The Story of Nasiraddoleh, King of Moussul, of Abderrahman, merchant of Bagdad, and of the Beautiful Zeineb

A YOUNG merchant of Bagdad, named Abderrahman, possessed immense wealth and lived in grand style. Every day were seen at his table the chief officers of the caliph; all the good people of the town were well received by him, as well as the strangers who went to see him. It was his nature to please everybody; were there need of his credit or his purse, he could always be had recourse to without fear of refusal; and people whom he had already obliged did not tire his generosity if they demanded fresh assistance; in the town his benefi­cence and generosity were the general topic of conversation. His physical qualities corresponded to his mental gifts—he was handsome and very well built; in a word, he passed for an accomplished man. One day he entered a merchant’s shop and saw a good-looking young stranger seated alone at a table; he went and sat down beside him, and they began to talk on various subjects. If the stranger pleased Abderrahman, Abderrahman pleased the stranger no less; they were so pleased with one another, that they returned the following day to seek each other on the same spot; they met and had another talk together : they had so much mutual sympathy that from that day they became closely allied. Unfortunately for Abderrahman the stranger was obliged to depart the following day on his return to Moussul, where he said he was born.

‘At least, my lord,’ said Abderrahman, ‘before you depart tell me who you are; I must soon make a journey to Moussul: to whom must I address myself to have news of you?’

‘You have only,’ replied the stranger, ‘to come to the palace of the King of Moussul and you will see me. If you appear there it will give me pleasure to receive you well; you will know who I am, and there we will cement the friendship which we have formed in this country.’

Abderrahman was distressed at the departure of the stranger, and he only consoled himself with the hope of seeing him again at Moussul, where his affairs required his presence shortly afterwards. He did not fail to go at once to the king’s palace; he sought everywhere the features of the unknown whom he loved; when he saw him surrounded by a crowd of eager courtiers, he gathered that it was the sovereign, as indeed it was the King of Moussul, Nasiraddoleh himself. The monarch soon detected him too, and advanced to receive him.

Abderrahman prostrated himself before him, and remained with his face to the ground, until the king, having raised him, embraced him, took him by the hand, and led him into his cabinet.

All the courtiers were very much astonished at the reception which their master gave the young merchant. ‘Who is this stranger?’ they said one to another; ‘he must be a prince, since the king treats him with so much distinction.’ The great lords who chiefly enjoyed the confidence of the king began from that moment to fear and hate him, and the courtiers who wanted favours resolved already to pay court to him.

Nasiraddoleh, however, shut himself up alone with his friend and caressed him many times. ‘Yes, my dear Abderrahman,’ he said, ‘I love you better than all those men whom I have just left to be with you. Ah! have I not reason to cherish you more than them? How do I know that it is not interest or ambition which attaches them to me? There is perhaps not one who loves me for myself. Such is the misfortune of the great, that they cannot be sure they are loved; the good they are capable of doing takes away the pleasure they would have were the recipients disinterested. But I perceive the sincerity of your sentiments; I know their value; you gave me your friendship without knowing who I was; I can boast of having a friend.’

The young merchant of Bagdad replied to the king’s kind words in terms full of affection and gratitude, after which the prince said to him: ‘As long as you remain in Moussul you will lodge in my palace; you will be served by my own officers, and I shall take care to make the time pass as agreeably for you as possible.’ He kept his word, and forgot nothing that he thought capable of diverting him. Sometimes he took him out hunting, sometimes he gave him instrumental and vocal concerts executed to perfection, and almost every day they ended in debauch.

The Bagdad merchant had spent nearly a year in this manner, when a message came to him from Bagdad that his presence there was absolutely necessary if he wished to prevent his affairs getting into disorder. He spoke to the king of the informa­tion he had received, and begged him to permit of his return to Bagdad. Nasiraddoleh consented with regret, and at last Abderrahman tore himself away from the delights of the court of Moussul.

As soon as he had returned home he applied himself very seriously to repairing the mischief his absence had done to his business, and when he had put it straight again he began again to entertain his friends, to do service to everybody, and to spend more than ever. He bought new slaves, and delighted in having some from all nations of the world.

A merchant sold him one one day; she was born in Circassia, and she might well be said to be one of the most perfect creatures that could be seen. She was called Zeineb. He bought her for six thousand gold sequins; but had he given ten thousand, he would not have paid dear for her. Her extreme beauty was not her only merit; she had a cultivated mind, a sweet and equable dis­position, and a tender, sincere, and faithful heart. So amiable a person did not fail to charm Abder­rahman; he conceived a violent love for her, and he had the good fortune to find Zeineb disposed to love him as much as he loved her.

Whilst they were quietly enjoying the sweets of their mutual ardour, the King of Moussul came unaccompanied to Bagdad, and arrived at the young merchant’s house. ‘Abderrahman,’ he said to him, ‘the wish has seized me to see this town and the caliph’s court incognito, or rather I had hoped to see you again. I have come to lodge with you. I flatter myself that you are as pleased to see me as I was to have you in my palace.’

Abderrahman, enchanted with the honour done to him, wished to throw himself at the feet of Nasiraddoleh, to show him how sensible he was of it; but the prince raised him and said: ‘Put aside the respect due to the King of Moussul; see in me only a friend who wishes to rejoice with you; let us live without constraint. Nothing is so sweet as a free life. To taste the charms of it I leave my court from time to time. It pleases me to travel without escort, to mix with private individuals; and I will admit to you, that the days I spend thus are the happiest of my life.’

The young merchant of Bagdad, to obey and please the King of Moussul, adopted a familiar tone with him. They began to live together as if they had been of the same station in life. They made up parties of pleasure every day; and Nasiraddoleh, forgetting where he was, passed the time like a private person.

One evening, whilst they were at table drinking the best of wines, their conversation turned on the beauty of women; the King of Moussul boasted of the charms of some of the slaves of his seraglio, and said there were none to be compared to them in the world. The merchant did not listen quietly to this speech: the love he had for Zeineb and the wine he had drunk did not allow of his agreeing to what he had just heard. ‘My lord,’ he said to his host, ‘I do not doubt that you have very beautiful women, but I do not believe they surpass mine in beauty. I have several slaves who cannot be looked upon without admiration; and amongst others a Circassian whom Nature seems to have delighted to form.’

‘That is to say,’ replied the king, ‘that you love this Circassian. The praise you bestow upon her proves to me that you are much enamoured of her, without persuading me that she is as charming as my slaves.’

‘It is very easy to convince you of it,’ replied Abderrahman.

Thus saying, he sent for a eunuch and said in his ear: ‘Go and tell my slaves to adorn them­selves in their richest clothes and assemble in a well-lit apartment.’

The eunuch ran to fulfil his commission, and Abderrahman sat down again to table, saying to the prince: ‘My lord, you will soon see for your­self whether you are right or wrong in thinking that your seraglio contains the most beautiful women of Asia.’

‘I confess,’ replied the king, ‘that I am curious to know whether love does not blind you.’

They continued to enjoy themselves, and they drank until the same eunuch came to say that the slaves had assembled, and that they had forgotten nothing that could accentuate their beauty.

Then the merchant led the King of Moussul into a most magnificent apartment, where there were thirty slaves, young, beautiful, well-made, and all covered with precious stones; they were seated on sofas of rose-coloured stuff with silver flowers; some played the lute, others the tambourine, and the others amused themselves with singing whilst waiting the arrival of their master. They rose as soon as they perceived him, and stood in modest silence. Abderrahman ordered them to be seated and to continue to play their instruments; they obeyed instantly.