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The Tale of the Ensorceled Prince

KNOW then, O my lord, that whilom my sire was King of this city, and his name was Mahmud, entitled Lord of the Black Islands, and owner of what are now these four mountains. He ruled threescore and ten years, after which he went to the mercy of the Lord and I reigned as Sultan in his stead. I took to wife my cousin, the daughter of my paternal uncle, and she loved me with such abounding love that whenever I was absent she ate not and she drank not until she saw me again. She cohabited with me for five years till a certain day when she went forth to the hammam bath, and I bade the cook hasten to get ready all requisites for our supper. And I entered this palace and lay down on the bed where I was wont to sleep and bade two damsels to fan my face, one sitting by my head and the other at my feet.
But I was troubled and made restless by my wife’s absence and could not sleep, for although my eyes were closed, my mind and thoughts were wide-awake. Presently I heard the slave girl at my head say to her at my feet: "O Mas’udah, how miserable is our master and how wasted in his youth, and oh! the pity of his being so betrayed by our mistress, the accursed whore!" The other replied: "Yes indeed. Allah curse all faithless women and adulterous! But the like of our master, with his fair gifts, deserveth something better than this harlot who lieth abroad every night." Then quoth she who sat by my head, "Is our lord dumb or fit only for bubbling that he questioneth her not!" and quoth the other: "Fie on thee! Doth our lord know her ways, or doth she allow him his choice? Nay, more, doth she not drug every night the cup she giveth him to drink before sleeptime, and put bhang into it? So he sleepeth and wotteth not whither she goeth, nor what she doeth, but we know that after giving him the drugged wine, she donneth her richest raiment and perfumeth herself and then she fareth out from him to be away till break of day. Then she cometh to him and burneth a pastille under his nose and he awaketh from his death-like sleep." When I heard the slave girls’ words, the light became black before my sight and I thought night would never fall.
Presently the daughter of my uncle came from the baths, and they set the table for us and we ate and sat together a fair half-hour quaffing our wine, as was ever our wont. Then she called for the particular wine I used to drink before sleeping and reached me the cup, but, seeming to drink it according to my wont, I poured the contents into my bosom and, lying down, let her hear that I was asleep. Then, behold, she cried: "Sleep out the night, and never wake again! By Allah, I loathe thee and I loathe thy whole body, and my soul turneth in disgust from cohabiting with thee, and I see not the moment when Allah shall snatch away thy life!" Then she rose and donned her fairest dress and perfumed her person and slung my sword over her shoulder, and opening the gates of the palace, went her ill way.
I rose and followed her as she left the palace and she threaded the streets until she came to the city gate, where she spoke words I understood not and the padlocks dropped of themselves as if broken and the gate leaves opened. She went forth (and I after her without her noticing aught) till she came at last to the outlying mounds and a reed fence built about a round-roofed hut of mud bricks. As she entered the door, I climbed upon the roof, which commanded a view of the interior, And lo! my fair cousin had gone in to a hideous Negro slave with his upper lip like the cover of a pot and his lower like an open pot, lips which might sweep up sand from the gravel floor of the cot. He was to boot a leper and a paralytic, lying upon a strew of sugar-cane trash and wrapped in an old blanket and the foulest rags and tatters.
She kissed the earth before him, and he raised his head so as to see her and said: "Woe to thee! What call hadst thou to stay away all this time? Here have been with me sundry of the black brethren, who drank their wine and each had his young lady, and I was not content to drink because of thine absence." Then she: "O my lord, my heart’s love and coolth of my eyes, knowest thou not that I am married to my cousin, whose very look I loathe, and hate myself when in his company? And did not I fear for thy sake, I would not let a single sun arise before making his city a ruined heap wherein raven should croak and howlet hoot, and jackal and wolf harbor and loot- nay, I had removed its very stones to the back side of Mount Kaf." Rejoined the slave: "Thou liest, damn thee! Now I swear an oath by the valor and honor of blackamoor men (and deem not our manliness to be the poor manliness of white men), from today forth if thou stay away till this hour, I will not keep company with thee nor will I glue my body with thy body. Dost play fast and loose with us, thou cracked pot, that we may satisfy thy dirty lusts, O vilest of the vile whites?"
When I heard his words, and saw with my own eyes what passed between these two wretches, the world waxed dark before my face and my soul knew not in what place it was. But my wife humbly stood up weeping before and wheedling the slave, and saying: "O my beloved, and very fruit of my heart, there is none left to cheer me but thy dear self, and, if thou cast me off, who shall take me in, O my beloved, O light of my eyes?" And she ceased not weeping and abasing herself to him until he deigned be reconciled with her. Then was she right glad and stood up and doffed her clothes, even to her petticoat trousers, and said, "O my master, what hast thou here for thy handmaiden to eat?" "Uncover the basin," he grumbled, "and thou shalt find at the bottom the broiled bones of some rats we dined on. Pick at them, and then go to that slop pot, where thou shalt find some leavings of beer which thou mayest drink." So she ate and drank and washed her hands, and went and lay down by the side of the slave upon the cane trash and crept in with him under his foul coverlet and his rags and tatters.
When I saw my wife, my cousin, the daughter of my uncle, do this deed, I clean lost my wits, and climbing down from the roof, I entered and took the sword which she had with her and drew it, determined to cut down the twain. I first struck at the slave’s neck and thought that the death decree had fallen on him, for he groaned a loud hissing groan, but I had cut only the skin and flesh of the gullet and the two arteries! It awoke the daughter of my uncle, so I sheathed the sword and fared forth for the city, and entering the palace, lay upon my bed and slept till morning, when my wife aroused me and I saw that she had cut off her hair and had donned mourning garments. Quoth she: "O son of my uncle, blame me not for what I do. It hath just reached me that my mother is dead and my father hath been killed in holy war, and of my brothers one hath lost his life by a snake sting and the other by falling down some precipice, and I can and should do naught save weep and lament."
When I heard her words I refrained from all reproach and said only: "Do as thou list. I certainly will not thwart thee." She continued sorrowing, weeping and wailing one whole year from the beginning of its circle to the end, and when it was finished she said to me: "I wish to build me in thy palace a tomb with a cupola, which I will set apart for my mourning and will name the House of Lamentations." Quoth I again: "Do as thou list!" Then she builded for herself a cenotaph wherein to mourn, and set on its center a dome under which showed a tomb like a santon’s sepulcher. Thither she carried the slave and lodged him, but he was exceeding weak by reason of his wound, and unable to do her love service. He could only drink wine, and from the day of his hurt he spake not a word, yet he lived on because his appointed hour was not come. Every day, morning and evening, my wife went to him and wept and wailed over him and gave him wine and strong soups, and left not off doing after this manner a second year. And I bore with her patiently and paid no heed to her.
One day, however, I went in to her unawares, and I found her weeping and beating her face and crying: "Why art thou absent from my sight, O my heart’s delight? Speak to me, O my life, talk with me, O my love." When she had ended for a time her words and her weeping I said to her, "O my cousin, let this thy mourning suffice, for in pouring forth tears there is little profit!" "Thwart me not," answered she, "in aught I do, or I will lay violent hands on myself!" So I held my peace and left her to go her own way, and she ceased not to cry and keen and indulge her affliction for yet another year. At the end of the third year I waxed aweary of this longsome mourning, and one day I happened to enter the cenotaph when vexed and angry with some matter which had thwarted me, and suddenly I heard her say: "O my lord, I never hear thee vouchsafe a single word to me! Why dost thou not answer me, O my master?" and she began reciting:

