Prince Bahman rode in silence. He was going over what his sister had told him about the three elements she coveted so much. The Talking Bird which attracts other singing birds to join in chorus, The Singing Tree which sings from every leaf and is never soundless and the Golden Water, a drop of which in a basin, is enough to shoot into a fountain twenty feet tall, with neither the fountain dying out nor the basin overflowing.
At the end of twenty days, the prince came upon a man, sitting beneath a tree. His beard was white and cascaded till his feet and his fingernails had grown so long that they had begun to curl in spirals. His appearance was hideous, but near up, Prince Bahman could say that he was a dervish, a holy man. Remembering the old woman’s words, he dismounted, humbly walked over and bowed low before the man, in greeting. The old man attempted to talk but found it much difficult, for his wildly overgrown moustache completely covered his mouth. Seeking the dervish’s permission to trim the hair around his mouth, the prince produced a knife and carefully pruned it away. The dervish was much pleased with Prince Bahman and asked if there was anything he could do to show his gratitude. The prince enquired where he could find the Talking Bird, Singing Tree and Golden Water.
As he spoke, the prince could perceive a change in the dervish’s countenance. The old man waited a long time before he made a reply, as if trying to choose his next words carefully. Finally he spoke and they were words of strong warning. Prince Bahman learned that the first object of his quest, The Talking Bird was to be found in the high mountains and that it would lead him to the Singing Tree and the Golden Water. But the prince would have to overcome many an invisible enemy, voices that would pursue him from a distance and throw disturbingly insulting remarks. If the seeker ever turned his head to confront them, he would be instantly turned to stone. But the dervish could see that the prince was stubborn and would not budge from his resolve. He conceded and reaching into his bag pulled out a ball which he handed to the prince saying, “Mount your horse and throw this ball on your path in front. The ball will roll forward. Follow it as it rolls and stop when it rolls no more. Then dismount after throwing your charger’s bridle away without fear of its straying…”
The prince had had to give tough chase for the ball had rolled energetically forward. Prince Bahman was now standing, as the dervish had told, at the foot of a mountain. He recalled now the old man’s trailing words, “…You would have reached the foot of a mountain. Huge black stones you will see, lying on either side of the trail. These rocks were once determined men who had come to me just like you did, seeking these treasures.” Abruptly a cacophony of voices burst all around Prince Bahman and he rushed up the mountain path planting each step with fierce resolve.
Hundreds of miles away, Princess Parizade was inspecting the knife her long departed brother had given her. The blade was still spotlessly clean. Momentarily, she put the knife away seeking to share the good news with her brother Prince Perviz. Minutes later brother and sister returned to the bedside table in the latter’s bedroom where the knife lay. The prince picked up the knife watching his reflection on the shiny blade. But before they could smile in unison, tiny beads of blood appeared along the knife’s edge and before late, the entire blade was dripping with blood. The knife slipped out of Prince Perviz’s stricken hand and the sound it made, hitting the floor, was muffled by the screams of agony that pierced his sister’s throat.
Halfway up his trek, Prince Bahman had been a fighting a losing battle with the insulting voices. His indifferent attitude had apparently angered the voices and they fell around him with doubled fury. Unable to bear it any longer and forgetting the dervish’s advice, he had turned around to flee downhill and had been instantly turned to black stone.
Prince Perviz was as grieved as his sister, over his brother’s death, but very soon his grief turned into vengeance. He immediately prepared to leave, with renewed resolve, to avenge his brother’s death and acquire the evasive treasures. Before he was due to leave, he handed his sister a hand mirror, saying, “Dear sister. Take bold heart for I will come back to you with what you cherish. Look into this hand mirror, every sunset after my departure. If you can see your reflection, it means that am alive and well. But if it turns clouded and cracks, it means that I am no longer alive. But worry not, for I am sure to be guided by better luck.”
The princess would look into the mirror every sunset hence and it always reflected her hopeful face, delicate as the full moon framed by dark rain clouds. For twenty days her hope survived but on the twenty-first day, the mirror turned clouded and cracked, falling apart in her hands. Although deeply grieved at the loss of her only brother, she had already decided what she would do, should this day come. Early the next morning, disguised as a man, she mounted her stallion and headed towards the mountains.
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