The Story of the Third Monk, Son of a King
My story, said the third monk, is quite different from those of my two friends. It was fate that caused them to lose their right eyes, but mine was lost by my own foolishness.
My name is Agib, and I am the son of a king called Cassib, who reigned over a large kingdom, whose capital was one of the finest seaports in the world.
When I succeeded to my father’s throne my first care was to visit the provinces on the mainland, and then to sail to the numerous islands which lay off the shore, in order to gain the hearts of my people. These voyages gave me such a taste for sailing that I soon decided to explore more distant seas, and ordered that a fleet of large ships be got ready without delay. When they were properly prepared I began my expedition.
For forty days the weather was good, but the next night a terrific storm arose, which blew us everywhere for ten days, till the captain said that he had lost his way. Therefore a sailor was sent up the mast to try to catch a sight of land, and reported that nothing was to be seen but the sea and sky, except for a huge mass of blackness.
On hearing this, the pilot grew white, and he cried, “Oh, sir, we are lost, lost!” When he had recovered himself a little, and was able to explain the cause of his terror, he replied, that the following day about noon we should come near that mass of darkness, which, said he, is the famous Black Mountain. This mountain is made of a magnet, which attracts to itself all the iron and nails in your ship; and as we are helplessly drawn nearer, the force of attraction will become so great that the iron and nails will fall out of the ships and cling to the mountain, and the ships will sink to the bottom with all that are in them. This is why the side of the mountain towards the sea appears so black.
“Also,” continued the pilot, “the mountain sides are very rugged, but on the summit stands a brass dome supported on pillars, and bearing on top the figure of a brass horse, with a rider on his back. This rider wears a breastplate of lead, on which strange signs and figures are engraved, and it is said that as long as this statue remains on the dome, ships will always perish at the foot of the mountain.”
At noon next day, as the pilot had said, we were so near to the Black Mountain that we saw all the nails and iron fly out of the ships and crash against the mountain with a horrible noise. A moment later the ships fell apart and sank, the crews with them. I alone managed to grasp a floating plank, and floated ashore, without even a scratch. I found myself at the bottom of some very narrow steps which led straight up the mountain. Indeed, even the steps themselves were so narrow and so steep that, if the lightest breeze had arisen, I should certainly have been blown into the sea.
When I reached the top I found the brass dome and the statue exactly as the captain had described, but was too tired with all I had gone through to do more than glance at them, and, laying myself down under the dome, was asleep in an instant. In my dreams an old man appeared to me and said, “Listen, Agib! As soon as you are awake dig up the ground underfoot, and you shall find a bow of brass and three arrows of lead. Shoot the arrows at the statue, and the rider shall tumble into the sea, but the horse will fall down by your side, and you must bury him in the place from which you took the bow and arrows. This being done the sea will rise and cover the mountain, and on it you will see the figure of a metal man seated in a boat, having an oar in each hand. Step on board and let him take you away. However if you want to see your kingdom again, make sure that you do not say God’s name
Having said these words the vision left me, and I woke. I sprang up and dug the bow and arrows out of the ground, and with the third shot the horseman fell with a great crash into the sea, which instantly began to rise, so rapidly, that I had hardly time to bury the horse before the boat approached me. I stepped silently in and sat down, and the metal man pushed off, and rowed without stopping for nine days, after which land appeared on the horizon. I was so overcome with joy at this sight that I forgot all the old man had told me, and cried out, “God be praised! God be praised!”
The words were scarcely out of my mouth when the boat and man sank beneath me, and left me floating on the surface. All that day and the next night I swam and floated, making as well as I could for the land which was nearest to me. At last my strength began to fail, and I gave myself up for lost, when the wind suddenly rose, and a huge wave threw me onto a flat shore. Then, I spread my clothes out to dry in the sun, and lay myself down on the warm ground to rest.
The next morning I dressed myself and began to look about me. There seemed to be no one but myself on the island, which was covered with fruit trees and watered with streams, but seemed a long distance from the mainland which I hoped to reach. Before long, I saw a ship headed towards the island, and not knowing whether it would contain friends or enemies, I hid myself in the thick branches of a tree.
The sailors came ashore and ten slaves landed, carrying spades and pickaxes. In the middle of the island they stopped, and after digging some time, lifted up what seemed to be a trapdoor. They then returned to the ship two or three times for furniture and food and finally were accompanied by an old man, leading a handsome boy of fourteen or fifteen years of age. They all disappeared down the trapdoor, and after remaining below for a few minutes came up again, but without the boy, and let down the trapdoor, covering it with earth as before. This done, they boarded the ship and set sail.
