the one thousand and eighth night, after the king had done with her as was his
wont, Shahrazad began:
THE STORY OF
KAMR-AD-DIN, SHADR-AD-DIN, AND THEIR SISTER MEHR-UN-NISA
O Great King, in the passage of an age and the moment, in the isles of India
and China, there dwelt two brothers in a little town.
These brothers were called Kamr-ad-Din and
Shadr-ad-Din, and they were very poor indeed. Kamr-ad-Din, the elder, worked as
a helper in the shop of a cloth merchant in the market. The younger brother,
Shadr-ad-Din, earned a living as a woodcutter who supplied fuel for the public hamam. Though they were so poor, they
were happy, because they lived with their sister, whom they both loved dearly.
This sister’s name was Mehr-un-Nisa, and
she was famous for her beauty and wit throughout the town. Many men had come to
ask for her hand in marriage, but Mehr-un-Nisa had always declined, because she
knew that her brothers would be miserable without her. And though they would
give her all the money they earned, she was as careful with it as though each
coin could be weighed in blood and tears.
Every evening when they returned from work,
Mehr-un-Nisa would have food ready for them, and would fan them gently while
they rested and soothe them with her singing, for she had as musical a voice as
she was beautiful and witty. And, in the morning, before her brothers arose,
she would get up and make them breakfast from whatever food was in the house.
If they asked what she would eat, she would always say she had already eaten,
and smile to watch them savour whatever she had made for them.
As time went on, things began to improve a
little for the brothers. The cloth merchant, who was getting on in years, decided
to go on the holy pilgrimage to Mākkāh; and, because Kamr-ad-Din had proved himself
both honest and competent, raised him to the position of steward of the shop to
take care of it in his stead. Meanwhile, Shadr-ad-Din had – owning to the hard
work he did every day – caught the eye of the kādi, to whose house
he now supplied wood, too, and a few more places beside. So the family had a
little more money to spend, but Mehr-un-Nisa was as careful with it as she had
always been, because she knew that no blessing can be depended on to last forever.
Only Allah knows how long things might have
gone on like this, but one day the elder brother, Kamr-ad-Din, did not come
back from work at the usual time from the cloth merchant’s shop. His sister and
brother waited anxiously, for it had never happened before that he had been
late. The night was far advanced, and they were on the verge of going to look
for him, when they saw him coming. He entered the house with mournful sighs,
his face downcast and deep unhappiness in his eyes. Even Mehr-un-Nisa’s singing
failed to lift his spirits, so she and Shadr-ad-Din pressed him to tell them
what was troubling him so in spirit. At first he said it was nothing, but at
last he sighed and wiped a tear from his eyes.
“As you know, brother and sister,” he
began, “my master has left me in charge while he made the holy pilgrimage, and
all the months of his absence I have taken care of his business with as much
care and diligence as if it had been my own. I had begun looking forward to his
return, because I had wanted to show him how well I had managed his business
while he was away. And, because he has no heirs, I had even begun to hope that
in the course of time he might leave the shop to me.
“Well, this evening, while I was sitting in
the shop, all of a sudden I heard a commotion, and saw people rushing as though
to see something truly spectacular. I could not leave the shop to see why they
were so excited, but in the event it did not matter, because soon I saw that
the excited crowd was coming in my direction. Straight in front of the shop the
throng halted, and parted to let through an ass, followed by a few woman slaves.
Such an ass it was – its bridle set with gems of inestimable value, its back
covered with cloth of gold, its mane and tail braided with silks light as
whispers. And on its back was a woman – a woman of such beauty as shone through
the market as if the moon herself had come down to the earth.
“ ‘Ya Allah,’ I thought to myself, ‘such a
beauty must have come from among the perīs, for among mortal
women there surely cannot be her equal.’ Then she dismounted, handed the reins
to one of her women, and entered the shop; and it was as if the moon and stars
had graced the premises with their
“ ‘Dear lady,’ I said, my throat dry, ‘tell
me in what way I can help you, for I am indeed your slave.’ And I improvised
‘She came into my night, and the night turned day
thought the sun stood still –
I drank of her beauty like the finest wine
drink on, and cannot drink my fill.
beauty made the sun to rise
will not cause it to set
my eyes will never turn to other skies
they drink her beauty yet.’
“At this she laughed, and her voice was
like crystal bells.
“ ‘You do not have to offer yourself in
slavery to me, brave youth,’ she said, ‘but I should like to see your stock,
for I have need of cloth of the finest quality, and your shop is famous for
being the best in the entire market. You will not find me parsimonious in
“Almost stumbling in my haste, I drew forth
bolt after bolt of my best material, and spread them out for her inspection.
