And when the one thousand and twenty-sixth night had come,
THE TALE OF THE MERCHANT SAWA DA GAUR
O King of Time, it so happened that there was once, in the grand market of Samarkand, a merchant who was called Sawa Da Gaur. Though he had once been very poor, by dint of many years of hard work and the favour of Allah, he had made himself prosperous; but he was not happy.
As he sat in his richly appointed shop in the grand market of Samarkand, he would sigh to see the caravan masters and the merchants from far lands, buying and selling. Everyone saw that he was unhappy, but nobody could think why. If they asked, he would just shake his head and sigh. In the end they just decided that Allah had inflicted him with a malady of the mind, and left him alone.
One day Sawa Da Gaur was visited by his old friend, the head of the Metalworkers’ Guild, whose name was Abdallah. This excellent man found Sawa Da Gaur sighing as usual, and regarding with longing eyes a line of mules laden with merchandise that was being led away from his shop, their owner having purchased most of what he had to sell.
“Why are you so sad?” Abdallah asked. “I would have thought to see you rather beside yourself with joy at such good business Allah has put your way today, my brother.”
Then Sawa Da Gaur shook his head, and, his heart brimming over, told his old friend of what lay so heavy on his mind. “You know how hard I worked to lift myself out of poverty and into the affluence you see me in now,” he said. “But, truth to tell, it brings me no happiness. You know that I have neither wife nor child, and I have never wanted any. What I have, however, always wanted is to see the sights of distant lands. My eyes yearn to look upon far cities whose names I have only heard, my heart sighs to sail the sea, which to me is but a word. But it seems it is my fate to merely sit in this shop and watch the caravan masters and the merchants come and go.” He gestured at the departing mules. “You say that I should be happy with the profit that Allah brought my way, but all I can think of is to what distant lands those mules will take the things that were so lately sitting in my shop, and what unknown hands will hold them dear and call them their own.” And, in his sorrow, he quoted these lines:
“If in the middle of Paradise’ gardens fair
I were, and blue mountains showed in my sight
The wings of a bird I would crave
To carry me to them in swift flight.
“Though the blessings of Allah be fair
And put riches at my command
I would in a moment throw them down
For the sights of a distant land.
“All through the years that stretch before me
Dry as dust, and greyer yet
I can see myself, sorrowing still
For dreams that cannot be and I cannot forget.”
Then Abdallah reflected for a while, and at last he nodded. “I see what must be done,” he said. “You must satisfy this longing of yours, for it is eating your life away with unhappiness and despair. Clearly, then, you must go on a journey, and see these far distant lands, until your thirst for travel is fulfilled.
“But at the same time, you do not know what dangers may lie along the way on your travels, which may well claim all your money and everything else you take with you. Therefore, you cannot sell all your business here, for by hazarding all that Allah has bequeathed on you, you may end up losing all. Is that not so?”
Sawa Da Gaur smiled sadly. “Nor can I leave the business unattended, for then I would alsolose all Allah has bequeathed on me, simply by allowing it to wither away. That is why I sigh in sorrow, for there is nothing to be done.”
“That’s not true at all,” Abdallah said. “I will take care of your business in my spare time, and see that it prospers. You know well enough that I am a man of my word. You can embark on your travels with a light heart.”
And Sawa Da Gaur felt a huge weight roll off his shoulders, for he knew that Abdallah spoke the truth, and that he was honest as the day was long. So, as soon as he could, he purchased some camels and horses, put together some goods to trade, and joined the next caravan that left Samarkand for the lands of the south.
For many days they travelled through deserts and mountains, and Sawa Da Gaur, who had never left his native city before, found the sun and the wind harsh and pitiless. But though they burnt and seared him until he was dry and brown as any of the other men in the caravan, he never complained, for his heart was always uplifted with thoughts of the new countries that they would see.
Then, it so happened that one day the caravan master came hurrying to the merchants. “A great storm is coming,” he said. “I have seen, at the southern horizon, the clouds of sand it is blowing our way. Try to keep together, and do not wander from the line, or you shall be surely lost.”
All the merchants, who were experienced in desert crossings and knew what storms were like, obeyed instantly, making their camels crouch on the sand and lying down next to them for protection. The only exception was Sawa Da Gaur, who did not know what to do and was still trying to find out when the storm struck. In an instant the day had grown as dark as the night and the air was filled with millions of stinging grains of sand. Sawa Da Gaur’s own horse, startled, galloped off with him on its back, and in a few moments he had lost all sense of direction.
For a full day and night the storm raged, and when it was over, on the second morning, Sawa Da Gaur looked around him and saw that he was utterly lost. All around him were low barren hills, on which not even a leaf of scrub grew.
“This is terrible,” Sawa Da Gaur said to himself. “I have neither food nor water for myself or the horse, and I have no idea which way to go to make my way back to the caravan. Unless I can find help, we are surely lost.”
Far in the distance, on one of the hills, something glinted in the morning sunlight, as though it was made of silver, and this caught the merchant’s eye.
“There may, at any rate, be something there,” he thought. “Let me ride towards it, and we shall see what we shall see.” Taking the name of Allah, he accordingly turned the horse’s head in the direction of the glinting thing on the distant hill.
All day the merchant rode, and still it seemed as far away as ever, but just as night was about to fall, he saw that the sun had been shining on the domed metal roof of an enormous palace. It was still far away, but the sight of it gave him a renewed burst of energy. Urging the exhausted horse onward, he rode on through the gathering darkness until, just before midnight, he finally stood below its walls, in which was set an enormous gate. Dismounting from the horse, he knocked on the gate, at which it immediately swung open, but to his astonishment there was nobody within to open it.
“What is this sorcery?” Sawa Da Gaur asked himself. “Still, I must enter, for there is nothing else left for me and my horse.” Once again taking the name of Allah, he led the beast by the reins into the palace.
Before him lay a great open garden, surrounded by pavilions and pillared passages set with wonderfully carved sculptures, but totally silent and deserted. Sawa Da Gaur called out, identifying himself and asking for shelter, but there was no answer.
“This is strange indeed,” he said. “But since the gate opened for us, I can hope that whoever this palace belongs to agrees to my being here. Meanwhile, I am starving and thirsty.”
The garden was bathed in moonlight reflected from the huge silver dome, and in it laden fruit trees grew among lush grass and sparkling fountains. Letting the horse graze and drink its fill, the merchant wandered around, eating fruit from the trees, until his hunger was gone and he felt quite refreshed.
“Let me now see what lies inside the palace,” Sawa Da Gaur said to himself. With his hand on the hilt of his sword, though he had little enough idea how to use it, he walked up from the garden into the nearest passage and thence into the pavilions.
Everywhere it was the same. He found beautifully furnished rooms, in which there were soft beds to sleep on, and fragrant incense smouldered in brass burners, but not a single person anywhere. At length, tired after the days of riding and his wandering round the palace, he lay down on one of the beds and prepared to sleep.
Hardly had he closed his eyes, however, when there was a terrific crash and a monstrous jinni appeared through the floor. Pointing a finger at the merchant, who thought that his last hour had surely come, he demanded in a voice like thunder to know who he was and what he was doing here.
“My name is Sawa Da Gaur,” the man said. “I am a merchant from Samarkand, who was separated from his caravan by a storm.” And he repeated the story of his adventures, but no purpose would be served by repeating it here.
