STORY OF THE PRINCE OF SIND, AND FATIMA, DAUGHTER OF AMIR BIN NAOMAUN.
Some ages back a certain sultan of Sind had a son by a concubine, who behaved so rudely to his sultana, that she became dispirited and lost her health, which her favourite woman observing, resolved by stratagem to get rid of the prince. She advised her mistress, when he might next insult her, to say to him, "That he would never appear becoming his rank till he was beloved by Fatima, daughter of a sultan named Amir bin Naomaun." The queen having followed the woman's directions, the prince resolved to travel to the country of the princess, and demand her in marriage. Accordingly, having obtained the consent of the sultan his father, he departed with an attendance suitable to his rank. After marching for some time he entered a desert, which was covered with a numberless flight of locusts, that had fallen exhausted for want of food. Pitying their distress, he ordered meal to be spread on the ground, when the locusts having refreshed themselves flew away. Some days after this incident he reached a thick forest crowded with elephants, and herds of wild animals of every description; but as they did not attempt to attack him, and were in a starving condition, he ordered some of his cattle to be killed, and distributed to them for food. Having satisfied themselves they retired, shewing every sign that dumbness would allow of being pleased with his kind treatment. On his march onwards the prince met a venerable old man, of whom he inquired the route to the territories of Amir bin Naomaun, and was informed that they were at no great distance; but only to be entered by a range of rugged and steep mountains composed of iron-stone, and next to impassable; also, that should he succeed in overcoming this difficulty, it was in vain to hope to attain the princess. The prince inquiring the reason, the old man continued, "Sultan Amir bin Noamaun has resolved that no one shall wed his daughter unless he can perform three tasks which he will impose, and these are of so difficult a nature as not to be executed by the labour or ingenuity of man, and many unhappy princes have lost their heads in the attempt; for he puts them to death instantly on failure: be advised, therefore, and give up so fruitless an expedition." The prince, instead of listening to the admonition of the old man, resolved to proceed; and having requested his prayers and benedictions, continued his march. In a short time, having entered the passes of the mountains, he discovered vast caverns inhabited by a species of genii, who were employed in working upon masses of iron-stone, which they dug from the rock. The prince having entertained them with a hospitable feast, they, in return, shewed him the easiest route through the stupendous mountains, and he at length arrived in safety before the capital of sultan Amir bin Naomaun, to whom he sent an envoy, requesting leave to encamp on the plain, and to offer himself as a candidate for the beautiful princess his daughter. The sultan, in reply, acceded to his petition, and invited him to the palace; where, in the evening, he was led into a court, in which was placed an immense vessel filled with three kinds of grain mixed together, which (as his first task towards obtaining the princess) he was to separate entirely from each other, and put into three heaps; which if not accomplished before sunrise, he was then to forfeit his head in punishment for his temerity. It being now too late to recede, the prince resigned himself to Providence; and the gates of the court being locked upon him, he prayed to Allah, and began to separate the grains; but finding his progress vain, his spirits deserted him about midnight, and he left off his fruitless labour in despair, endeavouring to reconcile himself to death. While he was praying for fortitude to bear him up in his last moments, a voice was heard, saying, "Be comforted, and receive the reward of thy charity to famished insects." Immediately after this the heavens were obscured, as if by thick clouds, which descended on the court, when, lo! this phenomenon proved to be myriads of locusts; who, alighting on the vessel, in a few hours emptied it of all the grain, which they disposed of, each in its kind, in three several heaps, and having given a general buzzing of salutation, took flight, and vanished into the air. The prince was overjoyed at the miraculous accomplishment of his task by the grateful locusts, and having offered up thanks to Allah and the prophet for his deliverance from impending destruction, composed himself to rest, doubting not but that they would assist him to overcome the two remaining labours. Great was the surprise of the sultan Amir bin Naomaun, when, on coming at daylight to the court, he beheld his intended victim in a profound sleep, and the grain in three separate heaps, neatly piled up in the form of domes. The prince awaking, saluted him, and demanded to be informed of his next task; but the sultan put him off to the evening, until when he entertained him at the palace with a most magnificent feast; and his obdurate heart was so softened by the noble address and demeanour of his guest, that he wished he might be able to overcome the remaining impositions and become his son-in-law. The princess, also, who had the curiosity to look at him through the blinds of her apartments, was so fascinated with his appearance that she prayed for his success.
When night had set in, the prince was conducted to an open plain in front of the palace, in the centre of which was a large reservoir full of clear water, which the sultan commanded him to drain off before sunrise, or forfeit his life. The prince remained alone on the brink of the reservoir with rather somewhat more hope of success than he had felt of overcoming his task of the preceding night; nor was he disappointed, for about midnight a voice was heard exclaiming, "Prince, benevolence is never unrequited:" and, lo! the plain was filled with elephants, rhinoceroses, camels, dromedaries, lions, tigers, and every species of wild beasts, in such immense droves as could not be numbered, who, advancing in turn to the reservoir, drank in such quantity that it, at length, was completely emptied, and became as dry as if just finished. The beasts then expressing pleasure by their varying natural noises at having served their benefadlor departed, and left him to enjoy the deliverance from the labour imposed upon him.
The prince, now more assured than ever that he was the favourite of Allah and the prophet, after offering up prayers with a relieved heart, slept comfortably in a building creeled on the margin of the reservoir, and was only awakened by the call of the sultan at sun-rise, who was more astonished at the accomplishment of this labour than the former, though certainly each was equally difficult. He conducted the prince to his palace, and the day was spent in the highest festivity.
At the approach of night the prince was conducted to his third task, which was to complete and fit up before daylight from a vast mass of planks of the choicest timber ready stored the doors, windows, and balconies of an unfinished palace, much larger than that which the sultan inhabited. The prince at the apprehension of the consequences of failure was somewhat alarmed; but the recollection of his former aids supported him, and after offering up his devotions he sat down, composedly waiting for the decision of Providence on his fate. His resignation was accepted, for at midnight he was roused from his contemplations by the sounds of sawing, planing, hammering, nailing, and the songs of happy work-men. Looking up he perceived his friends of the iron mountains; who, all saluting him, cried out, "Prince, set your heart at rest, for we are come to repay you for your hospitable feast." Before daylight the palace was fitted up in a manner more elegant than can be described, and every door, window, and balcony painted with the most brilliant colours, flowered with silver and gold. The grateful labourers of the iron mountains having finished their work, respectfully saluted the prince and departed.
The prince having taken a grateful leave of his useful friends, walked through the palace, and was eagerly employed in admiring its elegance and the magnificence of their finishing hand, when the sultan Amir bin Naomaun, who from his apartments at sun-rise had observed the miraculous completion, appeared, having hastened to examine the superb workmanship, and to congratulate his son-in-law, for as such he now acknowledged him, and as the favoured of Allah, and of the last of prophets. He conducted the prince to the palace, and the most magnificent preparations being made, the nuptials with his daughter were celebrated in the new edifice, where the bride and bridegroom enjoyed themselves for three months, at the expiration of which the prince begged permission to return to his father's dominions, which he reached just in time to release him from the attack of an inimical sultan, who had invaded the country, and laid close siege to his capital. His father received him with rapture, and the prince having made an apology to the sultana for his former rude behaviour, she received his excuses, and having no child of her own readily adopted him as her son; so that the royal family lived henceforth in the utmost harmony, till the death of the sultan and sultana, when the prince succeeded to the empire.