Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.
There was a King who had a Wazir, and both the King's wife and the Wazir's wife were hoping for a child. One day the King said to the Wazir: "If my child should be a daughter and yours should be a son, we'll marry them to each other."
Now it happened that a Black Snake was born to the King's wife and to the Wazir's wife a very beautiful little girl, and in course of time both of them grew up. When they were of marrying age the King said to the Wazir: "Now you must give your daughter to my son." The name of the son was Miz Mast o Khumar, which in English would be Prince Sleepy-Head, and the name of the daughter was Mer-Niga, or Eye of Grace. The Wazir was afraid to refuse to obey the King's command, and they married the two to each other.
On the evening of the wedding the bride and groom took each other's hands, and when they were left alone together the King's son sloughed the skin of the Black Snake, and, lo, he was a handsome youth. When morning came he crept into the skin again and became the same Black Snake as before.
After a while the King gradually heard rumours of how his son turned into a handsome youth each night, and he sent for his daughter-in-law and said: "You must do something to prevent my son's going back again into his snake-skin." Then the bride asked her husband: "If I wanted to burn your snake-skin, what ought I to do?" He answered: "My skin could only be burnt in a fire made with the shell of an egg, the handle of a sweeping-brush, and the hair of a dog's tail. But if you burn my skin I shall disappear, and you will never see me more." The wife paid no heed to this warning, and the next time Miz Mast o Khumar stepped out of his snake-skin she burnt it. As it blazed up, the Prince suddenly appeared and cried:
"You have burnt my snake-skin, Never shall you see me more - unless, indeed, you wear out seven pairs of iron shoes and seven paper cloaks in seeking me." When he had said these words he vanished.
Eye of Grace made preparation for the journey, and procured seven pairs of iron shoes and seven paper cloaks, and started out. She walked and she walked and she walked in every direction in the world, till at last her shoes and her cloaks were quite worn out. The very day that her seventh pair of iron shoes gave out she came to the bank of a stream of water and sat down for a little to bathe her face, for she was very tired. She saw a slave-girl coming to fill a jug, and asked: "Whose slave are you?" The woman answered: "I am Prince Sleepy-Head's slave-girl." - "And where is he?" - "He is here, and he is going to get married. He is taking his aunt's daughter to wife." Then Mer Niga asked: "Whom are you drawing that water for?" - "For Miz Mast o Khumar; he wants to wash his hands." "Well," said Eye of Grace, "I am throwing a ring into the jug. When, you pour the water over your master's hands, pour it all out to the very end, and the ring will fall on his hand," and with that she threw into the jug a ring that Miz Mast o Khumar had given her for a keepsake.
"You have burnt my snake-skin."
The slave-girl went off and did just as she had been told to do. As soon as Prince Sleepy-Head saw the ring, he asked: "Where did this come from?" The slave-girl answered: "There was a strange young woman sitting on the bank of the stream, she threw it into my jug."
Miz Mast o Khumar came out and recognised Mer Niga, and said: "Where have you been? Why have you come to certain death? If my aunt hears that you are here she will kill you. Now the only thing to be done is to take you with me and say you are a new slave-girl whom I have bought for my bride." Then he took a lock of his own hair and gave it to Eye of Grace, and said: "Whenever any harm threatens you, put one of these hairs in the fire, and I shall appear and get you out of trouble if I can." Then he blackened Mer Niga's face and carried her off in the guise of a slave-girl to his mother-in-law and said: "My Lady Aunt, I have brought a slave-girl for your daughter." "Oh, you son of an evil mother," cried she, "my daughter has no need of a new slave-girl." But Prince Sleepy-Head begged her to keep the girl, and at last she agreed. Privately he said to Mer Niga: "Whatever work they may give you to do, do it without a murmur."
Next day the aunt gave the new slave-girl a sweepingbrush set with pearls, and said: "Sweep, and if a single one of these pearls falls out or is lost, I'll burn your father!" Mer Niga took the brush, but the moment she put it to the ground all the pearls fell out. She put a hair into the fire, and immediately Miz Mast o Khumar appeared. He saw what had happened, fastened in the pearls, and did the sweeping. Then he gave the brush back to Eye of Grace, and said: "Go and give it to my Lady Aunt." When she took the brush back, the aunt asked: "Is the sweeping done?" - "Yes." - "This is no work of yours; it is the work of Miz Mast o Khumar, son of an evil mother."
In the same way, the day after they gave her a colander, and said: "Take water in this and sprinkle the floor," but however much she tried she could not. Then, for the second time, she put a hair in the fire, Prince Sleepy-Head appeared, and sprinkled the water for her, and said; "Go and give the colander back to my Lady Aunt." When she came and brought it back the aunt asked: "Well, is the sprinkling done?" - "Yes." - "This is no work of yours; this is the work of Miz Mast o Khumar, son of an evil mother."
The day after that again the aunt filled a little casket full of biting insects, and put it in her hand and said: "This is a casket full of pearls; take it off to Such and Such a place. On the way there you will see a horse's manger; throw some bones into it. And you will see a dog tied up; put down some straw in front of him. And any door that you see shut, leave it shut, and go in through any door you see that is open. And you will come to a hollow full of dirt and blood; you mustn't go near it."