The Wooden Horse
This is a Middle Eastern folktale. A wooden horse that can fly is taken to the palace by the wizard. It brings all sorts of trouble to the prince, but it also gives him the possibility of meeting the princess of his dreams. He needs to sort out all kinds of difficulties: her father’s mistrust and the princess’s sadness when she thinks he has abandoned her. Eventually the wooden horse brings the prince and princess together in love.
The Wooden Horse
Many centuries ago there was a great and powerful king of Persia named Sabur. He was a kind and generous king, who helped the poor and showed respect to everybody. On public holidays King Sabur always opened his palace to the people of his city. The people celebrated for days and brought the king and his family beautiful gifts.
On one holiday a wizard came to the palace to give the king his new invention. The wizard was a smart inventor, who knew all about magic and the mysteries of the world and could make unusual things. The king loved anything scientific and technical and he asked the wizard to show him his invention.
So the wizard presented him with a horse, which was made of beautiful wood as black as the night. Its shining eyes were pure gold and it had jewels in its fine head. It was a very suitable gift for a king. The king admired the horse’s beauty and asked the wizard what it could do.
“My Lord,” the wizard answered, “if you get on this horse, it will carry you wherever you want to go. It can ride through the sky and race through one year in a single day.”
The king thought this invention was very special and he said to the wizard, “Show me how this horse of yours works. By Allah, if you’re telling the truth, I’ll give you whatever your heart desires.”
So the wizard climbed onto the horse’s back, pressed its stomach, and the horse suddenly flew up into the sky and around in circles above the palace. Everyone was amazed as they watched this.
“So now, wizard, you may ask for anything and I’ll give you “whatever you desire.”
This wizard had heard that the king had three beautiful daughters and that the youngest was especially beautiful. People often talked of her beauty and said that she was like the sun and the moon. So the wizard asked the king to give him his youngest daughter as his wife. The king immediately agreed and commanded a servant to bring his daughter. But the three daughters had been watching and listening from behind a curtain. The youngest saw that her husband was at least 100 years old and very ugly. She couldn’t believe that her father would marry her to this horrible old man with a face like a monkey’s. She ran to her room, fell onto her bed, and cried.
Her brother, Prince Kamar Al-Akmar, heard her crying and ran in to see what was wrong.
“Dear little sister, why are you crying? What’s made you so unhappy?”
When she told him what had happened, he was angry at his father and promised his sister that he would stop this silly marriage. He went to his father to complain, but his words were wasted. The king could only think of the beautiful wooden horse.
“My son, you don’t understand! This horse is amazing! Just try it and you’ll see what I’m talking about!”
The king commanded his slaves to bring the horse for the prince to try. The prince was very good with horses, but when he got on this horse it wouldn’t move. He sat on its back, kicking its sides and commanding it to move, but it just sat there, completely still. The king was very angry and ordered the wizard to show the prince how it worked. But the wizard had heard everything that the prince and the king had said and he was very angry at the prince for trying to stop his marriage. He came forward and, without smiling or even looking at the prince, pointed to a button on the horse’s stomach, and said, “Press this.”
The prince thought this man was quite rude, but he pressed the button. Suddenly the horse flew into the sky, higher and higher, until the prince and the horse were only a tiny spot. In the end the king couldn’t see the horse or his son at all. He was very angry and told the wizard to make them come down again. But the wizard pretended that he was innocent.
“My Lord, there’s nothing I can do! Your son was too silly and proud to ask me about the button for coming down and I’m afraid I forgot to tell him.”
When the king heard this he was even angrier, so he ordered his slaves to put the wizard in prison. He then closed the doors of his palace and, with his wife and daughters and the rest of the people in the city, cried and cried for the prince they had lost.
