Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who made a living from cutting wood in the forest. One day he went there to collect wood and found a big log too heavy for him to carry on his own. He looked to the right and then to the left and saw a camel who seemed lost. He caught the camel and put the log on his back and went to the market to sell it, and then headed back home.
He put the camel in a separate room and gave him some barley that his wife had ground for their food, and patted the camel’s head and thanked him for his help.
In the morning, the woodcutter went into the room to check on his new camel and to prepare him to go to work with him, only to find that the camel had produced a golden egg. With joy and surprise beyond belief he hid the golden egg and rode the camel out into the forest. The same thing happened again and again for days – the camel would produce a golden egg which the woodcutter would hide in a safe place.
One day the woodcutter was selling his wood when he heard the chief merchant announcing that all men must leave the market because the king’s daughter needed to visit the shops. This they did, including the woodcutter, who left his camel in front of a shop. The king’s daughter passed by, looking at the merchandise, and the camel saw her and immediately fell in love! When his owner took him back home, he would no longer eat or drink, nor produce a golden egg. The woodcutter was surprised and told his wife to take the camel for a walk – perhaps the smell of fresh air would bring him back to normal. The woman took him for a walk around town and, as she passed in front of the king’s castle, the camel stood still, refusing to advance any further. The woman urged him to move but he wouldn’t budge and, when she asked him why, the camel told her that he loved the king’s daughter and wanted to marry her!
The woman told her husband the camel’s story, and how he insisted on being betrothed to the king’s daughter! The woodcutter was at a loss, and tried to convince the camel to change his mind – but to no avail! The woodcutter then put on his best clothes and went to the king’s castle and requested to meet him. Then, in the king’s presence, he asked for the hand of his daughter for his camel!
The king went mad at this strange request, but his wise minister calmed him down and convinced him to order the woodcutter to perform miracles, saying that if he did, he would give his daughter in marriage to his camel, and if not, he would cut his and his camel’s heads off! The minister reasoned that this was a joke and would provide entertainment for the king and would relieve some of the stress that comes with ruling such a big kingdom.
The king cleared his throat and said to the woodcutter, “Bring me a bunch of grapes that everyone can eat from without it diminishing! If you don’t bring it here in the morning I will have you and your camel beheaded, and if you do I will allow your camel to marry my daughter!”
The woodcutter left the castle, returning home sad and downcast and when he told the camel of the king’s wish the camel said, “Don’t worry, everything will look better in the morning light.”
In the morning, the woodcutter found, next to the camel, a golden plate on which was a fresh bunch of grapes with dew drops shimmering on each grape. He took it to the king who ate a few grapes, and gave it to the minister and the entourage and they all ate – yet the bunch of grapes did not diminish by even one grape. The king was upset at the success of the woodcutter in performing this miracle, so he gave him another impossible task to accomplish.
“I want a carpet that can extend to cover the castle and all the streets of the city,” said the king.
The woodcutter told the camel of this new order, and the camel said, “Don’t worry, everything will look better in the morning light.”
He slept deeply, while the woodcutter kept turning in his bed. In the morning he found, next to the camel, a golden chest containing a carpet made of silk and golden threads. He took it to the castle and there the king ordered that the carpet be opened. The slaves started opening it and spreading it to cover the hallways, and the more it covered the longer and wider it grew, until it covered all the streets and alleys of the city! The king was amazed at the skill of the woodcutter, and made his last demand.
“I want to wake up in the morning and find on the empty plot of land next to my castle another huge castle that reaches the clouds, and everything inside it made of gold,” said the king.
The king never thought that any human could achieve this feat, let alone an animal! But this was exactly what happened. When the woodcutter went home frightened at the difficulty of this request, the camel calmed him down saying, “Don’t worry, everything looks better in the morning light.”
In the morning, which didn’t seem any better than the night, the woodcutter made his way anxiously to the castle and, there beside it, he saw a glorious palace that no eye had ever seen, nor ear had ever heard of, nor any human had ever thought of!
He went into the king’s castle, and walked into the main hall to find the king sad and grim. This whole thing had started out as a joke and now had become a scary reality: how will he marry his daughter off to a camel? What will people say? What if he doesn’t fulfil his promise, how can he face his conscience and God? How will his little one accept the idea of this marriage? All these thoughts crossed the king’s mind as he was sitting on his throne in front of his ministers and entourage and the woodcutter – all waiting for a word from him.
Finally he said to the woodcutter, “Alright… your camel will marry my daughter tomorrow.”
He immediately got up to tell his daughter of his decision. She cried and whined but he rebuked her saying, “I made a promise and must keep my word – otherwise I will gain a reputation as a liar!”
So the wedding took place and the king’s daughter was married to her groom, the camel, and she entered with him into her chambers in the castle. When night fell she was surprised when the camel turned into a most beautiful and charming young man. She asked him about his secret and he told her that he had been put under a spell by a witch who lived underground. He warned her not to tell anyone, otherwise he would disappear from her life.
