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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Princess of Ayashah

City of the Sands/Fantasy artwork by Tolga Gurpinar Once there was, and once there wasn't, when the world was still new but its heart was old, when our ancestors were rocked to sleep in cradles of wood, back then deep in the heart of the deserts of ancient Arabia, a walled city known to travellers and the wise as the City of the Sands, the jewel of Ayashah stood.

Some of the people within its walls were very rich and opulent. Fat women slept on peacock feathers and bathed in pools of milk and honey. Even fatter men wore the softest silks and used the most exotic oils. Every day was for grooming leisure and every evening for royal ceremony.

The King of Ayashah was most exalted by his people. At nightly banquets they praised him as wine passed their lips; they saluted him with mouthfuls of meat. Tongues in salivation called out his name in salutation for the riches he bestowed to nobility. Second only to the great Sultan of Arabia they would cry, and maybe even greater than then he, they would quietly entreat.

And the King on his golden throne would smile most contentedly.

Yet, in such a happy portrait that this storyteller paints there was one dark shadow, which bothered the King verily.

His daughter was a most strange child and the King did not know what to do. While they danced so joyfully, the beautiful girl would play sad songs in soliloquy. She was wild and free too, and towards the nobility no gentleness would she uphold. Yet, she was kind and thoughtful to every worker in the household, showing a heart of pure gold.

On the eve of the princess' eighteenth year, the King sent for his daughter to come near.

"Now that you have come of age, you must be wed and give me heirs. Choose one of the many princes I will show you and whose only dream is of marrying you and be free of all cares."

"Father," said the princess respectfully, "I've no intention of getting married until I find the one that's for me."

Unsure of what he was hearing, the King moved closer to his kin. "How will you know when you find him so?"

"God places an angel inside us before we are born, and that angel will only wake when our true love is near and we are completely reborn."

The King laughed merrily to hear such frivolity. "Speak sense and forget such nonsense! One day you will be a queen of this great city, you must forget such a foolish dream!"

"I will not marry my great King, until my inner angel wakes to sing."

The King moved to stand, waving his large, jewelled hand. "I will invite the four most handsome princes in Arabia for your hand, you will choose one and have the greatest wedding in the land!"

The girl's voice was soft but sure, as she spoke once more, "I will not marry my great King, until my inner angel wakes to sing."

Her father, who could not bear to be crossed in such an important matter, went into a rage. He shouted for the guards and ordered them to take the girl away. Against his edicts she had disobeyed, and so he would lock her in the palace's highest tower until he got his way!

So there the princess sat wondering how to escape her father's wishes and captivity. At sunset she listened to the wind sing a dark stirring melody. She heard the trees sigh sadly in reply. She watched birds spread their wings to the sky, and the poor princess suddenly wished she could fly.

How is it, she thought to herself, that God affords to the simplest bird, what my father cannot give to me?

She was deeply troubled, but the strong willed girl refused to cry. For suddenly she found a solution that could free her from the tower so high.

Preparations for a glorious feast were on the way for the next day. The King adamant in his wish to have his daughter wed, had invited the four most richest princes and to his daughter said,

"Heed my words, O daughter of mine, before the morrow is out you will come out to dine. Seated with me at the table you will spy four young men most able. From one of these you will decide to whom you will be a most loving bride."

The princess did not shout or sway, but merely lifted her head to say, "Father I have one condition. I will ask each prince a question."

"There will be no tricks my fair daughter, each question shall have a known answer!"

The princess smiled. "I promise you that whomsoever marries me, will have the answer easily."

The next day the princess from the tower watched as one by one three princes arrived and it appeared from a distance that all were very charming. But when she listened for her angel to sing, it did not say a single thing.

The young lady was lost in thought as she was escorted to the ball. Out of all three, her heart told her that none were meant to be. Yet, she forgot that there should be one more, for her father had previously mentioned four.

At the royal hall, she walked in proud and tall.

"Come here daughter," the King commanded her. "Ask your questions to these fine men." Everyone hushed to listen.

The girl walked up to the table and looked at the first man. He was broad shouldered and fair, his eyes were sky blue. Yet, still no angel stirred within her breast, and she knew that he would not do.

"My first question is to you," she said, "tell me lord of what is made the spirit?"

The first prince replied, "How can I tell you the substance of something unseen? I cannot see it!"

She looked to the second man, whose eyes were as black as obsidian, and asked, "Tell me lord what is worth the living?"

"Why an easy question," the second dark-eyed prince replied, "it's having a rich position!"

She turned to the prince in the third seat, who had already started to eat his meat. "Tell me lord if you are knowing of what is worth the dying?"

The third brown haired man gulped his food down and said with a cry and roar, "Nothing is worth so much as to die for!"

The princess knew her heart had not forsaken her, she looked triumphantly at her father.

Before the King could reply, from the crowd a male voice spoke loudly. "Will the princess care to have a question answered by a commoner so lowly?"

All eyes turned to see who was the owner of the voice so deep and rich. Strange glances came from the surrounding folk, for there stood a man in a dirty, muddy cloak.

Suddenly, somewhere inside her soul the princess heard a voice in whisper. Could this be the one, she thought to herself, that I have been waiting to appear?

"I will go one better," he spoke again loudly, but softly. Without waiting for command the man drew nearer, "and to the questions you asked I will give you an answer to all three."

"Then give me your answer now and willingly," her voice trembling, she managed to respond finally. "I ask you the answer to all three."

Closer came the olive skinned man with the shiny dark eyes of a dove. "Of what else is the spirit made, what else is worth the living and worth the dying but the most precious of love?"

And slowly God's sleeping angel within the princess began to wake. Finally, she thought happily, I have found the measure of my heart's ache.

However, the King still had more to say. "Never," he roared, "will I give my daughter to a commoner!"

"If the decision be mine to make," his daughter spoke back with the same fire, "then whoever this man is I accept him as my sire."

The man smiled slowly and gently in her ear whispered, "And you my love have now my question most correctly answered." Aloud he spoke to the crowd and King, "There is no cause for alarm or distress, I am the fourth prince that was invited here to woo the beautiful princess!"

When the prince drew back his cloak, all was made clear. There stood the prince of Arabia, and the crowd gave a large cheer.

So we leave this story to the sound of singing angels and wedding bells, and to an ending that great happiness foretells.

And to the reader what moral does our fairy tale impart, but that like the princess of Ayashah you should always listen to the angel in your heart.

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Ayashah is a name I invented, it holds no historical truth. I wrote this fairy tale in the style of the Turkish folk tales my grandmother would tell me as a child.

Artwork by Tolga Gürpınar

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