“All I ask, therefore,” he finished, “is for you, most gracious jinni, to let me rest for the night in your palace, and when morning comes, my horse and I will be on our way again.”
“If it were up to me,” the jinni responded, “I would let you stay, for I have nothing against you if you are a mere wanderer and victim of a desert storm. But I am merely the one who takes care of it for my mistress, and her command is clear. Anyone who befouls her palace with his presence must have his head struck from his shoulders.” And, taking his immense scimitar from his belt, he prepared to do just that.
“Stay your hand a moment, good jinni,” Sawa Da Gaur begged, “lest it befall you as it did the wazīr Salman, who served the king Ghulam.”
“Who is this wazīr?” the jinni asked, lowering the scimitar by his side. “And what did he do?”
Taking a deep breath, and keeping a wary eye on the scimitar, Sawa Da Gaur began...
THE STORY OF THE WAZĪR SALMAN
O most excellent jinni, there was once, in the passage of an age and of a moment, in the isles of China, a king named Ghulam, who was most beloved of the people of those lands, for he was as generous as he was fair, and as handsome as he was brave. Each morning, the people of the kingdom rose singing his praises, and they commended him to Allah before laying themselves down to sleep.
Now Ghulam had just one sorrow; though he had searched high and low, and many were the women who would have been glad to be his queen, he had never found one whom he could love. Being as honest as he was good, he decided that he could never marry any woman to whom he could not give his full and true love. And because it was his personal sorrow, he decided not to tell of it to anyone.
Meanwhile, the king also grew anxious that perhaps he was not getting a full report of the problems of his subjects, to whom he was, naturally, devoted. At last, he called his wazīr, Salman, and divulged to him his problem.
“As the king,” he said, “I only hear what my guards and qadīs, my advisors and my courtiers want me to hear. It may be that there are miserable people in the kingdom, whom but a word from my mouth could make happy, but I do not hear their problems, for they are not allowed to come to me. How can I see to their welfare?”
The wazīr reflected for an hour, and then made this reply: “O King of Time, there is but one remedy; you must leave your palace, and move through the town, in disguise so that no one can recognise you. Perhaps then, among the people of the town, you can find the news you seek.”
The king decided that this was excellent advice, and that very evening he clad himself in the robes of a common citizen, and, leaving the palace by a side door, he went out into the city without anyone knowing that he had gone.
For hours he walked through the streets, seeing them, as a common person, in a way he’d never seen them before. He heard the people talking to each other as they went about their business, as they never talked when he, as the king, was close enough to overhear. But all he heard simply confirmed that the people were healthy and happy, and that they felt themselves blessed to be alive in that day and age.
And then, as he paused outside a perfume shop, he heard two men talking about him.
“It’s sad that our king does not have a wife,” the first said. “If only he had one, the kingdom would be happy and secure.”
“If only he knew of the lady Arifa,” the other man replied, “the daughter of the excellent merchant Nuruddin, he would seek no further for a wife; for, as we all know, she is as beautiful as she is kind, and as clever as she is skilled in all the arts. But I am afraid, because her father keeps her so closely hidden, that he will never learn of her.”
“Ah, it is such a pity,” the first man replied, with a sigh. “They would make such a perfect couple.”
Then they moved on, talking of other things, but the king stood where he was, his mind in a whirl. Who was this lady Arifa, daughter of the merchant Nuruddin? He decided right then that he never would rest until he saw her for himself and, if she could love him, to make her his.
With little difficulty, he soon found the mansion of the merchant Nuruddin, which was surrounded by high walls and had armed guards at the gate, who glared at anyone who passed and fingered their swords meaningfully. The king watched them from afar for some time, and then, making up his mind, went up to them and said...
At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
But when the one thousand and twenty-seventh night had come,
O King of Time, this is what the merchant Sawa Da Gaur said to the jinni, as he related the story of the wazīr Salman and the king Ghulam, who wished to meet the lady Arifa:
The king went up to the guards, and, assuming an air of being in a great hurry, demanded to speak to their master.
“Nobody enters here except for the members of the household,” the bigger of the two guards replied. “Go away at once, or it will be the worse for you.”
“I am a courier bearing a vital message,” the king said, “and it must be delivered to your master. I will not go away without completing my purpose.”
“If that is so,” the other guard said, “give your message to us, and we will see to it that it is delivered to the master. But do not tarry any longer or try our patience further.”
“It is a message from the court,” the king said. “Do you really imagine that I can deliver it to the likes of you?”
Then the two guards exchanged looks with each other, and the smaller of them nodded reluctantly. “Come with me then,” he said, “and I will take you to the master.”
As soon as they entered the gate, the king took the opportunity to look around quickly, and saw a small tower which stood in the middle of a perfumed garden, from a window at the top of which sweet music drifted through the air.
“Who is it that is in the tower,” the king asked innocently, “who plays such sweet music?”
“It is our mistress the lady Arifa,” the guard replied shortly. “Her father, our master Nuruddin, keeps her in the tower lest the lecherous eyes of some evil man fall on her.”
The king was about to reply when, glancing up at the window of the tower, he saw for an instant the face of the lady Arifa, looking down into the garden; and such was her beauty that it smote him to the heart. Numbly, he followed the guard to the merchant Nuruddin, and then informed him, in his guise as a messenger, that he should present himself to the royal court at the end of the week, whereupon he intended to bestow on that excellent man a robe of honour. Then, slowly and with painfully beating heart, he returned to his palace.
Now the King was consumed day and night by the memory of the glimpse he’d had of the lady Arifa’s beautiful face, so he could think of nothing else. If he had wished to, of course, he could have ordered the merchant Nuruddin to give his daughter in marriage to him, but being a just and fair ruler, he could never think of forcing himself on her as a husband. In accordance, after much thought, he decided to find a way to the tower and meet the lady herself to win her affections. Then he called for one of his most trusted men, by the name of Munawar.
“I want you to rent a house near the mansion of the merchant Nuruddin, and have a tunnel dug from under it to the tower in his garden,” he commanded, giving the man a purse of gold coins. “Make certain that it is kept totally secret.”
“I hear and I obey,” Munawar said, and departed. He soon found a house to rent just behind the mansion’s walls, and began having the tunnel secretly dug from underneath it to the tower, whose top was visible above the wall. Each evening he would meet the king and report to him how much progress had been made.
Meanwhile the king was still so taken up by the thought of the lady Arifa that he could neither sleep nor eat, and the affairs of the kingdom fell into disarray. The wazīr Salman noticed this and decided to get to the bottom of it. Keeping an eye on the king, he noticed that Munawar came every evening to speak to him, and deduced that whatever it was that ailed the monarch, it had to do with this man.
One evening, after Munawar had reported to the king that the tunnel would be completed by the next day, and was returning to the house, he was followed by the wazīr Salman and several soldiers. Accosting him just as he was about to climb into the tunnel, they demanded to know what he was up to.
Seeing the king’s own wazīr, whom he had no reason to believe was in anything but the monarch’s confidence, Munawar readily confessed what Ghulam had commanded him to do, and disclosed that the tunnel was almost completed. Frowning in perplexity, the wazīr decided to see for himself what was going on. Ordering his own soldiers to join in the digging, so that the tunnel should be completed that very night, he waited impatiently, and as soon as the tunnel was completed, he passed through it and emerged into the tower.
