Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Sarhan and the daughter of the King of Time

There was and there was not, long long ago, a beautiful girl named Za’afiran, who lived in the palace of her father the King of Time.  She refused to marry any boy, except one who could challenge her with his intelligence, and present her a riddle she had no knowledge of.  The case of Za’afiran became famous in the four corners of the kingdom and all of the wadis, and a number of young men presented themselves to her, but all of them failed to stump her with a riddle she had not heard. 

One day a poor young man named Sarhan arrived at the evil old woman, he arrived seeking to triumph over Za’afiran. 

Sarhan entered the king’s sitting room and announced his desire to ask for the hand of his daughter Za’afiran.  So the King of Time asked the young man if he knew the condition of the marriage contract…a riddle the princess couldn’t solve, and had no knowledge of its contents and its secret.  Sarhan replied: Yes, I know my lord the King of Time.

“Then what is your riddle, puzzling to the minds and the brains?”

He said: "About a man riding his father, and strapping on his mother.  Drinking not from Allah’s earth and not from his sky.  Eating life from death."

When Sarhan finished speaking, the King of Time requested that there be a time limit of two days, and that Sarhan would come after that to hear the reply and the clarification.  Za’afiran was behind the drapes listening to what was happening in the sitting room.  She thought long on the riddle and its meaning, but she didn’t arrive at a solution and its significance, and she knew that the riddle was a story, and that the matter was a tale and a narrative.  Her eyes were sad until they knew that the young man should stay with the evil old woman.  

Za’afiran sent her summons  and the evil old woman agreed with her that she should slip alcohol into Sarhan’s drink, so that if he drank he would become drunk and reveal his secret.

The next night the evil old woman did what she had agreed upon with the princess, and Sarhan got drunk, and Za’afiran went behind the curtain and listened secretly to the conversation.  The evil old woman led Sarhan on so that he would uncover the secret of his coming to that country, and this was his reply: I heard of the story of Za’afiran, and the condition of her accepting the marriage contract, and I was poor, with no money and no horse, and no sword to give me protection and security, so that I could arrive at this place, so I mortgaged my father and bought with the price of his mortgage a horse.  I mortgaged my mother and bought with the price of her mortgage a sword.  And I got on my horse and girded on my sword.  

On the way to your country, the trip became long and I became thirsty, and I goaded my horse until it sweated and I sweated, and I drank from its sweat until my thirst was quenched, and then a gazelle ran into my sword and died and I was sad, but I found a fetus in its belly, and I took it out and roasted it, and ate until I was full, and this is my riddle and may I triumph over the daughter of the sultan.
The evil old woman replied to him – but secretly: Indeed the secret of your riddle you have revealed, and I hope that in that you have lost the daughter of the sultan, for I am the evil old woman and for lack of her marriage until now I have been happy, and for this alone I have brought you two together now.  

Sarhan when he finished telling his story felt the presence of another person behind the curtain, listening to what conversation passed, and he knew the trick and that Za’afiran was listening from behind the drapes.  But he controlled his nerves and acted like he was still drunk, which encouraged Za’afiran to leave the house of the old woman, and Sarhan came near her and seized her with force, but she succeeded in escaping from him, although her contract remained behind in his hand. 

In the morning Sarhan headed for the King of Time’s sitting room and the king had heard what his daughter had heard in the house of the evil old woman.  But Sarhan related to the king his story with Za’afiran.

“On a bird I pillowed my hand, it flew away with the bird but its feather remained with me.”  Then he opened his fist, which was holding the contract.  

So the King of Time knew that the princess had tricked Sarhan, just as Za’afiran liked him.  Because of this she accepted when her father ordered the decorations to be put up and the marriage contract, in all of which was Sarhan, which made the evil old woman very disappointed and sad, and everyone else was joyful, because of the marriage of their princess Za’afiran to the young man Sarhan.


  1. They were very specific that it was an evil old woman weren't they?;) even though she was just doing the bidding of the tricky princess;)

  2. Yes, evil old person with female pronouns was exactly what it was in Arabic and I couldn't come up with any better translation. Western fairy tales might have wicked witches or bad fairies but those have very different connotations in Oman. Witchcraft is serious in Oman!

    The princess conspiring with the evil old woman to get Sarhan drunk to learn the solution to the riddle was cheating and really unethical. I don't think I'd want to marry that princess.