Post by on Feb 25, 2009 19:54:54 GMT -5
As a fisherwoman passed by the palace hawking her fish, the queen appeared at one of the windows and beckoned her to come near and show her what she had. At that moment a very big fish jumped about in the bottom of the basket.
"Is it a male or a female?" asked the queen. "I'd like to buy a female fish." On hearing this, the fish laughed aloud.
"It's a male," replied the fisherwoman, and continued on her rounds.
The queen returned to her room in a great rage. When the king came to see her that evening, he could tell that something was wrong. "What's the matter?" he asked. "Are you not well?"
"I'm quite well, thank you. But I'm very much annoyed at the strange behavior of a fish. A woman showed me one today, and when I asked whether it was male or female, the fish laughed most rudely." "A fish laugh? Impossible! You must be dreaming."
"I'm not a fool. I saw it with my own eyes and heard it laugh with my own ears." "That's very strange. All right, I'll make the necessary inquiries."
The next morning, the king told his wazir (minister) what his wife had told him and ordered the wazir to investigate the matter and be ready with a satisfactory answer within six months, on pain of death.
The wazir promised to do his best, though he didn't know where to begin. For the next five months he labored tirelessly to find a reason for the laughter of the fish. He went everywhere and consulted everyone---the wise and the learned, the people skilled in magic and trickery, they were all consulted.
Nobody could explain the mystery of the laughing fish. So he returned brokenhearted to his house and began to arrange his affairs, sure now that he was going to die. He was well enough acquainted with the king's ways to know that His Majesty would not go back on his threat. Among other things, he advised his son to travel for a time, until the king's anger had cooled off somewhat.
The young fellow, who was both clever and handsome, started off and went wherever his legs and his kismet would take him. After a few days, he fell in with an old farmer who was on his way back to his village from a journey. The young man found him pleasant and asked if he might go with him. The old farmer agreed, and they walked along together. The day was hot, and the way was long and weary.
"Don't you think it would be much more pleasant if we could carry one another sometimes?" said the young man. "What a fool this man is!" thought the old man.
A little later, they passed through a field of grain ready for the sickle and waving in the breeze, looking like a sea of gold.
"Is this eaten or not?" asked the young man. The old man didn't know what to say, and said, "I don't know."
After a little while, the two travelers came to a big village, where the young man handed his companion a pocket knife, and said, "Take this, friend, and get two horses with it. But please bring it back. It's very precious."
The old man was half amused and half angry. He pushed away the knife, muttering that his friend was either mad or trying to play the fool. The young man pretended not to notice his reply and remained silent for a long time, till they reached a city a short distance from the old farmer's village. They talked about the bazaar and went to the mosque, but nobody greeted them or invited them to come in and rest. "What a large cemetery!" exclaimed the young man.
"What does the fellow mean," thought the old farmer, "calling this city full of people a cemetery?"
On leaving the city their way led through a cemetery where some people were praying beside a grave and distributing chapatis (unleavened bread) to passers-by in the name of their beloved dead. They gave some of the bread to the two travelers also, as much as they could eat.
"What a splendid city this is!" said the young man.
"Now the man is surely crazy!" thought the old farmer. "I wonder what he'll do next. He'll be calling the land water, the water land. He'll be speaking of light when it's dark, and of darkness when it's light." But he kept his thoughts to himself.
Presently they had to wade through a stream. The water was rather deep, o the old farmer took off his shoes and pajamas and crossed over. But the young man waded through it with his shoes and pajamas on.
"Well, I've never seen such a perfect idiot, in word and deed," said the old man to himself.
Yet he liked the fellow. He seemed cultivated and aristocratic. He would certainly amuse his wife and daughter. So he invited him home for a visit.
The young man thanked him and then asked, "But let me ask, if you please, if the beam of your house is strong."
The old farmer mumbled something and went home to tell his family, laughing to himself. When he was alone with them, he said, "This young man has come with me a long way, and I've asked him to stay with us. But the fellow is such a fool that I can't make anything of what he says or does. He wants to know if the beam of this house is all right. The man must be mad!"
