THE KING OF PERSIA AND THE PRINCESS OF THE SEA.
here once was a king of Persia, who at the beginning of his reign had distinguished himself by many glorious and successful conquests, and had afterwards enjoyed such profound peace and tranquillity as rendered him the happiest of monarchs. His only occasion for regret was that he had no heir to succeed him in the kingdom after his death. One day, according to the custom of his royal predecessors during their residence in the capital, he held an assembly of his courtiers, at which all the ambassadors and strangers of renown at his court were present. Among these there appeared a merchant from a far-distant country, who sent a message to the king craving an audience, as he wished to speak to him about a very important matter. The king gave orders for the merchant to be instantly admitted; and when the assembly was over, and all the rest of the company had retired, the king inquired what was the business which had brought him to the palace.
'Sire,' replied the merchant, 'I have with me, and beg your majesty to behold, the most beautiful and charming slave it would be possible to find if you searched every corner of the earth; if you will but see her, you will surely wish to make her your wife.'
The fair slave was, by the king's commands, immediately brought in, and no sooner had the king beheld a lady whose beauty and grace surpassed anything he had ever imagined, than he fell passionately in love with her, and determined to marry her at once. This was done.
So the king caused the fair slave to be lodged in the next finest apartment to his own, and gave particular orders to the matrons and the women-slaves appointed to attend her, that they should dress her in the richest robe they could find, and carry her the finest pearl necklaces, the brightest diamonds, and other the richest precious stones, that she might choose those she liked best.
The King of Persia's capital was situated in an island; and his palace, which was very magnificent, was built upon the sea-shore; his window looked towards the sea; and the fair slave's, which was pretty near it, had also the same prospect, and it was the more pleasant on account of the sea's beating almost against the foot of the wall.
At the end of three days the fair slave, magnificently dressed, was alone in her chamber, sitting upon a sofa, and leaning against one of the windows that faced the sea, when the king, being informed that he might visit her, came in. The slave hearing somebody walk in the room, immediately turned her head to see who it was. She knew him to be the king; but without showing the least surprise, or so much as rising from her seat to salute or receive him, she turned back to the window again as if he had been the most insignificant person in the world.
The King of Persia was extremely surprised to see a slave of so beauteous a form so very ignorant of the world. He attributed this to the narrowness of her education, and the little care that had been taken to instruct her in the first rules of civility. He went to her at the window, where, notwithstanding the coldness and indifference with which she had just now received him, she suffered herself to be admired, kissed and embraced as much as he pleased, but answered him not a word.
'My dearest life,' said the king, 'you neither answer, nor by any visible token give me the least reason to believe that you are listening to me. Why will you still keep to this obstinate silence, which chills me? Do you mourn for your country, your friends, or your relations? Alas! is not the King of Persia, who loves and adores you, capable of comforting, and making you amends for the loss of everything in the world?'
But the fair slave continued her astonishing reserve; and keeping her eyes still fixed upon the ground, would neither look at him nor utter a word; but after they had dined together in absolute silence, the king went to the women whom he had assigned to the fair slave as her attendants, and asked them if they had ever heard her speak.
One of them presently made answer, 'Sire, we have neither seen her open her lips, nor heard her speak any more than your majesty has just now; we have rendered her our services; we have combed and dressed her hair, put on her clothes, and waited upon her in her chamber; but she has never opened her lips, so much as to say, That is well, or, I like this. We have often asked, Madam, do you want anything? Is there anything you wish for? Do but ask and command us: but we have never been able to draw a word from her. We cannot tell whether her silence proceeds from pride, sorrow, stupidity, or dumbness; and this is all we can inform your majesty.'
The King of Persia was more astonished at hearing this than he was before: however, believing the slave might have some reason for sorrow, he endeavoured to divert and amuse her, but all in vain. For a whole year she never afforded him the pleasure of a single word.
