April 6, 2019

MEHMET THE MAD: A Turkish Folktale by Ed Ahern

"Mehmet Bey, I can give you whatever you want."
"Give me your cap, your whistle, and your royal seal..."
There once was an Egyptian King who had no children. After many years of trying, and trips to shrines and holy places he was given a son, who he named Mehmet.

Mehmet was kind and trusting, but his mind wandered and the people called him Mehmet the Mad. When the king died, the people did not trust Mehmet to rule, so they turned him and his mother out of the palace. They took some money and jewelry with them, but Mehmet was forced to soon spend almost all of it.


He and his mother were poor and hungry, and living in a mud brick hut. “Mehmet, what can we do?” asked the mother.

“I will become a woodcutter and go into the forest, cut wood, and bring it to the market. Give me what you have left, so I can buy a donkey to carry the wood back.”

The mother had one gold coin left on her necklace, and she gave it to Mehmet, who bought a donkey. The next day, he trudged with the other woodcutters into the forest. Mehmet started looking for dry wood, but the other woodcutters just began cutting down green trees.

Mehmet knew that green wood would not burn well and searched all day for dry wood. “Why are you searching so hard?” they called to Mehmet. “Just chop down fresh trees like we do.”

“No, I will not cheat customers. You go back into town without me. I will stay the night and keep looking tomorrow.”

He went to sleep in a tree that night. In the early morning darkness he heard howling. Jackals found his donkey, tore it apart, and ate it. Mehmet could do nothing. In the morning he came down from the tree and looked for the trail back to town.

But Mehmet was used to a palace rather than a forest and got lost. As he wandered he saw two monsters with human heads but snakes’ bodies as long his own. The smaller of the snakes was screaming as the larger snake kept biting into it with its fangs. Without fear, Mehmet ran up to the larger snake and, swinging his axe, sliced off its head.

The smaller snake had long waves of auburn hair, green eyes, and the face of pretty young woman. Once it had gotten its breath back it asked, “What is your name?”

“Mehmet.”

“You have done me great service. I am the daughter of the king of snakes. The viper you killed was a servant who stole me from my father’s palace and for two years has been tormenting me. I am wounded. If you help me return to my father, my father will help you in return.”

So Mehmet wrapped the coils of the princess around his chest and started walking. They went what felt like a great way, holding course over rivers and mountains, but it was only a little distance. They thought six months and a summer had passed, but it was only a few days.

When they reached the snake king’s palace, the king slithered out, will all his court writhing behind him. The king coiled around his daughter in an embrace. Then he turned to Mehmet and thanked him. “You must stay with us as my guest.”

After several days of feasting, the king’s daughter whispered to Mehmet, “My father will offer you a present when it is time for you to leave. When he asks, show no excitement and just say, ‘May your majesty live long. I want nothing more than that.’

“My father will never let you leave without giving you gifts. When he insists on giving you what you want, say, ‘Your majesty, I would like your cap, your whistle, and your royal seal.’

A few days later, while everyone was in court, the snake king called Mehmet to his side at the throne. “Mehmet Bey, I can give you whatever you want.”

“May your Majesty live long, I want nothing more than that.”

“No, Mehmet, I must protest. Please ask anything of me as a gift.”

Mehmet didn’t hesitate. “Very well, Majesty. Please give me your cap, your whistle, and your royal seal.”

“I’m sorry,” the king replied. “You ask for things I cannot give up.”

“That’s all right. May your Majesty live long in any case. I’m going now.”

“Farewell father,” said the princess. “I am going too, since these things Mehmet asks for are so valuable that you cannot give them to the man who saved me.”

The king sighed. “Very well, Mehmet. I agree. Come with me.” The king lead Mehmet into the treasure vault, full of gold, diamonds and pearls. Atop the treasure piles were the cap, whistle and royal seal. The king gave them all to Mehmet, saying, “These are of great value. Use them carefully.”

Mehmet accepted the gifts and bowed. “I know these are the symbols of your kingship. If I can I will return them to you.”

After leaving the palace and walking back into the forest, Mehmet pulled the whistle from his pack and blew, the sound shrill and piercing.

Two gruesome ghosts appeared. “SHALL WE DESTROY OR SHALL WE RESTORE?” they roared.

Mehmet was shaking badly. One of the ghosts noticed his fear and whispered to him, “As long as you hold the whistle you need fear nothing. We are your slaves. “

Mehmet became braver. “Restore me to my city!” he yelled.

The ghosts picked him up and less than a moment later set him down outside the city walls.

“Restore my donkey with a load of dry wood,” Mehmet commanded, “then hide.” The donkey appeared beside him, almost hidden under a huge stack of wood.

Mehmet walked the donkey back to his mother’s hut. The next morning, he took the wood to the market and sold it. When he saw the few coins he received, he knew that they would barely be able to live.

