The Most Valuable Treasure: The Tale of the Three Sons ~ Folktales
LONG ago in Libya, there lived a sultan. Sultan Bey had three sons and their names were Ali, Hassan, and Zakariah. When the three sons were grown to the bloom of youth, and when they were finished with schooling and with books, and were trained in the arts of war, so that no man could stand up against them either with sword or spear, the Sultan called his three sons to him.
Said the Sultan: “My beard is white and my arm grows weak. In the course of time, I will die and one of you will replace me.”
The sons objected that their father would say such a thing, but he held out his hand and they quieted. The Sultan continued. “Therefore, I will now hold a test to see which of you is the most fit to sit on the throne when I am gone. Each of you will go out and travel and bring back what you find in the world that you deem most valuable. And from that which you bring back, and from what you relate of your travels, I will judge you. Therefore take your horses and depart. May you travel in your journeys in health!”
The eldest son, Prince Ali, took his horse and saddled it. He summoned his servants to gather his animals and set out. He traveled and traveled through the world until he came to the Hill of Arafat. That night, he pitched his tents and slept with his servants by the hill. In the night a magical creature known in those times as a Jinni (you may know it as a Genie) came out of the Hill of Arafat. The Jinni awoke Ali and saluted him. The Prince sat up and his heart filled with fear, for he saw the Jinni, great and ugly and terrible, standing beside his bed.
But the Jinni said, “You are my guest tonight, O son of Sultan Bey, and can a Jinni harm his guest? I regret I have no feast to prepare in your honor. But I bid you to partake of my gold, for this hill is full of gold, and I am its guardian. I will give you as much as you can carry away with all your servants and all your animals.”
The Jinni took the Prince to the hill, and showed him a great door that opened to a tunnel, and the tunnel led to caverns that were filled to the very top with gold. The Prince called his servants and commanded them to drop all his baggage and to abandon it. He commanded them to load every camel, every donkey, every bag, and every horse with gold.
When his caravan was loaded, the Prince thought, “I have surely won the kingdom, and I will sit as Sultan in my father’s place, for can my brothers bring back what I am bringing? I have every saddle bag and even every pocket filled with gold.” He commanded his caravan to get started, and he started to march back to his father’s country.
In a similar manner Sultan Bey’s second son, Prince Hassan, set off from his country. Hassan took servants and soldiers, as well as donkeys, horses, and baggage camels. He traveled and traveled through the world until he, too, came to the Hill of Arafat.
By the hill, Prince Hassan saw the tents and baggage abandoned by his elder brother. He wondered, “What disaster has befallen my brother, that his tents and all his baggage lie abandoned here?” He commanded his servants and soldiers to pitch his tents, that he might rest from his journey and investigate in the morning the trouble that might have come to his older brother.
In the night he slept, and the Jinni came out of the hill, awoke him and saluted him. Prince Hassan sat up in his bed and his heart filled with fear, for he saw that the Jinni was great and ugly and terrible, and that he stood over his bed. But the Jinni bade him to put aside fear, for he said, “You are my guest tonight, O second son of the Sultan Bey, as was your brother before you, and can a Jinni harm his guest? I regret that I have no feast to prepare in your honor, but I bid you to partake of my gold, for this hill is full of it, and I am its guardian, and I will give you as much gold as you can carry away with all your servants and all your animals.”
The Jinni took the prince to the hill and showed him the great door, and he showed him the tunnel, as he had showed to his brother, and the caverns filled to the very top with gold. For so great was the amount of gold that all that was taken by his brother was as if some specks of dust had been brushed from the pile.
The Prince called his servants and commanded them to drop all his baggage and tents and abandon them. He instructed them to load every camel and donkey and horse with gold.
When all this was done, Prince Hassan ordered his caravan to march to return to his own country. He thought, “Who knows how much gold my older brother may have piled into his caravan when he got here before me? But lucky am I that I brought my soldiers along, to protect this precious cargo on my way back home.”
The youngest prince, Prince Zakaria, also prepared for his journey. His servants came to him and asked how many horses and camels and donkeys he required, but he replied, “Bring me only my mare and my sword, since I ride alone.” Prince Zakaria mounted his mare and rode into the world.
He traveled and traveled until he came to the Hill of Arafat, and he saw the baggage abandoned by both of his two brothers. He was amazed and thought, “What has become of my brothers, for this is their baggage, and yet there is no servant and no attendant either alive or dead.” He wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down to sleep so that he might rest, and investigate the fate of his two brothers in the morning.
In the night the Jinni came out of the hill, awoke him and saluted him. He too felt fear, yet he said to the Jinni, “What service can I do for you?”
The Jinni replied, “I come in your service, for you are my guest, as were your two brothers before you, O third son of the Sultan Bey. And I regret that I have no feast to prepare in your honor, but I bid you to take as much gold as you will from my store, even as your brothers took before you.” The Jinni took the Prince into the hill and showed him the great caverns filled to the very top with gold. The gold was as if untouched, for that taken by Ali and Hassan was no more than a speck of dust in those mighty stores.