As soon as they were out of sight, I came down from my tree, and went to the place where the boy had been buried. I dug up the earth till I reached a large stone with a ring in the centre. This showed a flight of stone steps which led to a large room richly furnished and lighted by candles. On a pile of cushions sat the boy. He looked up, startled and frightened at the sight of a stranger in such a place, and to calm him, I at once spoke.” Don’t worry. I am a king, and the son of a king, and will do you no harm. On the contrary, perhaps I have been sent here to save you from this tomb, where you have been buried alive.”
Hearing my words, the young man recovered himself, and when I had ended, he said, “The reasons, Prince, that have caused me to be buried in this place are so strange that they will surprise you. My father is a rich merchant, owning much land and many ships, and does much business in precious stones, but he never stopped complaining that he had no child to inherit his wealth.
“One day he dreamed that the following year a son would be born to him, and when this actually happened, he asked all the wise men in the kingdom about the future of the baby. They all said the same thing. I was to live happily till I was fifteen, when a terrible danger awaited me, from which I would probably not escape. If, however, I should succeed in doing so, I should live to a great old age. And, they added, when the statue of the brass horse on the top of the mountain of magnet is thrown into the sea by Agib, the son of Cassib, then beware, for fifty days later your son shall fall by his hand!
“This prophecy terrified my father so much, that he never got over it. A short time ago, I had my fifteenth birthday. It was only yesterday that the news reached him that ten days ago the statue of brass had been thrown into the sea, and he at once set about hiding me in this underground chamber, which was built for the purpose, promising to bring me out when the forty days have passed. For myself, I have no fears, as Prince Agib is not likely to come here to look for me.”
I listened to his story, laughing at the idea that I would ever want to cause the death of this harmless boy. I begged him to take me in his father’s ship to my own country. I took special care not to let him know that I was the Agib whom he feared.
The day passed with us chatting pleasantly. I took on the duties of a servant, held the basin and water for him when he washed, prepared the dinner and set it on the table. He soon grew to love me, and for thirty-nine days we spent as pleasant an existence as could be expected underground.
The morning of the fortieth dawned, and the young man when he woke gave thanks in an outburst of joy that the danger was passed. “My father may be here at any moment,” said he, “so make me, please, a bath of hot water, that I may bathe, and change my clothes, and be ready to meet him.”
So I brought the water as he asked, and washed and rubbed him, after which he lay down again and slept a little. When he opened his eyes for the second time, he asked me to bring him a melon so that he might eat and refresh himself.
I soon chose a fine melon out of those which remained, but could find no knife to cut it with. “Look on the shelf over my head,” said he, “and I think you will see one.” It was so high above me, that I had some difficulty in reaching it, and tripping in the covering of the bed, I slipped, and fell right upon the young man, the knife going straight into his heart.
At this awful sight I cried aloud in my grief and pain. I threw myself on the ground and tore my hair with sorrow. Then, fearing to be punished as his murderer by the unhappy father, I raised the great stone which blocked the staircase, and left the underground chamber.
Scarcely had I finished when, looking out to sea, I saw the ship heading for the island, and, feeling that it would be useless for me to say I was innocent, I again hid myself among the branches of a tree that grew near by.
The old man and his slaves pushed off in a boat as soon as the ship touched land, and walked quickly towards the entrance to the underground chamber. But when they were near enough to see that the earth had been disturbed, they paused. In silence they all went down and called to the youth by name. Then for a moment I heard no more. Suddenly a there was a fearful scream, and the next instant the slaves came up the steps, carrying with them the body of the old man, who had fainted from sorrow! Laying him down at the foot of the tree in which I had taken shelter, they did their best to wake him, but it took a long while. When at last he woke, they left him to dig a grave, and then laying the young man’s body in it, they threw in the earth.
After this, the slaves brought up all the furniture that remained below, and put it on the ship, and carried the father to the ship and sailed away.
So once more I was quite alone, and for a whole month I walked around the island, seeking some chance of escape. At last one day I realized that my prison had grown much larger, and that the mainland seemed to be nearer. I was excited at this thought, which was almost too good to be true. I watched a little longer. There was no doubt about it, and soon there was only a tiny stream for me to cross.