While all this was happening, the horse kept flying nearer and nearer to the sun. The prince realized now that the wizard had heard his conversation with his father and had tricked him. He knew that he was completely lost and he regretted ever getting on the horse. But he was certain that if there was an “up” button, there must be a “down” button too. He kept feeling all over the horse until he found two buttons. He pressed one and the horse went faster and higher. So he quickly pressed the other one and the horse immediately began to slow down and fly toward the earth again.
When the prince realized that he had learned how to control the horse, he was very happy. He then began to play on the horse, making it go up and down and around in circles. He flew over cities and countries he had never seen before. One of these countries was especially beautiful, with green hills, clear streams, and many different types of animals. He came to a large city, which looked interesting. The sky was beginning to grow dark, so he decided to stay in that city for the night. He looked and looked for somewhere to land and eventually saw a tall palace. He pressed the “down” button and landed gently on the roof of the palace.
As the prince got down from the horse, he looked up at the sky and thanked Allah for his safe journey. He then carefully inspected the horse, which had given him such an amazing ride.
He couldn’t believe how wonderful it was and thought to himself, “If this horse delivers me safely back to my father and family, I’ll thank that funny-looking old wizard.”
The prince was hungry and thirsty, but he waited on the roof until he was certain everyone would be asleep. He then went quietly down into the palace to find something to eat. When he was inside, he wandered through the different rooms and halls, admiring the beautiful architecture. He saw a light and found that it was outside a door, which was slightly open. There was a slave boy sleeping in front of the door, guarding the room. A large sword was lying on the floor by the slave’s side and there was a leather bag next to him. The prince prayed to Allah to protect him and slowly and carefully took the leather bag and found some food inside. He ate quickly, returned the bag to its place, and stole the slave’s sword.
The prince then went quietly through the door and saw a beautiful white bed. There were four slave girls sleeping on the white stone floor around the bed. A beautiful young woman was lying on the bed, also sleeping. Her hair was black and shone so brightly that it seemed to be full of stars. Her face and body were like a wonderful dream. The prince was so amazed by her beauty that he wasn’t afraid. He went up to her, shaking with pleasure and excitement, and kissed her gently on her soft cheek. She immediately woke up with fear in her eyes.
“What’s happening? Who are you?” she asked him.
“I’m your slave and your lover,” the prince answered softly.
“And who sent you here?” she asked.
“Allah sent me,” the prince replied.
The princess looked closely at this young man’s face. He was very handsome and she was suddenly filled with love and desire. They began to talk, but although they were very quiet they woke the slave girls, who were very worried about the strange young man in their princess’s bedroom.
“My princess. Who’s this man and what’s he doing here?” they asked.
“I’m afraid I have no idea who he is,” replied the princess. “But he’s very kind and charming.”
Her answer worried the slave girls even more, so they rushed to get the slave boy who had been guarding the princess’s door.
They woke him up and shouted at him angrily for allowing this stranger into the princess’s room. The slave boy went for his sword, but it wasn’t there. He ran to the princess’s room and accused the prince of being an evil wizard because the prince had managed to get past him and into the princess’s room.
“How dare you call me an evil wizard!” the prince shouted at the slave. “I am a royal prince! Your king married me to your princess and commanded me to come to my wife’s room tonight!”
But the slave didn’t believe this and ran to tell the king about the prince. The king wanted to kill the stupid slave for letting this happen. But he was also afraid for his daughter, so he rushed to her room. He met the slave girls at the door. They weren’t sure if the prince was a man or an evil wizard either, but told the king that the young man had treated his daughter with respect.
When the king heard this, he relaxed a bit, looked into the room, and saw his daughter talking calmly to the prince. However, he still felt he had to protect his daughter’s honor, so he ran into the room with his sword raised high.
“Young man!” he shouted. “You’ve damaged my daughter’s honor by entering her room without permission from her king!”
“But my Lord,” answered the prince, “it was an accident. I was wandering through your wonderful palace when I saw her great beauty. I’m afraid I couldn’t control myself.”
