Noureddin and the Fair Persian
Basra was the capital of a kingdom. During the time of the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid the king of Basra, who was his cousin, was called Zinebi. Not thinking one vizier enough for him, he had two, named Khacan and Saouy.
Khacan was kind, generous, and took pleasure in helping others who had business with him. Throughout the entire kingdom there was no one who did not respect and praise him as he deserved.
Saouy was quite a different character, and repelled everyone with whom he met. He was always gloomy, and, in spite of his great riches, he was a miser. What made him particularly detested was the great hatred he had for Khacan, of whom he continually spoke evil about to the king.
One day, while the king amused himself talking with his two viziers and other members of the council, the conversation turned to female slaves. While some declared that it was enough for a slave to be beautiful, Khacan among others, maintained that beauty alone was not enough, but that it must be accompanied by wit, wisdom, modesty, and, if possible, knowledge.
The king not only agreed with this opinion, but instructed Khacan to get him a slave who should fulfill all these conditions. Saouy, who had been of the opposite side, and was jealous of the honour done to Khacan, said, “Sire, it will be very difficult to find a slave as wonderful as your Majesty desires, and, if she is to be found, she will be cheap if she cost less than 10,000 gold pieces.”
“Saouy,” answered the king, “you seem to find that a very great sum. For you it may be so, but not for me.”
And so he ordered his grand treasurer, who was present, to send 10,000 gold pieces to Khacan for the purchase of the slave.
As soon, then, as Khacan had returned home he sent for the dealers in female slaves, and told them directly to find such a one as he described and then inform him. They promised to do their best, and no day passed that they did not bring a slave for his inspection but none was found without some defect.
Early one morning, while Khacan was on his way to the king’s palace, a dealer, throwing himself in his way, announced eagerly that a Persian merchant, arrived late the previous evening, had a slave to sell whose wit and wisdom were equal to her beauty.
Khacan, overjoyed at this news, gave orders that the slave should be brought for his inspection on his return from the palace. The dealer appeared on time and Khacan found the slave beautiful beyond his expectations, and immediately gave her the name of “The Fair Persian.”
Being a man of great wisdom and learning, he realized in the short conversation he had with her that he would never find another better in any of the qualities required by the king, and therefore asked the dealer what price the merchant asked.
“Sir,” was the answer, “for less than 10,000 gold pieces he will not let her go. She is in every way fit to be the slave of a king. She plays every musical instrument, she sings, she dances, and she writes poetry. In fact there is no talent in which she does not excel.”
Khacan, who was better able to judge her talents than the dealer, sent for the merchant, and said to him, “It is not for myself that I wish to buy your slave, but for the king. Her price, however, is too high.”
“Sir,” replied the merchant, “I should consider it an honour to present her to his Majesty, if a merchant could do such a thing. I ask no more than the sum it has cost me to deliver her from Persia.”
Khacan, not wishing to bargain, immediately had the sum counted out, and given to the merchant, who before leaving said,”Sir, as she is for the king, you should understand that she is extremely tired with the long journey, and before presenting her to his Majesty you would do well to keep her for two weeks in your own house, and to see that a little care is given her. The sun has tanned her complexion, but when she has been two or three times to the bathes, and is fittingly dressed, you will see how much her beauty will be increased.”
Khacan thanked the merchant for his advice, and decided to follow it. He gave the beautiful Persian an apartment near to that of his wife, whom he asked to treat as a lady destined for the king, and to order for her the most magnificent garments.
Before saying goodbye to the Fair Persian, he said to her: “No happiness can be greater than what I have bought for you, for now you belong to the king. I have, however, to warn you of one thing. I have a son, who is young, foolish, and headstrong, and I order you to keep away from him.”
The Persian thanked him for his advice, and to heed it.
Noureddin,as the vizier’s son was named,went freely in and out of his mother’s apartments. He was young, strong and agreeable, and had the gift of charming all he met. As soon as he saw the beautiful Persian, though aware that she was destined for the king, he let himself be carried away by her charms, and was determined at once to use every means in his power to keep her for himself. The Persian was equally attracted to Noureddin, and said to herself: “The vizier does me too great honour in buying me for the king. I should be very happy if he would give me to his son.”