At length, one day there were great rejoicings in the capital, because to the king and his silent slave-queen there was born a son and heir to the kingdom. Once more the king endeavoured to get a word from his wife. 'My queen,' he said, 'I cannot divine what your thoughts are; but, for my own part, nothing would be wanting to complete my happiness and crown my joy but that you should speak to me one single word, for something within me tells me you are not dumb: and I beseech, I conjure you, to break through this long silence, and speak but one word to me; and after that I care not how soon I die.'
At this discourse the fair slave, who, according to her usual custom, had hearkened to the king with downcast eyes, and had given him cause to believe not only that she was dumb, but that she had never laughed in her life, began to smile a little. The King of Persia perceived it with a surprise that made him break forth into an exclamation of joy; and no longer doubting but that she was going to speak, he waited for that happy moment with an eagerness and attention that cannot easily be expressed.
At last the fair slave, breaking her long-kept silence, thus addressed herself to the king: 'Sire,' said she, 'I have so many things to say to your majesty, that, having once broken silence, I know not where to begin. However, in the first place, I think myself in duty bound to thank you for all the favours and honours you have been pleased to confer upon me, and to implore Heaven to bless and prosper you, to prevent the wicked designs of your enemies, and not to suffer you to die after hearing me speak, but to grant you a long life. Had it never been my fortune to have borne a child, I was resolved (I beg your majesty to pardon the sincerity of my intention) never to have loved you, as well as to have kept an eternal silence; but now I love you as I ought to do.'
The King of Persia, ravished to hear the fair slave speak, embraced her tenderly. 'Shining light of my eyes,' said he, 'it is impossible for me to receive a greater joy than what you have now given me.'
The King of Persia, in the transport of his joy, said no more to the fair slave. He left her, but in such a manner as made her perceive that his intention was speedily to return: and being willing that his joy should be made public, he sent in all haste for the grand vizier. As soon as he came, he ordered him to distribute a thousand pieces of gold among the holy men of his religion, who had made vows of poverty; as also among the hospitals and the poor, by way of returning thanks to Heaven: and his will was obeyed by the direction of that minister.
After the King of Persia had given this order, he returned to the fair slave again. 'Madam,' said he, 'pardon me for leaving you so abruptly, but I hope you will indulge me with some conversation, since I am desirous to know several things of great consequence. Tell me, my dearest soul, what were the powerful reasons that induced you to persist in that obstinate silence for a whole year together, though you saw me, heard me talk to you, and ate and drank with me every day.'
To satisfy the King of Persia's curiosity, 'Think,' replied the queen, 'whether or no to be a slave, far from my own country, without any hopes of ever seeing it again,--to have a heart torn with grief at being separated for ever from my mother, my brother, my friends, and my acquaintance,--are not these sufficient reasons for my keeping a silence your majesty has thought so strange and unaccountable? The love of our native country is as natural to us as that of our parents; and the loss of liberty is insupportable to every one who is not wholly destitute of common sense, and knows how to set a value on it.'
'Madam,' replied the king, 'I am convinced of the truth of what you say; but till this moment I was of opinion that a person beautiful like yourself, whom her evil destiny had condemned to be a slave, ought to think herself very happy in meeting with a king for her master.'
'Sire,' replied the fair slave, 'whatever the slave is, there is no king on earth who can tyrannise over her will. But when this very slave is in nothing inferior to the king that bought her, your majesty shall then judge yourself of her misery, and her sorrow, and to what desperate attempts the anguish of despair may drive her.'
The King of Persia, in great astonishment, said 'Madam, can it be possible that you are of royal blood? Explain the whole secret to me, I beseech you, and no longer increase my impatience. Let me instantly know who are your parents, your brothers, your sisters, and your relations; but, above all, what your name is.'
