Story From Arabian Nights - Two Loaves

 Two Loaves

There was a young king who decided to put an end to the practice of begging in his country. Accordingly, beggars were led to shelters provided by the king. Those unable to work were provided with free food. But from time to time some beggars would slip from the shelters and beg from the citizens. To stop this, the young king decreed that anyone who gave alms would lose a hand. Nobody gave alms thereafter. One day the king's sister was returning from her uncle's house, in the company of her maids. On the roadside, there was a park. They took rest in the cool shades of the tree in the park. The maids received two loaves each to eat. One of the maids was having a stroll in the park when she saw an old man lying under a tree, too weak to make any movement.

"What happened to you?" asked the maid. "My daughter, I'm a traveler who lost everything to thieves. Fever made me flat here. Now I am cured of fever, but am dying of sheer hunger," the man said in a feeble voice. The maid was going to hand over her two loaves to the man when she heard an angry voice from behind, asking her to stop. She looked back and saw the king's sister observing her. "How dare you give alms? Don't you know what the king's order is?" asked the princess. "I know, your Highness. The good king wants to rid the kingdom of beggars many of whom are idlers and some of whom are thieves. This man is no beggar but a traveler nearly dying of hunger!" she said and gave away her loaves to the man. The king's sister was furious. "How dare you defy the king's order, that too despite my protest?" she asked in a shrill voice again and again. As soon as she reached the palace, she walked up to her brother and complained against the maid. "She must lose her hand!" said the king. The horrified and helpless maid was handed over to the guards. They led her away into the garden and cut off one of her hands. It was only when the maid was being led away that the king had a glimpse of her face. She was extremely beautiful and serene. 

The king could not withdraw his order for fear of being laughed at by others. But the face haunted him throughout the night. He could not sleep and never stopped repenting. In the morning he inquired about the maid from his trusted servants and learned that she was as noble as she was beautiful. The young king took a bold step. He married her. This was a blow to his sister's vanity, who was awfully jealous of that beautiful lady. Although the lady now became the queen, she showed no resentment against the king's sister. Days passed and she gave birth to a son. That made the king's sister burn in her heart with fiercer jealousy. It so happened that the king had to be away from his city for a few months. His sister, in conspiracy with some of her naughty maids, spread a rumor that the queen was a witch. How could she charm the king otherwise, even though she was disfigured, having lost a hand? Some of the maids even declared that they had seen her practicing witchcraft. The old queen mother, who had a mortal fear for witches and who also did not like a one-armed daughter-in-law, ordered that she be exiled. 

Palace guards led the queen and her son far into the desert and abandoned her. It was evening and she was thirsty. Roaming about, she saw a river. She knelt down on the bank and stooped to put her mouth in the flow because she had only one hand and she held the child with it. The child suddenly stirred in her arm and fell into the flow. The queen searched for him in the water, but could not find him. She sat on the bank and wept bitterly. The moon rose. She came to her senses when a loving voice asked her, "Will you like to have your son back?" "Yes!" she said. She found a faint figure smilingly handing out her child to her. "Will you like to get back your lost hand?" asked another loving voice. "Yes," she said as she found another faint figure before her. Next moment she found her lost hand restored to her." "Don't go away. The king is returning home this way. How happy he will be to find you!" said both the figures. "Who are you two that did me two such good turns?" asked the amazed queen. "We are the two loaves you had sacrificed for a dying traveler!" said the figures and they dissolved in the moonlight.   

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