She casually fingered each sheet of cloth, hardly even looking at it, but her
laughing eyes followed me everywhere, and twice, on the pretext of adjusting
her veil, she let it drop momentarily – and, oh, brother and sister, if I had
thought the moon and stars were in my shop earlier, they were nothing to the
beauty she exhibited at that instant. My heart was lost to her forever at that
moment, and I hardly knew anything more.
“ ‘And is this shop your own, brave youth?’
she asked, looking around, and because I was so smitten by her, I found my
mouth foolishly saying, ‘Yes, mistress, this shop and all in it are the
property of your slave.’
“ ‘I am glad to know that,’ she said. ‘It
is nice to see that so young a man as you has such a wonderful shop with such
splendid merchandise. You will surely prosper in the years to come, if Allah
“By the time I had shown her the last of
the cloth in the shop, it was dark outside and the marketplace had begun to
empty. She picked out several bolts of cloth seemingly at random, handed them
to her women, and rose to her feet, plucking a purse from her waist as she did
“ ‘And what do I owe you for this cloth,
brave youth?’ she asked, smiling and letting her veil slip once more, so that I
felt as though my heart would stop beating inside my chest.
“ ‘As Allah rules in heaven, my mistress,’
I declared, ‘serving you is my pleasure. I would no more take money from you,
than I would harm my beloved sister and brother. Please take the cloth as a
gift, for everything I have is yours.’
“She smiled again, her veil still held
aside. ‘Everything, Kamr-ad-Din?’ she asked, sweetly. It was the first
indication I received, that she knew my name. ‘We shall see, we shall see. Keep
this with you until I return’ With that, she handed me a ring from her finger,
left the shop, mounted her ass, and rode away into the night, her women
following her, carrying the bolts of cloth with them.
“As for me, my world darkened before my
eyes with her departure. For a long time I sat as one lost, my mind full of her
voice and her beauty, until at length I thought to bestir myself and tidy up
the remaining cloth. It was then that I discovered that, while seeming to
choose at random, she had taken the very finest and most expensive of the cloth
in the shop. I am left with a gaping hole in my accounts, and I received word
yesterday that my master will return from his pilgrimage before the fortnight
“What am I to do?” Kamr-ad-Din asked. “On
the one hand, I cannot breathe or eat or drink for love of her, though I do not
even know her name. On the other, I have to make up the money, to the extent of
almost a thousand dinārs, that are owed to the accounts for the cloth she took. Can you
blame me for being unhappy?”
“My brother,” Mehr-un-Nisa replied, “do not
point, Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
But when the one thousand and ninth night
“My brother,” Mehr-un-Nisa said, “do not worry. Everything will be all
right, if Allah wills.” She went to the corner and, after moving aside some
belongings, took out a pouch. “In this bag,” she said, “are a thousand dinārs, which I have saved over the
years from what you have given me. It is your money, so
take it and make up the deficit. But let me see the ring which this unknown
lady gave you.”
Kamr-ad-Din took the purse with an
exclamation of relief and surprise, and handed over the ring. Mehr-un-Nisa and
Shadr-ad-Din examined the ring, and their faces grew grave.
“Brother,” Shadr-ad-Din said, “this ring bears
the symbol of the kādi, to whose house, as you know, I deliver firewood. The lady who
visited you must be his daughter, whom they call Star-Of-Morning.”
“She is well-known in the town,”
Mehr-un-Nisa said, “for her beauty as much as for her sly and capricious
nature. It is said that she will seek out a youth and do everything to bring
him under her control, make him her slave in heart and soul, and then ruin him,
break his heart and move on to her next victim. It is said that this is a sport
with her, for she hates all men.”
“Her father, the kādi,” Shadr-ad-Din
said, “is a cross-grained old miser, who grudges even the few copper coins he
pays me for the firewood I deliver to his kitchen. He clothes his slaves in the
poorest cast-offs, which even the beggars of the souks scorn, and feeds them on
scraps. He loves his daughter, and grudges her nothing, but hates the rest of
the world and everything in it.”
But Kamr-ad-Din rose, shaking with anger.
“You both lie,” he said, snatching the ring. “If the lady is indeed the
fabulous Star-Of-Morning, she is every bit as beauteous as they say, and more –
and I love her completely and forever. It is only out of jealousy on your
part,” he said to Mehr-un-Nisa, “jealousy of a lady who is more beautiful and
accomplished than you, that you say this. And you,” he turned to Shadr-ad-Din,
“who go to the kādi’s house every day, must be plotting to make her your own, and
this is why you slander her and her noble father to me in such fashion.” Still
trembling with anger, he turned to leave.
“Wait, brother,” Mehr-un-Nisa called.
“Where are you going?”
