Sunday, 8 April 2012

More from THE TWO THOUSAND NIGHTS AND THE TWO NIGHTS





And on the one thousand and fourth night, Shahrazad said:

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THE STORY OF THE GREEN BIRD

In the days when the Khalifa Harūn al Rashīd ruled in Baghdad, there was a rumour that swept from the souks to the slums and even reached the palaces of the mighty. At first few believed, and then a few more, until virtually everyone who heard it had no doubt of its veracity; and in course of time it reached the august ear of the Commander of the Faithful himself.

This was the rumour; that, somewhere in the city, there was a slave so beautiful and accomplished, so intelligent and exemplary in all respects, that her master dare not show her in public, lest he draw upon himself the envious attention of the nobles and other powerful people. It was even rumoured that the owner was afraid that his slave might be so coveted by the Khalifa himself, and the only way of keeping her safe was to hide her away from sight.

When the Khalifa heard the rumour, he flew into a rage and summoned his famous wāzir, Jafar al Barmaki. “Dog of a wāzir,” he thundered, “what is this I hear, that my own subjects are so unsure of me that they fear for their possessions and their slaves? Is this how I am regarded by my people?”

“Commander of the Faithful,” Jafar answered, “I can only answer that I have no information on anyone who is so fearful of you. My spies tell me only that the people, in all their joys and sorrows, look up to you as a child to its father.”

The flattering words, however, did not mollify the irate Khalifa. “If that is so,” he said, “your spies are neither efficient nor truthful. Find out where this man lives, who has a slave so beautiful that he must needs hide her from my sight, lest I be tempted into taking her from him.”

“I hear and obey, Commander of the Faithful,” Jafar replied formally. “If this person exists, we will find him; but, I must ask you to tell me your wishes about what we must do when we have him. Should we have him brought before you, and the slave too?”

“No,” said the Khalifa, after a little thought. “Find him, but let him not know he has been found. And when we have found him, you and I will pay him a visit in secret. But remember,” he added, “find him, or you shall answer with your head.”

So Jafar went away to consult with his spies, and they brought to him all the rumours they had heard about this wonderful slave; but there was nothing in them which would help the wāzir find his quarry. The spy was rumoured to be in the east of the city, and on the west, living in splendour or in the poorest of houses. Some of the spies had heard that she moved from one part of the city to another regularly to keep her away from the eyes of the authorities. Others had been told she was confined only within a few rooms and a tiny courtyard where none but her master could ever see her. Nobody had seen her, or met anyone who had actually seen her, so nobody could say what she looked like. The only point in common was that everyone agreed that she could sing with a voice as sweet as any perī, and could play the lyre well enough to make Allah’s angels weep.

So, Jafar al Barmaki ordered his spies to listen for the sound of singing accompanied by the lyre, so sweet that they had never heard such music before. Each night the spies wandered the streets and souks, listening, and though they heard much sweet music and much superb singing, they never came across anything that might have been the talents of that mysterious girl.

At last, after some weeks had passed, and his spies had not found a clue, the wāzir Jafar al Barmaki decided to join in the hunt himself. Donning the clothes of an elderly dervish, he took to the streets, wandering down alleys and knocking on doors asking for alms. Some alms he did get, and some abuse besides, for not all the subjects of the Khalifa were as faithful to the commandment of the Prophet (on whom be peace) to give in charity to the needy as they should have been. But little by little, as the days passed, he grew familiar to the people and they scarcely noticed his presence.

Then, one dark evening as he was passing through a lane in one of the poorer quarters of town, full of old houses that had seen better days, he suddenly paused. He had heard a snatch of music, and though it was faint and far away, he was convinced that even in the pavilions of the Commander of the Faithful’s palace there was not a musician who could play the lyre with such delicacy.

And as he stood listening, the music of the distant lyre came again, accompanied by a voice, and such a voice as the world had never before heard, a voice that could melt the stone from around a Jinn’s heart, singing of loneliness and longing for a home that lay far, far away. The music and song were very faint and only came intermittently, borne on the wind; so that it took a very long time before the wāzir finally managed to discern the house from which the music came. It was already late, and the street was dark, and no detail of the house was visible; so Jafar, who was not lacking in resourcefulness, marked its doorstep with a small piece of coal, and went home. Very early the next morning, he returned and, having identified the house from the marking, carefully rubbed it out so as not to alert the occupants that something was amiss. Then he went to the Khalifa.

