The Story of the Second Monk, Son of a King
“Madam,” said the young man, speaking to 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, realizing I was unusually quick and clever for my age, began to think about my education. I was taught first to read and write. I also learnt history, and was instructed in poetry geography, mathematics and in all the outdoor activities 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 that reached as far as India itself.
Now the Sultan of the Indies, curious to see a young prince with such talents, sent an ambassador to my father, with rich presents, and a warm invitation to visit his court. My father, who was deeply anxious to have the friendship of so powerful a monarch ,accepted gladly, and in a short time I had set out for India with the ambassador, accompanied only by a small group because of the length of the journey. However, as was my duty, I took with me ten camels, carrying rich presents for the Sultan.
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 were only half as many, so there was no use in fighting. We tried to impress them by informing them who we were, and where we were going. The robbers, however, only laughed, and declared that was none of their business. Without saying more they attacked us brutally. I defended myself even though I was wounded At last, seeing that resistance was hopeless, and that the ambassador and all our followers were made prisoners, I jumped on my horse and rode away as fast as I could, till the poor animal 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, I imagined, the robbers were all quarrelling over their loot.
I found myself in a country that was quite new to me, and did not dare to return to the main road in case I should again fall into the hands of the robbers. Luckily my wound was only a slight one, and after bandaging 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 last I found myself on the outskirts of a beautiful city. My delight at the idea of mixing once more with human beings was somewhat lessened 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 poor condition that I had been forced to throw them away.
I entered the town, and stopped at a tailor’s shop to ask where I was. The man 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 comfort, only increased my trouble.
“Beware,” he said, “Of telling any one what you have told me, for the prince who rules the kingdom is your father’s greatest enemy, and he will be pleased indeed to find you in his power.”
I thanked the tailor for his advice, and said I would do whatever he advised .Then, being very hungry, I gladly ate the food he put before me, and accepted his offer of a bed in his house.
In a few days I had quite recovered from the hardships I had experienced, .Then the tailor, knowing that it was the custom for the people of our country to learn a trade or profession so as to provide for themselves in times of misfortune, asked 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 writing.
“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. In this way you will earn your living, and be able to wait till better times come. The axe and the rope shall be my present.”
This advice was very distressing to me, but I had no choice. So the next morning I set out with a group of poor wood-cutters, the tailor had introduced me to. Even on the first day I cut enough wood to sell for a fair sum of money, 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 green glade, where I began to cut wood. I was chopping at the root of a tree, when I saw an iron ring fastened to a trapdoor. I soon cleared away the earth, and pulling up the door, found a staircase, which I quickly made up my mind to go down, carrying my axe with me for 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, decorated with gold. Down this gallery a lady came to meet me, of such beauty that I forgot everything else, and thought only of her.
I bowed low.
“Who are you? Who are you?” she said. “A man or a genie?”
“A man, madam,” I replied; “I have nothing to do with genies.”
“How did you come here?” she asked again with a sigh. “I have been in this place now for twenty five years, and you are the first man who has visited me.”
Feeling braver because of her beauty and gentleness, I replied, “Before, madam, I answer your question, allow me to say how grateful I am for this meeting, which is not only a comfort to me in my own sadness, but may perhaps allow me to make your situation happier,” and then I told her who I was, and how I had come there.
“Alas, prince,” she said, with a deeper sigh than before, “You have guessed rightly in supposing me an unwilling prisoner in this beautiful place. I am the daughter of the king of the Ebony Isle, you surely must have heard of. My father wanted me to be married to a prince who was my own cousin, but on my wedding day, I was snatched up by a genie, and brought here. For a long while I did nothing but weep, and would not let the genie to come near me. But time passed, and I have now got used to him. And if clothes and jewels could make me happy, I have plenty. Every tenth day, for twenty five 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 charm that stands at the entrance of my room. There are still five days to his next visit, and I hope that during that time you will be my guest.”
I was too much dazzled by her beauty to dream of refusing her offer, and so the princess showed me to the bath, and clothes were provided for me. Then a feast of the most delicious dishes was served.
The next day, when we were at dinner, I begged the princess to escape, and return with me to the world.
“What you ask is impossible,” she answered; “But stay here with me instead, and we can be happy. All you will have to do is to take yourself to the forest every tenth day, when I am expecting my master the genie. He is very jealous, as you know, and will not allow 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 fear him so little that I mean to break his charm into pieces! Awful though you think him, he shall feel my power.”
The princess, who realized the consequences of such foolishness, begged me not to touch the charm. “If you do, it will be the ruin of both of us,” said she; “I know genies much better than you.” But the wine I had drunk had confused my brain. I gave one kick to the charm, 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. In an instant I understood what I had done. “Princess!” I cried, “What is happening?”
“Alas!” she exclaimed, “Flee, or you are lost.”
I followed her advice and dashed up the staircase, leaving my axe behind me. But I was too late. The palace opened and the genie appeared, who, turning angrily to the princess, asked angrily,
“What is the matter that you have sent for me like this?”
“A pain in my heart,” she replied hastily, “Made me seek the aid of this little bottle. Feeling faint, I slipped and fell against the charm which broke. That is really all.”
“You are a liar!” cried the genie. “How did this axe 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.” The genie only replied by insults and blows. I could hear the shrieks and groans of the princess, and having by this time taken off my clothes 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 silent about my adventure, and as soon as possible went to my room to regret in secret my foolishness. A short time later my host entered, and said, “There is an old man downstairs who has brought your axe and shoes, which he picked up on the road, and now returns to you, as he found out from one of your friends where you lived. You had better come down and speak to him yourself.” At hearing this I paled, and my legs trembled under me. The tailor noticed my confusion, and was just going to ask why when the door of the room opened, and the old man appeared, carrying with him my axe and shoes.
“I am a genie,” he said, “The son of the daughter of Eblis, prince of the genies. Is this axe yours, and these shoes?” Without waiting for an answer, 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 tapped 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. She was lying on the ground covered with blood, and weeping bitterly.
“Traitor!” cried the genie, “Is this man your lover?”
She lifted up her eyes slowly, and looked sadly at me. “I have never seen him before,” she answered slowly. “I do not know who he is.”
“What!” exclaimed the genie, “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 genie, drawing his sword, “Take this, and cut off his head.”
“Alas,” answered the princess, “I am too weak even to hold the sabre. And even if I had the strength, why should I put an innocent man to death?”
“Your refusal tells me you are guilty,” said the genie and then turning to me, he added, “And you, do you know her?”
“How should I?” I replied. “How should I, when I have never seen her before?”
“Cut her head off,” then, “If she is a stranger to you I shall believe you are speaking the truth, and will set you free.”
I flung the sabre to the floor.
“I should not deserve to live,” I said to the genie, “If I were such a coward as to kill a lady who is not only unknown to me, but who is at this moment half dead herself. Do with me what you like. I am in your power. But I refuse to obey your cruel command.”
“I see,” said the genie, “that you have both made up your minds to defy 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 farewell. Then I lost consciousness for several minutes.
When I came to myself I begged the genie to put an end to my sufferings. The genie, however, paid no attention to my prayers, but said, “That is the way in which a genie 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, whichever you prefer.”
“Oh genie!” I cried, “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.” The genie 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.