The Prince and The Lions
Many years ago there lived in Persia a young prince named Azgood. He was clever and good and kind, but he had one serious fault—he was a coward!
When he was about twenty years of age his father died; and he was to be crowned king.
A few days before that fixed for the ceremony, the old Vizier informed the prince that before he could be crowned he must, in accordance with ancient custom, fight a huge tawny lion that was kept in a den within the palace.
The prince, on hearing this, was so frightened that he resolved to run away. That very night he rose secretly, dressed hastily, mounted his horse, and left the city.
After he had journeyed three days he came to a thickly wooded country, where there were many sheep feeding, tended by a young man who was playing upon a flute. The prince greeted him and begged him to go on playing, for never in his life before had he listened to such sweet music.
The young man told Azgood that he was the slave of a wealthy farmer named Oxus, to whose house, which was close at hand, he offered to conduct the traveler. The prince was glad to rest, and went with his guide to the house of Oxus, who gave him a hearty welcome. Food and drink were placed before him, and, after satisfying his wants, he thought it proper to explain to his host how he came to be there.
"Doubtless," said he, "you wonder who I am, and what is my errand in coming here. I am a prince whom trouble has driven from home. Pardon me if I do not reveal my name; that is a secret which I must keep to myself: But I should like to remain in this beautiful spot if you would permit me. I have much wealth, and can reward you handsomely for that kindness."
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," said Oxus, "than to entertain you here as long as you care to stay, but you must not think of offering me any reward." Then turning to his slave he said: "Isdril, show the prince our fountains and waterfalls, our rocks and vales, for I see that he is one who is fond of Nature's beauties."
So Isdril took up his flute, and went out with the prince. After walking some time amid the charming scenery, they sat down to rest upon a rock in a shady valley. The slave played on the flute, and the prince thought how delightful it would be to spend all his time in that retreat. But the slave, suddenly rising to his feet, said, "It is time for us to be going."
"Wherefore?" asked the prince. "Why should we quit this beautiful spot so soon?" "Because," replied Isdril, "the neighborhood is infested with lions. It is well, therefore, to retire early within our abodes and close the gates. Once I lagged behind, and see the consequence!"
As he spoke, he rolled up his sleeve and showed a great scar upon his arm. Azgood turned pale, and when he readied the house, he told his host he had changed his mind and now intended to ride on father. So he thanked Oxus, and bade him farewell, and galloped off as fast as his horse could carry him.
Again the prince journeyed for three days, and came to a vast desert, in the midst of which he saw an Arab encampment. Thankfully he rode up to the black tents, for both he and his horse were worn out with hunger and fatigue.
The sheik received him kindly. Azgood explained to him, as he had done to Oxus, why he was traveling, and again made, the request that he might be allowed to remain with the Arabs for a time. So the Sheik befriended him, and gave him his best horse to hunt with.
In the chase the prince acquitted himself so well that the Sheik thought he would snake a splendid soldier, and therefore desired him to join his band of warriors.
"But," said he, "before you can join them you must give some proof of your prowess, so that they may have confidence in you. Two leagues to the south is a range of hills infested with lions. Go, then, early in the morning, mounted upon your horse, and armed with sword and spear. Slay one of these lions, and bring his skin here, so shall we know that we can depend upon you in the day of battle."
Now when Azgood heard this, he resolved to mount his own horse that very night, but not to go to the hills where the lions were. At nightfall he set off in the opposite direction, and on the evening of the next day found himself in a plesant country of hill and dale, meadows and streams.
Soon he came to a splendid palace, in the
hall of which were sitting the Emir and his golden-haired daughter; Periban. The prince was kindly received, and invited to stay as long as he pleased. The Emir then begged his guest to excuse him, as he was expecting some friends and wished to prepare for receiving them.
Thus Azgood was left alone with the princess, who showed him the rooms of the palace. They blazed with gold and precious stones, the walls and ceilings were covered with paintings, and the windows were of stained glass.
The palace that evening was lit up in every room, and there assembled a large and merry company. The prince begged Periban to play on the lute; and as she did so to please him, he was startled by a strange, loud sound. He asked what it might be. "Oh," replied she with a laugh, "that is only Boulak, our black porter, indulging in a yawn."
"What uncommonly good lungs he must have!" said Azgood, who had never heard such a yawn before.
