Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 2:19 ( 0:19 GMT )
Prince Ali and the Bride of the Sea
A Retelling of a Libyan Folktale (7)
By Sondos Elgatit
Episode 1: The Three Princes Adventures
There was (and there was not) a Sultan who had three sons whose names were Hassan, Hussein, and Ali.
One day he called them to his Diwan and before the assembled ministers and told them that he had decided to give up his throne. "It is time for me to rest" he said "but before I can retire I want to make sure that my people will have a worthy ruler, so each of you will undertake a journey.
A year and a day from today I will hear you tell your adventures and decide which one of you is the most fit to reign in my place"
So the princes said goodbye to their mother and their sisters, prepared themselves for a long journey, and the next day they set off.
Hassan rode towards the rising sun, and after travelling for a hundred and fifty days he came to a mountain range, and ordered his soldiers to set up camp at its foot for the night. When his followers were all asleep, he was woken up by a Marid, grey as the mountains which were his home, whose form almost blocked out the stars.
The prince's terror showed in his face, but he before he could open his lips to plead, the Marid reassured him: "It is true that you have entered my territory without permission" he said, "but as you are a prince on a quest I shall regard you as my guest".
Hassan was profuse in his apologies and effusive in his praise his host's generosity, knowing that the shortest way to gain a Marid's friendship is flattery, and plenty of it; and this Marid was so pleased with the Hassan's honeyed talk that he decided to help him.
"Prince Hassan" he said "you have interested me, and I ask you, in the name of the one who will turn the mountains into dust, to tell me what you most wish for, and I, Wahib brother of Wahab, shall grant it".
"I wish to be chosen as my father's successor" was Hassan's quick reply.
"A young man like you, with all the qualities that become the finest monarch, deserves to rule lives and judge deaths, but I your father is a good and pious man, and I cannot influence him"
Hassan made no attempt to hide his disappointment "What is the world coming to" he said, "a being who calls himself a Marid has less power than mere Jinn, and can't perform a task that Ala'uddin 's Jinni, who dwelt in an old lamp, not a mountain, would have accomplished while resting between arranging the marriage of a beggar to the daughter of the Sultan, and raising a palace overnight for them to live in".
A Marid has a short temper as everyone knows, and this one was no exception. But while Wahab would have liked nothing better than to punish Hassan for such a comparison, he had pronounced the formula granting the prince a wish he was bound to serve him. For the time being he could only point out that Ala'uddin 's Jinni had as much power as Shahrazad decided to give him, and then promise the prince a gift that would outshine anything his brothers might bring back from their adventures, and so secure him his father's approval.
The Marid clapped his hands and what had seemed to be a seamless rock face opened to reveal a massive chiseled silver door, which swung open at a touch of his fingertip as he invited the prince to enter. Inside was a palace whose walls were covered in silver polished to mirror those walking past and dazzle their sight by reflecting the light shining from thousands of wrought silver lamps. The Marid led his marvelling guest through glittering halls and corridors to his treasury, filled with nuggets of pure silver, the rarest find as any miner would tell you, and told the prince to take as much as he could carry away.
Hassan was overjoyed, and went back to the camp to bring his men. They worked so fast that after they prayed the noon prayer they started the long journey home, with every available container, from waterskins to clothes chests, emptied of its contents and filled with silver instead.
Hassan's brother, Hussein journeyed eastwards for a hundred days, and one day while marching across a sea of burning sand when he came upon an oasis and decided to rest for a day.
As the sun rose to its zenith a sudden sand storm announced the coming of a Marid who regarded this oasis as his haven and did not appreciate sharing it, and therefore made sure that anyone who stayed in it would have a tale to tell that would warn future travelers to avoid it as a haunted place.
While the sandstorm raged the prince noticed that the wind was deliberately playing games with his servants and soldiers who were battling to save the tents, the baggage and the animals, and knew that they faced something more than the desert's fury.
Prince Hussein thought he faced a mischievous waha spirit, and called out for it to face him, but instead the sandstorm gathered to form a giant who closed the eye of the sun, who answered the prince's challenge by introducing himself as a Wahab the brother of Wafi.
But Hussein was famed for his arrogance, and he showed no fear. "Whoever and whatever you are" he said "you have no right to harass a party of travellers taking their rest in an oasis" and he gave the Marid a tongue lashing in language more suited to hagglers in the souk than a noble prince.
But Wahab acted as if he was impressed by the prince's words, apologised for the damage he had caused and offered to grant any wish Hassan might have as proof of his regret. Of course Hussein, like his brother, wanted to be the next King, and Wahib like his brother, could not promise that he would be. "The King your father will make his own judgement, that I have no power over" he said "but what I will give you will make anything your brothers bring back look like dry bread set beside stuffed pigeons".
He clapped his hands and part of what had seemed to be a sand dune lifted like a curtain to reveal heavy doors of beaten gold which swung open as the Marid walked up to them, followed by Hussein, who struggled to keep his amazement hidden as he was led past rooms with golden walls engraved with fantastic decorations, in which everything from chairs to the incense holders was carved out of solid gold, and the carpets, cushions and wall hangings were woven from threads spun of gold covered silk.
In a few minutes the prince saw ten times the amount of gold in all his father's kingdom, and when they finally reached the treasury, its dull iron door was a relief after the endless yellow glare. The treasury was full of gold dust, and Wahab told the prince to take as much as he could manage back with him. That night he and his followers turned towards the setting sun, and with every man, horse, and camel loaded with gold started toward his father's palace.
During their days and nights of traveling Hussein never tired of describing the golden palace in the sands to his companions, and they united in praising their leader for his bravery, but no one remembered the fact that he had insulted a powerful being, a Marid who holds a grudge for longer than a Bedouin.
Prince Ali, the youngest brother, had travelled south and on the fiftieth day came out of a thick forest to find himself on a wild and deserted sea shore, so he decided to set up camp on the beach and decide how to find a boat the next morning. While his servants were busy setting up the tents and grilling freshly caught Faruj for dinner, the placid blue green sea was disturbed by violent waves, and a Marid of the same colour, with a foam white beard, rose to question the strangers who had come to disturb his peace.
Ali's eloquence calmed the Marid's anger without Hassan's feebleness, and he faced him bravely without Hussein's self-importance, and Wafi the brother of Wahab was so pleased with his politeness and courage that he declared himself Ali's true friend from that day onwards.
But when he was offered the fulfillment of any desire, Ali unlike his brothers did not ask for the throne, instead he said "I came here in search of the Lady of Goodness and Beauty, and my wish is to marry her".
"Well" said Wafi "She lives in an island in the middle of this sea ruled by her father the Sultan, and I have helped him and his ancestors protect their kingdom from invasions and sea raids for generations. Give him this ring, and tell him that you ask for his daughters' hand with my blessing, and he shall not refuse you"
Ali was delighted with this assurance, and thanked his new friend profusely. But he had one question: "how do I get to the island? There are no boats or ferries in this deserted place".
But if the prince hoped to be magically transported across the waves was disappointed, as Wafi thought he should earn the hand of the Lady of Goodness and Beauty by striving for her. So he told Ali to travel along the shore until he came to a port city founded on trade with the fabulously rich kingdom of the Sultan of the Sea, where he would be able to find a ship that would take him to the island.
And that is precisely what prince Ali did.
To be continued
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