The Legend of Saif-ul-Malook Part V

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Lake Saif-ul-Malook, situated at a height 10, 600 feet at the northern tip of the Kaghan Valley in Pakistan’s Himalayas, is  one of the  most beautiful places on earth. I have been there twice, the first time as a 12-year old and then in 2009, when I determined to capture some of its magic on camera and on paper, in the words of two local storytellers who relate the legend of the Lake to visitors.

It is the story of a prince and a fairy, Saif-ul-Malook and Badr-ul-Jamal  a story of love, adventure, faith, magic, suffering and betrayal – a story of the multitude of human passions.

Many different versions exist, but below is a reproduction of what the storytellers told us, with ample writer’s liberties. I hope you enjoy it!

Read Part IPart IIPart III and Part IV of the story 

___________________________

Pyramids of Ancient Egypt
Prince Saif returned to his homeland, Egypt, after almost seven years

Now, once the marriage and initial hullaballoo about Prince Saif’s return to Egypt – with a Fairy Queen on his arm – were over, Saif was eager to settle down to a ‘normal’ life, the kind he had known before embarking upon the mad quest for Badr Jamal some six-odd years ago.

His responsibilities as Crown Prince were many – attending public audiences with his father the King, listening to people’s grievances and advising just solutions, traveling to all corners of the kingdom, sometimes in disguise, to ensure that governors, ministers and other official functionaries were doing their job, negotiating with ambassadors and entertaining visiting dignitaries from the great empires of Rome, China or India. Prince Saif’s father was growing old, and soon the mantle of rulership would pass on to Saif; much valuable grooming time had already been lost, so the King was in a hurry to teach his son everything he possibly could before Death came subtly knocking on his chamber door.

Public audience at the Royal Palace
A public audience at the Royal Palace

As it happened, Prince Saif was away from the Royal Palace most of the day. Badr, meanwhile, stayed at home; for it was not customary in those times for princesses to gallivant about the kingdom with their husbands, hunting leopard or swigging wine with Italian dignitaries.

Domestic confinement was just one of the ‘rules’ that Badr had to adhere to in her new life as wife of the Crown Prince.  On the very night of their wedding, Saif had said to her, “Badr, my dear, now that we are here, in my country, and you are soon to be Queen, surely you have no more need of your Fairy wings?”

“Why? Why do you say that?” Badr had responded defensively. “I’m a Fairy, of course I need my wings!”

“I know, my love, I know. I just feel that it will be easier for you to, fit in here, if you don’t go around with those monstrous appendages on your back,” Saif had reasoned. “I mean, it unnerves people. Especially my mother! You know how jittery she gets in your presence.”

Seeing that Badr was recalcitrant,  Saif had tried again, in his most conciliatory tones. “Look, all I’m asking is that you keep the wings away. Can you do that for me? Besides, you might get it into your head to fly to Paristan, or even Koh Kaaf one day! I can’t risk that now, can I?”

He had meant it as a joke, but Badr Jamal did not find the Prince’s comment remotely funny. It was as if to say that Saif did not trust her; that he considered her fickle, an unruly child who had to be disciplined and placated. However, she said nothing of this to him, and merely nodded. “Yes, of course, my Prince. Anything you say.”

And so, some months passed in this manner. While Saif was busy dispensing his princely duties, Badr would be attending balls and garden parties arranged by her mother-in-law the Queen, dressed in voluminous, human-style gowns, with her hair elaborately braided and coiffed in the human fashion, and her feet bound in jeweled sandals. She found these ladies’ functions excruciatingly boring – all they talked about was their children, their servants, the latest import of silks from China, the best way to prepare stuffed pigeon. Badr had no knowledge of these subjects, nor was she interested – she would have preferred to sing rather than talk, dance rather than walk, wear the least amount of layers the weather permitted, and let her hair fly loose in the wind. As for fancy foods, the meal she liked best was a hearty chunk of game venison (preferably raw), with a side of wild herbs, downed with good, strong grape liqueur.

Badr found life in the Palace restrictive and boring
Badr found life with the women of the Palace restrictive and boring

This predilection for bloody meat was another one of the Fairy Queen’s seemingly uncivilized idiosyncrasies that Saif was nervously learning about since their marriage. Yet another was bathing under the full moon in the nude, in the closest available water body – which meant the fountain in the central Palace courtyard. At this Saif had to put his foot down – his people were not ready, he said, to accept that kind of free-spirited behavior from their future Queen.

But the venison was an essential part of Badr’s natural diet. She could not do without it. Supplies were running low, and Saif was pressed to make an urgent trip to the southern woodlands to procure the next batch, under the guise of a sport hunting expedition.  Venison was not commonly eaten in Egypt, and the Prince’s unplanned excursion would arouse suspicion if its true purpose was known.