That day the Khalifa was in a good mood, and he was even happier when he heard from the wāzir that the house in which the slave lived had been identified. “Tonight,” he said, “we will go there in disguise, and we shall see what we shall see.”

So that night, after the evening prayers, the Khalifa and the wāzir dressed themselves in the disguise of Persian merchants of the less prosperous sort, and set off through the city until they reached the house. As they came, they could hear the faint sound of music and singing, and even though it was far off and unclear, the Commander of the Faithful stood as one struck to the heart as he listened.

“Surely,” he said at last, when the music faded, “it can only have been the slave herself who could have produced such wonderful strains and accompanied it so beautifully. Come, Jafar, let us now go to the house and beg for admission, for I am determined to know more of this woman, and learn if her other accomplishments match her singing and ability to play the lyre.”

So saying, he walked up to the door and knocked on it awhile, first gently and then with mounting impatience; and at long last it creaked slowly open and an elderly man peered out.

“I am sorry to trouble you, my grandfather,” Jafar said, mimicking the atrocious accent Persians use when speaking our beautiful Arabic. “We are foreign merchants, lost in your city. We carry gold on our persons, and, being afraid of robbers and thieves, we beg shelter for the night.”

Blinking slowly, the elderly man stepped aside and motioned them to enter. “You are in the City of Peace, Baghdad,” he said. “Here, under the benign rule of the Commander of the Faithful, there are no robbers or thieves. But never let it be said that I turned away fellow Mussālmans in need, even if they be strangers and Persians.”

“We thank you, my grandfather,” Jafar replied, and he and the Khalifa followed the elderly man to a room which was furnished with a plain carpet on the floor and large bolsters set against the walls. From the centre of the ceiling hung a large cage made of silver, and in it was a green bird, much like a parrot, which watched them with glittering eyes. Apart from calligrapher’s brushes and inks in one corner, there was nothing else.

“Sit down,” said the elderly man, and brought them water to wash their hands, and after that tall cool glasses of sherbet and a bowl of fruit. There was no sign of any woman in the house that they could see, nor could they hear the faintest musical note.

“Do you live alone here, grandfather?” the Khalifa asked, finally, unable to restrain himself. “It would seem a hard life for someone of your venerable years.”

“Ah, my friends,” the elderly man sighed. “I am not as old as you think. It is my sorrows which have aged me. Once, I was a man of consequence, who had thriving business. Now, you find me in sadly reduced circumstances, eking out a living by calligraphy. But circumstances were such as to leave me no other recourse.”

“Will you not tell us of it, grandfather?” the wāzir asked. “For a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved, so they say.”

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So saying, Shahrazad fell silent; and, when Dunyazad asked what had happened next, she said:

“It grows late, little sister, and it would be better, if this gracious sovereign saw fit to spare my life, to continue this tale tomorrow, for there is much to tell.”

So the King Shahryar thought that it would be better to wait till the morrow to hear more of the marvellous story; and, in the morning, he went about his daily work in his royal court, honouring some, debasing others, hearing petitions and righting injustice, until the close of day.

And on the one thousand and fifth night, Shahrazad said:

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Ah, my friends,” the elderly man said, “since you are foreigners and will be gone on the morrow, I shall tell you my tale. But understand that it is such a story that, if it were written with a needle on the corner of an eye, it would still provide a lesson to the circumspect.”

THE ELDERLY MAN’S TALE

Know then, my friends, that I was once a prosperous merchant in Basra, and had ships of my own, in which I would sail to far lands, where I would trade for the goods available there. I had spent many decades at the profession, and had done well for myself, for I had mansions and gardens in that fair port city, and slaves, and gold enough to last me till the end of my days. I had no family, though; and it came to me in time that I should marry and leave an heir to carry on my line and my business after I was gone.

But I had already passed, by then, the flush of youth, and had attained the steepening slopes of middle age. I knew it would not be so easy to find a bride among the maidens of my city, and that any who chose to marry me might be attracted more to my fortune than my person.

So I resolved that on my next journey to distant lands, I should find a woman who might love me for who I am, for in those distant countries people are not judged merely by their age, appearance and wealth, but for knowledge and wisdom. And so, at the head of my fleet of forty ships, I started out on a voyage that I intended to last fully two summers and winters, visiting all the lands between Basra and the end of the world; and in charge of my business I left a trusted clerk called Abdullah, whom I had employed for more than twenty years.

