Once upon a time, there was rich young man, the sun of a great sultan, who, because he had never achieved any great thing in his life, became melancholy and full of gloom.
He went into the streets of the city, dressed as a beggar, and he began to moan, and cried out, “Take pity on my, by Allah! Take pity, and slay me where I sit! For, I have lead a useless life, and so I must die a senseless death!”
Just then, a cunning old schemer, a magician happened by. He was a man much given to tricking people, and had made a vast fortune by doing so. In short, he was a charlatan.
Hearing the cries of the wretched young man, he stopped and asked him what might be the matter.
“Oh, honorable sir!” cried the young man. “I am most disconsolate, because I have lived a useless life, never having achieved anything of any merit or worth in my entire life. Now, surely, I must suffer the consequences of living such a useless life, and so, by Allah, I implore you to strike me down!”
Well, the old charlatan was quite taken aback by this, but suddenly conceived of an idea of how he might use this young man to his advantage. He said, “Tell me, young man: Are you privileged to have a great fortune at your disposal? For, I can alleviate your suffering, but the price for doing so does not come cheaply.”
At this the desperate young man went down upon his knees, and groveled in the dirt, and said, “Oh, I am the son of the Sultan, who is wealthy and powerful. I have oxen and goats, and she-asses, and slaves, and gold, and jewels, and precious spices, and valuable stones. Anything you want, you can just name, and it shall be yours!”
And so the old man took him by the arm, and lifting him, said, “Come! I shall make of you the greatest man who has ever walked the face of the earth, For, I will lead you from the land of the living, to the land of the dead…and back again! Then, and only then, shall you be able to boast of your great deeds, and the woman you want shall marry you forthwith.”
And so the grateful young man accompanied the clever faker back to his palace. There, the old man told him to wait in a room, and then went about to his wives and his servants, and told them, “Soon, I will lead a young man around the house. He may ask you for a glass of wine or for food. Under no circumstances are you to acknowledge him, or act as if he is addressing you or present in the room. Take care that you do my bidding in this matter, or suffer the consequences.”
And so the old charlatan went back to the despairing young man, and told him, “I am a powerful sorcerer, both in this world, and in the next, and I go between the lands of the living and the land of the dead as I please. Here–”
And with that, the cunning old man gave the young man a vial of potion to make him sleep, telling him, “This is a deadly poison, and will kill you fast. Have no fear! While I am with you, your spirit may go hither, thither, and yon, in both this world and the next. And I can bring you back!”
So the young man drank the potion and soon became sleepy. He lay upon the couch and was soon in a deep swoon–but not dead, as the old man claimed he would be.
The old man waited and planned and pondered awhile, before long, the sun was setting, and he lit a lamo that glowed with a spectral color, and then went to rouse his victim.
He lifted his arms dramatically.
“Arise! Arise my son! You are no longer in the land of the living. You are DEAD.”
Now, the cunning old man had thought to make a dummy of straw while the young man slept, and so, as he groggily got off of the couch, the swift and stealthy old wizard placed the straw man behind him, right behind his back, covering it with a burial cloth.
The young man tottered on his feet, complaining, “My eyes! I do not see you well! it is so dark in here!”
The old man grabbed the lamp, and held it above the couch, turning the young man around and saying, “You see, there is the body you have departed from. I have put a shroud over it, for it is not fit for a dead man to look upon his old form. Come, I will show you around this strange, new world.”
And so the old man lead the foolish young man out the door and around his palace. Soon, they encountered a servant. To the drugged, dazed young man however, she looked like a giant tree. he could tell, however, she was carrying something, something he took to be a flask of wine.”
“Oh, I see her as if through a misted veil of fog. Oh! I am so thirsty,” he implored the shape. “Could you not spare for me but one glass of wine.”
But the shape ignored him, just as she had been instructed to do, and the old man said, “Dead men do not need to drink wine. Come. We move on.”
And so they went about into the kitchen, where the young man saw the scullery maid as a vast shape, bending over a bubbling pot. He could smell the food cooking however, and he knew immediately that he was in a kitchen. He implored the shape, “Oh! I am so hungry! Could you not spare me a morsel of bread to quench the pangs in my belly?”
But the strange shape, the scullery maid, acted as if no one were there at all, exactly as she had been instructed to do. The old man said, “Dead men do not need to eat bread. Come. We must move on.”
And so they went into the room where one of the old man’s wives was being attended by her many servants. The young man still could not see well, but he said, “Oh! I am so weary from all this walking! Could you not let me rest awhile on one of these cushions, so as to rest my tired bone. For, my feet feel as heavy as two blocks of stone, and my legs feel as if they are about to give way.”
But the old man’s wife acted as if she had heard nothing at all, and as if they had never even entered the room. She did this exactly as she had been instructed.