Time passed by and they were living happily together with their secret safely kept by the princess. Until a war erupted between the kingdom and some of its enemies, and everyone in the land, including the royal family, took part in the fight defending the kingdom. The camel, too, wanted to fight for his country and said to his wife, “I will fight at night, and wear a mustard colored suit, but you have to keep this a secret from everyone you know.”
And so it was… and one day as the young camel/man was defending the king’s tent he was wounded in the arm. The king ordered him to enter the tent and covered the wound with his royal handkerchief which had his seal and name. The camel/man returned home before sunrise.
When the war ended, his wife’s sisters started boasting that all their husbands had taken part in the war – all except her husband, the camel. Without thinking, she answered that her husband did fight, wearing a mustard colored suit, and gloriously defended her father and she told them of the handkerchief that the king had used to cover his wound!
When the camel learnt that she had divulged his secret, he became angry and disappeared. The king’s daughter was greatly saddened by the disappearance of her husband, and told the whole story to her father. The king consulted his ministers, one of whom advised him to build a Hammam (public bathhouse) in the market that gives free entry to anyone who tells a story that happened to him.
And so it was and the news spread throughout the country until everyone came to the Hammam to bathe and they told many stories. However, none of them gave any inkling about the whereabouts of the disappeared son-in-law.
After the noise surrounding the Hammam and its stories had subsided, a poor widow living on the outskirts of the city heard that bathing in the Hammam was free by order of the King. So she carried her parcel which contained her loofah, soap, towel, bath bowl, and clean clothes, and headed to the city centre. At the Hammam they told her that in order to be allowed to enter she must tell a story that had happened to her.
She had nothing to tell, she headed back home. But since it was a long way, and close to sundown, and the city doors would close soon, so she hesitated. What to do? She had no money to stay in one of the Khans so she looked right and left and saw a yard with many trees. She decided to climb one of them and spend the night there. Close to midnight, the woman felt the earth open and out came the most beautiful young man she had ever seen. His light overshadowed that of the full moon and he carried three apples, crying and singing:
An apple for the dove
An apple for the pigeon
And an apple for my wife who didn’t keep my secret.
He kept singing and crying all night until the first light came and then the earth opened up again and swallowed him. The widow witnessed all of this and descended immediately from the tree and went to the Hammam to tell her story.
This is how the news came to the king and his daughter and they rushed to the tree to spend the night there. And when the earth split open and out came the young man crying and singing, the king’s daughter jumped up and hugged him and held on to him tightly to prevent him from leaving her. She sobbed, “Why did you leave me?”
And he answered, “The witch turned me into a camel so that no other woman would have me. She has sentenced me to live with her underground if I am ever betrayed by a woman, and you did not keep the secret. You betrayed my trust!”
She apologized and expressed her deep regret, asserting that she would never leave him no matter what! He took her with him underground.
When the witch saw her and asked who she was, he pretended that she was a maid. The witch wanted to test her and gave her a beaded broom and ordered her to clean the house without losing one bead, otherwise she would have to return above the ground.
When the king’s daughter started sweeping the house the beads kept falling and filled the house. Her husband quickly collected the beads and put them back on the broom. When the witch returned from her rounds outside she saw that the house was very clean and gave the king’s daughter another impossible task to do: she gave her a chest and ordered her to take it to her sister’s house in another country without opening it.
The king’s daughter carried the chest with great difficulty and walked towards the witch’s sister’s house. On the way she wanted to take a rest and put the chest down. But it fell and its cover opened and out came snakes and monkeys who went all over the place. However, her husband was watching for the witch’s tricks and he collected all the snakes and monkeys and put them back in the chest.
When the witch realized that the young man was in love with the maid she decided to marry him against his will, and said that if the maid did not dance at his wedding, she would put a curse on her. The king’s daughter had no option but to grieve and cry. Her husband, the camel, tried to calm her down saying, “Tomorrow, before the party starts, say that you will not dance unless they give you a lantern and a wick. I will take care of the rest!”
They brought the burning lantern and wick to the king’s daughter who carried them and danced. As she was dancing in the direction of the groom he grasped the flaming lantern from her and threw it on the witch who was burnt and died. With her death the curse was removed and he was now free to return back above the ground and they both made their way back to the king’s castle.
The guards immediately informed the king that his daughter had returned with a strange young man. When the king saw them he checked the young man’s arm and saw his handkerchief with his seal and hugged them both and prepared a second wedding worthy of the bride and groom!
Everyone lived happily ever after, and had many boys and girls, until death did they part.
This tale is one of 21 Syrian tales collected and preserved by the Hakawati Project in an effort to collect folk tales from fleeing Syrian refugees in this time of upheaval to preserve the county’s culture and oral heritage.