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The King and the Emperor

by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

(Also on the Hasidic Stories Home Page: Commentary by Arnold J. Band on this tale)

Once there was an emperor who had no children. There was also a king who had no children. And the emperor set out throughout the world, searching for some advice or remedy so as to beget children. The king, too, set out like that, and they both chanced upon the same inn. And they did not know each other. But the emperor recognized that the king had royal bearing and he asked him, and the latter admitted that he was a king. The king, too, recognized that the emperor had royal bearing, and he, too, admitted that he was an emperor. And they told each other that they were traveling to get children, and they entered into an agreement that if, when they came home, their wives gave birth one to a male and the other to a female, they would match them.

The emperor traveled home and begot a daughter. The king traveled home and begot a son. And that match was forgotten. The emperor sent his daughter to study. The king, too, sent his son to study. And they both chanced upon the same teacher. They fell deeply in love, and agreed that they would marry each other. The king's son took a ring and put it on her hand and they married. Later, the emperor sent for his daughter and brought her home. The king, too, sent for his son, and brought him home.

And people proposed matches to the emperor's daughter, but she wanted no match because of that agreement with the king's son. And the king's son longed for her very much. The emperor's daughter, too, was always sad. And the emperor used to walk with her through his courts and halls and show her his greatness, but she was sad. The king's son longed for her so much that he became ill. And whenever they asked him: "Why are you ill?," he did not want to tell. So they asked his valet: "Perhaps you can explain it?" And the valet told them that he knew, because he had served him where he studied. And he told them the story.

Then, the king recalled that he had made a match with that emperor long ago, so he proceeded to write to the emperor to prepare himself for the wedding, because they had made this match long ago. And the emperor no longer wanted to, but he did not dare refuse, so he answered that the king should send him his son, and he would see whether he could govern countries. Then he would give him his daughter in marriage. The king sent him his son, and the emperor sat him in a room and gave him documents of state business to see if he could govern the country.

And the king's son longed very much to see the emperor's daughter, but he could not see her. Once, he walked near a mirrored wall and he caught sight of her and grew faint. She came to him and cheered him and told him she wanted no other match because of the attachment with him.

And he said to her: "What shall we do? - Your father does not want it."

And she said: "Nevertheless!"

After this, they decided to set out by sea, so they rented a ship and set out by sea. And they traveled upon the sea. After a time, they wanted to reach the shore. They reached the shore, and there was a forest there. They went there, the emperor's daughter took the ring and gave it to him. And she lay down to sleep. Later, the king's son saw that she would soon rise, and he placed the ring next to her. When they rose and went to the ship, she recalled that they had forgotten the ring, so she sent him for the ring. He went there, but could not find the place. And he went to another place and could not find the ring, so he went from place to place looking for the ring until he lost his way and could not return. She went to look for him, and lost her way, too. And the further he walked the more he was lost. Then he saw a path and came into a settlement. And he could do nothing, so he became a servant. She, too, walked and lost her way. There were fruit trees there. And she dwelt there. During the day she went to the seashore, thinking perhaps she could find passers-by, and she lived off the fruit. At night she used to climb a tree to protect herself from the beasts.

And it came to pass that at there was an immensely wealthy merchant, who had commerce throughout the entire world. And he had an only son. And the merchant was already old. Once the son said to his father: "Since you are already old and I am still young, and your agents pay no attention to me, when you die and I shall be left alone, I will not know what to do. So give me a ship with merchandise and I shall go to sea, to become experienced in commerce." And his father gave him a ship with merchandise. And he went to other countries and sold the merchandise and bought other merchandise and was very successful.

Meanwhile, while he was at sea he caught sight of the trees where the emperor's daughter was staying. The sailors thought that this was a settlement and wanted to go there. When they came closer they noticed that they were only trees and they wanted to return. At that moment, the merchant's son looked into the sea and saw a tree there and on top of it sat something like the image of a person . And he thought that he was mistaken, so he told the other men who were there and they looked and saw something like a person on top of the tree. And they decided to draw nearer, and they sent a man with a small boat there. And they looked into the sea to direct the messenger so that he would not stray from the way but would go directly to that tree. When the messenger went to that tree, he saw a person sitting there, and told them.

