Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.
There was a Chief of the Merchants, called Malik ut Tujjar, in the city of Chin, who gave a hundred tumans to his son and said: "Go to the bazar and trade with these." The son went to the bazar and saw that they had hung up a dead man at the cross-roads and were beating him with sticks. "Tell me," cried he, "what evil this man had done." "He left a debt of a hundred tumans," they said, "and we are beating him so that the passers-by will all give something, though it were but one or two qrans each, for his sake, till the hundred tumans is made up, then we shall take him off and bury him."
"If that's all that's the matter," said the lad, "here, take these hundred tumans of mine and leave the corpse in peace." Therewith he gave them the money, and they took the corpse off and buried it. And the young man went home to the Malik ut Tujjar, his father, and got another hundred tumans. With this he bought some merchandise, and loaded it upon animals to go and trade.
When they had left the town, he said to himself: "I'll just see what sort of people these are in my caravan, and whether they would stand by me or not if an accident occurred." So he went up to one of his fellow-caravaners and said: "Please lend me a jug." He took the jug and left the road, pretending he was going to the water, for he wanted to see what sort of people they were and whether they would wait for him or not. He delayed a little, and looked and saw - not a bit of it! - the caravan had gone on without him and was nearly out of sight.
"Just so," said he to himself, "and some day if an accident happened to me they would never notice I wasn't with the caravan." Then he added: "I won't start this time," and he returned to the city.
After a little while he loaded up his merchandise a second time and started out with another caravan, and everything happened as before. The third time, however, when he remained behind his fellow-travellers missed him, and he saw them turn round and come back looking for him. "That's just as it should be," said he to himself, and they all started out again on their journey.
They travelled on till they reached a certain place in the evening and halted for the night. When they were preparing to eat their evening meal they saw a valiant youth coming out of the desert towards them. He came up and sat down, knee to knee, beside the son of the Malik ut Tujjar. "Master," said he, "if you are a merchant you must need a servant." "Yes," said he, "you can be my servant if you like. What work will you do?"
Now the caravan travellers had agreed together that every night they would take it in turn to act as sentry. The Youth replied: "Every night let the guarding of the caravan be left to me. I shall be sentry, and I give you my promise that I shall bring the caravan to its journey's end in safety. Only you, on your part, must promise me one thing: whatever I may do you must say nothing, and you must not interfere with me, but behave as if you were my servants."
"Tell me what evil this man had done."
To this they all agreed, and the Youth joined them as the Merchant's servant and they started out together.
One fine night when he was guarding the caravan the Youth looked out all round over the desert and saw the flame of a fire leaping up very high. He seized his sword and went towards the blaze. When he reached the fire he saw that there were forty thieves there, all sitting cheek by jowl on the one carpet. He sat down, knee to knee with them, and began to eat.
"What are you doing?" asked they. "Nay," he replied, "what are you all doing, and who are you?' "We are thieves," said they. "Good, I'm a thief too," said the young champion. So they all sat together and began to converse of all manner of places and people and things. Suddenly the Youth said: "Comrades, come some evening and let's go and rob!" And they said: "Well, but what shall we rob?" "Why shouldn't we go and rob the King's Treasury when we're about it?' said he.
To this they all agreed, and they started out and walked and walked till they arrived in the city under the very walls of the King's Treasury. Then said the Youth: "I am the mightiest of you all. I'll climb up first and pull you all up after me, one by one." So he threw up an iron grappling-hook and climbed up the rope. One by one he pulled the thieves up, and as each got to the top he cut off his head and threw it down on the inside of the wall, so that those below did not know what was happening. Last of all he pulled up their leader and slew him too.
Then he climbed down into the Treasury and arranged the forty dead thieves in a row, and their leader he put on the seat of honour in the midst of them, with his head on his breast. After this was accomplished he himself came out of the Treasury and made his way to the King's court, and found, just as he thought, that there was a lion about to climb up on the King's throne and carry him off. He smote and killed the lion and fastened his dead body to the front of the throne. Then he went up and saw, as he expected, that the King was sound asleep, and beside him were arranged food and water and his qalian. He made a mark on one of the King's legs, ate a few mouthfuls of his food, drank some water, and took a few whiffs of his pipe.
Then he came quickly out and turned his face to his caravan again, and got safely back before his fellow-travellers were awake. Next day as they journeyed they found a little fort right in the middle of their road, and in the fort was an aged Div, who used to lie in ambush on the road and attack passing travellers. She seized their goods and slew and ate the men themselves, so that no one was able to pass that way alive.
