The Minstrel’s Secret
Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a man that was just and fair, until the day a wandering minstrel arrived. There was nothing outwardly extraordinary about the man. He was as squat as a toad and had not a hair on his head, but following him was a retinue of beautiful women. The king watched from his roof garden as they strolled past, then sent a servant down to ask the minstrel to play when he dined that evening.
The minstrel agreed, and as the king and queen and their children listened the minstrel wound marvelous tunes from his harp and viol. King Adababa smiled indulgently when his wife and daughters rose with their plates half-touched and joined the minstrel on the many cushions littering the floor before him. They sighed and exclaimed over his songs and voice. Adababa had to admit it was heavenly to hear so he gave the minstrel a small sack of gold at the end of it and invited him to sit beside him at the table to share a cup of wine.
He said to the minstrel, “You sing and play like an angel. This must be why all the women flock to you.”
But the minstrel shook his head and reached for more of the king’s fine food. “Not so, Your Majesty. My gift is a secret no man would share.”
Fascinated, the king went to bed that night and carried into his dreams the seed of jealousy. It grew as he slept and when he awoke he was determined to find the source of the minstrel’s charm. Although the king had a queen and a large harem, what man does not want more women? He invited the minstrel to play for him at midday and gave him more jewels than he’d given him gold the previous day. Again, he asked how he got women to follow him. The minstrel merely winked. It so enraged the king that he had the minstrel imprisoned and cut out his tongue so he could enchant no more ladies with his song.
When he next played for the king it was still intoxicating. The king had the minstrel’s fingers removed and banished him from the kingdom. Before nightfall, he had a change of heart and sent his army to bring the minstrel and his retinue back. To his dismay, the army marched back and among the many new women that had followed the minstrel was his own queen and daughters. He had them locked away to prevent them from escaping and the minstrel brought for questioning.
His anger was so great he could scarcely contain himself. He drug one of the minstrel’s women forward and asked her, “What is it about this man you find so enticing you follow him anywhere?”
The woman sighed and answered, “He has the loveliest eyes.” So the king had his eyes plucked out. The next day he was so exceedingly wroth he ordered the minstrel’s feet chopped so he couldn’t leave until he revealed all.
That night his women conspired together, took some of the gold each hoarded on her person to hire a wagon to carry the minstrel from the city. “If we can’t free our master there will be nothing left of him!”
When the king rose from his bed the next morning it was to find the minstrel and his women had fled. Try as he might, as hot as his temper burned, he found no trace of the man. Sitting on his throne, he wept bitterly and finally allowed his wife and daughters to be set free. Queen Simah knelt before him and wiped his tears. “Beloved, now that the minstrel is gone, we’re free of his spell. You took everything from him but one. I beg you to consider what a fortunate man you are. You have a kingdom, wealth and wife and children who revere you. Be of good cheer.”
The queen’s wise words brought him out of his spiteful malaise and he repented. He decreed that no man should lay a hand on the minstrel but should let him go his way unharmed. And so it came to pass. His women stole the minstrel from the city, disguised as a beggar, and took him across the sea to a far land. There they kept his secret very well and, in spite of his many infirmities, they all lived happily ever after.