2.4 The Story of the Vizir Who Was Punished

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There was once upon a time a king who had a son who was very fond of hunting. He often allowed him to indulge in this pastime, but he had ordered his grand-vizir always to go with him, and never to lose sight of him. One day the huntsman roused a stag, and the prince, thinking that the vizir was behind, gave chase, and rode so hard that he found himself alone. He stopped, and having lost sight of it, he turned to rejoin the vizir, who had not been careful enough to follow him. But he lost his way. Whilst he was trying to find it, he saw on the side of the road a beautiful lady who was crying bitterly. He drew his horse’s rein, and asked her who she was and what she was doing in this place, and if she needed help. “I am the daughter of an Indian king,” she answered, “and whilst riding in the country I fell asleep and tumbled off. My horse has run away, and I do not know what has become of him.”

The young prince had pity on her, and offered to take her behind him, which he did. As they passed by a ruined building the lady dismounted and went in. The prince also dismounted and followed her. To his great surprise, he heard her saying to some one inside, “Rejoice my children; I am bringing you a nice fat youth.” And other voices replied, “Where is he, mamma, that we may eat him at once, as we are very hungry?”

The prince at once saw the danger he was in. He now knew that the lady who said she was the daughter of an Indian king was an ogress, who lived in desolate places, and who by a thousand wiles surprised and devoured passers-by. He was terrified, and threw himself on his horse. The pretended princess

appeared at this moment, and seeing that she had lost her prey, she said to him, “Do not be afraid. What do you want?”

“I am lost,” he answered, “and I am looking for the road.”

“Keep straight on,” said the ogress, “and you will find it.”

The prince could hardly believe his ears, and rode off as hard as he could. He found his way, and arrived safe and sound at his father’s house, where he told him of the danger he had run because of the grand-vizir’s carelessness. The king was very angry, and had him strangled immediately.

“Sire,” went on the vizir to the Greek king, “to return to the physician, Douban. If you do not take care, you will repent of having trusted him. Who knows what this remedy, with which he has cured you, may not in time have a bad effect on you?”

The Greek king was naturally very weak, and did not perceive the wicked intention of his vizir, nor was he firm enough to keep to his first resolution.

“Well, vizir,” he said, “you are right. Perhaps he did come to take my life. He might do it by the mere smell of one of his drugs. I must see what can be done.”

“The best means, sire, to put your life in security, is to send for him at once, and to cut off his head directly he comes,” said the vizir.

“I really think,” replied the king, “that will be the best way.”

He then ordered one of his ministers to fetch the physician, who came at once.

“I have had you sent for,” said the king, “in order to free myself from you by taking your life.”

The physician was beyond measure astonished when he heard he was to die.

“What crimes have I committed, your majesty?”

“I have learnt,” replied the king, “that you are a spy,

and intend to kill me. But I will be first, and kill you. Strike,” he added to an executioner who was by, “and rid me of this assassin.”

At this cruel order the physician threw himself on his knees. “Spare my life,” he cried, “and yours will be spared.”

The fisherman stopped here to say to the genius: “You see what passed between the Greek king and the physician has just passed between us two. The Greek king,” he went on, “had no mercy on him, and the executioner bound his eyes.”

All those present begged for his life, but in vain.

The physician on his knees, and bound, said to the king: “At least let me put my affairs in order, and leave my books to persons who will make good use of them. There is one which I should like to present to your majesty. It is very precious, and ought to be kept carefully in your treasury. It contains many curious things the chief being that when you cut off my head, if your majesty will turn to the sixth leaf, and read the third line of the left-hand page, my head will answer all the questions you like to ask it.”

