“Sorry dear, but I’m not interested in the confining custom of marriage,” responded Torange. “Besides, I don’t even know you.”
“What do you want to know about me?” said the Prince.
“Tell me three things of yourself that I might like and might make me fall in love with you.”
The Prince recited three of his own poems. Torange loved his poetry and said she could see herself being in love with him and wouldn’t mind living with him without any binding contract. However, she needed more time to explore her heart’s desire.
The Prince agreed and held her in his arms, his twirling fingers lost in her curls.
“I have to leave you here by yourself and go to fetch a set of clothes for you to wear, then I can take you to the city, whether you want to live with me or not.”
Torange hated the idea of being left alone in a world she hardly knew. She felt a pang of fear race down to the pit of her stomach. She freed herself from Mehrbun’s grasp.
“You brought me to the realm of mortals, and now you are leaving me alone?” she said. “Please don’t do such dangerous thing. I’ve heard horrid stories of Humans; I’ll be killed, I know it, I just know it.”
“Don’t worry, Torange,” replied the Prince in the stubborn voice of his ineptness. “Why don’t you hide in this willow tree till I come back? You’ll be safe up there.”
Before leaving, he watched terrified Torange climb up reluctantly into the tree and then followed her gaze at a sky getting swallowed up by the clouds. When he had embraced her good-bye he rode off on his horse, while little drops of rain whispered in his deaf ears of Torange’s pain and behind the clouds the imprisoned sun flared listlessly.
As soon as the Prince disappeared from view, a young woman as white as death showed up with her jug to fetch water from the stream. Her face was twisted into a bitter knot of grudge. When she looked into the stream, she saw the reflection of Torange and thought it was herself.
“I’m such a gracious girl,” she gasped out loud. “I shouldn’t work as a servant. I ought to have a dozen servants of my own.”
She smashed the jug on the ground into bits and returned home. Her mistress asked her where the water jug was.
“I didn’t know I was such a noble girl. I’m not going to be a servant anymore. I ought to marry a prince and live in a palace.”
“Nobel? You?” said her mistress, “Go and look at yourself in the mirror!”
The ghostly girl looked into the mirror and saw that her face had no colour, that her hideous hair was the colour of hatred, and that behind her eyes there was a brushfire of wickedness that could set the forests and fields of crops ablaze. She decided she was not noble and apologised for her mistake.
“That’s all right,” said her mistress, “Now, take the baby down to the stream and wash her.”
The wicked girl took the baby to the stream and again she saw an attractive reflection of herself in the water.
“I’ve been so naïve,” she exclaimed out loud again. “My mistress tricked me by making me look into a mirror that distorts images so that I would keep working for her. I’m so very dignified; I’m not going back to work. I’m going to throw the baby into the water and take a trip to the Prince’s palace and marry him.”
When she was about to throw the baby into the water, Torange, who was watching the servant girl’s antics and could no longer bear to see her intention, spoke out.
“O’ servant girl,” she called, “don’t drown the baby in the stream. The reflection in the water is mine.”
The wicked girl looked up and realised her foolish mistake. Without a word, she washed the baby and took her home. There, she grabbed a knife from the kitchen and headed out back to the willow tree by the stream. Once under the tree, she greeted Torange warmly and asked her if she could climb up to chat with her for a little while. Good-hearted Torange agreed and threw her long hair down. The wicked girl climbed the willow tree, sat beside Torange and asked her who she was and why she was in the tree. Torange shared her story and finished by saying that she was waiting for the Prince to bring her clothes to wear.
“You are tired, dear Torange,” said the wicked girl, “Why don’t you put your head on my knee and sleep a while?”
Torange welcomed the suggestion and, missing the Prince already, she sang herself to sleep. The wicked girl took the knife out of her pocket and slit Torange’s throat from ear to ear. She threw her victim’s body into the running water, hid the knife and the clothes she had taken off earlier, washed herself of any trace of blood and waited for the Prince to return. From drops of Torange’s blood that had fallen and seeped into the earth, roots delved down into the darkness and a stem of torange tree climbed up from the stream bank, sprouting leaves in the waltzing shadows of the willow tree.
Two days later, the Prince came back with a splendid set of clothes for Torange. As soon as he looked up the willow tree, he shrieked like the last echo of bad luck. A bitter, ominous-looking girl was sitting in the tree in place of spirited Torange. When the imposter saw the Prince, she tried to imitate Torange’s voice.
“Why did you take so long?” She called out irritably. “Bringing back a set of clothes shouldn’t take that long!”
The Prince felt like a simpleton placed against his will before an ancient puzzle that had to be solved. He believed that the girl must really be Torange, as she was the only one who knew what was going on. But she had also turned so totally offensive and unrefined. He helped her get down from the tree.
“My goodness! I can’t believe it,” he said. “You were so vibrant and engaging. Why are you so belligerent, so bitter now?”
“I haven’t eaten for two days,” replied the wicked girl.
“You had such a beautiful golden tan; why are you so fishbelly white?”
“I was in the shade for two days and lost my skin colour,” she said, her thick tongue beating the words behind her teeth.
“What happened to your long black hair?”
“The wind blew and plucked it away.”
Was he hallucinating? This battlefield of boorish words distressed him. The Prince felt dizzy and disoriented. Was this Ahreeman, the devil himself, playing tricks on him? Dark clouds of confusion caused by the wicked girl’s cryptic words covered his mind. He could no longer speak.
“What about your marriage proposal? Aren’t you going to ask me what my final answer is?” said the wicked girl.
The Prince could no more tell memory from imagination, nor both of them from dreaming. This crippling state of confusion made him think he was obligated to this dubious version of Torange as he had already asked the young woman to marry him.
“Will you marry me?” the Prince asked her in a monotone voice, as he broke into a flood of tears that drenched his fevered face.