By: ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ
How many songs and stories have we listened to, how many novels have we read and how many films have we watched about being in love and about falling in love? But there are still so many other stories waiting to be told.
Today I would like to share with you a fantastic fairytale about love. It is an Eastern fable. I read it in one of Ahmet Altan’s novels, but I don’t remember now exactly which one. I am not sure if Altan was narrating this story from an unknown Eastern source or if he himself created it. Whatever the case, let’s read our fairytale:
The sultan and his wife were unable to have children despite having exhausted all options. One day, a fair elderly man with a long white beard came to the palace as a guest. The sultan took a liking to this man and insisted he stay for dinner. Following dinner, the bearded elderly man said, “I think that perhaps you don’t have any fruit.” The sultan immediately answered, saying: “We have fruits of all sorts. Which would you like?” “No,” said the man, “that wasn’t what I meant. I think you don’t have any children. That’s what I meant.” The sultan’s wife became teary-eyed upon hearing this and they responded, “We really wanted children, but we couldn’t have any.” “Alright,” said the old man. “Tomorrow I will show you a road, and if you follow the instructions that I give you, then you’ll have children.”
“There is a spring located on top of the furthest mountain in the country. On the night when spring turns into summer, as dawn breaks in but before the moonlight disappears, while the sun is rising, you must get into the spring completely naked and bathe yourselves before you say, ‘May what is good happen,’ and engage in marital relations.” So the sultan and his wife bathed in the spring that was located atop the mountain and they retired to their tent for their union.
The sultan’s wife said, “Oh God, give us a child, a child of any kind.” On that night the sultan’s wife became pregnant. Nine months passed by and, when the time for the birth of the child came, they called the most well-known midwife of the palace, but she was unable to deliver the child. The sultan, in a fit of rage, had all the midwives who were unable to assist with his wife’s birth beheaded.
There was a very beautiful, but poor, girl who lived in the town with her father and stepmother. The evil stepmother, who heard about the sultan’s wife, went to the palace and said, “I have a stepdaughter and, if there is anyone who can help deliver the sultan’s baby, it’s her.” Upon hearing this, a man was dispatched from the palace to pick her up. The girl became aware of what her fate would be and headed straight to her mother’s grave; consulting with her mother, she said: “Mother, what will I do? They have called upon me to deliver a baby whom no other midwife could deliver — and they will behead me if I can’t perform the task.”
It was at that instant that the white-bearded elderly man appeared before the grave and said: “Don’t cry, my child. I will tell you what you must do, and if you follow my instructions, then your head will be spared.” He then proceeded to tell the young girl what she must do: “The sultan did not follow the instructions I gave him. Instead of asking for what was best, they asked for a child no matter what and this is why she is carrying a snake instead of a child. When you arrive at the palace, you will immediately ask for a cauldron of milk. You’ll place this milk between the sultan’s wife’s legs and the snake, upon sensing the scent of milk, will emerge.”
So the young girl went to the palace and followed the old man’s instructions. And just as he said, the sultan’s wife gave birth to a large black snake. The sultan was informed immediately and the sultan’s mother cried. After a period of agonizing, they decided to embrace their offspring, snake or not, and allotted a room for it in the back of the palace without showing it to anyone. They had celebrations thrown in honor of the sultan welcoming a child. Years went by and the snake in the back room grew larger.
One day he sent a message to his sultan father, saying, “I want to get married.” What was the sultan to do? It was his only child. He asked for one of the vizier’s daughters’ hand in marriage for his child. The wedding took place and they proceeded to consummate their marriage. The next day, they knocked on the couple’s bedroom door only to find the new bride’s dead body. The snake had bitten and killed her. They married the snake to another vizier’s daughter and he bit and killed her as well. After all of the young girls in the palace died one by one, they began marrying the prince to girls from the public and the prince killed them as well. The young girls who were walking to the palace as brides were all dying, one by one. The people knew that the prince was a snake, and the word was out that all of the girls that married the prince were dying and everyone was trying to have their daughter leave the country.
One day, the stepmother of the young girl who helped with the snake’s birth went to the palace. “I have a really beautiful daughter and she helped with the prince’s birth. She’ll understand the prince; you should have him marry her,” she opined. The palace immediately dispatched men to the girl’s house and asked for the girl’s hand in marriage. Her father, unable to say no to the sultan, agreed to give his daughter away. The young girl, upon hearing this, became aware that her death was near. She ran to her mother’s grave again and said: “Dearest mother, they are going to have me married to the prince but the prince is a snake. He will kill me just like he did the other girls.”
As the girl was weeping by her mother’s grave, the bearded old man appeared again and said: “Don’t cry. The prince in the shape of a snake is actually a very handsome young man and if you follow my instructions, then he’ll transform into a human and you will lead a very happy life.” “What shall I do?” asked the young girl. And the old men explained: “When they see you off to consummate your marriage, you will wear 40 shirts. When you enter the room, the prince will ask you to disrobe and you will say, “You, too sir snake.” He will then shed one of his skins. Then he will ask you to disrobe again and you will ask the same of him. This way you will facilitate his shedding of 40 layers of skin. After he takes off his 40th layer, he will transform into a young man. But make sure that you never take off your clothing in full until he does. If you disrobe before he takes off his clothes, he will bite you upon seeing your flesh.” So the girl prepared herself and they whisked her off to the palace. The wedding took place and they told the girl that the time had come for her to consummate her marriage. So she donned 40 shirts, just as the old man had asked her to. Everything unfolded according to the instructions of the old man. One by one, they took turns shedding their layers. After the 40th layer, the snake became a handsome young man and they lived happily ever after.
I think these roles sometimes switch. Sometimes we turn into a snake and break the heart of the one who falls in love with us rather quickly, or sometimes we ourselves become victims of a snake who is not influenced by our charm. When two people get naked simultaneously, as happened in the fable, then love turns into the most delightful feeling one can ever feel. When you feel at the edge of falling in love, remember this story to refrain being the snake or its victim!