me to his highness's rooms. This
was bad enough, but when--as it was still night my servants began
to undress me, I nearly fainted from surprise and confusion, and
no doubt the prince's head was suffering in the same manner at
the other end of the castle!

'By the next morning--you will easily guess that we slept but
little--we had grown partly accustomed to our strange situation,
and when we looked in the mirror, the prince had become
brown-skinned and black-haired, while my head was covered with
his curly golden locks. And after that first day, everyone in the
palace had become so accustomed to the change that they thought
no more about it.

'Some weeks after this, we heard that the king of the Isle of
Black Marble was dead. The prince's head, which once was mine,
was full of ambitious desires, and he longed to ride straight to
the capital and proclaim himself king. But then came the question
as to whether the nobles would recognise the prince with a girl's
body, and indeed, when we came to think of it, which was prince
and which was girl?

'At last, after much argument, my head carried the day and we set
out; but only to find that the king had declared the Princess
Okimpare his successor. The greater part of the senators and
nobles openly professed that they would much have preferred the
rightful heir, but as they could not recognise him either in the
prince or me, they chose to consider us as impostors and threw us
into prison.

'A few days later Tezila and Thelamis, who had followed us to the
capital, came to tell us that the new queen had accused us of
high treason, and had herself been present at our trial--which
was conducted without us. They had been in mortal terror as to
what would be our sentence, but by a piece of extraordinary luck
we had been condemned to be beheaded.

'I told my sister that I did not see exactly where the luck came
in, but Thelamis interrupted me rudely:

'"What!" he cried, "of course I shall make use of the pastilles,
and--" but here the officers arrived to lead us to the great
square where the execution was to take place--for Okimpare was
determined there should be no delay.

'The square was crowded with people of all ages and all ranks,
and in the middle a platform had been erected on which was the
scaffold, with the executioner, in a black mask, standing by. At
a sign from him I mounted first, and in a moment my head was
rolling at his feet. With a bound my sister and Thelamis were
beside me, and like lightning Thelamis seized the sabre from the
headsman, and cut off the head of the prince. And before the
multitude had recovered from their astonishment at these strange
proceedings, our bodies were joined to our right heads, and the
pastilles placed on our tongues. Then Thelamis led the prince to
the edge of the platform and presented him to the people, saying,
"Behold your lawful king."

'Shouts of joy rent the air at the sound of Thelamis's words, and
the noise reached Okimpare in the palace. Smitten with despair at
the news, she fell down unconscious on her balcony, and was
lifted up by the slaves and taken back to her own house.

'Meanwhile our happiness was all turned to sorrow. I had rushed
up to the prince to embrace him fondly, when he suddenly grew
pale and staggered.

'"I die faithful to you," he murmured, turning his eyes towards
me, "and I die a king!" and leaning his head on my shoulder he
expired quietly, for one of the arteries in his neck had been cut
through.

'Not knowing what I did I staggered towards the sabre which was
lying near me, with the intention of following my beloved prince
as speedily as possible. And when Thelamis seized my hand (but
only just in time), in my madness I turned the sabre upon him,
and he fell struck through the heart at my feet.'

The whole company were listening to the story with breathless
attention, when it became plain that Dely could go no further,
while Tezila had flung herself on a heap of cushions and hidden
her face. Zambac ordered her women to give them all the attention
possible, and desired they should be carried into her own rooms.

When the two sisters were in this condition, Ibrahim, who was a
very prudent young man, suggested to his parents that, as the two
Circassians were both unconscious, it would be an excellent
opportunity to search them and see if the talismans belonging to
the daughters of Siroco were concealed about their persons. But
the Bassa, shocked at the notion of treating his guests in so
inhospitable a manner, refused to do anything of the kind, adding
that the next day he hoped to persuade them to give the talismans
up of their own free will.

By this time it was nearly midnight and Neangir, who was standing
near the Jewess Sumi, drew out the portrait of Argentine, and
heard with delight that she was even more beautiful than her
picture. Everyone was waiting on tip-toe for the appearance of
the two watches, who were expected when the clock struck twelve
to come in search of Sumi, and that there might be no delay the
Bassa ordered all the doors to be flung wide open. It was done,
and there entered not the longed-for watches, but the page who
had been sent away in disgrace.

Then the Bassa arose in wrath. 'Azemi,' he said, 'did I not order
you to stand no more in my presence?'

'My lord,' replied Azemi, modestly, 'I was hidden outside the
door, listening to the tale of the two Circassians. And as I know
you are fond of stories, give me also leave to tell you one. I
promise you it shall not be long.'

