Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.
There were two brothers who were both kings; the one had three daughters and the other had one son, so they betrothed the eldest daughter to her uncle's son.
The cousins were duly married and the Prince carried the bride to his home, but after that he took absolutely no notice of her; he spoke no word to her, good or bad, neither "yea" nor "nay." For some six months the bride waited patiently, but at last, when she saw that her husband paid no heed to her at all and wouldn't even open his lips, she went to her father and made request: "Father, how long must I be patient? It is now six months, and my husband has not once spoken to me; it is evident that he does not want me. I beg you procure me a divorce." So the King was obliged to get a divorce for his first daughter.
Some little time after this they betrothed the second Princess to her cousin, and he married her and took her home. But she also found that he said neither "yea" nor "nay," in short, he neglected her just as he had her elder sister. She waited patiently for the space of some six months, but when she saw that her husband would not speak at all, good or bad, day or night, she also came and made request to her father: "Father, I am become as my sister. The son of my uncle pays no heed to me; clearly he does not want me. I pray you procure me a divorce." The King had no choice but to obtain a divorce for her also, and he took her home again and seated her beside her elder sister.
Well, some little time passed and the King said to himself: "Perhaps he would like my little daughter," so he came and betrothed his youngest daughter to his brother's son. The marriage took place, and when the bride was taken to her husband's house, alas and alack! she was treated just as her two elder sisters had been. She sat still, however, and waited, and said nothing to her father or her sisters.
When her sisters came to see her now and again, or when she went back to visit them in her father's house, she would say: "No, sisters, it's not in the least as you imagine. I am very fortunate, for my husband is fond of me and treats me well." One day her sisters were coming to spend the day with her, and she said beforehand to her slave-woman: "While my sisters are here you must come in once every hour or so and call me out, saying: 'The son of your uncle the Shah is asking for you.' "
The slave-woman did as she was told, and every hour or so kept coming in and calling her mistress. Then the bride would get up and apologise to her sisters, and go into a neighbouring room. There she would talk to herself and laugh aloud, and say: "O cousin, you mustn't keep me too long; my sisters have come to see me, let me go back to them soon, for they are alone." The unfortunate elder sisters became annoyed at last and said: "Look at this!
Our cousin had no desire for us, but he is so fond of our little sister that he cannot be content without her for one hour."
In the afternoon the poor Princesses went back to their home and cried a little and said to the Shah, their father: "Do you see, father, that's how it was! The Prince our cousin had no desire for us, but all the while he wanted our little sister."
That evening the husband came home and behaved just as usual, saying neither "yea" nor "nay," and he went off and slept in a corner by himself. And his poor wife went and slept by herself. At last six months had passed, and she still had patience and still her husband continued as before, saying nothing either good or bad by night or day.
At the end of this time it happened that the Prince came home one evening carrying a lime in his hand. He put it down beside the candlestick and went off and lay down to sleep. Next morning the wife took the lime and went out into the garden, and sat down beside a little stream. As she sat there thinking, she started absent-mindedly playing with the fruit. Suddenly it slipped from her hand and the water carried it off. She was greatly frightened and ran after it, but the stream swept it off through a hole in the garden wall into the next garden.
There was nothing for her to do. but to creep through after it, and when she did so she found herself in a very large garden on the other side of the wall, and there she began to stroll about to see what it was like. When she reached the far end she found a very big and beautiful building. She went in and saw her husband asleep there beside a lovely Peri, so beautiful that merely to gaze on her would be a sin.
The wife went up to the place where they were sleeping and sprinkled water on the floor and swept it all nicely up. Then she got the samovar ready and lit it, and washed up the saucers and tea-glasses, and did everything she could think of for them until it was nearly time for them to wake up. Then she put down the lime where they could not help seeing it, and crept back through the water-hole to her own house.
