The Story of Prince Calaf and the Princess of China

AFTER having heard the story of Couloufe, you are going to hear that of the Prince Calaf, the son of an old khan of the Nogaïs Tartars.

The history of his century makes glorious mention of him. It says that he surpassed all the princes of his time in appearance, in mind, and in valour; that he was as learned as the greatest doctors; that he understood the mystic meaning of the commentaries of the Koran, and knew by heart the sentences of Mahomet. It finally call him the hero of Asia and the phœnix of the East.

Indeed, this prince, from the age of eighteen had perhaps no equal in the world; he was the soul of the councils of his father Timurtasch. I he proffered an advice, the most experienced ministers approved it, and could not enough admire his prudence and sagacity. Beside this, if it were a time of war he was always seen at the head of the troops, seeking out the enemy, fighting and defeating it.

He had already won several victories, and the Nogaïs had become so redoubtable by their fortunate successes, that the neighbouring nations did not dare embroil themselves with them. The affairs of the khan his father were in this condition when there came to his court an ambassador from the Sultan of Carizma, who in the audience given him declared that his master required in future that the Nogaïs Tartars should pay him a yearly tribute, otherwise he would come in person to force them to it with two hundred thousand men, to punish them for not having submitted with a good grace.

The khan thereupon assembled his council. It was discussed whether the tribute should be paid rather than come to blows with so powerful an enemy, or whether his threats should be ignored. Calaf and the majority of those present at the council were of this latter opinion, so that the ambassador was sent back with a refusal.

After that they sent deputies to the neighbour­ing peoples to represent to them that it would be to their interest to unite with the khan against the Sultan of Carizma, whose ambition was excessive, and who would not fail to exact from them also the same tribute, if he could force the Nogaïs to it. The deputies succeeded in their negotiations; the neighbouring nations, and among others the Circassians, promised to join themselves to the khan, and to furnish him with fifty thousand men.

On this promise, besides the standing army which the prince usually had, he raised new troops.

During these preparations among the Nogaïs, the Sultan of Carizma on his side assembled two hundred thousand combatants and crossed the Jaxartes to Khokand.

He traversed many rich countries, where he found abundance of provision and advanced far on his way before the army of the khan, com­manded by Prince Calaf, could be put in the field, because the Circassians and the other auxiliary troops had not been able to join sooner.

As soon as Calaf had received all the aid he expected, he marched straight to meet the enemy. After a few days his outposts reported to him that the enemy had appeared and was coming towards him in battle array. The prince immediately called a halt, and disposed his troops for combat.

The two armies were nearly equal in number, and the peoples composing them were not less bellicose the one than the other. So the combat that ensued was bloody and determined. It began in the morning and lasted till night. On both sides the officers and soldiers did their duty well. The sultan during action did all that a warrior perfected in the art of warfare could do, and the Prince Calaf more than was to be expected of so young a general. Sometimes the Nogaïs Tartars had the advantage, and sometimes they were obliged to yield to the efforts of the Carizmians; so that the two parties, successively conquerors and conquered, sounded the retreat at nightfall, resolved to begin the combat again on the morrow.

But the commander of the Circassians went secretly to the sultan and promised to abandon the Nogaïs, provided that, by a treaty which he would swear to observe religiously, he engaged never to exact tribute from the people of Circassia under any pretext whatever. The sultan con­sented; the treaty was made, the commander regained his quarters, and the following day, when the battle was about to begin again, the Circassians were seen suddenly to detach themselves from their allies and take the road back to their country.

This treachery caused much chagrin to Prince Calaf, who, seeing himself then much weaker than the sultan, would much have wished to avoid the combat; but it was not possible. The Carizmians attacked suddenly, and, profiting by the ground which permitted them to spread themselves out, they enveloped the Nogaïs on all sides.

The latter, however, although abandoned by their best auxiliary troops, and surrounded by enemies, did not lose courage. Animated by the example of their prince, they formed a square, and sustained for a long time the most formidable charges of the sultan; they were, nevertheless, broken in, and then Calaf, in despair of victory, only thought of escaping the enemy.

He chose several squadrons, and putting himself at their head, he made his way through the Carizmians. The sultan, informed of his retreat, despatched six thousand cavalry to pursue him. But he evaded them by taking roads which were unknown to them; he arrived a few days after the battle at his father’s court, where he spread sadness and terror by informing them of the mis­fortune which had befallen him.

If this news depressed Timurtasch, that which he received soon after drove him to utter despair. An officer escaped from the battle came to say that the Sultan of Carizma had put almost all the Nogaïs to the sword, and that he was advancing by forced marches, resolved to put all the khan’s family to death and to make the nation subservient to him. The khan then repented having refused to pay tribute; but as the Arab proverb says, ‘What avails repentance after the ruin of the town of Bassora?’

As time pressed and it was necessary to take flight for fear of falling into the power of the sultan, the khan, the Princess Elmaze his wife, and Calaf took all that was most precious in their treasury, and left their capital, accompanied by several officers of the palace who would not abandon them, and the troops which had cut their way through the enemy with the young prince.

They took the road to Greater Bulgaria; their intention was to go and beg a refuge with some sovereign prince. They had been several days on the march and had already gained Mount Caucasus, when a thousand brigands, inhabitants of the mountain, burst suddenly upon them. Although Calaf had hardly four hundred men, he withstood the impetuosity of the brigands; he even killed a large number of them; but he lost all his troops and finally remained at the mercy of these bandits, some of whom seized the riches they found, whilst the others took the life of all those who followed the khan.

They spared only the prince, his wife, and son, whom they left however almost naked in the midst of the mountains.

It is impossible to describe the grief of Timurtasch when he saw himself reduced to this extremity. He envied the fate of those who had just perished before his eyes, and giving himself up to despair, he wished to take his life. The princess burst into tears and made the air resound with cries and groans. Calaf alone had the strength to bear up under the weight of bad fortune; imbued with the maxims of the Koran and the sentences of Mahomet on predestination, he had a strength of soul that was not to be shaken. The extreme grief to which the khan and his wife gave way was his greatest trouble.

‘O my father! O my mother!’ he said to them, ‘do not succumb to your misfortunes. Think that it is God who wishes you to be miserable. Let us submit without murmur­ing to his decrees. Are we the first princes whom his justice has scourged? How many sovereigns before us have been chased from their dominions, and after having led a wandering life and even being taken for the vilest mortals in foreign lands, have remounted their thrones! If God has power to take away crowns, he can also give them back. Let us hope that he will be touched by our misery, and that he will make prosperity follow the deplor­able situation we are in.’

He added several other consoling words, and as he spoke, his father and mother listening atten­tively, felt a secret consolation. They finally let themselves be persuaded.

‘So be it, my son,’ said the khan, ‘let us aban­don ourselves to Providence, and since the evils which surround us are written on the fatal tablet, let us suffer them without complaining.’

At these words the prince, his wife, and son resolved to be brave in their misfortune, continued their way on foot, for the robbers had taken their horses from them. After several days’ march they arrived in the territory of the tribe of Berlas.

The khan was exhausted; he declared he could go no further.

‘My lord,’ said Calaf, ‘do not let us despair of seeing the end of our troubles. Let us go to the principal horde of this tribe, I have a presentiment that our luck may turn.’