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The Story Of The Vizir Who Was Punished

from The Arabian Nights Entertainments





There was once upon a time a king who had a son who was very fond of
hunting. He often allowed him to indulge in this pastime, but he had
ordered his grand-vizir always to go with him, and never to lose sight
of him. One day the huntsman roused a stag, and the prince, thinking
that the vizir was behind, gave chase, and rode so hard that he found
himself alone. He stopped, and having lost sight of it, he turned to
rejoin the vizir, who had not been careful enough to follow him. But
he lost his way. Whilst he was trying to find it, he saw on the side
of the road a beautiful lady who was crying bitterly. He drew his
horse's rein, and asked her who she was and what she was doing in this
place, and if she needed help. "I am the daughter of an Indian king,"
she answered, "and whilst riding in the country I fell asleep and
tumbled off. My horse has run away, and I do not know what has become
of him."

The young prince had pity on her, and offered to take her behind him,
which he did. As they passed by a ruined building the lady dismounted
and went in. The prince also dismounted and followed her. To his
great surprise, he heard her saying to some one inside, "Rejoice my
children; I am bringing you a nice fat youth." And other voices
replied, "Where is he, mamma, that we may eat him at once, as we are
very hungry?"

The prince at once saw the danger he was in. He now knew that the lady
who said she was the daughter of an Indian king was an ogress, who
lived in desolate places, and who by a thousand wiles surprised and
devoured passers-by. He was terrified, and threw himself on his horse.
The pretended princess appeared at this moment, and seeing that she had
lost her prey, she said to him, "Do not be afraid. What do you want?"

"I am lost," he answered, "and I am looking for the road."

"Keep straight on," said the ogress, "and you will find it."

The prince could hardly believe his ears, and rode off as hard as he
could. He found his way, and arrived safe and sound at his father's
house, where he told him of the danger he had run because of the
grand-vizir's carelessness. The king was very angry, and had him
strangled immediately.

"Sire," went on the vizir to the Greek king, "to return to the
physician, Douban. If you do not take care, you will repent of having
trusted him. Who knows what this remedy, with which he has cured you,
may not in time have a bad effect on you?"

The Greek king was naturally very weak, and did not perceive the wicked
intention of his vizir, nor was he firm enough to keep to his first
resolution.

"Well, vizir," he said, "you are right. Perhaps he did come to take my
life. He might do it by the mere smell of one of his drugs. I must
see what can be done."

"The best means, sire, to put your life in security, is to send for him
at once, and to cut off his head directly he comes," said the vizir.

"I really think," replied the king, "that will be the best way."

He then ordered one of his ministers to fetch the physician, who came
at once.

"I have had you sent for," said the king, "in order to free myself from
you by taking your life."

The physician was beyond measure astonished when he heard he was to die.

"What crimes have I committed, your majesty?"

"I have learnt," replied the king, "that you are a spy, and intend to
kill me. But I will be first, and kill you. Strike," he added to an
executioner who was by, "and rid me of this assassin."

At this cruel order the physician threw himself on his knees. "Spare
my life," he cried, "and yours will be spared."

The fisherman stopped here to say to the genius: "You see what passed
between the Greek king and the physician has just passed between us
two. The Greek king," he went on, "had no mercy on him, and the
executioner bound his eyes."

All those present begged for his life, but in vain.

The physician on his knees, and bound, said to the king: "At least let
me put my affairs in order, and leave my books to persons who will make
good use of them. There is one which I should like to present to your
majesty. It is very precious, and ought to be kept carefully in your
treasury. It contains many curious things the chief being that when
you cut off my head, if your majesty will turn to the sixth leaf, and
read the third line of the left-hand page, my head will answer all the
questions you like to ask it."

The king, eager to see such a wonderful thing, put off his execution to
the next day, and sent him under a strong guard to his house. There
the physician put his affairs in order, and the next day there was a
great crowd assembled in the hall to see his death, and the doings
after it. The physician went up to the foot of the throne with a large
book in his hand. He carried a basin, on which he spread the covering
of the book, and presenting it to the king, said: "Sire, take this
book, and when my head is cut off, let it be placed in the basin on the
covering of this book; as soon as it is there, the blood will cease to
flow. Then open the book, and my head will answer your questions.
But, sire, I implore your mercy, for I am innocent."

"Your prayers are useless, and if it were only to hear your head speak
when you are dead, you should die."

So saying, he took the book from the physician's hands, and ordered the
executioner to do his duty.

The head was so cleverly cut off that it fell into the basin, and
directly the blood ceased to flow. Then, to the great astonishment of
the king, the eyes opened, and the head said, "Your majesty, open the
book." The king did so, and finding that the first leaf stuck against
the second, he put his finger in his mouth, to turn it more easily. He
did the same thing till he reached the sixth page, and not seeing any
writing on it, "Physician," he said, "there is no writing."