When the King's Son and the daughter of the Shah of the Peris woke and got up from their couch, they saw that some one had watered and swept the floor, and washed up the tea things and lit the samovar, and the whole house was beautifully neat and tidy. The Prince looked and noticed the lime which he had carried home the night before, and the Perl's daughter recognised that it was the very same that she had given him yesterday as a gift. They looked at each other in silence a while. At last the Peri said: "O, What's-your-Name, it is now all over between me and thee!" And the King's Son made no reply.
That was one day. Again the King's Son took home the lime and put it down beside the same candlestick, and went off and lay down to sleep. Next morning the wife took the fruit, and went and sat on the bank of the stream. Then she threw it into the water and went after it herself. Just as before, she found the two asleep, and she happened to notice that a circle of sunlight was falling on their faces from the round hole in the roof above, so she went up on to the roof and arranged her kerchief as a screen for them. Then, as before, she did all the work in the house, and left everything neat and tidy and ready for their tea. When all this was done she went off home, forgetting all about her kerchief. As soon as she got home she remembered it, and went back to fetch it. This time she found they were awake and were talking together, and the Perl's daughter was saying: "O, What's-your-Name, it is now all over between thee and me."
The third day came. Again she crept through the water-hole into the garden, and did all the housework as before. Suddenly the sleepers woke, and she stole into a corner and hid herself and listened. She heard the Peri's daughter say: "O, What's-your-Name, it is now all over between thee and me. We can no longer meet here; we shall have to go every night to the Nastaran garden. You must mount a red horse and wear a red suit, and I shall ride a white horse and put on a man's white suit, and we can meet at the cross-roads and ride from there together to the garden."
Now the wife had heard all these words, and she came home. Next morning she sent to her father's stable and said: "Bring me a yellow horse," then she put on a yellow suit of men's clothes and mounted and rode off. When she reached the cross-roads she found, as she expected, that the other two were just riding up. They all met and said: "Peace be upon you!" and "On you be peace."
Then she asked: "Where are you two riding to?" "We were thinking of going to the Nastaran garden," said they, "may we invite you to come too?" "Thank you very much," she replied, "I'll come with pleasure." So they all rode off together and came to the Nastaran garden. After they had been sitting there some time fruit was brought, and they began peeling melons. The young wife cut her thumb on purpose, so that it began to bleed very hard, till at last she said: "Look, now, what am I to do? It won't stop bleeding." At once the Prince her cousin tore a strip off the end of his waist-shawl, and with his own hands bound it tightly over the cut.
They stayed there till the afternoon, then they came out of the garden, mounted their horses, and rode home. At the cross-roads they said: "Good-bye, God be your Keeper!" and separated, and the King's Son and the Peri's daughter said "Good-bye" to each other also and parted.
The wife galloped her horse more swiftly and reached home first. She gave her horse to a slave and said: "Take him to the stable and tie him up." Then she took off her man's clothes and put on her own again, and sat down to wait till evening. At night the son of the Shah her uncle came back, but this time he behaved just the same as on all the other nights, and said neither "yea" nor "nay."
Then the wife came and sat down beside the candlestick and began to tell her sorrows. All her woes from the beginning she told to the candle and the candlestick - where she had gone to, where she had been, and what she had done:
"Ah! I have cut my thumb so small, And bound it with my true love's shawl. Hark, candlestick, I'll tell to you, And, candle, you must listen too."
Her uncle's son heard all the secrets of her heart till she had finished the tale of all her woes and had ceased to speak. Then he went away and thought to himself: Alas, forgetful and ungrateful heart! For three days my cousin has come and toiled for us, and to-day she was in the garden with us." Then he came up and threw his arms round her neck and kissed her and caressed her, and said: "O, cousin, I loved all three daughters of the Shah my uncle, but the two first would not wait long enough. You have waited in patience and have broken the spell. You are mine."
Then they sat down to spend their lives together as husband and wife.
And now my story has come to an end, but the sparrow never got home.