'Sire,' said the fair slave, 'my name is Gulnare, Rose of the Sea; and my father, who is now dead, was one of the most potent monarchs of the ocean. When he died, he left his kingdom to a brother of mine, named Saleh, and to the queen, my mother, who is also a princess, the daughter of another powerful monarch of the sea. We enjoyed a profound peace and tranquillity through the whole kingdom, till a neighbouring prince, envious of our happiness, invaded our dominions with a mighty army; and penetrating as far as our capital, made himself master of it; and we had but just time enough to save ourselves in an impenetrable and inaccessible place, with a few trusty officers who did not forsake us in our distress.
'In this retreat my brother contrived all manner of ways to drive the unjust invader from our dominions. One day "Sister," said he, "I may fail in the attempt I intend to make to recover my kingdom; and I shall be less concerned for my own disgrace than for what may possibly happen to you. To prevent it, and to secure you from all accident, I would fain see you married first: but in the miserable condition of our affairs at present, I see no probability of matching you to any of the princes of the sea; and therefore I should be very glad if you would think of marrying some of the princes of the earth I am ready to contribute all that lies in my power towards it; and I am certain there is not one of them, however powerful, but would be proud of sharing his crown with you."
'At this discourse of my brother's, I fell into a violent passion. "Brother," said I, "you know that I am descended, as well as you, by both father's and mother's side, from the kings and queens of the sea, without any mixture of alliance with those of the earth; therefore I do not intend to marry below myself, any more than they did. The condition to which we are reduced shall never oblige me to alter my resolution; and if you perish in the execution of your design, I am prepared to fall with you, rather than to follow the advice I so little expected from you."
'My brother, who was still earnest for the marriage, however improper for me, endeavoured to make me believe that there were kings of the earth who were nowise inferior to those of the sea. This put me into a more violent passion, which occasioned him to say several bitter words that stung me to the quick. He left me as much dissatisfied with myself as he could possibly be with me; and in this peevish mood I gave a spring from the bottom of the sea up to the island of the moon.
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'As for your majesty,' continued Queen Gulnare, 'if you had not shown me all the respect you have hitherto paid, and given me such undeniable marks of your affection that I could no longer doubt of it, I hesitate not to tell you plainly that I should not have remained with you. I would have thrown myself into the sea out of this very window, and I would have gone in search of my mother, my brother, and the rest of my relations; and, therefore, I hope you will no longer look upon me as a slave, but as a princess worthy of your alliance.'
After this manner Queen Gulnare discovered herself to the King of Persia, and finished her story. 'My charming, my adorable queen,' cried he, 'what wonders have I heard! I must ask a thousand questions concerning those strange and unheard-of things which you have related to me. I beseech you to tell me more about the kingdom and people of the sea, who are altogether unknown to me. I have heard much talk, indeed, of the inhabitants of the sea, but I always looked upon it as nothing but a tale or fable; but, by what you have told me, I am convinced there is nothing more true; and I have a very good proof of it in your own person, who are one of them, and are pleased to condescend to be my wife; which is an honour no other inhabitant on the earth can boast of besides myself. There is one thing yet which puzzles me; therefore I must beg the favour of you to explain it; that is, I cannot comprehend how it is possible for you to live or move in the water without being drowned. There are very few amongst us who have the art of staying under water; and they would surely perish, if, after a certain time, they did not come up again.'
'Sire,' replied Queen Gulnare, 'I shall with pleasure satisfy the King of Persia. We can walk at the bottom of the sea with as much ease as you can upon land; and we can breathe in the water as you do in the air; so that instead of suffocating us, as it does you, it absolutely contributes to the preservation of our lives. What is yet more remarkable is, that it never wets our clothes; so that when we have a mind to visit the earth, we have no occasion to dry them. Our common language is the same as that of the writing engraved upon the seal of the great prophet Solomon, the son of David.
'I must not forget to tell you, further, that the water does not in the least hinder us from seeing in the sea; for we can open our eyes without any inconvenience; and as we have quick, piercing sight, we can discern any object as clearly in the deepest part of the sea as upon land. We have also there a succession of day and night; the moon affords us her light, and even the planets and the stars appear visible to us. I have already spoken of our kingdoms; but as the sea is much more spacious than the earth, so there are a greater number of them, and of greater extent. They are divided into provinces; and in each province there are several great cities, well peopled. In short, there are an infinite number of nations, differing in manners and customs, just as upon the earth.