Now the lady Arifa had been woken by the sounds of digging, and had come down, a lamp in her hand, to see what was going on. She had never had visitors in her tower except her father’s slave girls to bring her food and take care of her needs, so she had no fear of attack, and did not think to call any guards. And just as she reached the bottom of the stairs, a slab of stone in the floor was levered away and the wazīr Salman climbed up into the tower.
The wazīr, of course, had no idea that the king had never met the lady Arifa, and had merely intended to win her love by his own personal charm and efforts. Instead, he at once assumed that she was a foreign spy who had deliberately destroyed the king’s peace of mind as part of a nefarious plan to harm the kingdom. Drawing his sword from his belt, he demanded to know who she was and which enemy she was working for.
The lady Arifa, who was not just beautiful and innocent but brave as well, replied right away that she worked for no enemy; and, furthermore, that anyone who threatened her with a sword was her enemy, and would be treated accordingly. This further infuriated the wazīr, who had never been spoken to in this fashion before. Without thinking of the consequences, he swung the sword up, and in an instant more would have brought it down on her neck, cleaving her head from her shoulders on the spot.
Now we shall leave the wazīr and the lady for a little while, and see what was happening to the king.
After Munawar had left, the king was seized with excitement at the thought that, after all these days of dreaming, he would finally be able to see his beloved on the morrow. He could not make himself rest, and, after a few hours of restlessly pacing around his room, he decided that he would go for himself and see how the digging was going. Without pausing to put on disguise, which would in any case be superfluous at this hour, he left the palace, and, walking quickly through the deserted streets, soon arrived at the house Munawar had rented. There, to his astonishment, he found some of the soldiers of the wazīr Salman waiting with Munawar. When he demanded to know what was happening, they told him. And the king, rushing down the tunnel, emerged just in time to see the wazīr bringing down the sword on his beloved’s neck.
There was no time to call out or to stop the wazīr’s arm, and the king did the only thing that was left to him. Throwing himself between the sword and the lady Arifa, he took the blow on his own head, and in a moment had rendered his soul to the mercy of Allah.
Then it was that the wazīr Salman’s heart filled with horror and remorse, and he realised his terrible blunder; but it was all too late already. No matter how much the wazīr mourned his own haste and anger, he could not turn back the clock. And without the guiding hand of the great king Ghulam, the kingdom rapidly fell apart into squabbling fiefdoms, and if you go there today all you will find are ruins in a wilderness, in which only the jackal prowls.
And so, brave and good jinni, I beg you not to be so hasty in killing me, for something once done cannot be undone.
So saying, the merchant Sawa Da Gaur looked up at the jinni. “All I ask of you is to let me spend the night,” he said, “and my horse and I will be on our way in the morning.”
The jinni thought for a while before he responded. “From what you say,” he replied eventually, “you have come so far from your caravan that, even if you could retrace your steps somehow, they will have long since moved on again. If you were to leave again in the morning, you will only starve to death, lost and alone, in the desert. It would be far better for you to remain here as long as you want, but I cannot permit that, for I am only a slave to my mistress.”
“Who is your mistress?” the merchant asked. “Perhaps I could speak to her and persuade her to allow me to remain.”
“She is the Queen of the Jinn,” was the reply, “and she lives very far away from here, in her city deep below the ground, where no human feet have ever trod. And if you could speak to her, I have no doubt that she would turn down your request, and more than likely order me to cut off your head, as I should have. But if you choose, I will take you to her.”
“Let us go, then,” the merchant said. “For if the alternative to this is to starve in the desert, I might as well see the Queen of the Jinn and her city and have my head cut off there. All I ask is for you to look after my horse, for the poor animal has done you no harm and had no part in coming here.”
“I will see to it that the horse is taken care of.” The jinni then seized the merchant by the hand and bore him down into the earth, which sealed itself above them; and, travelling through soil and rock and great caverns far under the ground, they at last arrived in the hidden city.
It was a place the likes of which the merchant had never seen before. It was a city the size of a kingdom, with towers and turrets and battlements that rose to dizzying heights over streets so broad that it was hard to see from one side to the other. Red flames leaped from the horizon on all sides, providing a garish light to illuminate the scene, for overhead was only the darkness of the rock and earth.
And all around were the jinn. They were all sorts, tall and short, winged and horned, jinni and jinniyah, and they came crowding around as soon as they saw the merchant, for no human had, of course, ever set foot in the city before.
“Where did you find him, Hamid?” they asked, for that was the name of the jinni who had brought Sawa Da Gaur there. “And why have you brought him here?”
“I will only answer to the queen herself,” the jinni Hamid said, and, pushing through the throng, he pulled Sawa Da Gaur along until they had arrived at the royal palace.
The palace was so high and so broad that Sawa Da Gaur became dizzy just looking at it. Its walls were of silver, its roofs covered with beaten gold, and its gates were panelled with slabs of sapphire and emerald. Still holding the merchant by the arm, Hamid entered, and took Sawa Da Gaur up to the royal court.
There, on a throne as high as a mountain, sat the Jinniyah Queen herself, surrounded by her jinn-in waiting. She looked down at the merchant with a frown.
“What is this, Hamid?” she asked. “How dare you bring a human into my city?”
“This merchant, O Queen of Light,” the jinni explained, “is a lost traveller, who by ignorance found his way to your palace.” And he told her the story of Sawa Da Gaur’s travels, but it would serve no purpose to repeat it here.
But the Queen was not to be mollified. “I gave you the strictest orders,” she said, “that anyone who entered my palace was to be killed at once. You have disobeyed my command, but since it is your first offence, I will forgive you. As for this human, though...” She considered, and shook her head. “Nothing I can think of right now can punish him adequately. I will imprison him until I can think of something that will meet the case.” So saying, she signalled, and at once two enormous jinn seized the unfortunate merchant, snatched his sword from his belt, and dragged him away. They took him to a dark stone cell deep in the recesses of the palace, threw him inside, and slammed shut the door. It was cold as ice, dark as a moonless night, and so small he could barely stretch his arms.
All this while the merchant had not uttered a word, for he had been at first stricken dumb with wonder at the strangeness of the city of the jinn, and then at the spellbinding beauty of the Jinniyah Queen herself. But now, alone and in the dark, freezing cell, he bit the hands of despair and began to lament aloud the fate Allah had reserved for him.
“Had I only remained safe in my shop in Samarkand,” he wailed, “and been content with what Allah had given me, I might have been unhappy, but I would have been safe. This is what comes of going against the wishes of Allah.”
And in his despair he quoted these lines:
“A bird in a golden cage
Sighing for the chance to fly
Looks for the door to open
And never wonders why
“And when the door is left open
The bird takes to wing
Far above the earth, it feels heaven
And opens its beak to sing.
“But then comes the hawk, iron-clawed
Comes the winter, starvation-hard
The bird would have returned to its cage
But all actions bring their reward.
“And though it might sigh in regret
Of the things that used to be
The clock will not turn backwards
Undo what Allah said would be.”
“But who says that you have gone against the wishes of Allah?” a voice sounded in the darkness. “If Allah had...”
At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
But when the one thousand and twenty-eighth night had come,
The merchant Sawa Da Gaur, once he’d got over his astonishment – for the voice was of a woman, and as sweet as music – ventured to reply.