Noureddin took every opportunity to gaze upon her beauty, to talk and laugh with her, and never would have left her side if his mother had not forced him.
Some time had passed, since the beautiful Persian had been to the bath. Five or six days after her purchase the vizier’s wife gave orders that the bath should be heated for her, and that her own female slaves should attend her there, and afterwards should dress her in a magnificent dress that had been prepared for her.
Her preparation completed, the beautiful Persian came to present herself to the vizier’s wife, who hardly recognized her, so greatly was her beauty increased. Kissing her hand, the beautiful slave said: “Madam, I do not know how you find me in this dress that you have had prepared for me. Your women assure me that it suits me so well that they hardly knew me. If it is the truth they tell me, and not flattery, it is to you I owe the transformation.”
“My daughter,” answered the vizier’s wife, “they do not flatter you. I myself hardly recognized you. The improvement is not due to the dress alone, but largely to the beautifying effects of the bath. I am so struck by its results, that I would try it myself.”
She ordered two little slaves during her absence to watch over the beautiful Persian, and not to allow Noureddin to enter if he should come.
She had no sooner gone than he arrived, and not finding his mother in her apartment, wanted to look in the Persian’s. The two little slaves barred the entrance, saying that his mother had given orders that he was not to be admitted. Taking each by an arm, he pushed them out of the way, and shut the door. Then they rushed to the bath, informing their mistress with shrieks and tears that Noureddin had driven them away by force and gone in.
This news caused great anxiety to the lady, who, dressing herself as quickly as possible, hastened to the apartment of the fair Persian, to find that Noureddin had already gone out. Much astonished to see the vizier’s wife enter in tears, the Persian asked what misfortune had happened.
“What!” exclaimed the lady, “You ask me that, knowing that my son Noureddin has been alone with you?”
“But, madam,” inquired the Persian, “what harm is there in that?”
Has my husband not told you that you are destined for the king?”
“Certainly, but Noureddin has just been to tell me that his father has changed his mind and has given me to him. I believed him, and so great is my affection for Noureddin that I would willingly pass my life with him.”
“My god,” exclaimed the wife of the vizier, ” But Noureddin has deceived you, and his father will sacrifice him in revenge for the wrong he has done.”
So saying, she wept bitterly, and all her slaves wept with her.
Khacan, entering shortly after this, was much astonished to find his wife and her slaves in tears, and the beautiful Persian greatly upset. He asked why, but for some time there was no answer. When his wife was calm enough to inform him of what had happened, he was enraged. He exclaimed:
“Wretched son! You have destroyed not only yourself but also your father. The king will take not only your life but mine.” His wife tried to comfort him, saying: “Do not worry yourself. With the sale of my jewels I will obtain 10,000 gold pieces, and with this sum you will buy another slave.”
“Do not think,” replied her husband, “that it is the loss of the money that affects me. My honour is more precious to me than all my wealth. You know that Saouy is my deadly enemy. He will tell all this to the king, and you will see the result.”
“My lord,” said his wife, “I am quite aware of Saouy’s evil, and that he is capable of doing terrible things. But how can he or any one else know what takes place in this house? Even if you are suspected and the king accuses you, you have only to say that, after examining the slave, you did not find her worthy of his Majesty. Calm yourself, and send to the dealers, saying that you are not satisfied, and wish them to find you another slave.”
This advice appearing reasonable, Khacan decided to follow it, but his anger against his son did not lessen. Noureddin dared not appear all that day, and fearing to stay with his usual friends in case his father should seek him there, he spent the day in a distant park where he was not known. He did not return home till after his father had gone to bed, and went out early next morning before the vizier awoke, and did the same for an entire month.