Zakariah now understood why his brothers had abandoned their tents and baggage and had departed. He said, “Gold I do not want, for it can disappear as quickly as it comes.”
The Jinni was amazed and said, “Command me then, and I will give you your heart’s desire. For I have, indeed, great power, and I can give you anything from a sheep to a kingdom. I lied when I said I had only gold, as a test for you. Now I see that there is something else that is your heart’s desire, something more valuable. Shut your eyes then, and tell me what it is that you desire most.”
The Prince shut his eyes and said, “As you offered, above all else, I desire the daughter of the Sultan of the Hejaz. She is known far and wide to be the finest and most captivating princess in the whole world.”
The Jinni struck the ground with his foot. There was a crash as if of thunder. Prince Zakaria opened his eyes, hoping to see his bride. But the Jinni gave him only a ring and not a woman. Said the Jinni, “This ring is her father’s ring. When you show it to him he will allow you to marry her, since he gave it to me when I saved his life.”
Prince Zakaria put the golden ring on his finger and thanked the Jinni most graciously. Then he saddled his mare and departed, taking as a gift from the Jinni only the golden ring, for he took no coin and no treasure. He rode out into the world, and his destination was an ancient kingdom called the Hejaz, where the bride he yearned for lived across the sea.
Prince Zakaria rode until he came to the shore. Finding a ship bound for the Hejaz, he approached the captain. The captain noted a young man whose clothing was of the richest fabric and who carried a heavy purse. Thought the captain, “When we are at sea I will rob this youth, take his clothes, enslave him, and sell him.”
So the captain invited the prince to board his ship, and gave Zakaria a place to sleep in the captain’s own cabin.
The ship set forth and sailed smoothly over the sea. At sunset, the captain mixed a sleeping powder with a spice called saffron. He gave the mixture of sleeping powder and saffron to the cook and instructed her to use it to flavor only the rice for the prince’s dinner.
At dinnertime, the prince ate heartily of the rice. Soon he felt a great drowsiness encloud his head. He dropped to the deck, heavy with sleep. The captain lifted him up and carried him back to his cabin. He took off the prince’s silk clothes, took his purse, and took the gold ring off his finger. The captain set shackles to bind the wrists and feet of his victim.
After all this was done, the prince awoke. He was amazed when he realized the treachery of the captain. Though he tugged and tore at the shackles until his skin was torn from his wrists and ankles, he could not force the chains open.
The captain laughed a great laugh. “Without your fine clothes, we’ll see what you’re worth! I’ll take you to the land of the Abyssinians in Ethiopia. There I will sell you as a slave!”
For three days and three nights they sailed on. Prince Zakaria remained in a wretched and miserable state. On the third night, a dreadful storm came, with thunder and hail and lightning and great waves that capsized the ship, breaking it apart throwing all on board into the sea. The prince, shackled as he was, was flung into the water. He could not swim or move to save himself. Downward he sank until he hit the rocks on the bottom of the sea, and water filled his lungs.
Near where the prince fell to on the rocks, there was an undersea cave castle, and in the castle lived the Princess of the Sea. Having seen the young man sink downward to the rocks, she took pity on his terrible condition, chained as he was and unable to save himself. She instructed her castle nymphs to carry the youth upward, and at once, to a great rock which rose out of the water so that he could again breathe the air.
When the water emptied from his lungs, and when he could see and speak and breathe again, Prince Zakaria saw below the watery surface the top of the undersea castle and it was richly lined with coral and pearls. All the more astonished was he when a sea princess rose up from the water and settled on the rocks beside him. Her eyes were sea-blue, her hair was a sweeping jet-black silk, on her head she wore a jewel-crusted crown, and at the end of a royal gown swept the silver-green tail of a fish.
The princess looked downward into the water and commanded that wine and fruit be brought for the youth’s refreshment. Then she turned to ask him his name. The prince replied, “My name is Zakariah and I am a son of the Sultan Bey.”
She said, “I am the Princess of the Sea. Here you are my guest.”
She commanded her servants to bring tools, and with the tools they struck off the shackles binding his wrists and feet. Then she commanded her maidservants to rub oil upon his wounds. Prince Zakaria gazed at the Bride of the Sea, and he saw that she was kind and gentle.
Yet he said: “I go to marry the daughter of the Sultan of the Hejaz, for she is known far and wide to be the finest and most captivating princess in all the earth.”
The Princess of the Sea said to Zakaria, “I know of her. Her beauty is famed far and wide, but what do men know of her heart?”
Prince Ali said, “Is not what’s in her heart the same as what shows on her face?”
“Sometimes,” said the Princess of the Sea. “You will go and see her. Yet you will go in disguise as a girl, so that by seeing her actions you may also see her heart.”
The sea princess sent her maidens to recover the golden ring from the wreckage of the ship. She returned the ring to the prince and said, “Turn around three times, then go to your beloved.”
