Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales | Annotated Tale

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How Naran Gerel Swore Falsely and Yet Told the Truth


"LONG ages ago there lived a King named Tsoktu Ilagukssan (1), who had one only daughter, whom he kept as the apple of his eye, and guarded so jealously that she never saw any thing or any body. If any man went near her apartment his legs were immediately broken and his eyes put out. So relentless was the command of the King.

               "One day Naran Gerel (2), such was the daughter's name, however, came to her father, saying, "Being shut up here all day seeing nothing and no man, my life is weariness unto me. Let me now go abroad on the fifteenth of the month, that I may see something."

               "But the King would not listen to her; only as she continued day by day urging her request, the King at last gave permission that on a certain day she might go abroad; but he gave orders also at the same time that on that day every bazaar should be shut, every window closed, and that all men, women, and beasts should be shut up close out of sight of the Princess; and that whoso walked abroad, or but looked out of window should be punished with death.

               "On the fifteenth of the month, therefore, a new chariot was appointed to Naran Gerel, and she went forth surrounded by a train of her maidens, and drove all through the city; every bazaar being shut up, every window closed, and all men, women, and beasts within doors out of sight.

               "Nevertheless, the King's minister Ssaran (3), overcome by his curiosity to see the Princess, had gone up to the highest window of his house, to obtain a glimpse of her unperceived. But what care soever he took to be seen of none, the Princess, in her anxiety to make the best use of her eyes on this her one opportunity of seeing the world, discerned him.

               "Never having seen any man but her father, who was already well stricken in years, the appearance of the Minister, who was still young, so charmed her that she instantly conceived a desire to see more of him, and accordingly made a sign to him by raising the first finger of her right hand and marking a circle round it with the other hand; then clasping both hands tight together and throwing them open again, finally laying one finger of each hand together and pointing with them towards the palace.

               "Very much perplexed at finding himself discovered by the Princess, Ssaran came down; and when his wife saw him looking so bewildered, she inquired of him, saying, 'Hast thou seen the Princess?'

               "'Not only have I seen the Princess,' replied Ssaran, 'but she hath seen me; and made all manners of signs, of which I understand nothing, but that of course they were to threaten some dreadful chastisement.'

               "'And of what nature were the signs, then?' further inquired his wife; and when he had described them to her, she replied,--

               "'These signs by no means betoken threatening. Listen, and I will tell thee the interpretation of the same. In that she raised the first finger of the right hand on high, she signified that in the neighbourhood of her dwelling is a shady tree; that with the other hand she described a circle round it, showed that the garden where the tree stands is surrounded by a high wall; that she clasped both hands together and then threw them open again, said, "Come unto me in the garden of flowers;" and the laying of one finger of each hand together, said, "May we be able to meet?"'

               "'This were very well,' replied Ssaran, 'were the King's decree not so terrible, and his wrath so unsparing.'

               "But his wife answered him, 'When a King's daughter calls, can fear stand in the way? Go now at her bidding, only take this jewel with thee.'

               "Ssaran accepted his wife's counsel, and, stowing the jewel away in a safe place in the folds of his robe, betook himself to the shady tree in the garden of the Princess. Here he found the Princess awaiting him, and they spent the day happily together.

               "Towards evening, just as Ssaran was about to take leave of the Princess, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a hundred armed men, whom the captain that the King had set over the garden had sent to take them both prisoners. Into a dark dungeon they were accordingly thrown to await the King's decree saying by what manner of means they should be put to death.

               "Naran Gerel, who had been used to see every one obey her and bow before her, desired the men to let her go home to her father; but the captain said, 'How many men have suffered maiming and death for nothing but because they have ventured near the precincts of thine apartment! Now therefore it is thy turn that thou be put to death also. So will there be an end of this peril to the King's subjects.'

               "When Naran Gerel found she could prevail nothing with the captain, she turned to Ssaran and entreated him that he should devise some way of escape; but, sunk in fear and apprehension of the King's terrible anger, he could not collect his ideas.

               "'How comes it,' then inquired the Princess, 'that if thou hast so little presence of mind as thou now displayest, thou wert able to distinguish and unravel, and find courage to follow, the tokens that I gave thee with my hands as I drove along the way?'

               "'That,' said he, 'I discovered by the sharp wit of my wife, who also gave me courage to obey thy call.'

               "'And did she furnish thee with knowledge and courage, and yet send thee forth with no sort of talisman?' said Naran Gerel.

               "'She gave me nothing but this jewel,' replied the minister; 'and of what use can that be?'

               "The Princess, however, took the jewel, and, throwing it out of window, cried to the guard, 'Ye men who are set to guard us, give ear. To persons sentenced to death is a jewel of no further use; take it one of you to whom it is permitted to live, only let whichever of you takes it in possession do us this service, that he go to the house of the minister Ssaran, and knock three times at the door.'

               "One of the guard therefore took the jewel, and went and knocked three times at the door of the minister Ssaran. But the wife of the minister, knowing by this token that her husband was thrown into prison together with Naran Gerel, the King's daughter, made haste and attired herself in her finest apparel, and filled a basket with all manner of juice-giving fruits. With these she came to the gate of the prison where her husband was held bound, and spoke thus to the captain of the guard,--

               "'My husband being stricken with the fever, the physician hath ordered that I take these fruits to him;' and the captain of the guard made answer, 'If this be so, then take the fruits in to him, but loiter not; return in all speed.' As soon as the wife entered the prison she changed dresses hastily with Naran Gerel, bidding her escape and go hence privately to her own apartment, while she remained beside her husband.

