There was once a Padishah who one day found a little insect.
The Padishah called his lala and they both examined the tiny creature. What could it be? What could it feed on? Every day an animal was killed for its sustenance, and by thus living it grew and grew until it was as big as a cat. Then they killed it and skinned it, hanging up the skin on the palace gate. The Padishah now issued a proclamation that whoever could guess correctly to what animal the skin belonged should receive the Sultan’s daughter in marriage.
A great crowd collected and examined the skin from all sides, but no one was found wise enough to answer the question. The story of the skin spread far and wide until it reached the ears of a Dew. “That is exceedingly fortunate for me,” thought he to himself, “I have had nothing to eat for three days; now I shall be able to satisfy myself with the Princess.” So he went to the Padishah, told him the name of the creature, and immediately demanded the maiden.
“Woe is me” groaned the Padishah, “how can I give this Dew my only daughter?” He offered him, in ransom for her, as many slaves as he liked, but all in vain! The Dew insisted on having the Sultan’s daughter. Therefore the Padishah called the maiden and told her to prepare for the journey, as her kismet was the Dew. All weeping and wailing were fruitless. The maiden put on her clothes, while the Dew waited for her outside the palace.
The Padishah had a horse that drank attar of roses and ate grapes; Kamer-taj, or Moon-horse, was its name. This was the creature on which the Sultan’s daughter was to accompany the Dew to his abode. A cavalcade escorted her a portion of the way and then, turning, rode back. Now the maiden offered up a prayer to Allah to deliver her from the fiend.
Suddenly the Moon-horse began to speak: “Lady, fear not! shut both your eyes and hold my mane firmly.” Hardly had she shut her eyes when she felt the horse rise with her, and when she opened her eyes again she found herself in the garden of a lovely palace on an island in the midst of the sea.
The Dew was very angry at the disappearance of the maid. “Still, never mind!” he said, “I will soon find her,” and went his way home alone. Not far from the island a Prince sat in a canoe with his lala. The Prince, seeing on the calm surface of the water the reflection of the golden-hued steed, said to his lala that perhaps someone had arrived at his palace. They rode to the island, got out of the canoe, and entered the garden. Here the youth saw the beautiful Princess, who, however much she essayed to veil her face, could not succeed in hiding from him her loveliness.
“Oh, Peri!” said the Prince, “fear me not; I am not an enemy!” “I am only a Sultan’s daughter, a child of man and no Peri,” announced the Princess, and told the Prince how she had been delivered from the Dew. The Prince assured her that she could not have come to a better place. His father also was a Padishah; with her permission he would take her to him, and by the grace of Allah he would make her his wife. So they went to the Padishah, the Prince told him of the maiden’s adventure, and in the end they were married, merriment and feasting lasting forty days and forty nights.
For a time they lived in undisturbed bliss, but war broke out with a neighbouring kingdom and, in accordance with the custom of that period, the Padishah also must set out for the campaign. Hearing of this the Prince went to his father and asked permission to go to the war. The Padishah was unwilling to consent, saying: “you are young, also you have a wife whom you must not forsake.” But the son begged so assiduously that in the end the Padishah agreed to stay at home and let Prince go in his stead.
The Dew discovered that the Prince would be on the battlefield, and he also made the further discovery that during his absence a son and a daughter had been born to him.
At that time Tartars were employed as messengers and carried letters between the Padishah at home and the Prince at the seat of war. One of these messengers was intercepted by the Dew and invited into a coffee. house. There the Dew entertained him so long that night came on. The messenger now wished to be off, but was persuaded that it would be better to remain till morning. At midnight, while he was asleep, the Dew searched his letter-bag and found a letter from the Padishah to the Prince informing the latter that a baby son and daughter had come to the palace during his absence. Tearing up this letter, the Dew wrote another to the effect that a couple of dogs had been born. “Shall we destroy them or keep them till your return?” wrote the Dew in the false letter. This missive he placed in the original envelope, and in the morning the Tartar arose, took his sack of letters, and went into the Prince’s camp.
When the Prince had read his father’s letter he wrote the following answer: “Shah and father, do not destroy the young dogs, but keep them until I return.” This was given to the Tartar, who set out on his return journey.
He was again met by the Dew, who enticed him into a coffeehouse and detained him till next morning. During the night the Dew abstracted the letter and wrote another, which said: “Shah and father, take my wife and her two children and throw them down a precipice, and bind the Moon-horse with a fifty-ton chain.”
In the evening of the day following the Tartar delivered the letter to the Padishah. When the Princess saw the Tartar she hastened joyfully to the monarch that he might show her her husband’s letter. The Padishah, having read it, was astonished and dared not show it to the Princess, so he denied that any letter had arrived. The woman answered: “I have indeed seen the letter with my own eyes; perchance some misfortune has happened to him and you are keeping it from me.” Then catching a glimpse of the letter she put forth her hand quickly and took it. Having read it the poor woman wept bitterly. The monarch did his best to comfort her, but she refused to remain longer in the palace. Taking her children she left the city and went forth into the wide world.
Days and weeks passed away and she was without food to appease her hunger or bed on which to rest her tired body, until worn out with fatigue she could go no step farther. “Let not my children die of hunger!” she prayed. Behold! instantly water gushed forth from the earth and flour fell from the skies, and making bread with these she fed her children.