While Saif was away, his uncle and aunt came to visit the Palace, along with their three daughters, Saif’s cousins. The family had been traveling in Asia for several months, and thus had missed the royal wedding. They came now to offer their presents and felicitations to the happy couple; and to see for themselves this mysterious Fairy that Saif had brought back with him from the Himalayas. The eldest of the three cousins, Safiyya, was particularly curious about Badr – you see, she had hoped to marry Saif herself one day. This young princess was exceptionally beautiful, not to mention exceedingly clever and proud to match. Deep in her heart, she could never forgive Saif for choosing another woman over her; or the other woman for taking what was rightfully hers.

Safiyya was beautiful, vivacious, and deeply resentful of Badar
Safiyya was beautiful, vivacious, and deeply resentful of Badr

“My dear aunt,” Safiyya said to the Queen, Prince Saif’s mother, as she reclined on a divan in the zenana, the women’s quarters of the Palace. “Where are you hiding this Fairy daughter-in-law of yours? My heart is burning to see this piece of moonlight!”

Just at that moment, Badr entered the hall from a side door.

I am Badr,” the Fairy announced. Safiyya, her sisters and mother quickly turned their heads towards the direction of the commanding voice, and saw standing before them a tall, plain-looking girl, her dull black hair tied back in a severe bun, and her face set into a grim line. Her skin was sallow, her eyes colorless and cold, and the rich robes she wore hung awkwardly over her thin frame. The contrast with Safiyya, who was petite and amply figured, with a rosy complexion, glossy brown curls, dark, mischievous eyes set in a heart-shaped face, and a vivacious laugh on her lips, could not have been greater.

You?” Safiyya stared at Badr in disbelief. “You are the Fairy Queen Badr Jamal? Pardon my impertinence, Aunt,” she smirked, “but a milkmaid in a princess’s gown is a milkmaid nonetheless!” Everybody laughed, including the courtly ladies and servant girls present. “Love truly is blind, or Saif would never have picked this homely peasant girl over me!”

Badr’s cheeks flushed crimson, and the Queen looked visibly uncomfortable.

“Princess Safiyya,” Badr spoke in a restrained tone. “You are speaking in this ignorant fashion because you have not seen my true beauty yet.”

“Oh, is that so? There where is your true beauty?” Safiyya taunted. “Locked away in a trunk?” Again, everybody laughed, except Badr and the Queen.

“As a matter of fact, yes. It is locked away in  a trunk,” Badr replied. “Queen Mother, if you please, bring me my wings.”

The Queen stuttered nervously. “Oh no, Badr, no, you know I can’t…You know Saif has forbidden you to…”

“It doesn’t matter what Saif has forbidden her to do or not,” Safiyya interjected. “He isn’t here right now. Aunt, please bring the wings, her ‘true beauty’ or whatever she calls them. Let us see what the fuss is about once and for all!”

The Queen had no choice but to comply. While she went to fetch the wings, word spread through the Palace that the Fairy Badr Jamal was about to demonstrate her flying ability. Nobody had ever seen a Fairy in flight before, and the excitement produced by this news was so great that by the time the Queen returned with the wings, folded and wrapped in layers of muslin, the women’s hall was packed. Everybody wanted to witness the spectacle of a flying Fairy.

“I don’t think this is a good idea, Safiyya,” the Queen whispered to her niece. “What if she flies away? What if she escapes?”

“How will she escape, aunt? We’ve bolted all the doors, barred all the windows. Besides, we don’t even know if she can fly at all!” Safiyya smirked again, confident in her triumphant beauty and full of ill will for Badr.

Badr stood on a raised platform at the end of the hall. The Queen handed her the parcel. She held it for a few moments, thoughtfully; then she spoke.

“Now listen to me, one an all!” The clamor in the hall dropped to a hushed murmur. “What you are about to see you have never seen before, and most likely will never see again. I don’t know how many of you can even withstand it. So let me say that I do not do this of my own will, but out of compulsion” – she shot an icy look at Safiyya – “to defend my own honor, as none here will do it for me.”

With that, Badr unwrapped the muslin parcel. The moment her fingers touched the misty, gauze-like material that lay folded inside, the dormant wings sprung to life; like a firecracker, they whizzed and whooshed through the air in circles before swiftly fastening themselves to Badr’s back.

What happened next is difficult to describe. The women and children who witnessed it could not stop raving about it till the end of their days; and the memory of what they saw has become the stuff of legend.

For, as soon as Badr’s wings attached themselves to her back, a blinding light burst forth from her person. The bulky dress she was wearing fell to the ground in a heap, the innumerable pins in her hair sprang out, her tight sandals came flying off.

And there she was, free, hovering above their dumbfounded faces in a dazzling halo of light. Her face glowed white like the moon, framed by clouds of black hair that shone like the midnight sky. Her golden eyes flashed with all the hues of the sun, and every movement of her long, slender limbs bespoke grace, as though she were swimming through the air, through the flowy, translucent garment that draped her body. And her wings – they were like living creatures in their own right, two iridescent chimeras filigreed with the brightest of silver, radiating all the colors of the universe.

