Part 5 The Sultan’s Daughter
Story of Aladdin beginning…
One day, as he strolled through the city, Aladdin heard an order from the sultan proclaiming that all shops and houses were to be locked and that everyone was to stay indoors until Princess Badr al-Budur, or Moon of Moons, the sultan’s daughter, had gone to the baths and returned. Aladdin was seized by a desire to see her face, but he could not peek through the screen of one of the houses near
the baths, as he knew the princess would be veiled. Instead, he hid behind the bathhouse door. Through a slit in the door, he saw her arrive, surrounded by a crowd of women and eunuchs. When she was three or four paces from the bathhouse door, she removed her veil.
Until that moment, Aladdin had never seen a woman uncovered except his mother, who was aged now, and whose ordinary features had never led Aladdin to suspect that other women might look any different. He might have heard others talk about beautiful women, but whatever words one might use to describe it, none have the effect of beauty itself.
When Aladdin saw Princess Badr al-Budur, he quickly shed his notion that all women must look more or less like his mother. The princess was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen: she had brown hair, large, bright eyes, a soft and modest gaze, a flawless nose, a small mouth, lovely crimson lips, and all her features were in the symphony. Aladdin reeled, shocked by such a combination of marvels. She was tall too, and carried herself magnificently, which drew the respect of all who saw her.
The princess passed into the bathhouse, and Aladdin stood there for a while in a kind of rapture, retracing and impressing on his memory the figure that had charmed his heart. At last, he recovered his senses, and, considering that it would be vain to wait for the princess’s exit from the baths since she would have her back to him and her face covered, he gave up the prospect and went home.
Aladdin could not hide his agitation from his mother. She asked if he was unwell, but Aladdin said nothing and fell sprawled on the sofa, where he remained, busy only with retracing the lovely image of the princess in his mind. His mother, who was busy with supper, pressed him no further. When the meal was ready, she served it beside him on the sofa and sat down at the table, but, seeing that her son paid no attention to it, she told him to eat, and it was only with the greatest strain that he sat up. He ate much less than usual, his gaze lowered, and withdrew so deeply into himself that his mother could not draw a single word from him. After supper, she renewed her questions, but Aladdin preferred to go to bed rather than give his mother any satisfaction on the subject.
Setting aside how Aladdin, overpowered by the beauty of the princess, spent the night, let us simply remark that the following day, as he sat on the sofa facing his mother, who was spinning cotton, as usual, he said: “Mother, I will break the silence I have kept since my return from the city yesterday, which I know has wounded you. I was not ill, as you seemed to believe, nor am I now. Yet I could not tell you what I feel. It is worse than sickness. Its nature is obscure to me, but perhaps you will understand it by what I am about to tell you.
“You may not have heard,” he went on, “that yesterday it was announced that Princess Badr al-Budur, the sultan’s daughter, would go to the baths after dinner. I learned the news on my walk around the city. An order was proclaimed to close all the shops and stay indoors, in order to show the princess the respect she was due and let her pass freely through the streets. As I was not far from the baths, the curiosity of seeing her uncovered led me to go and stand behind the bathhouse door, fancying that she might remove her veil as she was about to enter. If you remember the door’s position, you can imagine that my scheme would have given me a clear view of her. She did, in fact, remove her veil as she went in, and I had the pleasure of seeing the charming princess. That, Mother, is the reason for the state you saw me in yesterday, and the source of my silence. I love the princess with a force I can hardly express. As my passion burns more brightly with every passing moment, it seems my only satisfaction would be to make her mine. That is why I have resolved to ask the sultan for her hand.”
Aladdin’s mother had listened carefully enough to her son’s story, but at these last words she could not help but burst out laughing. Aladdin wanted to go on, but she cut him short: “My son, what are you thinking? You must have lost your mind to be saying these things.”
“I can assure you I have not,” replied Aladdin, “in fact, I have never thought so clearly. I have foreseen your accusations of madness and extravagance, but none of that can deter me. My mind is made up to ask the sultan for his daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“I must tell you,” said his mother very seriously, “that you are not in your right mind. Even if you wanted to act on this decision, I cannot imagine who you could possibly send to ask the sultan.”
“You, of course,” said Aladdin without hesitation.