His mother, though knowing very well that he returned to the house every evening, did not dare ask her husband to forgive him. At last she took courage and said,”My lord, I know that a son could not act more badly towards his father than Noureddin has done towards you, but after all will you now forgive him? Do you not consider the harm you may be doing yourself, and fear that evil people, seeking the reason for your anger, may guess the real one?”
“Madam,” replied the vizier, “What you say is very true, but I cannot pardon Noureddin before I have punished him as he deserves.”
“He will be sufficiently punished,” answered the lady, “if you do as I suggest. In the evening, when he returns home, lie in wait for him and pretend that you will kill him. I will come to his aid, and while pointing out that you only spare his life at my begging, you can force him to take the beautiful Persian on any conditions you please.” Khacan agreed to follow this plan, and everything took place as arranged. On Noureddin’s return Khacan pretended to be about to kill him, but giving to his wife’s pleading, said to his son,”You owe your life to your mother. I pardon you for her, and on the conditions that you take the beautiful Persian for your wife, and not your slave, that you never sell her, nor send her away.”
Noureddin, not believing his luck, thanked his father, and promised to do as he desired. Khacan spoke to the king of the difficulties with the task he had given him, but some whispers of what had actually taken place did reach Saouy’s ears.
More than a year after these events the vizier took ill. The vizier, feeling that his end was near, sent for Noureddin, and told him with his dying breath never to part with the beautiful Persian.
Shortly afterwards he passed away, leaving great sadness throughout the kingdom. Rich and poor alike followed him to the grave. Noureddin showed every mark of the deepest grief at his father’s death, and for long refused to see anyone. At last a day came when one of his friends being allowed in urged him strongly to resume his former place in society. This advice Noureddin was not slow to follow, and soon he formed small group of ten young men all about his own age, with whom he spent all his time in continual feasting and partying.
Sometimes the fair Persian agreed to appear at these parties, but she disapproved of this waste of money, and warned Noureddin of the probable consequences. He, however, only laughed at her advice, saying, that his father had always restricted him, and that now he rejoiced at his new found freedom.
What added to the confusion was that he refused to look into his accounts with his servant, sending him away every time he appeared with his book.
“See only that I live well,” he said, “and do not disturb me about anything else.”
Not only did Noureddin’s friends constantly enjoy his hospitality, but in every way they took advantage of his generosity. Everything of his that they admired, whether land, houses, baths, or anyother thing, he immediately gave them. In vain the Persian protested against the wrong he did himself.
For one entire year Noureddin did nothing but amuse himself, and waste the money his father had taken such care to save. The year had barely passed, when one day, as they sat at table, there came a knock at the door. The slaves having been sent away, Noureddin went to open it himself. One of his friends had risen at the same time, but Noureddin was before him, and finding the visitor to be the steward, he went out and closed the door. The friend, curious to hear what passed between them, hid himself, and heard the following words,”My lord,” said the steward, “I beg a thousand pardons for interrupting you, but what I have long foreseen has taken place. Nothing remains of the money you gave me for your expenses, and all other sources of income are also at end, having been transferred by you to others. If you wish me to remain in your service, give me the necessary funds, else I must leave.”
So great was Noureddin’s anxiety that he had not a word to say in reply.
The friend, who had been listening behind the curtain, immediately hurried to spread the news to the rest of the company.
“If this is so,” they said, “we must stop coming here.”
Noureddin re-entered at that moment, and they plainly saw, in spite of his efforts to hide the truth, that what they had heard was true. One by one they rose, and each with a different excuse left the room, till presently he found himself alone. Then, seeing the beautiful Persian, he regretfully told her what the steward had said.
“Had I followed your advice, beautiful Persian,” he said, “all this would not have happened, but at least I know that I have spent my fortune with friends who will not desert me in my hour of need. Tomorrow I will go to them, and amongst them they will lend me enough money to start in some business.”