At first my voyage went well, and we visited Persia and India, and other lands beyond, and did so much trade that my ships were submerged nearly to the waterline under the weight of their cargo; but I found no woman whom I wished to marry. Yes, I met many charming and beautiful women, women whom kings would be proud to wed; but, even if they were willing to be my wife, and many were, none appealed to me enough to call the kādi and witnesses and write out a marriage contract. There was always something missing, some spark, and each time I resolved to keep searching.

Now those two years of my voyage had almost passed, and we had made our last port of call, and still I had found no wife for myself. For a while I despaired of ever finding such a woman, and resolved to return home and spend my days enjoying my wealth, for I need not ever come out on a voyage again after the profits I had made on this one. But then, as I was about to leave the last port, one of the local officials said to me:

“I am told you are in search of a wife, and you have been disappointed in that search. If you are interested, I can tell you of an island not too far from here, where the women are as beautiful as they are talented, and as wise as they are skilled in all the arts; and there, perhaps, you will find what you are looking for. But I warn you that if you should go there, you will risk everything, your health, happiness and fortune. For you must keep the woman you choose happy always, or she will plunge you into sorrow as profound as her own.”

Now, I have never, in all my years, shirked a challenge; and so, sending thirty-nine of my ships back to Basra by the direct route, I set sail in the fortieth to the island he told me about. For a week we sailed through seas that none of the sailors aboard had ever navigated before, and we were very cautious of rocks and unknown currents, but it went well for us, and on the eighth day we came to the island.

To this day, it makes my heart weep to think of that island, of the wonderful marble pavilions and pleasure gardens, like unto the gardens of Jannat, and the women, beautiful as hurīs, who dwelt there; and I wish I could some day set eyes on it once more. But we could not dwell there very long, for the season of storms was fast approaching, and the voyage back home would be impossible unless we hurried. So I spent every moment there searching amongst those women for one who would be ready to be my wife; but it was soon already the last night we were to be on that island, and still I had not found a bride.

It was on that last evening on that island, when I had finally decided that I would not find a wife there after all and as a consequence was sunk in melancholy, that I was approached by a venerable old man, with a long white beard and the robes of an official of high rank. “You are, I hear,” he began, “in search of a woman to wed; and it has come to my notice that you are to leave tomorrow, and yet you have found nobody.”

I was compelled to admit that such was the case.

“I offer to you then,” this old man responded, “my daughter in marriage, a girl of such wondrous talents that there are none on this island her equal; a girl, moreover, whose life would be wasted if she were to spend it in the confines of such a small country as ours. Take her to your city, for in the lands ruled over by the august Khalifa, Harūn al Rashīd, she will be happy and content.”  And he took me to his house, and there showed me his daughter, who was playing on the lyre and singing; and she was all that he had promised, and more. It would not be too much to say that I fell in love at that instant, to the extent that I completely forgot the warning the port official had given me; and I resolved to make her mine by all means.

When I had communicated this to the old man, he grinned happily, and clapped me on the back. “Then,” he said, “let us not delay any further, but gather the kādi and witnesses, and solemnise the marriage at once, for you will be leaving on the morning tide.”

“But what of the lady herself?” I asked, though my mind was so inflamed by the sight of her that I could scarcely care what she thought of the matter. “Will she want to marry me?”

“She will, when she knows how much you love her and how you will take her to the glorious city of Basra,” the old man said. He went into his house and brought out the maiden, who looked down and seemed overcome by shyness. But when the kādi and witnesses came, she made no demur to the marriage; and as soon as it was solemnised, we had to leave the house of her father and go down to the harbour, for as the old man had said, my ship had to leave on the morning tide. All she brought with her, apart from the clothes she wore, was a lyre, the same one on which I had heard her playing, and a large silver cage that her father gave her without comment. The ship, in any case, was far too heavily loaded to have room for much more cargo. I showed her to my cabin, performed the morning prayers, and we set sail as the dawn broke in the east.

All that day, I was busy with work on board ship, seeing to it that all was ready for the long voyage home; and it was only in the evening that I finally returned to my cabin, where my bride awaited me; and, as it was the first time that she and I would be alone together, I had hoped to find out more about herself, her likes and dislikes, and answer her questions about my own.

But when I got to the cabin, I found her lying face down on the bed, weeping bitterly, as one weeps who mourns a lover gone forever. At first she would not answer my queries except by paroxysms of fresh sobs. But, after much persuasion, she looked up at me through the tears coursing down her face, and told me a most singular story. This is what she said:

THE GIRL’S TALE

O merchant, do not think that I weep because I despise you, or I have been hurt by you in any way; the fault is not yours. But my tale is such as would break even the cruellest of hearts, and I beg you to understand my sorrow.