“I will not stay here an instant longer,”
Kamr-ad-Din snapped. “I will go to the merchants’ khān, and spend the night there. Tomorrow, I
will find another place to live.” So saying, he stormed out into the night,
leaving his shocked brother and sister behind.
grieve, sister,” Shadr-ad-Din said, wiping away the girl’s tears. “Our brother
is not in his right mind. He will recover and return to us soon, I am sure.”
he is not at fault,” Mehr-un-Nisa responded. “He cannot help himself, for
Star-Of-Morning knows magical wiles, and when she sets her eyes on a man he is
no more in control of himself than clouds are when they are blown by the wind.
But I am afraid that she will destroy him long before he recovers his senses.”
Shadr-ad-Din asked reasonably, “what is it that we should do?”
was silent a long time. Then at last she stirred. “I will go to
Star-Of-Morning,” she said, “and ask her to set our brother free.”
think that will work?”
worth trying,” Mehr-un-Nisa replied. “Even if it does not work, talking to her
will help me understand just why she is doing what she does. Come with me,
brother, and show me the way to the kādi’s house.”
they reached the old man’s house, it was already very late, but lights still
glowed in certain windows. Bidding Shadr-ad-Din wait, Mehr-un-Nisa made her way
to the eunuch guarding the door and, giving him a dinār, asked him to take her
to the presence of the lady Star-Of-Morning. The slave promptly complied,
conducting her through the darkened corridors of the mansion until she stood
before the lady herself.
greeted Mehr-un-Nisa with a smile. “Welcome, dear girl,” she said. “What do you
want of me?”
were at my brother’s shop today,” Mehr-un-Nisa said. “Kamr-ad-Din is his name,
and I have come to beseech you to let him go, for he is lost in you, until he
no longer knows his own brother and sister for who they are.”
laughed, throwing back her head. “Indeed,” she said, “I have only just begun.
Tomorrow I will visit the shop again, and take more cloth, and ask him to take
payment. If he agrees, why, I shall pay what I owe and go away. But he will not
agree, so I shall take what I want and drive him further into my snare. Before
his employer returns – for I know that he does not own the shop, dear girl – I
will have put him into such a position that he faces financial ruin, and yet he
cannot help what he does because he loves me. I will destroy him completely,
and only then will I be content.”
Mehr-un-Nisa said, “I beseech you not to do this, for Kamr-ad-Din has never
done anyone any harm, least of all you.”
“He is a
man,” Star-Of-Morning replied, raising her lip scornfully. “Is it not enough?”
is what you think,” the girl responded, “In Allah’s name, tell me why you hate
men so much, that you should seek to destroy my brother, who has done you no
motioned for Mehr-un-Nisa to sit down. “When I was a young girl,” she said,
“much younger than you, I once had a dream.
on a dry brown plain, on which nothing grew. It was not far from this town, for
I could see the buildings in the distance, but before me was a tall hill like a
needle which pierced the sky. And all around that hill flew birds of myriad
colours, each more splendid than the other, so that they are impossible to
a strange and desolate place for birds of such beauty, and I was reminded of
the words of the poet, who wrote:
“If in time I saw her smile
It would shine as a diamond might
Though her eyes are dry with age
And her smile be like desert sand
I would die for another smile
Or for the touch of her hand.
was standing there, I saw a she-jackal, who had a sick puppy at home, and had
hunted long for the one thing that might save him. At last, she had caught it –
a bird from among those splendid birds, with feathers of gold and eyes of
emerald. She was carrying it to her den, for it to touch the sick puppy with
one of its golden wings, whereupon he would be cured. But all of a sudden a big
male jackal rushed upon her, threw her to the ground, and bit her all over
until she was forced to let the bird go. Instantly it flew away, and the big
male jackal left the poor she-jackal bleeding in the dust, crying piteously at
her own wounds and at the fate of her child, who could never now be well again.
night since then, the dream has come to me again, until I am convinced that it
is no mere dream, but that I am watching something that has actually happened.
And every night the poor she-jackal’s wounds bleed more grievously, and her
cries grow more piteous, while the male jackal grows more ravening still, and
more cruel in his attack on the other.
why, O girl, I have held within me a hatred of the male sex, amounting almost
to a passion, and have sought to destroy it by the only weapons I possess, my
beauty and my wiles. Are you satisfied, now that you know why I do what I do?”
Mehr-un-Nisa responded, “it was only a dream, and in dreams, if truth be told,
we see things which can never be. But, if you can, tell me in what way I can
satisfy your passion so that you do not destroy my brother, for he is dearer to
me than life itself.”
looked at her a long time. “Bring me the bird,” she said at last, “the bird
with golden feathers and emeralds for eyes, so that I may restore it to the
she-jackal, when I next see her in my dream. With the touch of its gold
feathers, she can heal her wounds, and then she can heal her sick puppy. Get me
the bird, and I will release your brother, because if the she-jackal’s agony is
healed, I will no longer feel the need to hurt the male sex in revenge.”
