The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/The Princess and the Beggar
THE PRINCESS AND THE BEGGAR
NOW King Solomon had a daughter, who was the most beautiful princess in the world. On her fifteenth birthday her wise father made up his mind to look at the stars in the heavens and to read therein the fate of his beloved child. That night he gazed at the constellations in the sky and discovered that the lovely princess was destined to become the wife of a beggar whose poverty was to be greater than that of any one in his kingdom. He also read in the stars that his daughter and her future husband would be blessed with children. King Solomon turned his eyes from the heavens in shame and anger. This outlook for his daughter's future happiness was not at all to his liking. "I wish I had not been so inquisitive," said he to himself. "Why did I try to read the future? Now I know what is her destiny I am wretched and unhappy. I will take steps to prevent such an unfortunate marriage. It's not fair that marriages should be arranged in heaven."
That same night he went to his study and rubbed his magic ring on which the Holy Name of God was engraved. Before him stood Ashmodai, King of the Genii. "Gracious Master, command and I will obey thy will."
Listen then, Ashmodai. Near the sea-coast opposite Joppa is a small rock in the sea. I wish to have a very lofty tower built on this rock. The base of the tower must cover the entire surface of the rock except where the steps lead to the entrance."
"Before sundown to-morrow, son of David! thy wish shall be fulfilled." The next moment the demon had vanished.
On the next day the King sent for the beautiful princess and told her that she would in three days' time go with him to one of his castles near the sea and reside there for some time. "Thy will is my pleasure, O dearest of fathers," said the princess when she heard her father's wish. At the appointed time the King and the princess with a retinue of seventy servants set out for the port of Joppa. When they arrived there they embarked on the King's ship and sailed to the rocky shore where the tower stood. The rooms were furnished in a most princely manner. There was everything that one could wish for. Of course there was also a sufficient store of food in the tower for all the needs of the princess and her attendants. The King told the attendants that they were to watch by day and night and see to it that no stranger set foot within the tower. "As soon as the princess and you are all in the tower I will have the only door, which is at the entrance, removed and replaced by brickwork. You are to prevent any communication whatsoever reaching her. If you disobey, your lives will be forfeit." The King kissed his daughter and warned her not to try to escape. "In good time I will fetch thee and then thou shalt live in my palace on Mount Lebanon. Now farewell." She promised her father to obey and waved her hand as she saw him embark on the royal ship. "Good-by," she cried with a sad voice, standing on the roof. She did not quite like the idea of being shut up in the lonely tower.
While the King was embarking, his servants were removing the door of the tower and bricking up the doorway. It was now impossible for any one to enter or leave and the only means of exit was through a skylight on the roof.
On his journey home King Solomon smiled and said to himself: "I will now see if my plan will be a success. I think I shall for once in a while have my own way. After all this lovely girl is my child and I can surely arrange her marriage as I like. I am not satisfied with the choice of the bridegroom made by the stars. A beggar should marry the daughter of a beggar but not the daughter of a king. I shall wait and see. Whatever happens will, I hope, be for the best."
About three years later it happened that on a certain day a beggar left his home in Acco, a seaport north of Mount Carmel. He could not find even a crust of dry bread in his town and he determined to seek his fortune whithersoever his Heavenly Father might direct his steps. He had spent all his time since childhood in studying the Holy Law. His beggarly clothes were all in tatters. On and on he went, hungry and thirsty. He had no idea where he would be able to find a night's lodging. "Ah!" said he to himself, "what a funny world we are in. Rich and poor, wise and foolish, happy and unhappy people live according to the will of God. He it is who bringeth low and raiseth up, who maketh poor and maketh rich. What is my fate? God alone knows." On and on he tramped. The sun was beginning to set and the air grew cold. He then saw something that attracted his attention. It was in a field just off the highway. He went to see what it was. He found that it was the hide of an ox. "This is lucky," cried he in delight; "God has now provided me with a night's lodging. I will roll myself in this skin and escape the cold wind. I will sleep as happily as though I were in a warm cozy bed." He said his night prayers and asked God to send his good angels to watch around him and to take charge over him. In a minute he was tightly rolled up in the skin and in the twinkling of an eye he slept the sweet sleep of the weary.
The moon was shining brightly. A mountain eagle flew near by and seeing the skin rolled up mistook it for the dead body of an ox. He pounced upon it and seized it with his talons and bore it high up in the air. On and on he flew, across hill and dale, over river and sea, till he reached the tower on the rock in the sea near Joppa. He dropped the heavy hide on the roof of the tower at the break of day. The eagle flew away to his nest on the hills, intending to return later in the day with his family and to dine off the flesh of the ox which he thought was beneath the hide.