“Who are you?” he asked. “And where are you? I cannot see anything, and if you were in this cell I would know it, for it is so small I can barely lie down on the floor.”
“As to who I am,” the voice said, “I am a jinniyah in the service of the Queen, who was moved almost to tears by your story. As to why you cannot feel me, it is because I am speaking to you through an aperture in the wall, meant for secret communication. Now tell me why you think Allah has deserted you.”
“Allah had decided that my place was in my shop in the market,” the merchant responded. “And by opposing His wishes, all that has happened to me is that I have been thrown in this dungeon, to rot until the Queen decided in just what way she will rip the flesh from my bones.”
“Or, perhaps,” the jinniyah said, “He has merely put your feet on the road to other adventures, which He had planned for you. We shall see.”
“What other adventures can He have planned for me, but to be torn to pieces by the Queen?” Sawa Da Gaur asked. “Although her beauty is such that it was worth coming down here just to glimpse her a moment, there is no further hope for me now.”
“Wait,” the jinniyah’s voice responded. “Do not be so hasty in your despair. If you can do the Queen a great enough service, she will certainly pardon you, and more, reward you more than you could have imagined.”
“What service is that?” Sawa Da Gaur enquired. “If there is any way for me to get out of here, I will happily do so.”
“I will tell you, then,” the jinniyah said. “Listen carefully.”
THE JINNIYAH’S STORY
Not always was the Queen as she is now. Once upon a time, she was as generous as she was happy, eager to help anyone in distress, human or jinn. Then, her palaces were open to all comers, who could stay as long as they wanted, and anything else that their hearts desired.
Now the Queen had a particular treasure, which she took with her everywhere she went – a jewel which glowed as cool and beautiful as the full moon itself, the like of which existed among neither the humans nor the jinni. The fame of this jewel was such that people came from all over the world to gaze on its beauty. They could do this because the Queen then loved the sunlight and the open air, and spent most of her time in the upper world, not in this city deep underground.
At last word of the jewel came to a certain evil wizard. This wizard lived on an island, which his foul arts had caused to be able to roam on all the oceans, and it had only been because he had sailed it far away that he had not heard of the jewel before. But the moment mention of it reached his ears, he at once coveted it with all his evil heart.
Sailing his island to the nearest spot from which he could reach the palace where the Queen was at the moment, he disguised himself as a young and exceedingly handsome prince. Going to the palace, he set about wooing the Queen, thinking thereby to be able to get his hands on the jewel.
But the Queen, though she was as kind and gracious to him as she was to all others, did not respond to his blandishments at all, and eventually he had to conclude that this tactic would not work. Therefore, one night he assumed the shape of an ape, and, crawling up the wall of the palace, entered the Queen’s chamber when he imagined that she would be sleeping, intending to purloin the jewel and steal away with it to his island that very night.
However, the Queen had a parrot, who kept watch over her while she slept; and the bird, seeing the ape enter the window, loudly shouted out: “I see you, and the Queen sees you.” The jinniyah herself, starting awake, then saw the ape, and, picking up the first thing that came to hand – an oil lamp – threw it at the creature. The hot oil of the lamp splashed over its head, singing its fur in the shape of the Queen’s own hand, with which she had thrown the lamp. With a scream of pain and fury, the ape disappeared back the way it had come.
The Queen, who had thought it to be merely a stray ape from somewhere, did not then think to associate it with an attempt to steal her jewel. Nor did she think it had anything to do with the visiting prince, though she found out in the morning that he had apparently departed in great haste at some time in the night.
The magician, though he had been defeated once, was not prepared to give up. Retreating to his island, he sailed away for a while, pondering his course of action. Forming a plan, he awaited his chance, knowing that sooner or later it would come.
Now it is a rule that once in every three years, the Queen must depart to her father’s palace in the clouds, where all the jinn of her family gather together in celebration and togetherness. By tradition, nobody can bring any possessions to the meeting, so there is no cause for bickering and jealousy. The Queen, accordingly, left her jewel behind when she departed for the next meeting, intending to stay at her father’s palace for no more than a week altogether.
The accursed wizard, of course, had been keeping watch over the Queen by means of his black arts. As soon as she had left, he disguised himself, so completely changing his appearance that none could ever know him for the handsome prince who had been there before. The only thing he could not change was the mark of the oil that had splashed on his head, and over his hair there was a patch the colour of ash, which was exactly the shape of the Queen’s hand.
In his new guise, then, and claiming to be a weary traveller, the wizard presented himself at the palace, begging for food and shelter for a day or two. The guards, of course, readily acceded to his request, and he was given a room in the palace, and informed that he could stay as long as his heart desired.
That very night, the wizard slipped out of his room and walked through the corridors, at every step throwing a sleeping powder in the air which sent all the guards in the palace into a deep sleep. Finally he reached the room where the jewel was kept.
The Queen’s parrot, which was sitting on its perch, saw him and squawked loudly: “I see you.”
“But only you do,” the wizard said, “so it does not matter.” Taking up the jewel, he put it into his robe and departed quickly. By the time the guards had woken from their slumbers, he had long since departed to his island, which he caused to sail across the ocean at the fastest speed at which it could go.
The next day, the Queen returned from her father’s house, and found her own palace in turmoil. Informed that the jewel had vanished, she felt her vitals gnawed by despair. Nobody could tell her who had stolen the jewel, except that a traveller had presented himself at the palace the previous day to beg shelter, and had disappeared during the night.
Then the parrot spoke up, telling what it had seen. “The thief had a grey mark in his hair,” it said, “just as though he had been burned with a splash of hot oil...and the mark is the exact shape and size of your hand.”
Then the Queen remembered the ape, and realised that it must have been a wizard who had taken the shape of both the animal and the traveller. “It is only because I allowed all travellers to seek shelter in my palaces that the wretch could succeed,” she said, filled with a mighty anger. “Henceforth, anyone who dares enter my domains will answer for it with his head.”
Years have passed since then, but the Queen still bears that anger, without the least hint of fading. Without her jewel, which she loved so much, she became hard and bitter, and from then on to this day she never has a kind word for anyone except for her own jinn.
“And this is why to this day,” the unseen jinniyah continued, “no traveller is permitted in the Queen’s palaces, and why you have come to the sorry pass you are now.”
“It is truly a sad tale,” Sawa Da Gaur responded, “but I still do not understand what service to the Queen I can provide that will lead to her sparing me, let alone rewarding me, as you said.”
“Why,” the jinniyah replied, “I thought you had understood. If you only retrieve the jewel from the wizard and return it to the Queen, she will give you whatever your heart desires.”
“How am I to do that?” the merchant replied, astonished. “I do not even know where the wizard is, or how to get it back from him.”
“He is on his island,” the jinniyah informed him. “From the day he stole the jewel, he has never left it for an instant, for fear that the Queen’s jinn will tear him limb from limb as punishment for his crime.”
“If he is on his island,” Sawa Da Gaur asked, “why does the Queen not take her armies of jinn, invade it, and retrieve her jewel?”
“The merchant has placed an enchanted barrier around it,” the answer came, “which is proof against all jinn, ifrit, and all other manner of being but those of common flesh and blood. No jinn can ever pass it, but you, as a human man, can.”
“And why are you so concerned for me that you are offering me this chance?” Sawa Da Gaur asked. “Nobody, man or jinni, has done me any kindness since my travels began, so why are you doing it?”
