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WHAT THE ROSE DID TO THE CYPRESS
ONCE upon a time a great king of the East, named Saman-lalposh, had three brave and clever sons—Tahmasp, Qamas, and Almas-ruh-baksh. One day, when the king was sitting in his hall of audience, his eldest son, Prince Tahmasp, came before him, and after greeting his father with due respect, said: 'O my royal father! I am tired of the town; if you will give me leave, I will take my servants to-morrow and will go into the country and hunt on the hill-skirts; and when I have taken some game I will come back, at evening-prayer time.' His father consented, and sent with him some of his own trusted servants, and also hawks, and falcons, hunting dogs, cheetahs and leopards.
At the place where the prince intended to hunt he saw a most beautiful deer. He ordered that it should not be killed, but trapped or captured with a noose. The deer looked about for a place where he might escape from the ring of the beaters, and spied one unwatched close to the prince himself. It bounded high and leaped right over his head, got out of the ring, and tore like the eastern wind into the waste. The prince put spurs to his horse and pursued it; and was soon lost to the sight of his followers. Until the world-lighting sun stood above his head in the zenith he did not take his eyes off the deer; suddenly it disappeared behind some rising ground, and with all his search he could not find any further trace of it. He was now drenched in sweat, and he breathed with pain; and his horse's tongue hung from its mouth with thirst. He dismounted and toiled on, with bridle on arm, praying and casting himself on the mercy of heaven. Then his horse fell and surrendered its life to God. On and on he went across the sandy waste, weeping and with burning breast, till at length a hill rose into sight. He mustered his strength and climbed to the top, and there he found a giant tree whose foot kept firm the wrinkled earth, and whose crest touched the very heaven. Its branches had put forth a glory of leaves, and there were grass and a spring underneath it, and flowers of many colours.
Gladdened by this sight, he dragged himself to the water's edge, drank his fill, and returned thanks for his deliverance from thirst.
He looked about him and, to his amazement, saw close by a royal seat. While he was pondering what could have brought this into the merciless desert, a man drew near who was dressed like a faqr, and had bare head and feet, but walked with the free carriage of a person of rank. His face was kind, and wise and thoughtful, and he came on and spoke to the prince.
'O good youth! how did you come here? Who are you? Where do you come from?'
The prince told everything just as it had happened to him, and then respectfully added: 'I have made known my own circumstances to you, and now I venture to beg you to tell me your own. Who are you? How did you come to make your dwelling in this wilderness?'
To this the faqir replied: 'O youth! it would be best for you to have nothing to do with me and to know nothing of my fortunes, for my story is fit neither for telling nor for hearing.' The prince, however, pleaded so hard to be told, that at last there was nothing to be done but to let him hear.
'Learn and know, O young man! that I am King Janangir of Babylon, and that once I had army and servants, family and treasure; untold wealth and belongings. The Most High God gave me seven sons who grew up well versed in all princely arts. My eldest son heard from travellers that in Turkistan, on the Chinese frontier, there is a king named Quimus, the son of Timus, and that he has an only child, a daughter named Mihr-afruz, who, under all the azure heaven, is unrivalled for beauty. Princes come from all quarters to ask her hand, and on one and all she imposes a condition. She says to them: "I know a riddle; and I will marry anyone who answers it, and will bestow on him all my possessions. But if a suitor cannot answer my question I cut off his head and hang it on the battlements of the citadel." The riddle she asks is, "What did the rose do to the cypress?"
'Now, when my son heard this tale, he fell in love with that unseen girl, and he came to me lamenting and bewailing himself. Nothing that I could say had the slightest effect on him. I said: "Oh my son! if there must be fruit of this fancy of yours, I will lead forth a great army against King Quimus. If he will give you his daughter freely, well and good; and if not, I will ravage his kingdom and bring her away by force." This plan did not please him; he said:" It is not right to lay a kingdom waste and to destroy a palace so that I may attain my desire. I will go alone; I will answer the riddle, and win her in this way." At last, out of pity for him, I let him go. He reached the city of King Quimus. He was asked the riddle and could not give the true answer; and his head was cut off and hung upon the battlements. Then I mourned him in black raiment for forty days.
'After this another and another of my sons were seized by the same desire, and in the end all my seven sons went, and all were killed. In grief for their death I have abandoned my throne, and I abide here in this desert, withholding my hand from all State business and wearing myself away in sorrow.'
