On the 50th birthday of King Sabur of Persia, presents arrived at his palace from all over the land.
There were swords and silk and silver, coats and camels and caravans of cambrick cloth. But the best present of all was brought by a weird, ugly dwarf dressed all in black. He gave the king a horse carved in ebony, with a saddle of scarlet leather and a jingling golden harness.
“It’s beautifully made,” said King Sabur. “It looks exactly like a real horse.”
“But it does not move like a real hose, your majesty,” said the dwarf with an evil grin. “This is a magic horse. It can fly over the rainbow and to the far side of the farthest ocean.”
King Sabur was overjoyed. And his only son, the handsome Prince Kamar, leapt into the saddle. “Tell me how it works!” he yelled. “Oh, do let me ride it!” But the king held up his hand for silence.
“This is such a wonderful present,” he said to the ugly dwarf. “I must give you something in return. Ask anything you like, anything at all. If it’s within my power, I will grant it.”
“I thought you might say that,” sneered the dwarf. “I ask for your only daughter, your beautiful daughter, as a bride.”
The king’s face dropped.
“It is within your power to give her to me, I suppose?”
“Well, yes…” said the king unhappily.
“And you did promise me anything-anything at all?”
“Well, er, yes…” mumbled the king, and tears crept into his eyes.
“Don’t do it, father!” shouted Prince Kamar from the horse’s back. “Don’t give away your only daughter, my beautiful sister, to this stranger. He tricked you into giving that promise. You don’t have to keep it!”
“Ah, that’s true,” said the king. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t think I can give you my only daughter, my beautiful daughter, for a bride.”
The dwarf was furious, especially with Prince Kamar. He reached out and pulled the reins of the horse.
Instantly, the strange beast sprang into life. Its hooves clattered on the marble floor. Then it bounded over the balcony rail and flew into the air, galloping upwards, higher and higher, while Kamar hung on for dear life.
The king gaped up at the flying horse. “Come back, Kamar! Come back down!”
“He can’t!” sniggered the dwarf. “He doesn’t know where the switch is that makes the horse come down. He will fly on up and up until he burns in the heat of the sun. You wouldn’t give me your only daughter, so I took your only son. And now you will never see him again!”
King Sabur threw the dwarf into the darkest dungeon in his palace, and he cancelled his birthday party. In all his 50 years, he had never been so unhappy.
On the back of the flying horse, Prince Kamar grew hotter and hotter as they climbed nearer and nearer to the sun.
He had tried everything to make the horse go down. He had shouted at it and kicked its flanks. He had pulled on its reins and heaved on its silken mane. Now he had given up hope.
“I’m sorry I shouted at you and kicked you and pulled on your mane,” he said to the horse as if it were a real animal. And he patted its ebony neck.
And there it was, no bigger than a pin. Under the silken mane, Kamar felt the switch. He pushed it down.
The ebony horse plunged down out of the sky, and Kamar had to pull hard on the reins to keep it from diving into the sea.
Soon he came to the dry land foreign country. He flew over a magnificent city, and set the horse down on the roof of a glorious palace. Climbing down through a skylight, he found himself in a beautiful bedroom. And on the bed lay a lady, fast asleep. Kamar instantly fell in love with her.
“Wake up, my lady,” he whispered. “Who is your father? I must ask his permission to marry you.” The Princess Shaleem woke up and saw Kamar’s blue eyes and curling, jet-black hair. And she instantly fell in love with him.
“What are you doing my daughter’s bedroom, you thief, you burglar, you, you foreigner>”
The king was standing in the doorway, shaking his fist.
“I’m not a burglar, sire. I’m Prince Kamar of Persia. Please may I marry your daughter?”
“Certainly not!” shouted the king. “I shall have you beheaded for such impudence!”
The Princess Shaleem gave a little scream.
“That would not be honourable for a Prince of Persia,” said Kamar politely. “I would fight your whole army for the right to marry the Princess.”
“Then you shall!” laughed the king. He had an army of a thousand horsemen, so Kamar would be killed anyway. “You will need a war-horse?”
“Thank you, sire, but I have my own,” said Kamar.
The next morning, at one end of the field behind the palace, a thousand horsemen stood ready.
The horsemen drew their swords, and a thousand sharp blades flashed in the sun. The war-horses; hooves tore up the grass as they quickened to a gallop.
Shaleem watched as Prince Kamar waited, perfectly calm. His black horse stood completely still, almost as if it was made of wood.
“Oh ride away, Kamar!” she called. “Don’t be killed for my sake!” But Kamar waved to her, smiling, and picked up his horse’s reins.
Just as the first horseman reached the prince, gnashing his teeth and waving his sword, Kamar pulled on the reins and rose up into the air. He flew over the thousand heads and the flashing swords, and landed on the other side.
The astonished horsemen turned back, barging into each other and falling over. But as they galloped back down the field, Kamar took off again and flew low over their heads, cutting the plumes off their helmets with his curved Persian sword.
An hour later, a thousand soldiers lay about on the grass, exhausted. They had all fallen off their horses. And they had all lost the plumes off their helmets.
Prince Kamar flew to the window where Princess Shaleem sat laughing and clapping her hands. Then he lifted her on to his saddle and flew across the blue sky.
King Sabur and his only daughter, his beautiful daughter, were standing on the balcony of the Persian royal palace. At first they thought that the dark shape in the sky was a bird. Then they saw the black silk tail and the blonde hair stream out behind. And two riders were waving.
In all his 50 years, King Sabur had never been so happy.
From the Thousand and One Nights.