“Never mind that. I should have my slaves kill you right now!” the king shouted angrily. “You’ve damaged my honor as well as my daughter’s. But instead of killing you now, we’ll see how brave you really are. You say you’re a royal prince. All right, you can keep your life until tomorrow. Then you must fight my army of 80,000 soldiers. If you fight my soldiers and win, you won’t lose your life. And there’s one more thing. I won’t tell my army that you came into my daughter’s room tonight. I’ll tell them that you wish to marry my daughter and that I have commanded you to fight my army first. In this way, our honor will be saved.”
“I accept your offer!” the prince said proudly. “And I’ll win because my love for your daughter is true.”
The prince was then taken to the king’s room to sleep that night, so that the princess would be safe. The king and the prince sat for hours and talked about many things. The king began to like the prince. He thought he said very wise and intelligent things. He was also very brave. However, the king was certain that the prince would be killed in the next morning’s battle. He was sad about this, but he knew that it was necessary in order to save his daughter’s honor.
When morning came, the king’s army gathered outside and the king spoke to his soldiers.
“Listen carefully. This young man has come to ask for permission to marry my daughter. I’ve never met a better young man, with a warmer heart or stronger spirit. He’s told me that he can fight you and win. When the battle begins, you must attack him with all your strength.”
Then he turned to the prince and told him to choose a horse and prepare for battle.
“I’m afraid, my lord, that none of your horses pleases me,” replied the prince.
“What! These are the best horses in the country,” the king replied. He was a little annoyed and felt that the prince was trying to make a fool of him again.
“My lord, I would prefer to ride my own horse, the horse I came on.”
“And where is your horse?”
“On top of the palace.”
“On the roof.”
“What! Now you’re being silly!” said the king. “People will think you’re crazy. Maybe you are crazy!”
The king commanded his guards to go to the roof and bring down the prince’s horse. When the soldiers got to the roof, they were surprised to see a beautiful black shining horse standing there. But as they came closer, they realized that it was a horse made of wood! They started laughing and agreed that the prince must be crazy. They lifted the horse and carried it down to the king.
After the shock of discovering that this was a wooden horse, the king admired its great beauty and asked the prince about it.
“Is this really your horse?”
“Oh yes!” the prince replied. “And you’ll soon see just how amazing it is!”
“Well, it’s time for the battle to begin. Get on your horse, Prince,” the king ordered.
But the prince refused. “My Lord, your army is too close. I can’t get on my horse until you command them to move back.”
“And why is it necessary for me to move my army back?” the king asked with an annoyed look on his face.
“They might make my horse nervous, my Lord,” answered the prince.
So the king commanded his soldiers to move back.
The prince then shouted, “Now watch, my Lord! I’m going to get on this horse and you’ll find out how smart and strong we are. Together we’ll destroy your army.”
“Yes, yes! Just get on the horse!” shouted the king, who was beginning to lose his patience.
There were a few moments of silence as the prince climbed up onto the horse’s shining back. Everyone was feeling tense as they waited for the battle to begin.
As soon as the prince was on his horse’s back, he bent down and felt around the horse’s stomach. All the people pushed each other to try to see what he was doing, not realizing that he had pressed the “up” button. At that moment the horse flew straight up into the sky!
When the king saw this, he shouted at his men, “Quick! Catch him before he escapes!”
But his soldiers were afraid and shouted back, “Oh, King, how can we catch a flying horse? This man must be an evil wizard! Oh Allah, please save US from him!”
Then people began to run in different directions, shouting in fear, “Allah, save us!”
After watching the prince’s trick, the king rushed back to the palace and told his daughter what had happened. She became violently sick and fell on her bed crying. Her father had never seen his daughter so unhappy and tried to make her feel better.
“But dear daughter, we should be thankful that Allah has saved us from this wizard, who only wanted to make love to you!”
