The sultan you will meet in this story is so impressed by the fish that he wants to learn more about them, so he and the fisherman go on a journey which takes them to a magical palace. In that palace, the sultan meets a man who is half-flesh and half-stone. Naturally, the sultan will want to the man to tell him a story about how that happened!
[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Arabian Nights unit. Story source: The Arabian Nights' Entertainments by Andrew Lang and illustrated by H. J. Ford (1898).
The Sultan and the Fish
[for audio, see previous page]
He began to walk in front of the fisherman, who followed him with some misgivings. They passed in front of the town, and went up a mountain and then down into a great plain, where there was a large lake lying between four hills. When they reached the lake the genius said to the fisherman, "Throw your nets and catch fish."
The fisherman did as he was told, hoping for a good catch, as he saw plenty of fish. What was his astonishment at seeing that there were four quite different kinds, some white, some red, some blue, and some yellow. He caught four, one of each colour. As he had never seen any like them he admired them very much, and he was very pleased to think how much money he would get for them.
"Take these fish and carry them to the Sultan, who will give you more money for them than you have ever had in your life. You can come every day to fish in this lake, but be careful not to throw your nets more than once every day, otherwise some harm will happen to you. If you follow my advice carefully you will find it good."
Saying these words, he struck his foot against the ground, which opened, and when he had disappeared, it closed immediately.
The fisherman resolved to obey the genius exactly, so he did not cast his nets a second time, but walked into the town to sell his fish at the palace.
When the Sultan saw the fish he was much astonished. So he sent for the fisherman. "After having seen this," said the Sultan, "I cannot rest. These fish signify some mystery I must clear up."
[for more about the mysterious nature of these fish, you can read about the Sultan's cook]
He sent for the fisherman. "Fisherman," he said, "the fish you have brought us have caused me some anxiety. Where did you get them from?"
"Sire," he answered, "I got them from a lake which lies in the middle of four hills beyond yonder mountains."
"Do you know this lake?" asked the Sultan of the grand-vizir.
"No; though I have hunted many times round that mountain, I have never heard of it," said the vizir.
As the fisherman said it was only three hours' journey away, the sultan ordered his whole court to mount and ride thither, and the fisherman led them.
They climbed the mountain, and then, on the other side, saw the lake as the fisherman had described. The water was so clear that they could see the four kinds of fish swimming about in it. They looked at them for some time, and then the Sultan ordered them to make a camp by the edge of the water.
When night came the Sultan called his vizir, and said to him, "I have resolved to clear up this mystery. I am going out alone, and do you stay here in my tent, and when my ministers come to-morrow, say I am not well, and cannot see them. Do this each day till I return."
The grand-vizir tried to persuade the Sultan not to go, but in vain. The Sultan took off his state robe and put on his sword, and when he saw all was quiet in the camp he set forth alone.
He climbed one of the hills, and then crossed the great plain, till, just as the sun rose, he beheld far in front of him a large building. When he came near to it he saw it was a splendid palace of beautiful black polished marble, covered with steel as smooth as a mirror.
He went to the gate, which stood half open, and went in, as nobody came when he knocked. He passed through a magnificent courtyard and still saw no one, though he called aloud several times.
He entered large halls where the carpets were of silk, the lounges and sofas covered with tapestry from Mecca, and the hangings of the most beautiful Indian stuffs of gold and silver. Then he found himself in a splendid room, with a fountain supported by golden lions. The water out of the lions' mouths turned into diamonds and pearls, and the leaping water almost touched a most beautifully-painted dome. The palace was surrounded on three sides by magnificent gardens, little lakes, and woods. Birds sang in the trees, which were netted over to keep them always there.
Still the Sultan saw no one, till he heard a plaintive cry, and a voice which said, "Oh that I could die, for I am too unhappy to wish to live any longer!"
The Sultan looked round to discover who it was who thus bemoaned his fate, and at last saw a handsome young man, richly clothed, who was sitting on a throne raised slightly from the ground. His face was very sad.
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, who was The Young King of the Black Isles.