Prince Tahmasp listened to this tale, and then the arrow of love for that unseen girl struck his heart also. Just at this moment of his ill-fate his people came up, and gathered round him like moths round a light. They brought him a horse, fleet as the breeze of the dawn; he set his willing foot in the stirrup of safety and rode off. As the days went by the thorn of love rankled in his heart, and he became the very example of lovers, and grew faint and feeble. At last his confidants searched his heart and lifted the veil from the face of his love, and then set the matter before his father, King Saman-lal-posh. 'Your son, Prince Tahmasp, loves distractedly the Princess Mihr-afruz, daughter of King Quimus, son of Timus.' Then they told the king all about her and her doings. A mist of sadness clouded the king's mind, and he said to his son: 'If this thing is so, I will in the first place send a courier with friendly letters to King Quimus, and will ask the hand of his daughter for you. I will send an abundance of gifts, and a string of camels laden with flashing stones and rubies of Badakhshn. In this way I will bring her and her suite, and I will give her to you to be your solace. But if King Quimus is unwilling to give her to you, I will pour a whirlwind of soldiers upon him, and I will bring to you, in this way, that most consequential of girls.' But the prince said that this plan would not be right, and that he would go himself, and would answer the riddle. Then the king's wise men said: 'This is a very weighty matter; it would be best to allow the prince to set out accompanied by some persons in whom you have confidence. Maybe he will repent and come back.' So King Saman ordered all preparations for the journey to be made, and then Prince Tahmasp took his leave and set out, accompanied by some of the courtiers, and taking with him a string of two-humped and raven-eyed camels laden with jewels, and gold, and costly stuffs.
By stage after stage, and after many days' journeying, he arrived at the city of King Quimus. What did he see? A towering citadel whose foot kept firm the wrinkled earth, and whose battlements touched the blue heaven. He saw hanging from its battlements many heads, but it had not the least effect upon him that these were heads of men of rank; he listened to no advice about laying aside his fancy, but rode up to the gate and on into the heart of the city. The place was so splendid that the eyes of the ages have never seen its like, and there, in an open square, he found a tent of crimson satin set up, and beneath it two jewelled drums with jewelled sticks. These drums were put there so that the suitors of the princess might announce their arrival by beating on them, after which some one would come and take them to the king's presence. The sight of the drums stirred the fire of Prince Tahmasp's love. He dismounted, and moved towards them; but his companions hurried after and begged him first to let them go and announce him to the king, and said that then, when they had put their possessions in a place of security, they would enter into the all-important matter of the princess. The prince, however, replied that he was there for one thing only; that his first duty was to beat the drums and announce himself as a suitor, when he would be taken, as such, to the king, who would then give him proper lodgment. So he struck upon the drums, and at once summoned an officer who took him to King Quimus.
When the king saw how very young the prince looked, and that he was still drinking of the fountain of wonder, he said: 'O youth! leave aside this fancy which my daughter has conceived in the pride of her beauty. No one can answer her riddle, and she has done to death many men who had had no pleasure in life nor tasted its charms. God forbid that your spring also should be ravaged by the autumn winds of martyrdom.' All his urgency, however, had no effect in making the prince withdraw. At length it was settled between them that three days should be given to pleasant hospitality and that then should follow what had to be said and done. Then the prince went to his own quarters and was treated as became his station.
King Quimus now sent for his daughter and for her mother, Gulrukh, and talked to them. He said to Mihr-afruz: 'Listen to me, you cruel flirt! Why do you persist in this folly? Now there has come to ask your hand a prince of the east, so handsome that the very sun grows modest before the splendour of his face; he is rich, and he has brought gold and jewels, all for you, if you will marry him. A better husband you will not find.'
But all the arguments of father and mother were wasted, for her only answer was: 'O my father! I have sworn to myself that I will not marry, even if a thousand years go by, unless someone answers my riddle, and that I will give myself to that man only who does answer it.'
The three days passed; then the riddle was asked: 'What did the rose do to the cypress?' The prince had an eloquent tongue, which could split a hair, and without hesitation he replied to her with a verse: 'Only the Omnipotent has knowledge of secrets; if any man says, "I know" do not believe him.'
Then a servant fetched in the polluted, blue-eyed headsman, who asked: 'Whose sun of life has come near its setting?' took the prince by the arm, placed him upon the cloth of execution, and then, all merciless and stonyhearted, cut his head from his body and hung it on the battlements.
