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Noureddin and the fair Persian.
From Arabian Nights Entertainments by Andrew Lang.
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Age Rating 8 Plus.
Balsora was the capital of a kingdom long tributary to the caliph.
During the time of the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid the king of Balsora,
who was his cousin, was called Zinebi. Not thinking one vizir enough
for the administration of his estates he had two, named Khacan and
Khacan was kind, generous, and liberal, and took pleasure in obliging,
as far as in him lay, those who had business with him. Throughout the
entire kingdom there was no one who did not esteem and praise him as he
Saouy was quite a different character, and repelled everyone with whom
he came in contact; he was always gloomy, and, in spite of his great
riches, so miserly that he denied himself even the necessaries of life.
What made him particularly detested was the great aversion he had to
Khacan, of whom he never ceased to speak evil to the king.
One day, while the king amused himself talking with his two vizirs and
other members of the council, the conversation turned on female slaves.
While some declared that it sufficed for a slave to be beautiful,
others, and Khacan was among the number, 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 declared himself to be of this opinion, but charged
Khacan to procure him a slave who should fulfil 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 accomplished 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 forthwith 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 returned home he sent for the dealers in
female slaves, and charged them directly they had found such a one as
he described to inform him. They promised to do their utmost, and no
day passed that they did not bring a slave for his inspection but none
was found without some defect.
At length, 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 incomparable 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
appearing at the appointed hour, Khacan found the slave beautiful
beyond his expectations, and immediately gave her the name of "The Fair
Being a man of great wisdom and learning, he perceived in the short
conversation he had with her that he would seek in vain another slave
to surpass her in any of the qualities required by the king, and
therefore asked the dealer what price the merchant put upon her.
"Sir," was the answer, "for less than 10,000 gold pieces he will not
let her go; he declares that, what with masters for her instruction,
and for bodily exercises, not to speak of clothing and nourishment, he
has already spent that sum upon her. She is in every way fit to be the
slave of a king; she plays every musical instrument, she sings, she
dances, she makes verses, in fact there is no accomplishment in which
she does not excel."
Khacan, who was better able to judge of her merits than the dealer,
wishing to bring the matter to a conclusion, 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 esteem it an honour to present
her to his Majesty, did it become a merchant to do such a thing. I ask
no more than the sum it has cost me to make her such as she is."
Khacan, not wishing to bargain, immediately had the sum counted out,
and given to the merchant, who before withdrawing said:
"Sir, as she is destined for the king, I would have you observe that
she is extremely tired with the long journey, and before presenting her
to his Majesty you would do well to keep her a fortnight in your own
house, and to see that a little care is bestowed upon her. The sun has
tanned her complexion, but when she has been two or three times to the
bath, and is fittingly dressed, you will see how much her beauty will
Khacan thanked the merchant for his advice, and determined to follow
it. He gave the beautiful Persian an apartment near to that of his
wife, whom he charged to treat her as befitting a lady destined for the
king, and to order for her the most magnificent garments.
Before bidding adieu to the fair Persian, he said to her: "No happiness
can be greater than what I have procured for you; judge for yourself,
you now belong to the king. I have, however, to warn you of one thing.
I have a son, who, though not wanting in sense, is young, foolish, and
headstrong, and I charge you to keep him at a distance."
The Persian thanked him for his advice, and promised to profit by it.
Noureddin--for so the vizir's son was named--went freely in and out of
his mother's apartments. He was young, well-made and agreeable, and
had the gift of charming all with whom he came in contact. 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 determined
at once to use every means in his power to retain her for himself. The
Persian was equally captivated by Noureddin, and said to herself: "The
vizir does me too great honour in buying me for the king. I should
esteem myself very happy if he would give me to his son."
Noureddin availed himself of 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 having elapsed, on account of the long journey, since the
beautiful Persian had been to the bath, five or six days after her
purchase the vizir's wife gave orders that the bath should be heated
for her, and that her own female slaves should attend her there, and
after-wards should array her in a magnificent dress that had been
prepared for her.
Her toilet completed, the beautiful Persian came to present herself to
the vizir's wife, who hardly recognised 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 vizir's wife, "they do not flatter you. I
myself hardly recognised 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 on myself."
Acting forthwith on this decision she ordered two little slaves during
her absence to watch over the beautiful Persian, and not to allow
Noureddin to enter should he come.
She had no sooner gone than he arrived, and not finding his mother in
her apartment, would have sought her in that of the Persian. 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 put
them out of the anteroom, 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 consternation 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 vizir's wife enter in tears, the Persian asked what misfortune had
"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?"
"How! Has my husband not told you that you are destined for the king?"