Dual by magic.
Once upon a time in a far-off and splendid city there was a king named Izil the magnificent, who by the grace of God was powerful, wise, wealthy and blessed with an indescribably beautiful daughter called Tuftent.
In the same city, at the same time there lived a poor and sweet-natured widow named Tadefi who by the grace of God was blessed with a loving, industrious, daring, handsome, optimistic and obstinate son Anazar. He had made up his mind that one fine day he would achieve the impossible by marrying the king’s daughter, after which they would live happily ever after.
One day thinking that the time was ripe Anazar went to the king’s palace and presented himself as a prospective son-in-law. King Izil scratched his head, gazed at the youth and seemed to ponder whether he should get his guards to kick him back to where he belonged or take the proposal seriously.
Finally he decided to challenge the audacious young man. Instead of questioning him about his health, wealth, connections and career prospects, King Izil started quizzing him about his magical skills. Talking about magic usually did the trick when unsuitable suitors for his daughter’s hand came knocking on the palace gates.
What could Anazar say? The poor lad had to admit that he could not perform even the most elementary spells; changing frogs into princes, or princes into frogs for that matter had never ever crossed his mind.
Finally he sighed deeply before saying:
“Sorry, I haven’t got the faintest idea about what you’re talking about!”
For the first time King Izil looked vaguely impressed, as the last thing he ever expected was an honest admittance of ignorance, so he said:
“Well, off you go, learn all about it, then come back and we’ll see!”
Feeling both thwarted and encouraged Anazar retired to his hovel, where he began planning his next move.
As it happens one of the other residents in that city was the competent, cunning and infamous wizard Yufayyur, who lived alone with Tamment his daughter of uncertain age, who had fortunately/unfortunately not inherited his talents.
Not that she was totally useless; wizards enjoy their home comforts and she was a phenomenal cook. However even for wizards time does not stand still and he wanted to pass on his skills to the younger generation. His only concern was that his apprentices should never excel his own achievements.
News travels fast in any community and the day after the royal audience Yufayyur had already got wind of our hero’s aspirations. It had been one of those mornings senior citizens know only too well; so after rubbing his back ruefully he grabbed his staff and hobbled off to pay Anazar a visit.
Arriving at the hovel he heard Tadefi ranting and raving, weeping and wailing as sensible mothers tend to do when their children get ideas above their station:
“A bird in hand is worth two in a bush!
Isn’t Lunja (the girl next door) good enough for you?
Mark my words! You’re heading for disaster!
Be glad that you can sell a few eggs in the market and grow a few vegetables.
Leave all that magic nonsense to that ne’er do well Yufayyur!”
Overhearing this, the ne’re do well decided that it was about time to interrupt her monologue. So raising his staff he thumped loudly on the rickety door.
Silence! Then a minute later Tadefi timidly opened up and seeing the glint in Yufayyur’s steely eyes realized that he had certainly overheard her unflattering remarks.
“I wish to speak to your son – alone!”
“Please come in, my lord I was just about to fetch water from the fountain,”
Then seizing her pitcher she rushed out into the alley before he could manage to take his revenge.
Yufayyur entered the tiny dwelling, where he found Anazar squatting despondently in a corner.On seeing his unexpected caller he jumped up immediately and beamed a welcome.
Yufayyur nodded severely.
“Never waste a moment lolling in the corner. Want to be a wizard, do you?”
“King Izil says…”
“I know all about that. What else?”
What was needed here was a diplomatic reply, so he said:
“I want wordly influence, and to achieve that I need out-of –this-world skills that only you can teach me.”
“Hm! Are you prepared to work hard, accept my bad temper and promise never to aim higher than being number two; I am number one?”
"Who's number 1?"
“Very well! You start your apprenticeship tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock sharp. You will work 7 days a week for 7 years. I will allow you to return home every evening. Being a merciful man I will even grant your wretched, lying, loose-tongued mother enough eggs and vegetables to survive on.”
“Thank you, my lord! I can be there even before seven, if you wish.”
“Certainly not! 7 o’clock on the dot!”
After a sleepless night Anazar rose at the crack of dawn for fear of being late for his first day as the wizard’s apprentice.
