THE THREE CALENDERS - 3 - LAST PART in English Children Stories by Edmund Dulac books and stories PDF | THE THREE CALENDERS - 3 - LAST PART



O KING of the Age, my history is more wonderful than those of my two associates. Their misfortunes were fashioned by the finger of Fate, while mine were the outcome of my own self-will. Yet in the event we are equal, since we each account to thee for the loss of an eye.

Know then, O King, that I, who stand before thee, am a King, and the son of a King. At my father’s death, I ascended the throne, and ruled my subjects wisely, as he had done. Yet, unlike him, I was by nature a seafarer, and would often absent myself for the space of a month or more on voyages to parts beyond my kingdom. And it so chanced that from one of these I never returned to my City. And the cause of this I will set before thee.

I had been voyaging for some twenty days with a fleet of ten ships, when we were suddenly becalmed. A few hours later, the master of the vessel I was in came to me in a state of consternation, and told me we were drifting in a rapid current, so wide as to include all the ten ships of the fleet. At this, we signalled to the other ships, and all tried with oars to escape this current; but its width was beyond us; it seemed to flow from all sides to a centre. Then, on a closer scrutiny, we saw that our ships were out-stripping the current, propelled, or attracted, by we knew not what. At this, the master gave a great cry, and plucked his beard, and flung his turban on the deck. “O Sire,” he said, “we are doomed! I know now the fate that awaits us. We are speeding towards a great mountain of loadstone, of which I have heard—a great black mountain, which attracteth everything that cometh near it. Soon the very nails of all these[186] ships will be drawn to this mountain, and the ships themselves will fall to pieces.”

At this I was dumbfounded. I could not believe that such a thing were possible; and yet there was no denying that we were being drawn by some unseen influence ever more and more rapidly through the water. “Tell me,” I said, “what is the history of this mountain?”

“It is black, steep, and inaccessible,” he replied. “On its summit is a dome of brass, supported by ten pillars of brass; and on this dome is a brazen horseman, mounted on a brazen horse, bearing in his hand a spear of brass, and on his breast a plate of lead, engraven with mystic signs. Sire, while that horseman sits upon his horse, the spell of the loadstone spares no ship in the surrounding sea, for without iron no ship is built.”

The master’s words were only too true, for soon the ships were rushing more swiftly through the sea, and it was not long before we sighted the black mountain, of which he had spoken. Our velocity increased. The cleavage of the water rose from our bows. Our ships groaned with the strain, which every moment grew more and more intense. Swifter and swifter we sped on, as nearer loomed the mountain; and we all knew what was before us, and cried out to God for help. At last, our speed was so excessive that no ship could any longer endure the strain. With a creaking and groaning and rending of planks, the nails and ironwork were wrenched away; and every ship fell asunder, and spread itself in wreckage on the sea.

Many were drowned immediately, while some few clung to floating spars. I was one of these, and I know not if others, beside myself, survived, for I could only cling to my[187] plank, and call on God, so great and boisterous were the waves. Hours later I found myself cast up on the strip of shore at the foot of the great black mountain. I praised God for my deliverance, and then, being both hungry and thirsty, I searched for fruit among some trees growing upon the slopes. I soon found some hard by a small stream, and, when I had eaten and drunk, I noticed a pathway by the stream, and followed it. Presently I came to the steep ascent of the hill where the path took the form of rugged steps. Recalling the legend of the horseman, and praying devoutly that I might overthrow him, I toiled up and up the mountain side by this roughest of paths. By the grace of God I at length reached the summit, and found there the great dome surmounted by the horseman. Too fatigued to do more than climb into the dome, I flung myself down there and slept. And, as I slept, a voice spake to me in a dream: “O valiant one, know that in the ground beneath thy feet lie a bow of brass and three arrows of lead, all engraven with talismanic signs. Search for these, and, having found them, shoot the three arrows at the horseman, whereupon thy bow will fall from thy hand, and he and his horse will be hurled down into the midst of the sea. Take thy bow, and bury it again; and, as soon as thou shalt have done this, the sea will rise swiftly up the mountain sides, until it reaches the foot of the dome. Then, before thee, thou wilt perceive a man in a boat, with an oar in each hand—he being of metal also, but different from the horseman. Embark with him in his boat, and within ten days he will convey thee to a calm sea, and to a ship which will bear thee to thine own land. But beware, O Prince, lest in all these things thou utter the name of God, for, by so doing, thou wilt be in extreme peril.”