Accordingly early the next morning, Noureddin went to seek his ten friends, who all lived in the same street. Knocking at the door of the first, the slave who opened it left him to wait in a hall while he announced his visit to his master. “Noureddin!” he heard him exclaim quite loudly. “Tell him, every time he calls, that I am not at home.” The same thing happened at the second door, and also at the third, and so on with all the ten. Noureddin, much horrified, recognized too late that he had false friends, who abandoned him in his hour of need. Overwhelmed with grief, he sought comfort from the beautiful Persian.
“Alas, my lord,” she said, “At last you are convinced of the truth of what I said. There is now no other choice left but to sell your slaves and your furniture.”
First then he sold the slaves, and lived for a time on that money, after that the furniture was sold, and as much of it was valuable it was enough for some time. Finally this also came to an end, and again he asked advice from the beautiful Persian.
“My lord,” she said, “I know that the late vizier, your father, bought me for 10,000 gold pieces, and though I am reduced in value since, I should still fetch a large sum. Do not therefore hesitate to sell me, and with the money you obtain go and establish yourself in business in some distant town.”
“Charming Persian,” answered Noureddin, “how could I commit such a terrible act? I would die rather than part from you whom I love more than my life.”
“My lord,” she replied, “I am well aware of your love for me, which is only equaled by mine for you, but a cruel necessity forces us to seek the only remedy.”
Noureddin, convinced at length of the truth of her words, gave in, and reluctantly led her to the slave market, where, showing her to a dealer named Hagi Hassan, he inquired her value.
Taking them into a room apart, Hagi Hassan exclaimed as soon as she had unveiled, “My lord, is not this the slave your father bought for 10,000 pieces?”
On learning that it was so, he promised to obtain the highest possible price for her. Leaving the beautiful Persian shut up in the room alone, he went out to seek the slave merchants, announcing to them that he had found the pearl among slaves, and asking them to come and put a value upon her. As soon as they saw her they agreed that less than 4,000 gold pieces could not be asked. Hagi Hassan, then closing the door upon her, began to offer her for sale, calling out, “Who will bid 4,000 gold pieces for the Persian slave?”
Before any of the merchants had bid, Saouy happened to pass that way, and judging that it must be a slave of extraordinary beauty, rode up to Hagi Hassan and desired to see her. Now it was not the custom to show a slave to a private bidder, but as no one dared to disobey the vizier his request was granted.
As soon as Saouy saw the Persian he was so struck by her beauty, that he immediately wished to possess her, and not knowing that she belonged to Noureddin, he desired Hagi Hassan to send for the owner and to conclude the bargain at once.
Hagi Hassan then sought Noureddin, and told him that his slave was going far below her value, and that if Saouy bought her he was capable of not paying the money. “What you must do,” he said, “is to pretend that you had no real intention of selling your slave, and only swore you would in a fit of anger against her. When I present her to Saouy you must step in, and with blows begin to lead her away.”
Noureddin did as Hagi Hassan advised, to the great anger of Saouy, who riding straight at him tried to take the beautiful Persian from him by force. Noureddin letting her go, seized Saouy’s horse by the bridle, and, encouraged by the applause of the bystanders, dragged him to the ground, beat him severely, and left him in the gutter streaming with blood. Then, taking the beautiful Persian, he returned home amidst the cheering of the people, who detested Saouy so much that they would neither help him nor allow his slaves to protect him.
Covered from head to foot with mud and streaming with blood he rose, and leaning on two of his slaves went straight to the palace, where he demanded an audience with the king, to whom he told what had taken place in these words:
“Your Majesty, I went to the slave market to buy myself a cook. While there I heard a slave being offered for 4,000 pieces. Asking to see her, I found she was of the greatest beauty, and was being sold by Noureddin, the son of your late vizier. Your Majesty will remember giving him a sum of 10,000 gold pieces for the purchase of a slave. This is the identical slave, who instead of bringing to your Majesty he gave to his own son. Since the death of his father this Noureddin has wasted his entire fortune, has sold all his possessions, and is now selling the slave. Calling him to me, I said, “Noureddin, I will give you 10,000 gold pieces for your slave, whom I will present to the king.” “Bad old man,” he exclaimed, “Rather than sell my slave to you I would give her to a donkey.” “But, Noureddin,” I said, “you do not consider that in saying this you insult the king, to whom your father owed everything.” This scolding only irritated him more. Throwing himself on me like a madman, he tore me from my horse, beat me, and left me in the state your Majesty sees.”