At 7 o’clock he was just about to knock on the door of Yufayyur’s large but rather dismal dwelling, when the door swung open and there was Tamment the wizard’s one and only daughter. Smiling modestly she beckoned him into the dingy hall, where he heard a rumble of deafening snores from somewhere in the depths of the house:
“Shush! He’s still asleep!”
“But, it’s 7.”
“Yes, he always gets his apprentices to turn up at 7. He never gets up himself until 8. Come and have some breakfast.”
She led him into the kitchen where she served him sweet mint tea, fragrant freshly baked bread generously smothered with honey, as well as dates and oranges.
Enjoying this unexpected feast he listened politely whilst she babbled away non-stop:
“Boy am I glad he’s finally got a new apprentice! He kicked the last one out ten years ago and it’s been dead as the grave ever since. How I’ve missed all those spats about the spells that went wrong and the curses that misfired. At least now there'll be someone in the house who'll appreciate my cooking!”
On the stroke of eight Yufayyur hobbled yawning into the kitchen. Without giving any sign whatsoever that he had even noticed his new apprentice he sat down and consumed an enormous breakfast. Then he stood up, belched thunderously and roared:
“Very well Anazar you've wasted enough time talking to my chatterbox of a daughter! Let’s get cracking!”
So they got cracking and the rest of the morning was spent learning a few elementary skills. Anazar listened attentively so he soon learnt about charms to ward off the evil eye and simple spells guarranteed to cure common ailments such as warts and indigestion.
It was all going according to plan until Anazar began to flag; after all he had been up since the crack of dawn. Due to fatigue he inadvertently mixed up a couple of charms which threatened to cause a totally unmentionable problem. Quick as lightning Yufayyur chanted an antidote of a spell thus averting a total catastrophe.
Just as Yufayyur was about to get into a terrible tizzy Tamment came in from the kitchen and said:
“Come and get it!”
Lunch was on the table.
This first day set the scene for the years to come.
Every morning Anazar arrived at 7 o’clock sharp to endure the combined cacophony of snoring and grumbling whilst enjoying an out-of-this world delicious breakfast. The rest of the day would be spent memorising and practising magical arts.
As time went by Anazar made fewer and fewer mistakes, Yufayyur had fewer and fewer temper tantrums and Tamment had fewer and fewer opportunities to pour oil on troubled waters; after all she did prefer peaceful coexistence to botched up spells and spats.
In fact as time rolled by she began to feel a sisterly affection for Anazar and although her father appeared to be satisfied with his apprentice, she knew that if Anazar got too clever he would be signing his own death warrant.
At breakfast the day after Anazar had taken the initiative to concoct a charm capable of inducing simultaneous transfigurations or something equally incomprehensible, Tamment decided that the time had come to give him a dose of sisterly advice:
“Getting too big for your boots?”
Anazar who had just taken an outsize bite of his 5th honey sandwich nearly choked in surprise; after nearly seven years her morning spiel had moved on.
“Boots? What are you going on about?”
“Yesterday morning’s capers show that you are getting too big for your boots.”
“Yes, that was really something! Did you see the look on your Dad’s face?”
“YES! I’m the greatest! When King Izil hears about it, he’ll come knocking on my door. Tamment you’ll come to my wedding as one of the guests of honor and….”
“Boy, you’ve got a head like a sieve! Have you forgotten what my dad told you the day before you started your apprenticeship?
‘Never aim higher than being number two; I, Yufayyur, am number one”
“Oh yes, come to think..”
“Good, I’m so glad you’ve finally started thinking! In a few weeks’ time you’ve got your final exam. If you fail, you’re in trouble. If you pass, you’re in real trouble; out of the frying pan into the fire.”
The words ‘frying pan’ reminded her that she’d left her own frying pan in the embers and it now needed urgent attention.
“What should I do?”
“Start thinking! I’ve put you in the know; the rest is up to you.”
So Anazar decided to take her advice and the first wise thought that came into his mind was:
‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth!’
He gazed fondly at Tamment, smiled broadly, thanked her profusely and vowed lifelong friendship and protection.
Tamment merely snorted retorting cryptically:
“Time will tell, time will tell!”
A moment later Yufayyur strode into the kitchen, sniffed suspiciously and barked:
“You gibber-jabbering chatterbox, you’ve burnt my breakfast – again!”
Needless to say that was a gross exaggeration; but it made Anazar realize that the gauntlet was down.