'Speak on,' replied the Bassa, 'but take heed what you say.'

'My lord,' began Azemi, 'this morning I was walking in the town
when I noticed a man going in the same direction followed by a
slave. He entered a baker's shop, where he bought some bread
which he gave to the slave to carry. I watched him and saw that
he purchased many other kinds of provisions at other places, and
when the slave could carry no more his master commanded him to
return home and have supper ready at midnight.

'When left alone the man went up the street, and turning into a
jeweller's shop, brought out a watch that as far as I could see
was made of silver. He walked on a few steps, then stooped and
picked up a gold watch which lay at his feet. At this point I ran
up and told him that if he did not give me half its price I would
report him to the Cadi; he agreed, and conducting me to his house
produced four hundred sequins, which he said was my share, and
having got what I wanted I went away.

'As it was the hour for attending on my lord I returned home and
accompanied you to the Cadi, where I heard the story of the three
Jews and learned the importance of the two watches I had left at
the stranger's. I hastened to his house, but he had gone out, and
I could only find the slave, whom I told that I was the bearer of
important news for his master. Believing me to be one of his
friends, he begged me to wait, and showed me into a room where I
saw the two watches lying on the table. I put them in my pocket,
leaving the four hundred sequins in place of the gold watch and
three gold pieces which I knew to be the price of the other. As
you know the watches never remain with the person who buys them,
this man may think himself very lucky to get back his money. I
have wound them both up, and at this instant Aurora and Argentine
are locked safely into my own room.'

Everybody was so delighted to hear this news that Azemi was
nearly stifled with their embraces, and Neangir could hardly be
prevented from running to break in the door, though he did not
even know where the page slept.

But the page begged to have the honour of fetching the ladies
himself, and soon returned leading them by the hand.

For some minutes all was a happy confusion, and Ibrahim took
advantage of it to fall on his knees before Aurora, and search in
the fifth fold of her dress for the missing coral bead. The Book
of Spells had told the truth; there it was, and as the chaplet
was now complete the young man's days of seeking were over.

In the midst of the general rejoicing Hassan alone bore a gloomy
face.

'Alas!' he said, 'everyone is happy but the miserable being you
see before you. I have lost the only consolation in my grief,
which was to feel that I had a brother in misfortune!'

'Be comforted,' replied the Bassa; 'sooner or later the dervish
who stole the pink bag is sure to be found.'

Supper was then served, and after they had all eaten of rare
fruits which seemed to them the most delicious in the whole
world, the Bassa ordered the flask containing the elixir of love
to be brought and the young people to drink of it. Then their
eyes shone with a new fire, and they swore to be true to each
other till death.

This ceremony was scarcely over when the clock struck one, and in
an instant Aurora and Argentine had vanished, and in the place
where they stood lay two watches. Silence fell upon all the
company--they had forgotten the enchantment; then the voice of
Azemi was heard asking if he might be allowed to take charge of
the watches till the next day, pledging his head to end their
enchantment. With the consent of Sumi, this was granted, and the
Bassa gave Azemi a purse containing a thousand sequins, as a
reward for the services he had already rendered to them. After
this everybody went to his own apartment.

Azemi had never possessed so much money before, and never closed
his eyes for joy the whole night long. Very early he got up and
went into the garden, thinking how he could break the enchantment
of the daughters of Siroco. Suddenly the soft tones of a woman
fell on his ear, and peeping through the bushes he saw Tezila,
who was arranging flowers in her sister's hair. The rustling of
the leaves caused Dely to start; she jumped up as if to fly, but
Azemi implored her to remain and begged her to tell him what
happened to them after the death of their lovers, and how they
had come to find the dervish.

'The punishment decreed to us by the Queen Okimpare,' answered
Dely, 'was that we were to dance and sing in the midst of our
sorrow, at a great fete which was to be held that very day for
all her people. This cruel command nearly turned our brains, and
we swore a solemn oath to make all lovers as wretched as we were
ourselves. In this design we succeeded so well that in a short
time the ladies of the capital came in a body to Okimpare, and
prayed her to banish us from the kingdom, before their lives were
made miserable for ever. She consented, and commanded us to be
placed on board a ship, with our slave Gouloucou.

'On the shore we saw an old man who was busily engaged in
drowning some little black pigs, talking to them all the while,
as if they could understand him.

'"Accursed race," said he, "it is you who have caused all the
misfortunes of him to whom I gave the magic bracelet. Perish all
of you!"

'We drew near from curiosity, and recognised in him the dervish
who had sheltered us on our first escape from the caravan.