Zakaria turned around three times and he was amazed, for he found he was a girl. The sea-maidens rose up from the sea and mounted him upon a dolphin. They said, “This dolphin will be your steed; ride him to the Hejaz.”
Zakaria rode the dolphin until the shores of the Hejaz came into view. Yet he felt despair, for he thought, “Now I am a girl and only the Princess of the Sea can turn me back into my proper state!”
Zakaria, who was now a female as you know, reached the shores of the Hejaz. He went directly to the palace of the king. The king and the people of his court were much amazed that such an enchanting young maiden should appear alone, without any friends or company. They asked her from where she came. Zakaria, now the girl, did not know how to answer. So the king commanded that the strange maiden should be put to serve his daughter in the harem.
In the harem, Zakaria served the princess, his intended bride, the daughter of the king of the Hejaz. He combed her hair and brought her food and clothes according to her commands. The princess was truly captivating, in fact, she outshone the moon. Zakaria swooned at her beauty and yet he grew to love her not. For the princess cursed and swore at her maidens and scolded them always, whipping and beating Zakaria and the rest of the maidens, and pinching them and tearing their hair. All this, while the rest of the court and, indeed, the kingdom, and even her father, thought her a very model of sweetness and love. In this manner it came about that Zakaria grew to dislike greatly the daughter of the sultan of the Hejaz.
One day, as the girl Zakaria was drawing water at the well, she saw in her water-jar a fish. The fish stuck its head out of the water and spoke to her in Arabic, saying, “You have seen the princess. Do you now know love?”
Zakaria replied, “No. I do not!”
Then the fish said, “Turn around three times and you shall be a man once more.” So Zakaria turned around three times. He was amazed for he had become his former self again, but dressed in a cloak of silk, with a dagger and a sword of gold.
When the maiden, the drawer of water, did not return to the palace, the soldiers and attendants searched for her, thinking she had run away. When they saw Zakaria, they saluted him as a visiting prince. Zakaria went to the market and bought a fine horse, for he wished to leave that land as soon he coiuld. In the marketplace, he saw a beggar in dire circumstances, limping and with little to hope for. He threw the beggar the gold ring, saying, “Take this ring to the Sultan, and he will be bound to give you his daughter in marriage. Believe me she’s no prize, but at least you’ll have something to gain by the fineries of castle life.” The beggar took the ring and limped to the palace. The Sultan, when he saw the ring, was compelled to give his daughter in marriage, for that is what he had promised the Jinni.
Zakaria rode away on his horse until he came to the sea. Sea-maidens frolicking on the waves cried out to him, “Our mistress awaits you!”
So Zakaria dismounted his horse and walked into the sea, fully clothed. The sea-maidens carried him forth to the deep sea cave castle, to the throne of the Princes of the Sea. Though he was underwater, he could breathe easily. Zakaria saw her, the Princes of the Sea. He saw in her face the kindness that was in her heart, and he saw that her maidens adored her. He knew that what he had been seeking far and wide stood right before him.
I’m sure you can guess that before long, Prince Zakaria and the Princess of the Sea were married. She commanded her attendants to bring a ship of gold and silver. Prince Zakaria and his bride sat on thrones in the stern of the ship, and the sea-maidens tied ropes to the ship and pulled it through the sea.
In time they came to the country of the Sultan Bey, the father of Zakaria. The Sultan and all his court were astonished to see a ship of gold and silver being pulled out of the sea by sea-maidens.
The Sultan Bey came out with all his court to meet the ship as it grounded on the beach. His troops and all the people of the town followed behind. Prince Zakaria lifted his bride from the ship and carried her onto the shore. The moment he set her down and her fish-tail touched the sands, it turned into two legs and she became a complete and perfect woman.
Then the Sultan Bey judged between his three sons. He saw that two of them had brought great stores of gold, while the third had brought a ship of gold and silver and the Princess of the Sea, and he saw that she and his son were very much in love. He commanded each of his sons to relate their adventures, and they obeyed his command.
The Sultan gave judgement. He said, “Those who love gold shall live with gold.” He commanded that his sons Ali and Hassan should be put as clerks in the treasury, and that they should spend their days counting gold.
Then the Sultan announced that his youngest son Zakaria would be the next to take his place on the throne, for he said, “Gold is but gold, and any man can have it, but my son Zakaria has found for himself a true love and so he has shown himself to be the finest of men.”
The story, "The Sons of Sultan Bey" was adapted from "The Story of the Prince Ali, the Son of the Sultan Mohammed Bey, and of the Bride of the Sea" from Told in the Marketplace (Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1954), pp. 151-160.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. ©2000. All rights reserved.
Hill of Arafat. Ss Hejaz. Ancient kingdom that is now part of Saudi Arabia. Located in the northwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula, Hejaz covered 150,000 square miles and extended along the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba southward and 15 miles from the sea eastward. The kingdom of Hejaz included the ancient and holy cities of Mecca and Medi.