Story of Prince Bahram and Princess

THERE was formerly a princess, than whom no one of her time was more skilful in horsemanship and throw­ing the lance and javelin. Her name was Ed-Detmà. Many powerful princes demanded her in marriage, but she would not consent, having resolved to wed only him who should overcome her in combat, saying: “Whoever worsts me, I will be his; but should I prove victorious, he shall forfeit his weapons and his horse, and I will stamp upon his forehead with a hot iron this inscription: ‘The Freedman of Ed-Detmà.’”*

Many princes attempted to gain her, but she foiled them, seized their weapons, and marked them as she had signified. At length the prince of Persia, named Bahram, hearing of her charms, resolved to obtain her; for which purpose he quitted his kingdom, and underwent many difficulties on his journey, until he reached his destination. He then entrusted his pro­perty to a respectable inhabitant, and visited the sultan; to whom he presented a valuable offering. The sultan seated him respectfully, and inquired the object of his visit. “I am come from a distant country,” replied the prince, “anxiously desirous of an alliance with thy daughter.” The sultan said: “My son, I have no power over her; for she has resolved not to wed, unless her suitor shall vanquish her in combat.” The prince answered: “I accept the condi­tions;” upon which the sultan informed his daughrer, who accepted the challenge.

On the appointed day a numerous crowd assembled in the maydan,* where the sultan with his nobles ap­peared in great pomp. Ed-Detmà advanced, arrayed in dazzling habiliments; and the prince came forth, elegant in person, and superbly accoutred. They immediately encountered; the earth vibrated from the shock of their horses, and violent was the charge of weapons on both sides. The sultan viewed with admiration the majestic demeanour of the prince; and Ed-Detmà, perceiving his superior valour and agility, dreaded being vanquished. She artfully with­drew her veil, when her countenance appeared as the resplendent moon suddenly emerging from a dark cloud. The prince was fascinated with her beauty, and his whole frame trembled. The princess, observ­ing his confusion, threw her javelin at his breast, and he fell from his horse, and she returned exulting to the palace.

The prince rose up, much mortified at his discom­fiture, and returned to the city, pondering upon the deceit she had practised, and resolved to try a strata­gem upon her. After some days, he fixed to his face a long white beard, like that of a venerable old man, clothed himself in the dress of a devotee, and repaired to a garden which he was informed the princess visited every month. He formed an intimacy with the keeper of it, by making him presents, till he had drawn him over to his interest. He then pretended to understand the cultivation of a garden, and the management of plants. The keeper therefore entrusted them to his care, and he watered them carefully, so that the shrubs became fresher and the blossoms more beautiful under his management.

At the usual time, the ferashes* came, and spread carpets, and made other preparations for the reception of the princess. Bahram, on her approach, took some jewels and scattered them in the walks, when the princess and her attendants, seeing an old man, ap­parently trembling with age, stopped and inquired what he was doing with the jewels. He replied: “I would purchase a wife with them, and would have her from among you.” At this the ladies laughed heartily, and said: “When thou art married, how wilt thou behave to thy wife?” He said: “I would just give her one kiss, and divorce her.” Then said the princess jestingly, and pointing to one of her ladies: “I will give thee this girl for a wife,” upon which he advanced, kissed the damsel in a tremulous manner, and gave her the jewels. After laughing at him for some time, the princess and her attendants quitted the garden.

The like scene was enacted for several days, the prince every time giving richer jewels to the lady he espoused; till at length the princess thought to her­self: “Every one of my maidens has obtained from this dotard jewels richer than is in the possession of most sovereigns, and I certainly am more worthy of them than my attendants. He is a decrepid wretch, and can do me no harm.” She then went alone to the garden, where she beheld the old man scattering jewels which were invaluable, and said: “I am the sultan's daughter, wilt thou accept me as a wife?” He advanced, and presented her with such a number of jewels that she was delighted beyond measure, and became anxious that he should give her one kiss, and let her depart like the other ladies. The prince, suddenly clasping her in his arms, exclaimed: “Dost thou not know me? I am Bahram, son of the sultan of Persia, whom thou overcamest only by strata­gem, and I have now vanquished thee in the same manner. On thy account I exiled myself from my friends and country, but I have now obtained my desires.”

The princess remained silent, not being able to utter a word from confusion. She retired in anger to the palace, but, upon reflection, did not disclose what had passed, through fear of disgrace.* She said to herself: “If I have him put to death, what will it profit me? I can now do nothing wiser than marry him, and repair with him to his own country.” Having thus resolved, she sent a trusty messenger to inform him of her intentions, and appointed a night to meet him.

At the time fixed upon the prince was ready to receive her; they mounted their horses under cover of the night, and by daylight had travelled a great distance. They did not slacken their speed day or night until they were beyond the reach of pursuit, and arrived at the capital of Persia in safety. The prince then despatched rich presents by an ambassador to the sultan her father, entreating that he would send an envoy to ratify the marriage of his daughter. The sultan having duly complied, the qāzī and proper witnesses attended; and they were married amid the greatest rejoicings, and the prince lived long with her in perfect felicity. [31]

“Such,” said the Damsel, “is the artfulness of men.” When the sultan had heard these stories, he again gave orders that his son should be put to death.

On the following day the Seventh Vazīr approached the sultan, and, after the usual obeisance, said: “For­bear, my lord, to shed the blood of thy innocent son; for thou hast none but him, and may not have another, when thou hast put him to death. Attend not to the malicious accusations of concubines, for the deceit of bad women is astonishing, and is exemplified in the