The tale of the crippled beggar

So this might be the epitome of the occasional "Ha, I don't have an editor!"-posts. Hopefully somebody might enjoy the concept or the plain oddity as content goes. Flow is inspired by the 14th century Syrian manuscripts; the translation of the frame story in the end is a version suggested by Husain Haddawy (though not verbatim). This was fun to write.


It is said, O wise and happy King, that one morning the caliph Harun-al Rashid woke up and said "Today I shall walk in my city as a common man to observe my people and learn of their piety. For there is no other power but that of God." The caliph and his most trusted vizier Ja'far then dressed up as merchants and walked down the streets of Baghdad.
When they had wandered the city for some time, the caliph laid his eyes upon a beggar with no legs. Among all the people in his land, this man was surely the lowest. His hunger was such that his skin hung like ragged silk over his ribs and his arms were as thin as kindling wood. In his cup he had no food nor coins, for the beggar bore a mark of ill fortune so that no one dared to offer him alms.

When the caliph looked at him, he felt sad and sorry for him. With tears in his eyes he turned to Ja'far and said "What misfortune has marked this man to lose his legs and and go hungry without zakat? Your negligence in the affairs of my city has caused this man his misfortune! I will hang you and forty of your kinsmen with you."

Ja'far was struck with terror and said, "O, Commander of the Faithful, I hear and obey. But in your wisdom, grant me delay to hear the story of the crippled beggar before your judgment falls. If his story points to error in my ways of handling the affairs of the holy Caliphate, I shall gather a hundred of my kinsmen to answer for the crime. But if his story is strange, let the hangman's noose be untied." The caliph replied "Granted. We shall bring him to the palace to hear of his misfortunes and bathe him and cloth him. If his tale indeed amazes, you shall have no crime to answer for."

Ja'far approached the beggar and said, "Beggar, bow your head for you are in the presence of the seventh of the sons of 'Abbas, al-Rashid, son of al-Mahdi son of al-Hadi and brother of al-Saffah son of Mansur. It is his will that you be brought to the holy palace to be bathed and cloth, so that you may tell you story and praise the Almighty God."

The beggar bowed his head to kiss the ground before him and said, "O, Commander of the Faithful, it is my wish that I am not brought to the holy palace for I carry the mark of misfortune. If you cloth me I fear the locus will eat your fields of silk and if you bath me I fear the drought will barren your wells. For my case is so strange and amazing that were it engraved with needles at the corner of the eye, it would be a lesson for those who wish to consider." The beggar continued:

I was once a king in a most prosperous country. My lands stretched fifty parasangs to the east and fifty parasangs to the north, and it had mountains which rose beyond the clouds. The trees bore abundant fruits; pears sweeter than rosewater, plumes aromatic like musk and apples that dazzled the eyes like polished rubies. By the streams running through my lands the banks were covered with roses, jasmine, violets, daisies, narcissus and lilies; and the caves in the mountains kept emeralds, rubies, moonstone and gold. Visitors to my lands thought that such wealth could only belong to a king of kings. I was embraced as a brave and pious ruler who judged fairly between the strong and the meek so that everyone near and far loved me and wished me long life and success. For in my kingdom the four faiths lived in harmony and no one would starve nor die a violent death.
In my palace I had forty concubines of all races, but in all my life I was never blessed with a son. As I grew old I used to say to myself, "I am afraid that I will die without a son and the kingdom will pass into the hands of strangers."

One day a slave merchant came to my palace with a girl beautiful and elegant beyond description. She was like her of which the poet said

With her to make compare Beauty they brought
But Beauty hung her head in abject shame
The said, "O Beauty, have you seen her like?"
Beauty replied, "I have ne'er seen the same"

I was stunned by her grace and turned to the merchant and said, "Shaikh, what is the price of this girl?" The merchant replied "O King, this girl rose from the ocean floor while I was sailing the Caspian Sea. In the four months since I found her, she has not eaten a dirham's worth nor spoken a word. I believe that she is a princess of the Sea People, unadjusted to lives of lowborns like myself. She is a gift for you my lord the king, in the hope that God will allow her to bear you a son. For she is worthy of none but you, and you of none but her." When I heard this I bestowed on the merchant a robe of honor and ordered him ten thousand dinars and one of my choice horses.

I took the girl to one of my private apartments overlooking the sea. But when I proceeded to undress her I saw that she wore a necklace with the almighty name that was engraved on the ring of Solomon, the son of David. In my foolishness I unlocked the necklace, and as I did the girl disappeared and the room was filled with smoke and fire. I saw that the girl was no longer of human flesh and I trembled with fear.
The smoke gathered in the shape of a fiery efreet with flames leaping from its mouth. It said to me, "King, I was captured in this necklace by Solomon the wise. For a thousand years I was at the bottom of the sea until one day I heard the agony of a human soul call me in my prison. This girl you saw was once the eldest daughter of a ruler like yourself. When she traveled the sea with her sisters, they were jealous of her beauty and murdered her. When they threw her overboard her blood sought revenge on her traitorous kin, and so her spirit found this necklace. With her blood our reckless spirits merged and we were able to use her lifeless body as a vessel to walk the land and sea until the day someone would break the seal. You set us free, and so we will do you no harm. Name your wish, and we will grant it, for we are the most powerful of our kin."