Mehr-un-Nisa said, “it will be as you wish. Be as it may, if Allah allows, I
will fetch you this wondrous bird. But, please, I beg of you, do not harm my
brother any further until I bring it to you.”
nodded. “You shall have till the end of this week,” she said. “For at the end
of the fortnight your brother’s master returns from his pilgrimage, and I must
do with him as I have to before that.”
troubled, Mehr-un-Nisa left the kādi’s house and, with Shadr-ad-Din her
brother, made her way back home. Only then did she tell of what she had
been to all the areas around this town while gathering wood,” Shadr-ad-Din told
her, “and I have never seen, or heard of, such a hill as she describes, or such
“I have seen
it, though,” his sister said. “Many months ago, when you and our brother were
point, Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
But when the one thousand and tenth night
“Many months ago,” Mehr-un-Nisa said, “when
you and our brother were at work, a poor old woman, in rags but with a nobility
of features that spoke of great knowledge and wisdom, came to our door begging
for alms. So noble was her bearing that I could not turn her away, but gave her
the food I had kept for myself, little as it was. She ate it with great
satisfaction, and afterwards, she took out a small box from a bag she carried,
and showed it to me. It was full of ash which she said would help one see
things as they actually were, if smeared on one’s eyes. She gave it to me, but first
made me promise never to use it for my own benefit, for then it would harm me
inside her robe, where she kept it next to her skin, Mehr-un-Nisa drew forth
the box, which was so small that it barely covered her palm. Opening it, she
showed her brother the ash which lay within. Then, putting the box down, she
resumed her tale:
she told me was that we can only see a fraction of the world around us, and if
we could see it all, we would go mad, for mortal minds cannot comprehend the
full extent of Allah’s creations. So saying, she rubbed a little of the ash on
my eyelids, and instantly the world around me rippled and changed. I could see,
there on that wall behind you, a gibbering black ifrīt, which mouthed and
grimaced in anger at having been discovered. And, there, through that window, I
saw that the streets were full of creatures beyond imagining, jinni, ghouls,
and others, jostling shoulders with men and women who went about their
business, all unaware of their presence.
the old woman took me by the hand and led me to the door, and bade me look
around the city. And I saw that the buildings and palaces were merely shells,
for under their roofs and inside their walls was a multitude of cities and
towns, one inside another, filled with all manner of creatures. And, flying
overhead, I could see jewelled birds, the like of which I had never seen
the old woman led me back into the house so that I might wash the ash from my
eyes, I also saw, to the west, a mighty range of hills against the horizon, and
one of them stood out from all the others – a mountain like a needle of stone,
so thin and tall that it might have pierced the sky. I am certain that this is
the mountain that Star-Of-Morning saw in her dream, and there it is that we must
seek the golden bird.”
heard this, Shadr-ad-Din was silent a long time. Finally, sighing, he looked at
Mehr-un-Nisa. “My sister,” he said, “it remains, then, only for me to go and
seek this bird. Give me, then, this box, so that I may smear the ash on my
eyes, for we have no time to lose.”
Mehr-un-Nisa said, “it is impossible for you to go alone, for that world is
full of danger. I will go with you. Let us, though, wait until the morning, for
nothing can be gained by going forth tonight. Let us sleep as much as we can,
for we will need the rest to face the rigours tomorrow will bring.”
said nothing; but he had decided to go alone, for he was convinced that it would not be safe if she went with him. He
thought, too, that he might be able to find the bird and return before dawn, so
that his sister might not even realise that he had left. So, he lay awake until
he was sure his sister had fallen asleep. Then he rose from his place, opened
the box, took a little of the ash and smeared it on his eyes. Instantly, the
darkness dissipated and he could see the room filled with a dim light, and
strange shapes writhed in the corners and around the ceiling.
waiting to look at the monstrous faces scowling and snarling at him, he quickly
left the house, forgetting in his haste even to close the box, which lay still
open on the table where he had put it. Outside, in the street, he quickly saw
the mountain and made his way towards it, shouldering his way past the jinni,
ifrīts and ghouls which filled the streets of the town at night.
moment we shall leave him to go on his way, and go to see what had happened to
young man, after quitting home, had hired a room at the merchant’s khān, and
for a long time there he tossed and turned on his mattress, for he was sorely
troubled. He felt deep remorse that he had treated his brother and sister so
cruelly, and did not, thinking back, understand how he could have been so harsh
with them. He did not know, of course, that he had been under the spell of
Star-of-Morning, and that, in accordance with her promise to Mehr-un-Nisa, she
had temporarily relaxed the spell. When he thought of her now, he still felt an
overwhelming desire for her, but not to the extent that he would place her over
his own flesh and blood.