The old man said, “Dead men do not need to rest. Come. We must be off.”
So finally, the old man lead his young victim into the garden, which was bathed in incense, and precious moonlight. The wafting scent of the flowers, mixed with the fragrance of hashish, further intoxicated the young man, who thought he had finally made it to paradise.
“Oh, it is beautiful here beyond compare. This must be the 7th Heaven! I, I wish never to leave.”
The old man smiled, and nodded, and said, “This is the fabled Garden of Eternal Delights. Sadly, though, we cannot stay! We must go back, as it is not yet your time!”
And so the cunning old fox lead the young lamb out of his backyard garden. The young man was completely convinced now that he was dead, and so he shouted at the strange shapes he passed as he went back to the old man’s private chambers, “I am dead! I am truly dead! You cannot see or hear me, for I have passed beyond! Now, I shall return from the grave, and what a story I will have to tell then! ”
But everyone he passed pretended not to see or hear him.
Finally, they returned to the old man’s chambers, and the old man said, “You must lie down and close your eyes to return to life. And you must drink this–”
And he handed him the antidote to the first potion he had given him. The young man lie upon the couch (the old man was careful to remove the shrouded straw man first), and the old man then placed a funeral shroud over his body, telling him, “Just relax. Close your eyes, and I will do the rest.”
In a short time, the young man fell into another swoon. When he awoke, the old man said, “Arise! Arise, my son! I have brought you back from the grave! Now, you must pay me what you owe!”
And the young man was so greatful he fell to his knees, saying, “Oh! Bless you kind and honorable sir! You have made me a new man, with something truly special and unique to claim as an achievement! For not many men can claim they have died and have come back to tell the story!”
“Forsooth,” said the old man, “I cannot think of even one!”
The young man said, “You must accompany me back home to my father, who will give you half of his kingdom when he finds out what you have done for me! Come!”
And so the old man and his young victim loaded a caravan of camels, and journeyed to the palace of the Sultan. There, the guard at the gates recognizing his young master, let him pass immediately.
Soon, the young man and the old faker were ensconced in a private apartment, fed and cared for and groomed, and prepared to have an audience with the Sultan.
When the young man saw his father, he fell to his knees, saying, “O father! This man has saved me from the despair that has gripped me so long! For, he took me to the land of death, and showed me the Eternal Garden, and brought me back, all by his own power! Now, praise be to Allah, I am healed!”
The Sultan cast a wary eye on the old man, and then asked, “And what, pray tell, did my son offer to PAY you in regard for this amazing service?”
And the old man replied, “He told me, oh noble one, that he had oxen and goats, and she-asses, and slaves, and that you might give me the half of your kingdom in return for my service!”
Well, at this the Sultan found himself most alarmed, but he decided not to act too rashly, in case the man standing before him should turn out to be an actual sorcerer.
it was by happenstance, in a small room in the palace, reposed the body of a young servant girl who had suddenly, mysteriously dropped dead. The Sultan, knowing of this, said, “Come! I have one more task for thee to perform, before I will give you what you ask. There just so happens to be the body of a young servant girl laid out for burial in a room of this palace. If thou canst restore her to life, I will surely give thee half of my kingdom and more!”
At this the old man was quite alarmed, for he knew he could never restore the dead girl to life. And so he asked to be excused, and went out to the garden, and paced up and down amidst the flowers, and beat his breast, and rent his garb, and said, “Oh! The Sultan will surely be wroth with me for so deceiving his son, when he finds I have no power to restore life to the dead! And he will scourge me, and torture me, and cast me into prison, and slowly, and surely, I will die a horrible death!”
And with this, the old charlatan drew his dagger and, in a fit of despair, plunged it into his quaking heart. He screamed once, then fell over in a bleeding mass.
Well, the sound of his piteous scream reverberated throughout the halls, sending the servants running, and the Sultan and his son then hurried out of the throne room to see what was the matter.
Miraculously, the poor servant girl whom everyone thought was dead, began to stir. The sound of the charlatan’s horrifying scream had roused her from her death-like slumber. She was, in fact, suffering from a strange disorder that occasionally brought her to a state that was much like death. In the future, the servants would be warned to keep a watch for her weird spells, so as not to risk burying her alive.
The Sultan and his son stood in the garden.
“It is curious father,” said the dim-witted son. “How is it, do you think, he could return a me from the dead, yet, seemingly, can not do the same for himself?”
At that, the Sultan rolled his eyes, and said, “Thou fool!”, and explained to his son that he had been deceived.
The young man was doubly embarrassed at this, and fled from the garden and the presence of his father. When running back inside the palace, he came, face to face, with the sleeping girl. They both fell instantly in love, and it was not long after they were soon married.
And did the despairing, idiot son ever grow into wisdom? Well, that is another tale, for another day.