"O thou tomb! O thou tomb! Be his beauty set in shade?
Hast thou darkened that countenance all-sheeny as the noon?
O thou tomb! Neither earth nor yet Heaven art to me,
Then how cometh it in thee are conjoined my sun and moon?"

When I heard such verses as these rage was heaped upon my rage, I cried out: "Wellaway! How long is this sorrow to last?" and I began repeating:

"O thou tomb! O thou tomb! Be his horrors set in blight?
Hast thou darkened his countenance that sickeneth the soul?
O thou tomb! Neither cesspool nor pigskin art to me,
Then how cometh it in thee are conjoined soil and coal?"

When she heard my words she sprang to her feet crying: "Fie upon thee, thou cur! All this is of thy doings. Thou hast wounded my heart’s darling and thereby worked me sore woe, and thou hast wasted his youth so that these three years he hath lain abed more dead than alive!" In my wrath I cried: "O thou foulest of harlots and filthiest of whores ever futtered by Negro slaves who are hired to have at thee! Yes, indeed it was I who did this good deed." And snatching up my sword, I drew it and made at her to cut her down. But she laughed my words and mine intent to scorn, crying: "To heel, hound that thou art! Alas for the past which shall no more come to pass, nor shall anyone avail the dead to raise. Allah hath indeed now given into my hand him who did to me this thing, a deed that hath burned my heart with a fire which died not a flame which might not be quenched!"
Then she stood up, and pronouncing some words to me unintelligible, she said, "By virtue of my egromancy become thou half stone and half man!" Whereupon I became what thou seest, unable to rise or to sit, and neither dead nor alive. Moreover, she ensorceled the city with all its streets and garths, and she turned by her gramarye the four islands into four mountains around the tarn whereof thou questionest me. And the citizens, who were of four different faiths, Moslem, Nazarene, Jew, and Magian, she transformed by her enchantments into fishes. The Moslems are the white, the Magians red, the Christians blue, and the Jews yellow. And every day she tortureth me and scourgeth me with a hundred stripes, each of which draweth floods of blood and cutteth the skin of my shoulders to strips. And lastly she clotheth my upper half with a haircloth and then throweth over them these robes. Hereupon the young man again shed tears and began reciting:

"In patience, O my God, I endure my lot and fate,
I will bear at will of Thee whatsoever be my state.
They oppress me, they torture me, they make my life a woe,
Yet haply Heaven’s happiness shall compensate my strait.
Yea, straitened is my life by the bane and hate o’ foes,
But Mustafa and Murtaza shall ope me Heaven’s gate."

After this the Sultan turned toward the young Prince and said: "O youth, thou hast removed one grief only to add another grief. But now, O my friend, where is she, and where is the mausoleum wherein lieth the wounded slave?" "The slave lieth under yon dome," quoth the young man, "and she sitteth in the chamber fronting yonder door. And every day at sunrise she cometh forth, and first strippeth me, and whippeth me with a hundred strokes of the leathern scourge, and I weep and shriek, but there is no power of motion in my lower limbs to keep her off me. After ending her tormenting me she visiteth the slave, bringing him wine and boiled meats. And tomorrow at an early hour she will be here." Quoth the King: "By Allah, O youth, I will assuredly do thee a good deed which the world shall not willingly let die, and an act of derring-do which shall be chronicled long after I am dead and gone by."

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