The jinniyah was silent a while. “In the first place,” she said eventually, “I was, as I said, moved almost to tears by your tale of woes, even though I only heard them at second hand. Secondly, I felt my heart wrench at your superb bearing and excellent good looks, which struck me to the core of my being, and I thought that Allah surely cannot mean you to end at the hands of the Queen’s torturers. And, in the third place, we, all of us, miss having the Queen as she used to be, carefree and happy, generous and kind. We would dearly want her to get her jewel back, so she can again be as she once used to be.”
The merchant reflected for a long time. “Very well, good jinniyah,” he said at last. “I do not see that I have any other choice, though I have no idea how I can defeat a wizard. But how am I to tell the Queen that I am willing to try and retrieve her jewel?”
“I will tell her myself,” the jinniyah responded. “And as for the wizard, trust in your own abilities, for I do, and I know you nowhere near as well as you know yourself.” So saying, she fell silent, and the merchant was left in the dark and cold alone once more.
But not for long. Within a short while, the door of the cell opened, and the same two jinn who had thrown him inside appeared, and, taking him by the arms, they conveyed him back to the court, where the Queen sat on her high throne looking down at him.
“What is this I hear?” she asked. “You say you will go and retrieve my jewel from the wizard’s island, is that so?”
“That is so, O Queen of Time,” the merchant said. His glance flicked quickly to the assembled jinn, wondering which of them the jinniyah was who had spoken to him in the cell. But, despite himself, his eyes were drawn back to the Queen, for her beauty was so great that it positively lit up the court. “I will bring back your jewel, or perish in the attempt.”
“Take care that you do not promise what you cannot accomplish,” the Queen said. “If you fall into the wizard’s clutches, you may wish that you had ended under the blade of my executioner. Are you still determined?”
“I will go,” the merchant said. “A small hope, after all, is better than none.”
The Queen nodded. “The wizard’s island lies now at the point where the setting sun touches the most distant sea in the world,” she said. “If you were to try and make your way there on your own, you would die of old age before you ever reached it. My jinn, however, will take you in a ship, and wait for you to return. All that I can give you as help is your sword back, and as companion, my parrot.” She snapped her fingers, and a large grey parrot flew out from behind her throne and perched on Sawa Da Gaur’s shoulder. “Take care to pay close heed to him, because he is a bird wiser than any man in this world. And, besides, he has faced the wizard, and knows him well.”
Then the two jinn who had brought him from the cell took him down flights of stairs deep below the palace, until they came at last to an underground river. On this, floating at the foot of the steps, was a small ship, little more than a boat, and with neither mast nor oars. But as soon as they had stepped into it, the ship began to travel downstream, at such great velocity that Sawa Da Gaur could barely draw breath.
“There is nothing to be afraid of,” the parrot squawked in his ear. “This ship is itself in reality a jinni, and will take us where we need to go.”
At length the ship came out onto a sheet of water so great that it stretched in every direction as far as Sawa Da Gaur could see, and he realised with surprise that he was now on the ocean, about which he had heard so much. The jinni ship, with its four passengers, rushed across the waves so swiftly that it was as though it was rolling along a broad, flat road, while the sun rose behind their backs, travelled overhead, and began to sink far away in front towards the sea.
“Look,” the parrot said. “Just where the sun will touch the waves, is the wizard’s island.” And Sawa Da Gaur saw, right on the horizon, a tiny black dot which slowly grew larger until it became a small rocky island, atop which perched a stone fortress, spiky with turrets like the quills upon a porcupine.
“The wizard lives alone in the fortress,” the parrot said, “but is served and waited on by his magical creatures, which are in the shape of slaves and warriors. Remember that they are magical creatures, made of light and shadows. They cannot harm you unless you give them the power to harm you.”
The merchant did not understand what the parrot meant, but before he could ask, the ship drew to a stop close to the shores of the island.
“We cannot go any further,” one of the jinn said, speaking for the first time. “You can see the barrier there, in the water.” The merchant looked, and saw a shimmering line of green and yellow dancing and sparkling on the waves by the hull of the ship. “It is, however, no obstacle to you or the parrot. The water is shallow enough that you can walk from here on to the island.”
“We will wait for you here for a night and a day,” the other jinni added. “If you do not return by nightfall tomorrow, we will leave you and return to the Queen, for our brother jinni cannot maintain the form of a ship for any longer than that. If, however, you return without the jewel, then we will throw you into the sea and go away.”
“Night is falling,” the first jinni observed, as the sun sank into the sea. “It is best that you go now, before it is fully dark, for it is then that the wizard’s powers are at their strongest.”
“There is no help save in Allah!” Sawa Da Gaur said, and stepped off the ship into the water. It was, as the jinn had said, not deep, and only came up to his chest, so that the parrot could keep riding on his shoulder. He waded through the water and the barrier, which parted before him like gossamer, and a little later, just before full darkness fell, he was on the island.
“How can we enter the fortress?” the merchant wondered. The only entrance was a huge doorway of wood secured with iron bands set with enormous spikes, and the walls were as smooth as ice.
“There is a window up in the wall there,” the parrot said. “Undo your turban, and give it to me. I will fly up to the window and attach one end to something, letting the other end down so you can use it to climb up the wall to the window.”
So the merchant took off his turban, and unfolded it into a long strip of cloth. Taking one end in its beak, the parrot flew up to the window and into the room inside. There was a great table set against the wall, and the bird looped the end of the cloth around one leg of the table until it was quite secure. It then let Sawa Da Gaur know that he could climb up now.
With a hasty prayer to Allah, the merchant caught hold of the end of the turban and dragged himself up the wall until he managed to reach the window and squeezed through it into the room. Taking his sword from his belt, he opened the door and found himself in a corridor. From one end of the corridor there was a white glow, as though the full moon itself was shining inside the four walls of the fortress. Following the glow, the merchant found himself in a huge hall, in the centre of which, placed on a stone platform and glowing like the moon, was the jewel.
It was only the work of a moment for Sawa Da Gaur to leap forward and snatch up the stone, and he turned quickly to flee. But standing there behind him, sword upraised, was a gigantic figure in armour, with red glowing eyes.
“A thief after my master’s jewel,” it thundered. “Your head shall answer for this!”
Sawa Da Gaur felt his bowels turn to water, and his knees began to shake. But the parrot, sitting on his shoulder, squawked...
At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
Then little Dunyazad, who had been listening from the foot of the bed, spoke up. “Sister,” she said, “your words are sweet and your tales most marvellous. How I long to know the rest of this adventure, and what became of the brave merchant in the lair of the evil wizard!”
“I would be more than happy to tell you the story,” Shahrazad said, smiling, “if this gracious monarch, my husband, would see fit to spare my life till tomorrow night.”
And the King Sharyar, who had been listening, said to himself, “Ya Allah, I shall not kill her until I have heard the rest of this truly wondrous tale!” So he took Shahrazad in his arms, and they spent the rest of the night as their wont together.
But when the one thousand and twenty-ninth night had come,
The merchant, faced with the dreadful figure with the sword, was about to collapse from fear, but the parrot, sitting on his shoulder, screamed in his ear, “O Sawa Da Gaur, remember what I told you.” And Sawa Da Gaur remembered that the parrot had told him that the wizard’s creatures were made of light and shadows, and had no power to harm him unless he gave them the power to do so. Taking courage, he stepped forward and ran the creature through with his little sword, whereupon it vanished as though it were no more than a puff of smoke.
