Stories from the Arabian Nights - Amy Steedman




The Enchanted Horse

It was New Year's day in Persia, the most splendid feast-day of all the year, and the King had been entertained, hour after hour, by the wonderful shows prepared for him by his people. Evening was drawing on and the court was just about to retire, when an Indian appeared, leading a horse which he wished to show to the King. It was not a real horse, but it was so wonderfully made that it looked exactly as if it were alive,

"Your Majesty," cried the Indian, as he bowed himself to the ground, "I beg thou wilt look upon this wonder. Nothing thou hast seen to-day can equal this horse of mine. I have only to mount upon its back and wish myself in any part of the world, and it carries me there in a few minutes." Now the King of Persia was very fond of curious and clever things, so he looked at the horse with great interest.

"It seems only a common horse," he said, "but thou shalt show us what it can do."

Then he pointed to a distant mountain, and bade the Indian fetch a branch from the palm trees which grew near its foot.

The Indian vaulted into the saddle, turned a little peg in the horse's neck, and in a moment was flying so swiftly through the air that he soon disappeared from sight. In less than a quarter of an hour he reappeared, and laid the palm branch at the King's feet.

"Thou art right," cried the King; "thy enchanted horse is the most wonderful thing I have yet seen. What is its price? I must have it for my own."

The Indian shook his head.

"Your Majesty," he said, "this horse can never be sold for money, but can only be exchanged for something of equal value. It shall be thine only if thou wilt give me instead the Princess, your daughter, for my wife."

At these words the King's son sprang to his feet.

"Sire," he cried, "thou wilt never dream of granting such a request."

"My son," answered the King, "at whatever cost I must have this wonderful horse. But before I agree to the exchange, I would wish thee to try the horse, and tell me what thou thinkest of it."

The Indian, who stood listening to what they said, was quite willing that the Prince should try the Enchanted Horse, and began to give him directions how to guide it. But as soon as the Prince was in the saddle and saw the peg which made the horse start, he never waited to hear more. He turned the screw at once, and went flying off through the air.

"Alas!" cried the Indian, "he has gone off without learning how to come back. Never will he be able to stop the horse unless he finds the second peg."

The King was terribly frightened when he heard the Indian's words, for, by this time, the Prince had disappeared from sight.

"Wretch," he cried, "thou shalt be cast into prison, and unless my son returns in safety, thou shalt be put to death."

Meanwhile the Prince had gone gaily sailing up into the air until he reached the clouds, and could no longer see the earth below. This was very pleasant, and he felt that he had never had such a delicious ride in his life before. But presently he began to think it was time to descend. He screwed the peg round and round, backwards and forwards, but it seemed to make no difference. Instead of coming down he sailed higher and higher, until he thought he was going to knock his head against the blue sky.

What was to be done? The Prince began to grow a little nervous, and he felt over the horse's neck to see if there was another peg to be found anywhere. To his joy, just behind the ear, he touched a small screw, and when he turned it, he felt he was going slower and slower, and gently turning round. Then he shouted with joy as the Enchanted Horse flew downwards through the starry night, and he saw, streteched out before him a beautiful city gleaming white through the purple mantle of the night.

Everything was strange to him, and he did not know in what direction to guide the horse, so he let it go where it would, and presently it stopped on the roof of a great marble palace. There was a gallery running round the roof, and at the end of the gallery there was a door leading down some white marble steps.

The Enchanted horse

THE ENCHANTED HORSE FLEW DOWNWARDS.


The Prince began at once to descend the steps, and found himself in a great hall where a row of black slaves were sleeping soundly, guarding the entrance to a room beyond.

Very softly the Prince crept past the guards, and lifting the curtain from the door, looked in.

And there he saw a splendid room lighted by a thousand lights and filled with sleeping slaves, and in the middle, upon a sofa, was the most beautiful Princess his eyes had ever gazed upon.

She was so lovely that the Prince held his breath with admiration as he looked at her. Then he went softly to her side, and, kneeling by the sofa, gently touched her hand. The Princess sighed and opened her eyes, but before she could cry out, he begged her in a whisper to be silent and fear nothing.

"I am a Prince" he said, "the son of the King of Persia. I am in danger of my life here, and crave thy protection."

Now this Princess was no other than the daughter of the King of Bengal, who happened to be staying alone in her summer palace outside the city.

"I will protect thee," said the Princess kindly, giving him her hand. Then she awoke her slaves and bade them give the stranger food and prepare a sleeping-room for him.

"I long to hear thy adventures and how thou camest here," she said to the Prince, "but first thou must rest and refresh thyself."

Never before had the Princess seen any one so gallant and handsome as this strange young Prince. She dressed herself in her loveliest robes, and twined her hair with her most precious jewels, that she might appear as beautiful as possible in his eyes. And when the Prince saw her again, he thought her the most charming Princess in all the world, and he loved her with all his heart. But when he had told her all his adventures she sighed to think that he must now leave her and return to his father's court.

"Do not grieve," he said, "I will return in state as befits a Prince, and demand thy hand in marriage from the King thy father."

"Stay but a few days ere thou goest," replied the Princess. "I cannot part with thee so soon."

The Prince was only too willing to wait a while, and the Princess entertained him so well with feasts and hunting-parties that day after day slipped by, and still he lingered.

At last, however, the thought of his home and his father's grief made him decide to return at once.

"My Princess," he said, "since it is so hard to part, wilt thou not ride with me upon the Enchanted Horse? When we are once more in Persia our marriage shall take place, and then we will return to the King thy father."

So together they mounted the Enchanted Horse and the Prince placed his arm around the Princess and turned the magic peg. Up and up they flew over land and sea, and then the Prince turned the other screw, and they landed just outside his father's city. He guided the horse to a palace outside the gates, and there he left the Princess, for he wished to go alone to prepare his father.

