The Crown Prince
Narrated by Mohammed Ahmed Algani
Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a king and he had only one son.
The king wanted to make sure that his son would be a good leader, so he thought a lot and said, “The basis of a king’s good ruling is that he’s happily married to the right sort of woman. Therefore, my son, I want you to go around looking for the wisest woman in my kingdom.”
Now one day, as the crown prince was going out he saw a shepherdess who was very beautiful.
So he went up to her and said, “Excuse me, I’ve lost a camel. Have you seen it?”
The shepherdess said, “No, I haven’t seen a camel, but if your camel didn’t have a tail, was blind in one eye, and had a wound on his right side, then he’s passed this way.”
The prince said, “What do you mean? How can you describe my camel when you haven’t seen him?”
The shepherdess said, “I can tell by the tracks.”
“What do you mean?”
She said, “Look, here is a bush that the camel’s eaten, but he’s only eaten the right side. This probably shows that he’s blind in one eye. And then there are his droppings. They’re all in one heap. Usually a camel’s tail shakes when it’s dropping and spreads the dung all over. So it can’t have a tail. And thirdly, when it rolls on the sand, it always rolls on the left side. This shows that the right side is probably sore.”
The prince was very impressed by the girl’s wisdom and knowledge and he went back to his father and said, “I think I’ve found the right bride.”
And the father said, “Yes, she sounds intelligent. Go and check out her father.”
So as the girl’s father walked in the desert the prince, dressed in ordinary clothes, walked beside him.
It was a long journey and the young man looked at the old father and he said, “Look, either you should carry me, or I should carry you. Otherwise the journey’s too long.”
The father thought, “What a ridiculous man,” and walked on silently.
Then they reached a herd of 100 cows and the prince said, “Excuse me, old man, do you know who all these cows belong to?”
And the old man said, “Yes, I do.”
The prince said, “What a pity. The owner’s such a poor man.”
The old man thought, “How strange this man is. If you have 100 cows you must be rich.”
They walked on and saw a small herd of eleven cattle, ten cows and one bull.
The prince said, “Do you know the owner of this herd?”
The man said, “Yes.”
The prince said, “Wow, he must be rich.”
The old man thought, “How stupid,” and he continued walking.
Then, after some time, they reached a farming place with a lot of cereals and wheat and the prince said, “Excuse me, but can anybody eat this wheat?”
And the old man said, “How stupid! It belongs to the farmer, so nobody can eat it.”
Then, as they continued their walk, they saw a body being taken to a burial place.
And the prince said, “Will this man’s name be buried with him, or will it be called again?”
The man thought, “How stupid. If he’s dead, no-one will call his name.”
And the old man walked on silently and the young man followed him. Then when the old man went into his hut the prince walked into the compound. So, because of the culture, the old man brought out a mat. But the prince only sat on it and left his feet off it.
Now the father said to his daughter, “A very stupid young man followed me all day and he’s outside.”
So the young girl gave the young man water and he washed his feet and then he put them on the mat.
So she went to her father and said, “Father, you said this young man was stupid, but I think he’s clever from the way he acts.”
The father said, “No, he’s really daft. On the road he said, ‘Either you carry me or I’ll carry you.’ Imagine me carrying a young man at my age. Then we saw a large herd of cows and he said the owner was a poor man. Then we saw a small herd of only eleven cows and one bull and he said the owner must be rich. Then we passed a field and he asked if the wheat could be eaten for nothing. Then we saw a man being buried and he asked if his name would be called again. He must be a stupid man.”
The daughter said, “Oh no, father, he must be very educated. Don’t you understand what he meant? When he said that you should carry him, he meant that the journey was boring. So either you should tell him a story, or he should tell you a story. Then in a way he’s right. The man with 100 cows is poor because if he doesn’t have a bull his herd will die out. Whereas the man with ten cows and a bull, his herd will grow larger and he’ll be a rich man. Then if he asked if the wheat was free, he meant to know if the farmer was generous and would feed passers by. So he was asking if it’s free, meaning is the farmer generous. Then finally, when he asked if the dead man’s name will be called what he meant was, ‘Did the dead man have any children?’ If he has, his name will continue for ever.”
So the father said, “Well, if he talks in such a confusing way and you like that, why don’t you marry him?”
And the daughter said, “Maybe I will.”
So the young girl said, “I was looking for exactly this sort of man, someone who’s intelligent.”
So the two of them decided to marry and the son went back to his father. The father was overjoyed and on the day of the wedding he told his son to take an entourage and go to the bride’s house.
But the son said, “No, I only want one servant.”
The prince and the servant were going along and they became thirsty, so the prince climbed down into a water hole to get water.
The servant said, “You’ve got a choice. Either I’ll kill you and we’ll exchange clothes and I’ll marry your bride or, if you give me your word that you’ll never tell her, you can be the servant and I’ll be the master.”
So the prince said, “All right, rather than dying, I’ll be the servant. You have my word.”
So they exchanged clothes and arms and everything and went to the marriage place.
Because the girl had seen the prince on the previous occasion she said, “I don’t think this is my husband.”
They all said, “Of course it is.”
She said, “I am going to ask him three questions. The first is, what is the heaviest burden for a man? Second, what is the sweetest food? Third, what is the sweetest smell?”
The servant said, “The heaviest burden is carrying a grindstone. The sweetest food is honey. The sweetest smell is a herb like rosemary that has a perfumed scent.”
The girl said, “This definitely isn’t my husband. Ask the servant.”
The prince answered, “The heaviest burden for a man is to give someone his word or to make a promise. The sweetest food is something you eat when you’re starving. And the sweetest smell is when you kiss the skin on the neck of your baby son.”
She said, “This is my husband.”
So they were very happy and she married the correct man.
But, before marrying him, she gave him a warning, to promise that he’d never go to a wadiA gully or streambed that remains dry except during the rainy season. after the people and animals have returned. So he promised, thinking it was a good advice. And they were happily married and had seven sons.
The prince after many years was content, and he forgot his wife’s wise words. So one day he went to a wadi after dark when all the people and cattle had returned. There, four shiftasBandits caught him. Two wanted to kill him and two wanted to spare his life. But finally they decided to kill him.
He said, “Don’t I have one last wish before you kill me?”
“Yes, you do.”
“Well, go to my house and you’ll find my wife, an old woman. Please tell her that amongst the cows the black cow tends to butt the other cows and prick their eyes so it should be separated. Then, on the roof of my house there is a black mat. Change it for my white mat. Then tell her to set two of my camels free and to keep the other two.”
They agreed and they killed him. But, because they’d given their word they went to tell his wife.
She had her seven sons, all armed and she said, “Catch these men.”
She said, “The first message about the black cow is that your father didn’t want his eyes to be pecked out by a crow. Go and bury the body. And the second message about the black mat is that in Muslim culture when we’re in mourning we dress in black, not white, so he wants us to dress in mourning because he’s dead. The third message means that only two of the robbers wanted to kill him. We should kill two and let the other two go.”
So the two robbers confessed that they’d forced the others to kill him and his sons killed the two robbers. The other two were let go.
This shows that a husband should always follow his wife’s wise words.
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