"Turn over a few more pages," answered the head. The king went on
turning, still putting his finger in his mouth, till the poison in
which each page was dipped took effect. His sight failed him, and he
fell at the foot of his throne.

When the physician's head saw that the poison had taken effect, and
that the king had only a few more minutes to live, "Tyrant," it cried,
"see how cruelty and injustice are punished."

Scarcely had it uttered these words than the king died, and the head
lost also the little life that had remained in it.

That is the end of the story of the Greek king, and now let us return
to the fisherman and the genius.

"If the Greek king," said the fisherman, "had spared the physician, he
would not have thus died. The same thing applies to you. Now I am
going to throw you into the sea."

"My friend," said the genius, "do not do such a cruel thing. Do not
treat me as Imma treated Ateca."

"What did Imma do to Ateca?" asked the fisherman.

"Do you think I can tell you while I am shut up in here?" replied the
genius. "Let me out, and I will make you rich."

The hope of being no longer poor made the fisherman give way.

"If you will give me your promise to do this, I will open the lid. I
do not think you will dare to break your word."

The genius promised, and the fisherman lifted the lid. He came out at
once in smoke, and then, having resumed his proper form, the first
thing he did was to kick the vase into the sea. This frightened the
fisherman, but the genius laughed and said, "Do not be afraid; I only
did it to frighten you, and to show you that I intend to keep my word;
take your nets and follow me."

He began to walk in front of the fisherman, who followed him with some
misgivings. They passed in front of the town, and went up a mountain
and then down into a great plain, where there was a large lake lying
between four hills.

When they reached the lake the genius said to the fisherman, "Throw
your nets and catch fish."

The fisherman did as he was told, hoping for a good catch, as he saw
plenty of fish. What was his astonishment at seeing that there were
four quite different kinds, some white, some red, some blue, and some
yellow. He caught four, one of each colour. As he had never seen any
like them he admired them very much, and he was very pleased to think
how much money he would get for them.

"Take these fish and carry them to the Sultan, who will give you more
money for them than you have ever had in your life. You can come every
day to fish in this lake, but be careful not to throw your nets more
than once every day, otherwise some harm will happen to you. If you
follow my advice carefully you will find it good."

Saying these words, he struck his foot against the ground, which
opened, and when he had disappeared, it closed immediately.

The fisherman resolved to obey the genius exactly, so he did not cast
his nets a second time, but walked into the town to sell his fish at
the palace.

When the Sultan saw the fish he was much astonished. He looked at them
one after the other, and when he had admired them long enough, "Take
these fish," he said to his first vizir, "and given them to the clever
cook the Emperor of the Greeks sent me. I think they must be as good
as they are beautiful."

The vizir took them himself to the cook, saying, "Here are four fish
that have been brought to the Sultan. He wants you to cook them."

Then he went back to the Sultan, who told him to give the fisherman
four hundred gold pieces. The fisherman, who had never before
possessed such a large sum of money at once, could hardly believe his
good fortune. He at once relieved the needs of his family, and made
good use of it.

But now we must return to the kitchen, which we shall find in great
confusion. The cook, when she had cleaned the fish, put them in a pan
with some oil to fry them. When she thought them cooked enough on one
side she turned them on the other. But scarcely had she done so when
the walls of the kitchen opened, and there came out a young and
beautiful damsel. She was dressed in an Egyptian dress of flowered
satin, and she wore earrings, and a necklace of white pearls, and
bracelets of gold set with rubies, and she held a wand of myrtle in her
hand.

She went up to the pan, to the great astonishment of the cook, who
stood motionless at the sight of her. She struck one of the fish with
her rod, "Fish, fish," said she, "are you doing your duty?" The fish
answered nothing, and then she repeated her question, whereupon they
all raised their heads together and answered very distinctly, "Yes,
yes. If you reckon, we reckon. If you pay your debts, we pay ours.
If you fly, we conquer, and we are content."

When they had spoken the girl upset the pan, and entered the opening in
the wall, which at once closed, and appeared the same as before.

When the cook had recovered from her fright she lifted up the fish
which had fallen into the ashes, but she found them as black as
cinders, and not fit to serve up to the Sultan. She began to cry.

"Alas! what shall I say to the Sultan? He will be so angry with me,
and I know he will not believe me!"

Whilst she was crying the grand-vizir came in and asked if the fish
were ready. She told him all that had happened, and he was much
surprised. He sent at once for the fisherman, and when he came said to
him, "Fisherman, bring me four more fish like you have brought already,
for an accident has happened to them so that they cannot be served up
to the Sultan."

The fisherman did not say what the genius had told him, but he excused
himself from bringing them that day on account of the length of the
way, and he promised to bring them next day.