With two weeks to go before the fateful exam, Anazar showed himself to be an inscrutable paragon of virtue: diligent, respectful, obedient and in all ways beyond suspicion.
However every evening when on retiring to his hovel he set about plotting his salvation.
The best way of defeating tyrants is to find their Achilles’ heels and Yufayyur’s was his inability to wake up in time to prevent all that early morning kitchen gibber-jabber.
Therefore Anazar decided to create a charm that would keep Yufayyur in the land of Nod long enough for him to flee far, far away to a safe haven where he could bide his time before coming back to claim the hand of the indescribably beautiful Princess Tuftent.
The day before the examination Anazar was fit for fight! Not only had he concocted a magical sleeping draught that he could cunningly slip into Yufayyur’s afternoon mint tea, he had also prepared two protective silver amulets for Tamment and Tadefi (his mother); after all they would still be dependent on Yufayyur’s grudging generosity, until he Anazar could come back and overpower him once and for all.
Luck was with him! Yufayyur drank his tea appreciatively and before falling into a deep, deep sleep murmured:
“Hm, Tamment you’ve finally learnt how to make a decent cup of tea!”
Then Anazar, after saying a fond farewell to Tamment and Tadefi, grabbed a knapsack with his few belongings and made his escape before Yufayyur could regain his senses.
Wandering in the desert from oasis to oasis he scraped a modest living bartering his charms against the evil eye and remedies for various trivial and less than trivial human ailments for board and lodging.
It was a pleasant and peaceful interlude, but after 7 times 7 days it was time to go home.
Arriving early one morning he tiptoed into his hovel and hugging his mother he said:
“Mum, from today on we’re going to be rich!”
“What did you say?”
“Mum, from today on we’re going to be rich! Just follow my instructions and our fortune will be made. Tomorrow morning as soon as you wake up, go out in the courtyard and you’ll find a superb black stallion complete with a silver studded bridle waiting just for you. Take the horse to market and sell it, but whatever else you do: don’t sell the bridle. Bring the bridle home because you’ll need it the day after tomorrow, because…”
"Because at nightfall the horse will be transformed into a man, return home, and the following day will turn himself back into a stallion again. Guess who the man is Mum."
Tadafi being a no nonsense down to earth type of woman snorted:
“ You, I suppose! Codswallop!”
"Go on Mum give it a try, please, please I beg you!"
How can any mother say no to her one and only son? So she gave it a try and it worked. Within a few minutes she had found a buyer for the horse who meekly accepted her refusal to sell the bridle.
Success breeds success so her morning trip to the market became part of her daily routine.
The only snag was that her flabbergasted clients began wondering how it was that their horses just disappeared into thin air the very day of their being purchased.
When Yufayyur got wind of these strange goings-on he put two and two together and made four; that pest Anazar was back in town.
So the following morning Yufayyur set off to market to buy one of the splendid black stallions that had become the talk of the town.
There in the middle of the market place surrounded by hordes of vendors selling everything from goats and chickens to dates and pomegranates stood Tadefi waiting confidently for someone to come along and buy the magnificent steed.
The wizard sidled up to her and said slyly.
"Morning Tadefi! Come up in the world have we?"
Then slowly and carefully he examined the stallion from all sides and angles before saying:
"I’ll take the horse and the bridle."
"Impossible, the bridle’s not for sale."
"How am I supposed to lead it home without a bridle?"
"Double the money if you give me the bridle."
"Triple the money."
If there is anything more entertaining than a public spat, it must be this kind of lively and noisy haggling! It went on and on and on.
In no time at all they were surrounded by a crowd of jeering spectators who were astounded by the old woman’s stupidity. In the end greed, pride and perhaps exhaustion made her forget her son’s wise words and she capitulated; the wizard bought both the horse and the bridle.
Triumphantly the wizard led the horse home, where he spent the entire evening plotting how best to maltreat this overconfident apprentice who had so successfully irritated him.
The following morning Yufayyur led the horse to market and proclaimed:
“Fellow citizens! Life is hard without a beast of burden! My heart bleeds for you, so out of the goodness of my heart, you are welcome to borrow my horse – completely free of charge of course. Make the brute work for you, and don’t put up with any nonsense!”
Within a few minutes there was a long line of enthusiastic takers.
