The flying horse part 2
If you have heard the first part, you will know that an inventor has presented the king of Persia with an enchanted horse that can fly. His son, the prince has indeed flown away on it to Bengal where he has found a beautiful princess. The guards discovered him in her chamber – and he was almost killed on the spot. The King of Bengal has agreed that instead, he may die a noble death fighting his massed guards in the morning. This is where the great storyteller, Scheherazade left us last time.
At first light, the King of Bengal reviewed the imperial guard as it lined up before his palace. The guard was 10,000 in number and it bristled with spikes and swords. Banners fluttered in the wind, drums beat, horses stomped the ground, officers called out commands, troops wheeled and maneuvered. It was an awesome sight even for a seasoned general. On this day the imperial guard was commanded to fight a single man – an idle young, romantic – a foppish and foolish prince who had slipped into the chamber of a princess.
The prince stood alone and faced the ranks of soldiers. The king stood on the wall of his palace and called out to him:
“Now Prince of Persia, bid farewell to the princess whom you sought to marry without the consent of her father. Had you but asked my favour, I would have granted it gladly. Now you must ready yourself to receive the sharp points and swords of my army.”
And the prince replied: “But King, you do not deal with me fairly. Is it fitting for a prince to go into battle on foot? I was practically born in the saddle. Bring me my steed, and I shall meet your army on horseback.”
The king saw no harm in this request and asked him where his horse was tethered.
“Why, it waits for me on the roof of the palace.”
Now everyone who heard this thought that the young man had lost all his reason. Here was the explanation for all his strange behavior: his pleasant face and gracious manners belied the fact that he was stark, raving mad. But the king indulged the condemned man’s whim, and commanded his slaves:
“Go up to the roof of the palace and bring me what you find there.”
It was a struggle for six strong men to fetch the ebony horse, for it was indeed solid and heavy. The king smiled when he saw that it was a toy made of wood. Trying not to laugh, he said:
“Mount your horse oh Prince. There are those would doubt your sanity, for by Allah the Magnificent, you are one in a million. But as you are my guest, you shall not hear me say that your reason is cracked. Now go to your death like a true prince, and do not dishonour the king your father in the manner of your parting from this world.”
“Nor shall I,” replied the prince, and with a flourish of his hat he leapt onto his horse. Once he was settled in the saddle, he turned the screw that would take the horse upwards in the air. All watched as it began to judder and rock, and its belly filled up with some sort of gas. This all of a sudden did what none of the onlookers expected – it took off into the air and flew above the heads of the army. When the king saw this, he had the presence of mind to call out:
“Archers, shoot him down! Do not let the sorcerer escape. If you do, you shall all be sorry!” A cloud of arrows took flight but fell short of the magnificent horse which, with its rider, was already heading for the sun.
From the safety of the air, the young prince thought of the princess he had left behind and said: “By Allah I shall not forget you, my dearest Sana,” for that was her name. He also realised that his own father would be stricken with worry and grief for his safety, and he pointed his flying horse in the direction of Persia, from whence he had come only the day before. His heart was filled with gladness when he recognised the palace of his father from the air, but when he landed, it was a different story. The whole court was dressed in mourning clothes, and grieving his loss. When he ran inside and found his father, mother and sisters, great was the joy as they embraced and were reunited with the prince whom they thought had gone forever. There followed a week of feasting and celebration. Everyone in the kingdom took part – the Shah even ordered that the prisoners all be released – and among the criminals who came back to the daylight was the inventor of the flying horse. Meanwhile, in the palace, the king rued the day he had bought the internal contraption, and forbade his son to ever go near it again. “For I now see,” he said, “that the air is the kingdom of the birds – it is wrong for a groundling human to attempt to fly. Science is a sin. We should all obey the laws of nature, or else human kind will surely be the author of its own destruction.”
So happy was the prince to be re-united with his family, that for a moment he forgot his beautiful princess Sana. But not for long. At the height of the feasting, a lovely handmaiden strummed a lute and sang:
“Time dies but it does not forget,
The seconds pass, but not my love
At the end of eternity
I shall meet you yet.”
When the prince heard these words, the fires of passion flamed in his heart. He pretended to be weary, and said that he must retire to his room, but in fact, he crept out to the courtyard where the forbidden horse awaited him. It was the journey of a single night to return to the Kingdom of Bengal, to find the palace, and the chamber where Princess Sana still slept. At her door, he heard her weeping and reciting verses. He carefully walked over to the bed.
“Who’s there?” she asked nervously.
“Oh you of little wit,” said the prince fondly, “It is I, returned to carry you back to Persia and your wedding day.”
“You!” she said, angry all of a sudden. He was afraid her shrill voice would awake the guard. “You cruel hearted man. How could you have left me?”
“Would you rather that I was cut down by the 10,000 soldiers of your father’s army?” he replied. “If so, all you have to do now is call for the guards and I will be dead this instant.”
“Yes,” she said confused. “I mean no. My only wish is to be with you.” And they fell into each others arms. As it would soon be daylight, he soon led her up to the roof, from where they escaped on board his wonderful flying horse. Away they flew, but with great skill, the prince made the horse travel softly so as not to alarm the princess. By midday, they had returned to his father’s palace, where he had been hardly missed.
When his father saw the young prince’s choice for a bride, more elegant than a gazelle, more gentle than the warm west wind, brighter than the moon, he rejoiced in his son’s good taste and judgement. He called for preparations to be made of yet another feast – to celebrate the wedding of his son to Princess Sana. There was a delay while, out of courtesy, messengers were sent to her father in Bengal. In the meantime, the prince was hardly absent from her side – but of course there were times when official duties or the pleasures of hunting and companionship with his cronies called him away. On one such occasion, the young princess was walking in the garden when she was approached by a man who seemed, to her eyes, very old and rather hideous in face and figure.