unable to sleep or even to lie down any longer, he rose from his place and,
taking the ring that Star-of-Morning had given him, went walking through the
streets to the kādi’s house, intending to see her by all means and demand that
she take it back. But, try as he might, he could not find the old man’s
mansion, because Star-Of-Morning had hidden it from him. Finally, distraught,
he decided to go home and talk to his brother and sister, and decide what was
to be done.
time he returned home, it was nearly dawn, and the calls of the muezzin for the
first prayer were sounding from the mosque minarets. Meanwhile, Mehr-un-Nisa
woke, and, finding the box was open and Shadr-ad-Din gone, was struck full of
such great disquiet that she wept. It was just then that Kamr-ad-Din returned,
and, finding his sister distraught, was filled with sorrow, for he thought it
was on his account that she wept.
hugged Mehr-un-Nisa, calmed her down, and they told each other all that had
happened since Kamr-ad-Din had left the previous evening, but nothing would be
gained by repeating it here.
clear,” Kamr-ad-Din said, “that our brother has gone alone to secure the golden
bird. He may well fall into trouble, so it is necessary that I follow after him
both go,” Mehr-un-Nisa said. “For it is impossible to journey safely alone in
the world of ghouls and jinni, as the old woman had told me; and I am already
consumed by worry about our dear brother’s fate. If some evil befalls you, too,
I shall have nowhere to turn.”
was not happy, but reluctantly agreed; and, smearing their eyes with ash from
the box, which Mehr-un-Nisa then concealed in her clothing, the two of them
ventured out into the street.
the street, which at this hour should have been largely empty, they saw...
point, Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
But when the one thousand and eleventh
night had come,
When Kamr-ad-Din and Mehr-un-Nisa
came out into the street, they saw crowds of creatures, jinni and ifrīts,
ghouls and nameless demons, all rushing back and forth. The hearts of the
brother and sister sank at the sight, and they drew comfort from each other’s
presence. Then they looked up over the rooftops of the transformed town, and saw
the mountain range on the horizon, and standing out among the hills one so tall
and thin that it resembled a needle of rock which pierced the heavens. And all
around it, they saw what looked like a cloud, which they knew to be the birds
the kādi’s daughter had talked about and which Mehr-un-Nisa had herself seen
earlier flying above the town.
will we ever find the golden bird among all of those?” Mehr-un-Nisa wondered
first seek our brother,” Kamr-ad-Din declared. “Only once he is safe can we
think of the bird, for his fate is more important.” So saying, he took his
sister’s hand, and the two began to make their way through the streets towards
the mountains beyond the plain.
shall return to Shadr-ad-Din, and what he had done after leaving his sleeping
sister and going out into the streets.
wandered for a time through the town, which had been so transformed by the ash
that in the half-light he could not at first get his bearings. Then, at last,
he found himself on a street which was still somewhat recognisable, and which
led outside the town. The street, however, was so full of hideous monstrosities
that those he had passed through looked almost normal by comparison.
Shadr-ad-Din was no coward. Taking the name of Allah quickly, he began to walk
briskly down the street, and eventually found himself at the one of the town
gates, which lay open even at this hour.
young man,” someone said, just as Shadr-ad-Din was passing through this gate.
He turned and beheld a woman so old and shrivelled up that she seemed no more
human than the monsters which passed all around.
man,” this creature said, in her ancient voice, “tarry a moment, and tell me
where you are going, for it is not safe on the plain for such as you.”
Mother,” Shadr-ad-Din replied politely, “I seek the golden bird with emerald
eyes, which dwells on the mountain like a needle on the other side of the
plain. I will take it to the kādi’s daughter Star-Of-Morning, that she might
set my brother free from the snare in which she has bound him.”
woman laughed, a noise like rustling paper. “Young man,” she said, “you will
never find the bird among all those which live on that mountain, unless you
take my help, for you are young and foolish. Are you willing to take it?”
was offended. “Thank you, Old Mother,” he said proudly, “but I will manage on
my own. I have never yet found a task which I could not manage once I had put
my mind to it.”
woman laughed again. “In that case, young man,” she said, “go, and may Allah go
with you. But remember one thing. Once you begin to climb the mountain, pay no
heed to any voice you might hear, even if it seems to you to belong to someone
dear to you. And, however thirsty or hungry you may be, on no account eat of the
fruit or drink of the streams on the mountain, for, if you do, a terrible fate
will befall you. What more you do is up to you.” Still laughing, she turned
away and vanished through the gate.