Know, first, that the loathsome old man, who gave me in marriage to you, is not my father, but a terrible and avaricious sorcerer, whose only love is for himself and the dark arts he pursues. Know too that his only purpose in giving me to you was to destroy me by ruining my happiness beyond recall.

I was born to a fisherman and his wife, who lived in a hut down by the sea. They were poor but honest folk, who lived frugally and brought me up as well as they could, for they believed that I could rise far above their lowly station in life. And I loved them with all my heart, and wished to do anything I could to make them happy. My father taught me what he could of the ways of the wind and the waves, and my mother taught me letters, for she could read and write; and she taught me, also, to sing, for she had a voice like no other on all that island. And so I grew towards womanhood, and the years passed.

One day, my father, out in his boat, brought up something in his net which was no fish, but this lyre of mine that you see here. Perhaps it had fallen off a passing ship, or perhaps his net had stolen it from the people beneath the sea. At any rate, he brought it home and gave it to me, and I soon mastered the use of it, playing on it from the break of day till nightfall.

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So saying, Shahrazad fell silent, and when her sister queried as to what happened next, she stroked the girl’s hair with a gentle hand. “There is much more to the story,” she replied. “But let it wait for tomorrow night.”

But on the one thousand and sixth night she said:

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One day, when I was out on the cliffs above the harbour and playing my lyre, my heart full of the beauty of the sea and the sky, a step sounded behind me, and I turned to find a young man standing there, someone I had never seen before; a young man, moreover, of such beauty that my heart was at once smitten with love for him, so much so that I almost fainted away with the force of my emotion.

“I have been listening to your music and singing,” he said, “and I am smitten by your talents; I wish to marry you and make you my wife. Come away with me.”

And though my heart leaped with joy at those words, I remembered my mother and father, and shook my head with regret. “I cannot,” I said, “without seeking the blessings of my parents, for they mean all to me. Come with me to their home, down by the sea, and when they see you, I am sure they will give their blessings, for they wish nothing but my happiness.”

But then the young man grew wroth and changed in an instant to a wrinkled old man; it was, in fact, the lecherous and evil sorcerer whom you met, the one who claimed to be my father. He caught me up instantly in bonds I could not break, and bore me, lyre and all, to my palace, where he tried by all means of dark arts to break my spirit. But to him I would not yield; and the limits of his magic were such that he could not compel me to wed him by force. Unless I agreed of my own volition to be his wife, he could do nothing to me except keep me imprisoned in his palace.

Meanwhile my poor parents had been frantically hunting for me up and down the country, and by some means they came to know that I was in the magician’s palace. One day they came there and demanded to see me. I could hear them talking, and I cried out to attract their attention, but the sorcerer had surrounded me with spells of silence, and I could not make myself heard. The sorcerer went out to meet my parents, and claimed that I was not there, and never had been. His protestations failed to satisfy them, though, and they threatened to go to the king and the police chief and bring them to search the palace for me. And as it turned out, they did indeed go to the king, and after many days of pleas and persuasion they managed to get him to agree to send a search party.

On the day that search party came to his palace, the sorcerer came to my room, carrying a large silver cage. Glaring at me with terrible anger, he took a stick and struck me lightly on the shoulder; and, instantly, I was changed to a large green bird, which he secured in the cage. Moments later the search party came in, with my parents in the lead. I could see the despair and sorrow in their eyes, and flapped my wings to attract their attention, but they scarcely glanced at me.

After they had gone, the magician came to me in triumph. “I think I will keep you a bird from now on,” he said. “You are a danger to me otherwise. But I must also look for a way to get rid of you, for you have humiliated me by rejecting me, and that I cannot forgive.”

So saying, he thought for a while and smiled. “There is a ship in harbour,” he said, “from a distant land, whose owner looks for a bride. If he takes you as wife and carries you far away, you will be of no further danger to me; and your own unhappiness will bring doom and destruction on you both.” Chuckling happily, he turned me into a woman, murmured some spells over me, and left. The next I know of him was when I was brought out before you and the kādi, to be your bride.

