The Three Brothers and the Fairy
An Arabian Tale
Once upon a time there was a man who had three sons. He asked them what they would like to be, so that they could go out into the world with a chance of earning good money.
“I would like to become a champion marksman,” said Abdul, the eldest. So his father agreed that he should be trained by the finest hunter in the land to use the bow and arrow.
The second son, Ahmad, said “I would like to become an astrologer, and learn the secrets of the heavens.” He was sent to study under the wisest star-gazer in the kingdom.
When it came to the turn of the youngest son, he said “Father, I would like to become a carpenter.” At this his father became most annoyed and said “A son of mine a common carpenter? Would you bring shame upon me, in my grey hairs?” But the young fellow, whose name was Mahmud, persisted, and finally the old man agreed.
When three years had come and gone, all three were trained in their chosen professions. Abdul was such a fine marks-man with the bow that he could bring down a gazelle at twenty paces while galloping across the desert. Ahmad could read the signs and symbols of the stars by putting his spy-glass to his eye, and was offered a post at the Court of the King. The boy who had learned carpentry was declared by his master to be the best woodworker he had ever known.
But they could not settle down in the town of their birth, for each longed to see the world and taste adventure before they died. So they went to their father, and each begged a purse of money that they might journey for a while before beginning their careers.
“Very well,” said he, “here is the money. Go in peace and return when a year is past.”
The three brothers dressed themselves in clothes suitable for travelling, and set out, on horseback, to find adventure.
The first night they were sitting beside their camp fire, talking happily together, when Ahmad looked up at the heavens with his spy-glass and said, “Brothers, there is a very strange and brilliant star shining over us at the moment. That means momentous events are about to occur.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than there was a loud sizzling noise, and a beautiful fairy, dressed from head to foot in flame-colored draperies, stepped out of the middle of the fire.
“Mortals,” said the fairy, “my sister has been put under a spell, taken away by a wicked witch, and imprisoned in a tower. My powers, alas, cannot reach as far as the tower, but if you do as I say, you shall all three be rewarded.”
They all agreed, and the fairy continued: “You must ride for one day from here, taking the direction to the south, until you come to the tower. You, Abdul, must shoot the arrow which will kill the witch. When she dies, my sister will be free.”
“Are you sure she will die?” asked Abdul.
“I shall smear some of this magic ointment on the arrow,” said the fairy, “and she will die instantly. When you have rescued my sister, I shall appear to you again.” So saying, the fairy disappeared.
As the dawn was breaking, they kicked out the fire and mounted their horses, riding south all that day. As the sun was setting they came to a tall white tower, set in the middle of a dismal desert. There was a strange silence, broken only by the frightened snorts of the horses as they pawed the ground.
The brothers decided to camp a little way from the tower, and when the moon was shining, Ahmad put his spy-glass to his eye and saw a beautiful fairy, dressed in silver draperies, looking out of a window at the top of the tower. The three brothers called loudly, “We have come to save you; wait, let the witch come to the window!” No sooner had the witch heard the noise of their shouts, than she bundled the fairy into a cupboard and came to the window.
“What do you want?” cried the witch. “Be off with you or I shall turn you into snakes ! “
But no sooner were the words out of her mouth than Abdul’s arrow pierced her heart, and she fell out of the tower window on to the ground. Her body was instantly turned into ashes as they watched, and blew away like dust.
“Now how are we to free the fairy?” asked Mahmud, but at that moment the beautiful creature flew down from the window, having escaped the instant the witch was dead.
“Thank you, good mortals, for saving me — how did you know I was a prisoner?” she asked.
“Your sister, the flame-fairy, appeared to us last night,” said Abdul, “and she said that she would come again when you were free.” As he spoke, the other fairy appeared in their midst, and the two sisters kissed with cries of joy.
“Mortals!” the fire-fairy told them, “you shall now receive your reward. Up in that tower the witch has hidden a lot of rich treasure. Look, there is a door hidden at the base. Open it and climb the secret stairs leading to the storehouse. Peace and blessings be upon you. If you ever need us, call upon us in the name of Suliman, Son of David, King of Magicians, whose slaves we are!” And the two fairies vanished.
