16 Pages

The Tale of Princess Zulaikah

IT is related, O auspicious King, that there sat once upon the throne of the Umayyads in Damascus a Khalifah who had for wazir a man of great wisdom and eloquence, who, having read in the books of the poets and annalists, remembered his reading and was able to tell his master such stories as agreeably passed the time for him. One day, when he saw that the King had some grief, he resolved to distract him, and therefore said: ‘My Lord, you have often questioned me concerning the details of my life and have asked for the story of my past, before I became your slave and the wazir of your power. Until now I have excused myself, fearing to seem conceited, and have preferred to tell you those things which have befallen others. But to-day, though manners still give me a certain hesitation, I will tell you of the set of extraordinary circumstances which marked my life and led me at last to the threshold of your greatness.’ Then, seeing that his master listened eagerly, the good wazir told the following tale:

I was born in this fair city of Damascus, O my lord and crown upon my head, and my father was a certain Abdallah, one of the richest and best considered merchants in all the lands of Sham. He spared no expense upon my education, and I received a training from the wisest masters in theology, jurisprudence, algebra, poetry, astronomy, calligraphy, arithmetic, and the traditions of our Faith. Also I was taught all the languages which are spoken within your dominion, far and wide, from sea to sea; so that, if I had chosen through love of travel to take my way right across the world, I could always have made myself understood. Beside the various dialects of our own tongue, I mastered Persian, Greek, Tatar, Kurdish, Indian and Chinese. My application to study was so great that my masters held me up as an example to the idle, and my father, seeing my progress, beheld without bitterness or consternation the approach of that death which visits all creatures at the last.