Frowning, Shadr-ad-Din made his way across the
plain, which was just beginning to be touched with the light of dawn. Against
the eastern sky, he could see the outlines of the mountains, among which the
tall narrow one was that he sought. Now he realised that his hope of returning
before his sister woke was impossible, for the mountains were much further than
he thought, and the narrow one was much higher too. He began to regret the
pride which had made him reject the help offered by the old woman, but it was
too late now.
he said to himself, “I heard what the old woman said about not listening to
voices or eating fruit or drinking water on the mountain. So I think she has
helped me all she could, already.” So saying, he strode off across the plain.
way he saw a she-jackal, small and wounded, who was lying in the dust, bleeding
profusely and crying piteously. “I suppose this is the she-jackal
Star-Of-Morning was talking about,” Shadr-ad-Din said to himself. The animal
reached up to lick his hand, but he stepped over her and moved on. “I seek the
bird,” he said to her over his shoulder. “You must wait.” The she-jackal howled
mournfully in reply.
was already high in the sky when Shadr-ad-Din came to the foot of the mountain.
He was weary, tired and thirsty by this time, and when he looked up and saw the
great spire of the mountain towering overhead, he realised it might take him
all day and more to climb high enough to reach the heights around which the
birds flew. And there were so many thousand birds, of all colours and shapes
and sizes, that it might take him days more to find the one he wanted, and as
long again to capture it.
is no power or might save in Allah!” he said. “However long it takes, I must
find the strength to go on, for my brother’s fate is in my hands.” So saying,
he began to climb the slopes.
hours passed, he grew more and more weary, hungry and thirsty, and it still
seemed to him that he was as far away from the birds as ever. Finally, he
climbed over a rocky ridge and found what seemed to be a vision of Paradise
It was a
beautiful, verdant valley, where a clear stream ran crystal between rows of
trees heavy with fruit, and the air was sweet and intoxicating as wine. Shadr-ad-Din
threw himself down wearily by the bank of the stream, only to rest for a
moment, as he told himself. But his hunger and thirst and weariness were so
great, and the fruit so ripe and sweet-scented, that he forgot the old woman’s
warning and longed to bite into the succulent flesh of one, and wash it down
with a little of the water. “Just one will not do any harm,” he said to
himself, and plucked one of the fruit, and bit into its tender sweetness. And,
instantly, he was transformed into a statue of stone.
meantime, down in the city, Kamr-ad-Din and Mehr-un-Nisa had also managed to
find their way to the same gate, and just s they were leaving it, the old woman
came up to them.
young people,” she said, “tell me where you are going, for I may be able to
Mother,” Mehr-un-Nisa replied politely, “we are looking for...”
point, Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
Then Dunyazad rose from her place beside
the bed. “Sister,” she said, “your words are sweet and pleasant to the ear. I
would like very much to hear what happened next to Kamr-ad-Din and
“Little one,” Shahrazad said, “I could tell
you of that and more, tomorrow night, if this splendid monarch wished and
agreed to spare my life till then.”
“Ya Allah,” the King Shahryar thought, “I
shall not kill her till I hear the rest of this magnificent tale!” And, taking
her in his arms, he spent the remainder of the night in pleasant diversions
until the break of day.
But when the one thousand and twelfth night
It is related, O great king, that
Mehr-un-Nisa responded to the old woman as follows:
Mother, our brother Shadr-ud-Din has gone looking for the bird with golden
feathers and emerald eyes, that he might give it to the daughter of the kādi,
so that she will free our brother Kamr-ad-Din here from her wiles. But we are
worried less some misfortune befall him, and we would find him and then
together seek the golden bird.”
brother had come this way,” the old woman said. “If you would look for him, and
the golden bird, though, you will require my help, for without it you will
never find what you are seeking, and you will be inevitably lost, as I am
certain your brother is already.”
brother and sister looked at each other. “Old Mother,” Mehr-un-Nisa said at
last, “though we have little enough time, we would be most grateful if you
would give us what help you can.”
return,” the old woman said, “I will want something valuable that you possess –
the box of ash which my daughter, who had visited you, had given you. It was
not hers to give, but mine, and I want it back.”
will have it,” Mehr-un-Nisa promised, “just as soon as you tell us what we need
woman nodded. “The golden bird with emerald eyes,” she said, “nests near the
top of the mountain, just past a large white rock shaped like a camel’s hump.
You will only be able to catch him between dusk, after he returns to his nest, and
dawn, before he leaves it, for all day he will spend on the wing. Also, you
will never be able to catch him without this.” So saying, she handed the girl a
piece of cloth. “You must throw it over him, not neglecting to cover his head
and eyes, and as long as the cloth is over him, he is yours. But beware lest
you eat or drink of the fruit and water on the mountain, or listen to any voice
which might call to you, for if you do, you will be surely lost.”
you say,” Kamr-ad-Din put in, “our brother has already come to grief, how may
we help him?”
touch of the golden bird’s wing will heal any wound or sickness,” the old woman
said. “If you touch him with the bird’s
wing, you will revive him. But you must find the bird first.” She rummaged in a
bag at her waist and took out a two dark-green leaves. “Eat one of these leaves
each,” she said, “and you will not be hungry or thirsty until you return home.
