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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

The Disabled Prince Who Saved His Brothers



In Mardan and Hashtnagar, there once reigned a king named Amir Khan. His palace surrounded by blooming gardens, was a symbol of his power and prosperity. Yet, beneath the grandeur of his kingdom, King Amir was consumed by an unspoken sorrow. Despite his seven wives, the palace echoed with a deafening silence, for he had no children.

One sweltering afternoon, King Amir found himself lying on an old charpayi in the servants’ quarters. The king's eyes were glazed with a distant sadness, and the usual royal duties had long lost their appeal. The once-vibrant ruler was now a shadow of his former self.

As he lay there, an old dervish, with eyes that sparkled with wisdom and a beard white as snow, wandered into the courtyard. He paused, taken aback by the sight of the king in such a humble setting.

"Your Majesty, what brings you here, in the heart of your servants' domain?" the dervish inquired.

King Amir sighed deeply, his voice tinged with despair. "I have seven wives, yet not a single child to bless my lineage. This grief consumes me, and I find no solace, no matter where I go."

The dervish, sensing the king's profound anguish, approached the Lote tree that stood tall and strong in the courtyard. With a swift motion, he struck the tree with his staff, causing seven leaves to flutter down.

"Do not despair, Your Majesty," the dervish said, handing the leaves to the king. "Give one leaf to each of your wives, and soon your sorrow will turn to joy."

King Amir’s eyes lit with hope as he clutched the leaves. He hurried to his palace and distributed them to six of his wives, for the seventh was away on a visit to her parents. He kept the last leaf aside, waiting for her return.

Days later, when the seventh wife returned, the king eagerly presented her with the leaf. Unaware that a rat had nibbled at the corner of the leaf. In his excitement, the king failed to notice the small bite mark and his wife ate the leaf without hesitation.

In due time, the palace was filled with the cries of newborn princes. The king’s heart swelled with pride and happiness as each of his wives bore him a son. However, the joy was slightly dimmed when he saw his seventh son. The child was frail, and suffered from physical disability.

Despite his happiness, King Amir could not hide his disappointment. He lavished attention on his six healthy sons, while the seventh one was often left in the shadows. The prince, however, had both, a curious mind, and was always in high spirits.

One day, as the six brothers were racing on their horses, The disabled prince approached his father. "Father, may I have a horse to ride?" he asked, his eyes filled with longing.

King Amir frowned, his heart heavy with the weight of his son’s request. "You are not strong enough to ride a horse, my son," he said, trying to hide his unease. "But here, take this cat. It will be your companion."

Prince Suleyman accepted the cat, though his heart yearned for the freedom his brothers enjoyed. He named the cat Mehran and cared for it with all his heart.

One bright morning saw the six able-bodied princes of Charbagh mounting their splendid horses for hunting. Prince Suleyman watched them from afar, feeling a pang of sadness. His heart ached to join his brothers, but he knew they didn't want him around.

Despite his disappointment, Suleyman resolved to follow them. With his faithful cat, Mehran, trotting beside him, he set off on foot. As he trailed behind, he came upon a vast watermelon field, the juicy, ripe melons gleaming in the sunlight.

Meanwhile, the six princes rode through the field on their horses, feeling a hint of regret for leaving their disabled brother behind. They wished he could contribute, but they doubted his ability to keep up.

Suddenly, Prince Suleyman appeared, carrying several watermelons. He offered them to his brothers with a broad smile. "Brothers, enjoy these melons. They will refresh you on this hot day."

The princes gratefully accepted the watermelons. After their feast, however, their camaraderie was short-lived. "Thank you, Suleyman," the eldest prince said coldly. "Now you can leave. You don't belong here."

Prince Suleyman's heart sank, but he obeyed, turning away with Mehran. Though he continued following them from a distance. Soon, they came across a lush melon field. As the princes galloped past, they once again regretting turning him away, remembering their brother's kind gesture.

Just then, Prince Suleyman appeared once more, carrying melons. "Brothers, I am not gone. I am here to help you again," he said, offering the fruits with a warm smile.