But he didn’t realize how much his daughter loved the prince. She ignored her father’s sympathetic words and told him that she wouldn’t eat or drink until Allah brought her lover back to her. As the days passed, her condition became worse and worse. Her father was very worried and kept trying to help her, but she only loved the prince more and felt lonelier for him each day.
When Prince Kamar al-Akmar had flown high into the sky and knew he was safe, he turned his horse toward his own country. But as he flew toward his home, he could only think of the lovely princess. Her city was called Sana’a and he locked that name in his memory so he could return.
When he finally reached his own city, he came down to land on the roof of the palace. In the palace there was a great silence. The rooms were dark and empty. He thought that someone in his family had died, so he hurried into his father’s room and found all his family dressed in black with sad, pale faces. When his father saw him, he shouted with joy and ran and put his arms around his son. Everyone cried with happiness and asked the prince what had happened to him. The prince told them about Sana’a, the princess, the king, and his soldiers.
“Praise to Allah for bringing you home safely, my son!” cried the king.
He sent messengers to give everyone the wonderful news. He then commanded his servants to prepare the palace and the city so that they could celebrate his son’s return. The streets and markets were decorated and beautiful music was played. The king and queen threw their black clothes away and went out to meet their people. Everyone danced, sang, and ate and drank as much as they could for seven days and seven nights.
During this time the prince asked his father what had happened to the wizard who had invented the wooden horse. The king became angry when he remembered the wizard.
“He’s an evil man and I was a fool to trust him. He’s been in prison since the day you left US and he’ll stay in prison forever.”
But the prince told his father how amazing the horse was, and asked him to let the old man out of prison. The king finally agreed, but he wouldn’t allow the man to marry his daughter.
When the wizard was freed and given this news, he was very angry. Although he had gotten his freedom back, he had lost his wonderful horse and his beautiful wife. He regretted giving the king the wooden horse.
As the people continued to celebrate, the king and his son returned to the palace to eat, drink, and talk together. Despite the fact that the prince had managed the horse so well, the king was worried and he tried to advise his son.
“I know that you’ve used this horse well, but you don’t know everything about it. There could be hidden dangers. I think it would be a mistake for you to ride it again.”
While they were sitting and talking in this way, a beautiful slave girl began to play music for them. She sang a song about separated lovers. As the prince listened to its sad words and beautiful music, the fire of love burned in his heart and he wanted the lovely daughter of the king of Sana’a more than ever. So when his father wasn’t looking, he went quietly up to the roof, got on his horse, pressed the “up” button, and flew up into the night sky.
After a few hours the king wondered where his son had gone. When he couldn’t find him anywhere in the palace, he went up to the roof and saw that the horse wasn’t there.
“Oh Allah,” he prayed, “please protect my son.” And then he thought, “If my son returns to me, I’ll definitely destroy that horse. Then the prince will have to stay here on the ground and I can stop worrying about him.”
The prince flew through the night sky on his way to Sana’a and his love. When he arrived, he landed on the roof and went quietly down into the palace, where he again found the slave boy asleep in front of the princess’s door. He listened through the door and heard the princess crying and talking to her slave girls.
“Princess, why are you crying about someone who left you and doesn’t care about you?”
“You silly girl! You don’t really believe that he’s forgotten me or that I could forget him, do you?”
And she began to cry again until she finally fell asleep.
The prince’s heart was full of joy when he heard the princess’s words, so he climbed over the sleeping slave boy, walked quietly up to her bed, and touched her hand gently. The princess opened her eyes when she felt his touch and threw herself on him, kissing him a hundred times.
“Oh, I’ve been so unhappy!” she cried.
“I’ve been unhappy too,” the prince answered.
“Then why did you leave?” she cried. “If you had stayed away one day longer, I would have killed myself!”
“How could I stay here when your father hated me?”
“But you were wrong to leave me! Did you really believe I could live without you?”