You ask why I did not tell you of all this when you were to marry me; I can only point to that wall of silence that the sorcerer had bound me in, and which he only broke enough for me to agree to marry you. And know this – soon, I will turn again into a bird, and you are to put me into that cage there, so that I do not fly away. Each day I will return to human form for a few hours, for that the sorcerer granted me, not from kindness but all the more to remind me of all I have lost; and after that I will be a bird again.

My heart is breaking with sorrow, for my native land, left so far behind and falling further behind with every moment that passes; and for my parents, who must be stricken with such grief as mortal heart should not have to bear. And I am stricken too, with sorrow, for you; because, my husband, you cannot make me happy, and must accordingly bear sorrow everlasting and forever.

THE ELDERLY MAN’S STORY

So saying, the girl fell silent, and with a flutter of feathers turned into a green bird, which began flapping round the cabin; so I caught hold of her and thrust her into the silver cage.

We were already, by that time, many leagues distant from the island, and a brisk wind was bearing us further away. And though my soul was deeply troubled from the tale I had heard, there was no way for us to turn back; the season of storms was hard upon us, and the clouds were gathering. And, besides, I knew that my fortune awaited me at Basra, ably husbanded by my clerk Abdullah; surely, I thought, I could find and pay for a remedy for my love’s affliction, and bring her happiness and joy.

Each night, as darkness fell, my wife would return to her human form for a little while, and sing to me and played on the lyre; and though her songs were sad enough to melt hearts of stone, I listened to her as one enchanted.

So we sailed homeward, and the winds blew harder and harder, hurrying us along; and the captain and crew, experienced sailors all, began to throw worried glances at the sky.

“We have tarried too long,” the captain said to me. “There is no hope for us to avoid the storms. Allah only grant that we may weather them, and find a safe homecoming.”

But the wind blew harder and harder, and the storm was upon us with such vengeance that we thought that we must surely sink; and then the captain and the crew grew exceedingly furious with me, and said it was my fault. “For if you had not extended the voyage so long,” they said, “we would have been home long since, and it is because of your greed that now we stand in danger of drowning.” Then they put down the boat and dropped me into it, along with my bird and the lyre. “Make your way wherever the will of Allah takes you,” they said. “We bid you farewell, and hope the wind and water bring to you the punishment that you deserve.”

For days the storm drove our little boat before it, and more than once I thought we should be upset and swallowed by the ocean; but eventually the wind dropped, and we sighted land in the distance. The rising tide brought us close to shore, and we could see a city in the distance. I realised, with joy filling my soul, that it was my own city of Basra. The storm had brought us home after all.

At that moment, I thought all my troubles were over, and that a life of happiness lay before me, with only the little matter of curing my dear one of her affliction; but I did not know that my troubles were only just beginning.

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At this point, Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.

But on the one thousand and seventh night, she said:

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When I went up to my mansion, carrying the bird in the cage in one hand and the lyre in the other, I found myself denied admission. The guards at the gates had been changed, and they said they had never seen or heard of me before. And when I went to my offices at the wharf, it was the same story – the clerks were new, and claimed that they did not know who I was.

As I discovered later, soon after I had left on my voyage, my trusted clerk Abdullah had died at the end of a brief illness, and his place had been taken by a nephew; a most disgraceful cheat and charlatan, of whom I had heard and whom Abdullah had long since disowned. Unfortunately, on his deathbed, it appeared that he had reconciled with this man, who had shed hypocritical tears of repentance and pledged to carry on in my clerk’s shoes.

But of course he was looking only for what he could derive from my business; on one pretext or other he dismissed the other clerks, and filled the staff with people who did not know me and who were beholden to him alone. When the thirty-nine ships I had sent back after the last port of call before leaving for my wife’s island came to harbour, he took their cargoes too, and sold them in his own behalf, so that the immense fortune I had made on my last voyage was his alone.

Perhaps, if I had returned with my fortieth ship, he might still have been stopped; but the captain and crew, who returned to Basra several days before me, reported, to protect themselves and conceal their crime, that I had been drowned at sea. This suited the rogue admirably, and he immediately took over my business and home, paying a few bribes to smooth his way.

Utterly without recourse, I then found no way but to make my way up to Baghdad, intending to throw myself on the mercy of the Khalifa Harūn al Rashīd, for he is known through all the world as being just and generous. But I have no way of finding audience with him, for I know no one here; nor do I have any proof of what I said, nothing at all. I have nothing in the world, in fact, but my bird, her cage, and her lyre.