No sooner had the eagle dropped his burden than the beggar awoke and held his breath, for he knew neither where he was nor what had befallen him. Hearing the flapping of the eagle in his flight to his nest, the poor man ventured to get out of the hide to see where he was. He was more than amazed to find himself on the roof of the huge tower surrounded by the sea. He said to himself: "How shall I ever escape from this lonely place? Hark! Who's that opening the sky-light? See, here's a strange sight, the like of which I have never seen. Is it a fairy yonder? Who has ever seen such a lovely face, such eyes as blue as the sky, such hair like gold in the sunshine? It must be a fairy princess or I am still dreaming. Look, she is coming nearer and nearer to me. She is going to speak—"
"I am in the habit of taking a little exercise out here every morning before breakfast. Little did I ever expect to see a stranger here. Please excuse the liberty I take in speaking first, but this is my home. I like to know the names of all who come here. Now tell me, please, who art thou and how didst thou get here?"
"Gracious lady! I am a Jew, a student of the Holy Law of Israel. My home is in Acco, in the land ruled by the wisest of kings, Solomon. My father and mother are no longer on this earth. I am very poor and I left home yesterday to seek my bread whithersoever God might lead me. After sunset I went to sleep in a field, wrapping myself in the hide of an ox. I was so happy in my sleep, dreaming sweet dreams. All of a sudden I awoke by falling heavily on this roof. When I opened the hide and came out I saw a huge eagle flying over the sea. I am sure that this bird brought me here. Now I pray thee, good lady, forgive me for being here uninvited. Pray let me descend and depart."
"That is impossible."
"There is no door to this tower."
"Am I bewitched?"
"I do not think so."
"Art thou a fairy?"
"Of course not."
"Why is there no door to the tower?""So that no one shall enter or depart. And even if there were a door, escape is impossible. We are on a rock in the middle of the sea. Boatmen are not
"'ART THOU A FAIRY?'"—Page 122
"Do not look at me. I am so ashamed of my rags."
"That is easily put right. Come with me and I will show thee a nice room where new clothes are at thy disposal. There thou wilt also be able to have a good wash and make thyself comfortable. Then we will have breakfast together."
This is all too lovely. Is it all true? Am I still dreaming?"
"Not at all."
"I am most grateful for all thy kindness. I shall be most happy to be thy guest for the present."
The princess led the beggar to the room and left him at the door, after telling where he was to find her for breakfast. When he had washed and changed his clothes he came to the princess. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. There and then she fell in love with him. She asked him whether he would like to marry her. He at once consented. In his great joy he said to her: "I will now write out our marriage contract."
She gave him parchment and a quill, saying, "I am very sorry to tell thee that I cannot find any ink."
"That matters not. I can supply a good substitute."
"What will it be?" "See, I will just open this little vein in my arm and with a few drops of blood I will write the deed."
He did so. Then taking her right hand he slipped on her forefinger a golden ring which his dying mother had given him and which he had on his little finger. "Behold," he cried, "with this ring do I betroth thee unto me and marry thee according to the Law of Moses and Israel, God and His angels Michael and Gabriel being our witnesses."
In time they had a sweet little daughter. News of this unexpected event was duly reported by Ashmodai to King Solomon. He at once set out to visit the princess. When he reached the rock on which the tower stood, he carefully examined the brickwork which had replaced the doorway. It had not been touched. The King now ordered his servants to remove the bricks and to replace the door. He then entered the tower. All the attendants were summoned to meet King Solomon. They were in mortal dread, fearing that their lord would punish them with death on account of what had happened. When the King saw them he said:
"Do ye know anything about the marriage of the princess? Were ye present at the ceremony?"
"No, your gracious Majesty."
"I will go and ask the princess to tell me the truth, wait ye here till I return."
The King went to the room of the princess and after greeting her he asked her:
"Is it true that thou art married?"
"Of course, dearest father."
"Who is thy husband?
"A noble Jew. God sent him to me. He is the most handsome man in the kingdom. I fell in love with him at first sight. I asked him to have me for his wife. He agreed most kindly and I am glad he was good enough to fulfill my wish. I hope, father dear, that thou art come to bless our darling baby, my husband and me. My husband is a great scholar. He knows the Holy Law by heart. He is a noble and good man."
"I can see, my child, that thou dost love him."
"That indeed I do."
"Call him and let us see one another."
The princess went to fetch him. When he saw the King, he fell on his face to the ground and cried:
"Long live King Solomon!"
"I understand from my daughter here that thou art her husband."
"Even as thou sayest, O lord King."
"Hast thou a marriage contract?"
"Here it is."
"Tell me all about thy family and thy history."
When he had told the King all that he desired to know, Solomon embraced him and blessed him. He saw that this poor youth was the very man destined to be his daughter's husband. After all, marriages are made in Heaven. Solomon rejoiced when he found his son-in-law to be a learned and good man, fit to be married to the most beautiful princess in the whole world. They lived very happily all the days of their life, leaving several sons and daughters to mourn their loss when they slept into death in a ripe old age.
(ed. Buber, Introduction, p. 68b).