The princes, now genuinely remorseful for their earlier dismissal, accepted the melons. After enjoying the refreshing treat, they looked at Suleyman with a newfound appreciation. "You may come with us this time, Suleyman," the eldest prince said.

All seven brothers continued their journey, the six on their majestic horses and Suleyman riding atop Mehran. As the day turned to dusk, they worried about finding a place to rest for the night. The dense forest around them was dark and foreboding.

Amidst the trees, they spotted a small hut with smoke curling from its chimney. Approaching cautiously, they knocked on the door. An old lady, her face lined with age but her eyes sparkling with wisdom, opened the door.

"Who are you, wandering in the forest at this hour?" she asked.

"We are the princes of the Kingdom" the eldest prince replied. "We seek shelter for the night."

The old lady smiled kindly. "Come in, my dears. You are welcome to rest here. I live alone and seldom have guests."

Inside the old woman's hut, the seven princes settled into their simple beds, the warmth of the fire providing them with comfort. Prince Suleyman, though tired from the day's journey, found himself unable to sleep. He lay awake, listening to the sounds of the forest and the gentle breathing of his brothers.

Suddenly, a faint, unusual noise caught his attention. It was a soft, scraping sound. Curious and cautious, Suleyman quietly slipped out of bed, along with Mehran. He tiptoed towards the source of the noise, heart pounding in his chest.

As he peered around a corner, he saw the old woman, her back to him. But something was wrong. She was no longer the kind old lady who had welcomed them in. She, now was a terrifying balaa. Her teeth were long and sharp, and she was sharpening them against a stone, talking to herself in anticipatory excitement of having a great feast, the flesh of seven princes.

Suleyman's eyes widened in horror as he realized her true intentions. He quickly stomped his foot on the wooden floor, making a loud noise. She spun around, her hideous features melting back into the appearance of the old woman.

"What are you doing here, young prince?" she hissed.

Suleyman, thinking quickly, put on an innocent expression. "I was hungry and heard a noise. I came to see if there was something to eat."

The witch eyed him suspiciously but then forced a smile. "Of course, dear boy. Here, have some baked corn," she said, handing him a piece.

Suleyman took the corn, but before eating, he looked up at her. "May I have some water, please? I can only drink water through a sieve," he added, trying to buy some time.

The witch frowned but went outside the cottage to fill the sieve with water. As she poured the water into it, it went waste leaking through the pores. She did it again but couldn’t fill the it up. Frustrated, she repeated the process several times.

Seizing the moment, Suleyman slipped back to his brothers and shook them awake. "We must leave now! The old lady is a balaa and plans to eat us!"

His brothers, though initially sceptical, saw the urgency in Suleyman's eyes and scrambled to their feet. They grabbed their belongings and quietly but quickly made their way out of the hut.

They ran through the forest, the witch's enraged scream echoing behind them as she realized her prey was escaping. As they fled, they came upon a stream with a narrow log connecting both banks. The brothers hurriedly crossed the log, one by one, with Suleyman and Mehran at the end.

Just as Suleyman stepped onto the far bank, he turned back, seeing the witch closing in. With all his strength, he pulled the log away, sending the witch tumbling into the stream. She shrieked, unable to swim against the strong current. The water engulfed her, and she disappeared beneath the surface.

Breathless and shaken, the princes collapsed on the other side, realizing how close they had come to a horrible fate. The eldest prince, looking at Suleyman with a sudden realisation, spoke first. "Suleyman, you saved us. We misjudged you terribly."

The brothers nodded in agreement, their attitudes toward Suleyman changed entirely. When they returned to the palace, the tale of their narrow escape and Suleyman's heroism spread quickly. King Amir, upon hearing the story, looked at his seventh son with pride. "You have proven yourself, Suleyman, not only as clever but as brave. From now on, you will be honoured as you deserve."

And so, Prince Suleyman, once overlooked and underestimated, was elevated to his rightful status. His intelligence and courage earned him the respect and admiration of his family and the kingdom. The palace now echoed with laughter and unity, each prince valued for his strengths, and Suleyman was celebrated as the hero who had saved them all.


 

This folktale was recorded in Charbagh, Nowshera.

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