THE ONE-HANDED GIRL 207
was a table covered with gold cups and baskets filled with dates and cocoa-nuts and all kinds of ripe yellow fruits, and the king and the prince sat upon cushions and were served by slaves, while the ministers, among whom she recognised her own brother, stood behind.
' Ah, I owe all my misery to him,' she said to herself. ' From the first he has hated me,' but outwardly she showed nothing. And when the king asked her what news there was in the town she only answered :
' You have ridden far ; eat first, and drink, for you must be hungry and thirsty, and then I will tell you my news.'
' You speak sense,' answered the king, and silence prevailed for some time longer. Then he said :
' Now, lady, I have finished, and am refreshed, therefore tell me, I pray you, who you are, and whence you come ? But, first, be seated.'
She bowed her head and sat down on a big scarlet cushion, drawing her little boy, who was asleep in a corner, on to her knee, and began to tell the story of her life. As her brother listened, he would fain have left the house and hidden himself in the forest, but it was his duty to wave the fan of peacock's feathers over the king's head to keep off the flies, and he knew he would be seized by the royal guards if he tried to desert his post. He must stay where he was, there was no help for it, and luckily for him the king was too much interested in the tale to notice that the fan had ceased moving, and that flies were dancing right on the top of his thick curly hair.
The story went on, but the story-teller never once looked at the prince, even through her veil, though he on his side never moved his eyes from her. When she reached the part where she had sat weeping in the tree, the king's son could restrain himself no longer.
' It is my wife,' he cried, springing to where she sat with the sleeping child in her lap. ' They have lied to me, and you are not dead after all, nor the boy either!