Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Persian Tales: The Praying Baker

This story features a motif that you may have encountered in folklore before: the fish who swallows a ring and is then caught, so that the ring is recovered from the fish's belly. For more examples, see the list of variations in this article about "Fish and the Ring" at Wikipedia.

Explore: For another story about a king who goes about in disguise, see Shah Abbas and the Poor Mother. For another story about someone who, much to his own surprise, escapes a dire judgment, see The Apparition of the Prophet Khizr.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Persian Tales unit. Story source: Persian Talestranslated by D.L.R. Lorimer and E.O. Lorimer and illustrated by Hilda Roberts (1919).

The Praying Baker




Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.

There was a certain King who went out one evening three hours after the sun had set, and having put on the garments of a derwish, he began begging in the bazar, till he came to the door of a baker's shop, where he saw that the man in charge of the scales was engaged in prayer and meditation. He listened to the man's prayer, and heard him repeat over and over again: "Whatever God has willed, that is, and only that shall come to pass."

Then said the King to himself: "I'll just try this fellow and see if his prayer is in earnest. If he is praying only with his lips I shall put him to death, but if he is sincere I shall give him a robe of honour."

Now he had a ring on his finger that was worth a thousand tumans. He went to the door of the shop and gave it to the Baker and said: "Take this ring as a pledge, and give me a quarter of a mann of bread and put it down to my account."

He took the bread, and, going back to his castle, told the Wazir: "I did such and such a thing this evening. Now it is your business to try and get the ring back again from him somehow."

"All right, I'll try," said the Wazir.

"If you succeed," said the King, "I'll give you a large reward, and if you don't bring me the ring I'll cut off your head."

That night the Wazir went home and took counsel with his wife, who said: "To-morrow morning send one of your servants into the town on the pretext of testing all the people's weights and scales to see that none are giving short measure in their shops. That will give you a chance to get the King's ring back out of the Baker's till."

The Wazir said: "That's a first-rate plan."

When morning came the Wazir's messengers went to all the shops and started testing the weights till they came to the Baker's shop. Then they said to the weighman: "Go into the back of the shop and bring us the weight you have for your flour-bin; we must see that it also is in order."

As soon as he was gone to fetch the other weight, they pulled out the drawer of the till and took the ring, and one of them slipped it into his mouth and hid it under his tongue. In due course they came back and brought it to the Wazir, who gave it to the King, who put it once more on his finger.

Then the King sent one of his men to fetch the Baker, and he said: "Last night I came to your shop in disguise as a Derwish and I gave you a ring to keep as a pledge for a quarter of a mann of bread. Now take your money for the bread and give me back my ring."

"The ring, your Majesty, has got lost," answered the unfortunate Baker.

"My ring," said the King, "was worth two thousand tumans. You must either give me the ring or the price of it."

The poor Baker asked for time, and the King gave him ten days' grace. Then he said: "Well, if I bring it back after ten days, there is nothing more to be said, and if not, you may cut off my head," and the King agreed.

The man went home and shut the door of his house and gave himself up to prayer and meditation. And his prayer was continually the same: "Whatever God has willed, that is, and only that shall come to pass."

Now it chanced when the eighth day had come that the King mounted his horse and took his army with him, and they rode till they came to a hunting-ground by the edge of a big stream. The King dismounted to refresh himself by washing his face and hands, and as he was doing this the ring fell off into the water. He turned to the Wazir and said: "If the ring is found, well and good, and if not, I shall slay the Baker."

Now a fish was swimming past who gobbled down the ring, and presently a fisherman came and caught the fish. The next day he went round the bazar crying: "Fresh fish! fresh fish!"

The poor Baker said to his wife: "See, to-morrow is the tenth day, and the King will put me to death. Let us eat a little fish to-day!" So he bought from the fisherman the very fish that had the ring in its belly.

He went into the house and gave it to his wife to cook for the evening. When she opened the fish to clean it, she saw a ring, and turned to her husband, saying: "Here is a ring; take it quickly to the King, perhaps he will accept it instead of his own."

The man looked and saw that it was the very ring he had lost. He was very joyful, and on the morrow, which was the tenth day, he went and gave it to the King.

No sooner did the King see the ring than his brain reeled and he was dumb with amazement. At last he turned to the Wazir and said: "It is my very ring."

Thereupon he gave the Baker a robe of honour and a large reward, and made him one of his own favourites.

And now my story has come to an end, but the sparrow never got home.


(1000 words)





















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