Now give me my box. But, first, smear some more of the ash on your eyelids,
lest what you have put is rubbed away, and you can no longer see what you must
you, Old Mother,” Mehr-un-Nisa said, and handed over the box after putting some
more of the ash on Kamr-ad-Din’s eyelids and hers.
go with you, my children.” The old woman made a gesture of blessing and turned
away, and Mehr-un-Nisa and Kamr-ad-Din, each chewing on one of the leaves,
walked across the plain towards the needle-like mountain.
they saw the she-jackal, bleeding in the dust and crying piteously, and the
heart of the girl was moved. Kneeling on the sand beside the hurt animal, she
promised that she would bring the bird and give it to the kādi’s daughter, so
that she in turn might give it to the jackal, who might then heal her wounds
and her sick child beside. She would have tried to dress the jackal’s wounds as
best she could, but when the hurt animal tried to lick her hand she found that
it could not, nor could she touch it.
can’t help you until we fetch the bird and give it to Star-Of-Morning,” she
told the jackal. “But we will do it, if you are patient just a little longer, I
promise.” The wounded animal whined and tried vainly to lick her hand.
get away,” Kamr-ad-Din, who was waiting impatiently, said. “The time is growing
short.” But when Mehr-un-Nisa looked back, she saw the she-jackal looking after
they climbed the mountain, but though they were weary, after eating the old
woman’s leaf they did not know thirst or hunger. At last, just before dark,
they found the valley where the stream ran between the trees laden with fruit,
and here they found Shadr-ad-Din, but he was merely a stone statue.
Mehr-un-Nisa wept bitterly, though she was careful not to touch her eyes so as
not to wash away the ash. And Kamr-ad-Din, seeing what had befallen their
brother, decided that it would be better if he went alone up the mountain to
find the Golden Bird, for he decided that it would be too dangerous an
undertaking for their sister. So, while she was still immersed in grief, he
silently stole away and carried on up the mountain.
time he climbed steadily, and then he began to hear voices around him. Some of
them laughed and mocked at him, but others cried out to him to stop a moment to
help them, for he was their only hope in their troubles. But, remembering what
the old woman had said, he ignored the voices and moved on.
just as darkness was falling, he heard Mehr-un-Nisa’s voice, calling from down
the mountain. “Brother,” she called. “Do not go on and leave me behind like
this. Wait for me, so that I might catch you up, and we might go together up
the mountain.” And, forgetting the old woman’s warning for the moment,
Kamr-ad-Din turned back to look for his sister, and was instantly turned into a
statue of stone.
far down the mountain, Mehr-un-Nisa had controlled her tears for her brother
Shadr-ad-Din and, finding Kamr-ad-Din gone, she realised what had happened.
Filled with unhappiness and foreboding, she followed up the mountain, ignoring
all the voices she heard around her, and soon enough found her brother, but he
too was merely a statue of stone.
is no power nor might save in Allah!,” Mehr-un-Nisa said. “But this is no time
for grief. I must find the golden bird all by myself, then, because now
everything depends on me, and on me alone.” Fighting down her emotions, she
passed by the statue and went on up the mountain, while the voices called
around her, and beseeched and hectored. Among these voices she heard those of
both her brothers, and even the voice of the woman who had visited her at home
and given her the box of ash. But she turned a deaf ear to them all.
night she climbed up the mountain, stumbling over sharp stones and slipping on
loose pebbles, until her feet were bleeding and her limbs crying out with
fatigue, but at last – just before dawn – she arrived at the rock shaped like a
camel’s hump. And, beyond, there was a large nest, on which the golden bird
sat, its head tucked under its wing, fast asleep. Quickly taking the cloth the
ancient woman at the gate had given her, she threw it over the bird, making
sure to cover its head and emerald eyes. The bird did not resist or struggle as
she picked it up and bore it down the mountain through the dawn.
came to the statue that had been her brother Kamr-ad-Din, she touched it with the
tip of one of the bird’s wings, and instantly the stone was transformed into
flesh and blood once more. Then the two embraced, and, finding their way down
the mountain, they came to the valley where the other statue was; and at the
touch of the golden bird’s wing, Shadr-ad-Din was returned to life as well.
at being together again at last, the three siblings returned to the town,
entering their home just as night was falling, the golden bird still covered by
the old woman’s cloth. And then, as before, Mehr-un-Nisa made her way to the
kādi’s house, and bribed the eunuch a dinār to let her into Star-Of-Morning’s
private quarters. The young woman was waiting impatiently, and at the sight of
Mehr-un-Nisa she rushed forward.
you got it?” she demanded. “As Allah lives, if you have not, I will enslave
your brother again tomorrow, for I have heard that his master is hard by the
city and will return sooner than expected, and I have no time to lose.”
