Once upon a time Prince Vatchagan, the king’s only son, was traveling on one of his many hunting trips with his brave and trusty servant Nazar, and his faithful sheep dog Zanzi.
By and by Prince Vatchagan and his trusted servant Nazar came to the village of Atzik and sat down by the spring to rest. Just then the girls of the village came to fetch water. The prince was thirsty and asked them for a drink. One of the girls filled a jug and the fountain and handed it to Vatchagan, but another girl pulled the jug out of her hands and poured the water onto the ground. Then she filled the jug again, and again emptied it. Vatchagan’s throat was parched, but the girl went on as though teasing him. She filled and emptied the jug six times and then she finally handed it to him.
He drank his fill and then demanded of the girl, “Why didn’t you let me drink right away? Were you playing with me, teasing me, or what?”
“No,” answered the girl, “we do not tease strangers in our village. But you were tired and hot, and the cold water might have harmed you. I gave you time to cool off.”
The girl’s words astonished Vatchagan, and he was charmed by her beauty. He inquired, “What is your name?”
“Anait,” said the girl.
“Who is your father?”
“He is the shepherd Aran. But why do you want to know our names?”
“Is it so terrible to ask?”
“I suppose not. But then it wouldn’t be so terrible for you to tell me your name and where you come from.”
“Should I tell you the truth, or lie to you?”
“Whichever you consider more worthy.”
“I consider it more worthy to tell you the truth, but the truth is that I cannot yet disclose my name.”
“Very well, but in the meantime please give me back my jug.”
Saying farewell to the King’s son, Anait took up her jug and walked away. The prince, his trusty servant and his dog returned home.
Vatchagan’s heart was heavy within him. His mother, the Queen, came to him and asked, “Dear Vatchagan, what ails you?”
“Mother, the pleasures of life hold no charm for me anymore. I yearn to go into the desert to the village of Atzik and marry the shepherd’s daughter Anait.”
The Queen was much alarmed at the prospect of her son’s marrying a shepherd’s daughter and her husband, the King, heartily agreed with her. But Vatchagan wouldn’t hear of having any other bride. Finally, the King and Queen reluctantly accepted his choice. They sent their son’s faithful attendant Nazar and two noblemen to Atzik, to ask the shepherd Aran for the hand of his daughter.
Aran received the visitors in an hospitable manner. The guests sat down on a carpet that Aran spread out for them.
“What a beautiful carpet!” said Nazar, “Probably your wife made it?”
“I have no wife, she died some ten years ago,” replied the old shepherd. “My daughter Anait wove the carpet.”
“Even in the tents of our King there are no carpets as beautiful as this one! We are glad to hear that your daughter is such an artist,” said one of the noblemen. “Rumors of her virtues have reached the Palace. The King has sent us here to talk things over with you. He wishes you to give your daughter in marriage to his only son, the Heir to the Throne, Prince Vatchagan!”
The noblemen expected that Aran would leap to his feet from joy at hearing this unexpected news, or at least at first refuse to believe it. But Aran did neither. He bowed his head and followed the design on the carpet with his finger, remaining silent.
Nazar said to him, “Why do you seem so grieved, brother Aran? We have brought your joyous tidings, not sad ones. We shall not take your daughter away by force. If you consent, you will give her away; if not, you will keep her.”
“Dear guests,” said Aran, “the truth is that I have no power to decide whom my daughter will marry. She must decide for herself. If she consents, then I have nothing against it.”
At that moment Anait entered, carrying a basket of ripe fruit. She bowed to the guests, placed the fruit on a tray, served it and then sat down at her loom. The noblemen watched her closely, and were astonished at the speed with which her fingers flew back and forth, weaving the design.
“Anait, why do you work alone?” asked Nazar. “We have heard that you have taught quite a number of pupils to weave.”
“That is true,” she replied. “But I let them go to gather grapes.”
“I also hear that you have taught your pupils to read and write?”
“Yes, I have. Now the shepherds read as they tend their flocks, and teach each other to read and write. The trunks of all the trees in our woods are covered with writing, as are the walls of our fortress, the stones and the rocks. Someone takes a piece of charcoal and writes down a word, and others continue. And so our hills and valleys are full of writings.”
“With us, learning is not so developed,” sighed the prince’s servant Nazar. “City dwellers are lazy. But if you come to us, then perhaps you can teach us all to read and write. Anait, cease your work! I have important matters to discuss with you. See what gifts the King sends you!”
He brought out silk dresses and precious jewels. Anait looked at them casually, then asked, “And why should the King be so kind to me?”
“The son of our King, Prince Vatchagan, met you at the spring. You gave him water to drink, and he liked you. The King has sent us to ask you to become his son’s wife. This ring, this necklace, these bracelets — all these, are yours, if you consent!”
“So the hunter at the well was the King’s son?”
“He is a very nice young man. But let me ask you one thing: Does he know a trade?”
“Anait, he is the King’s son. All citizens are his servants. He doesn’t have to know a trade.”