When I awoke, I marvelled at the vividness of this dream, and, remembering all the voice had said, I dug in the ground where my feet had lain. There I discovered the bow and the three arrows, and, taking them forth, I shot at the horseman. Twice my aim failed, but the third arrow struck him, and lo, he and his horse fell headlong down the mountain into the sea. Then, the bow having fallen from my hand, I took it and buried it within the dome. As soon as I had done this, I perceived the sea surging rapidly up the mountain sides. Up and up it came, boiling and seething, until at last it reached the foot of the dome, than which it rose no further. Presently a boat drew near from the midst of the sea, rowed by a man of gleaming metal. Remembering the warning not to utter the name of God, I entered the boat, and the man rowed me away over the sea for many days, until we came in sight of some beautiful islands. When I set eyes on these habitable spots of safety then my heart leapt for joy, and, forgetting the warning of my dream, I cried in my delight, “God be praised!” No sooner had the words escaped my lips than the boat and the man sank in the sea, leaving me upon the surface. My peril was now extreme, for unless I could gain the land I must surely drown. The islands were distant, but they were my only hope, so I swam towards them hour after hour, until night fell. Still I swam on and on in the dark, and at last, when I was spent, and about to sink, I felt a great wave rise beneath me, and hurl me forward. It carried me high up on the shore of an island, where it left me utterly exhausted, but safe from the sea.

The next day, as I was walking along the shore in search of food, I heard voices coming from behind a bend. Thinking not to lose a chance of being taken on board some vessel,[189] I looked round the bend, and saw ten black slaves of evil aspect, landing from a vessel and bearing spades and axes. I liked not the faces of these men, and feared to expose myself to their view; moreover, being curious as to their mission, I resolved to watch them. Noting the direction they were taking, I ran along the shore for some distance, and then, turning inland, I proceeded until I came to a high tree, into the topmost branches of which I climbed. Presently I saw the slaves pass by and stop at a spot in the middle of the island, where they dug up the ground, until at length they came upon a trap door, which they lifted and set on one side. Then they returned to the vessel, and brought from it loads of provisions, necessaries and even luxuries of every kind. Many times they went and came, and by their loads, it was evident they were preparing some underground dwelling for habitation. At length, after many journeys to and fro, they returned from the vessel laden with beautiful garments of every kind; and with them came an aged sheik, leading by the hand a young man, whose grace and beauty could scarce be expressed in poems. They and the slaves entered the underground abode, and when, two hours later, I counted those who came forth, the young man was not of the number. When they had closed the trap door, and replaced the earth upon it, the slaves conducted the sheik back to the vessel, and sailed away.

These doings caused me great wonder in my tree, and I resolved to see what they meant. I made haste to descend, and, having reached the spot, I ceased not to scrape away the earth until I had found the trap door. I removed this, and descended a flight of wooden steps, which led me to a large apartment, luxuriously furnished; and there, reclining upon[190] a couch, with flowers and fruits before him, was the handsome youth. “Fear me not,” I said, when I saw that he had turned pale on observing my sudden intrusion; “I am a man, like thyself. Destiny hath led me hither, to relieve thy solitude.” Then, seeing that he greeted me with delight, I said to him: “O, my brother, tell me how it is that thou art here in this secret place.” And he complied with my request, and related to me his history.