Having said this Saouy turned aside his head and wept bitterly.
The king’s fury was turned against Noureddin. He ordered the captain of the guard to take with him forty men, to destroy Noureddin’s house, to burn it to the ground, and to bring Noureddin and the slave to him. A doorkeeper, named Sangiar, who had been a slave of Khacan’s, hearing this order given, slipped out of the king’s apartment, and hastened to warn Noureddin to escape instantly with the beautiful Persian. Then, giving him forty gold pieces, he disappeared before Noureddin had time to thank him.
As soon, then, as the fair Persian had put on her veil they fled together, and had the good fortune to get out of the town without being seen. At the mouth of the Euphrates they found a ship just about to start for Baghdad. They embarked, and immediately the anchor was raised and they set sail.
When the captain of the guard reached Noureddin’s house his soldiers burst open the door, but no trace was to be found of Noureddin and his slave, nor could the neighbours give any information about them. When the king heard that they had escaped, he issued a proclamation that a reward of 1,000 gold pieces would be given to whoever would bring him Noureddin and the slave, but that, on the contrary, whoever hid them would be severely punished. Meanwhile Noureddin and the fair Persian had safely reached Baghdad. When the ship had come to an anchor they paid five gold pieces for their passage and went ashore. Never having been in Baghdad before, they did not know where to seek accommodation. Wandering along the banks of the Tigris, they walked by a garden enclosed by a high wall. The gate was shut, but in front of it was an open porch with a sofa on either side. “Here,” said Noureddin, “let us stay the night,” and lying on the sofas they soon fell asleep.
Now this garden belonged to the Caliph. In the middle of it was a vast pavilion, whose superb house had eighty windows, each window having a light, lit only when the Caliph spent the evening there. Only the door-keeper lived there, an old soldier named Scheih Ibrahim, who had strict orders to be very careful whom he admitted, and never to allow anyone to sit on the sofas by the door. It happened that evening that he had gone out on an errand. When he came back and saw two persons asleep on the sofas he was about to drive them out with blows, but drawing nearer he perceived that they were a handsome young man and beautiful young woman, and decided to awake them by gentler means. Noureddin, on being awoke, told the old man that they were strangers, and merely wished to pass the night there. “Come with me,” said Scheih Ibrahim, “I will find you something better, and will show you a magnificent garden belonging to me.” So saying, the doorkeeper led the way into the Caliph’s garden, the beauties of which filled them with wonder and amazement. Noureddin took out two gold pieces, and gave them to Scheih Ibrahim and said,
“I beg you to get us something to eat that we may feast together.” Being very greedy, Scheih Ibrahim decided to spend only the tenth of the money and to keep the rest for himself. While he was gone Noureddin and the Persian wandered through the gardens and went up the white marble staircase of the pavilion as far as the locked door of the house. On the return of Scheih Ibrahim they begged him to open it, and to allow them to enter and admire the magnificence within. Agreeing, he brought not only the key, but a light, and immediately unlocked the door. Noureddin and the Persian entering were dazzled with the magnificence they saw. The paintings and furniture were of astonishing beauty, and between each window was a silver arm holding a candle.
Scheih Ibrahim spread the table in front of a sofa, and all three ate together. When they had finished eating Noureddin asked the old man to bring them a bottle of wine.
“Heaven forbid,” said Scheih Ibrahim, “that I should drink wine! I have renounced wine forever.”
“You would, however, do us a great service in buying us some,” said Noureddin. “You need not touch it yourself. Take the donkey which is tied to the gate, lead it to the nearest wine shop, and ask some passerby to order two jars of wine. Have them put in the donkey’ saddlebags and return. Here are two pieces of gold for the expenses.”
