Fiction > Harvard Classics > Stories from the Thousand and One Nights
   Stories from the Thousand and One Nights.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Nights 3–9
The Story of the Young King of the Black Islands
MY father was king of the city which was here situate: his name was Mahmud, and he was lord of the Black Islands, and of the four mountains. After a reign of seventy years, he died, and I succeeded to his throne; whereupon I took as my wife the daughter of my uncle; and she loved me excessively, so that when I absented myself from her, she would neither eat nor drink till she saw me again. She remained under my protection five years. After this, she went one day to the bath; and I had commanded the cook to prepare the supper, and entered this palace, and slept in my usual place. I had ordered two maids to fan me; and one of them sat at my head, and the other at my feet; but I was restless, because my wife was not with me; and I could not sleep. My eyes were closed, but my spirit was awake; and I heard the maid at my head say to her at my feet, O Mes’udeh, verily our lord is unfortunate in his youth, and what a pity is it that it should be passed with our depraved, wicked mistress!—Perdition to unfaithful wives! replied the other: but (added she) such a person as our lord, so endowed by nature, is not suited to this profligate woman, who passes every night absent from his bed.—Verily, rejoined she at my head, our lord is careless in not making any inquiry respecting her.—Woe to thee! said the other: hath our lord any knowledge of her conduct, or doth she leave him to his choice? Nay, on the contrary, she contriveth to defraud him by means of the cup of wine which he drinketh every night before he sleepeth, putting benj 1 into it; in consequence of which he sleepeth so soundly that he knoweth not what happeneth, nor whither she goeth, nor what she doeth; for, after she hath given him the wine to drink, she dresseth herself, and goeth out from him, and is absent until daybreak, when she returneth to him, and burneth a perfume under his nose, upon which he awaketh from his sleep.  1
  When I heard this conversation of the maids, the light became darkness before my face, and I was hardly conscious of the approach of night, when my cousin returned from the bath. The table was prepared, and we ate, and sat a while drinking our wine as usual. I then called for the wine which I was accustomed to drink before I lay down to sleep, and she handed to me the cup; but I turned away, and, pretending to drink it as I was wont to do, poured it into my bosom, and immediately lay down: upon which she said, Sleep on; I wish that thou wouldst never wake again! By Allah, I abhor thee, and abhor thy person, and my soul is weary of thy company!—She then arose, and attired herself in the most magnificent of her apparel, and, having perfumed herself, and slung on a sword, opened the door of the palace, and went out. I got up immediately, and followed her until she had quitted the palace, and passed through the streets of the city, and arrived at the city-gates, when she pronounced some words that I understood not; whereupon the locks fell off, and the gates opened, and she went out, I still following her, without her knowledge. Thence she proceeded to a space among the mounds, and arrived at a strong edifice, in which was a kubbeh 2 constructed of mud, with a door, which she entered. I then climbed upon the roof of the kubbeh, and, looking down upon her through an aperture, saw that she was visiting a black slave, whose large lips, one of which overlapped the other, gathered up the sand from the pebbly floor, while he lay, in a filthy and wet condition, upon a few stalks of sugar-cane.  2
  She kissed the ground before this slave; and he raised his head towards her, and said, Wo to thee! Wherefore hast thou remained away until this hour? The other blacks have been here drinking wine, and each of them has gone away with his mistress; and I refused to drink on thy account.—She answered, O my master, and beloved of my heart, knowest thou not that I am married to my cousin, and that I abhor every man who resembles him, and hate myself while I am in his company? If I did not fear to displease thee, I would reduce the city to ruins, so that the owl and the raven should cry in it, and would transport its stones beyond Mount Kaf. 3—Thou liest, thou infamous woman, replied the slave; and I swear by the generosity of the blacks (and if I speak not truth, may our valour be as the valour of the whites), that if thou loiter as thou hast now done till this hour, I will no longer give thee my company, nor approach thy person, thou faithless one! Dost thou inconvenience me for the sake of thine own pleasure, thou filthy wretch, and vilest of the whites?—When I heard (continued the King) their words, and witnessed what passed between them, the world became dark before my face, and I knew not where I was.