three pairs of lovers with space

A story from The Thousand Nights and One Night:

THE TALE OF THE THIRD KALANDAR

 

This is a tale within The Tale of The Porter and the Young Girls, in which three beautiful girls admitted to their palace a porter, then three strangers, one-eyed men with shaved beards “and all the signs of that brotherhood of beggars called kalandars.”  Next, they were joined by the Caliph Harun al-Rashid and his  wazīr Jafar al-Barmaki, both disguised as merchants.  Each of them was required to tell his story.

Since Harun became Caliph in AD 786 and Jafar died in 803, the tale must be set between those dates.

It was the fourteenth night[1] of Shahrazād’s story-telling when it came to the third kalandar’s turn:

 

GLORIOUS lady, do not think that my tale will be as marvellous as those of my two companions, for it is infinitely more so!

Upon these other two, misfortunes fell solely through the workings of Destiny and Fate; but with me it was not so. The reason of my shaved beard and my lost eye lies in myself, who, through my own fault, was led to the end of fatality and filled to the overflowing of my heart with cares and disappointments.

I am a king[2] and the son of a king. When my father whose name was Kasīb died, I inherited his throne and reigned with justice and to the advantage of my people.

But I had a great love of seafaring which I was able to indulge since my city lay by the sea and many fortified islands in the ocean were under my protection.[3] Wishing one day to visit all my islands, I prepared ten great ships and, victualling them for a month, set sail. …

 

The kalandar was fairly soon shipwrecked, rescued alone, but then cast back into the sea.  (It was now the fifteenth night of Shahrazād’s story-telling): …

I was a good swimmer and so kept myself afloat all day until nightfall, when, my arms and shoulders being dead and weary, I made my peace with Allāh and prepared to die. But a wave higher than all the waves of the sea ran up beneath me like a mighty mosque and threw me far on to the shore of one of the islands which I had seen. Thus Allāh’s will was done.

I climbed up the beach and, spreading my clothes to dry upon the sand, slept by them all night. When I awoke, I put on my dry garments and, looking about me, beheld a little fertile valley. Wandering round and throughout this place, I found that I was on the smallest of islets lying alone in the sea. I was sitting, buried in sad reflections, saying to myself: “Never am I delivered from one misfortune but I fall into a greater!” and wishing earnestly for death, when I saw a ship beating up towards the island. Fearing that there might still be some unpleasant fate awaiting me, I climbed into a tree and, sitting hidden among the leaves, saw the ship anchor and ten slaves come out of her, each carrying a spade. They walked to the middle of the island and dug there until they had discovered a trapdoor, which they opened. Then they returned to the ship and took out of her a great quantity of things which they loaded on their shoulders: bread and corn, honey and butter, sheep and bursting sacks, even down to the least thing which a master of a house might require. They kept on coming and going from the ship to the trapdoor and back again, until all the heavy things had been transported. Afterwards they brought out beautiful robes and exquisitely tailored garments which they carried on their arms, and, this time, I saw walking among the slaves a venerable old man all eaten up by time, so that he might no longer be called a man at all. He led by the hand a boy of surprising beauty, cast from that very mould in which Allāh had made perfection; his beauty was at once amorous and pure, his body being as slender and as pliant as a young green branch, so that he bewitched the heart out of my bosom and made all the texture of my flesh tremble in love. They all descended by the trap-door, but returned in a few minutes without the boy and, going down to the ship, set sail and left the shore.

When they were out of sight, I came down from my tree and ran to the place where they had heaped the earth over the trap-door. I dug the earth away again and, though the trap which I discovered was as great and heavy as a millstone, by Allāh’s grace I lifted it, and, descending a vaulted stone stair which I saw below, came at last to the bottom. Walking forward I found a great hall, richly-carpeted and hung with silks and velvets, and on a low couch, between lighted candles, flower vases, and pots of fruits and sweetmeats, I saw the boy sitting and fanning himself with a costly fan. He was terrified at the sight of me, but I wished him peace and, when he had answered me, said: “Have no fear, my lord, I am a man, a king’s son, and a king myself. Allāh has guided me here to free you from this sunless place where they have left you to die. I will deliver you and you shall be my friend, for but by looking at you I have lost my head.”

The boy smiled at me with those sweet lips of his and invited me to sit down beside him on the couch, saying: ‘My lord, I have not been left in this place to die, but to avoid death. You must know that I am the son of a jeweller, famed throughout all the world for the amount and quality of his riches, his name having gone out into all lands, borne by the caravans he sends afar to sell jewels to the kings and princes of the earth. Though I was born late in his life, my father was warned by the masters of prophecy that I should die before either of my parents,[4] so that, in spite of his joy at my birth and the great happiness of my mother who, by the grace of God, had brought me into the world at the full end of her nine months, he grieved bitterly on my account. And the more so did he do this when the sages who read my destiny in the stars told him that I would be killed by a king, son of a king named Kasīb, forty[5] days after he had cast the brass rider of the Magnetic Mountain into the sea. Because of his forebodings my father, the jeweller, tended me carefully at home until I was fifteen years of age. When he heard[6] that the rider had been thrown into the sea, he wept so sorely (and my mother with him) that his colour failed him, his body pined, and he became suddenly a very old man broken by years and by sorrows. Then it was that he fetched me to this subterranean place, which he had made ready since my birth, to hide me from the king who was to kill me after he had thrown down the brass rider. Both my father and I were certain that the son of Kasīb could not find me on this unknown island. That is the reason of my staying here.”