At sight of the gold, Scheih Ibrahim set off at once to buy the wine. On his return, Noureddin said: “We still need cups to drink from, and fruit, if you can buy us some.” Scheih Ibrahim disappeared again, and soon returned with a table spread with cups of gold and silver, and every sort of beautiful fruit. Then he withdrew, in spite of repeated invitations to remain.
Noureddin and the beautiful Persian, finding the wine excellent, drank, and while drinking they sang. Both had fine voices, and Scheih Ibrahim listened to them with great pleasure,first from a distance, then he drew nearer, and finally put his head in at the door. Noureddin, seeing him, called to him to come in and keep them company. At first the old man refused, but was persuaded to enter the room, to sit down on the edge of the sofa nearest the door, and at last to draw closer and to seat himself by the beautiful Persian, who urged him to drink her health that at length he gave in, and took the cup she offered.
Now the old man only pretended to renounce wine. He visited wine shops like other people. Having had one cup of wine, he was easily persuaded to take a second cup, and a third, and so on till he no longer knew what he was doing. Till near midnight they continued drinking, laughing, and singing together.
About that time the Persian, seeing that the room was lit by only one miserable candle, asked Scheih Ibrahim to light some of the beautiful candles in the silver arms.
“Light them yourself,” answered the old man,” You are younger than I, but let five or six be enough.”
She did not stop, however, till she had lit all the eighty, but Scheih Ibrahim was not aware of this, and when, soon after that, Noureddin proposed to have some of the lights lit, he answered:
“You are more capable of lighting them than I, but not more than three.”
Noureddin, , lit all, and opened all the eighty windows.
The Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid, at that moment opened a window in the room of his palace looking on the garden, was surprised to see the pavilion brilliantly lit. Calling the grand-vizier, Giafar, he said to him:
“Vizier, look at the pavilion, and tell me why it is lit up when I am not there.”
When the vizier saw that it was as the Caliph said, he trembled with fear, and immediately invented an excuse.
“Your Majesty,” he said, “I must tell you that four or five days ago Scheih Ibrahim told me that he wished to have an assembly of the ministers of his mosque, and asked permission to hold it in the pavilion. I granted his request, but forgot since to mention it to your Majesty.”
“Giafar,” replied the Caliph, “you have committed three faults; first, in giving the permission; second, in not mentioning it to me, and third, in not investigating the matter more closely. For punishment you must spend the rest of the night with me with these worthy people. While I dress myself as an ordinary citizen, go and disguise yourself, and then come with me.”
When they reached the garden gate they found it open, to the great indignation of the Caliph. The door of the pavilion being also open, he went softly upstairs, and looked in at the half-closed door of the saloon. Great was his surprise to see Scheih Ibrahim, drinking and singing with a young man and a beautiful lady. The Caliph, before losing his temper, decided to watch and see who the people were and what they did.
Presently Scheih Ibrahim asked the beautiful Persian if anything could complete her enjoyment of the evening.
“If only,” she said, “I had an instrument upon which I might play.”
Scheih Ibrahim immediately took a lute from a cupboard and gave it to the Persian, who began to play on it, singing with such skill that the Caliph was enchanted. When she stopped he went softly downstairs and said to the vizier:
“Never have I heard a finer voice, nor the lute better played. I am determined to go in and make her play to me.”
“Your Majesty,” said the vizier, “if Scheih Ibrahim recognizes you he will die of fright.”
“I should be sorry for that,” answered the Caliph, “I am going to take steps to prevent it. Wait here till I return.”
Now the Caliph had caused a bend in the river to form a lake in his garden. There the finest fish in the Tigris were to be found, but fishing was strictly forbidden. It happened that night, however, that a fisherman had taken advantage of the gate being open to go in and cast his nets. He was just about to draw them when he saw the Caliph approaching. Recognizing him at once in spite of his disguise, he threw himself at his feet begging forgiveness.
“Fear nothing,” said the Caliph, “only rise up and pull in your nets.”