In the night he went to the lake, cast his nets, and on drawing them in
found four fish, which were like the others, each of a different colour.

He went back at once and carried them to the grand-vizir as he had
promised.

He then took them to the kitchen and shut himself up with the cook, who
began to cook them as she had done the four others on the previous day.
When she was about to turn them on the other side, the wall opened, the
damsel appeared, addressed the same words to the fish, received the
same answer, and then overturned the pan and disappeared.

The grand-vizir was filled with astonishment. "I shall tell the Sultan
all that has happened," said he. And he did so.

The Sultan was very much astounded, and wished to see this marvel for
himself. So he sent for the fisherman, and asked him to procure four
more fish. The fisherman asked for three days, which were granted, and
he then cast his nets in the lake, and again caught four different
coloured fish. The sultan was delighted to see he had got them, and
gave him again four hundred gold pieces.

As soon as the Sultan had the fish he had them carried to his room with
all that was needed to cook them.

Then he shut himself up with the grand-vizir, who began to prepare them
and cook them. When they were done on one side he turned them over on
the other. Then the wall of the room opened, but instead of the maiden
a black slave came out. He was enormously tall, and carried a large
green stick with which he touched the fish, saying in a terrible voice,
"Fish, fish, are you doing your duty?" To these words the fish lifting
up their heads replied, "Yes, yes. If you reckon, we reckon. If you
pay your debts, we pay ours. If you fly, we conquer, and are content."

The black slave overturned the pan in the middle of the room, and the
fish were turned to cinders. Then he stepped proudly back into the
wall, which closed round him.

"After having seen this," said the Sultan, "I cannot rest. These fish
signify some mystery I must clear up."

He sent for the fisherman. "Fisherman," he said, "the fish you have
brought us have caused me some anxiety. Where did you get them from?"

"Sire," he answered, "I got them from a lake which lies in the middle
of four hills beyond yonder mountains."

"Do you know this lake?" asked the Sultan of the grand-vizir.

"No; though I have hunted many times round that mountain, I have never
heard of it," said the vizir.

As the fisherman said it was only three hours' journey away, the sultan
ordered his whole court to mount and ride thither, and the fisherman
led them.

They climbed the mountain, and then, on the other side, saw the lake as
the fisherman had described. The water was so clear that they could
see the four kinds of fish swimming about in it. They looked at them
for some time, and then the Sultan ordered them to make a camp by the
edge of the water.

When night came the Sultan called his vizir, and said to him, "I have
resolved to clear up this mystery. I am going out alone, and do you
stay here in my tent, and when my ministers come to-morrow, say I am
not well, and cannot see them. Do this each day till I return."

The grand-vizir tried to persuade the Sultan not to go, but in vain.
The Sultan took off his state robe and put on his sword, and when he
saw all was quiet in the camp he set forth alone.

He climbed one of the hills, and then crossed the great plain, till,
just as the sun rose, he beheld far in front of him a large building.
When he came near to it he saw it was a splendid palace of beautiful
black polished marble, covered with steel as smooth as a mirror.

He went to the gate, which stood half open, and went in, as nobody came
when he knocked. He passed through a magnificent courtyard and still
saw no one, though he called aloud several times.

He entered large halls where the carpets were of silk, the lounges and
sofas covered with tapestry from Mecca, and the hangings of the most
beautiful Indian stuffs of gold and silver. Then he found himself in a
splendid room, with a fountain supported by golden lions. The water
out of the lions' mouths turned into diamonds and pearls, and the
leaping water almost touched a most beautifully-painted dome. The
palace was surrounded on three sides by magnificent gardens, little
lakes, and woods. Birds sang in the trees, which were netted over to
keep them always there.

Still the Sultan saw no one, till he heard a plaintive cry, and a voice
which said, "Oh that I could die, for I am too unhappy to wish to live
any longer!"

The Sultan looked round to discover who it was who thus bemoaned his
fate, and at last saw a handsome young man, richly clothed, who was
sitting on a throne raised slightly from the ground. His face was very
sad.

The sultan approached him and bowed to him. The young man bent his
head very low, but did not rise.

"Sire," he said to the Sultan, "I cannot rise and do you the reverence
that I am sure should be paid to your rank."

"Sir," answered the Sultan, "I am sure you have a good reason for not
doing so, and having heard your cry of distress, I am come to offer you
my help. Whose is this palace, and why is it thus empty?"

Instead of answering the young man lifted up his robe, and showed the
Sultan that, from the waist downwards, he was a block of black marble.

The Sultan was horrified, and begged the young man to tell him his
story.

"Willingly I will tell you my sad history," said the young man.





Next: The Story Of The Young King Of The Black Isles

Previous: The Story Of The Husband And The Parrot



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