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The Third Kalandar’s Tale

But the old man, O my lady, ceased not from his swoon till near sunset, when he came to himself and, looking upon his dead son, he recalled what had happened, and how what he had dreaded had come to pass, and he beat his face and head. Then he sobbed a single sob and his soul fled his flesh. The slaves shrieked aloud, "Alas, our lord!" and showered dust on their heads and redoubled their weeping and wailing. Presently they carried their dead master to the ship side by side with his dead son and, having transported all the stuff from the dwelling to the vessel, set sail and disappeared from mine eyes. I descended from the tree and, raising the trapdoor, went down into the underground dwelling, where everything reminded me of the youth, and I looked upon the poor remains of him and began repeating these verses:

"Their tracks I see, and pine with pain and pang,
And on deserted hearths I weep and yearn.
And Him I pray who doomed them depart
Some day vouchsafe the boon of safe return."

Then, O my lady, I went up again by the trapdoor, and every day I used to wander round about the island and every night I returned to the underground hall. Thus I lived for a month, till at last, looking at the western side of the island, I observed that every day the tide ebbed, leaving shallow water for which the flow did not compensate, and by the end of the month the sea showed dry land in that direction. At this I rejoiced, making certain of my safety, so I arose and, fording what little was left of the water, got me to the mainland, where I fell in with great heaps of loose sand in which even a camel’s hoof would sink up to the knee. However, I emboldened my soul and, wading through the sand, behold, a fire shone from afar burning with a blazing light. So I made for it hoping haply to find succor and broke out into these verses:

"Belike my Fortune may her bridle turn
And Time bring weal although he’s jealous hight,
Forward my hopes, and further all my needs,
And passed ills with present weals requite."

And when I drew near the fire aforesaid, lo! it was a palace with gates of copper burnished red which, when the rising sun shone thereon, gleamed and glistened from afar, showing what had seemed to me a fire. I rejoiced in the sight, and sat down over against the gate, but I was hardly settled in my seat before there met me ten young men clothed in sumptuous gear, and all were blind of the left eye, which appeared as plucked out. They were accompanied by a Sheikh, an old, old man, and much I marveled at their appearance, and their all being blind in the same eye. When they saw me, they saluted me with the salaam and asked me of my case and my history, whereupon I related to them all what had befallen me and what full measure of misfortune was mine. Marveling at my tale, they took me to the mansion, where I saw ranged round the hall ten couches each with its blue bedding and coverlet of blue stuff and a-middlemost stood a smaller couch furnished like them with blue and nothing else.
As we entered each of the youths took his seat on his own couch and the old man seated himself upon the smaller one in the middle, saying to me, "O youth, sit thee down on the floor, and ask not of our case nor of the loss of our eyes." Presently he rose up and set before each young man some meat in a charger and drink in a larger mazer, treating me in like manner, and after that they sat questioning me concerning my adventures and what had betided me. And I kept telling them my tale till the night was far spent. Then said the young men: "O our Sheikh, wilt not thou set before us our ordinary? The time is come." He replied, "With love and gladness," and rose and, entering a closet, disappeared, but presently returned bearing on his head ten trays each covered with a strip of blue stuff. He set a tray before each youth and, lighting ten wax candles, he stuck one upon each tray, and drew off the covers and lo! under them was naught but ashes and powdered charcoal and kettle soot. Then all the young men tucked up their sleeves to the elbows and fell a-weeping and wailing and they blackened their faces and smeared their clothes and buffeted their brows and beat their breasts, continually exclaiming, "We were sitting at our ease, but our frowardness brought us unease!" They ceased not to do thus till dawn drew nigh, when the old man rose and heated water for them, and they washed their face and donned other and clean clothes.
Now when I saw this, O my lady, for very wonderment my senses left me and my wits went wild and heart and head were full of thought, till I forgot what had betided me and I could not keep silence, feeling I fain must speak out and question them of these strangenesses. So I said to them: "How come ye to do this after we have been so openhearted and frolicsome? Thanks be to Allah, ye be all sound and sane, yet actions such as these befit none but madmen or those possessed of an evil spirit. I conjure you by all that is dearest to you, why stint ye to tell me your history, and the cause of your losing your eyes and your blackening your faces with ashes and soot?" Hereupon they turned to me and said, "O young man, hearken not to thy youthtide’s suggestions, and question us no questions." Then they slept and I with them, and when they awoke the old man brought us somewhat oi food. And after we had eaten and the plates and goblets had been removed, they sat conversing till nightfall, when the old man rose and lit the wax candles and lamps and set meat and drink before us.
After we had eaten and drunken we sat conversing and carousing in companionage till the noon of night, when they said to the old man, "Bring us our ordinary, for the hour of sleep is at hand!" So he rose and brought them the trays of soot and ashes, and they did as they had done on the preceding night, nor more, nor less. I abode with them after this fashion for the space of a month, during which time they used to blacken their faces with ashes every night, and to wash and change their raiment when the morn was young, and I but marveled the more and my scruples and curiosity increased to such a point that I had to forgo even food and drink.
At last I lost command of myself, for my heart was aflame with fire unquenchable and lowe unconcealable, and I said, "O young men, will ye not relieve my trouble and acquaint me with the reason of thus blackening your faces and the meaning of your words, ’We were sitting at our ease, but our frowardness brought us unease’?" Quoth they, "’Twere better to keep these things secret." Still I was bewildered by their doings to the point of abstaining from eating and drinking and at last wholly losing patience, quoth I to them: "There is no help for it. Ye must acquaint me with what is the reason of these doings." They replied: "We kept our secret only for thy good. To gratify thee will bring down evil upon thee and thou wilt become a monocular even as we are." I repeated, "There is no help for it, and if ye will not, let me leave you and return to mine own people and be at rest from seeing these things, for the proverb saith:

"Better ye ’bide and I take my leave;
For what eye sees not heart shall never grieve."

Thereupon they said to me, "Remember, O youth, that should ill befall thee, we will not again harbor thee nor suffer thee to abide amongst us." And bringing a ram, they slaughtered it and skinned it. Lastly they gave me a knife, saying: "Take this skin and stretch thyself upon it and we will sew it around thee. Presently there shall come to thee a certain bird, hight roe, that will catch thee up in his pounces and tower high in air and then set thee down on a mountain. When thou feelest he is no longer flying, rip open the pelt with this blade and come out of it. The bird will be scared and will fly away and leave thee free. After this fare for half a day, and the march will place thee at a palace wondrous fair to behold, towering high in air and builded of khalanj, lign aloes and sandalwood, plated with red gold, and studded with all manner emeralds and costly gems fit for seal rings. Enter it and thou shalt will to thy wish, for we have all entered that palace, and such is the cause of our losing our eyes and of our blackening our faces. Were we now to tell thee our stories it would take too long a time, for each and every of us lost his left eye by an adventure of his own."
I rejoiced at their words, and they did with me as they said, and the bird roc bore me off and set me down on the mountain. Then I came out of the skin and walked on till I reached the palace. The door stood open as I entered and found myself in a spacious and goodly hall, wide exceedingly, even as a horse course. And around it were a hundred chambers with doors of sandal and aloe woods plated with red gold and furnished with silver rings by way of knockers. At the head or upper end of the hall I saw forty damsels, sumptuously dressed and ornamented and one and all bright as moons. None could ever tire of gazing upon them, and all so lovely that the most ascetic devotee on seeing them would become their slave and obey their will. When they saw me the whole bevy came up to me and said: "Welcome and well come and good cheer to thee, O our lord! This whole month have we been expecting thee. Praised be Allah Who hath sent us one who is worthy of us, even as we are worthy of him!"
Then they made me sit down upon a high divan and said to me, "This day thou art our lord and master, and we are thy servants and thy handmaids, so order us as thou wilt." And I marveled at their case. Presently one of them arose and set meat before me and I ate and they ate with me whilst others warmed water and washed my hands and feet and changed my clothes, and others made ready sherbets and gave us to drink, and all gathered around me, being full of joy and gladness at my coming. Then they sat down and conversed with me till nightfall, when five of them arose and laid the trays and spread them with flowers and fragrant herbs and fruits, fresh and dried, and confections in profusion. At last they brought out a fine wine service with rich old wine, and we sat down to drink and some sang songs and others played the lute and psaltery and recorders and other instruments, and the bowl went merrily round. Hereupon such gladness possessed me that I forgot the sorrows of the world one and all and said: "This is indeed life. O sad that ’tis fleeting!"
I enjoyed their company till the time came for rest, and our heads were all warm with wine, when they said, "O our lord, choose from amongst us her who shall be thy bedfellow this night and not lie with thee again till forty days be past." So I chose a girl fair of face and perfect in shape, with eyes kohl-edged by nature’s hand, hair long and jet-black, with slightly parted teeth and joining brows. ’Twas as if she were some limber graceful branchlet or the slender stalk of sweet basil to amaze and to bewilder man’s fancy. So I lay with her that night. None fairer I ever knew. And when it was morning, the damsels carried me to the hammam bath and bathed me and robed me in fairest apparel. Then they served up food, and we ate and drank and the cup went round till nightfall, when I chose from among them one fair of form and face, soft-sided and a model of grace, such a one as the poet described when he said:

On her fair bosom caskets twain I scanned,
Sealed fast with musk seals lovers to withstand.
With arrowy glances stand on guard her eyes,
Whose shafts would shoot who dares put forth a hand.

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