The king, eager to see such a wonderful thing, put off his execution to the next day, and sent him under a strong guard to his house. There the physician put his affairs in order, and the next day there was a great crowd assembled in the hall to see his death, and the doings after it. The physician went up to the foot of the throne with a large book in his hand. He carried a basin, on which he spread the covering of the book, and presenting it to the king, said: “Sire, take this book, and when my head is cut off, let it be placed in the basin on the covering of this book; as soon as it is there, the blood will cease to flow. Then open the book, and my head will answer your questions. But, sire, I implore your mercy, for I am innocent.”

“Your prayers are useless, and if it were only to

hear your head speak when you are dead, you should die.”

So saying, he took the book from the physician’s hands, and ordered the executioner to do his duty.

The head was so cleverly cut off that it fell into the basin, and directly the blood ceased to flow. Then, to the great astonishment of the king, the eyes opened, and the head said, “Your majesty, open the book.” The king did so, and finding that the first leaf stuck against the second, he put his finger in his mouth, to turn it more easily. He did the same thing till he reached the sixth page, and not seeing any writing on it, “Physician,” he said, “there is no writing.”

“Turn over a few more pages,” answered the head. The king went on turning, still putting his finger in his mouth, till the poison in which each page was dipped took effect. His sight failed him, and he fell at the foot of his throne.

When the physician’s head saw that the poison had taken effect, and that the king had only a few more minutes to live, “Tyrant,” it cried, “see how cruelty and injustice are punished.”

Scarcely had it uttered these words than the king died, and the head lost also the little life that had remained in it.

That is the end of the story of the Greek king, and now let us return to the fisherman and the Genii.

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“If the Greek king,” said the fisherman, “had spared the physician, he would not have thus died. The same thing applies to you. Now I am going to throw you into the sea.”

“My friend,” said the genius, “do not do such a cruel thing. Do not treat me as Imma treated Ateca.”

“What did Imma do to Ateca?” asked the fisherman.

“Do you think I can tell you while I am shut up in here?” replied the genius. “Let me out, and I will make you rich.”

The hope of being no longer poor made the fisherman give way.

“If you will give me your promise to do this, I will open the lid. I do not think you will dare to break your word.”

The genius promised, and the fisherman lifted the lid. He came out at once in smoke, and then, having resumed

his proper form, the first thing he did was to kick the vase into the sea. This frightened the fisherman, but the genius laughed and said, “Do not be afraid; I only did it to frighten you, and to show you that I intend to keep my word; take your nets and follow me.”

He began to walk in front of the fisherman, who followed him with some misgivings. They passed in front of the town, and went up a mountain and then down into a great plain, where there was a large lake lying between four hills.

When they reached the lake the genius said to the fisherman, “Throw your nets and catch fish.”

The fisherman did as he was told, hoping for a good catch, as he saw plenty of fish. What was his astonishment at seeing that there were four quite different kinds, some white, some red, some blue, and some yellow. He caught four, one of each colour. As he had never seen any like them he admired them very much, and he was very pleased to think how much money he would get for them.

“Take these fish and carry them to the Sultan, who will give you more money for them than you have ever had in your life. You can come every day to fish in this lake, but be careful not to throw your nets more than once every day, otherwise some harm will happen to you. If you follow my advice carefully you will find it good.”

Saying these words, he struck his foot against the ground, which opened, and when he had disappeared, it closed immediately.

The fisherman resolved to obey the genius exactly, so he did not cast his nets a second time, but walked into the town to sell his fish at the palace.

When the Sultan saw the fish he was much astonished. He looked at them one after the other, and when he had admired them long enough, “Take these fish,” he said to his first vizir, “and given them to the clever cook the Emperor of the Greeks sent me. I think they must be as good as they are beautiful.”

The vizir took them himself to the cook, saying, “Here are four fish that have been brought to the Sultan. He wants you to cook them.”

Then he went back to the Sultan, who told him to give the fisherman four hundred gold pieces. The fisherman, who had never before possessed such a large sum of money at once, could hardly believe his good fortune. He at once relieved the needs of his family, and made good use of it.

But now we must return to the kitchen, which we shall find in great confusion.

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