Now when the Prince reached the court he found every one was dressed in brown, and all the bells of the city were tolling mournfully.

"Why is every one so sad?" he asked of one of the guards.

"The Prince, the Prince!" cried the man. "The Prince has come back!"

And soon the joyful news spread over the town, and the bells stopped tolling and rang a joyful peal.

"My beloved son!" cried the King, as he embraced him. "We thought thou wert lost for ever, and we have mourned for thee day and night."

Without waiting to hear more, the Prince began to tell the King all his adventures, and how the Princess of Bengal awaited him in the palace outside the gates.

"Let her be brought here instantly," cried the King, "and the marriage shall take place to-day."

Then he ordered that the Indian should be set free at once and allowed to depart with the Enchanted Horse.

Great was the surprise of the Indian when, instead of having his head cut off as he had expected, he was allowed to go free with his wonderful horse. He asked what adventures had befallen the Prince, and when he heard of the Princess who was waiting in the palace outside the gates, a wicked plan came into his head.

He took the Enchanted Horse, and went straight to the palace before the King's messengers could reach it.

"Tell the Princess," he said to the slaves, "that the Prince of Persia has sent me to bring her to his father's palace upon the Enchanted Horse."

The Princess was very glad when she heard this message, and she quickly made herself ready to go with the messenger.

But alas! as soon as the Indian turned the peg and the horse flew through the air, she found she was being carried off, far away from Persia and her beloved Prince.

All her prayers and entreaties were in vain. The Indian only mocked at her, and told her he meant to marry her himself.

Meanwhile the Prince and his attendants had arrived at the palace outside the gates, only to find that the Indian had been there before them and had carried off the Princess.

The Prince was nearly beside himself with grief, but he still hoped to find his bride. He disguised himself as a dervish and set off to seek for her, vowing that he would find her, or perish in the attempt.

By this time the Enchanted Horse had travelled many hundreds of miles. Then, as the Indian was hungry, it was made to descend into a wood close to a town of Cashmere.

Here the Indian went in search of food, and when he returned with some fruit he shared it with the Princess, who was faint and weary.

As soon as the Princess had eaten a little she felt stronger and braver, and as she heard horses galloping past, she called out loudly for help.

The men on horseback came riding at once to her aid, and she quickly told them who she was, and how the Indian had carried her off against her will. Then the leader of the horsemen, who was the Sultan of Cashmere, ordered his men to cut off the Indian's head. But he placed the Princess upon his horse and led her to his palace.

Now the Princess thought that her troubles were all at an end, but she was much mistaken. The Sultan had no sooner seen her than he made up his mind to marry her, and he ordered the wedding preparations to be begun without loss of time.

In vain the Princess begged to be sent back to Persia. The Sultan only smiled and fixed the wedding-day. Then when she saw that nothing would turn him from his purpose, she thought of a plan to save herself. She began talking all the nonsense she could think of and behaving as if she were mad, and so well did she pretend, that the wedding was put off, and all the doctors were called in to see if they could cure her.

But whenever a doctor came near the Princess she became so wild and violent that he dared not even feel her pulse, so none of them discovered that she was only pretending.

The Sultan was in great distress, and sent far and near for the cleverest doctors. But none of them seemed to be able to cure the Princess of her madness.

All this time the Prince of Persia was wandering about in search of his Princess, and when he came to one of the great cities of India, he heard every one talking about the sad illness of the Princess of Bengal who was to have married the Sultan. He at once disguised himself as a doctor and went to the palace, saying he had come to cure the Princess.

The Sultan received the new doctor with joy, and led him at once to the room where the Princess sat alone, weeping and wringing her hands.

"Your Majesty," said the disguised Prince, "no one else must enter the room with me, or the cure will fail."

So the Sultan left him, and the Prince went close to the Princess, and gently touched her hand.

"My beloved Princess," he said, "dost thou not know me?"

As soon as the Princess heard that dear voice she threw herself into the Prince's arms, and her joy was so great that she could not speak.

"We must at once plan our escape," said the Prince. "Canst thou tell me what has become of the Enchanted Horse?"

"Naught can I tell thee of it, dear Prince," answered the Princess, "but since the Sultan knows its value, no doubt he has kept it in some safe place."

"Then first we must persuade the Sultan that thou art almost cured," said the Prince. "Put on thy costliest robes and dine with him to-night, and I will do the rest."

The Sultan was charmed to find the Princess so much better, and his joy knew no bounds when the new doctor told him that he hoped by the next day to complete the cure.

"I find that the Princess has somehow been infected by the magic of the Enchanted Horse," he said. "If thou wilt have the horse brought out into the great square, and place the Princess upon its back, I will prepare some magic perfumes which will dispel the enchantment. Let all the people be gathered together to see the sight, and let the Princess be arrayed in her richest dress and decked with all her jewels."

So next morning the Enchanted Horse was brought out into the crowded square, and the Princess was mounted upon its back. Then the disguised Prince placed four braziers of burning coals round the horse and threw into them a perfume of a most delicious scent. The smoke of the perfume rose in thick clouds, almost hiding the Princess, and at that moment the Prince leaped into the saddle behind her, turned the peg, and sailed away into the blue sky.

But as he swept past the Sultan, he cried aloud, "Sultan of Cashmere, next time thou dost wish to wed a Princess, ask her first if she be willing to wed thee."

So this was the manner in which the Prince of Persia carried off the Princess of Bengal for the second time. The Enchanted Horse never stopped until it had carried them safely back to Persia, and there they were married amid great rejoicings.

But what became of the Enchanted Horse? Ah! that is a question which no one can answer.