Before Sawa Da Gaur could even blink with astonishment, there was a great howling, and ten enormous beasts ran into the hall. They looked like great hounds the size of horses, and their fangs were as long as fingers and sharp as spikes, and with howls of anger they threw themselves on the merchant. But he kept in mind what the parrot had said, and swung his sword through them. And each one his sword touched disappeared, so that in a few moments he and the parrot were alone in the hall once more.
Then the merchant sought to hurry away before more dangers befell him, but he had only walked a step or two before there was a sound like a storm wind and the wizard himself appeared before them, dressed all in black, with his eyes glowing with hate. “You may have escaped my creatures,” he said, and his voice was like breaking glass, “but you will never escape me.” Raising his arm, he pointed a finger at Sawa Da Gaur, and lightning crackled at the tip of the finger. “Return the jewel to the platform, or I will burn you to ashes.”
“If I return the jewel to the platform,” Sawa Da Gaur said, “you will burn me anyway, is that not so?” And he held up the jewel between them, like a shield.
The wizard, finding the stone between him and his target, paused, baffled, and at that moment the parrot, who had flown from Sawa Da Gaur’s shoulder during his battle with the hound-beasts, attacked the sorcerer with its beak and claws, biting and scratching at his face and arms. The magician turned to defend himself, whereupon Saw Da Gaur, seeing his chance, rushed upon him with his sword.
Seeing his danger, the magician uttered a rapid incantation, and vanished. Instead, there stood before Sawa Da Gaur half a dozen apes, which capered around before him, gibbering and grimacing most horribly.
“Attack the magician,” the parrot called, “not the illusions.” Sawa Da Gaur was about to ask how he might be able to tell which of the identical apes was the magician, when he saw that one of them, which was hanging back a little from the others, had a grey patch on its head, as though its fur had been burnt, and the patch was exactly in the shape of a hand.
Rushing upon this ape, the merchant raised his sword to run it through, but before his blade could touch it, it turned into a large grasshopper, which went rapidly leaping away, and in an instant would have escaped. But the parrot swooped down and with one peck swallowed it, and that was the end of the evil wizard.
Then Sawa Da Gaur, putting the sword back in his belt, climbed down from the window, and the parrot undid the end of his turban from the table so he could tie it round his head. But as he did so the bird flew back down to his shoulder and spoke into his ear.
“Put the jewel in your turban,” it said. “I have a good reason for asking you to do this.” And so the merchant did this, wrapping the stone round and round with folds of cloth until its white light was fully hidden from view.
Sawa Da Gaur and the parrot then returned to the shore and waded back to the sea, towards the barrier, just beyond which the ship was waiting. The two jinn aboard peered at him through the darkness.
“Why have you come back?” the first one demanded. “Where is the jewel?”
“It is with me,” Sawa Da Gaur replied, but stayed on the landward side of the barrier.
“Show it to us,” the second one said. “Only if we see that you have it will we allow you on board.”
“I will only show it to the Queen herself,” Sawa Da Gaur told them. “Not to you.”
“In that case,” the jinn said, “we will leave you here.” With terrible curses, they turned the ship away, and in moments it had disappeared into the darkness.
“It was exactly as I feared,” the parrot said. “If you had not hidden the jewel in your turban, they would have taken it from you and thrown you into the sea to die. Then they would have gone back to the Queen to say it was they who had retrieved it, not you, and claimed the reward.”
“But what can we do now?” the merchant answered. “We are stuck on this island.”
“Did you forget that the island can sail on the sea?” the parrot replied. “After eating the magician, his knowledge is mine, and I know how it is done. Come back into the fortress, and we will sail back to the nearest land to the Queen’s domain.”
So Sawa Da Gaur and the parrot went back into the fortress through the window; and soon the island began rushing through the ocean at a speed so fearful it was almost as great as that managed by the ship with the jinn. For a day and a night the island sailed through the water, until at last there was land on the horizon, green and beautiful to the eye.
Then the parrot stopped the island and turned to Sawa Da Gaur. “It is still a very long way from here to the Queen’s city under the ground,” it said. “I will fly there, through ways known to me as well as they are to the jinn, and inform her of the truth of what has happened; for those two evil jinn by now will have certainly told her that we are both dead and your mission has failed. You abide here on the island until I return. But before I go, I will teach you how to remove the barrier that stops all jinn and ifrits from reaching the island. Do not, however, remove it until I come back.”
So the parrot flew away, leaving Sawa Da Gaur alone with his thoughts. All around him, except for the distant green line of the coast, was the ocean, which he had for so long wanted to see, but now it hurt his eyes, and all he wanted to do was to get back on land again. “If Allah wills that I can ever be back on the good earth again,” he thought, “I will never seek for what was not given me.” Still, he thought that he would have to wait for many long and weary days before the parrot returned, and he took the opportunity to rest and refresh himself with the food and drink the wizard had stored in the castle.
The very next morning, however, he woke to see a line of ships bearing down on the island, and from their lack of masts, sails and oars he knew what ships they were. Soon, he saw a speck rising from the leading ship, and the parrot flew into the fortress through the window.
“The Queen herself has come here, with all her court,” it said. “Come down to the shore, but do not remove the barrier until I tell you to.”
So Sawa Da Gaur went down to the shore, and waited until the leading ship came to a halt just in front of the barrier. And standing at the prow of the ship was the Queen, her beauty blazing so brightly that it quite rivalled the rising sun.
“Merchant Sawa Da Gaur,” the Queen said, “my jinn told me that you never returned from the wizard’s fortress, and that he must have destroyed you. My parrot, on the other hand, says that you defeated the wizard and destroyed him, and that you have the jewel safe with you. Which is the truth?”
“O Queen of Light,” the merchant said, “you see me standing here, safe and sound, which means that the jinn lied.” He pointed at the two jinn, on the ship behind the Queen. “As Allah lives, they were plotting to kill me for the jewel, and take the reward for themselves.”
“It is he who lies,” the jinn both shouted. “In truth he wanted to keep the jewel for himself.”
“If that was so, O Queen,” Sawa Da Gaur asked, “why did they tell you that I had died? And if that was so, why is it that instead of keeping the jewel for myself, the parrot and I have brought it back to you?”
Then the two jinn turned quite yellow with fear, and, throwing themselves down on the deck of the ship, begged pardon of the Queen with a thousand pleas and excuses. She, for her part, looked at them with such terrible anger that it seemed they would be reduced to ashes on the spot.
“Tell me what you would have me do with these two wretches, Sawa Da Gaur,” she said. “With one word from you, I can have them charred to cinders or flayed alive. All you need to do is give the word.”
“I would rather that you forgive them, O Queen” the merchant said, for his gentle heart recoiled at the thought of harming anyone. “However, I apprehend that they will always seek to do me harm, so I entreat you to banish them to some part of your realm where they can never reach me again, no matter how hard they try.”
The Queen looked at the merchant with a strange look in her eyes, and eventually nodded. “Very well,” she said. “I will send them to the furthest corner of my empire, and make sure that they stay there until the end of time.”
“O Queen,” the parrot said, “the merchant has a kind heart, and great courage as well, for without it he could not have fought and defeated the sorcerer. Will you keep your word to him that you will spare him all punishment and reward him if he returns your jewel?”