'When the old man discovered who we were he was beside himself
with pleasure, and offered us a refuge in the cave where he
lived. We gladly accepted his offer, and to the cave we all went,
taking with us the last little pig, which he gave us as a
present.

'"The Bassa of the Sea," he added, "will pay you anything you
like to ask for it."

'Without asking why it was so precious I took the pig and placed
it in my work bag, where it has been ever since. Only yesterday
we offered it to the Bassa, who laughed at us, and this so
enraged us against the dervish that we cut off his beard when he
was asleep, and now he dare not show himself.'

'Ah,' exclaimed the page, 'it is not fitting that such beauty
should waste itself in making other people miserable. Forget the
unhappy past and think only of the future. And accept, I pray
you, this watch, to mark the brighter hours in store.' So saying
he laid the watch upon her knee. Then he turned to Tezila. 'And
you fair maiden, permit me to offer you this other watch. True it
is only of silver, but it is all I have left to give. And I feel
quite sure that you must have somewhere a silver seal, that will
be exactly the thing to go with it.'

'Why, so you have,' cried Dely; 'fasten your silver seal to your
watch, and I will hang my gold one on to mine.'

The seals were produced, and, as Azemi had guessed, they were the
talismans which the two Circassians had taken from Izif and
Izouf, mounted in gold and silver. As quick as lightning the
watches slid from the hands of Tezila and her sister, and Aurora
and Argentine stood before them, each with her talisman on her
finger.

At first they seemed rather confused themselves at the change
which had taken place, and the sunlight which they had not seen
for so long, but when gradually they understood that their
enchantment had come to an end, they could find no words to
express their happiness.

The Circassians could with difficulty be comforted for the loss
of the talismans, but Aurora and Argentine entreated them to dry
their tears, as their father, Siroco, who was governor of
Alexandria, would not fail to reward them in any manner they
wished. This promise was soon confirmed by Siroco himself, who
came into the garden with the Bassa and his two sons, and was
speedily joined by the ladies of the family. Only Hassan was
absent. It was the hour in which he was condemned to bewail his
ebony hand.

To the surprise of all a noise was at this moment heard in a
corner of the terrace, and Hassan himself appeared surrounded by
slaves, clapping his hands and shouting with joy. 'I was weeping
as usual,' cried he, 'when all at once the tears refused to come
to my eyes, and on looking down at my hand I saw that its
blackness had vanished. And now, lovely Zelida, nothing prevents
me any longer from offering you the hand, when the heart has been
yours always.'

But though Hassan never thought of asking or caring what had
caused his cure, the others were by no means so indifferent. It
was quite clear that the little black pig must be dead--but how,
and when? To this the slaves answered that they had seen that
morning a man pursued by three others, and that he had taken
refuge in the cavern which they had been left to guard. Then, in
obedience to orders, they had rolled a stone over the entrance.

Piercing shrieks interrupted their story, and a man, whom the
Circassians saw to be the old dervish, rushed round the corner of
the terrace with the three Jews behind him. When the fugitive
beheld so many people collected together, he turned down another
path, but the slaves captured all four and brought them before
their master.

What was the surprise of the Bassa when he beheld in the old
dervish the man who had given the chaplet, the copper plaque, and
the bracelet to his three sons. 'Fear nothing, holy father,' he
said, 'you are safe with me. But tell us, how came you here?'

'My lord,' explained the dervish, 'when my beard was cut off
during my sleep by the two Circassians, I was ashamed to appear
before the eyes of men, and fled, bearing with me the pink silk
bag. In the night these three men fell in with me, and we passed
some time in conversation, but at dawn, when it was light enough
to see each other's faces, one of them exclaimed that I was the
dervish travelling with the two Circassians who had stolen the
talismans from the Jews. I jumped up and tried to fly to my cave,
but they were too quick for me, and just as we reached your
garden they snatched the bag which contained the little black pig
and flung it into the sea. By this act, which delivers your son,
I would pray you to forgive them for any wrongs they may have
done you--nay more, that you will recompense them for it.' The
Bassa granted the holy man's request, and seeing that the two
Jews had fallen victims to the charms of the Circassian ladies,
gave his consent to their union, which was fixed to take place at
the same time as that of Izaf with the wise Sumi. The Cadi was
sent for, and the Jews exchanged the hats of their race for the
turbans of the followers of the Prophet. Then, after so many
misfortunes, the Bassa's three sons entreated their father to
delay their happiness no longer, and the six marriages were
performed by the Cadi at the hour of noon.





Next: The Jackal And The Spring

Previous: The Story Of The Three Sons Of Hali



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