Mehr-un-Nisa said, “I have the bird here, under this cloth; but pray do not
remove the cloth until the she-jackal touches her puppy with the bird’s wing,
for without it the bird cannot be controlled. And,” she added, “before I give
it to you, please release my brother completely from your spell, for I have
done as I promised.”
done,” Star-Of-Morning said. “Inform him that he is free. Also, tell him that I
shall visit him at his shop tomorrow, but he need have no fear of the visit.”
Taking the bird, she turned away, and Mehr-un-Nisa went home, there to wash the
ashes away from her eyes. For the first time in days, all the three siblings
slept well and deeply.
point, Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent.
But when the one thousand and thirteenth
night had come,
In the morning, when Kamr-ad-Din
prepared to go to the shop, Mehr-un-Nisa insisted on going with him, and
Shadr-ad-Din too. So it was that all three went to the shop, and the other merchants
marvelled to see them all there.
noon, Star-Of-Morning came to the shop. But this was a very different Star-Of-Morning
than the imperious and splendid lady who had come earlier. She came alone, on
foot, and dressed in such simple clothes that she might have been mistaken for
one of her women. And, entering the shop, she threw herself on Mehr-un-Nisa’s
neck and wept as though she would never stop.
Mehr-un-Nisa said, at last, “please do not distress yourself so, for your tears
distress us too, who are no more than your slaves.”
say that you are slaves again,” Star-Of-Morning said in reply. “You must never say
anything of the sort, ever. Ask anything of me and I am prepared to give it to you,
even if it be my life.””
you say so?” Mehr-un-Nisa asked.
Star-Of-Morning said. “I shall tell you what happened last night.
you left me, Mehr-un-Nisa, I took the bird, and by certain means known to me, I
visited the world of my dream. And there I found the she-jackal stretched on
the ground, in the act of gasping away the last moments of her life. Quickly, I
knelt beside her, and touched her shoulder with the tip of the bird’s wing.
Instantly, the wounds on the jackal’s body disappeared, and she shook her head
and sat up as if unable to believe her eyes and senses that she was recovered
and well again.
she looked at me, quite clearly asking me to come along with her, to where her
sick child lay. So, still carrying the bird covered by the cloth, I followed
her through the plain until at last she arrived at her den, where the puppy
lay. And we believed we had come just too late, for the puppy was no longer
such was the sorrow of the mother jackal then as I thought my heart would rend
asunder at her grief, which she could not even express in tears like a human,
but must needs roll on her back on the plain, and bite at the earth while
great was her grief, in fact, that I could no longer bear to look upon her,
but, for want of anything else to do, I turned to the puppy’s body and picked
it up. And, holding it in my hand, I felt the tiny flicker of a pulse in its
first I could scarcely believe that there might still be a chance, so that I
hardly dared touch the little body to the golden bird’s wingtip. In fact the
she-jackal was so mired in her grief that she did not see me do it at all. But
the puppy jerked in my hand, twitched, sat up, and poked a cold wet nose into
scarcely tell you of the incredulous joy with which the mother jackal greeted
her child, whom she had thought lost forever. Even now, I can hear her cry of
delight, which shivers down my spine and sets the hairs on the back of my neck
a-tingling. I wish you could have heard it too, for it is impossible to
describe in words.
the mother and child to their reunion, I removed the cloth from the golden bird,
released it to fly back to its mountain, and returned to my home. For the first
time in many years, when I slept, I no longer saw the dying, wounded mother
jackal. Instead, I saw her and her puppy, tumbling over each other in ecstatic
play. And when they saw me, they rushed to me and licked my hands and face.
come today,” Star-Of-Morning said, “to tell you that the gratitude of the
jackals belongs properly to you, not to me. I am unworthy of it. I also want to
tell you that I have released from their bondage all the men I have destroyed,
and I shall make restitution for their losses.
“As for you,”
she said, looking at Mehr-un-Nisa. “If you are anything, you are my sister, and
these your brothers are my brothers. That is what I have come to say, if you will
with humility and pleasure,” Mehr-un-Nisa replied.
And so the
three siblings became four, and after the old kādi’s death they lived together in
the mansion, where they passed their lives in great happiness and well-being, until
they were visited by the Separator of Friendships and the Destroyer of Time..
“Sister,” Dunyazad said, when Shahrazad had finished,
“that was a truly magnificent tale, one of the best you have ever told.”
“It is as
nothing,” Shahrazad responded with a smile, “to those I could tell, if the glorious
monarch permitted. But let them wait for tomorrow night.”
And the King
Shahryar nodded his permission, and drew Shahrazad into his arms; and, outside,
the sky began to lighten with the first hint of dawn.
Copyright B Purkayastha