So the merchant's son went himself and saw that the emperor's daughter was sitting there, and told her to get down. And she told him she did not want to embark on the ship, unless he promised her he would not touch her until they came home and married legally. He promised her. When she embarked on his ship, he saw she could play musical instruments and she could speak several languages, and was glad that he chanced to meet her. Later, when they approached his home, she told him that it is proper that he go home to inform his father, his relatives, and all his good friends. Since he was bringing such an important woman, they should all come out to greet her. Afterwards, he would find out who she was. (Previously she had also stipulated that he must not ask her who she was until after the wedding. Only then he would know who she was.) And he agreed to this.

She also said to him: "It is also proper that you should make all the sailors who sail the ship drunk, so that they will know that their merchant is going to marry such a woman."

He agreed and took very good wine which he had on board and gave it to them, and they got very drunk. And he went home to inform his father and friends. And the sailors became drunk and left the ship, and fell down drunk and lay there. And while they were preparing to greet her with the entire family, she went and untied the ship from the shore. And she spread the sails and left with the ship.

And all the merchant's family came to the ship and they found nothing. And the merchant (the son's father) was furious with his son. And the son shouted and said: "Believe that I brought a ship with merchandise, etc. .

But they did not see a thing, so he said to them: "Ask the sailors."

And he went to question them and they were lying drunk. Afterwards, they sobered up, and he questioned them, but they did not know what had happened to them. They only knew that they brought a ship with all the merchandise, but did not know where it was. And the merchant was furious with his son and exiled him from home, so that he would not come into his presence. And he went away from him as "a fugitive and a wanderer."

And the emperor's daughter sailed upon the sea.

And it came to pass that there was a king. The king built himself palaces near the sea, because he enjoyed the sea breezes, and ships used to pass by. And the emperor's daughter was sailing upon the sea and she came near the king's palace. The king looked and saw the moving ship without oars and there were no people on board. He thought that he was mistaken and ordered his men to look. And they saw this, too.

The emperor's daughter drew near the palace, and reflected: "Why do I need the palace?" So she started back, but the king sent for her and brought her to his house. And the king had no wife because he could not choose one, since whomever he wanted did not want him, and vice versa. And when the emperor's daughter came to him she told him he must swear he would not touch her until he married her legally. And he swore to her. And she told him it was proper that he neither open her ship nor touch it, but that it stay at sea until the wedding. Then everyone would see how much merchandise she had brought and would not say he took an ordinary woman. And he promised her this, too.

And the king wrote to all the countries that they should come to his wedding. And he built palaces for her. And she ordered that they should bring her eleven ladies to stay with her. And the king ordered and they sent her eleven ladies, daughters of lords, and they built a special palace for each of them. She had a special palace, too. And they used to gather in her palace to play musical instruments and games with her.

Once she told them she wanted to sail with them upon the sea. They went with her, and played there. She told them she would serve them some of the good wine she had on board. She gave them some of the wine which was on board, and they became drunk and fell down and lay there. And she went and untied the ship and spread the sails and escaped with the ship.

The king and his men looked and saw that the ship was not there and they were very alarmed. And the king said: "Be careful not to tell her suddenly, because she will have great grief." (For the king did not know that she herself escaped with the ship. He thought that she was still in her chamber.) She might also think that the king had given the ship to somebody else. They should only send one of the ladies to tell her tactfully.

And they went to one chamber and did not find anyone. And likewise to the second chamber and to all eleven chambers, but they found no one. So they agreed to send an old noble woman at night to tell her. They went to her chamber but found no one there and they were very alarmed. And the fathers of the ladies saw that they had no letters from their daughters. They sent letters, but no one answered. So they set out and went there themselves, but did not find their daughters. They were furious and wanted to banish the king (to a place where they banish those condemned to death) because they were the nobles of the kingdom. But they reconsidered: "Is the king so guilty that he deserves banishment?" It was forced upon him. And they agreed to depose him from his kingdom and to exile him. They dismissed and exiled him and he went away.

