Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1316
The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad
Three wealthy and beautiful sisters invite, over the course of an evening, a porter, three one-eyed Kalandars, and three merchants—who turn out to be the Caliph and his companions in disguise—into their home for shelter, food, and drink. Upon entering each guest must take the following oath: ‘‘Whoso speaketh of what concerneth him not shall hear what pleaseth him not!’’
The eldest lady interrupts the festivities to attend to her duty. Two black bitches (female dogs) are brought out to her; she proceeds to beat them with a whip; then, tearfully kissing them both, she sends them away.
The cateress then sings a sad song, causing the portress to penitently rend her garments, revealing to the guests the marks of a terrible beating.
The men, unable to contain their curiosity, break their oaths and demand an explanation of the women. The eldest lady grows angry at their presumption and commands her slaves to bind them. The lady demands each of their stories in exchange for their lives.
The First Kalandar’s Tale
The first Kalandar reveals that he is actually a Prince. His adventure begins with a visit to his cousin, who is also a Prince of another kingdom: sworn to an oath of secrecy, he agrees to conceal his cousin in an underground dwelling with his cousin’s lover. He then returns to his father’s kingdom, where he discovers that the King’s Wazir has slain his father and taken over the kingdom. The Wazir puts out the Prince’s left eye and condemns him to execution in the wilderness, but he manages to escape and immediately makes his way back to his uncle’s kingdom, where his uncle is grieving over the disappearance of his son. The Prince breaks his oath and shows his uncle the entrance to the secret dwelling, which they enter only to find the burnt bodies of the cousin and his lover. The uncle spits upon the face of his son and then explains that the lady is the cousin’s own sister whom he was forbidden from seeing. They return to the palace to find it taken over by the same evil Wazir. The uncle is killed and the Prince, disguised as a Kalandar, heads to Baghdad to seek the aid of the Caliph.
The Second Kalandar’s Tale
The Second Kalandar also reveals that he is a Prince. Attacked by a band of robbers while journeying to Hind, he flees to a foreign city where he is taken in by a friendly tailor, who aids him in his finding work as a woodcutter.
While in the forest, he discovers an underground dwelling, where he finds a beautiful Princess who is held prisoner by an Ifrit. After spending the night with her, he foolishly summons the Ifrit, who appears and captures him; he kills the Princess for her infidelity and punishes the Prince by transforming him into an ape.
After a time of wandering, the Prince, still in the form of an ape, comes upon another kingdom where he manages to use his intelligence to impress the King.
The King’s daughter Sitt al-Husn, who has magical abilities, realizes that the ape is really an enchanted Prince; she defeats the Ifrit in a terrible battle in order to set the Prince free, only to be killed herself. The Prince is returned to his former shape, but he has lost his left eye during the battle. He takes on the garb of a Kalandar and makes his way to Baghdad.
The Third Kalandar’s Tale
The third Kalandar, Ajib son of Khazib, is also a Prince. He is marooned on the island of the Magnet Mountain after his ship sinks. Guided by a voice, he kills the island’s horseman, after which a man appears on a skiff to rescue him; however, before arriving at dry land the skiff overturns, and Ajib ends up on another deserted island.
Ajib meets a boy hidden in an underground dwelling. It has been prophesied that the boy would be killed by the killer of the horseman of the Magnet Mountain, and so his father has hidden him there to avert death. In fulfillment of the prophesy Ajib accidentally falls with a knife on the boy and kills him.
The tide recedes enough for Ajib to wade to the mainland, where he meets ten men, each with a missing eye; they take him in under the condition that he asks no questions. Every night the men perform a penance by covering themselves with ash; Ajib’s curiosity finally overcomes him, and he asks their story.
The men then have a bird carry Ajib to a palace of beautiful women, where he remains in luxury for a year. One day the women leave him alone in the palace, and he opens a forbidden door behind which he finds a black stallion. He mounts the horse, which then flies away and, upon landing, knocks Ajib’s eye out with his tail. Ajib penitently takes on the garb of a Kalandar and eventually makes his way to Baghdad.
Amazed by the men’s stories, the eldest lady lets them go free. The next morning, the Caliph summons the ladies to reveal their tales.
The Eldest Lady’s Tale
The two black female dogs are the enchanted elder sisters of the mistress of the house, also known as the eldest lady, who are under her care after having been left destitute by their husbands. One day the lady and her sisters, while on a sailing trip, end up in a mysterious city where everyone has been turned to stone. The lady meets a handsome youth reciting verses from the Koran. He is the Prince of that city, preserved from being turned to stone because he was the city’s only worshipper of Allah.
The lady and the Prince return to the ship with plans to marry. The sisters, envious of their sister’s happiness, throw the lady and the Prince into the sea. The Prince drowns, but the lady floats to shore and survives. On her way back to Baghdad, she comes upon a serpent being chased by a dragon, which the lady slays. The serpent turns out to be a Jinniyah, who, in gratitude to the lady for saving her life, turns her two envious sisters into black dogs. The Jinniyah warns the lady that if she does not whip the black bitches three hundred times a night, she will be imprisoned under the earth forever.
Tale of the Portress
An old woman, under false pretense, leads the portress to the home of her master, who is secretly in love with the portress and wishes to marry her. Seeing that he is handsome, the portress falls in love with him, and they are married immediately; however, he makes her take an oath to never look at another man. They live happily together for a month.
On a trip to the market with the old woman, the portress makes a purchase from a young man who asks for a kiss as payment. Pressured by the old woman, the portress reluctantly allows the young man to kiss her on the cheek. He bites her instead. When her husband sees her wound, he discovers her unfaithfulness and intends to kill her. He is deterred by the old woman, however, and instead beats her and sends her away. She returns to the home of her eldest sister, where she mourns her misdeed and the banishment from her beloved’s home.
The Caliph, having heard the entire story, puts everything back to order: he orders the Jinniyah to change the two dogs back to human form; he then marries the three oldest sisters to the three Kalandars. He returns the Portress to her husband and takes the cateress as a wife.
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