My desire overtook my caution, and I said to it, "I wish that this land should not fall into the hands of strangers, and that my blood should live for a thousand years." The efreet replied "I hear and obey. No one but God can grant the heir that you desire, but your blood shall still live and your kingdom shall not fall into the hands of strangers. At the edge of your lands there is a holy shore with white sand where Um Alsalhfa, the mother of turtles, lays her eggs. Go there and eat her eggs, and you will gain her strength and live for a thousand years."
Possessed with the efreet's proposal I loaded up supplies and went out on the journey. For three months my most trusted vizier and I searched for the white beach of Um Alsalhfa. We rode over vast fields and traitorous mountains until the day we saw a shore as white as snow. When we approached, we were amazed to find that the sand were pearls more brilliant than any seen in the world. My vizier told me, "Be careful King, for this is a holy place and the trickery of the efreet is known. We must remember that there is no strength save in the Almighty God." But he spoke to a fool.

As my horse came upon the white shore it refused to go further, with such determination that no amount of beating would have it take a single step onto the white pearls ahead. My vizier pleaded "My king, this is a place that demands humility. Did not the Almighty God say to Mûsâ ibn 'Imran: "Do not go any further. Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground"? These beasts were created by that same God, and they will not place their iron-laden hooves on sacred ground."

I dismounted with great anger and yelled to him "You and your lectures are as useless to me as this horse! Go away and find me a camel of great posture to conquer this white shore, and return in three days or I will have your head!" My vizier nodded and rode away, and I set up a small camp by the edge of the shore to bide my time.

As night fell, a glow like that of a wild ocean reflecting in the most brilliant moonstone appeared at the horizon. It was the light of which the poet said:

Expect my visit when the darkness comes
The night I think is best for hiding all
If the heavens felt the love I feel for you
The sun would not shine, nor the moon rise
Nor the stars travel in their nightly journey

Their beauty hiding in abject shame
By the passionate glow of love's desire 

I ran across the shore towards the light like no king had run before. When I finally reached the source of the light, a trove of turtle eggs laid before me. "This must be the eggs of Um Alsalhfa." I said. "If I eat them, I will live for a thousand years. And when I fill my skins with glowing pearls from this trove, my kingdom will prosper for a thousand more." So I ate the eggs and filled my skins with pearls.

It took me a full day to find the way back to my camp, and when I arrived I was as tired as the farmer with the white elephant. I fell asleep in my tent without removing my robes, and did not wake until noon the next day.

When I rose I went to clean myself with oils, but as I removed my sandals horror washed over me. I saw that my feet were black like those of an Elamite. Crossing that sacred ground with clothed feet had evoked the curse of Um Alsalhfa, and I saw that no oil could wash me clean.

Mad with grief I looked out over the shore and saw that what was once a beach of pearls was now a desert of salt. Determined to find myself back to my city and rid myself of the curse I started walking back over the fields, following the markings left by my vizier's horse. But every time I took a step the grass beneath my feet would rot, and as I lifted my foot a puddle of tar would replace the green that once grew.

I walked for a day with the land decaying behind me. When I stopped to drink and wash my body in a river, the clear water turned salt and the fish perished. In my desperation and thirst, I tearfully cried out for a holy man to confess to, so that God would find me worthy to forgive and lift my curse.

When I rose my head from prayer that dusk, I saw two men walking towards me. One dressed in a white robe, clean as the dawn, the other dressed in red, tattered and broken. As they came closer I saw that both men were missing their left eye.

"Nomads of my land!" I said, "May your breath be warm and your faith be true. The man you see before you is your king, and the king of all your kin. Calamity has fallen upon me, and I must confess my sins and repent. But I wonder! What flower did you give to the water so that you would lose your left eyes?"

The man in the white robe replied, "O King! It would be an honor to absolve your sins if I am worthy of such a deed. For I was indeed a holy man of the true faith. I am the third son of the Umayyads and was known to hold the wisdom of a hundred men. But now I walk the lands as a dervish, as my folly took my house and my left eye. Before you confess your sins, consider my story and deem me worthy of your sanctity."

He began...

But morning overtook Shahrazad and she lapsed into silence. As the day dawned, and it was light, her sister Dinarzad said, "What a strange and wonderful story!" Shahrazad replied, "What is this compared to what I shall tell you tomorrow night? It will be even better; it will be more wonderful, delightful, and delectable if the king spares me and lets me live." The king was curious to hear the rest of the story, and said to himself "By God, I will not have her put to death until I hear the rest of the story and find out how that king lost his legs and became a lowly beggar. Then I will have her put to death the next morning, as I did with the others." Then he went out to attend the affairs of his kingdom, and when he saw Shahrazad's father, he treated him kindly and showed him favors, and the vizier was amazed.


  1. Wow, this is crazy-good; the bar has once again been raised. Oldschool is without a doubt the Dead Poets Society of Mtg. Love it.

  2. Totally amazing. This could actually be from 1001 Nights.

  3. Amazing. Really enjoyed. More please :)

  4. Thank you guys for all the positive comments! Really warming :) I think this may be among the top3 posts that took me the longest to write btw (in particular if we count reading the entire Arabian Nights as part of the sourcing ;)).

  5. This was awesome! Seeing the shahrazad art was like Wow, I see where this is going. Really cool.

  6. Really really great! So much flavor!


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