In the bright moonlight, the brothers opened the hidden door to the secret staircase, and found the storehouse was stacked from floor to ceiling with jewels and golden ornaments, silks and robes fit for princes. They dressed themselves in the grandest clothes they could find, and put jewelled harnesses on their horses as well. The whole treasure was too vast for them to carry away, so the brother who was a carpenter made them three small boxes, into which they put the finest gems and the most valuable jewellery.
No sooner had they done this than the enchanted tower vanished from sight. The three boxes they buried in the ground and covered them up before it was light. Then they lay down and fell fast asleep in their silken clothes, dreaming of a life of luxury.
While they slept a band of robbers crept upon them, and, thinking they were nobles, tied them hand and foot with ropes. In the morning, the three brothers woke to find that they were prisoners, and the robbers were sharing out their clothes and money.
“Ho-ho, noble sirs,” said the chief of the robbers, prodding them with his foot, “what a fine sight you are, tied together like hens in a market-place!” The robber chief was an ugly-looking man, with a patch over one eye, and a ragged red beard.
“Let us cut their throats!” shouted the robbers, and danced round, waving their knives.
“In the name of Suliman, Son of David, save us, flame-fairy!” cried Abdul, as he saw that he and his brothers were going to be murdered by the robber band. There was a sudden flash of light, and flames rose and crackled all around until the robbers were burned to ashes. Then the flame-fairy appeared and waved her hands over the brothers. Their bonds fell off as if by magic, and they stood up rather shakily to thank the fairy for her kind help.
“Let that teach you a lesson,” said the fairy. “Never travel richly dressed like that, attracting the attention of robbers and brigands. The treasure which you have buried is safe; dig it up, load it into your horses’ saddlebags, and ride from hence, otherwise you will get into more trouble. If you need me, call me, but I can only appear to you once more!”
Sadder and wiser, the brothers dug up the treasure they had in the boxes, put as much as they could safely carry in their saddlebags, and rode northwards to their home.
A few days later, after the brothers had eaten their midday meal, a terrible sandstorm blew up. Horses and men had to lie down huddled together, with their cloaks over their heads, trying to shelter from the stinging sand. The sky grew as black as night, and the wind howled with the voice of a thousand devils.
When everything was calm again, and the horses scrambled to their feet, the brothers found that they were hopelessly lost. They did not know which way to turn, and they were tormented by thirst.
“I would give all our treasure if only we were able to see the stars!” said Abdul.
“Well, let us call upon the fairy again,” said Mahmud.
Then, together they called “In the name of Suliman, Son of David, King of Magicians, come to us, so that we can ask a favor for the last time.”
In a moment the flame-fairy appeared before them.
“Where are we?” they cried. “Help us!”
She said cheerfully, “Half a mile’s ride from here will bring you to a river in the valley below. There you can drink, and water your horses, and will find wood so that you can make a raft to take you to the other side. Wait on the other bank for night, and then, with the aid of the stars, you may return home. Now, good-bye for ever.” Then she vanished.
The brothers rode on for another half-mile, and sure enough, as the fairy had promised, a broad river flowed at the bottom of the valley. The brother who was a carpenter started to make a raft from the pieces of wood which were lying about. Soon they ferried their horses and themselves over to the other side. A whole flock of wild birds flew overhead, and Abdul fitted an arrow to his bow in a trice: one bird fell to the ground. They made a fire and cooked the bird, and waited for night, when Ahmad would be able to find the way by the stars.
“I want to see no more of the world,” said Abdul. “I shall be quite happy to settle down now, with my share of the treasure, and teach others to shoot.”
“Yes, I too will be happy to go home and spend my life as a carpenter,” said Mahmud. “Now I can buy a shop and new tools, and be a credit to father.”
Soon it was dark, and the stars came up, and Ahmad read the direction they should take. They travelled all night and at dawn came within sight of the town of their birth.
“Praise be to Allah!” cried Abdul, “we shall never wander again for the rest of our days, brothers.”
And they never did.