In the old days

“In the old days a certain king wanted to ride out one day with a number of his courtiers and officers of state in order to show off his splendid trappings to his people. He ordered his emirs and the great men of his state to prepare themselves to accompany him. He ordered the master of his wardrobe to bring out for him the most splendid robes that would suitably adorn him, and he had the best and finest of his pure-blooded horses brought out. After this had been done, he chose the clothes that he preferred and took his pick of the horses. Then he put on his clothes, mounted the horse and rode out with his cortège, wearing a collar studded with gems, pearls of all kinds and rubies. As he rode among his men, exulting in his pride and haughtiness, he swelled with pride, telling himself that there was no one like him in the world, and he started to manifest with a measure of haughtiness and vainglory that in his arrogance he would not look at anyone.

“A man wearing shabby clothes stood in front of him and greeted him, and when the king failed to return the greeting he seized his horse’s rein. ‘Take your hand away,’ said the king, ‘for you don’t know whose rein it is that you are holding.’ ‘There is something that I need from you,’ said the man. The king replied: ‘Wait until I dismount and then you can tell me what it is.’ ‘It is a secret,’ the man said, ‘and I can only whisper it into your ear.’ The king bent down to listen and the man said: ‘I am the angel of death and I intend to take your soul.’ ‘Give me time to go home and say goodbye to my family, my children, my neighbors and my wife,’ the king asked, but the angel said, ‘You are not going to go back and you will never see them again, for the span of your life is at an end.’ He then took the king’s soul and the king fell dead from the back of his horse.”

The Arabian Nights (trans. Lyons, et al.)

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