The prime minister, who was the only person admitted, felt it his duty at last to tell the king how much the court and all the people complained of his seclusion, and how bad it was for the nation. He urged the sultan to remove with the prince to a lovely little island close by,
whence he could easily attend public audiences, and where the charming scenery and fine air would do the invalid so much good as to enable him to bear his father’s occasional absence.
The king approved the plan, and as soon as the castle on the island could be prepared for their reception he and the prince arrived there, Schahzaman never leaving his son except for the prescribed public audiences twice a week.
Whilst all this was happening in the capital of Schahzaman the two genii had carefully borne the Princess of China back to her own palace and replaced her in bed. On waking next morning she first turned from one side to another and then, finding herself alone, called loudly for her women.
“Tell me,” she cried, “where is the young man I love so dearly, and who slept near me last night?”
“Princess,” exclaimed the nurse, “we cannot tell what you allude to without more explanation.”
“Why,” continued the princess, “the most charming and beautiful young man lay sleeping beside me last night. I did my utmost to wake him, but in vain.”
“Your Royal Highness wishes to make game of us,” said the nurse. “Is it your pleasure to rise?”
“I am quite in earnest,” persisted the princess, “and I want to know where he is.”
“But, Princess,” expostulated the nurse, “we left you quite alone last night, and we have seen no one enter your room since then.”
At this the princess lost all patience, and taking the nurse by her hair she boxed her ears soundly, crying out: “You shall tell me, you old witch, or I’ll kill you.”
The nurse had no little trouble in escaping, and hurried off to the queen, to whom she related the whole story with tears in her eyes.
“You see, madam,” she concluded, “that the princess must be out of her mind. If only you will come and see her, you will be able to judge for yourself.”
The queen hurried to her daughter’s apartments, and after tenderly embracing her, asked her why she had treated her nurse so badly.
“Madam,” said the princess, “I perceive that your Majesty wishes to make game of me, but I can assure you that I will never marry anyone except the charming young man whom I saw last night. You must know where he is, so pray send for him.”
The queen was much surprised by these words, but when she declared that she knew nothing whatever of the matter the princess lost all respect, and answered that if she were not allowed to marry as she wished she should kill herself, and it was in vain that the queen tried to pacify her and bring her to reason.
The king himself came to hear the rights of the matter, but the princess only persisted in her story, and as a proof showed the ring on her finger. The king hardly knew what to make of it all, but ended by thinking that his daughter was more crazy than ever, and without further argument he had her placed in still closer confinement, with only her nurse to wait on her and a powerful guard to keep the door.
Then he assembled his council, and having told them the sad state of things, added: “If any of you can succeed in curing the princess, I will give her to him in marriage, and he shall be my heir.”
An elderly emir present, fired with the desire to possess a young and lovely wife and to rule over a great kingdom, offered to try the magic arts with which he was acquainted.
“You are welcome to try,” said the king, “but I make one condition, which is, that should you fail you will lose your life.”
The emir accepted the condition, and the king led him to the princess, who, veiling her face, remarked, “I am surprised, sire, that you should bring an unknown man into my presence.”
“You need not be shocked,” said the king; “this is one of my emirs who asks your hand in marriage.”
“Sire,” replied the princess, “this is not the one you gave me before and whose ring I wear. Permit me to say that I can accept no other.”
The emir, who had expected to hear the princess talk nonsense, finding how calm and reasonable she was, assured the king that he could not venture to undertake a cure, but placed his head at his Majesty’s disposal, on which the justly irritated monarch promptly had it cut off.
This was the first of many suitors for the princess whose inability to cure her cost them their lives.
Now it happened that after things had been going on in this way for some time the nurse’s son Marzavan returned from his travels. He had been in many countries and learnt many things, including astrology. Needless to say that one of the first things his mother told him was the sad condition of the princess, his foster-sister. Marzavan asked if she could not manage to let him see the princess without the king’s knowledge.
After some consideration his mother consented, and even persuaded the eunuch on guard to make no objection to Marzavan’s entering the royal apartment.
The princess was delighted to see her foster-brother again, and after some conversation she confided to him all her history and the cause of her imprisonment.
Marzavan listened with downcast eyes and the utmost attention. When she had finished speaking he said,
“If what you tell me, Princess, is indeed the case, I do not despair of finding comfort for you. Take patience yet a little longer. I will set out at once to explore other countries, and when you hear of my return be sure that he for whom you sigh is not far off.” So saying, he took his leave and started next morning on his travels.
Marzavan journeyed from city to city and from one island and province to another, and wherever he went he heard people talk of the strange story of the Princess Badoura, as the Princess of China was named.
After four months he reached a large populous seaport town named Torf, and here he heard no more of the Princess Badoura but a great deal of Prince Camaralzaman, who was reported ill, and whose story sounded very similar to that of the Princess Badoura.
Marzavan was rejoiced, and set out at once for Prince Camaralzaman’s residence. The ship on which he embarked had a prosperous voyage till she got within sight of the capital of King Schahzaman, but when just about to enter the harbour she suddenly struck on a rock, and foundered within sight of the palace where the prince was living with his father and the grand-vizir.
Marzavan, who swam well, threw himself into the sea and managed to land close to the palace, where he was kindly received, and after having a change of clothing given him was brought before the grand-vizir. The vizir was at once attracted by the young man’s superior air and intelligent conversation, and perceiving that he had gained much experience in the course of his travels, he said, “Ah, how I wish you had learnt some secret which might enable you to cure a malady which has plunged this court into affliction for some time past!”