Then I thought in my heart: “What liars are these men who read the stars, for by Allāh I would rather kill myself than kill this boy who has become, as it were, a flame about my heart.” Aloud I said: “My child, the Almighty would never allow a flower like you to be cut down. I will defend you and stay with you here all my life.” Then said he: “My father will be coming at the end of the fortieth day to take me away, for after that there will be no more danger.” “Then, dear youth,” I answered, “I will stay with you for the forty days and afterwards ask your father to let you come with me to my kingdom to be my friend and heir.”[7]

The jeweller’s son thanked me with gentle words, and I rejoiced at his air of breeding and at the love which had sprung up between us. We talked for a long while and ate of all those delicacies and provisions, which were enough to last a hundred guests for a year. Afterwards I proved the greatness of my love for his charms, and then we lay down and slept all night. Rising at dawn, I washed and carried the boy a copper basin filled with perfumed water, in which he made his ablutions.[8] I prepared food and we ate together, passed the day in talk and laughter and games until the evening and then, when night fell, spread the cloth. We feasted on mutton stuffed with almonds, dried grapes and muscat nuts, cloves and pepper; we drank fair fresh water and ate both water-melons and melons, with cakes of butter and honey, pastries sweet and light as the hair of a girl, in which neither butter nor honey, almonds nor cinnamon were lacking. Then, as on the night before, we lay down together and I proved how great our friendship had become. So we stayed in alternate pleasure and rest until the fortieth day.

Now when that day came on which we expected the jeweller, the boy wished to take a full bath; so I warmed water for him in a great cauldron heated over a wood fire and poured it into a large copper bath. I added cool water until the heat was pleasant and, when the boy got in, I washed him myself, rubbing, kneading, and perfuming him, and finally carrying him back to the bed where I covered him with a quilt, swathed his head in silver-embroidered silks, and gave him a delicate sherbert to drink. When he rose from a peaceful sleep, he wished to eat, so I chose the finest and largest of the water-melons, putting it on a plate by his side, and climbed on the bed to reach a large knife which was hung on the wall above his head. But the boy began to tickle my leg in sport and I felt his tickling so much that I fell forward on top of him,[9] the knife being driven right through his heart. There and then he died under my hand.

Mistress, you can imagine how I beat my face, weeping and groaning and tearing my garments, and throwing myself upon the earth in floods of tears; but my friend was dead, his destiny was accomplished to prove that the astrologers had not lied. I lifted my eyes and hands to heaven, crying: “Master of the world, if this is my crime I am ready for punishment.” I was full of courage to face my death; but whether one asks a good thing or a bad it is never granted.

Not being able to bear the sight of the place any more and knowing also that the jeweller would be coming at the end of the day, I climbed the stairs, shut the trap, and covered it over with earth as before.

Now that I was out in the free air, I said to myself: “It is quite necessary that I see what happens, but at the same time I must hide or be put to the worst of deaths by the ten slaves.” So I climbed into a great tree near the trap and waited, hiding myself in the leaves. An hour afterwards the same ship came in from the sea, and the old man with his slaves landed and hastened inshore until they came beneath my tree. Seeing that the earth had been freshly moved they were suddenly stricken with fear; the old man looked as if he had lost his wits, but the slaves feverishly cleared the earth away, and all went down through the trap. I heard the old man calling his son by name in a high voice, but the boy did not answer and, when they looked for him, lo! he was dead upon the bed, pierced to the heart with a knife.

At this terrible sight the old man fainted away, and the slaves, sobbing and sighing, bore him on their shoulders up the stairs,[10] and went back for the dead boy whom they wrapped in a winding-sheet and buried in the earth. Lastly, they carried the old man and all the provisions and riches that were left in the hall down to the ship, and sailed away until they were out of sight.

 

[1] In his version, very similar in this instance, Sir Richard Burton calls this story “The Third Kalandar’s Tale”, and it is related in his 14th to 16th nights.

[2] Burton reveals the third kalandar’s name, Ajib.

[3] Burton adds that he had “an hundred and fifty sail ready fitted for holy war with the Unbelievers.”

[4] In Burton’s version, it was always clear that the critical time would come when the boy was fifteen, but there was also a possibility of his averting death: the astrologers and wizards said “"Thy son shall live to fifteen years, but in his fifteenth there is a sinister aspect; an he safely tide it over he shall attain a great age.”

[5] Burton says fifty days.

[6] Burton adds that this was “ten days ago.”

[7] In Burton’s version, “I will go with thee to thy home where thou shalt give me an escort of some of thy Mamelukes with whom I may journey back to my own city.”

[8] Here Burton adds a conversation: the boy “said to me, 'Heaven requite thee for me with every blessing, O youth! By Allah, if I get quit of this danger and am saved from him whose name is Ajib bin Khazib, I will make my father reward thee and send thee home healthy and wealthy; and, if I die, then my blessing be upon thee.' I answered, 'May the day never dawn on which evil shall betide thee; and may Allah make my last day before thy last day!'

[9] Burton mentions no tickling. Instead, “my foot slipped in stepping down.”

[10] According to Burton, “the old man … ceased not from his swoon till near sunset, when he came to himself,” recited some couplets, “then he sobbed a single sob and his soul fled his flesh.”