“O brother,” he said, “my fate has been exceeding strange. My father is a rich dealer in jewels, and his business lies with kings. Many years ago he was wont to grieve that, though God had given him wealth, He had not blest him with a son. Shortly after, he dreamed that a male child would be born to him, but that its life would be cut off at the age of sixteen, and he awoke weeping. His dream was fulfilled, in so far that within a year my mother gave birth to me. Great was his joy at this, but, remembering the further prophecy of his dream, he called in the astrologers, who, by their calculations, confirmed it. ‘Thy son’s fate,’ they said, ‘is connected with a great mountain in the sea, called the Mountain of Loadstone, on the summit of which is a horseman of brass, bearing on his breast a tablet of lead, with mystic signs engraven. Sixteen years hence a king, the son of a king, will arise, and hurl that horseman down into the sea, shortly after which he will slay thy son.’

“My father grieved very greatly at this, and ceased not to love me the more throughout my youth. When I was nearing the age of sixteen, he again summoned the astrologers, who told him that the horseman had already been cast down into the sea, and there remained now only ten days of my life. Then my father arose and prepared this place for me, so that[191] I might dwell here in secret until the completion of the days, for the astrologers had said that if, by the will of God, I passed safely out of my sixteenth year, I should live to a great age. And thus it is that I am here, O my brother.”

“What strange thing is this?” said I within myself on hearing his words. “It was I who cast down the horseman, but, by Allah! it will not be I who will slay this gracious youth.” Then, turning to him, I said: “Fear nothing, sweet youth! Here, at least, thou art safe. I myself will protect thee, and, when the term is expired, I will go forth with thee to thy father, and he shall restore me to my country, and so reap a great reward.” He rejoiced at my words, and was comforted, and so far was I from wishing him harm that I waited upon him, and during the night slept by his side. Once he awoke from dreams, crying: “The horseman is down! He hath fallen into the sea! Whither, oh! whither shall I flee for safety?” But I quieted him, and comforted him, saying: “Never will such a calamity as thou fearest come to thee while I am by thy side.”

For nine days I served him, sparing no trouble for his comfort; and on the tenth I could not conceal my joy, for I knew that, if it rested with me to slay him, he would be alive on the morrow. My happiness infected him, and he begged me to heat some water that he might bathe and array himself in bright garments, and then, with me, celebrate the hour of his release. I prepared all he required, and he bathed, and arrayed himself in costly robes, and reclined upon the couch to rest. It was the hour of sunset: a little while remained till the term expired. “O brother,” he said to me, “wilt thou in thy kindness cut me up a water melon, and sprinkle it with sugar?” “O brother mine,” I replied, “I see here a[192] melon, but where is the knife?” He pointed to the shelf above his head, saying, “Thou wilt find one there, O my creditor.” Then I stepped up on the side of the couch, and found the knife, and drew it from its sheath; but, having done this, my foot slipped, and I fell headlong. The next thing I knew was that the knife was buried in the youth’s breast, with my hand upon the haft. I uttered a loud cry, and beat my bosom. Oh! the grief of it! Dead! And by my hand! O God! by what cruel misfortunes dost thou convince mortals that Fate and Destiny are thine instruments!

woman dancing for audience

Long I wept by the side of the youth, imploring pardon from those cold lips; one glance of forgiveness from those glazed eyes. Then, sad and sorrowful, I arose and ascended the steps; and, having replaced and covered the trap door, departed from that place. I remained upon the island, nursing a heavy weight of grief. From a place of hiding I saw them come and take the youth’s dead body away. I saw his aged father’s sorrow, as he followed weeping, and watched the vessel sail away out of sight. But great as was this calamity, I was destined to further trouble.

In my daily wanderings about the island, I discovered that on one side of it the sea had been gradually receding. When another week had passed, there was a considerable extent of land that had risen above the water. I watched this day by day for a space of some months, at the end of which time dry land stretched into the distance so far that I resolved to set forth upon it, hoping to come at length to an inhabited region. I had proceeded some leagues when I saw before me, in the distance, an upland with a splendid palace upon it, shining all golden in the rays of the sun. When I drew near, almost dazzled at the sight of it, an old man came out to meet[193] me; and following him were ten young men, each lacking an eye—a thing which caused me great astonishment. They and the old man saluted me, and asked me whence I came, whereupon I told them my story, which they listened to with looks of wonder. Then they invited me into the palace, and one of them said: “Be welcome, O brother, but see to it that thou ask us not respecting our condition, nor yet how it is we each lack an eye.” Presently the old man brought food and wine, and we ate and drank together, conversing on many things until it was time to sleep. Then one of them called to the old man to bring the materials for penance, and he arose and placed before each a basin full of ashes and powdered charcoal. One and all then bared their arms and blackened their faces with the mixture, crying continually, “Once we were dwelling in happiness, but now we are wretched; and this is the result of our idle curiosity.” This they kept up till daybreak, when they washed their faces and changed their clothes and slept.