“Of course I will keep my word,” the Queen replied readily. :”Here in front of my court I swear it, and say that once again my palaces will be open to all who should seek shelter.” She turned to the merchant. “It has been so long since I had my jewel,” she said, “that I must confess my heart beats hard at the thought of having it back again.”
“It is yours, O Queen.” Slowly, Sawa Da Gaur unravelled the turban and took out the stone, whose white light shone radiantly on the stones of the island and the waves of the sea. “See, here it is.”
“You can remove the barrier now,” the parrot murmured in Sawa Da Gaur’s ear, and he whispered the words that caused the sparkling line to disappear. As soon as it had gone, the Queen leapt from the ship into the water and herself waded to shore. Sawa Da Gaur knelt on the shore and offered her the jewel, which she took into her hands with a smile so dazzling that her beauty, already more than dazzling, far outshone that of the sun.
“Name your reward, O Sawa Da Gaur,” she said, clutching the stone to her bosom, “and you will receive it, no matter how great it is.”
“When I left Samarkand, O Queen,” Sawa Da Gaur said, “all I had ever wanted was to see the world and travel on the sea. Now I have seen more of the world than any other man, for I have been to your city, which no human had ever visited. And I have travelled the sea, longer and further than any human ship could ever have gone. All I want now is to return home, before some other disaster can befall me. So the only reward I ask is for you to return me to my city of Samarkand, which is my home.”
“If that is all your heart desires, Sawa Da Gaur,” the Queen replied with a sigh, “so shall it be.” Turning to one of her jinn, who had an immense set of wings like a great bird, she ordered him to take the merchant home.
The jinni, with Sawa Da Gaur on his back, climbed swiftly into the air, so that the ships and the island and the sea rapidly fell away far below, until they were so small that they could hardly be seen. Flying so swiftly that the land below fell into a blur, he began carrying the merchant through the air towards the ancient city of Samarkand.
Now we shall leave Sawa Da Gaur on the jinni’s back, and look to what had been happening in Samarkand while he had been away. As you will recall, Sawa Da Gaur had left the care of his property in the hands of his good and honest friend Abdallah. For a time all had gone well, and Abdallah had in fact managed Sawa Da Gaur’s business so well that he had quite doubled its worth.
But then one day Abdallah was stricken with a sudden illness, and it was soon evident that he was not long for this world. Calling his son, Murad, to him, he entrusted the young man with the care of Sawa Da Gaur’s shop, and charged him with taking as good care of it as though it was his own. And then, having done all he could, the excellent man rendered his soul to the care of Allah.
Unfortunately, Murad was as lazy as Abdallah had been hardworking, and as greedy and sly as his father had been honest and upright. As soon as he had taken charge of Sawa Da Gaur’s business, he decided that he would keep it all for himself. “Most likely the man will never return at all, after all this time,” he thought to himself. “And if he does return, we shall see what we shall see.”
Going to the qadī, whom he knew well and who was quite as evil and corrupt as himself, he gave the man some gold coins. The official then called witnesses and signed a decree making over Sawa Da Gaur’s shop to Murad. Thus, the business Sawa Da Gaur had spent so many years working to build became, by the stroke of a pen, that of the usurper, who immediately replaced the staff with his own men, and set about sucking the business dry of all the profit his father had accumulated.
Of course, Sawa Da Gaur knew none of this when the jinni deposited him to earth on the outskirts of Samarkand. Bidding the winged creature farewell, he walked into the city and to the market, thinking to let his old friend Abdallah know that he had returned from his travels safely. But when he reached his shop, it was with astonishment that he found it occupied, not by his venerable friend, but by Murad, whom he knew not at all.
“Who are you?” Murad demanded, when Sawa Da Gaur entered the shop and asked what he was doing there. “How dare you ask what I am doing in my own business?”
“Your business?” Sawa Da Gaur asked, astonished. “I am Sawa Da Gaur, and this business is mine.”
“Yours?” Murad guffawed loudly. “This is my shop, and always was my shop. Everybody knows this. Ask anyone around, and they will all tell you the same.”
Murad’s staff, comprised of his men, all readily supported him. “We have always worked here,” they said, “and this is our master’s shop.”
“Not satisfied?” Murad jeered. “Go and ask the other shopkeepers, and see what they say.”
The other shopkeepers in the market, who had all been envious of Sawa Da Gaur’s success, and who were, furthermore, afraid of the power of the qadī, all said the same thing. “We do not know any Sawa Da Gaur,” they muttered, even though they had all been his acquaintances for years. “This shop has always belonged to Murad.”
“Still not satisfied, then?” Murad scoffed. “If you are still insistent that this shop is yours, let us go to the qadī, and he shall judge.” To this Sawa Da Gaur, not knowing that the scoundrel had bought over the qadī, at once agreed.
It was therefore to his utter shock and horror that when Murad and he went to the qadī, that official erupted in anger. “What kind of man are you,” he exploded, “who wants to seize the business of such a good and honest man as Murad? You shall pay for this temerity.” Calling his guards, he had them throw Sawa Da Gaur out of the city like a sack of garbage, while Murad sauntered back to his shop, whistling happily.
Alone outside the city walls, Sawa Da Gaur fell prey to the deepest gloom. “It is all my fault,” he thought. “If only I had asked the Queen for any other reward, I could have been rich and happy, but instead I must now wander penniless and homeless for the rest of my life.” And at the thought of the Queen, of her dazzling beauty, of her parrot, who had helped him defeat the magician and the plotting jinn, and of the unknown jinniyah who had been so kind to him in the Queen’s dungeon, the bitter tears fell from his eyes like rain.
“Why are you weeping?” a voice asked, and Sawa Da Gaur, to his astonishment, saw the form of a woman appear before him. She was covered in heavy dark garments from head to foot, and her face was veiled, but he knew the voice well. It was that of the jinniyah who had spoken to him in the Queen’s palace. “Do you still despair, when you know how much you have already endured and surmounted?”
“Where did you come from?” Sawa Da Gaur asked, astonished. “And how did you know I was here?”
“The Queen’s parrot followed you,” the jinniyah replied. “It saw what had happened, and flew back to tell the court. And I came here to rescue you from the injustice the qadī has done you. If you want I can take you away from here right now, back to the Queen’s palace.”
“I would be overjoyed to see the Queen again,” Sawa Da Gaur said. “But, more than that, this usurper has robbed me of my good name, and reduced me to a liar and would be thief in the public eye. I want to clear my name, and show the world that whatever I am, I have never been anything but honest and only demanded what was mine by right.”
“I would have expected nothing less,” the jinniyah said, “and would have been disappointed by any other answer. But how shall we clear your name?” She thought a moment. “Did you not say you had been with a caravan and lost your way in the storm, whereupon you found your way to one of the Queen’s palaces?”
“That is so, good jinniyah,” the merchant said. “It was such and such a caravan, and the caravan master’s name was such and such.”
“I will go and search for the caravan,” the jinniyah said. “Surely the caravan master will remember you.” Before the merchant could thank her, she had disappeared into the shadows from whence she came.
It seemed to Sawa Da Gaur that only a few hours had passed before the jinniyah returned. “We were most fortunate,” she said, “for the caravan was on the way back to the city, and even now is heading for the gates. Come, and we will go to the market where we will meet it. But first put on this cloak as disguise, so that nobody will know you.”