Even when I was safe on the other side I had a long distance to go on the mud and sand before I reached dry ground, and was very tired. Far in front of me I caught sight of a castle of red copper, which, at first sight, I thought was a fire. After some miles of hard walking stood before it, and gazed at it in astonishment, for it seemed to me the most wonderful building I had ever seen. While I was still staring at it, there came towards me a tall old man, accompanied by ten young men, all handsome, and all blind in the right eye.
Now, the sight of ten men walking together, all blind in the right eye, is as uncommon as that of a copper castle, and I was thinking about what it all meant when they greeted me warmly, and asked what had brought me there. I replied that my story was long, but that if they would take the trouble to sit down, I should be happy to tell it to them. When I had finished, the young men asked me to go with them to the castle, and I joyfully accepted their offer. We passed through what seemed to me an endless number of rooms, and came at last into a large hall, furnished with ten small blue sofas for the ten young men, which served as beds as well as chairs and with another sofa in the middle for the old man. As none of the sofas could hold more than one person, they asked me sit on the carpet, and to ask no questions about anything I should see.
After a little while the old man rose and brought in supper, which I ate hungrily. Then one of the young men asked me to repeat my story, which had astonished them all. When I had ended, the old man was told to “do his duty,” as it was late, and they wished to go to bed. At these words he rose, and went to a closet, from which he brought out ten covered basins. He set one before each of the young men, together with a lighted candle.
When the covers were taken off the basins, I saw they were filled with ashes and coal dust. The young men mixed these all together, and covered their heads and faces with it. They then cried, “This is the result of our laziness, and of our wicked lives.”
This lasted nearly the whole night, and when it stopped they washed themselves carefully, put on fresh clothes and lay down to sleep.
All this time I hadn’t asked any questions, though my curiosity almost seemed to burn a hole in me. However, the following day, when we went out to walk, I said to them, “Gentlemen, I must disobey your wishes, for I can keep silent no more. You do not appear stupid, yet what you do seems mad. Whatever happens to me I must ask, `Why you cover your faces with black, and how it is you are all blind of one eye?'” But they only answered that such questions were none of my business, and that I should not ask.
During that day we chatted about other things, but when night came, and the same ceremony was repeated, I begged them to let me know the meaning of it all.
“It is for your own sake,” replied one of the young men, “that we have not granted your request, and to save you from our unfortunate fate. If, however, you wish to share our destiny we will tell you.”
I answered that whatever the consequence might be I wished to have my curiosity satisfied, and that I would take the responsibility for what happened. He then told me that, even when I had lost my eye, I should be unable to remain with them, as their number was complete, and could not be added to. But to this I replied that, even though I should be sad to leave such honest gentlemen, I would not change my mind.
On hearing my determination my ten hosts then took a sheep and killed it, and handed me a knife, which they said I should find useful later. “We must sew you into this sheep-skin,” said they, “and then leave you. A bird of monstrous size, called a roc, will appear in the air. Thinking you are a sheep, he will snatch you up and carry you into the sky. Don’t be afraid, for he will bring you safely down and lay you on the top of a mountain. When you are on the ground cut the skin with the knife and throw it off. As soon as the roc sees you he will fly away in fear, but you must walk on till you come to a castle covered with plates of gold, and jewels. Enter at the gate, which always stands open, but do not ask us to tell you what we saw or what happened to us there, for that you will learn for yourself. We may only say, that it cost each of us our right eye.”
After the young men had sewed the sheep-skin on me they left me, and returned to the hall. In a few minutes the roc appeared, and carried me off to the top of the mountain in his huge claws as lightly as if I had been a feather. This great white bird is so strong that he has been known to carry even an elephant to his nest in the hills.
The moment my feet touched the ground I took out my knife and cut the threads that tied me, and the sight of me in my proper clothes so alarmed the roc that he spread his wings and flew away. Then I set out to find the castle.
I found it after wandering about for half a day, and never could I have imagined anything so amazing. The gate led into a square court, into which opened a hundred doors, ninety-nine of them being of rare woods and one of gold. Through each of these doors I caught glimpses of splendid gardens.
Entering one of the doors which was standing open I found myself in an enormous hall where forty young ladies, magnificently dressed, and of perfect beauty, were seated. As soon as they saw me they rose and welcomed me. One brought me splendid garments, while another filled a basin with scented water and poured it over my hands, and the rest busied themselves with preparing refreshments. After I had eaten and drunk the most delicate food and wonderful wines, the ladies crowded round me and begged me to tell them all my adventures.
