Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Benevolent Serpent

"In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Listen now, oh honoured friend, I shall begin these Legends concerning this ancient House of the Kretliya which belonged to my Family, and in which I was born and my fathers before me. For every ancient house, and this one even more than most, has strange legends attached to it which, though of the past, are yet kept in mind from generation to generation." ~Sheikh Suliman - Legends of the House of the Cretan Woman

This tale tells of a snake, a benevolent serpent, that inhabits the house of the Cretan woman and has always done so, for such serpents dwell only in those houses that are especially favoured, as this one is, by God's blessing.
Such snakes are guardians that keep the house in their care, allowing no other reptile to enter, nor evil to harbour within its walls, so that those who live in the house need have no fear of Djinn or Afreet and may sleep, if they will, with their doors left unlocked.
Now, though this benevolent serpent comes not forth save at night or in secret and is therefore seldom observed, its young, in their folly, may sometimes adventure, as you will learn from what I am about to tell you.

Once long ago, there lived in the Bait al-Kretliya, a devout and pious man, the Hagg Mohammed, whose children, two little boys, playing together one day in the court-yard, spied two of the young of our benevolent serpent as they ventured out of their hiding. Thereupon these little boys greatly delighted, pounced on the small snakes, each seizing one and acing tied a string round its belly, took it for his own as plaything, unaware in their innocence of the harm they did or the danger they ran. Anon the good parent snake, coming back to her lair from whence she had issued, found her little ones done and, in much agitation, she hastened to search for them, peering this way and that till very soon she perceived what has happened  and that her young ones were now in the hands of their captors, the two little boys of the house. At that, swollen with rage and blind to all else save revenge, she sought out the cupboard where the drinking water is stored in a great Zeer (earthen-ware vessel), and into this jar she spat out her venom and so poisoned that water that anyone drinking thereof must surely die.

Hardly had she done this that good pious man, the Hagg Mohammed, who had been out about some business , returned and, seeing his sons playing each with a little serpent tied by a string around its belly, was greatly alarmed and cried out: 'What in God's name are you doing, O wicked ones? Shame on you! Do you not know you have each made captive a little one of our patron, our protector, our benevolent serpent, without whose blessing that house would surely be desolate? In the name of the Prophet, release your victims at once ere great harm befall you and all of us.'
Thereupon each of those children hung his head much ashamed and affrighted and, hastily obeying his father freed the young reptile he has made captive, which then wriggled off to his cranny none the worse for the adventure.

Now when the good parent-snake, the benevolent serpent who all this time had been lurking nearby, overheard what this pious man said and observed how, in obedience, his little sons had st once released her offspring uninjured, and when she realized that neither the Sheikh nor his sons meant any harm, he anger subsided forthwith and, full of remorse for what she had done to poison their drinking water, she was greatly concerned how to avert the evil that threatened. And Anon her anxiety was greatly increased for she heard the master call out to serving-maid, 'Go, Aisha, fetch me a cup of cold water from the Zeer,' it then being the heat of the summer.

Filled now with immediate alarm on behalf the Hagg Mohammed, the benevolent serpent knew not which way to turn now what best to do till, she was prompted so that, hastening off once again to the cupboard where the water was kept, she wound herself around  the great Zeer that was full of it and drew herself tighter and tighter about the vessel till at last it broke and fell asunder with much splash and clatter.
Into nine and ninety pieces was that water jar splintered-for the Hagg Mohammed counted them one and all afterwards-and the water gushed out and was spilt harmlessly on the floor so that no ill to any came of it.
Then off glided that benevolent serpent back to her hiding place, well pleased at having contrived to avert so great catastrophe, with the serving-maid who had come at that very moment to the Zeer-cupboard to fetch her master the drink he had called for, hearing the clatter ad seeing water spilt out and flowing away without a cause, so it seemed to her, ran off herself with a cry of alarm to tell everyone what has happened; and she was greatly afraid, as indeed who would not have been? For she though an Afreet or Djinn to be the cause of so strange an occurrence.