And the emperor's daughter who had run away with the eleven ladies sailed with the ship. After a while, the ladies woke up, and began to play again, as they had done before, because they did not know the ship had already left the shore. Later, they said to her: "Let us return home." And she answered them: "Let us stay here a little longer." After a while, a storm wind rose. And they said: "Let us return home." And she informed them that the ship had left the shore long ago. And they asked her why she did this. And she said that she had been afraid that the ship would break because of the storm wind, and that was why she had to do so.

And they sailed upon the sea, the emperor's daughter and the eleven ladies, and they played musical instruments there. They came upon a palace, and the ladies said to her: "Let us draw near it," but she did not want to do so. And she said that she regretted having drawn near the palace of that king who wanted to marry her.

Afterwards they saw something like an island in the sea and they came near it. There were twelve robbers there and they wanted to kill the women. So she asked: "Who is the greatest among you?" And they showed her. She said to him: "What do you do?" He told her they were robbers. She said to him: "We, too, are robbers. Only you are robbers with your might, and we are robbers with our wisdom, because we are proficient in languages and play musical instruments. What good will it do you to kill us? It is better that you marry us so you will have our riches, too."

And she showed them what was in the ship. The robbers were pleased by her speech. And the robbers showed them, too, their riches and led them through all their places. They agreed not to marry all at once, but rather one after the other, each choosing a young lady as befit him, according to his greatness. Later, she told them she would serve them a very good wine which she had on board, but she never used since it was being saved for the day when the Lord would select her intended mate. And she gave them the wine in twelve goblets, and she asked each one to drink to all twelve. And they drank and became drunk and fell over.

And then she cried to the other ladies: "Now go and slaughter your men." And then went and slaughtered them all. And they found there immense riches which are not to be found with any king on earth. And they agreed not to take copper or silver, but only gold and gems. So they cast over board things that were not important to them, and loaded the entire ship with the valuable things, with the gold and gems they found there. And they decided not to dress as women anymore, so they sewed for themselves men's clothing in the German style, and sailed on with the ship.

And it came to pass that there was an old king. He had an only son and married him off and handed his kingdom over to him. Once the prince told his father he wanted to cruise at sea with his wife, so that she would become used to the sea air, in case they should have to escape by sea. And the prince with his wife and his ministers embarked upon a ship and were very merry and played pranks. They decided to take off their clothes. And they did so, and when nothing was left on them except their shirts, several of them tried to climb the mast. And the king's son clambered up the mast.

In the meanwhile, the emperor's daughter arrived in her ship, and saw the ship (of the prince and the ministers). And at first she was afraid to draw near it. Later, they drew a little closer. And when she saw that they were very playful, she understood that they were not robbers and she began to come nearer. The emperor's daughter told her people: I can knock that bald pate down into the sea." (The prince, who was clambering up the mast, had a bald pate.) They said to her: "How is this possible? We are very far from them." She answered that she had a burning lens and with it she would knock him down. And she decided she would not knock him down til until he reached the very top of the mast. Because if he were at the middle of the mast, he would fall into the ship, but if he were at the top when he fell, he would fall into the sea.

She waited till he reached the very top of the mast, and took her burning lens and directed it at his brain until it burned his brain and he fell into the sea. When the people in the prince's ship saw that he fell, there was a great clamor, for how could they return to their homes? The king would die of sorrow! And they decided to draw near the ship (of the emperor's daughter) that they had seen, for perhaps there was a doctor there who could give them advice. And they approached her ship and told its crew to have no fear, since they were not going to harm them. They asked them: "Perhaps there is a doctor among you who would give us advice?" And they told them the whole story, that the prince had fallen into the sea.

The emperor's daughter told them to pull him out of the sea. They went and found him and pulled him out. She felt his pulse with her hand and said that his brain had been burned. They tore open his brain and found it as she said. And they were astonished that the doctor (the emperor's daughter) had been so accurate. So they begged her to come home with them and become the king's doctor, and she would be very important. She did not want to do so and said that she was not a doctor, but that she just knew these things.

