Part 8 Prince Aladdin
At once the sultan gave orders to end the celebrations in his palace and throughout the kingdom. Before long, all signs of joy and revelry had ceased. This sudden change fanned speculation in the city: some wondered what mishap had brought on the upheaval, others only noted that the grand vizier and his son were seen leaving the palace with long faces. Aladdin alone knew the secret, and he quietly thrilled at the triumph he owed to the lamp. Strangest of all was that neither the sultan nor the grand vizier, who both had forgotten all about Aladdin and his request, suspected that he might have had a hand in the mysteries that had ended the princess’s marriage.
Still, Aladdin let the rest of the three months go by. He counted each day with care, and when they were spent, he sent his mother to the palace to remind the Sultan of his promise. In sending her away for three months, the sultan believed he had seen the last of her, for, despite the brilliance of her gift, he judged by the plainness and poverty of her appearance that the marriage she proposed was hardly suitable for the princess. Yet here she was, imploring him to keep his word. The sultan, ill at ease, played for time: turning to his grand vizier, he confessed his doubts about marrying the princess to a stranger he supposed to be destitute.
The grand vizier was quick to volunteer his thoughts. “Majesty,” he said, “it strikes me that there is one way of avoiding such an ill-suited marriage without giving Aladdin cause for complaint. That is to set the princess at such a high price that his fortune, whatever it may be, could never match it.”
The sultan was pleased and turned to Aladdin’s mother. “Good woman,” he said, “sultans must keep their word, and I will keep mine, but first your son must send me forty vessels of solid gold, each filled to the brim with jewels, carried by forty black servants, led by as many white ones, all young, tall, well made, and splendidly dressed. I shall await his answer.”
Aladdin’s mother bowed again before the sultan and withdrew. On the way home, she laughed to herself about her son’s wild ambition. “Where will he find all those gold vessels,” she thought, “and all that colored glass to fill them? Will he go back to the underground place to pick them from the trees? And all those servants, turned out as the sultan described, where will he get them? Where are his dreams now! I do not expect he will be pleased with my report.”
By the time she entered the house, she had convinced herself that Aladdin had nothing left to dream of. “My son,” she said, “I would abandon all hope of marrying Princess Badr al-Budur. It is true that the Sultan received me with kindness, and I believe he was well disposed toward you. But the grand vizier seems to have turned him, as you may judge yourself by what happened. When I reminded His Majesty that the three months had passed, and begged him to remember his promise, I noticed that he only gave me an answer after speaking for some time with his vizier.” Aladdin’s mother carefully related the sultan’s words, and the precise conditions he had imposed on the marriage.
“He is expecting your answer,” she told her son with a smile, “but I think he will be waiting a long time.”
“Not so long as you think,” replied Aladdin, “and the sultan is mistaken if he believes that his demands will put me off. I had expected real obstacles, but what he asks is very little.” He retreated to his room and summoned the jinni.
“The sultan will give me his daughter to marry,” said Aladdin, “but first he wants forty gold vessels, full to the brim with fruit from the garden where I found your master the lamp. These forty gold vessels must be carried by as many black servants, preceded by forty white servants, all young, tall, well made, and richly dressed. Go and bring me such a gift without delay, so I may send it to the sultan before the divan session is out.”
The jinni returned at once with the eighty servants, each bearing a solid gold vessel on his head, filled with pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, even larger and more beautiful than those the sultan had seen. Together they filled the small house and its garden. Aladdin opened the door, ushered out the men one after the other, and when his mother had walked out after the last servant, he closed the door behind her and retreated calmly to his room.
The first servant to leave Aladdin’s house had amazed everyone who saw him, and before all eighty men were out, the street was full of people running from all directions to catch sight of the procession. The polished skin, the elegant form, and carriage of these men, their equal size, their solemn pace, married with the gleam of heavy jewels that hung about their waists and framed their temples, stirred the crowd to wild delight, but the streets were so packed with bodies that none could move. Only their eyes followed the parade until they could see no more.
Many streets lay between these splendid men and the palace, and half the city saw them pass. When the first of the eighty servants reached the door of the first courtyard, the porters, who took him for a king on account of his clothes, stepped forward to kiss his hem. But the servant, under orders from the jinni, stopped them and said: “We are but slaves. Our master will appear in time.”
The first servant, followed by the others, moved on to the vast second courtyard, where the palace guard stood while the divan was in session. The officers in command of each troop were a spectacular sight, but they paled in the presence of the eighty servants who formed part of Aladdin’s gift and bore the rest of it on their heads. Nothing else shone so brightly in the sultan’s palace. The brilliance of his court faded before what had just appeared in its midst.
When the sultan heard that these men had arrived, he gave orders to admit them, and they entered the divan in stately fashion, some from the left and others from the right. Once they had formed a great half-moon before the sultan’s throne, the black servants laid the vessels they had carried on the carpet, then they all knelt and pressed their foreheads to the floor, and the white servants did likewise. When they rose again, they stood modestly with their arms crossed on their chests, while Aladdin’s mother presented them.
“Majesty,” she said, “my son Aladdin is well aware that the present he has sent is not worthy of the princess, yet he hopes that you will not be displeased with it, considering that he has tried to conform to the conditions you were good enough to impose.”
The sultan barely heard her. A glimpse of the forty gold vessels, brimming with the most vivid and precious jewels, and of the eighty servants who seemed as many kings, had left him speechless. He turned to his grand vizier, who knew no more than he did as to the source of such a cornucopia. “Well, vizier,” he said, “what do you make of that man, whoever he is, who sends me such a sumptuous gift, and who is unknown to us both? Do you believe him unworthy of marrying my daughter?”