The prince begged the princess to forget all the bad things that had happened and to try to be happy that they were finally together again. The princess ordered her slave girls to bring food and drink, and the prince ate and drank happily after his long journey. They then talked until the sun rose over the palace walls.
When morning came, they both realized that they couldn’t be separated again. But her father would never allow them to marry, so they made secret preparations to leave the palace together.
The princess put on her finest clothes and jewels and, while her slave girls were sleeping, she quietly left her room and went up to the roof with the prince. He climbed up onto the horse, helped the princess up, and tied her tightly to him with a strong rope.
He then turned to his love and asked, “My Princess, are you sure you want to leave your home and your family?”
She answered, “My love for you is so strong that I can think of nothing else. If I have to choose between you and my family, then you are the only possible choice.”
The prince felt better and pressed the “up” button. The wooden horse immediately flew high up into the sky.
They kept flying until they came to the prince’s city. The prince was very happy to see his home again. He left his princess in one of his father’s beautiful gardens, telling her to stay there and watch the horse carefully. He then went to his father and asked him to prepare a beautiful royal ceremony to welcome the princess. His father was very happy to see his son again and immediately ordered his servants to prepare for the arrival of the princess.
The prince then went back to get the princess but was shocked to discover that she and the horse were both gone. One of his guards told him that he had seen an ugly old man in the garden earlier. The prince realized that the wizard had taken the princess and the horse. He hurried to his father and told him what had happened and that he had to find the princess. The king was very upset and begged his son not to leave them again, but the prince wouldn’t listen and left to search for his princess.
The prince had been right. The wizard had captured the princess and taken her away with him on the wooden horse. The princess cried and cried as the horse flew through the sky.
Eventually they came to the land of the Greeks and the wizard stopped to rest in a green field with trees and clear water. The field was very near a large city. The king of that city was out hunting that day and found the horse, the old man, and the princess. He wondered why this beautiful princess was traveling with this ugly old man, so he asked her about their relationship. The wizard tried to say that the princess was his wife, but she told the king that the wizard had forced her to go with him. When he heard this, the king commanded his soldiers to throw the wizard into prison. The king took the princess with him and put the beautiful horse with his other treasures in a special room in his palace.
While all this was happening, the prince was traveling from country to country, asking people if they had seen the princess and the magic horse. He eventually arrived in the land of the Greeks and heard some merchants talking in the market about the king’s discovery of the princess, the old man, and the horse. He joined the group and discovered that the old man was in prison and that the princess and the horse were in the king’s palace.
He immediately traveled to the palace, but it was too late for the guards to take him to the king, so they decided to put him in prison for the night. But first, because he was such a pleasant young man, they shared their meal with him. They started talking and asked him where he was from. When he told them he was from Persia, they laughed and said that all Persians told terrible lies.
“And the worst of you is in our prison right now! He says he’s a wizard. When the king found him, he had a beautiful young woman and an amazing wooden horse with him. The king has fallen in love with the woman, but she’s completely crazy. If this old man was really a wizard he could save her, but he can’t. The king has spent almost all his money this past year on doctors to try to cure her, but nothing has worked. The horse is locked away in a special room and the old man is locked up in this prison.”
Finally it was time for the guards to lock the prince up for the night. As he sat in his cell, he heard the old man crying and talking to himself in the next cell.
The prince shouted at him, “Be quiet! Do you think you’re the only person who has problems?”
But the old man was so happy to have some company that he told this young stranger his whole story. He didn’t realize that this was the prince he had tricked so badly.
As the prince sat there in the darkness, listening to the wizard’s complaints, he had an idea for freeing his princess. The next morning, when the guards took him to meet the king, the prince told the king that he was a doctor from Persia who traveled the world helping sick and crazy people. The king became very excited.
“Oh, doctor, I’m so happy to meet you,” he said. “And you’ve come just in time! Thanks to Allah!” He then told the prince all about the princess and the horse. “If you can cure my princess,
I’ll give you anything you desire in payment!” he promised the prince happily.