—My cousin still stood weeping, and abasing herself before him, and said, O my beloved, and treasure of my heart, there remaineth to me none but thee for whom I care, and if thou cast me off, alas for me! O my beloved! O light of mine eye!—Thus she continued to weep, and to humble herself before him, until he became pacified towards her; upon which she rejoiced, and arose, and, having disrobed herself, said to him, O my master, hast thou here anything that thy maid may eat? He answered, Uncover the dough-pan; it contains some cooked rats’ bones: eat of them, and pick them; and take this earthen pot: thou wilt find in it some buzah 4 to drink. So she arose, and ate and drank, and washed her hands; after which she lay down by the side of the slave, upon the stalks of sugar-cane, and covered herself with his tattered clothes and rags.  3
  When I saw her do this, I became unconscious of my existence, and, descending from the roof of the kubbeh, entered, and took the sword from the side of my cousin, with the intention of killing them both. I struck the slave upon his neck, and thought that he was killed; but the blow, which I gave with the view of severing his head, only cut the gullet and skin and flesh; and when I thought that I had killed him, he uttered a loud snore, upon which my cousin started up, and, as soon as I had gone, took the sword, and returned it to its scabbard, and came back to the city and to the palace, and lay down again in my bed, in which she remained until the morning.  4
  On the following day, I observed that my cousin had cut off her hair, and put on the apparel of mourning; and she said to me, O my cousin, blame me not for what I do; for I have received news that my mother is dead, and that my father hath been slain in a holy war, and that one of my two brothers hath died of a poisonous sting, and the other by the fall of a house: it is natural, therefore, that I should weep and mourn. On hearing these words, I abstained from upbraiding her, and said, Do what seemeth fit to thee; for I will not oppose thee. Accordingly, she continued mourning and weeping and wailing a whole year; after which she said to me, I have a desire to build for myself, in thy palace, a tomb, with a kubbeh, that I may repair thither alone to mourn, and I will call it the House of Lamentations. I replied, Do what thou seest fit. So she built for herself a house for mourning, with a kubbeh in the middle of it, like the tomb of a saint; after which she removed thither the slave, and there she lodged him. He was in a state of excessive weakness, and unable to render her any service, though he drank wine; and from the day on which I had wounded him, he had never spoken; yet he remained alive, because the appointed term of his life had not expired. My cousin every day visited him in this tomb early and late, to weep and mourn over him, and took to him wine to drink, and boiled meats; and thus she continued to do, morning and evening, until the expiration of the second year, while I patiently suffered her, till, one day, I entered her apartments unawares, and found her weeping, and slapping her face, and repeating these verses:—
        I have lost my existence among mankind since your absence; for my heart loveth none but you.
Take my body, then, in mercy, to the place where you are laid; and there bury me by your side:
And if, at my grave, you utter my name, the moaning of my bones shall answer to your call.
  As soon as she had finished the recitation of these verses, I said to her, holding my drawn sword in my hand, This is the language of those faithless women who renounce the ties of affinity, and regard not lawful fellowship!—and I was about to strike her with the sword, and had lifted up my arm to do so, when she rose—for she knew that it was I who had wounded the slave—and, standing before me, pronounced some words which I understood not, and said, May God, by means of my enchantment, make thee to be half of stone, and half of the substance of man!—whereupon I became as thou seest, unable to move, neither dead nor alive; and when I had been reduced to this state, she enchanted the city and its markets and fields. The inhabitants of our city were of four classes; Muslims and Christians, and Jews and Magians; and she transformed them into fish: the white are the Muslims; the red, the Magians; the blue, the Christians; and the yellow, the Jews. She transformed, also, the four islands into four mountains, and placed them around the lake; and from that time she has continued every day to torture me, inflicting upon me a hundred lashes with a leathern whip, until the blood flows from my wounds; after which she puts on my upper half a vest of hair-cloth, beneath these garments.—Having said thus, the young man wept, and ejaculated the following verses:—
        Give me patience, O Allah, to bear what Thou decreest! I will be patient, if so I may obtain thine approval.