The transformation of Badar Jamal
The transformation of Badr Jamal

She was mesmerizing. She was unreal. She was the most beautiful sight that they had ever seen, and would ever see.

“Now, you all have seen me, in my true form, my true beauty.” Even Badr’s voice had changed. It was more powerful, more melodic. “But I know that you do not deserve me. Neither you, nor Prince Saif. You judged me for my beauty, my uniqueness, and bade me hide it; then you judged me for my lack of it.”

General commotion followed. There were shouts, and gasps, and people jostling each other to get closer to the Fairy Queen. But before anybody realized what was going on, Badr transformed herself into a white dove and flew straight out of the hall through a tiny crack in the roshandan, a small skylight in the corner of the ceiling that had somehow escaped attention. And just like that, she was gone.

Read Part VI of the story

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21 thoughts on “The Legend of Saif-ul-Malook Part V

    nabeelnawaz said:
    January 13, 2014 at 4:54 am

    So lucky you went there – some of my fondest memories were of a famiky trip we were 50+ people it wad just amazing – camped in naraan and did a day trip to saif ul malook and the to lalazaar –

    Arieb Azhar said:
    January 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

    “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy; but he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise” – William Blake

    NS said:
    January 30, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Your wonderful story-telling brought me back to my childhood books of fairies, giants, princes and princesses:). Its amazing how these unknown story-tellers keep these epic tales safe in their hearts. I just hope they get passed down to every generation because it would be tragic if they got lost. Our very own disney princess tales, but with so much more depth, wisdom and magic! Thank you for keeping the story alive.

    erum said:
    January 31, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    wonderful after years of waiting i find this version of the legend beautifully told-

      manalkhan responded:
      January 31, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      thank you everyone! :)

    Iqra Mohammed said:
    February 4, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    OH MY GOD.
    The story has such a beautiful starting and such a painful ending…what did Badri jamal get at the end nothing just loneliness….

    Sabnav said:
    March 1, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    OMG….. Just Love it <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

    Fash said:
    April 29, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    its a long beautiful story.. just love how prince saif battles armies alone, which would be in the later parts of the story..

      Laali said:
      May 16, 2014 at 11:43 pm

      Fash: Yes my father did read the book Saif-ul-malook and he did say that ALLAH ALMIGHTY Blessed saif victory when he battled with the demons.

    Zebi Khan said:
    July 26, 2014 at 2:15 am

    the last part of the story is painfull

    Amnashah Love said:
    August 1, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    This is so magical ! But I don’t know if its real or not ! Many people say its real.some say its just an urban legend but then Everystoru has an Origin

    Amnashah Love said:
    August 1, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    I wanna know so much more about it ! Who saw this happen how is this tale transferred to all of us ! What’s the start how ? Why? Too many Questions …despite the fact said ul malooks depth is still unknown !

    Iqra Mohammed said:
    August 17, 2014 at 1:30 am

    waiting for the next part :)

    maria said:
    August 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Beautiful.saif ul malook z a place that can still haunt us to believe such legends. This tale encompasses the desire of any matron to be free n flying like badr Jamal

    Omar said:
    September 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Excellent narration Manal. The last part seems like recently developed… i.e. not part of the orginnal fable but nevertheless amazing.

      manalkhan responded:
      December 9, 2014 at 10:31 am

      Thank you Omar! Yes, this last part was not part of the original story, invented by me to give some more depth to the characters and the turn of events – glad you enjoyed it :)

    Suleman Malik said:
    September 12, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    I don’t have words to thank you for such a great work buddy. As it’s my greatest hobby to read such real stories & to went to the place mentioned in them. I’m also very much intrested in doing photography as-well, of such beautiful places like lake saif-ul-maluk, Swat, Kashmir etc. I really want to thank you from the deapth of my heart for writting this story with detail. According to me your hobbies are somehow same like me. I was always searching for such a friend so if you don’t mind we can be friends and can do teamwork whenever you want. If you are intrested contact me on my number send message with your name because mostly I cann’t attend calls (+92337968421) if not then it’s ok dude I’m still thankful to you.
    “GOD BLESS YOU”

    Ayesha Tariq said:
    November 30, 2014 at 5:31 am

    I’m mesmerized. 💛

    atif said:
    January 27, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    please finish the story ><

    Babar Mirza said:
    July 1, 2015 at 1:54 am

    I read all of the parts togetherat once, it took me to a trance.
    Never had I read a story such
    astonishing..

    Hope read more of your work @ManalKhan

    manalkhan responded:
    April 18, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Guys, I’m so so sorry for the delay. A lot of things came up for me and I was unable to write anything at all for a while. Please forgive me for keeping you waiting so long! Here’s the final part of the story, Part VII: https://windsweptwords.com/2016/04/18/the-legend-of-saif-ul-malook-part-vii/

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