There was once upon a time a Padishah, who had an only son. His father guarded him as the apple of his eye, and there was not a desire of his heart that was not instantly gratified.
One night a dervish appeared to the King's son in a dream, and showed him the World's most beauteous Damsel, and there he drained with her the cup of love. After that the prince became another man. He could neither eat nor drink. Sleep brought him neither pleasure nor refreshment, and he all at once grew sallow and withered. They sent for doctor after doctor, they sent for wizard after wizard, but they could not tell the nature of the malady or find a cure for it.
Then the sick prince said to his father: "My lord Padishah and father, no leech, no wise man can help me, wherefore weary them in vain? The World's most beauteous Damsel is the cause of my complaint, and she will be either the life or the death of me."
The Padishah was frightened at the words of his son, and his chief care was to drive the damsel out of the lad's head. "Tis dangerous to even think of such a thing," said he, "for her love will be thy death." But his son continued to pine away daily, and life had no joy for him. Again and again the father begged his son to tell him his heart's desire and it should be instantly fulfilled, and the eternal reply of the son was: "Let me seek the World's most beauteous Damsel." Then the Padishah thought to himself: "If I do not let him go he will only perish, and he cannot therefore be worse off if he goes." Then said he: "Go, my son, after thy love, and may the righteous Allah be merciful to thee."
So the next day the prince set out on his journey. He went up hill and down dale, he crossed vast deserts, he traversed rugged wildernesses in search of his beloved, the World's most beauteous Damsel. On and on he went, till he came at last to the sea-shore, and there he saw a poor little fish writhing in the sand, and the fish besought him to throw it back into the sea again. The youth had compassion upon the fish, and threw it back into the sea again. Then the little fish gave him three scales, and said to him: "If ever thou dost get into any trouble, burn these scales."
Again the youth went on his way till he came to a vast desert, and there on the ground in front of him he saw a lame ant. The little creature told him that he was going to a wedding, but could not overtake his comrades because they hastened so quickly. Then the youth took up the ant and carried him to his comrades. As they parted the ant gave him a little piece of its wing and said: "If ever thou shouldst get into any trouble, burn this bit of wing."
Again the youth followed his road, full of weary woefulness, and reaching the borders of a large forest he there saw a little bird struggling with a large serpent. The little bird asked help of the youth, and with one blow he cut the serpent in two. The bird then gave him three feathers. "If ever thou shouldst get into trouble," it said, "burn these little feathers."
Again he took up his pilgrim's staff and went beyond the mountains, beyond the sea, till he came to a large city. It was the realm of the father of the World's most beauteous Damsel. He went straight into the palace to the Padishah, and begged the hand of his daughter in the name of Allah. "Nay," said the Padishah, "thou must first of all accomplish three tasks for me. Only after that canst thou make known thy wishes to my daughter."
With that he took a ring, cast it into the sea, and said to the King's son: "If thou canst not find it for me in three days, thou art a dead man." Then the King's son fell a-thinking till he bethought him of the three scales, and he had no sooner burnt them than the little fish stood before him and said: "What dost thou command, 0 my Sultan?" - "The ring of the World's most beauteous Damsel hath been cast into the sea, and I want it back again," said the prince. Then the fish sought for the ring but couldn't find it; it dived down a second time and still it couldn't find it; a third time it descended right down into the seventh ocean, drew up a fish, cut it open, and there was the ring. So the youth gave the ring to the Padishah, and the Padishah gave it to his daughter.
Now there was a cave near the palace full of gravel and grain. "My second task," said the Padishah, "is that thou dost separate the grain from the gravel." Then the youth entered the cave, took out the ant's wing and burned it, whereupon the whole cave was swarming with ants, and they set to work upon the grain in hot haste. The day was now nearly over, and the same evening the youth sent word to the Padishah that the second task also was accomplished.
"The third task still remains," said the Padishah, "and then thou mayest have my daughter." With that he sent for a maid-servant, had her head cut off straightway, and then said to the youth: "Thus shall be done to thy head also if thou restore not this damsel to life again." The youth quitted the palace in deep thought, and at last he bethought him that the bird's feathers might help him. So he took them out and burned them, and lo! the bird stood before him ere yet his lips had commanded it to appear. And the youth complained bitterly to the bird of the task that was set him.
Now the bird had friends among the Peris, and, flying up into the air, in no very long time was back again with a cruse of water in its beak. "I have brought thee heavenly water which can give life even to the dead," said the bird. So the prince entered the palace, and no sooner had he sprinkled the damsel with the water than she sprang up as if she had never been dead at all.
Now the rumour of all these things reached the ears of the World's most beauteous Damsel, and she ordered the prince to be brought before her. The damsel dwelt in a little marble palace, and before the palace was a golden basin which was fed by the water of four streams. The courtyard of this palace also was a vast garden wherein were many great trees and fragrant flowers and singing-birds, and to the youth it seemed like the gate of Paradise.