And the people of the prince's ship did not want to return home, so the two ships sailed along together. And the noblemen approved of the idea that their queen (the prince's widow) should marry the doctor, because of the great wisdom that they found in him. (The noblemen of the prince who fell and died thought that the emperor's daughter and her noble ladies were men, because they were dressed in men's clothes. Thus, they wanted their queen to marry the doctor - who was really the emperor's daughter - since he knew in his wisdom that the prince's brain had been burned when he fell.) They wanted him to be their king, and they would kill their old king. They were embarrassed to tell the queen to marry a doctor, but she was very pleased to marry this doctor. She was only afraid that the country might not want him to be king.

And they agreed to hold banquets so that during the drinking, in a moment of bliss, they would be able to discuss the problem. And they held banquets, each on his assigned day. When the doctor's banquet day arrived (that is, the emperor's daughter's day) he gave them his wine and they became drunk.

In an hour of bliss, the ministers spoke up: "How nice it would be if the queen were to marry the doctor!"

And the doctor spoke up: "It would be very nice if they spoke about it with a mouth that was not drunk."

The queen, too, spoke up: "It would be very nice if I were to marry the doctor, only the country has to agree to it."

The doctor spoke up again: "It would be very nice if they spoke about it with a mouth that was not drunk."

Afterwards, when they sobered up from their drunkenness, the ministers recalled what they had said and they were embarrassed because of the queen, since they had said such a thing. But they reflected: "The queen herself has said it, too." And she, too, was embarrassed because of them. But she reflected: "They, too, have said so." So they began discussing it and it was agreed between them. And she agreed to marry the doctor (that is, the emperor's daughter, whom they thought a doctor) and they went home to the queen's country.

And when the country caught sight of them they were jubilant, because it had been a long time since the prince had gone with the ship. They did not know where he was and the old king had died before their arrival. Afterwards, the people noticed that the prince who had become their king was not there. And they asked: "Where is our king?" And the travelers told them the whole story, that he had died and they had accepted a new king who had come with them. And the people were very happy that they already had a new king.

And the king (that is, the emperor's daughter who had now become king), ordered it proclaimed in every country that whoever one was, whether a foreigner or a visitor, an escapee or an exile, he should come to his wedding - no one should be absent - and he would receive great gifts. And the king also ordered fountains built around the whole city, so that when one wanted to drink, one should not have to walk far. Everyone should find a fountain near him. The king also ordered his image drawn at each fountain, and the guards posted there to watch. If someone came and looked at the image very carefully and frowned, they should imprison him. And they did everything so.

All three of them arrived: the first prince (the true bridegroom of the emperor's daughter who had become king) and the merchant's son (exiled by his father since the emperor's daughter had fled with the ship and all its merchandise) and the king who had been deposed from his kingdom (since she had fled from him with the eleven ladies). And everyone of them recognized her image. They looked, recalled, and grieved so the guards imprisoned them.

During the wedding, the king (that is, the emperor's daughter) ordered the prisoners brought before him, and they brought those three, and she recognized them. But they did not recognize her, because she was wearing men's clothing.

The emperor's daughter spoke up and said: "You, King, were deposed from your kingdom because of those eleven ladies who were lost. Here are your ladies. Go home to your country and your kingdom."

"You, Merchant, were exiled by your father because of the ship and the merchandise that was lost. Here Is your ship with all the merchandise. And since the money has been delayed for so long, you now have in the ship riches many times more than there originally were." (The ship itself, with all the merchant's son's merchandise with which she had escaped, still remained intact, and in addition there were in that ship all the riches that she had taken from the robbers. And it was immensely richer.)

"And you, Prince (that is, her true bridegroom). Come here! Let us go home!"

And they returned to their home.

Commentary by Arnold J. Band on this tale

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Excerpt from Nahman of Bratslav, translation, introduction and commentaries by Arnold J. Band (Mahwah, NJ, Paulist Press, © 1978).
Copyright © 1978. Used by permission of Paulist Press (997 Macarthur Blvd., Mahway, NJ 07430. Phone 201-825-7300, fax 201-825-8345).



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