So the prince agreed to treat the princess. He told the king that he would have to examine the wooden horse because he would need it for the treatment. So the king took him to see the horse. The prince inspected it carefully and found that it was in perfect condition.
The prince then went with the king to the princess’s room. The king waited outside while the prince went in to examine the princess. The princess was crying, screaming, and waving her arms around wildly. The prince knew that she was just pretending so people would stay away from her.
As he came slowly toward her, he tried to make her relax. “Please don’t worry. Nobody’s going to hurt you, my beauty. “When he was by her side, he whispered in her ear. “It’s me. Kamar Al-Akmar.”
As soon as she heard this, the princess screamed and fainted with joy.
The king was very worried and shouted through the door, “What’s going on in there? Have you frightened her? Are you all right, my Princess?”
The prince quickly whispered again in his princess’s ear. “Oh, Shams al-Nahar, be careful. We’re in great danger. We must plan everything carefully so we can escape. I’ll go outside your room and tell the king that you’re crazy because the wizard put an evil spirit into the wooden horse, which then got into you. Then I’ll tell him that I can remove this evil spirit and cure you. When I’ve finished, I’ll come back into your room and talk to you for a few moments. Afterward I’ll invite the king in. You must then talk very sweetly to him to make him believe that my treatment has made you better.”
When the prince had finally done all these things, he invited the king into the princess’s room. The princess smiled warmly at him and welcomed him with a kiss. The king was very happy and thanked the “doctor” with all his heart. The prince then told the king that the princess was not completely well yet.
“In order to complete the cure,” the prince explained,”you and your soldiers must take the princess and the wooden horse back to the place where you found her. I will only then be able to remove the evil spirit from the horse and destroy it completely. If I don’t do that, it will continue to drive the princess crazy.”
The king agreed. He now thought the doctor was so intelligent and honest that he believed anything he said.
The soldiers took the horse to the field, followed by the king and the princess. The prince, still dressed like a doctor, gave the king his orders.
“My Lord, this could be dangerous, so first you must put the princess and the horse as far away as possible from you and your soldiers. I will then go and remove the evil spirit from the horse. I will get on the horse and put the princess behind me. The horse will shake and make strange noises. But don’t worry—this is a necessary part of the treatment. The horse will turn and run straight toward you and your soldiers. When this happens, you’ll know that the evil spirit has been completely removed from the horse. You may then do whatever you want with the princess.”
When the king heard this, he was very happy. He quickly ordered his army to move back from the princess and the horse. The prince left the king and walked slowly to the horse. He climbed up onto the horse’s back, helped the princess up, and tied her tightly to him. He then reached down and pressed the “up” button. The horse immediately flew up into the air, higher and higher into the sky, until it could be seen no more. The king and his soldiers stood there silently watching. They stood that way for half a day, waiting for the horse to return.
Eventually the king realized that he had been a fool. He knew that there was nothing he could do, so slowly and sadly he returned to his palace.
The prince flew day and night until he finally arrived at his father’s palace. After landing on the roof and making sure that the princess was safely inside, he went to see his father and mother. They were full of joy when they saw him, and the servants prepared the palace and the city so that everyone could celebrate the return of the prince and princess. People then celebrated for thirty days and nights, with delicious food, beautiful music, and dancing in the streets.
At the end of the thirty days, the prince married his lovely princess and they enjoyed each other with great happiness on their wedding night. King Sabur destroyed the horse so his son could never leave again and get into trouble. He then wrote to the princess’s father to tell him that she was safe and happily married.
The king of Sana’a was filled with joy to hear this news. He sent messages of friendship and many expensive gifts back to his daughter, her new husband, and their family. Prince Kamar Al- Akmar was very happy to receive his good wishes and invited him to the palace.
After many happy years, King Sabur died and Prince Kamar Al-Akmar became king. He was a good, kind king and his people loved him.