The Copper Castle


If you want to fill your pockets with silver, go ahead. If you don’t like the silver, put it back and fill your pockets with gold. Whatever you can carry, take it... But you have one condition," she said.

07 September 2018

Catherine Cartier

Catherine Cartier studies History and Arab Studies at Davidson College, in the United States. She is currently studying abroad at the American University of Beirut. In spring 2018, she carried out independent research about Syrian storytelling traditions in Jordan.

 Story originally told by Aisha Khalil al-Khalil from Yarmouk Refugee Camp, now living in Zarqa; documented on May 28, 2018 by Catherine Cartier.

Once upon a time, a man and his son worked on a farm. They were innovative and smart. They planted and tilled the land, growing vegetables and wheat. One day, the government came and enlisted the son to serve in the army as a conscript. They took him to the army for more than two years.  He was an active duty soldier. The officers listened to his speech and found him very smart. After two years, his service to the army and homeland ended. This service was required of all young men.

He finished his army service and returned to the town where his father lived. He didn’t find his father and he learned that he had died. Nothing had been left from him, not the house, not anything at all. His father’s relatives had sold everything.

He needed to survive. “I don’t have a choice but to find work so that I can make a living,” he decided. He looked for work but did not find any. “I don’t have a choice but to leave this town,” he said.

While he was walking on the path to find a new town, he sang and ran and jumped, the way he had learned to jump in the army. He ran and did drills, counting “one two, one two.”

By chance, an old woman popped out from behind a tree. When she saw him doing his drills, she was impressed. She looked at him and saw a young man, innovative and smart.  She said, “My son, I really like you. Come to me.”

“What do you want, Aunt?” he replied.

Again she said, “Come, I have a good impression of you. I know that you are out of work and are looking for a way to live. I want to give you something that will let you live your whole life as an incredibly rich man.”

Curious about her proposition, he agreed and asked her what he should do.

She explained, “I want you to climb into this tree. You will find that it is hollow and completely empty.”

He was doubtful and asked, “how should I climb into the tree without a ladder?”

“Do not worry,” she assured him, “I have rope. Climb into the tree and attach the rope to your waist. When you first climb in you will find a hole. Enter the hole and keep walking. You will find three doors. After you enter the first one, go to the second one and then the third.” He nodded. She went on, “You will find three boxes behind the final door. There is a blue hat. Put it on your head because each box has guards. When you wear the blue hat, they will not attack you.” He nodded again. She told him, “In front of the first box you will find a dog. His eyes are the size of a glass of tea, huge.”

He said, “Very well.”

“When you see the dog on the top of the box, pick him up and put it down next to it. You will open it and find the box full of silver,” she instructed him. Again, the boy nodded. The woman continued, “Behind the next door you will find another dog. His eyes are as big as a loaf of bread, huge. Again, move him next to the box, and open it. You will find this box full of gold.” As usual, the boy nodded. “If you want to fill your pockets with silver, go ahead. If you don’t like the silver, put it back and fill your pockets with gold. Whatever you can carry, take it,” she encouraged him.

The boy replied, “Very well.”

The old woman continued, “As for the third door, the dog’s eyes are like a millstone, huge. Carry him gently and put next to the box. Open it and you will find it full of jewelry: coral and pearls and things of that nature.”

He said, “Very well.”

She told him, “Whatever you find it best, take it for yourself. But you have one condition.”

“What is the condition?” he wanted to know.

She said, “There is a lighter I want you to bring me, in the third door.”

He asked, “What is this lighter that you want me to climb for, that you’re willing to pay and open all the boxes so that you can have it? What is this lighter?”

The woman told him, “That’s not your business, just take what you want, but you must bring me the lighter.”

The boy agreed to the condition but asked, “What guarantees me that I will be able to get out?”

The old woman told him, “That is my responsibility. I will hold onto the rope. When you are done, pull the rope and I will know you have finished. I will pull you out and let you go.”

He replied, “As you like.”

The young man climbed into the tree and took gold, coral, pearls: everything that he wanted. He filled his pockets to the brim. He didn’t bring the lighter.

When he arrived at the tree and pulled the rope, and the woman asked, “Did you bring the lighter?”

He said, “No, Aunt. I did not bring it.”

She wanted to know, “How did you go in and bring back gold, coral, and pearls and forget the lighter?”

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll go back and bring it for you.”

He ran back into and found it and brought the lighter, and called up, “I brought it! Pull me out!” She pulled him out and he emerged with the gold, coral, pearls, the jewelry and everything he wanted. When he looked at all the jewelry, he said “Wow this is a very good thing for me. With this jewelry, I want to go buy a villa, build a castle, wear the finest clothes, and eat the most delicious foods. I want to live my whole life as a King of the Ages.”