Next day, being unable to cast off my curiosity regarding this strange behaviour, I beseeched them to tell me the reason thereof, and one of them replied: “O young man, ask not what doth not concern thee, lest thou hear what may not please thee.” But I was not content with this answer, and continued to entreat them to tell me the reason of their actions, and also the cause of each having lost an eye. “Nay, be silent,” said another; “what the mind doth not know, the heart doth not grieve.” Yet I still pestered them with my questions, giving them no peace. At length they lost patience, and, after conversing together awhile, one of them said to me: “O young man, if thou dost above all things desire to know the cause of these things, submit thyself to our hands, and[194] thou shalt learn.” And I answered, “I desire nothing more than to know;” for my curiosity had become a fever.

Then they slaughtered a ram and flayed it, and, placing a knife in my hand, sewed me up in the skin and carried me to a hilltop at a little distance, where they left me. Presently I heard the flapping of giant wings, and then the ram’s skin, with me inside it, was seized by the talons of a great bird and borne up and away. After a long flight, the bird set me down upon a high plateau. Remembering the knife they had placed in my hand, I ripped open the skin, and emerged. The gigantic bird, on seeing me, flew off screaming.

Far in the distance, at the side of a hill, I saw a splendid palace, sparkling in the sunlight. It was the only habitation that I could discern, so I made my way towards it. After some hours’ journey, I reached its gates, and seeing them open, entered, and soon found myself in a great chamber of indescribable splendour, where forty beautiful damsels, each one like a goddess, welcomed me with cries of joy. “O our Master and Prince,” they said, “why hast thou tarried so long? We, thy handmaids, have waited many weeks for thy coming.” And they set food and wine before me, and while I ate and drank, some sang and others danced; and they were so wildly beautiful that any one of them would have melted the heart of an anchorite.

Thus suddenly was I launched into a life of pure delight, and I dwelt among these rare and radiant damsels, their sole Lord and Master, in luxury and joy. Thus it continued for a whole year, with never a shadow of dulness in our days; but, on the first morning of the new year, they all came to me weeping, and bidding me farewell, as each in turn clung to me with the sadness of[195] parting. “Wherefore this?” I cried. “Ye will break my heart if ye leave me.” And one replied, “Nay, O master; we love thee most of any on earth, but we must leave thee for a time, and we fear to lose thee.” And she fell to weeping afresh, and the others added their tears to hers. “Tell me what this means,” I said to her. “O my master, if thou wouldst know,” she replied, “we are the daughters of kings, and for many years it has been our practice to dwell in this palace, returning only to our fathers for forty days at the beginning of each year. To-day we must go, and we fear that, before we return, thou wilt disregard our directions, in which case thou wilt be lost to us. Here are the keys, a hundred in number, which will unlock a hundred doors for thee, admitting to gardens of various kinds, in which thou wilt find a hundred different delights; but we do entreat thee, open not the door which is fashioned of pure gold, for if thou dost, we shall never see thee again, and that is what we fear.”

I took the keys, greatly wondering, and when I had embraced them all, and said farewell, they departed, with sad looks, leaving me alone in the palace. Many times I swore to myself that I would never open the golden door, and even as I swore, the wish to do it came uppermost. But I forced it down, saying: “There are ninety-nine doors without this one: surely it is enough!” And that evening, feeling sad and lonely, and longing for entertainment, I took the keys, and, selecting one engraven with a character corresponding to that on the first door, I opened and entered.

