Ziazan tells the original Armenian tale
Hazaran Bulbul - The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs
Once there was and once there was not a king who lacked only one thing. He had built a magnificent church beyond compare, but the work of the most skilled architects, masons, goldsmiths and glassworkers paled in comparison to Nature’s art. So the king sent his three sons to find and bring back the Nightingale of a Thousand Songs to fill the church with its music. Then truly his would be the greatest church of all time.
The brothers travelled together until they came to a place where the road split three ways, and there they parted. The eldest brother took the path to the left, the second brother took the path ahead, and the youngest brother set off down the path on the right. He found himself in a land transformed by the dark magic of an enchantress. Everything that had been sweet and beautiful was made harsh and hostile by her power. The young prince came to a river, so stagnant and foul that no fish could swim in it. But the prince was thirsty after his march, so he knelt and cupped some of the brown, stinking stuff in his hands and sipped it.
“Ah, the sweet water of life!” he cried, because he had been raised from a boy to always have a kind word to say. He crossed the river on the backs of dead branches that lay like sleeping monsters in the pool, and he continued on his way.
Soon he came to a place where the gnarled trees grew thick about, and the path was narrow. There stood a giant thistle, twisted and cruel, with thorns as long as arms, and they reached out like talons to ensnare him. But the prince knew that to struggle and fight would only hurt himself as well as the thistle, so he praised it instead.
“Ah, what a beautiful bird of paradise!” he cried, even as a thorn pierced his shoulder. The thistle withdrew gently, as though stirred by a breeze, and the thorns released him. The prince continued on his way.
At last he came to a wall, and a door that was always shut. Opening this door and going through, he found himself in a garden. And though in that garden there was a cage, and in that cage the Nightingale of a Thousand Songs, the prince barely saw it. His eyes were full of the beautiful woman that lay on a bed beneath the birdcage. He thought he had never seen anything more lovely, and if you can imagine the most beautiful woman that ever breathed — well, she was far more beautiful than that. The bird and the woman slept. The prince crept towards them softly. He didn't know if he should take the bird or wake the woman. It was not his choice to make — he had sworn an oath to his father, so he seized the cage.
At once the nightingale awoke and cried out, "Mistress! Mistress! Save me!"
The eyes of the enchantress flashed open. Across the garden the prince flew, the frightened nightingale crying under his arm. The enchantress sprang from her bed. On he sped to the wall and the open door.
“Door! Door!” called the enchantress behind him. “Close and lock tight! Don’t let him get away!”
“No,” replied the door. “You have kept me shut for such a long time my joints are stiff and creaky. He opened me and I feel such relief. He can pass.”
The prince fled through the door, leaving it wide open, and on he ran.
“Thistle! Thistle!” called the enchantress behind him. “Stick him with your thorns! Bind him tight! Don’t let him get away!”
“No,” replied the thistle. “I used to be a sweet flower, but you transformed me into this ugly thing. No bees or butterflies will come to sip my nectar now. He thought I was a beautiful bird of paradise. He can pass.”
The thistle held its thorns high and the prince ran under them.
“River! River!” called the enchantress behind him. “Flood your banks! Bury him in mud! Drown him! But do not let him get away!”
“No,” replied the river. “I used to be a clear, flowing stream, but you made my water poison. No animals will come to drink here now, nor no fish can swim in me. He thought I tasted like the sweet waters of life. He can pass.”
With one great leap, the prince cleared the river, and he was out of the enchantress’ realm in the beat of a nightingale’s wing.
As the three brothers travelled home, the eldest princes conspired. They would be ashamed to tell their father that it was his youngest son who had found the Nightingale of a Thousand Songs, and that they had done nothing. So as they passed a well, they sent their brother to draw water from it, and as he did so, they pushed him in.
After some time, his cries for help were heard, and he was rescued. He ran on to his father’s palace, but now so far behind his brothers he could not hope to catch them.
However, when he arrived at his father’s hall, he was shocked to see no sign of his brothers, nor the king. They were in the dungeon. On the throne sat the enchantress.
“Did you steal my nightingale?” she asked the young prince.
“I did,” he replied.
“And what did you say to the river?”
“I called it the sweet waters of life,” said the prince.
“And what did you say to the thistle?”
“I called it a beautiful bird of paradise,” said the prince.
“And what did you do for the door to my garden?”
“I opened it,” said the prince, and coming nearer to the throne he added, “And more than this I would do if I might have but one kiss from you.”
This answer satisfied the enchantress, but it also confused her. She was now unsure whether she had come there to take back the nightingale, or the prince, and she couldn’t quite remember what she had planned to do with him when she got him. So she settled it by releasing the king and his two eldest sons, and marrying the third. She released the Nightingale of a Thousand Songs into the church to sing for their wedding. And so it sings there to this day, if you can find the place.
Three apples fell from heaven: one for the composer, one for the animator, and one for all who told this story before me.