“That is so, but even a master can at times be forced to become a servant. Everyone should know a trade – be he king, or servant, or prince.”
The noblemen were very surprised at Anait’s words.
“Then you refuse to marry the King’s son because he knows no trade?” asked the noblemen.
“Yes. Take back all the presents you brought with you. Tell the King’s son that I like him well enough, but, may he forgive me! I have sworn never to marry a man who knows no trade.”
They saw that Anait was firm in her decision, so they didn’t insist. They went home and reported everything to the King.
When the King and Queen heard how Anait had answered, they were relieved and felt sure that Vatchagan would change his mind about marrying the peasant girl. Instead he said, “Anait is right. I must master some craft, just like all other people.” So the King had no choice but to call together his noblemen in council, and they unanimously declared that the most fitting craft for a King’s son to learn was the art of weaving gold cloth. They sent to Persia for a skilled craftsman, and in a single year Vatchagan learned to expertly weave cloth. He wove a piece for Anait out of precious golden threads, and sent it to her.
When Anait received it, she said, “Tell the King’s son I consent to marry him, and take this carpet back to him as my present.”
The marriage celebrations lasted seven days and seven nights.
Now it happened that soon after the wedding, Vatchagan’s friend and trusted attendant Nazar suddenly disappeared. Despite an extensive search, no trace of him could be found. Finally all hope of ever finding him again was abandoned.
Some years passed. The King and the Queen, having lived to a ripe old age, both passed away. Vatchagan became King, and Anait became Queen.
One day Anait said to her husband, “My King, I notice that people say that everything is well in our kingdom, but what if they do not speak the whole truth? From time to time perhaps you should inspect the whole country yourself, going around in disguise, sometimes dressed as a beggar and sometimes as a worker or a merchant.”
“You are quite right, Anait,” said King Vatchagan. “In the old days when I used to go on my hunting trips, I knew my people far better. But how can I go away now? Who will rule the kingdom in my absence?”
“I shall,” said Anait, “and no one will ever know that you are absent.”
“Then I shall set forth tomorrow. If I am not back in twenty days, you will know that something has happened to me, or that I am no longer alive.”
So King Vatchagan, disguised as a common peasant, roamed about his kingdom. Finally, he approached the city of Perodj.
At the outskirts of Perodj, a band of robbers suddenly attacked him. The robbers stole all the money he had and dragged him to a cave deep within the forest. The cave opening was bolted with an iron door. The head robber produced a huge key, opened the door, and threw Vatchagan inside. Then he stepped in and slammed the iron door shut behind them. The head robber threw Vatchagan against the cave wall. He snarled, “What craft, if any, do you know?”
“I can weave such a precious cloth of gold that it is worth a hundred times more than mere gold thread!”
“Is your cloth really worth as much as all that?”
“I am not lying. Besides, you can always verify the price!”
“All right, so I shall. Now tell me what instruments and materials you need, and then you can start to work. But if you work isn’t worth what you say it is, I’ll not only send you to the slaughter house, but have you tortured first!”
The head robber marched outside the door and locked the door behind him. Finding himself thus cut off, Vatchagan moved deeper inside the cave. He walked on for some time. Suddenly, a faint gleam of light appeared ahead of him. He went towards it, and came to a depression within the cave, from which there issued groans and cries. Suddenly a shadow moved towards him. As it came nearer, the shadow seemed to take the form of a man.
Vatchagan stepped forward and cried, “Who are you – man or beast? If you are a man, tell me where I am!”
The shadow came closer, and they saw that it was a man. But he was so thin and bone-like that he looked more like a living skeleton. Stuttering and weeping, he said, “Follow me. I shall show you everything.”
He led the king down a wide corridor. A number of pale men sat working. Some were sewing, some were weaving, and some were embroidering. The guide who looked like a skeleton then explained, “That monster, that head robber who brought you here, got hold of us a long time ago. I don’t know how long ago it was, because here we have no day or night – only eternal dusk. Men who do not know a craft are killed after they are robbed, and men who do know a craft have to work like slaves until the day they die.”
Vatchagan looked at the man closely, and recognized his dear and faithful servant Nazar. He didn’t say anything to him, however, because he was afraid that the shock might kill the weakened man.
Soon a member of the robber band, a very tall man, delivered the requested materials, and Vatchagan began to work. He wove a piece of marvelous gold cloth that was covered with designs into which he wrote a full description of what was happening in the cave. Not everyone, however, would have been able to read the true meaning of the designs.
The tall robber was very pleased when Vatchagan gave him the finished cloth. Vatchagan said, “I told your leader before my cloth was worth a hundred times its weight in gold. Between you and me, this particular piece is worth twice as much again, because I have woven certain magical talismans into it. It is a pity that not all will understand their true value. Only wise Queen Anait herself could know what this piece is really worth!”
Hearing this, the tall robber decided to say nothing about it to anyone, not even to his leader, the head robber. Instead, the tall robber decided to secretly sell the piece of cloth to the Queen herself and pocket the entire sum.