“Ah ha,” he chuckled to himself: “They’ll work him to death!”
He spoke too soon. One after another they exploited the horse, but by sunset it was still as jaunty as it had been at sunrise.
The following day there happened to be a horse race just outside the city.
Tamment was not only a brilliant cook she was also a skilled equestrian, so she asked her father’s permission to borrow the horse, so she too could compete in the race.
After a great deal of head-scratching and humming and hawing he reluctantly consented on condition that she promised faithfully not to remove its bridle. She promptly agreed, swung herself up in the saddle and off she went.
Riding a horse with magical attributes it was a foregone conclusion that she would win. Afterwards she patted the horse affectionately and led it down to the near by lake. Although she had promised her father faithfully that she would not remove its bridle, she decided to defy him. It was such a hot day and the horse deserved to frolic in the refreshingly cool water. No sooner had she removed the bridle than the horse shook its mane, whinnied its thanks, turned into a tiny fish and plunged into the depths of the lake.
Then a moment later Yufayyur turned up and noticed the bridle that Tamment was still clutching. Roaring a series of vile oaths he turned himself into a water snake and slithered and slid into the water.
Thereupon the fish turning itself into a lark soared high, high up into the sky.
The snake not to be outdone turned itself into an eagle and set off in hot pursuit of the lark, who in turn flew to the palace where it caught sight of the princess who was taking an afternoon stroll in the rose garden.
Before the eagle could catch up with it, the lark pirouetted and swirled above her head before turning itself into a silver ring, that fell and landed just in front of her feet. Although the princess had more jewellery than she actually needed, she bent down, picked it up and popped it in her pocket.
The eagle, which was now perched on a nearby palm tree, decided that enough was enough and that tomorrow was also a day.
The very next morning dressed up as a jewel merchant Yufayyur knocked at the palace door and cried out:
“New rings for old, new rings for old “
The princess was dreamily lounging in her boudoir. On hearing his cries she opened the window, leaned out and decided to let him in; it’s not every day you get such a tempting offer.
One of the palace lackeys led him to her chamber. After bowing obsequiously Yufayyur asked her to show him her collection. Tuffent opened her gem-encrusted jewellery box in which she kept her rings; one for each and every day of the year.
One by one she took them out, but each time the merchant shook his head and said:
‘No, no, not that one.’
When she got to the 365th he shook his head sadly and said:
“Perhaps the honoured princess has a ring hidden away somewhere else; in her pocket for example.”
"Oh yes, that reminds me."
She then fumbled in her pocket and brought out the ring that had fallen so mysteriously from the heavens the previous day.
Catching sight of it Yufayyur’s eyes lit up:
"That’ll do!" He roared.
Immediately the ring turned itself into a ripe pomegranate and the startled princess dropped it on the floor where it shattered into a thousand pieces.
Seeing this the wizard exultantly turned himself into a cock and set to gobbling the shattered pomegranate.
When the cock was just about to eat the last juicy fragment, it upped and turned itself into a silver dagger and after performing a victorious death dance it swooped down and killed the cock.
The duel being finally over the dagger triumphantly transformed itself becoming Anazar, who after bowing respectfully to an astonished but admiring Princess Tuftent, went off to find King Izil:
“Sire! Are you convinced or not convinced that I am the most talented wizard in the world and a worthy suitor for your indescribably beautiful daughter?"
The king being wise was convinced, so he permitted Anazar the son of the poor widow Tadefi to marry his beautiful daughter Tuftent.
Needless to say they lived happily ever after.
Having won his Princess did Anazar forget his promises to Tamment and Tadefi?
No, not at all because Anazar was both generous and wise. Tamment and Tadefi spent the rest of their days in comfort at the palace.
As Anazar often used to remark:
‘Magic is all well and good, but without Tamment and Tadefi’s help and encouragement I would have been lost.’
Texte: © Betty Chatterjee 2010. All rights reserved
Cover photo by kind permission of Boughoud Si Abdelkrim
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 28.02.2010
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I am indebted to Boughoud Si Abdelkrim, a fellow Esperantist from Morocco, whom I met by chance in the magical world of Cyber Space. Since 2005 we have corresponded regularly. Boughoud told me this Berber legend that he in turn had heard from his mother. I have followed the plot, but I confess that I let my imagination run wild with regard to characterisation and dialogue.