The sultan approached him and bowed to him. The young man bent his head very low, but did not rise.
“Sire,” he said to the Sultan, “I cannot rise and do you the reverence that I am sure should be paid to your rank.”
“Sir,” answered the Sultan, “I am sure you have a good reason for not doing so, and having heard your cry of distress, I am come to offer you my help. Whose is this palace, and why is it thus empty?”
Instead of answering the young man lifted up his robe, and showed the Sultan that, from the waist downwards, he was a block of black marble.
The Sultan was horrified, and begged the young man to tell him his story.
“Willingly I will tell you my sad history,” said the young man.
You must know, sire, that my father was Mahmoud, the king of this country, the Black Isles, so called from the four little mountains which were once islands, while the capital was the place where now the great lake lies. My story will tell you how these changes came about.
My father died when he was sixty-six, and I succeeded him. I married my cousin, whom I loved tenderly, and I thought she loved me too.
But one afternoon, when I was half asleep, and was being fanned by two of her maids, I heard one say to the other, “What a pity it is that our mistress no longer loves our master! I believe she would like to kill him if she could, for she is an enchantress.”
I soon found by watching that they were right, and when I mortally wounded a favourite slave of hers for a great crime, she begged that she might build a palace in the garden, where she wept and bewailed him for two years.
At last I begged her to cease grieving for him, for although he could not speak or move, by her enchantments she just kept him alive. She turned upon me in a rage, and said over me some magic words, and I instantly became as you see me now, half man and half marble.
Then this wicked enchantress changed the capital, which was a very populous and flourishing city, into the lake and desert plain you saw. The fish of four colours which are in it are the different races who lived in the town; the four hills are the four islands which give the name to my kingdom. All this the enchantress told me to add to my troubles. And this is not all. Every day she comes and beats me with a whip of buffalo hide.
When the young king had finished his sad story he burst once more into tears, and the Sultan was much moved.
“Tell me,” he cried, “where is this wicked woman, and where is the miserable object of her affection, whom she just manages to keep alive?”
“Where she lives I do not know,” answered the unhappy prince, “but she goes every day at sunrise to see if the slave can yet speak to her, after she has beaten me.”