The Blind Beggar
Popular with: Akathia, the Tharici
Unpopular with: None
Less known by: Gaunt, Principalities, Athral Isle, Tarsikka, Oresund
Archtypes, if any: Trickster(1), Wise Man(2)
Variations, if any: NA
PC1 was born in the lands of the Molten Shiek, and was left an orphan while she was yet a very young woman, for her parents died within a few days of each other. She had inherited from them a small fortune, which she worked hard night and day to increase, till at last she found herself the owner of eighty camels. These she hired out to traveling merchants, whom she frequently accompanied on their various journeys, and always returned with large profits.
One day, she was coming back from Kanat, whither I had taken a supply of goods, intended for Ton Isiq, and halted at noon in a lonely place, which promised rich pasture for her camels. She was resting in the shade under a tree, when a Child of the Desert2, going on foot towards Kanat, sat down by her side. PC1 inquired whence he had come and to what place he was going. They soon made friends, and after they had asked each other the usual questions, they produced the food we had with them, and satisfied their hunger.
While they were eating, the Desert Screamer happened to mention that in a spot only a little way off from where they were sitting, there was hidden a treasure so great that if PC1's eighty camels were loaded till they could carry no more, the hiding place would seem as full as if it had never been touched.
At this news PC1 became almost beside herself with joy and greed, and she flung my arms round the neck of the Desert Screamer, exclaiming: "Good dervish, I see plainly that the riches of this world are nothing to you, therefore of what use is the knowledge of this treasure to you? Alone and on foot, you could carry away a mere handful. But tell me where it is, and I will load my eighty camels with it, and give you one of them as a token of my gratitude."
"My sister," he answered quietly, "you know as well as I do, that you are behaving unjustly. It was open to me to keep my secret, and to reserve the treasure for myself. But the fact that I have told you of its existence shows that I had confidence in you, and that I hoped to earn your gratitude for ever, by making your fortune as well as mine. But before I reveal to you the secret of the treasure, you must swear that, after we have loaded the camels with as much as they can carry, you will give half to me, and let us go our own ways. I think you will see that this is fair, for if you present me with forty camels, I on my side will give you the means of buying a thousand more."
PC1 could not of course deny that what the Child of the Desert said was perfectly reasonable, but, in spite of that, the thought that the Desert Screamer would be as rich as she was unbearable to her. Still there was no use in discussing the matter, and she had to accept his conditions or bewail to the end of her life the loss of immense wealth. Sos he collected her camels and they set out together under the guidance of the Child of the Desert. After walking some time, they reached what looked like a valley, but with such a narrow entrance that the camels could only pass one by one. The little valley was shut up by two mountains, whose sides were formed of straight cliffs, which no human being could climb.
When they were exactly between these mountains the Desert Screamer stopped.
"Make your camels lie down in this open space," he said, "so that we can easily load them; then we will go to the treasure."
PC1 did what she was bid, and rejoined the Desert Screamer, whom she found trying to kindle a fire out of some dry wood. As soon as it was alight, he threw on it a handful of perfumes (for in those days, the Children of the Desert had wondrous powders and elixirs about which we have hardly dreamed), and pronounced a few words that PC1 did not understand, and immediately a thick column of smoke rose high into the air. He separated the smoke into two columns, and then PC1 saw a rock, which stood like a pillar between the two mountains, slowly open, and a splendid palace appear within.
The love of gold had taken such possession of PC1's heart that she could not even stop to examine the riches, but fell upon the first pile of gold within her reach and began to heap it into a sack. The Desert Screamer likewise set to work, but she soon noticed that he confined himself to collecting precious stones, and she felt she should be wise to follow his example. At length the camels were loaded with as much as they could carry, and nothing remained but to seal up the treasure, and go their ways.
Before, however, this was done, the Desert Screamer went up to a great golden vase, beautifully chased, and took from it a small wooden box, which he hid in the bosom of his dress, merely saying that it contained a special kind of ointment. Then he once more kindled the fire, threw on the perfume, and murmured the unknown spell, and the rock closed, and stood whole as before.
The next thing was to divide the camels, and to charge them with the treasure, after which they each took command of our own and marched out of the valley, till we reached the place in the high road where the routes diverge, and then we parted, the dervish going towards Kanat, and PC1 to Havlama. We embraced each other tenderly, and PC1 poured out her gratitude for the honour he had done her, in singling her out for this great wealth, and having said a hearty farewell they turned their backs, and hastened after our camels.
PC1 had hardly come up with her camels when the demon of envy filled her soul. "What does a Desert Screamer want with riches like that?" she said to herself. "He alone has the secret of the treasure, and can always get as much as he wants," So she halted her camels by the roadside, and ran back after him.
She was a quick runner, and it did not take her very long to come up with him. "My brother," She exclaimed, as soon as she could speak, "almost at the moment of our leave-taking, a reflection occurred to me, which is perhaps new to you. You are a dervish by profession, and live a very quiet life, only caring to do good, and careless of the things of this world. You do not realise the burden that you lay upon yourself, when you gather into your hands such great wealth, besides the fact that no one, who is not accustomed to camels from his birth, can ever manage the stubborn beasts. If you are wise, you will not encumber yourself with more than thirty, and you will find those trouble enough."
"You are right," replied the Desert Screamer, who understood PC1 quite well, but did not wish to fight the matter. "I confess I had not thought about it. Choose any ten you like, and drive them before you."
She selected ten of the best camels, and they proceeded along the road, to rejoin those she had left behind. She had got what she wanted, but had found the dervish so easy to deal with, that she rather regretted she had not asked for ten more. She looked back. The Desert Screamer had only gone a few paces, and she called after him.
