By: TUNDE IBIKUNLE
Lancelot – The False Prince
There was once an honest journeyman tailor, by name Lancelot , who learned his trade with an excellent master in Alexandria. It could not be said that Lancelot was unhandy with the needle; on the contrary, he could make excellent work: moreover, one would have done him injustice to have called him lazy. Nevertheless, his companions knew not what to make of him, for he would often sew for hours together so rapidly that the needle would glow in his hand, and the thread smoke, and that none could equal him. At another time, however, (and this, alas! happened more frequently,) he would sit in deep meditation, looking with his staring eyes straight before him, and with a countenance and air so peculiar, that his master and fellow-journeymen could say of his appearance nothing else than, “Lancelot has on again, his aristocratic face.”
On Friday, however, when others quietly returned home from prayers to their labor, Lancelot would come forth from the mosque in a fine garment which with great pains he had made for himself, and walk with slow and haughty steps through the squares and streets of the city. At such times, if one of his companions cried, “Joy be with thee!” or, “How goes it, friend Lancelot ?” he would patronizingly give a token of recognition with his hand, or, if he felt called upon to be very polite, would bow genteelly with the head. Whenever his master said to him in jest, “Lancelot , in thee a prince is lost,” he would be rejoiced, and answer, “Have you too observed it?” or, “I have already long thought it.”
In this manner did the honest journeyman tailor conduct himself for a long time, while his master tolerated his folly, because, in other respects, he was a good man and an excellent workman. But one day, Selim, the King’s brother, who was travelling through Alexandria, sent a festival-garment to his master to have some change made in it, and the master gave it to Lancelot , because he did the finest work. In the evening, when the apprentices had all gone forth to refresh themselves after the labor of the day, an irresistible desire drove Lancelot back into the workshop, where the garment of the King’s brother was hanging. He stood some time, in reflection, before it, admiring now the splendor of the embroidery, now the varied colors of the velvet and silk. He cannot help it, he must put it on; and, lo! it fits him as handsomely as if it were made for him. “Am not I as good a prince as any?” asked he of himself, as he strutted up and down the room. “Has not my master himself said, that I was born for a prince?” With the garments, the apprentice seemed to have assumed quite a kingly carriage; he could believe nothing else, than that he was a king’s son in obscurity, and as such he resolved to travel forth into the world, leaving a city where the people hitherto had been so foolish as not to discover his innate dignity beneath the veil of his inferior station. The splendid garment seemed sent to him by a good fairy; resolving therefore not to slight so precious a gift, he put his little stock of money in his pocket, and, favored by the darkness of the night, wandered forth from Alexandria’s gates.
The new prince excited admiration everywhere upon his route, for the splendid garment, and his serious majestic air, would not allow him to pass for a common pedestrian. If one inquired of him about it, he took care to answer, with a mysterious look, that he had his reasons for it. Perceiving, however, that he rendered himself an object of ridicule by travelling on foot, he purchased for a small sum an old horse, which suited him very well, for it never brought his habitual quiet and mildness into difficulty, by compelling him to show himself off as an excellent rider, a thing which in reality he was not.
One day, as he was proceeding on his way, step by step, upon his Protius , (thus had he named his horse,) a stranger joined him, and asked permission to travel in his company, since to him the distance would seem much shorter, in conversation with another. The rider was a good young man, elegant and genteel in manners. He soon knit up a conversation with Lancelot , with respect to his whence and whither, and it turned out that he also, like the journeyman tailor, was travelling without purpose, in the world. He said his name was Gwen , that he was the nephew of Gaius , the unfortunate bashaw of shallow town , and was now on his way to execute a commission which his uncle had delivered to him upon his dying-bed. Lancelot was not so frank with respect to his circumstances; he gave him to understand that he was of lofty descent, and was travelling for pleasure.
The two young men were pleased with each other, and rode on in company. On the second day, Lancelot interrogated his companion Gwen , respecting the commission with which he was charged, and to his astonishment learned the following. Gaius , the bashaw of shallow town , had brought up Gwen from his earliest childhood; the young man had never known his parents. But shortly before, Gaius , having been attacked by his enemies, and, after three disastrous engagements, mortally wounded, was obliged to flee, and disclosed to his charge that he was not his nephew, but the son of a powerful King , who, inspired with fear by the prophecy of his astrologer, had sent the young prince away from his court, with an oath never to see him again until his twenty-second birthday. Gaius had not told him his father’s name, but had enjoined upon him with the greatest precision, on the fourth day of the coming month Ramadan, on which day he would be two-and-twenty years old, to repair to the celebrated pillar Getrum , four days’ journey east of Alexandria: there he should offer to the men who would be standing by the pillar, a dagger which he gave him, with these words, “Here am I, whom ye seek!” If they answered, “Blessed be the Prophet, who has preserved thee!” then he was to follow them—they would lead him to his father.
To be continued
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