“Me!” cried the mother. “To the sultan! And who are you, that you presume to covet your sultan’s daughter? Have you forgotten that you are the son of one of the lesser tailors of this city, and of a mother whose ancestors were scarcely more distinguished? Are you aware that sultans are loath to give away their daughters even to the sons of other sultans?”
“I told you I have foreseen these objections,” said Aladdin, “and any more you might raise. Your disapproval cannot sway me. Do not refuse me this favor, unless you would prefer to see me die than to give me life again.”
Alarmed to see how stubbornly he clung to an idea so lacking in the good sense, his mother tried again. “I am your mother,” she said, “and there is nothing within the bounds of reason that I would not do out of love for you. If we were talking of marrying you to the daughter of one of our neighbors, whose condition was similar to ours, I would devote myself, I would do everything in my power to help you, although you would first have to secure some means of an income or learn a craft. But here you are, heedless of your origins, daring to look above your station, to set your sights on no less a person than the daughter of your sovereign, who has only to say a word to crush you. But your fate is yours alone to decide.
As for what concerns me . . . supposing I had the brazenness to appear before His Majesty with such an extravagant request, to whom would I even introduce myself? Do you suppose that the first person I spoke to would not accuse me of lunacy and chase me out? Supposing even that I encountered no such difficulty in gaining access to the sultan, I know that he is quick to welcome his aggrieved subjects, and to grant them the justice they seek. I also know that, to those who come to him seeking mercy and who show themselves to be worthy of it, he is merciful.
But are you one of those, and do you believe you are worthy of the favor you wish to request? What have you done for your sovereign or for your country? How have you distinguished yourself? If you have done nothing to deserve such a favor, if you are not even worthy of it, on what basis could I ask for it? How could I even open my mouth to put the thought to the sultan? His majestic presence and the brilliance of his court would seal my lips at once, I who trembled before your father whenever I had a favor to ask him.
There is another reason, my son, which has not occurred to you, which is that you cannot appear before your sultan empty-handed. A gift ensures that if the favor is refused, the sultan will at least give you his ear. But what gift can you possibly bring? And even if you were to find something worthy of a moment of your monarch’s attention, what proportion would there be between your gift and your request? Think about it, and consider that what you desire is impossible.”
Aladdin listened calmly to everything his mother came up with to deter him from his course, and, having considered each point of her rebuke, he said: “I admit, Mother, that it is bold of me to dare to presume as I do. You say it is not customary to appear before the sultan empty-handed, and that I have nothing that might be worthy of him. I must confess you are right about the gift; I had not considered it. But when you say I have nothing to offer him, do you not think that what I brought home after the night of my near-death would make a delightful present for the sultan? The things with which I filled my pouches and my belt are not, as we had supposed, only colored glass: they are extremely precious stones, fit only for great monarchs. I learned of their value in the jewelers’ shops, but none of those I saw there were comparable to ours, and yet they sell for immense prices. Whatever their value, I am convinced that the sultan cannot but receive them with pleasure. Go and fetch your porcelain bowl, and let us see the effect of all the colors together.”
Aladdin’s mother brought the bowl, and her son removed the gems from the pouches and laid them out against the porcelain. Mother and son were dazzled by their shine, for they had never seen them other than by the light of the lamp. It is true that Aladdin had seen them on their trees, gleaming like fruit, but, being a child, he had believed the stones to be no more than playthings, and had taken them with nothing else in mind.
“Mother,” said Aladdin, “you can no longer evade go to the sultan on the grounds that you have nothing to bring him. This gift will, I believe, earn you a most favorable welcome.” So it was that his mother, both out of tenderness for him and fear that he might give in to some extreme act, overcame her resistance and accepted.
As it was late and the time to go to the palace was passed, the matter was put off until morning. Mother and son talked of nothing else for the rest of the day, and Aladdin took care to impress on his mother anything that might strengthen
her resolve. But despite all his reasons, she was not persuaded that such a venture could ever succeed; it must be admitted that she had every reason to doubt. “Supposing,” she said, “the sultan receives me as favorably as we hope and listens calmly to my proposal, but after that warm welcome asks me about your fortune and your estate what do you expect me to tell him?”
“Mother,” replied Aladdin, “let us not worry ourselves ahead of time over what may not come to pass. Let us first see what sort of welcome you receive from the sultan, and what sort of answer he gives. If he does happen to ask such questions, I will think of a suitable answer. I trust that the lamp, which has been our lifeline all these years, will not fail me when I most need it.”