Prince Firouz Schah was now convinced that the inclinations of the princess corresponded with his own; but though her every word and movement increased the tenderness of his passion, he did not forget the respect due to her rank and virtue. One of her women attendants, however, seeing clearly in what direction matters were tending, and fearing for herself the results of a sudden discovery, withdrew secretly, saying nothing to the rest, and running quickly to the chief of the guards she cried, 'O miserable man, what sorry watch is this that thou hast kept, guarding the King's honour; and who is this man or genie that thou hast admitted to the presence of our mistress? Nay, if the matter be not already past remedy the fault is not thine!'
Till the tale of her mirror contented her.
At these words he quickly leapt up in alarm, and going secretly he lifted the curtain of the inner chamber, and there beheld at the princess's side a youth of such fair and majestical appearance that he durst not intrude unbidden. He ran shrieking to the King, and as he went he rent his garments and threw dust upon his head. 'O sire and master,' he cried, 'come quickly and save thy daughter, for there is with her a genie in mortal form and like a king's son to look upon, and if he have not already carried her away, make haste and give orders that he be seized, lest thou become childless.'
The King at once arose and went in great haste and fear to his daughter's palace. There he was met by certain of her women, who, seeing his alarm, said, 'O sire, have no fear for the safety of thy daughter; for this young man is as handsome of heart as of person, and as his conduct is chaste, so also are his intentions honourable.'
Then the King's wrath was cooled somewhat ; but since much remained which demanded explanation he drew his sword and advanced with a threatening aspect into the room where his daughter and the Prince still sat conversing. Prince Firouz Schah observing the new-comer advance upon him in a warlike attitude, drew his own sword and stood ready for defence; whereupon the King, seeing that the other was the stronger, sheathed his weapon, and with a gesture of salutation addressed him courteously. 'Tell me, fair youth,' he said, 'whether you are man or devil, for though in appearance you are human, how else than by devilry have you come here? '
'Sire,' replied the youth, 'but for the respect that is owing to the father of so fair a daughter, I, who am a son of kings, might resent such an imputation. Be assured, however, that by whatever means I have chosen to arrive, my intentions now are altogether human and honourable; for I have no other or dearer wish than to become your son-in-law through my marriage with this princess in whose eyes it is my happiness to have found favour.'
'What you tell me,' answered the King, 'may be all very true; but it is not the custom for the sons of kings to enter into palaces without the permission of their owners, coming, moreover, unannounced and with no retinue or mark of royalty about them. How, then, shall I convince my people that you are a fit suitor for the hand of my daughter?'
'The proof of honour and kingship,' answered the other, 'does not rest in splendour and retinue alone, though these also would be at my call had I the patience to await their arrival from that too distant country where my father is King. Let it suffice if I shall be able to prove my worth alone and unaided, in such a manner as to satisfy all.' Alone and unaided?' said the King; 'how may that be?' 'I will prove it thus,' answered the Prince. 'Call out your troops and let them surround this palace; tell them that you have here a stranger, of whom nothing is known, who declares that if you will not yield him the hand of your daughter in marriage he will carry her away from you by force. Bid them use all means to capture and slay me, and if I survive so unequal a contest, judge then whether or no I am fit to become your son-in-law.'
The King immediately accepted the proposal, agreeing to abide by the result; yet was he grieved that a youth of such fair looks and promise should throw away his life in so foolhardy an adventure. As soon as day dawned he sent for his vizier and bade him cause all the chiefs of his army to assemble with their troops and companies, till presently there were gathered about the palace forty thousand horsemen and the same number of foot; and the King gave them instructions, saying, 'When the young man of whom I have warned you comes forth and challenges you to battle, then fall upon and slay him, for in no wise must he escape.' He then led the prince to an open space whence he could see the whole army drawn up in array against him. 'Yonder,' said the King, pointing,
'are those with whom you have to contend; go forth and deal with them as seems best to you.'
'Nay,' answered the prince, 'these are not fair conditions, for yonder I see horsemen as well as foot; how shall I contend against these unless I be mounted?' The King at once offered him the best horse in his stables, but the Prince would not hear of it. 'Is it fair,' he said, 'that I should trust my life under such conditions to a horse that I have never ridden? I will ride no horse but that upon which I came hither.'
'Where is that? ' inquired the King. 'If it be where I left it,' answered the Prince, 'it is upon the roof of the palace.'
She gave orders for the banquet to be served.
All who heard this answer were filled with laughter and astonishment, for it seemed impossible that a horse could have climbed to so high a roof. Nevertheless the King commanded that search should be made, and there, sure enough, those that were sent found the horse of ebony and ivory standing stiff and motionless. So though it still seemed to them but a thing for jest and mockery, obeying the King's orders they raised it upon their shoulders, and bearing it to earth carried it forth into the open space before the palace where the King's troops were assembled.