Within lay a garden like paradise, with running streams, and hanging fruits, and birds that sang the praises of their Creator. Every kind of delicate perfume breathed from the[196] rarest of flowers, and the bosom of the dreamy trees moved in the soft wind as if langorous with love. Seeing this wonderful place, I was impelled by curiosity to explore what lay behind the second door. Accordingly, I opened it and entered. Here was a large domain of forest and meadow, watered by a crystal river. Uplands on which the sunlight slept, led up to mountain peaks towering against the sides of heaven. I noted all this with wonder, saying, “I will return, and enjoy this at my leisure; meanwhile, I die to know what fresh joy is concealed by the third door.”

When I entered the third place of delight, I found it to be a spacious aviary, containing all the birds of song and of rare plumage that could be found on earth. This vast place was paven with many-coloured marble, and graced with patches of forest and greensward. The birds drank from crystal fountains, and, flying off, sang gloriously. The streams of these fountains were of different colours, and when I drank of one, I found it was pure wine. So I wandered from one to another sipping the rarest vintages I had ever known, until, coming to a soft couch of moss, I reclined, and was lulled to sleep by the songs of countless nightingales.

When I awoke next morning, I opened the fourth door and found beyond it a treasury passing the imagination of kings. Jewels and precious stones there were beyond reckoning. “These,” I said, “are mine, and forty priceless damsels are also mine: what Sultan can compare with me?” That day, and on the following days, I opened one door after another, finding within each the strangest and most wonderful things man ever beheld; until, on the thirty-ninth day, I had opened every door except the last,—the one fashioned[197] of pure gold. Long I looked at it, recalling my oath, and fortifying myself against temptation. Many times I turned away from it, with the key in my hand, but always the Devil drove me back again. Then, at last, my curiosity became acute, and I could not refrain.

I opened the door, and passed within. I was met by an odour fragrant beyond conception, which mastered my brain so that I fell in a faint. But I soon recovered, and, rising to my feet, went on, treading on golden tiles spread with saffron, and lighted on my way by golden lamps, from which were wafted the odours of musk and ambergris. I soon saw that the place was, in effect, a stable, though words fail to describe its splendour. There, standing at a crystal manger full of choice sesame, with a trough adjoining filled with rose-water, stood a magnificent steed, as black as night. Never had I seen his equal. He was saddled and bridled, and his trappings were of gold and thread-of-gold, sparkling with gems. “This is the steed of my desire,” I said, and then, as I approached him, he turned his head towards me, and neighed. Urged by the Devil, I led him forth and mounted him. But when I jerked the reins, he stood stock still. I persuaded him with my heels, but he did not move. Then I espied a whip deposited in the saddle. I took this and struck him a violent blow. With a neigh like thunder, he rose in the air, and soared up and up to a great height. Then he flew with me over hills and valleys, until at last he alighted on the roof of another palace. There he plunged and reared, and finally shook me off behind him; and, as I fell, a blow from his tail struck out my eye. Leaving me thus, he soared up and away, and was soon lost to sight.

When I descended from the roof, I found I was back in[198] the Palace of the ten young men. When they beheld me, and saw that my eye was gone, they cried with one voice, “No welcome to thee, O curious one! Thou art now in like case with us, having been chastised for thine impertinent curiosity. For know that we have all opened that golden door and ridden that black horse, and that is why we do nightly penance for our foolishness.” I then begged them to receive me into their company, but they refused, saying their number was complete. So I went my way dejected, and wandered as a mendicant, ever on and on towards Baghdad, the Abode of Peace, resolved to seek the Khalifeh of the Lord of all Creatures and set my case before him.

“Verily,” exclaimed Harun-er-Rashid as the Third Royal Calender retired to his place, “this is the most astounding tale of all. Hear me now, all of you. These men have suffered greatly, but Fate hath no further trouble in store for them. By Allah! my armies are great, and I will restore each to his throne. As for you, O ladies,” he continued, turning to the three sisters, “my Seraglio is dull and lifeless without you. Will you grace it with your presence?” “Yes, O Commander of the Faithful,” cried they all, laughing merrily and clapping their hands, for they thought him a perfect impersonator; “we will come to thee.” “On the head and the eye?” “Yea, O King, on the head and the eye is our promise given.” At this the Khalifeh turned to his two officials. “O Vizier,” he said, “I call thee to witness; and thee also, O Mesrur.” And they answered smiling, for they liked the pretence of his pretence, “King of the Age, we hear and obey.”