In the meantime the Dew heard of the woman’s fate and set out immediately to destroy the children. The Princess saw the Dew coming and in her terrible agony she cried: “Hasten, my Kamer-taj, or I die!” In the far-off land the magic horse heard this cry for help; he strained at his fifty-ton fetters but could not break them. The nearer the Dew came the more the poor Princess’s anguish increased. Clasping her children to her breast, she sent up another despairing cry to the Moon-horse. The fettered steed strained still more at his chain, but it was of no avail. The Dew was now quite close upon her, and for the last time the poor mother shrieked with all her remaining strength. Kamer-taj, hearing it, put forth all the force he could muster, broke his chain, and appeared before the Princess. “Fear not, lady! “ he said, “shut your eyes and grasp my mane,” and immediately they were on the other side of the ocean. Thus the Dew went away hungry once more.
The Moon-horse took the Princess to his own country. He felt that his last hour had now come, and told his beloved mistress that he must die. She implored him not to leave her alone with her children. If he did, who would protect them from the evil designs of the Dew? “Fear not,” the horse comforted her, “no evil will befall you here. When I am dead, off my head and set it in the earth. Slit up my stomach, and having done this, lay yourself and your children within it.” Saying these words the magic horse breathed his last.
The Princess now cut off his head and stuck it in the ground, then opened his stomach and laid herself and her children in it. Here they fell fast asleep. When she awoke she saw that she was in a beautiful palace; one finer than either her father’s or her husband’s. She was lying in a lovely bed, and hardly had she risen when slaves appeared with water: one bathed her, others clothed her. The twins lay in a golden cradle, and nurses stood around them, soothing them with sweet songs. At dinnertime, gold and silver dishes appeared laden with delicious food. It was like a dream; but days and weeks passed away, weeks passed into months, and the months into a year, and still the dream–if dream it was–did not come to an end.
Meanwhile the war was over and the Prince hastened home. Seeing nothing of his wife he asked his father what had become of her and her children. The Padishah was astonished at this strange question. The letters were produced, and the Tartar messenger was sent for. Being closely questioned he related the account of his meeting with the Dew on both occasions. They now realized that the Dew had tampered with the messenger and the correspondence. There was no more thought of peace for the Prince until he had discovered his wife. With that intention he set out in the company of his lala.
They wandered on and on unceasingly. Six months had passed already, yet they-continued their way-over hill and down dale, never stopping to rest. One day they reached the foot of a mountain, whence they could see the palace of the Moon-horse. The Prince was entirely exhausted and said to his lala: “Go to that palace and beg a crust of bread and a little water, that we may-continue our journey.
When he reached the palace gate, the lala was met by two little children, who invited him in to rest. Entering, he found the floor of the apartment so beautiful that he hardly dared set his foot upon it. But the children pulled him to the divan and made him sit down while food and drink were set before him. The lala excused himself, saying that outside waited his tired son, to whom he wished to take the refreshment.
“Father Dervish,” said the children, “eat first yourself, then you can take food to your son.” So the lala ate, drank coffee, and smoked, and while he was preparing to return to the Prince, the children went to tell their mother about their guest.
Looking out of the window, the Princess recognised the Prince her husband. She took food with her own hands, and putting it in golden vessels sent it out by the lala. On receiving it the Prince was struck with the richness of the service. He lifted the cover of one of the dishes, set it on the ground, and it rolled back to the palace of its own accord. The same happened with the other dishes, and when the last had disappeared, a slave came to invite the stranger to take coffee in the palace.
While this was happening the Princess gave each of her children a wooden horse, and sent them to the gate to receive the guests. “When the dervish comes with his son,” said their mother, “take them to such and such an apartment.” The dervish and his son came up, the two children on their wooden horses greeted them with a salaam and escorted them to their apartments. Again the Princess took dishes of food and said to the children: “Take these to our guests and press them to eat. If they say they have already had sufficient and ask you to partake of the food, answer that you also are satisfied, but perhaps your horses are hungry, and put them to the table. They will then probably ask, how can wooden horses eat? And you must reply” (here she whispered something into the children’s ears).
The children did as their mother had commanded them. The food was so delicious that the guests tried to eat a second time, but becoming satisfied very soon, they asked: “Will you not eat also, children?” “We cannot eat,” answered the children, “but perhaps our horses are hungry,” so saying they drew them up to the table. “Children,” remonstrated the Prince, “wooden horses cannot eat.” “That you seem to know,” answered the children, “but apparently you do not know that it is impossible for little dogs to become human children such as we are.” The Prince sprang up with a cry of joy, kissed and embraced both his children. His wife entering at the moment, he humbly begged her pardon for the suffering she had experienced. They related to each other all that had befallen them during the time of their separation, and their joy knew no bounds. Now the Princess and her children prepared to accompany the Prince back to his own kingdom. After they had gone some distance, they turned to take a farewell look at the palace, and lo! the wind swept over the place as though no building had ever been there.
The Dew was lurking on the wayside, but the Prince caught him and killed him, and after that they arrived home without further adventure. Soon afterwards the old Padishah died, and the Prince became chief of the land.
Three apples have fallen from the sky. One belongs to the storyteller, the second to the listener, the third to me.
Editor’s Note: This version taken from https://www.sacred-texts.com/asia/ftft/ftft20.htm#page_141