I am straitened, indeed, by the calamity that hath befallen me: but the Family of the favoured Prophet shall intercede for me!
  Upon this, the King, looking towards the young man, said to him, O youth, thou hast increased my anxiety. And where (he added) is this woman?—The young man answered, She is in the tomb where the slave is lying, in the kubbeh; and every day, before she visits him, she strips me of my clothing, and inflicts upon me a hundred lashes with the whip, while I weep and cry out, unable to move so as to repulse her. After thus torturing me, she repairs early to the slave, with the wine and boiled meat.—By Allah, O youth, said the King, I will do thee an act of kindness for which I shall be remembered, and a favour which historians shall record in a biography after me.  7
  He then sat and conversed with him until the approach of night, upon which he arose, and waited till the first dawn of day, when he took off his clothes, and slung on his sword, and went to the place where the slave lay. After remarking the candles and lamps, and perfumes and ointments, he approached the slave, and with a blow of his sword slew him; he then carried him on his back, and threw him into a well which he found in the palace, and returning to the kubbeh, clad himself with the slave’s clothes, and lay down with the drawn sword by his side. Soon after, the vile enchantress went to her cousin, and, having pulled off his clothes, took the whip and beat him, while he cried, Ah! it is enough for me to be in this state! Have pity on me then!—Didst thou shew pity to me, she exclaimed, and didst thou spare my lover?—She then put on him the hair-cloth vest and his outer garments, and repaired to the slave with a cup of wine, and a bowl of boiled meat. Entering the tomb, she wept and wailed, exclaiming, O my master, answer me! O my master, speak to me!—and poured forth her lamentation in the words of this verse:—
        How long shall this aversion and harshness continue? Sufficient is the evil which my passion hath brought upon me!
Then, weeping, as before, she exclaimed again, O my master, answer me and speak to me! Upon this the King, speaking in a low voice, and adapting his tongue to the pronunciation of the blacks ejaculated, Ah! Ah! there is no strength nor power but in God! On hearing these words, she screamed with joy, and fell down in a swoon; and when she recovered, she exclaimed, Possibly my master is restored to health! the King, again lowering his voice, as if from weakness, replied, Thou profligate wretch, thou deservest not that I should address thee.—Wherefore? said she. He answered, Because all the day long thou tormentest thy husband, while he calleth out, and imploreth the aid of God, so that thou hast prevented my sleeping from the commencement of darkness until morning; thy husband hath not ceased to humble himself, and to imprecate vengeance upon thee, till he hath distracted me; and had it not been for this, I had recovered my strength; this it is which hath prevented my answering thee.—Then, with thy permission, she replied, I will liberate him from his present sufferings.—Liberate him, said the King, and give us ease.