The fisherman did as he was told, and produced five or six fine fish, of which the Caliph took the two largest. Then he told the fisherman to change clothes with him, and in a few minutes the Caliph was transformed into a fisherman, even to the shoes and the turban. Taking the two fish in his hand, he returned to the vizier, who did not recognize him at first. Leaving the vizier at the foot of the stairs, the Caliph went up and knocked at the door of the room. Noureddin opened it, and the Caliph, standing there, said:
“Scheih Ibrahim, I am the fisher Kerim. Seeing that you are feasting with your friends, I bring you these fish.”
Noureddin and the Persian said that when the fishes were properly cooked and prepared they would gladly eat them. The Caliph then returned to the vizier, and they set to work in Scheih Ibrahim’s house to cook the fish, of which they made so wonderful a dish that Noureddin and the fair Persian ate it hungrily. When they had finished Noureddin took thirty gold pieces (all that remained of what Sangiar had given him) and presented them to the Caliph, who, thanking him, asked as a further favour if the lady would play him one piece on the lute. The Persian gladly agreed, and sang and played so that the Caliph was delighted.
Noureddin, always giving to others whatever they admired, said, “Fisherman, as she pleases you so much, take her; she is yours.”
The fair Persian, astounded that he should wish to part from her, took her lute, and with tears in her eyes sang a sad song.
The Caliph said to him, “Sir, I see that this fair lady is your slave. Please tell me your story.”
Noureddin willingly granted this request, and told everything from the purchase of the slave to the present moment.
“And where do you go now?” asked the Caliph.
“Wherever the hand of God leads me,” said Noureddin.
“Then, if you will listen to me,” said the Caliph, “you will immediately return to Basra. I will give you a letter to the king, which will ensure you forgiveness from him.”
“It is unheard of,” said Noureddin, “that a fisherman should communicate with a king.”
“Don’t be surprised,” answered the Caliph; “We studied together, and have always remained the best of friends, though fortune, while making him a king, left me a humble fisherman.”
The Caliph then took a sheet of paper, and wrote the following letter, at the top of which he put in very small characters this code to show that he must be obeyed: “In the name of the Most Merciful God.
“Letter of the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid to the King of Basra.
“Haroun-al-Raschid, son of Mahdi, sends this letter to Mohammed Zinebi, his cousin. As soon as Noureddin, son of the Vizier Khacan, bearer of this letter, has given it to you and you have read it, take off your royal cloak, put it on his shoulders, and seat him in your place without fail. Farewell.”
The Caliph then gave this letter to Noureddin, who immediately set off, with only what little money he possessed. The beautiful Persian, deeply saddened at his departure, sank on a sofa bathed in tears.
When Noureddin had left the room, Scheih Ibrahim, who had kept silent, said,”Kerim, for two miserable fish you have received a purse and a slave. I tell you I will take the slave, and as for the purse, if it contains silver you may keep one piece .If it is gold then I will take all and give you what copper pieces I have in my purse.”
Now here it must be told that when the Caliph went upstairs with the plate of fish he ordered the vizier to hasten to the palace and bring back four slaves with a change of clothes, who should wait outside the pavilion till the Caliph should clap his hands.
Still pretending to be the fisherman, the Caliph answered,”Scheih Ibrahim, whatever is in the purse I will share equally with you, but as to the slave I will keep her for myself. If you do not agree to these conditions you shall have nothing.”
The old man, furious at this, took a cup and threw it at the Caliph, who easily avoided something thrown from the hand of a drunken man. It hit against the wall, and broke into a thousand pieces. Scheih Ibrahim, still more enraged, and then went out to fetch a stick. The Caliph at that moment clapped his hands and the vizier and the four slaves entering took off the fisherman’s dress and put on him what they had brought.
When Scheih Ibrahim returned, a thick stick in his hand, the Caliph was seated on his throne, and nothing remained of the fisherman but his clothes in the middle of the room. Throwing himself on the ground at the Caliph’s feet, he said, “Your Majesty, your miserable slave has offended you, and begs forgiveness.”