'The palaces of the kings and princes are very sumptuous and magnificent. Some of them are of marble of various colours; others of rock-crystal, with which the sea abounds, mother of pearl, coral, and of other materials more valuable; gold, silver, and all sorts of precious stones are more plentiful there than on earth. I say nothing of the pearls, since the largest that ever were seen upon earth would not be valued amongst us; and none but the very lowest rank of citizens would wear them.
'As we can transport ourselves whither we please in the twinkling of an eye, we have no occasion for any carriages or riding-horses; not but what the king has his stables, and his stud of sea-horses; but they are seldom made use of, except upon public feasts or rejoicing days. Some, after they have trained them, take delight in riding them, and show their skill and dexterity in races; others put them to chariots of mother-of-pearl, adorned with an infinite number of shells of all sorts, of the brightest colours. These chariots are open; and in the middle there is a throne upon which the king sits, and shows himself to his subjects. The horses are trained up to draw by themselves; so that there is no occasion for a charioteer to guide them. I pass over a thousand other curious particulars relating to these marine countries, which would be very entertaining to your majesty; but you must permit me to defer it to a future leisure, to speak of something of much greater consequence. I should like to send for my mother and my cousins, and at the same time to desire the king my brother's company, to whom I have a great desire to be reconciled. They will be very glad to see me again, after I have related my story to them, and when they understand I am wife to the mighty king of Persia. I beseech your majesty to give me leave to send for them: I am sure they will be happy to pay their respects to you; and I venture to say you will be extremely pleased to see them.'
'Madam,' replied the King of Persia, 'you are mistress; do whatever you please; I will endeavour to receive them with all the honours they deserve. But I would fain know how you would acquaint them with what you desire, and when they will arrive, that I may give orders to make preparation for their reception, and go myself in person to meet them.'
'Sire,' replied the Queen Gulnare, 'there is no need of these ceremonies; they will be here in a moment; and if your Majesty will but look through the lattice, you shall see the manner of their arrival.'
Queen Gulnare then ordered one of her women to bring her a brazier with a little fire. After that she bade her retire, and shut the door. When she was alone, she took a piece of aloes out of a box, and put it into the brazier. As soon as she saw the smoke rise, she repeated some words unknown to the King of Persia, who from a recess observe with great attention all that she did. She had no sooner ended, than the sea began to be disturbed. At length the sea opened at some distance; and presently there rose out of it a tall, handsome young man, with moustaches of a sea-green colour; a little behind him, a lady, advanced in years, but of a majestic air, attended by five young ladies, nowise inferior in beauty to the Queen Gulnare.
Queen Gulnare immediately went to one of the windows, and saw the king her brother, the queen her mother, and the rest of her relations, who at the same time perceived her also. The company came forward, borne, as it were, upon the surface of the waves. When they came to the edge, they nimbly, one after another, sprang up to the window, from whence Queen Gulnare had retired to make room for them. King Saleh, the queen her mother, and the rest of her relations, embraced her tenderly, with tears in their eyes, on their first entrance.
After Queen Gulnare had received them with all imaginable honour, and made them sit down upon a sofa, the queen her mother addressed herself to her: 'Daughter,' said she, 'I am overjoyed to see you again after so long an absence; and I am confident that your brother and your relations are no less so. Your leaving us without acquainting anybody with it involved us in inexpressible concern; and it is impossible to tell you how many tears we have shed upon that account. We know of no other reason that could induce you to take such a surprising step, but what your brother told us of the conversation that passed between him and you. The advice he gave you seemed to him at that time very advantageous for settling you handsomely in the world, and very suitable to the then posture of our affairs. If you had not approved of his proposal, you ought not to have been so much alarmed; and, give me leave to tell you, you took the thing in a quite different light from what you ought to have done. But no more of this; we and you ought now to bury it for ever in oblivion: give us an account of all that has happened to you since we saw you last, and of your present situation; but especially let us know if you are satisfied.'
