Story ‣ The Sultan’s Robe

In the last century, there lived a sultan who waged war tirelessly and finally made himself master of a largish desert.

“Surely I’m the greatest monarch in the world,” he said to his vizier, one day. “What do the people say about me?”

“They’re all praise for you, Your Excellency,” said the vizier, “all except one man, Ali, a camel-driver by profession. He’s always running you down.”

“How dare he!” roared the Sultan. “Bring him here at once. I’ll cut out his tongue!!”

When Ali was brought to the palace, he threw himself at the Sultan’s feet.

“At last my dearest wish to see you has come true,” he said, obsequiously.

“I used to say nasty things about you so that I might be brought into your august presence.”

“Why?” boomed the Sultan.

“So that I might recite the poem I have written in your honour, O Merciful One.”


Ali began to recite a poem his grandfather had taught him in his childhood. It proclaimed the greatness of Alexander, the Great but Ali deftly substituted the Sultan’s name for Alexander’s whenever the need arose.

The Sultan was flattered.

“Good poem,” he said, when Ali had finished. “Describes me exactly. You deserve a reward. Choose from one of these magnificent saddles,” and he indicated a pile of saddles, lying nearby.

Ali chose a donkey’s saddle, and thanking the Sultan, bowed himself out of the palace.

The people from his village who were sure he would be executed, and were waiting for news about it, outside the gate, were astounded to see him.

“The Sultan let you go?” they asked, bemused.

“And why not?” he asked.

“I recited a poem in his honour and he rewarded me with one of his best robes.”

“The sultan gave you his robe!” They gasped. “Where is it?”

He showed them the donkey’s saddle.