The Caliph came down from his throne, and said, “Rise, I forgive you.” Then turning to the Persian he said: “Fair lady, now you know who I am, learn also that I have sent Noureddin to Balsora to be king, and as soon as all necessary preparations are made I will send you there to be queen. Meanwhile I will give you an apartment in my palace, where you will be treated with all honour.”
At this the beautiful Persian took courage, and the Caliph was as good as his word, putting her into the care of his wife Zobeida.
Noureddin hurried on his journey to Basra, and on his arrival there went straight to the palace of the king, and demanded an audience. It was immediately granted, and holding the letter high above his head he forced his way through the crowd. While the king read the letter he changed colour. He would instantly have carried out the Caliph’s order, but first he showed the letter to Saouy. Pretending that he wished to read it a second time, Saouy turned aside as if to seek a better light. Unseen by anyone he tore off the code from the top of the letter, put it to his mouth, and swallowed it. Then, turning to the king, he said:
“Your majesty has no need to obey this letter. The writing is indeed that of the Caliph, but the code is absent. Leave all to me, and I will take care of it.”
The king not only listened to the advice of Saouy, but gave Noureddin to him. Such a severe beating was first given to him, that he was left more dead than alive. Then Saouy threw him into the darkest and deepest dungeon, and fed him only on bread and water. After ten days Saouy decided to put an end to Noureddin’s life, but dared not without the king’s permission. To do this, he loaded several of his own slaves with rich gifts, and presented himself at their head to the king, saying that they were from the new king on his coronation.
“What!” said the king; “is that wretch still alive? Go and behead him at once. I order you.”
“Sire,” said Saouy, “I thank your Majesty. I would further beg, as Noureddin publicly attacked me, that the execution might be in front of the palace, and that it might be proclaimed throughout the city, so that everyone may know of it.”
The king granted these requests, and the announcement caused great grief, for the memory of Noureddin’s father was still fresh in the hearts of his people. Saouy, accompanied by twenty of his own slaves, went to the prison to fetch Noureddin, who he placed on a donkey without a saddle. Arriving at the palace, Saouy went in to the king, leaving Noureddin in the square, surrounded not only by Saouy’s slaves but by the royal guard, who had great difficulty in preventing the people from rushing in and rescuing Noureddin. Saouy, who witnessed the anger of the people from the windows of the king’s chambers, called to the executioner to strike at once. The king, however, ordered him to delay. Not only was he jealous of Saouy’s interference, but he had another reason. A troop of horsemen was seen at that moment riding at full gallop towards the square. Saouy suspected who they might be, and urged the king to give the signal for the execution without delay, but this ,the king refused to do till he knew who the horsemen were.
Now, they were the vizier Giafar and his officers arriving at full speed from Baghdad.. Hearing a beautiful voice one day in the women’s part of the palace moaning, he was informed that it was the voice of the Fair Persian, and he suddenly remembered Noureddin. He ordered Giafar, to make for Basra at top speed and if Noureddin were dead, to hang Saouy, if he were still alive, to bring him at once to Baghdad along with the king and Saouy.
Giafar rode at full speed through the square, and alighted at the steps of the palace, where the king came to greet him. The vizier’s first question was whether Noureddin was still alive. The king replied that he was, and he was immediately brought forward, though bound hand and foot. By the vizier’s orders he was untied and Saouy was tied up with the same ropes. The next day Giafar returned to Baghdad, taking with him the king, Saouy, and Noureddin.
When the Caliph heard what treatment Noureddin had received, he authorized him to behead Saouy with his own hands, but he declined to take the life of his enemy, who was handed over to the executioner. The Caliph also asked Noureddin to reign over Basra, but this, too, he declined, saying that after what had passed there he preferred never to return, but to enter the service of the Caliph. He became one of his most intimate courtiers, and lived long in great happiness with the fair Persian. As to the king, the Caliph contented himself with sending him back to Basra, with the recommendation to be more careful in future in the choice of his vizier.