“Oh Princess,” he said: “Your beloved has had to leave to another city on urgent business for his father. He pines for your lovely face that shines in his heart like the sun in a serene sky. He has therefore sent me to fetch you to him.”
The story made perfect sense to the young princess, and as she had already made one successful trip on the flying horse, she was not at all alarmed when the man asked her to climb on board it with him. Little did she know that this seemingly harmless old man was the cunning inventor of the machine, and that he still held a terrible grudge for the ungrateful way he had been treated by the prince and his father. Now he was after his revenge. He turned the screw in the neck of the horse, and up they climbed into the sky. On and on they flew. At last she asked:
“Old man, when shall we see my prince, as you promised me? For in truth, I am starting to fear that your words hide a deceitful trick from me.”
And the inventor called back: “You shall never again set eyes on your prince for royal he may be, but he is still a villainous rascal, a scoundrel and a scalawag! He plagues the palace like a bedbug in a mattress! His father is as fit to rule the kingdom of Persia as a jackal is to be Lord of the jungle. He is as lovely as a boil on the posterior of an elephant. He has sucked my blood like a leach. I shall burn his heart as he has burnt mine.” And so he went on, pouring curses on the heart of her beloved. The poor princess knew that she was doomed, and she wept and wailed as they flew. When he heard this, the inventor called out: “Do not cry Princess, for I shall marry you, and I am a far better man than he!” At this she sobbed even more and cried out: “Alack alas, for not only have I lost my prince, but I have left behind my father and mother too, and now their hearts shall be broken for the loss of me, their only daughter!”
Eventually, after they had flown for a day, they passed over a sparkling clear sea, that was speckled with lovely islands with rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. At last they came to the mainland, and settled down in a cool gentle field, where the grass was nibbled by goats and sheep. Here, in the land of the Greeks, they rested, for they were both hot and tired. As they slept, a king, who was out hunting, came across them. The Greek wondered at the strange horse, and ordered his servant to wake the couple.
“Greetings,” called out the king. “Who are you? Where have you come from? And what secret lies hidden in the belly of this strange black horse?”
The inventor replied: “Sire, I am a Prince of Persia, and this is my bride.”
But the princess, seeing her chance of salvation, called out: “No he is not. He is a wicked magician who has abducted me and stolen me away from the arms of my beloved prince.”
The Greek had no doubt whom he wanted to believe. He ordered his guard to cut off the ugly head of the inventor, and that was the end of him. Then he returned to his palace, taking with him the lovely princess, and the strange ebony horse.
Meanwhile, her prince had not ceased to grieve the loss of his bride. In penance for his carelessness at losing her, he dressed himself as a pilgrim, and travelled from place to place, asking after the ugly magician, the lovely maiden, and the wonderful horse. Where ever he went, people thought that his rambling story, though diverting, was the outward sign of madness. Then one day, after he had travelled for over a year, he sat down under a plane tree and overheard three merchants talking. They spoke of an unusual event, the course of much gossip and discussion. The king, out hunting, had come across an evil magician of foul face and loathsome form, a princess as lovely as the day, and a mysterious horse carved from ivory. Now at long last, the heart of the travelling prince was filled with lightness. His cares flew away like a dark bird. He had hope. But he also had caution. He made careful enquiries, and heard that the king wished to marry the lovely princess. Ever since he had made his proposal, she had been stricken with a mysterious illness, and refused to leave her bed. The king had offered a huge reward for any priest, magician or doctor who could find a cure. Right away, the prince guessed at the truth – that the illness was not real – not of the body at any rate. It was grief of the heart, and a ruse by the princess to delay her marriage to the king, and hold out for delivery from her fate.
Towards supper time, the prince came to the gates of the palace, and declared that he was a travelling medicine man. He asked for an audience with the king. Under normal circumstance, he would have been turned away with a sharp kick in the behind, but at that time there were orders that anyone who claimed to have a cure for the princess would be granted a royal audience. When the prince came before the king, the courtiers saw his ragged cloths, and heard his foreign accent. He said that he was Persian. The Greeks did not care for Persians. They laughed and poured scorn on him. But by this time the king was close to despair. He had spent a fortune on astrologers, doctors and the like, and all to no avail. He said:
“I care not if he is Persian or from the moon. One more egromancer can do no harm,” and he allowed the visitor to see the princess. She lay with her eyes closed, seemingly asleep. He knelt down and whispered in her ear:
“Oh darling of the universe, care of my life, do not fear, nor stir nor make any sound. It is I your prince. I have searched the four corners of the world and now at last I have found you.”
In the morning, he went to the king and advised, that in his judgement, the princess had been overtaken by the demons of madness. Fortunately, he had with him a cure – powerful candles and fuel for the fire that would burn with sweet smelling smoke, and drive the demons from her body. The king was ready to give anything a try. He ordered the servants to dress the princess in lovely clothes and fine jewellery. They led her into the courtyard that was already cloudy with smoke of incense. The mystical horse stood by – like the statue of a mystical God. The Persian visitor threw lumps of coloured coal on the fire. The smoke grew thick. It was hard to see anything. The smoke stung the king’s eyes, and he began to rub them. When, a few minutes later, the smoke had cleared, the prince, the princess, and the wonderful horse had disappeared. Nobody had seen how the Persian mystic and the princess had climbed aboard the horse and flown away. Nor could they suppose, that a day later they would be back in Persia and that a week after that they would be married, and live righteously and happily together until at last, in their old age, the destroyer of everything took them away for ever.
And that was “The Flying horse” from 1001 nights.