After the other guests had left, and Periban had gone to bed, the Einir and the prince chatted for some time. By and by they too found it time to retire. When they came to the foot of the grand staircase, which was of white marble, Azgood, looking up, was horrified to see a huge black lion stretched upon the topmost landing.
"What is that?" faltered he. "That," said his host, "is Boulak, our black porter. He is a tame lion, and will not harm you if you do not fear him. He knows when any one is afraid of him, and then becomes very fierce."
"I fear him greatly!" whimpered the prince. As he could not be persuaded to mount the stairs, he lead to return to the banquet hall to sleep on a couch.
After the Emir left him, Azgood carefully locked the door and fastened the windows. Then he lay down, but not to sleep. For he could hear the lion walking about, and once the beast actually came to the door, and with a terrible roar sprang against it with his fore paws.
The poor prince was sure that the door would burst open and he would be devoured. But nothing of the sort happened. In a few minutes Boulak went upstairs, and came down no more that night.
Azgood lay thinking. It was clear that, in running from the danger he feared so much, he had not made things easier. Lions met him at every turn. He resolved, then, not to avoid his duty any longer, but to return home and do all that was required of him by ancient custom.
In the morning the prince told the Emir the whole truth. The kind old man approved of his resolution, and gave him his blessing as he mounted his steed to return Homewards. But Azgood saw nothing of the beautiful princess Periban.
Then he rode back to the Arab camp and confessed all to the Sheik. He also inquired about the horse he had left behind, and was told it should be his if he cared to stay there. "But," said the Sheik, "it would be wrong, to hinder you in your undertaking. Return to your home, and do your duty like a man!"
Azgood next visited Oxus, to whom, as to the others, he revealed his name and parentage. He confessed his fault, and informed his friend of his intention. "Go," said the kindly shepherd, "and heaven prosper you in your honorable resolution."
"Farewell!" said the prince; "greet Isdril from me, and tell him I hope some day to return and listen to his sweet music in spite of the lions."
Then the prince rode straight home, and told the Vizier he was resolved to fight the lion. The old man wept tears of joy at his prince's return, and arranged for the combat to take place in a week's time.
When the hour came and the prince entered the arena, the lion gave a loud roar, and approached his opponent slowly with fierce looks. Azgood did not quail. He looked the lion straight in the face, and advanced, spear in hand. Suddenly the lion bounded forward, and, with another roar, sprang clean over the prince's head. Then it ran up to him and began licking his hand with every sign of affection.
The Vizier called out to the prince that he had conquered, and bade him leave the arena. The lion followed him like a dog. "As you now see," said the old Vizier, "the lion is a tame one; but, as you were not aware of this, you have proved your courage by your readiness to fight. Now all will know that you are worthy to ascend the throne of your heroic ancestors."
Two men—one old, the other very young—came forward to congratulate the prince. They were Oxus and Isdril.
"Prince," said the old shepherd, "allow me to make you a present to keep in mind this happy day." So saying he pushed forward his slave Isdril.
"I heartily thank you," said the prince; "and you, Isdril, are no longer a slave. From this moment you are free; but you shall be my companion, and delight me with your skill on the flute."
Presently another little group appeared. It was composed of the Sheik and some of his Arabs, with the swift horse which Azgood had learned to love. "Azgood," said the Sheik, "I congratulate you, and ask you to accept this steed." The prince thanked and embraced the Sheik, and Isdril led away the horse, which was greatly admired by all. Then the Emir came forward, surrounded by a brilliant retinue.
"Prince," he said, "I bring you no present, but I and all that belong; to me are ours."
"I am rejoiced to see you, noble Emir; said the prince. "And how is your beautiful daughter? As soon as I am crowned, I intend to set off at lightning speed to visit her."
"That will be needless," said the Emir; "come with me." He led the young man to a veiled lady who sat upon a white horse. It was Periban! Then, by order of the Vizier, the whole procession wended its way towards the palace. Many thoughts and feelings stirred within the breast of the young prince.
"When I fled from duty," reflected he, "everything went against me; now that I have fulfilled it, fresh happiness mets me at every step."
The coronation—and a wedding—took place on the same day. Azgood and Periban reigned long and happily. By the king's, command his adventures were recorded in the annals of the kingdom; and over the door of his palace were inscribed, in golden letters, these words: "Never run from the lion."