Now, the farmer's daughter was a very sharp and wise girl. She said to him, "This man, whoever he is, is no fool. He only wishes to know if you can afford to entertain him."
"Oh, of course," said the farmer, "I see. Well, perhaps you can help me to solve some of his other mysteries. While we were walking together, he asked whether we should not carry one another. He thought it would be a pleasanter mode of travel."
"Certainly," said the girl. "He meant that one of you should tell the other a story to pass the time."
"Oh yes. Then, when we were passing through a wheatfield, he asked me whether it was eaten or not."
"And didn't you know what he meant, Father? He simply wished to know if the owner of the field was in debt or not. If he was in debt, then the produce of the field was as good as eaten. That is, it would all go to his creditors."
"Yes, yes, of course. Then, on entering a village, he asked me to take his pocket knife and get two horses with it, and bring back the knife to him."
"Are not two stout sticks as good as two horses for helping one along the road? He only asked you to cut a couple of sticks and be careful not to lose the knife."
"I see," said the farmer. "While we were walking through the city, we did not see anyone we knew, and not a soul gave us a scrap of anything to eat, till we reached the cemetery. There, some people called us and thrust chapatis into our hands. So my friend called the city a cemetery and the cemetery a city."
"Look, Father, inhospitable people are worse than the dead, and a city full of them is a dead place. But in the cemetery, which is crowded. with the dead, you were greeted by kind people who gave you bread."
"True, quite true," said the astonished farmer. "But then, just now, when we were crossing the stream, he waded across without taking off even his shoes."
"I admire his wisdom," said the daughter. "I've often thought how stupid people were to get into that swiftly flowing stream and walk over those sharp stones with bare feet. The slightest stumble and they would fall and get wet from head to foot. This friend of yours is a very wise man. I would like to see him and talk to him."
"Very well, I'll go find him and bring him in."
"Tell him, Father, that our beams are strong enough, and then he will come in. I'll send on ahead a present for the man, to show that we can afford a guest."
Then she called a servant and sent him to the young man with a present of a dish of porridge, twelve chapatis, and a jar of milk with the following message: "Friend, the moon is full, twelve months make a year, and the sea is overflowing with water."
On his way, the bearer of this present and message met his little son who, seeing what was in the basket, begged his father to give him some of the food. The foolish man gave him a lot of the porridge, a chapati, and some milk. When he saw the young man, he gave him the present and the message.
"Give your mistress my greetings," he replied. "And tell her that the moon is new, that I can find only eleven months in the year, and that the sea is by no means full."
Not understanding the meaning of these words, the servant repeated them word for word to his mistress; and thus his theft was discovered, and he was punished. After a little while, the young man appeared with the old farmer. He was treated royally, as if he were the son of a great man, though the farmer knew nothing of his origins. In the course of the conversation, he told them everything---about the fish's laughter, his father's threatened execution, and his own exile--- and asked their advice about what he should do.
"The laughter of the fish," said the girl, "which seems to have been the cause of all this trouble, indicates that there is a man in the women's quarters of the palace, and the king doesn't know anything about it."
"Great! That's great!" exclaimed the wazir's son. "There's yet time for me to return and to save my father from a shameful and unjust death."
The following day he rushed back to his own country, taking with him the farmer's daughter. When he arrived, he ran to the palace and told his father what he had heard. The poor wazir, now almost dead from the expectation of death, was carried at once to the king in a palanquin. He repeated to the king what his son had said. "A man in the queen's quarters! Never!" said the king.
"But it must be so, Your Majesty," replied the wazir, "and to prove the truth of what I've just heard, I propose a test. Please call together all the female attendants in your palace and order them to jump over a large pit, specially dug for this purpose. The man will at once betray himself by the way he jumps."
The king had the pit dug and ordered all the female servants of the palace to try to jump over it. All of them tried, but only one succeeded. That one was found to be a man! Thus was the queen satisfied and the faithful old wazir saved.
Soon after that, the wazir's son married the old farmer's daughter. And it was a most happy marriage.
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