In the meantime, Queen Anait ruled the country so well that all were satisfied, and nobody even suspected the King was absent. But Anait was greatly worried. Thirty days had now passed since her husband’s departure, which meant that her husband was now ten days overdue. In her dreams she saw all kinds of misfortunes happening to him. The sheep dog Zanzi kept howling, and Vatchagan’s horse wouldn’t touch his food and kept neighing pitifully, like a foal abandoned by its mother. Even the river rolled by ominously, without making a sound. All these bad omens greatly frightened Anait, and she was even afraid of her own shadow.
One morning she was told that a merchant had arrived from foreign lands, and wanted to show her some wares. She had him brought to her.
The merchant bowed to the Queen and handed her a piece of gold cloth folded on a silver tray. She glanced at it, without examining the design, and said, “What is the price of your cloth?”
“O gracious Queen, it is worth three hundred times its weight in gold, just counting its material and workmanship. As to my efforts in procuring this treasure and bringing it to you, I trust you will value that as you please.”
“What, the cloth is as expensive as that?”
“Gracious Queen, this cloth contains a mystic power. Do you see those designs? They are not just ordinary ones, but magical talismans. Whoever wears them will be happy forever.”
“Really?” smiled Anait, and spread out the cloth. She saw that there were no talismans on it, but a series of designs made of letters. She read them in silence, and this was the message the writing conveyed to her:
My incomparable Anait, I am in a terrible situation.
The man who brings you this cloth is one of the monsters
who is keeping us captive. Nazar is here with me.
Search for us to the east of the city of Perodj,
in a cave marked by an iron door that lies near
a crescent-shaped lake. Hasten, for without your
help we shall all perish soon. Vatchagan.
Anait read the message through twice, pretending to admire the designs. Then she said, “You are right. Only this morning I was in deep grief, but since I saw these designs, I feel happy and gay again. Your cloth is priceless, and I am ready to give half a kingdom for it. But, as you know, no creation can be of more value than its creator.”
“Long life to the wise Queen, who speaks the words of truth!”
“Then bring me the man who made this cloth, he should receive as much as you will, in reward for his work!”
“Gracious Queen,” replied the greedy tall man, “I do not know who wove this cloth. I bought it in India from a certain merchant, and he got it from some other merchant, and where he got it from, I do not know.”
“But you just said yourself that the materials and workmanship alone cost three hundred times its weight in gold. How could you know what it cost if you didn’t produce the cloth yourself or know who did?”
“Gracious Queen, I only tell you what I was told myself in India, but I…”
“Enough!” cried Anait. “I know who you are! Guards, seize this man and throw him into prison!”
When the man was led away, Anait ordered the alarm to be given. The citizens, whispering anxiously to each other, gathered at the palace. No one knew what was happening.
Anait came out on the balcony, armed from head to foot.
“Citizens!” she cried. “The life of your King is in grave danger. All who love him must follow me. By noon we must be in Perodj.”
In an hour all were armed and on horse. Anait mounted her steed and ordered, “Forward! Follow me!” and galloped off towards Perodj, the crowd following behind her.
She reined in her horse only when she arrived at the crescent-shaped lake east of the city. Anait soon noticed the cave door set in from the banks of the lake, which, though it was cleverly hidden by bushes and drooping branches, glinted for a moment in the sun. She approached the door and ordered that they should be opened. Silence. She made a great deal of noise and repeated her order. Still no response. As she knew she could not force the locked iron doors open, Anait distributed dozens of tools and ordered all the citizens to chip away at the stone around the cave door. With so many hands at work, soon one hole appeared clear through the stone, then another, and another, and then the holes were enlarged. Finally, Anait’s horse forced through the weaker stone in between the holes. Then it was an easy matter to remove the door entirely. The citizens watched all this effort with awe and amazement.
“Come closer,” cried Anait, “See what is concealed behind these doors!”
A terrible sight met the gaze of the citizens. Men who looked more like ghosts than living beings crawled out of the terrible dungeons. Blinded by the light, they groped around aimlessly. The last to come out were Vatchagan and Nazar, supporting each other and shielding their weakened eyes from the sun. Anait’s warriors carried out those who could not walk.
Anait knew that the robber band and its leader must be hiding deep within the cavities of the cave. Nazar advised her where she would find them. Shortly thereafter she and her warriors emerged from the cave, dragging along behind their horses the members of the robber band, each one securely tied with rope.
Anait rushed to the hastily erected tent where Vatchagan and Nazar had been brought. Then she sat down next to her beloved husband. The faithful servant Nazar, weeping, kissed the Queen’s hand and said, “Oh, great Queen, you saved us today!”
“You are mistaken, Nazar,” said Vatchagan. “She saved us years ago, on the day when she asked you whether the son of your King knew a trade!”
The story of Vatchagan’s adventures spread to all the cities and villages of the Kingdom. Even in other lands people talked of them, and praised Vatchagan and Anait. The popular minstrels composed songs in their honor, and went around from village to village singing them.
That is how the story of Vatchagan and Anait lived through the ages, and survived until our day.