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The Third Kalandar’s Tale

With her I spent a most goodly night, and, to be brief, O my mistress, I remained with them in all solace and delight of life, eating and drinking, conversing and carousing, and every night lying with one or other of them. But at the head of the New Year they came to me in tears and bade me farewell, weeping and crying out and clinging about me, whereat I wondered and said: "What may be the matter? Verily you break my heart!" They exclaimed, "Would Heaven we had never known thee, for though we have companied with many, yet never saw we a pleasanter than thou or a more courteous." And they wept again. "But tell me more clearly," asked I, "what causeth this weeping which maketh my gall bladder like to burst?" And they answered: "O lord and master, it is severance which maketh us weep, and thou, and thou only, art the cause of our tears. If thou hearken to us we need never be parted, and if thou hearken not we part forever, but our hearts tell us that thou wilt not listen to our words and this is the cause of our tears and cries." "Tell me how the case standeth."
"Know, O our lord, that we are the daughters of kings who have met here and have lived together for years, and once in every year we are perforce absent for forty days. And afterward we return and abide here for the rest of the twelvemonth eating and drinking and taking our pleasure and enjoying delights. We are about to depart according to our custom, and we fear lest after we be gone thou contraire our charge and disobey our injunctions. Here now we commit to thee the keys of the palace, which containeth forty chambers, and thou mayest open of these thirty and nine, but beware (and we conjure thee by Allah and by the lives of us!) lest thou open the fortieth door, for therein is that which shall separate us for ever." Quoth I, "Assuredly I will not open it if it contain the cause of severance from you." Then one among them came up to me and falling on my neck wept and recited these verses:

"If Time unite us after absent-while,
The world harsh-frowning on our lot shall smile,
And if thy semblance deign adorn mine eyes,
I’ll pardon Time past wrongs and bygone guile."

And I recited the following:

"When drew she near to bid adieu with her heart unstrung,
While care and longing on that day her bosom wrung,
Wet pearls she wept and mine like red camelians rolled
And, joined in sad riviere, around her neck they hung."

When I saw her weeping I said, "By Allah, I will never open that fortieth door, never and nowise!" and I bade her farewell. Thereupon all departed flying away like birds, signaling with their hands farewells as they went and leaving me alone in the palace. When evening drew near I opened the door of the first chamber and entering it found myself in a place like one of the pleasaunces of Paradise. It was a garden with trees of freshest green and ripe fruits of yellow sheen, and its birds were singing clear and keen and rills ran wimpling through the fair terrene. The sight and sounds brought solace to my sprite, and I walked among the trees, and I smelt the breath of the flowers on the breeze and heard the birdies sing their melodies hymning the One, the Almighty, in sweetest litanies, and I looked upon the apple whose hue is parcel red and parcel yellow, as said the poet:

Apple whose hue combines in union mellow
My fair’s red cheek, her hapless lover’s yellow.

