| The Ivory City And Its Fairy Princess |
HE TWO MEN came forward, and, politely accosting them, begged them to come and stay at their house for the night. "It is late," they said, "and there is not another village within several miles."
"Shall we accept this good man's invitation, brother?" asked the prince.
The vizier's son frowned slightly in token of disapproval; but the prince was tired, and thinking that it was only a whim of his friend's, he said to the men, "Very well. It is very kind of you to ask us."
So they all four went to the robbers' tower.
Seated in a room, with the door fastened on the outside, the two travellers bemoaned their fate.
"It is no good groaning," said the vizier's son. "I will climb to the window, and see whether there are any means of escape. Yes! yes!" he whispered, when he had reached the window-hole. "Below there is a ditch surrounded by a high wall. I will jump down and reconnoitre. You stay here, and wait till I return."
Presently he came back and told the prince that he had seen a most ugly woman, whom he supposed was the robbers' housekeeper. She had agreed to release them on the promise of her marriage with the prince.
So the woman led the way out of the enclosure by a secret door.
"But where are the horses and the goods?" the vizier's son inquired.
"You cannot bring them," the woman said. "To go out by any other way would be to thrust oneself into the grave."
"All right, then; they also shall go out by this door. I have a charm, whereby I can make them thin or fat." So the vizier's son fetched the horses without any person knowing it, and repeating the charm, he made them pass through the narrow doorway like pieces of cloth, and when they were all outside restored them to their former condition. He at once mounted his horse and laid hold of the halter of one of the other horses, and then beckoning to the prince to do likewise, he rode off. The prince saw his opportunity, and in a moment was riding after him, having the woman behind him.
Now the robbers heard the galloping of the horses, and ran out and shot their arrows at the prince and his companions. And one of the arrows killed the woman, so they had to leave her behind.
On, on they rode, until they reached a village where they stayed the night. The following morning they were off again, and asked for Ivory City from every passer-by. At length they came to this famous city, and put up at a little hut that belonged to an old woman, from whom they feared no harm, and with whom, therefore, they could abide in peace and comfort. At first the old woman did not like the idea of these travellers staying in her house, but the sight of a muhr, which the prince dropped in the bottom of a cup in which she had given him water, and a present of another muhr from the vizier's son, quickly made her change her mind. She agreed to let them stay there for a few days.
As soon as her work was over the old woman came and sat down with her lodgers. The vizier's son pretended to be utterly ignorant of the place and people. "Has this city a name?" he asked the old woman.
"Of course it has, you stupid. Every little village, much more a city, and such a city as this, has a name."
"What is the name of this city?"
"Ivory City. Don't you know that? I thought the name was known all over the world."
On the mention of the name Ivory City the prince gave a deep sigh. The vizier's son looked as much as to say "Keep quiet, or you'll discover the secret."
"Is there a king of this country?" continued the vizier's son.
"Of course there is, and a queen, and a princess."
"What are their names?"
"The name of the princess is Gulizar, and the name of the queen----"
The vizier's son interrupted the old woman by turning to look at the prince, who was staring like a madman. "Yes," he said to him afterwards, "we are in the right country. We shall see the beautiful princess."
One morning the two travellers noticed the old woman's most careful toilette: how careful she was in the arrangement of her hair and the set of her kasabah and puts.
"Who is coming?" said the vizier's son.
"Nobody," the old woman replied.
"Then where are you going?"
"I am going to see my daughter, who is a servant of the Princess Gulizar. I see her and the princess every day. I should have gone yesterday, if you had not been here and taken up all my time."
"Ah-h-h! Be careful not to say anything about us in the hearing of the princess." The vizier's son asked her not to speak about them at the palace, hoping that, because she had been told not to do so, she would mention their arrival, and thus the princess would be informed of their coming.
On seeing her mother the girl pretended to be very angry. "Why have you not been for two days?" she asked.
"Because, my dear," the old woman answered, "two young travellers, a prince and the son of some great vizier, have taken up their abode in my hut, and demand so much of my attention. It is nothing but cooking and cleaning, and cleaning and cooking, all day long. I can't understand the men," she added; "one of them especially appears very stupid. He asked me the name of this country and the name of the king. Now where can these men have come from, that they do not know these things? However, they are very great and very rich. They each give me a muhr every morning and every evening."
After this the old woman went and repeated almost the same words to the princess, on the hearing of which the princess beat her severely; and threatened her with a severer punishment if she ever again spoke of the strangers before her.
In the evening, when the old woman had returned to her hut, she told the vizier's son how sorry she was that she could not help breaking her promise, and how the princess had struck her because she mentioned their coming and all about them.
"Alas! alas!" said the prince, who had eagerly listened to every word. "What, then, will be her anger at the sight of a man?"
"Anger?" said the vizier's son, with an astonished air. "She would be exceedingly glad to see one man. I know this. In this treatment of the old woman I see her request that you will go and see her during the coming dark fortnight."
"Heaven be praised!" the prince exclaimed.
The next time the old woman went to the palace Gulizar called one of her servants and ordered her to rush into the room while she was conversing with the old woman; and if the old woman asked what was the matter, she was to say that the king's elephants had gone mad, and were rushing about the city and bazaar in every direction, and destroying everything in their way.