  She replied, I hear and obey;—and immediately arose, and went out from the kubbeh to the palace, and, taking a cup, filled it with water, and pronounced certain words over it, upon which it began to boil like a cauldron. She then sprinkled some of it upon her cousin, saying, By virtue of what I have uttered, be changed from thy present state to that in which thou wast at first!—and instantly he shook, and stood upon his feet, rejoicing in his liberation, and exclaimed, I testify that there is no deity but God, and that Mohammad is God’s Apostle; God bless and save him! She then said to him, Depart, and return not hither, or I will kill thee:—and she cried out in his face: so he departed from before her, and she returned to the kubbeh, and said, O my master, come forth to me that I may behold thee. He replied, with a weak voice, What hast thou done? Thou hast relieved me from the branch, but hast not relieved me from the root.—O my beloved, she said, and what is the root? He answered, The people of this city, and of the four islands: every night, at the middle hour, the fish raise their heads, and imprecate vengeance upon me and upon thee; and this is the cause that preventeth the return of vigour to my body; therefore, liberate them, and come, and take my hand, and raise me; for vigour hath already in part returned to me.  9
  On hearing these words of the King, whom she imagined to be the slave, she said to him with joy, O my master, on my head and my eye! In the name of Allah!—and she sprang up, full of happiness, and hastened to the lake, where, taking a little of its water, she pronounced over it some unintelligible words, whereupon the fish became agitated, and raised their heads, and immediately became converted into men as before. Thus was the enchantment removed from the inhabitants of the city, and the city became repeopled, and the market-streets re-erected, and every one returned to his occupation: the mountains also became changed into islands as they were at the first. The enchantress then returned immediately to the King, whom she still imagined to be the slave, and said to him, O my beloved, stretch forth thy honoured hand, that I may kiss it.—Approach me, said the King in a low voice. So she drew near to him; and he, having his keen-edged sword ready in his hand, thrust it into her bosom, and the point protruded from her back: he then struck her again, and clove her in twain, and went forth.  10
  He found the young man who had been enchanted waiting his return, and congratulated him on his safety; and the young prince kissed his hand, and thanked him. The King then said to him, Wilt thou remain in thy city, or come with me to my capital?—O King of the age, said the young man, dost thou know the distance that is between thee and thy city? The King answered, Two days and a half.—O King, replied the young man, if thou hast been asleep, awake: between thee and thy city is a distance of a year’s journey to him who travelleth with diligence; and thou camest in two days and a half only because the city was enchanted: but, O King, I will never quit thee for the twinkling of an eye. The King rejoiced at his words, and said, Praise be to God, who hath in his beneficence given thee to me: thou art my son; for during my whole life, I have never been blest with a son:—and they embraced each other, and rejoiced exceedingly. They then went together into the palace, where the King who had been enchanted informed the officers of his court that he was about to perform the holy pilgrimage: so they prepared for him everything that he required; and he departed with the Sultan; his heart burning with reflections upon his city, because he had been deprived of the sight of it for the space of a year.  11
  He set forth, accompanied by fifty menjuks and provided with presents, and they continued their journey night and day for a whole year, after which they drew near to the city of the Sultan, and the Wezir and the troops, who had lost all hope of his return, came forth to meet him. The troops, approaching him, kissed the ground before him, and congratulated him on his safe return; and he entered the city, and sat upon the throne. He then acquainted the Wezir with all that had happened to the young King; on hearing which, the Wezir congratulated the latter, also, on his safety; and when all things were restored to order, the Sultan, bestowed presents upon a number of his subjects, and said to the Wezir, Bring to me the fisherman who presented to me the fish. So he sent to this fisherman, who had been the cause of the restoration of the inhabitants of the enchanted city, and brought him; and the King invested him with a dress of honour, and inquired of him respecting his circumstances, and whether he had any children. The fisherman informed him that he had a son and two daughters; and the King, on hearing this, took as his wife one of the daughters, and the young prince married the other. The King also conferred upon the son the office of treasurer. He then sent the Wezir to the city of the young prince, the capital of the Black Islands, and invested him with its sovereignty, despatching with him the fifty memluks who had accompanied him thence, with numerous robes of honour to all the Emirs; and the Wezir kissed his hands, and set forth on his journey; while the Sultan and the young prince remained. And as to the fisherman, he became the wealthiest of the people of his age; and his daughters continued to be the wives of the Kings until they died.  12
  But this (added Shahrazad) is not more wonderful than what happened to the porter.  13
Note 1. Bhang, hemp. [back]
Note 2. A building with a dome. [back]
Note 3. The chain of mountains believed by Muslims to encircle the earth. [back]
Note 4. Barley-beer. [back]


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