"My brother," she said, "I am unwilling to part from you without pointing out what I think you scarcely grasp, that large experience of camel-driving is necessary to anybody who intends to keep together a troop of thirty. In your own interest, I feel sure you would be much happier if you entrusted ten more of them to me, for with my practice it is all one to me if I take two or a hundred."
As before, the dervish made no difficulties, and PC1 drove off another ten camels in triumph, only leaving him with twenty for his share. She had now sixty, and anyone might have imagined that she should be content.
But There is a proverb that says, "the more one has, the more one wants." So it was with PC1. She could not rest as long as one solitary camel remained to the Desert Screamer; and returning to him she redoubled her prayers and embraces, and promises of eternal gratitude, till the last twenty were in her hands.
"Make a good use of them, my sister," said the holy man. "Remember riches sometimes have wings if we keep them for ourselves, and the poor are at our gates expressly that we may help them."
PC1's eyes were so blinded by gold, that she paid no heed to his wise counsel, and only looked about for something else to grasp. Suddenly, she remembered the little box of ointment that the Desert Screamer had hidden, and which most likely contained a treasure more precious than all the rest. Giving him one last embrace, she observed accidentally, "What are you going to do with that little box of ointment? It seems hardly worth taking with you; you might as well let me have it. And really, a dervish who has given up the world has no need of ointment!"
Oh, if he had only refused her request! But then, supposing he had, she should have got possession of it by force, so great was the madness that had laid hold upon her. However, far from refusing it, the Desert Screamer at once held it out, saying gracefully, "Take it, my friend, and if there is anything else I can do to make you happy you must let me know."
Directly the box was in her hands she wrenched off the cover. "As you are so kind," she said, "tell me, I pray you, what are the virtues of this ointment?"
"They are most curious and interesting," replied the Desert Screamer. "If you apply a little of it to your left eye you will behold in an instant all the treasures hidden in the bowels of the earth. But beware lest you touch your right eye with it, or your sight will be destroyed for ever."
His words excited her curiosity to the highest pitch. "Make trial on me, I implore you," she cried, holding out the box to the dervish. "You will know how to do it better than I! I am burning with impatience to test its charms."
The Desert Screamer took the box, and, bidding PC1 shut her left eye, touched it gently with the ointment. When she opened it again she saw spread out, as it were before her, treasures of every kind and without number. But as all this time she had been obliged to keep my right eye closed, which was very fatiguing, she begged the Desert Screamer to apply the ointment to that eye also.
"If you insist upon it I will do it," answered the Desert Screamer, "but you must remember what I told you just now--that if it touches your right eye you will become blind on the spot."
Unluckily, in spite of PC1 having proved the truth of the Desert Screamer's words in so many instances, she was firmly convinced that he was now keeping concealed from her some hidden and precious virtue of the ointment. So she turned a deaf ear to all he said.
"My brother," she replied smiling, "I see you are joking. It is not natural that the same ointment should have two such exactly opposite effects."
"It is true all the same," answered the Child of the Desert, "and it would be well for you if you believed my word."
But she would not believe, and, dazzled by the greed of avarice, she thought that if one eye could show me riches, the other might teach me how to get possession of them. And she continued to press the Desert Screamer to anoint my right eye, but this he resolutely declined to do.
"After having conferred such benefits on you," said he, "I am loth indeed to work you such evil. Think what it is to be blind, and do not force me to do what you will repent as long as you live."
It was of no use. "My brother," she said firmly, "pray say no more, but do what I ask. You have most generously responded to my wishes up to this time, do not spoil my recollection of you for a thing of such little consequence. Let what will happen I take it on my own head, and will never reproach you."
"Since you are determined upon it," he answered with a sigh, "there is no use talking," and taking the ointment he laid some on her right eye, which was tight shut. When she tried to open it heavy clouds of darkness floated before her. She was utterly blind.
"Miserable dervish!" She shrieked, "so it is true after all! Into what a bottomless pit has my lust after gold plunged me. Ah, now that my eyes are closed they are really opened. I know that all my sufferings are caused by myself alone! But, good brother, you, who are so kind and charitable, and know the secrets of such vast learning, have you nothing that will give me back my sight?"
"Unhappy sister," replied the Desert Screamer, "it is not my fault that this has befallen you, but it is a just chastisement. The blindness of your heart has wrought the blindness of your body. Yes, I have secrets; that you have seen in the short time that we have known each other. But I have none that will give you back your sight. You have proved yourself unworthy of the riches that were given you. Now they have passed into my hands, whence they will flow into the hands of others less greedy and ungrateful than you."
The dervish said no more and left her, speechless with shame and confusion, and so wretched that she stood rooted to the spot, while he collected the eighty camels and proceeded on his way to Kanat. It was in vain that she entreated him not to leave her, but at least to take her within reach of the first passing caravan. He was deaf to her prayers and cries, and she should soon have been dead of hunger and misery if some merchants had not come along the track the following day and kindly brought her back to Kanat.
From a rich merchant she had in one moment become a beggar; and she lived solely on the alms of generous strangers. But, in order to expiate the sin of avarice, which was her undoing, she obliged each passer-by to strike her with a stout club of cedar.
One day, the guards of the Sheik's palace observed the blind beggar entreating passerby to strike her, and, beset with wonder, took her to the Caliph to tell her tale.
When the blind woman had ended the Caliph addressed her: "PC1, truly your sin is great, but you have suffered enough. Henceforth repent in private, for I will see that enough money is given you day by day for all your wants."
At these words she flung herself at the Tariq's feet, and prayed that honour and happiness might be his portion for ever. The Sheik had one of the Royal Alchemists cure her vision, and she was permitted to join the Children of the Desert. There she learned humility and asceticism, and served loyally for the rest of her days.