Then I looked upon the pear whose taste surpasseth sherbet and sugar, and the apricot whose beauty striketh the eye with admiration, as if she were a polished ruby.
Then I went out of the place and locked the door as it was before. When it was the morrow I opened the second door, and entering found myself in a spacious plain set with tall date palms and watered by a running stream whose banks were shrubbed with bushes of rose and jasmine, while privet and eglantine, oxeye, violet and lily, narcissus, origane, and the winter gilliflower carpeted the borders. And the breath of the breeze swept over these sweet-smelling growths diffusing their delicious odors right and left, perfuming the world and filling my soul with delight. After taking my pleasure there awhile I went from it and, having closed the door as it was before, opened the third door, wherein I saw a high open hall pargetted with particolored marbles and pietra dura of price and other precious stones, and hung with cages of sandalwood and eagle wood, full of birds which made sweet music, such as the "thousand-voiced," and the cushat, the merle, the turtledove, and the Nubian ringdove. My heart was filled with pleasure thereby, my grief was dispelled, and I slept in that aviary till dawn.
Then I unlocked the door of the fourth chamber, and therein found a grand saloon with forty smaller chambers giving upon it. All their doors stood open, so I entered and found them full of pearls and jacinths and beryls and emeralds and corals and carbuncles, and all manner precious gems and jewels, such as tongue of man may not describe. My thought was stunned at the sight and I said to myself, "These be things methinks united which could not be found save in the treasuries of a King of Kings, nor could the monarchs of the world have collected the like of these!" And my heart dilated and my sorrows ceased. "For," quoth I, "now verily am I the Monarch of the Age, since by Allah’s grace this enormous wealth is mine, and I have forty damsels under my hand, nor is there any to claim them save myself." Then I gave not over opening place after place until nine and thirty days were passed, and in that time I had entered every chamber except that one whose door the Princesses had charged me not to open.
But my thoughts, O my mistress, ever ran on that forbidden fortieth, and Satan urged me to open it for my own undoing, nor had I patience to forbear, albeit there wanted of the trusting time but a single day. So I stood before the chamber aforesaid and, after a moment’s hesitation, opened the door, which was plated with red gold, and entered. I was met by a perfume whose like I had never before smelt, and so sharp and subtle was the odor that it made my senses drunken as with strong wine, and I fell to the ground in a fainting fit which lasted a full hour. When I came to myself I strengthened my heart, and entering, found myself in a chamber whose floor was bespread with saffron and blazing with light from branched candelabra of gold and lamps fed with costly oils, which diffused the scent of musk and ambergris. I saw there also two great censers each big as a mazer bowl, flaming with lign aloes, nadd perfume, ambergris, and honeyed scents, and the place was full of their fragrance.
Presently, O my lady, I espied a noble steed, black as the murks of night when murkiest, standing ready saddled and bridled (and his saddle was of red gold) before two mangers, one of clear crystal wherein was husked sesame, and the other also of crystal containing water of the rose scented with musk. When I saw this I marveled and said to myself, "Doubtless in this animal must be some wondrous mystery." And Satan cozened me so I led him without the palace and mounted him, but he would not stir from his place. So I hammered his sides with my heels, but he moved not, and then I took the rein whip and struck him withal. When he felt the blow, he neighed a neigh with a sound like deafening thunder and, opening a pair of wings, flew up with me in the firmament of heaven far beyond the eyesight of man. After a full hour of flight he descended and alighted on a terrace roof and shaking me off his back, lashed me on the face with his tad and gouged out my left eye, causing it roll along my cheek.
Then he flew away. I went down from the terrace and found myself again amongst the ten one-eyed youths sitting upon their ten couches with blue covers, and they cried out when they saw me: "No welcome to thee, nor aught of good cheer! We all lived of lives the happiest and we ate and drank of the best. Upon brocades and cloths of gold we took our rest, and we slept with our heads on beauty’s breast, but we could not await one day to gain the delights of a year!" Quoth I, "Behold, I have become one like unto you and now I would have you bring me a tray full of blackness, wherewith to blacken my face, and receive me into your society." "No, by Allah," quoth they, "thou shalt not sojourn with us, and now get thee hence!" So they drove me away.
Finding them reject me thus, I foresaw that matters would go hard with me, and I remembered the many miseries which Destiny had written upon my forehead, and I fared forth from among them heavy-hearted and tearful-eyed, repeating to myself these words: "I was sitting at mine ease, but my frowardness brought me to unease." Then I shaved beard and mustachios and eyebrows, renouncing the world. and wandered in Kalandar garb about Allah’s earth, and the Almighty decreed safety for me till I arrived at Baghdad, which was on the evening of this very night. Here I met these two other Kalandars standing bewildered, so I saluted them saying, "I am a stranger!" and they answered, "And we likewise be strangers!" By the freak of Fortune we were like to like, three Kalandars and three monoculars all blind of the left eye.
Such, O my lady, is the cause of the shearing of my beard and the manner of my losing an eye. Said the lady to him, "Rub thy head and wend thy ways," but he answered, "By Allah, I will not go until I hear the stories of these others." Then the lady, turning toward the Caliph and Ja’afar and Masrur, said to them, "Do ye also give an account of yourselves, you men!" Whereupon Ja’afar stood forth and told her what he had told the portress as they were entering the house, and when she heard his story of their being merchants and Mosul men who had outrun the watch, she said, "I grant you your lives each for each sake, and now away with you all." So they all went out, and when they were in the street, quoth the Caliph to the Kalandars, "O company, whither go ye now, seeing that the morning hath not yet dawned?" Quoth they, "By Allah, O our lord, we know not where to go." "Come and pass the rest of the night with us," said the Caliph and, turning to Ja’afar, "Take them home with thee, and tomorrow bring them to my presence that we may chronicle their adventures."
Ja’afar did as the Caliph bade him and the Commander of the Faithful returned to his palace, but sleep gave no sign of visiting him that night and he lay awake pondering the mishaps of the three Kalandar Princes, and impatient to know the history of the ladies and the two black bitches. No sooner had morning dawned than he went forth and sat upon the throne of his sovereignty and, turning to Ja’afar, after all his grandees and officers of state were gathered together, he said, "Bring me the three ladies and the two bitches and the three Kalandars."
So Ja’afar fared forth and brought them all before him (and the ladies were veiled). Then the Minister turned to them and said in the Caliph’s name: "We pardon you your maltreatment of us and your want of courtesy, in consideration of the kindness which forewent it, and for that ye knew us not. Now however I would have you to know that ye stand in presence of the fifth of the sons of Abbas, Harun al-Rashid, brother of Caliph Musa al-Hadi, son of Al-Mansur, son of Mohammed the brother of Al-Saffah bin Mohammed who was first of the royal house. Speak ye therefore before him the truth and the whole truth!" When the ladies heard Ja’afar’s words touching the Commander of the Faithful, the eldest came forward and said, "O Prince of True Believers, my story is one which were it graven with needle gravers upon the eye corners, were a warner for whoso would be warned and an example for whoso can take profit from example." And she began to tell...

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