Each night my bride comes to her human form for an hour or two, and sings and plays on the instrument like one divine; but that, too, has brought its own dangers on my head. I have heard the tales going around that there is a splendid slave who dazzles with her beauty and her voice, and I am much afraid that this will draw down the jealous greed of people who have the power to take her from me by force. I could forbid her to sing and play during the time she is human, of course, but I cannot bring myself to do so, for, small as it is, it is her only joy.

So saying, the elderly man heaved a deep sigh and fell silent; and the Khalifa and the wāzir sighed, too, in sympathy, and looked up at the green bird in the cage. The night passed, and dawn appeared in the East; they performed the morning prayers along with their troubled host, and, after giving him thanks and leaving him – despite his protestations – a few coins of gold as recompense for their night’s lodging, they left.

“Jafar,” the Khalifa said, as soon as they had returned to the palace and changed to their usual clothes, “you are to go this evening to our host of the night, and command him to appear before me, bringing his bird and his lyre. In the meantime, have a guard discreetly placed on his house, so that he is not bothered by any greedy malefactor, and also to prevent him from trying to escape, if he has had second thoughts about his night’s indiscretion to a couple of unknown foreigners.”

“I hear and obey,” the wāzir responded, and sent his men to guard the house. That evening, he dressed in his formal robe of office and, at the head of a troop of soldiers, he went to the elderly man and brought him, trembling with terror, to the august presence of the Commander of the Faithful.

“I am told,” the Khalifa said, “that this bird of yours has miraculous abilities. I hear that she can even turn human and sing and play on that lyre. What have you to say to this?”

Ashen-faced with fear, the elderly man threw himself at the Khalifa’s feet. “Pardon me, Commander of the Faithful,” he said. “It is not of my doing.” And he began the tale that he had recounted the previous night, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

“If what you say is to be believed,” the Khalifa said, when he had finished, “all we have to do is wait for your bird to turn back to her human form, and we will know of the truth of the matter.”  

As the hour of the evening prayer passed, there was a fluttering of wings, the bird emerged from her cage, and transformed into a woman so pretty that the palace of the Khalifa seemed to be lighted up by her; and, taking up her lyre, she sang a song of such beauty and sorrow as even an angel might weep.

“Lady,” the Khalifa said when she had stopped singing, “tell me, how can we return you to what you were?”

“None but the sorcerer can do that,” the woman responded. “He alone knows the secret of my transformation. But he lives on the island where I was born, so far away that there is nothing to be gained by talking of him.” And, a moment later, she had turned back to a bird, and the elderly man had put her in the cage again.

Then the Khalifa called his scribes and had them write two documents affixed with the royal seal, and gave them to the elderly man, with instructions to give the first of them to the governor of Basra; and that same night he sent him down the river by ship, with an escort of troops beside, to ensure his protection. And when the governor broke the seals and read the letter, he ordered the usurper arrested and thrown into prison; and so the merchant recovered his business and his ships, and all his fortune again.

Then the merchant took ship, and sailed along with his bird and her lyre to the island of her birth. After a long voyage they arrived, and then he took the second document and went to the king. This king, who knew of the Commander of the Faithful and acknowledged him as the Ruler of the World, read the enclosed letter; and then he sent his men to seize the sorcerer and have him brought before the court. Threatened with torture and death, the lecherous old man broke down and agreed to reverse the spell in return for his life; and the bird turned back to a woman, and was no more a bird again.

And so it was that the merchant and his wife went down to a hut on the sea shore, where an old couple spent their days and nights in ceaseless lamentation for a daughter who they had decided was no more; and they could scarce believe their eyes when they saw their daughter back again. And after they heard of all that had befallen her, all they could do was cry tears of mingled joy and sorrow.

And then the merchant and the woman received the blessings of their wedding from the girl’s parents, and then all four of them took ship, sailing over the ocean until they came to the fair city of Basra, the woman singing and playing the lyre all the way, only now the songs were of happiness and great joy.

Such is the story of the Green Bird, and of the wisdom and magnanimity of the Khalifa, of whom so many tales are told.

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Sister,” Dunyazad said when Shahrazad had finished, “I would like to hear another tale, for this has filled me with such wonder that I fairly crave for more.”

“Little one,” Shahrazad replied, “I have many more tales to tell, if only the gracious king would give me permission; yet, it grows late, so let the next story await tomorrow night.”

And the King Shahryar smiled and drew her to his bosom; and as the night turned towards morning, silence fell in the royal chamber. Shahrazad slept.

KHATAM SHUD




Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

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