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Mehmet the Mad
By Edward Ahern
This adaptation of a marvelously rambling tale is sourced from the 1919 printing of Tales Alive in Turkey published by E.P. Dutton. This edition is almost impossible to find, but both Harvard University and Texas Tech have published reprints which are available.
There once was an Egyptian King who had no children. After years of trying, and visits to holy places like Khojas and convents, he was given a son, who he named Mehmet.
Mehmet would often do peculiar things, and the people began to call him Mehmet the Mad. After the king died, the people mistrusted Mehmet so much they turned him out of the palace, along with his mother. They gave Mehmet some money, but he soon needed to spend it all.
Mehmet and his mother were poor and hungry, and Mehmet was still eccentric. “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 can 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 searched all day, but found almost no 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. Wolves 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 became lost. As he wandered he saw two monsters with human heads but snakes’ bodies longer than his own. The smaller of the snakes was screaming as the larger snake kept biting into it with its fangs. Without thinking, Mehmet ran up to the larger snake and, swinging his axe, sliced off its head.
The smaller snake person was sobbing and gasping. Once it had gotten its breath back it asked, “What is your name?”
“Mehmet the Mad.”
“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 a great way but still only a little way. They went over rivers and mountains but still stayed straight. They went on for six months and a summer, but when they looked back, they had only gone the length of a barley grain.
When they finally reached the snake king’s palace, the king slithered out, will all his court writhing behind him, and the king coiled around his daughter in an embrace. Then he turned to Mehmet and thanked him. “You will stay with us as my guest.”
After many 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 a gift. 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 into his presence. “Mad Mehmet, I am rich. I can give you whatever you want.”
“May your Majesty live long, I want nothing more than that.”
No, Mehmet Bey, 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 cape, whistle and royal seal. The king gave them all to Mehmet, but without any explanation.
As he walked out of the forest and back into the forest, Mehmet wondered about the gifts, and about how he was going to be able to earn money. He thought that with the whistle he could become the night watchman for a village. But it had to be loud. He pulled the whistle from his pack and blew.
Two scaly ghosts appeared. “SHALL WE DESTROY OR SHALL WE RESTORE?” they roared.
Mehmet was shaking so badly he couldn’t say anything. 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. “Take me to my city!” he yelled.
The ghosts picked him up and less than a moment later set him down outside the city walls.
“Give me a donkey with a load of dry wood,” Mehmet commanded, “then hide.” The donkey appeared beside him, its back buried under a huge pile of wood.
Mehmet walked the donkey back to his mother’s hut. “I’m sorry I’m so late, mother,” he called out, “but it took a really long time to gather all the wood.”
The next morning, he took the wood to the market and sold it. When he looked at the few coins he had received for the wood, he knew that he and his mother would barely be able to live. He walked his donkey back to his mother’s hut and told her, “We cannot live on a woodcutter’s earnings. I must do something else.”
He went over to his cot, took out the whistle and blew it. “Bring me a ςeki of gold,” he demanded. In seconds the two ghosts returned with the gold, almost five hundred pounds, and laid it on the floor of the hut. The gold was so heavy it sank into the soft earth floor.
Mehmet used some of the gold to buy a large house so his mother and he could again live comfortably. After many days, Mehmet remembered the royal seal. “Mother, bring me the snake king’s seal.”
He wetted the seal with water and tried to stamp it on sheets of paper, but every sheet he stamped turned into gold. “Look, mother, at what this seal can do.” Mehmet ran about their house stamping curtains and tables and stools and cushions until the house glimmered in a golden dream.
“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 port city where a large sailing vessel was docked. He went up to the captain of the ship.
“Captain, I wish to charter your ship for a voyage.”
“You must be mad. That’s impossible. We ship oils and silks and are quite profitable. It would take a kantar of gold to book 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 five 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 for many days through fair weather and foul, arriving finally at an unknown land. The king of that land heard of Mehmet’s great wealth and went with his vizir and other high officials to the pier to welcome him.
After introductions, the king said, “you must come to my palace for at least a week’s visit, Mehmet Bey, less would be an insult.”
Mehmet agreed and went with the king to the palace, where he met the king’s daughter. The king, learning that Mehmet was unmarried, offered his daughter to Mehmet in marriage, and Mehmet accepted willingly, for the daughter was beautiful and seemed kind. He kissed the daughters hand and asked her to marry him.
But the king had instructed his daughter to discover the source of Mehmet’s wealth and take it from him. After an elaborate wedding and feast, 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 at a time like this! Very well. This whistle and seal are what 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 away his royal seal, then carry off this grimy dog for a distance of seven lands.”
The ghosts grabbed Mehmet by his arms and flew with him over seven lands, dropping him in an unknown country. Mehmet had just enough money left in his purse to endure the long distance and hardships necessary to return to his home city.
“Praise God you have returned,” his mother cried. “Now you must stay with me.”
Mehmet did stay for a month, and then remembered the snake king’s cap. He took the cap from its hiding place, blew on it, rubbed it on furniture, and wet it, but nothing happened. Then Mehmet 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 is ours.”
Mehmet took some of their remaining gold and traveled on several vessels from land to land until he reached the country of his bride. Once close to the palace he put the cap on his head 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.”
After the meal Mehmet followed the princess to her chambers and watched as she took the seal out from a hiding place in a wall. She touched the seal to several combs, turning them to gold, then returned it to its place in the wall.
The princess was as beautiful as Mehmet remembered her, and he sighed at his loss. The princess heard the noise, and looked about her chambers, but couldn’t find its source. While she was looking Mehmet went to the secret chamber in the wall and retrieved his whistle and seal. Then he took off his cap.
“I have returned, precious bride,” he said.
The princess screamed and staggered backwards.
“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 then returned to his country, where the people eventually decided that he wasn’t too peculiar, and was very rich, and restored his father’s throne to him. After ruling in turn for several years, he sent the cap, whistle and seal back to the snake king with many thanks and best regards to the snake princess.