Sunday, 12 October, 2008, 3:59 ( 1:59 GMT )
Prince Ali and the Bride of the Sea
A Retelling of a Libyan Folktale (7)
By Sondos Elgatit
Episode 2: Bride of the Sea
Approaching a captain busy overseeing the unloading of his ship, Prince Ali, asked for passage on his next voyage. Thinking the young man, richly dressed in a foreign fashion and with a large retinue, was a merchant the captain declined, saying that he traded with the islanders himself and had no place on his ship for any cargo but his own. When Prince Ali explained that he was a suitor for the hand of the Sultan's daughter, the Lady of Goodness and Beauty, and would be taking no goods with him, the captain agreed to take him for 10 gold coins, but stipulated that he leave his servants behind as they would get in the way of his crew.
A few days later the ship, laden with the rare and precious goods from around the world, from Chinese silk to Damascene swords, set sail once again for the island, and Prince Ali thought his dream was within reach. All he would have to do was present the Marid's ring to the Sultan, and the wedding festivities could begin. In a week he would set off with his bride for his father's kingdom.
But the wind blows with what ships don't desire, and one night the ship was caught in a terrifying storm, and Prince Ali, who had come up to help the seamen at the height of the storm, was flung overboard as the violent waves and fierce wind tossed the ship this way and that.
His companions could do nothing for him, and continued to struggle to save themselves, though they found time, once the storm had passed safely, to say a prayer for the young prince.
But the man they assumed had drowned was alive. Just as the Ali began to sink he was caught between two dolphins, and they took him to a vast underwater cave only partially filled with water. The dolphins left him at a smooth stone that rose out of the water like an island out of a lake, and Prince Ali, once he had recovered his breath, was fascinated by the beauty of the cave whose interior was decorated with multicolored crystals and luminous rock.
Before he had grown accustomed to the wondrous site the dolphins returned, but this time they were ridden by two men who offered him a covered dish of turtle eggs and oysters cooked in a strange but delicious fashion, and a stoppered bottle of pure water. When he had eaten and drunk his fill they gave him a magical ring, saying it was a gift from their princess which would enable him to breathe underwater. He put it on over the Marid's ring and, riding a third dolphin, he followed the two men to a castle formed of living coral.
He was lead by servants to the Diwan, where he found, seated on a throne of sapphires and emeralds, the Bride of the Sea. Her beauty surpassed anything he had seen on earth, and she was dressed in garments whose iridescent rainbow sheen made it seem as if they were woven of mother-of-pearl. She asked him to talk to her of life above water, and in return told him of the kingdoms of the sea-people.
While they were talking the Bride of the Sea noticed the Marid's ring on Ali's hand, and recognized it as magical like the one she had given him. So she asked him about it "Does your ring grant wishes, summon genies, or render the wearer invisible?"
But Prince Ali's answer was to tell her of his father sending his three sons on a year-long journey which would determine which of his sons should rule when he stepped down. Ali told of his decision to go in quest of the Lady of Goodness and Beauty, who would by now be his bride if fate had not willed otherwise. "Well," said the Bride of the Sea "I too have heard of her, but while the fame of her beauty is spread from eye to mouth to ear, no one knows her heart. Perhaps this storm will turn out to be a blessing for you. I will help you not to only to marry the Sultan of the Sea's daughter, but to learn who she is first".
Of course Prince Ali was full of thanks, but the Bride of the Sea interrupted him "turn round three times" she said, and when he did he found he had turned into a woman, dressed as a handmaid. "I am sending you to serve the Lady of Goodness and Beauty, when you have decided that you are ready to ask the Sultan for his daughter's hand, turn around yourself three times and you will look like yourself again".
The Prince had no choice but to agree, and he found himself on the Sultan of the Sea's island accompanied by two guards who led him to the Sultan's palace and presented the handmaid as a gift from the Bride of the Sea to the Sultan of the Sea's daughter, of whose Goodness and Beauty she had heard much.
The Lady's beauty was dazzling, compared with her even the Bride of the Sea paled like the moon in the face of the rising sun. The noblewomen of her father's court and visitor's alike were awed by her skill in music, poetry, and conversation, while her kind and gentle nature was the joy of her parents.
But in her private apartments she was a different creature, she would beat and scratch a girl for combing her hair too hard, punch another for bringing her the wrong perfume, and deny a third food for days because she had not finished a piece of sewing. When she was in her rooms she kept the maids fetching and carrying to minister to her slightest whim, whether it was a new dress or a plate of sweets from the kitchen, and when she left them she never forgot to leave each of them a task to complete. A few hours after meeting the woman he had journeyed so far to find Ali decided he did not wanted to marry her, but he had to wait for days before he was able to make his escape.
One day he was sent to bring back a broken necklace from the jeweller, but of course Ali had no intention of carrying out his errand. instead he tossed the Madrid's ring to a beggar in the street, and told him it was a token which would oblige the Sultan to fulfill the wearer's wishes, even if he asked to marry his daughter. He walked to a cliff, turned around himself three turns which gave him back his shape as the Bride of the Sea had promised, and checking that he still had her ring he leaped into the sea. He allowed himself to sink to the seabed and the walked around, asking every creature he came across about the coral palace and the Bride of the Sea, until he found her.
At the end of the year the King, his wife, his daughter's and the courtiers assembled in the Diwan and waited for the return of the three princes. The first to arrive was Hassan, who told of his meeting with the Marid Wahab, and then he turned to his boxes and bags show the off nuggets of pure silver he had received from his friend's treasury. But each and every bag and box contained nothing but gravel.
Prince Hussein was the second to arrive. He told how he had faced the Marid Waha who had been so impressed by his bravery that he let him has as much gold dust as he could carry, but he found that his treasure turned to worthless sand. A Marid never forgets an insult, and Prince Hussein and Hassan were made to pay for their rudeness.
Just as everyone was beginning to fear for Prince Ali he arrived in a ship which seemed to be crafted of sapphire and emeralds, with sails of what looked like mother-of-pearl, arrived in port pulled by a team of dolphins. Prince Ali and his wife, the Bride of the Sea, were greeted warmly, and everyone listened as Ali told of his quest for the Lady of goodness and beauty which had been interrupted by a storm that led him to his wife.
When Ali had finished the King got of his throne and seated his youngest son on it. "My decision was easy to make, as your brothers were satisfied with was silver and gold, but you sought to marry a woman both good and beautiful. With the help of such a wife you will rule this kingdom as it deserves to be ruled".
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