Then the Khalifeh approached the porter, who was asleep upon the floor, and stirred him with his foot so that he awoke and sat up. “O thou carrier of goods and vast quantities of wine,” said the Khalifeh, “wouldst thou be the Wag of Harun-er-Rashid, Fifth Khalifeh of the House of Abbas?” The porter grinned. “O Prince of the Faithful,” said he, “I was born with that ambition, for they say that when the Khalifeh’s Wag waggeth his tongue no other tongue may wag.” And with this he kissed the ground seven times in mock obeisance. “It is well,” said the Khalifeh, “for verily thou art a wag.” And they all applauded his seeming royalty and said one among another, “Never have we seen such an excellent impersonation of a king.”

The Khalifeh then pointed to the first signs of day in the east, saying, “There was never so pleasant a night but morning ended it.” And then, with Ja’far and Mesrur, he set about taking his departure, thanking the ladies for their kind hospitality and bidding them remember the promise they had given. The Three Royal Calenders and the porter also bade the sisters farewell, and, when they were outside the house, the Calenders were directed to a Khan, while the porter took his own way home and the Khalifeh and his two officials returned to the palace.

On the following morning the Khalifeh of Baghdad sat on his throne, and his first thought was to send for the Three Royal Calenders, the three ladies, and the porter. “Lose no time in bringing them hither, O Vizier,” said the Khalifeh to Ja’far. The Vizier sent in great haste, and, when the messengers returned with all of them, Er-Rashid received them in private audience.

Not one of them recognised the three merchants of the former evening, and their faces showed fear and surprise, for they knew not why they had been thus summoned. The Khalifeh spoke. “Know, O ye people, that I, Harun-er-Rashid, of the house of Abbas, do not forget my promises. I promised Three Royal Calenders that I would restore them to their thrones, and, by Allah! this shall be done. Three beautiful ladies of Baghdad promised me that they would come into my Seraglio, which thou didst witness, O Ja’far; and thou, too, O Mesrur.” The two officials bowed low, confirming this. “But,” continued the Khalifeh, “I have since decided to make them queens by bestowing them in marriage upon these three kings.” And he indicated the Calenders. Then, turning towards the porter, he continued: “I also promised that a carrier of goods,—a merry fellow,—should be my Wag. This shall be, and his first duty will be to solve this riddle. Which is easier: for the Khalifeh to play the merchant, or the merchant to play the Khalifeh? Meanwhile, do you all agree to what I have proposed?”

man awakens in bed surrounded by people

They were all dumbfounded as they realised that their actor of the previous night had played his part so well, because he was indeed the Khalifeh himself. For some moments no one spoke; then they all made obeisance to him and kissed the ground. “O King of the Age,” said one of the ladies, “I answer for my sisters and myself. We will obey thy commands willingly and with joy.” Then one of the Calenders added, “O Prince of the Faithful, we also hear and obey, with equal willingness and equal joy.” “And as for me, O King,” said the porter, “I, being a wag, and also a liar of some excellence, knew that indeed thou wert the Khalifeh of the Lord of All Creatures, but I was compelled to dissemble for fear of thine Executioner’s sword. Thus I[201] solve thy riddle, O King: The Khalifeh played better than the merchant, whose play was equally good.” The Khalifeh smiled and, turning to Ja’far, said, “O Vizier, bestow upon him the Robe of the Wag.”

Then the Khalifeh arose, and, descending from his throne, placed the hands of the three ladies in those of the Three Royal Calenders. The Kadi and witnesses were summoned and the marriage contracts were signed and sealed. He then bestowed upon each of the three wedded pairs a splendid palace and sufficient money for their needs until such time as he had succeeded in restoring them to their thrones. And so did Harun-er-Rashid draw upon himself ten thousand blessings.

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