Mehmet wondered about the other two gifts. He went to the cupboard and took out the royal seal. “I wonder,” he said aloud. He took out a scrap of paper and wet the seal with water, to see what the pattern of the seal was. But when he stamped the seal on the paper, the paper turned into gold leaf with the seal of the snake king pressed into it.

“How wonderful,” Mehmet thought. He pulled a loose brick from the wall of the hut and stamped it. It too turned to gold. He stamped brick after brick until he had a Ď‚eki of gold, almost five hundred pounds.

Mehmet bought a large house so his mother and he could live comfortably. But Mehmet was not satisfied. “Mother, I have always wanted to travel. Use these gold things to live well while I am away.” Mehmet put the seal and whistle in the folds of his robe and, forgetting all about the cap, set off on his trip. He walked several days before coming to a large sailing vessel.  He went up to the captain of the ship.

“Captain, I wish to charter your ship.”

“You must be mad. That’s impossible. We ship oils and silks. It would take a kantar of gold to charter this vessel.”

“That is not a problem. Please wait a day.”

Mehmet returned the next day with the hundred twenty-five pounds of gold for the charter, and three pounds of gold for each crew member. The captain and crew were in such awe they began calling him Mehmet Bey (Master Mehmet)

The ship sailed through fair weather and foul, arriving finally at an unknown land.  The king heard of Mehmet’s wealth and went to the pier to welcome him.

The king said, “you must come to my palace for at least a week’s visit, Mehmet Bey, less would be an insult.”

Mehmet went to the palace, and was introduced to the king’s daughter. The king offered his daughter to Mehmet in marriage, and Mehmet accepted willingly, for the daughter was beautiful and seemed kind. He held the daughter’s hands and asked her to marry him.

But the king had told his daughter to discover the source of Mehmet’s wealth and take it from him. After the wedding, Mehmet went with his bride to their chambers. “Before we can spend the night together,” she said, “I must know the secret of your golden fortune.”

“What a thing to be concerned with! Very well. This whistle and seal give me wealth and power.” Mehmet took both from the folds of his robe and blew on the whistle.

“SHALL WE DESTROY OR SHALL WE RESTORE?”
The princess dropped down behind the bed in fright.

“Do nothing, just go away” Mehmet commanded. He turned to the princess. “Don’t be afraid, whoever has the whistle controls them.” He walked around the room with the seal in his hand, touching things as he went. The princess’ eyes widened as they watched the golden shimmer spread around the room.

“Can I also do these things?” she asked.

“Of course, here is the whistle. Try it.”
The princess blew on the whistle and the ghosts again appeared. “SHALL WE DESTROY OR SHALL WE RESTORE?”

“Take his royal seal, and carry off this grimy dog.”

The ghosts grabbed Mehmet and flew with him over seven lands, dropping him in an another unknown country. Mehmet had just enough money left to survive a long, dangerous trip back to his home city. “Praise God you have returned,” his mother cried. “You must stay with me.”
After a few days’ stay, Mehmet remembered the snake king’s cap. He took the cap from its hiding place and looked carefully at it. “I wonder,” he said, put the cap on his head and disappeared.

His mother screamed. “Mehmet, where are you?”

“Right in front of you.” He pulled off the cap and became visible. “I have great use for this. I am returning to my traitor bride, mother, and reclaiming what they took.”

Mehmet traveled on several vessels from land to land until he reached the country of his bride. Once near the palace he put on the cap and walked right past the guards. He found the king and princess eating in the banquet hall, with the king complaining.

“My wonderful daughter, why do you not let me shelter the whistle and seal? Do you not trust me?”

“As much as royalty ever does, father, but I will keep them safe, thank you.”

Mehmet followed the princess and watched as she took the seal out from a hiding place in her bedroom wall. She touched the seal to several combs, turning them to gold, then returned it to its hiding place.

The princess was still beautiful, and Mehmet sighed at his loss. The princess heard the noise, and looked about but saw nothing. When she finally went to sleep, Mehmet went to the secret chamber in the wall, retrieved his whistle and seal, and took off his cap.

“I have returned, precious bride,” he said.

The princess sat up and screamed.

“You refused my love and cheated me. But you are my wife, and I cannot harm you.”

Mehmet blew on the whistle. “SHALL WE DESTROY OR SHALL WE RESTORE?” the ghosts asked.

“Destroy the king’s palace,” Mehmet said, “and take the king and his daughter to the land where you left me.”

Mehmet returned to his country, where the people decided that he wasn’t all that peculiar, and was very rich, and restored his father’s throne to him. After ruling for several years, Mehmet sent the cap, whistle and seal back to the snake king with many thanks and his kindest regards for the snake princess.

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over two hundred stories and poems published so far, and three books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of five review editors.

Art: Gustave Moreau, 1886
Layout: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

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