The land of Tartary in the East was ruled by a great king, Cambuskan, brave and just, honourable and wise, and the possessor of wealth untold. He had made war on his enemies and established his kingdom firm and secure. Yet he was not old, but fresh and strong, rejoicing in life and very handsome. This great king had two sons, Algarsyf and Cambalo, and a daughter Canacee. She was exceedingly fair; but alas! neither my language nor my wit is sufficient to describe her beauty—only one skilled in speech could do that, and such I am not.
When Cambuskan had ruled for twenty years he proclaimed that on his birthday that year a great feast would be held.
When the day came many flocked to do honour to the king. Outside the birds sang gaily in the fresh spring weather; inside the palace, Cambuskan, dressed in his magnificent royal robes, with a shining crown on his head, sat high on the dais, while his courtiers and guests assembled in the splendid banquet hall. It would take a summer’s day to tell you of the strange dishes they ate, and Eastern meats are unknown to me; but I know there were roasted swans and heron stews, and that whatever a man desired was given him. During the feast the minstrels played sweet melodies.
When the third course had been served, suddenly the door at the end of the hall opened, and a knight entered. He was fully armed save for his head, and rode upon a horse of brass. He carried in his hand a broad mirror, and at his side hung a naked sword. As he came nearer, Cambuskan could see that he wore a bright ring on his thumb. He rode in stately manner straight up the hall till he came to the king, and there saluted him with all knightly courtesy. Then he bowed to each of the courtiers in order, and spoke words of greeting to them all. His speech and bearing were so gracious that it was clear that he was a knight of noble birth, and came from a great court. The guests sat silent in sheer amazement. When he had saluted everyone he began to explain his coming. I would I could command the flowing speech and polished utterance that he had; but alas! I am but a squire, and he a knight surpassing even those of the old Table Round, yet I will tell you as best I can all that he said to Cambuskan at that great feast in Tartary.
“The King of Arabia and India is my liege lord,” he began, “and by me sends you his greetings and these four presents in honour of your feast. First, this horse of brass which will carry you wheresoever you will, merely by the turning of a pin in its ear. Whether you wish to soar as high as the eagle, or to travel to the ends of the earth, this horse will carry you there in twenty-four hours. You may sleep upon his back, he will not fail you. He was made by a magician after long watching of the stars, and his like can nowhere be found.
“This mirror will show a man all troubles that threaten him. His friends and foes will show there in dear and true colours, while a woman can see if her lover be false or true.