“I hear and I obey,” Sawa Da Gaur said, though his heart was still filled with doubts and misgivings, he put on the cloak the jinniyah gave him, and followed her to the market. Just as they entered it from one street, a caravan entered from the other side, and in the lead Sawa Da Gaur recognised the caravan master he had travelled with.
“Dear caravan master,” the jinniyah asked, going up to the man, “I have been waiting eagerly for the return of my kinsman Sawa Da Gaur, who left with you on a journey some time ago. Do you have any news of him?”
“Ah, lady,” the caravan master lamented, “if only I could bring you good tidings of him, I would; but he was lost in a sandstorm, with his horse. I have, however, traded his goods for a fair profit, and have brought the money back with me, in the hopes of being able to hand it over to his relatives, if any such should be found.”
“This is indeed terrible news, dear caravan master,” the jinniyah replied. “I cannot quite bring myself to believe that my dear kinsman is lost for all time. Could you please come along and...”
At this point Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
But when the one thousand and thirtieth night had come,
“Dear caravan master,” the jinniyah said, “please come along with us to the qadī, and tell him of the fate that befell my poor kinsman Sawa Da Gaur; for I am afraid that if I accept the money you have brought with you, unless you have declared where it came from, someone might accuse me of having stolen it.”
“I will gladly do so, lady,” the good caravan master said, and went with her to the qadī. The jinniyah made a discreet signal to Sawa Da Gaur, who followed at a distance.
When they reached the qadī’s court, the jinniyah stated her case. “My kinsman,” she said, “was lost in a storm while on a caravan led by this good master, who has traded his goods and brought back the profits to me. Is it not right that I should receive them?”
The qadī looked around the court, which was of course filled with people, and felt gratified that all of them would hear him bringing succour to a poor woman in need. “Of course it is right that you should receive the money,” he said. “Since it was your kinsman’s profits, by law they belong to you.”
“That is good,” the jinniyah said. “I would be most grateful if you write out a decree to that effect, so that nobody can say afterwards that I came by the money by evil means.”
“With pleasure,” the qadī said, and wrote out the document. “What is your kinsman’s name?” he asked.
“It is the merchant Sawa Da Gaur,” the jinniyah said in a clear, loud voice, audible to everyone in the court.
The qadī went white. “There is no such person,” he mumbled after a while.
“Of course there is,” the caravan master responded, frowning with puzzlement. “He had a shop in such and such a place, which was one of the most successful businesses in the Grand Market. All the caravan masters knew him well, for we all bought merchandise from him.”
“Could you recognise him then, good caravan master,” the jinniyah asked, “if you saw him again?”
“By Allah,” the caravan master responded, “for a certainty I would, for I have worn out my eyes seeking him, ever since he disappeared.”
“Would you?” the jinniyah asked, and discreetly signalled Sawa Da Gaur to draw near. “Did he perhaps look like...this man here?”
And as Sawa Da Gaur pulled off his cloak, revealing himself, the caravan master stared at him, amazed. “It is he,” he cried. “That is Sawa Da Gaur, as Allah lives.”
As the people in the court began murmuring and exclaiming in amazement, the qadī saw that the game was up, and tried to quietly slip away. But the jinniyah held up her hands and called to the people in the court, in a voice so loud and penetrating that they all fell silent to listen to her.
“Good people of Samarkand,” she said, “you have heard the qadī himself say that there was no such person as Sawa Da Gaur, and yet he is here, before your very eyes, as the caravan master has attested. This same Sawa Da Gaur was foully cheated out of his business by one Murad, who bribed this pitch-faced qadī to hand it over to him. Will you stand for this injustice?”
At her words the people rose up in wrath, for many of them, indeed, had their own excellent reasons to dislike and abhor the qadī and his corrupt dealings, and they seized him and threw him into the same prison where he had confined so many other unfortunates. And they appointed a new qadī in his place, a just and fair man who signed a decree restoring to Sawa Da Gaur his business, and issued a warrant for the arrest of Murad and his workers. But that sly man, having heard of what was happening, had already made haste to flee the city, though in too great a hurry to carry anything of his ill gotten gains with him. So much for him; nobody ever heard of him again, and there is no reason for us to concern ourselves with him anymore.
The other merchants, who had affected not to recognise Sawa Da Gaur earlier, now crowded around him, kissing his hands and uttering the most abject and insincere apologies for their behaviour. But Sawa Da Gaur ignored them all.
“If it were not for you and your honesty,” he said to the caravan master, “I would never have regained my property and my good name besides, and I owe you so much that I can never fully repay. But, in token of my gratitude, I give you the profits from my business undertakings, which you have brought back for me.”
“I am but your slave,” the caravan master said, but after great persuasion he accepted the money and departed, praise of Sawa Da Gaur on his lips.
Then, at last, the merchant found himself alone in his shop with the jinniyah. “Lady,” he said, “I cannot even begin to express how much I owe you for your help, both earlier in the Queen’s dungeon and now here in my own city. If I were to make myself your slave for a thousand years, that would not even repay a thousandth part of your generosity.”
“That will not be necessary,” the jinniyah said, with a merry laugh like silver bells, and removed her veil...and who should be standing before Sawa Da Gaur but the Queen herself!
“Yes,” she said, when Sawa Da Gaur had recovered from his amazement to some extent. “It was I all along. From the first moment I saw you, I felt a fierce love of you in my heart, and all I found out about you merely convinced me that you were more than worthy. Not only were you brave, you were forgiving to your enemies, and yet had a stern sense of justice. At every step I have seen you acquit yourself with honour and grace, and even had you not fetched my precious jewel back for me I would not in truth have found it in me to harm you. Now,” she finished, “I have but one question: will you come back with me to my palace, and be my consort? More than that I cannot offer.”
“With great pleasure I will do that,” Sawa Da Gaur said, tears of joy in his eyes. “I would like nothing more, for from the first moment I saw you I have been captivated by your beauty, and now that I know what a keen mind and kind heart lie behind it, I can only say that I love you more than I love anything else but Allah.”
“My parrot will also be very happy to be reunited with you,” the Queen said, as the floor of the shop opened up, and she, taking Sawa Da Gaur by the hand, prepared to descend into her domain. “As also my jinni Hamid, who has been blaming himself ever since I, as he thought, threw you into my dungeon to await your death. As Allah lives, this is the happiest day I have ever known.”
“I too,” the merchant murmured, and he accompanied the Queen of the Jinn to her palace beneath the earth, where he took his place as her consort, to rule together in peace and happiness, with the parrot their constant companion. But Allah knows all!
Little Dunyazad smiled and threw her arms around Shahrazad’s feet. “Sister,” she said, “this most excellent tale of yours has filled me with such pleasure that I can scarcely express myself. I could barely conceal my delight at the downfall of the evil Murad, and as for the Queen Jinniyah, there surely was no better character in any story ever told.”
“Your happiness fills me with pleasure,” Sharazad replied, “and with this august king’s permission, tomorrow night I will begin another tale of wonder and mystery for your enjoyment.”
“Shahrazad,” King Sharyar said, “your tales are of such wonder and delight that I always await more. With the utmost pleasure do I permit you to tell me more, when tomorrow comes.”
“I hear and I obey,” Shahrazad murmured, and her twinkling eyes met Dunyazad’s. “I hear and I obey, O King of Time.”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2016