I REMEMBER having heard my grandmother tell a story of a King who had lost his eyesight. I will repeat it to you. All of the doctors and all of the magicians of the realm held a consultation, but could not do him any good. At last the King, hearing that there was in India a doctor three hundred years old, wrote a letter to the King of that country requesting him to send the aged doctor in order that the latter might devise some remedy to restore his eyesight. The doctor came, and after an examination of the King's eyes, said:
"There is only one remedy, and that is a tincture made from the blood of the Golden-Headed Fish. Send men to the open sea to catch one. I will wait one hundred days. If they cannot take one during that time I will depart."
The King's only son, taking with him one hundred men and as many nets, sailed to the open sea to catch the desired fish. They worked hard and caught many kinds of fish, but none of them had a golden head. Ninety-nine days passed by and only one day remained before the expiration of the term. They had given up hope and decided to sail back, when the Prince said to his men:
"Cast this one last net for my luck."
They did so, and lo! the Golden-Headed Fish was caught. They were glad, and put the precious fish in a jug of water in order to keep it alive. The jug was put in the Prince's cabin and they set sail homeward. When the Prince was alone he looked at the fish, and lo! it began to talk to him.
"Prince," said the Golden-Headed Fish, "I am a prince myself; spare my life and cast me back into the sea. Some day you will receive your remuneration."
The Prince took pity upon the poor fish, and cast him back into the sea, saying:
"Go, live; if you, a fish, do not appreciate this mercy, the Creator from above will appreciate it."
The party returned and told what the Prince had done. This enraged the King to the very verge of madness.
"Alas!" exclaimed he, "my son desires my speedy death, that he may himself be King. Executioners, take this unnatural son and immediately cut off his head."
But as the Prince was the only son of the King, by the intervention of his mother they put his clothes on a criminal and hanged him, and banished the Prince to a distant island, where he lived a miserable life, as nobody knew who he was. He was considered by the people as a vile criminal and was despised by all, and, forsaken and abandoned, he remained in this wretched condition without friends, without means of livelihood. He felt himself so wretched that he fell into a condition of despair, and resolved to put an end to so unbearable a life. With this intention, he went to a high precipice on the sea-shore and precipitated himself into the foaming deep. But as soon as he reached the sea, lo! he found himself in the arms of a strange-looking negro, who after setting him on the beach, fell down and saluted him, saying:
"Mighty Prince, vouchsafe to me that I may put myself at your service. You may depend upon it that I shall please you and serve you with all my might."
The humane and brave conduct of the stranger, and his kind and courteous words made such an impression upon the lad that his despair was at once banished, and he repented of his attempt to commit suicide. He accepted the service of the negro, and they went together to the lad's house, where a rich dinner was awaiting them. Thereafter the Prince found everything necessary abundantly prepared, and master and man lived together for a time. During those days the people of the island suffered greatly from the frequent attacks of a large dragon which devoured all the men it met. The people were in such terror that no one ventured to go out of his house. The Prince of the island sent his army to kill the dragon, but it could not be done. Then he sent out heralds, proclaiming that he would give great wealth to the man who killed the dragon. Thereupon the negro, the attendant of the lad, went to the Prince of the island, saying:
"My master will kill the dragon, and desires to know what you intend to give him."
"The hero who kills the dragon," said the Prince, "shall become my son-in-law by marrying my daughter, and I will also bestow upon him whatever presents he may desire."
"Agreed," said the negro. "Give to my master your daughter in marriage and half of your wealth."
Then he went and, killing the dragon himself, brought its ears to the lad, who took them to the Prince. He became the son-in-law of the Prince by marrying his daughter, and lived in a splendid palace, which the Prince gave him with half of his wealth. As the Prince had no son, the lad succeeded him after his death and reigned over the island. A son was born to him. One day the negro said to the youth:
"Abdicate your throne in favor of your son, appoint your wife as regent, and let us go to the city of the King of the West."
The young man consented, and they started, taking with them much riches. As soon as they reached the city of the King of the West the negro said to the lad:
"Go ask for yourself the daughter of the King in marriage."
The lad went to the King, who was pleased with him, and said:
"Prince, I see you are a worthy man. Now let me tell you frankly that I have given my daughter to ninety-nine Princes in marriage, and every one died on the nuptial night. I have pity on your youth."
The lad, hearing this, was afraid, but the negro insisted, saying:
"Nay, get her in marriage. Do not be frightened."
And the youth took the maiden in marriage. As soon as the wedding ceremony was performed, the King's servants began to prepare this bridegroom's coffin and his grave also. During the nuptial night, however, the negro hid himself in the wardrobe of the bedchamber. As soon as the bride and the bridegroom were asleep he came out and stood at the head of the bed, holding a dagger and tongs. At midnight there came from the bride's mouth a viper to bite the bridegroom. The negro at once took hold of the serpent with the tongs, and cutting it in pieces with the dagger, hid it in the wardrobe. In the morning the King's men came to bury the bridegroom, and lo! he was alive, and they ran back to carry the good tidings to the King, and to felicitate him on the happy event. On the following night there came from the bride's mouth another viper, which the negro killed, and after that they lived in peace. Now the King of the West also had no son and after his death the lad succeeded him on the throne. One day a messenger came to him from the city of the King of the East, the youth's fatherland, sent from his mother, saying: "Your father has died; come and reign in his stead."
The youth, putting a regent in his place, took his second wife, accompanied by the negro, and started for his fatherland. He set sail and on the way stopped at the Island, where he took also his first wife on board. Thence they proceeded and came to the Kingdom of the East, the lad's fatherland, where he was crowned King. Thus the Kingdoms of the East and the West with the Island between them were united under one crown, and were thereafter governed by the same sovereign.
Soon after the coronation of the King, the Negro asked his master to give him leave to go to his own country.
"My friend and benefactor," said the King to the negro, "I owe you not only everything I have, but my very life and existence. Come, take whatever you please, and then go your way."
"Whatever we earned we earned together," replied the negro; "so I have a right to the half of what belongs to you. However, I will take nothing from your wealth and property, but let us divide your wives between us."
"Well said!" answered the King, "take whomsoever you like the best."
"Not so," said the negro, "lest you should think I had the beautiful one, and I should think that you had her. But we shall divide both ladies into equal parts, half to you and half to me."
The King at first thought to offer opposition; but remembering the many favors he had received from the negro, he thought it would be ingratitude on his part not to comply with this one strange demand of his colored friend.
"Well, I agree to that," he said at last. And they took both women under the large sycamore tree on the seashore, where the negro hung the daughter of the King of the West, head down, and lifted his big sword as if to cut her in two by a single stroke. The woman shrieked at the sight of the lifted sword.
"Oh!" exclaimed she with all her might. And lo! a serpent's nest, with a great number of young vipers, fell from her stomach. The negro killed the vipers, and releasing the woman gave her to her husband, saying:
"Now, go enjoy your wives and rule over your empire in peace; there is no more evil left to trouble you. In doing all these things, I have done my duty, because you saved my life. I am the Golden-Headed Fish. Farewell!" This he said, and dived into the sea, where he still lives.