Queen Gulnare immediately threw herself at her mother's feet; and after rising and kissing her hand, 'I own,' said she, 'I have been guilty of a very great fault, and I am indebted to your goodness for the pardon which you are pleased to grant me.' She then related the whole of what had befallen her since she quitted the sea.
As soon as she had acquainted them with her having been sold to the King of Persia, in whose palace she was at present; 'Sister,' said the king her brother, 'you now have it in your power to free yourself. Rise, and return with us into my kingdom, that I have reconquered from the proud usurper who had made himself master of it.'
The King of Persia, who heard these words from the recess where he was concealed, was in the utmost alarm. 'Ah!' said he to himself, 'I am ruined; and if my queen, my Gulnare, hearkens to this advice, and leaves me, I shall surely die.' But Queen Gulnare soon put him out of his fears.
'Brother,' said she, smiling, 'I can scarce forbear being angry with you for advising me to break the engagement I have made with the most puissant and most renowned monarch in the world. I do not speak here of an engagement between a slave and her master; it would be easy to return the ten thousand pieces of gold that I cost him; but I speak now of a contract between a wife and a husband, and a wife who has not the least reason to complain. He is a religious, wise, and temperate king. I am his wife, and he has declared me Queen of Persia, to share with him in his councils. Besides, I have a child, the little Prince Beder. I hope then neither my mother, nor you, nor any of my cousins, will disapprove of the resolution or the alliance I have made, which will be an equal honour to the kings of the sea and the earth. Excuse me for giving you the trouble of coming hither from the bottom of the deep, to communicate it to you, and for the pleasure of seeing you after so long a separation.'
'Sister,' replied King Saleh, 'the proposal I made you of going back with us into my kingdom was only to let you see how much we all love you, and how much I in particular honour you, and that nothing in the world is so dear to me as your happiness.'
The queen confirmed what her son had just spoken, and addressing herself to Queen Gulnare, said, 'I am very glad to hear you are pleased; and I have nothing else to add to what your brother has just said to you. I should have been the first to have condemned you, if you had not expressed all the gratitude you owe to a monarch that loves you so passionately, and has done such great things for you.'
When the King of Persia, who was still in the recess, heard this he began to love her more than ever, and resolved to express his gratitude in every possible way.
Presently Queen Gulnare clapped her hands, and in came some of her slaves, whom she had ordered to bring in a meal: as soon as it was served up, she invited the queen her mother, the king her brother, and her cousins, to sit down and take part of it. They began to reflect, that without asking leave, they had got into the palace of a mighty king, who had never seen nor heard of them, and that it would be a great piece of rudeness to eat at his table without him. This reflection raised a blush in their faces; in their emotion their eyes glowed like fire, and they breathed flames at their mouths and nostrils.
This unexpected sight put the King of Persia, who was totally ignorant of the cause of it, into a dreadful consternation. Queen Gulnare suspecting this, and understanding the intention of her relations, rose from her seat, and told them she would be back in a moment. She went directly to the recess, and recovered the King of Persia from his surprise.
'Sir,' said she, 'give me leave to assure you of the sincere friendship that the queen my mother and the king my brother are pleased to honour you with: they earnestly desire to see you, and tell you so themselves: I intended to have some conversation with them by ordering a banquet for them, before I introduced them to your majesty, but they are very impatient to pay their respects to you: and therefore I desire your majesty would be pleased to walk in, and honour them with your presence.'
'Madam,' said the King of Persia, 'I should be very glad to salute persons that have the honour to be so nearly related to you, but I am afraid of the flames that they breathe at their mouths and nostrils.'
'Sir,' replied the queen, laughing, 'you need not in the least be afraid of those flames, which are nothing but a sign