By the time I had finished night had fallen, and the ladies lighted up the castle with such a huge number of candles that even day could hardly have been brighter. We then sat down to supper, after which some sang and others danced. I was so well entertained that I did not notice how the time was passing, but at last one of the ladies approached and told me it was midnight, and that, as I must be tired, she would show me to the room that had been prepared for me. Then, wishing me good-night, I was left to sleep.
I spent the next thirty-nine days in much the same way as the first, but at the end of that time the ladies appeared in my room one morning to ask how I had slept, and instead of looking cheerful and smiling they were in floods of tears. “Prince,” said they, “we must leave you, and never was it so hard to part from any of our friends. Most likely we shall never see you again, but perhaps we may yet look forward to another meeting.”
“Ladies,” I replied, “what is the meaning of these strange words. Please tell me?”
“Understand,” answered one of them, “that we are all princesses; each a king’s daughter. We live in this castle together, in the way that you have seen, but at the end of every year secret duties call us away for forty days. The time has now come; but before we depart, we will leave you our keys, so that you may not lack entertainment during our absence. But one thing we would ask you. If you wish to remain happy, never open the Golden door. If that door is unlocked, we must say farewell for ever.”
I promised to obey them, and after hugging me tenderly, they went away.
Every day I opened two or three new doors, behind which were so many unusual things that I had no chance of feeling bored even though I missed the ladies. Sometimes it was an orchard, whose fruit were far larger any that grew in my father’s garden. Sometimes it was a garden planted with roses, jasmine, daffodils, hyacinths, anemones, and a thousand other flowers I did not know the names of. Or it would be an aviary, with all kinds of singing birds, or a treasury full of precious stones. Whatever I might see, was perfect.
Thirty-nine days passed more quickly than I could have imagined possible, and the following morning the princesses were to return to the castle. But alas! I had explored every corner, except the room of the Golden Door, and I had no longer anything to entertain myself with. I stood before the forbidden place for some time, gazing at its beauty, and then I had a happy thought. I believed that if I unlocked the door I didn’t need to enter the room. It would be enough for me to stand outside and view whatever hidden wonders might be inside.
I turned the key and a pleasant smell rushed out, and I fell fainting into the room. As soon as I woke I went for a few moments into the air to shake of the effects of the perfume, and then entered. I found myself in a large room, lighted by candles, standing in golden candle-sticks, while gold and silver lamps hung from the ceiling.
Though many wonderful treasures lay around me, I paid them no attention, because in one corner, stood a great black horse. The handsomest and best-shaped animal I had ever seen. His saddle and bridle were of gold. One side of his trough was filled with clean barley and sesame, and the other with rose water. I led the animal into the open air, and then jumped on his back, shaking the reins as I did so, but as he never stirred, I touched him lightly with a whip I had picked up in his stable. No sooner did he feel the stroke, than he spread his wings (which I had not noticed before), and flew up with me straight into the sky. When he had reached a great height, he next flew back to earth, and landed on the terrace of a castle, throwing me out of the saddle as he did so, and giving me such a blow with his tail, that he knocked out my right eye.
Shocked at what had happened to me, I rose to my feet, thinking as I did so of what had happened to the ten young men. The horse soared off up into the clouds. I left the terrace and wandered on till I came to a hall, which I knew to have been the one from which the roc had taken me, by the ten blue sofas against the wall.
The ten young men were not present when I first entered, but came in soon after, accompanied by the old man. They greeted me kindly, and even though they were sympathetic it was what they had expected. “All that has happened to you,” they said, “we also have experienced, and we should be enjoying the same happiness still, had we not opened the Golden Door while the princesses were absent. You have been no wiser than us, and have suffered the same punishment. Leave now and go to the Court of Baghdad, where you shall meet with him that can decide your destiny.” They told me the way I was to travel, and I left them.
On the road I shaved my beard and eyebrows, and put on a monks robe. I have had a long journey, but arrived this evening in the city, where I met my brother monks at the gate. We were curious to see we were all blind of the same eye, but we had no time to discuss our experiences.
He finished, and it was Zobeida’s turn to speak: “Go wherever you want,” she said, speaking to all three. “I forgive you all, but you must leave immediately out of this house.”