               "In the meantime morning had come, and the King and all his court and his judges were astir, and before all other causes the captain of the guard went to give account of the arrest of Naran Gerel and the minister Ssaran. The high King was very wroth when he heard what his daughter had done and the minister, and commanded that they should instantly be brought before him. So the captain of the guard went straight to the prison, and without waiting so much as to look at them brought the two prisoners before the throne of the King.

               "When the King saw the minister and his wife standing before him, he asked them in a voice of thunder,--

               "'Where is Naran Gerel?'

               "And the minister's wife made answer,--

               "'How can we tell thee this thing, seeing we have been kept in durance all through the night?'

               "'And wherefore have ye been kept in durance all through the night?' pursued the King.

               "'Concerning that also we know nothing further than that the captain of the guard told us it was by the King's decree,' replied the woman.

               "'Explain this matter,' then said the King, addressing the minister. And he, his wife telling him what to say, made answer, 'Most high King, how shall I explain the matter, seeing that I myself fail to know why we were arrested? My wife desired to see the garden of the King, and I, thinking it was not beyond a minister's privilege, took her yesterday to walk there, and we spent the day together under the shady tree. For this were we put in prison.'

               "The King then spoke to the captain of the guard, saying, 'Shall not a man pass the day in a garden with his wife? Wherefore should they be put in prison? Behold, since thou hast done this thing, thy life is in this man's hand.' And he delivered the captain of the guard to the minister to deal with him as he listed.

               "But the captain of the guard said, 'For observing the King's decree am I to be put to death? Before I die, however, let this justice be done. Let Naran Gerel be summoned hither, and let her say on the trial of barley-corns whether it was not she whom I arrested in the King's garden.'

               "So the King sent and called Naran Gerel and bid her say on the trial of barley-corns whether it were not she whom the captain of the guard had arrested in the King's garden.

               "But Naran Gerel answered, 'Am I not then the King's daughter? How should I, then, make the trial of barley-corns like one of the common herd of the people? But call me an assembly, and before the assembly I will swear. Shall not that suffice for the King's daughter?' But this she said because in the trial of barley-corns if one speak falsely the barley-corns will surely spring into the air and burst with a loud noise; but if truth, then only they remain quiet. Naran Gerel therefore feared to make the trial of barley-corns.

               "But the King said, 'The words that Naran Gerel hath spoken are words of justice. Let an assembly be called.' So they called together an assembly, Naran Gerel having exchanged glances with the minister's wife agreeing how they should proceed.

               "Meantime the minister and his wife went home. The wife therefore stained her husband all over with a black stain so that he looked quite black, and she said to him, 'When the time comes that the Princess has to take the oath in the assembly, do thou find thyself there doubled up and making unmeaning grimaces and uncouth antics with an empty water-pitcher. Perhaps the Princess will find the means to escape hereby out of the judgment that threatens her.'

               "The assembly was now gathered. The King was on his throne, and Naran Gerel stood at its foot; and the minister, under the form of a crippled beggar, black and loathsome to behold, was there also.

               "Then the King called upon Naran Gerel to take the oath. And first espying the pretended cripple, he commanded, saying, 'Let that revolting object be removed;' and all the people loathed him. But the minister, who acted the part of a cripple, only mouthed and wriggled the more, and would not be removed, and as he threatened to make a disturbance the King bid them unhand him again.

               "But Naran Gerel stood forward, saying, 'Whereon shall I take this oath? On the barley-corns it beseemeth not the King's daughter to swear even as a common wench. And if I swear on any well-looking man in this assembly, I shall run danger of having the former accusation brought against me again. I will therefore swear by this cripple whom all have loathed. Those who would accuse me to the utmost cannot see any offence if I swear by an object so ungainly and revolting.'

               "By this means, as she had sworn by a cripple who was no cripple, she counted that it was no oath, while the King and all the people were satisfied she had spoken the truth. The captain of the guard was handed over to the minister's pleasure, who let him go free, and the minister and Naran Gerel were pronounced innocent."

               "The wife of the minister Ssaran was a devoted wife, well-being and true to her husband," said the wise parrot when he had finished this tale. "If, therefore, thou art devoted and brave even as the wife of the minister Ssaran, then go abroad and pay visits according to thy desire; but if not, then beware that thou set not foot outside the door."

               After these words the merchant's wife gave up her intention of going out, and remained at home. And thus the wise parrot dealt with her every day of the seventy-one days that the merchant was absent.

               Then said the Sûta further to Ardschi-Bordschi, "If thy wife, O Ardschi-Bordschi! is worthy to be compared to the wife of the minister Ssaran, not to mention the comparison with Tsetsen Büdschiktschi, wife of the magnanimous King Vikramâditja, then may she prostrate herself with her forehead upon the foot of this throne; but if not, then on her peril let her not approach it."


(1) Tsoktu Ilagukssan = brilliant majesty. (Jülg.)

(2) Naran Gerel = sunshine. (Jülg.)

(3) Ssaran = moon. (Jülg.)

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: How Naran Gerel Swore Falsely and Yet Told the Truth
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Mongolia & Russia
Classification: unclassified

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