The old woman said, “As you like.”

The young man said, “But this lighter that I brought, I will not give you it until you tell me its secret.” She didn’t respond to him. He said, “I won’t give it to you until you tell me the secret.”

She said, “That’s not your business. You took your fill, now give me the lighter.” He didn’t give it to her and he ran away with the lighter. The old woman chased after him, but she was a very old woman and he escaped with the lighter.

The young man built his palace and lived like he was in heaven: with servants, food, and the most beautiful clothes. He started to invite the important people in the country to his castle, the ministers and the big families. He invited them for evenings in his house, where they would eat and drink all night. But after some time, he had nothing left. He sold the castle and everything else he owned and sat, without anything to his name.

He said, “What has happened to me? How could this happen to me? After I lived the life of luxury and adjusted to the food, the drink, and expensive clothes. How can I live this life?” He considered it his fate--after he had learned to live in luxury, how could he live without anything at all? He didn’t have anything or know anyone except for the old woman. He decided to return to the tree and on the path he ran and counted, “one two, one two.” He stretched his hand into his pocket and found the lighter.

He wondered, “What is this lighter that the old woman wanted? I want to know its purpose.” He lit the lighter near the base of the tree.

The first dog came out and said, “You passed me by, sir. Whatever you want, I am ready.”

The young man replied, “I hope this will go well. This is the first one.”

He lit the lighter again and the second dog came out and told him, “Whatever you want, I am ready.” This was why the old woman wanted the lighter. Whatever she asked from the dogs, they would bring her.

He said, “Very well. The dogs will bring me jewelry and gold and I will return to my life, as wonderful as it was.”

He lit the lighter again and the third dog came out. The dog said, “Whatever you want, coral or pearls, I am ready, Sir. You must ask.”

The man was very happy--everything he wanted would be his. He asked each dog to bring him some of the riches they guarded and proclaimed, “I want to be as rich as I was or even richer.” The dogs agreed and the man stood waiting.

While he was waiting, he heard two people sitting nearby and talking about the King. One of them said, “A messenger came and told the King that an ordinary person wants to marry his daughter. A farmer, an ordinary person, wants to take the kingdom from him and become the King, and his daughter will be the Queen, and the current King will be left behind. The King made a castle out of copper, and put his daughter in it, so that nobody could meet his daughter or marry her. He didn’t want to be forgotten. The King put security around the girl so that only he could visit her, so that nobody could see her or propose to her or marry her. He believed what the messenger said.”

“Look at what the King did to his daughter,” the man thought while he sat waiting. “He made her a castle out of copper and put security around her and imprisoned her so she couldn’t go out, so that she cannot become the Queen.”

What he had learned stayed on his mind. He decided that this was his new mission--to free the daughter of the King and see her. Before meeting her, he said, “If she makes me happy, I want to leave and marry her and become the King.” The dogs brought the man gold and jewelry and he went back and built a new palace full of servants.

Only one goal remained—the daughter of the King. He wondered, “How should I find the daughter of the King? I don’t know how to get into the castle. The castle is made of copper, so how can I enter?” He tried to make many different plans to get into the castle, but he couldn’t figure out how. He consulted one of the dogs, the guard of the gold, and explained to him what he wanted to do.

“But why do you want to do this?” asked the dog.

“Because the daughter of the King is imprisoned inside, so that she will not marry an ordinary person or a simple man. I want to set her free,” he said.

The dog replied, “Of course, I will help. I’ll dig a tunnel from underground and let you pass through it.”

The dog was very good and the man said, “Let’s get to work. This is a short tunnel.”

The dog started digging underneath the castle and after he was done he said, “go ahead, enter.”

The man entered to the place where the King’s daughter was imprisoned. He liked her very much. He asked her, “What would you think about marrying me? I came to set you free.”

She warned him, “My father will kill you and kill me.”

He asked her, “Why do you care about what your father thinks? He built this castle around you. I want to set you free from your father as well.”

The King’s daughter agreed and said, “I will marry you. But let me out of this prison where my father put me!”

He said, “very well.” Then he took her out from the same tunnel through which he had entered..

Only her father could enter her castle. When he opened the door, he didn’t find her. Where did she go? The guards started looking. Where did she go? The guards did not know, and they swore, “She didn’t leave in front of us. None of us saw her.”

Meanwhile, the man announced his marriage to her and invited the whole country, including her father and married his wife in front of them all. The King wanted to know how she escaped and who let her out, but the man told him, “What do you want from us? We are married. I married her so she could escape. I owe you nothing.”

The King was shocked and deeply upset and he had a heart attack. With his death, the rule of the Kingdom passed to the young man and former soldier. The girl became the Queen, and the couple had many daughters and sons.

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