The grand vizier did not dare disassemble, and the sultan banished his doubts. He did not even think to discover whether Aladdin’s other qualities might make for a suitable son-in-law. The mere sight of such riches, and the diligence with which Aladdin had met his wild request, apparently without the slightest trouble, persuaded him that Aladdin had every accomplishment one could wish for. “Good woman,” he said to Aladdin’s mother, “go and tell your son that I await him with open arms.”
The eighty servants were not forgotten. They were brought inside the palace, and the sultan, after praising them to the princess, had them placed outside her room, so that she could look at them through her latticework screen and judge that he had exaggerated nothing, but rather had told her much less than what was there.
Aladdin’s mother lost no time telling her son the good news. “You have every reason to be happy,” she said. “Your wishes have been granted. I won’t keep you waiting any longer: The sultan has consented to your marrying the princess, and the court applauded his decision. He looks forward to embracing you and concluding your marriage. Now it is up to you to prepare for that encounter so that the hopes he has placed in you are not disappointed; but after the marvels, I have seen you perform, I have no doubt he will be satisfied. Now make haste, my son. The sultan awaits you impatiently.”
Overjoyed, Aladdin retired to his room and called the jinni. “Give me a bath,” he said, “and when I am clean, find me an outfit more splendid than any monarch has ever worn.”
At once he was taken to a bathhouse made of the finest marble, where unseen hands undressed him in a spotless hall. He was led into the bath, which was just hot enough, to be scrubbed and sluiced with scented waters. After passing through a series of further rooms, each cooler than the last, he emerged a quite different man, his complexion now white and pink, his body lighter, refreshed. Back in the hall, he saw that in the place of his old clothes lay an exquisite new outfit, which he put on with the jinni’s help, admiring each garment in turn. Then he asked the jinni for a horse more gentle and more graceful than any in the sultan’s stables, twenty servants to attend him, six handmaidens to wait on his mother, each bearing an outfit just as sumptuous as any in the sultana’s wardrobe, and ten thousand gold coins in ten purses.
The jinni disappeared and returned immediately with the horse, the twenty servants, ten of which carried purses filled with gold, and the six handmaidens, each bearing a different outfit for Aladdin’s mother, wrapped in silver cloth, and presented it all to Aladdin. Of the ten purses, Aladdin gave four to his mother, and left the remaining six in the hands of his servants, with orders to send the coins flying into the crowd as they passed on their way to the palace. At last, he presented the handmaidens to his mother and said that they were hers, along with the clothes on their heads.
Then he mounted his horse and set off to the palace. He had never been on a horse before, yet moved with such grace that not even the finest rider would have guessed he was so green. The streets through which he passed rang with cheers, rising to a roar when the six servants sent handfuls of gold coins flying to the left and right. Aladdin went unrecognized, not only by those who remembered his days of mischief on these streets but even by those who had seen him not long before, so altered were his looks, for it was a property of the lamp, as it enriched its owners, to match their appearance by degrees to their higher standing. As word spread that the sultan had given Aladdin the princess to marry, he appeared so deserving of the honor that no one thought to doubt his importance.
Aladdin arrived at the palace, where everything was set out to receive him. When he reached the second gate and tried to dismount, as was the custom among viziers, generals, and governors of the highest rank, he was stopped by the chief usher, under orders from the sultan, who led him instead to the threshold of the divan and helped him from his horse despite his protests. Taking Aladdin by the arm, he led him past the other ushers, who framed the entrance in two neat lines, and on to the sultan’s throne.
When the sultan saw Aladdin, he was just as amazed by his splendid outfit, richer than any he had ever worn himself, as by his radiant skin, his impressive size, and a certain air of grandeur quite unlike the modest state in which his mother had appeared before him. He rose from his throne in time to stop Aladdin from throwing himself at his feet, embraced him, and led him into a dazzling hall where a feast was laid, and where they ate together alone. The sultan, eyes fixed on Aladdin in delight, let their talk drift over many subjects, and found that Aladdin could speak with knowledge and wisdom on all of them.
After the meal, the sultan summoned the highest-ranking judge in the city and had him draw up the marriage contract on the spot. Meanwhile, the sultan and Aladdin kept up their conversation in the presence of the grand vizier and the gentlemen of the court, who admired the soundness of his mind, his easy eloquence, and the subtle observations with which he peppered their exchange.
When the judge had finished the contract, the sultan asked if Aladdin wished to conclude the ceremony that day. “First,” replied Aladdin, “I beg your permission to build a palace across from yours, so that I may receive the princess in the style she deserves.” The sultan agreed, and Aladdin took leave in the manner of one who had grown up entirely at the court.
Aladdin got back on his horse and returned home the way he came, through the same crowds who cheered his passage and wished him every joy. Once home, he took the lamp and said to the jinni: “Build me a palace out of porphyry, jasper, agate, lapis, and marble, and let it stand opposite the sultan’s palace. At the top, you shall build a great domed hall with walls of gold and silver, and with six windows in each wall. The screen on each window shall be set with diamonds, rubies, and emerald: except for one screen, which you shall leave unfinished. There must also be a courtyard, a garden, a treasury filled with gold and silver, and kitchens, larders, laundries, dressing rooms furnished for all seasons, stables full of horses with their squires and grooms, and a team of huntsmen. Go, and return when it is done.”
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