The news of the death of Prince Tahmasp plunged his father into despair and stupefaction. He mourned for him in black raiment for forty days; and then, a few days later, his second son, Prince Qams, extracted from him leave to go too ; and he, also, was put to death. One son only now remained, the brave, eloquent, happy-natured Prince Almas-ruh-bakhsh. One day, when his father sat brooding over his lost children, Almas came before him and said: 'O father mine! the daughter of King Quimus has done my two brothers to death; I wish to avenge them upon her.' These words brought his father to tears. 'O light of your father!' he cried, 'I have no one left but you, and now you ask me to let you go to your death.'
'Dear father!' pleaded the prince, 'until I have lowered the pride of that beauty, and have set her here before you, I cannot settle down or indeed sit down off my feet.'
In the end he, too, got leave to go; but he went without a following and alone. Like his brothers, he made the long journey to the city of Quimus the son of Timus; like them he saw the citadel, but he saw there the heads of Tahmasp and Qams. He went about in the city, saw the tent and the drums, and then went out again to a village not far off. Here he found out a very old man who had a wife 120 years old, or rather more. Their lives were coming to their end, but they had never beheld face of child of their own. They were glad when the prince came to their house, and they dealt with him as with a son. He put all his belongings into their charge, and fastened his horse in their out-house. Then he asked them not to speak of him to anyone, and to keep his affairs secret. He exchanged his royal dress for another, and next morning, just as the sun looked forth from its eastern oratory, he went again into the city. He turned over in his mind without ceasing how he was to find out the meaning of the riddle, and to give them a right answer, and who could help him, and how to avenge his brothers. He wandered about the city, but heard nothing of service, for there was no one in all that land who understood the riddle of Princess Mihr-afruz.
One day he thought he would go to her own palace and see if he could learn anything there, so he went out to her garden-house. It was a very splendid place, with a wonderful gateway, and walls like Alexander's ramparts. Many gatekeepers were on guard, and there was no chance of passing them. His heart was full of bitterness, but he said to himself: 'All will be well! it is here I shall get what I want.' He went round outside the garden wall hoping to find a gap, and he made supplication in the Court of Supplications and prayed, 'O Holder of the hand of the helpless! show me my way.'
While he prayed he bethought himself that he could get into the garden with a stream of inflowing water. He looked carefully round, fearing to be seen, stripped, slid into the stream and was carried within the great walls. There he hid himself till his loin cloth was dry. The garden was a very Eden, with running water amongst its lawns, with flowers and the lament of doves and the jug-jug of nightingales. It was a place to steal the senses from the brain, and he wandered about and saw the house, but there seemed to be no one there. In the forecourt was a royal seat of polished jasper, and in the middle of the platform was a basin of purest water that flashed like a mirror. He pleased himself with these sights for a while, and then went back to the garden and hid himself from the gardeners and passed the night. Next morning he put on the appearance of a madman and wandered about till he came to a lawn where several peri-faced girls were amusing themselves. On a throne, jewelled and overspread with silken stuffs, sat a girl the splendour of whose beauty lighted up the place, and whose ambergris and attar perfumed the whole air. 'That must be Mihr-afruz,' he thought, 'she is indeed lovely.' Just then one of the attendants came to the water's edge to fill a cup, and though the prince was in hiding, his face was reflected in the water. When she saw this image she was frightened, and let her cup fall into the stream, and thought, 'Is it an angel, or a peri, or a man?' Fear and trembling took hold of her, and she screamed as women scream. Then some of the other girls came and took her to the princess who asked: 'What is the matter, pretty one?'
'O princess! I went for water, and I saw an image, and I was afraid.' So another girl went to the water and saw the same thing, and came back with the same story. The princess wished to see for herself; she rose and paced to the spot with the march of a prancing peacock. When she saw the image she said to her nurse: 'Find out who is reflected in the water, and where he lives.' Her words reached the prince's ear, he lifted up his head; she saw him and beheld beauty such as she had never seen before. She lost a hundred hearts to him, and signed to her nurse to bring him to her presence. The prince let himself be persuaded to go with the nurse, but when the princess questioned him as to who he was and how he had got into her garden, he behaved like a man out of his mind—sometimes smiling, sometimes crying, and saying: 'I am hungry,' or words misplaced and random, civil mixed with the rude.
'What a pity!' said the princess, 'he is mad!' As she liked him she said: 'He is my mad man; let no one hurt him.' She took him to her house and told him not to go away, for that she would provide for all his wants. The prince thought, 'It would be excellent if here, in her very house, I could get the answer to her riddle; but I must be silent, on pain of death.'
Excerpted from THE BROWN FAIRY BOOK by Andrew Lang, H. J. Ford. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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