As soon as her eyes fell on the giant youth she uttered a great cry and dashed out to slay him. But the Youth drew his sword and smote the Div on the top of the head and cleft her in half. Then he followed up her track and went into the fort, and found, just as he expected, that it was full of all kinds of goods and chattels, money and precious stones which no man could number. And some men were prisoners there.
He set free all the prisoners, and, locking all the doors, took away the keys, and then returned to the camping-place of the caravan. When he got back he found all his companions still asleep. He woke them up, crying: "Get up! Morning has come."
Now let us go back and tell of the King's city. When the King woke up, he saw that some one had been smoking his pipe and - yes! - some one had been eating his food and drinking his water. He came down from his throne and saw that a lion had been killed and fastened to the front of it. At once he summoned his Wazir, and said: "Such and such strange things have happened." The Wazir replied: "And I too have news for your Majesty. Such and such a thing has happened in the Treasury and forty thieves have been slain there."
"Good," said the King, "but see to it that no one makes these events known." And he warned all his attendants who knew about them, saying: "If any one speaks of these things I will have him hewn into four quarters." Then he made a Proclamation in the city: "If any man can tell the King what took place last night in the Treasury and in the Court, the King will give him the Princess, his daughter, to wife."
Then many men came and each one told a story, but none knew the true one, and after seventeen or eighteen days, when the right man had still failed to appear, the King said to his Wazir: "What shall we do? After all this trouble we still do not know who was the slayer of the lion and the forty thieves." Then said the Wazir: "A strange merchant has just arrived in the city." "Go," said the King, "and bring him to me."
When the King's messengers came to fetch the son of the Malik ut Tujjar, for he it was who had just arrived, he did not want to go with them. His servant, the young champion, however, said: "Nay, let us rather obey." And because the master had promised to listen to his servant's advice, he consented, and they went together to the King.
The King's eye fell at once on the valiant youth, and he said: "Well, boy, speak, let me hear what you saw." "I myself," answered he, "saw nothing, but this brother of mine (and here he pointed to his master) told me all about it, only I know not whether it be true or whether it be all a lie." And the King said: "Well, speak on, and let us hear what it was." Thereupon the Youth related the whole story to the King, and added: "Moreover, such and such a mark was made on one of the King's legs."
Then said the King: "What reward do you now ask for these services, the slaying of the lion and the forty thieves?" "Sire," answered the servant, "I speak not for myself but for my brother here, who performed these deeds, and I say: 'In reward for these services betroth thy daughter to me and give her to me to wife, and graciously give me also seven hundred strings of camels, with seven hundred strings of mules, together with loading-bags and ropes, pack-saddles, and muleteers, and all that is necessary.'" To this the King agreed.
First he gave the Merchant the Princess his daughter, then he collected the camels and the mules with their saddles and trappings, and made all preparations. When all was ready the Merchant took his wife and the animals and his servant, said good-bye to the King, and started off to return to his own country.
Half-way thither they came again to the Div's fort, and they collected everything which was of little weight but of great value, and loaded it upon the camels and the mules which they had brought, and travelled on towards their city. As they drew near the valiant youth said to his master: "Well, now, you of yourself would have had none of this wealth. All of it really comes from me; it is good, therefore, that we divide it fairly." And the Merchant replied: "You speak truly, so be it!"
They divided everything till they came to the King's daughter. Then said the Youth: "The maiden we cannot divide. Now let it be thus: either take thou the King's Daughter and I will take all the treasure, or take thou the treasure and I the King's Daughter." But to this the Merchant would not agree, and they began to quarrel. Then the young champion said: "There's nothing impossible about dividing her." And he came and tied her to four pegs in the ground, and drew his sword and swung it round as if to cut her in half.
The Merchant was weeping so sorely from grief and fear that he could not speak. Just as the Youth was about to strike her, the maiden, in terror of being slain, cried: "Ah!" and out of her mouth came a large black snake, which fled away into the desert.
Thereupon the Youth set her free and sheathed his sword, and said to the son of the Malik ut Tujjar: "I did this only to drive the black snake out of her; now, lo! both the treasure and the maiden are thine, and everything is thine. God be thy keeper! I am gone." The Merchant called out: "Stay, who art thou?" And he answered: "I am he for whose sake you paid one hundred tumans at the cross-roads."
And now my story has come to an end, but the sparrow never got home.