One fine morning in 1667, King Louis XIV was awoken by a courtier bearing strange and wondrous news: an envoy from the Shah of Persia had docked off of the coast of Marseilles, bearing an astounding number of gifts and fancies from the leader himself, to lay before the inestimable King of the Franks. Riza Bey, as the ambassador was known, was greeted warmly, and giving the finest lodgings available, at the royal family's summer home in the port city, with the king's majordomo overlooking the entire proceedings. In three day's time, the majordomo announced, the ambassador would be received at Versailles.

Kings and Chronicles

The three days before the administrator's arrival was filled with activity: the exquisite Gallery of Mirrors was prepared to the hilt, shined to its finest polish, and filled with the most comely of ladies and genteel of gentlemen. Riza Bey arrived, and with a great and majestic bow of his hand, took to one knee and kissed the royal hand, announcing the great gifts the Shah had seen fit to bestow upon the divine Emperor.

A great ball and banquet were held, and no whim was unmet. Afterwards, the various members of the court tried to outdo each other, offering books and gems and portraits, the loveliest baubles and gayest fineries they could muster. The ambassador accepted the gifts with a modicum of embarrassment and an overabundance of gratitude and humility. He diligently packed these fine goods after the party was over. He stayed at Versailles for days longer, awaiting the arrival of the Shah's gift-bearing ship so that he might steward its unloading and handling. All the while, no extravagance was spared on the envoy - and it is certainly not without blushing that this author admits that the fairer sex were not uneager to pay their respects to the mysterious and handsome foreigner.


But of all of the gifts and givers, none surpassed the Sun King himself, who loved to sit and listen for hours as the Envoy, in broken French, would relay tales of Persia and its surrounding leagues. Even more than these adventures, however, the king loved to hear the Envoy talk about the great riches contained within his home. One day, the Envoy handed the king a small sack full of fragments of opal and turquoise - gems found on the shores of the Caspian Sea in droves. The king was bedazzled by such treasures, and even more entranced by the promise to split the spoils of the sea with France in exchange for its allegiance in recent border skirmishes in Persia. The monarch readily agreed to such pretenses, his eyes no doubt still on the beautiful jewels in his hand.


Then, finally, after weeks of patient waiting, the gifts from the Shah arrived at port! They were being transported to Versailles, and the king prepared his men to help with the treasure, to be directed to various stores and rooms for safekeeping and display. The day of the presentation arrived, the doors to the great hall were flung open ... and nothing was there. No gifts, no messengers, and no Riza Bey! The king sent word to Tuileries inquiring about the Persian, only to hear the worst news: Riza Bey and his three bodyguards had slipped out in the night, carrying a bag apiece of the most valuable plunder they had acquired in their month of prestige and celebrity. Further inspection revealed that the precious stones given to the King were nothing but ordinary colored glass.

By the by, an alarm was raised throughout the country, but they never found the perpetrators of the cruel hoax, nor any of the treasure. Some speculated that a noted French bandit who had allegedly been to Persia was behind the scheme. No matter, of course; for the simple fact remained that the ambassador who wasn't ... simply wasn't any more.

A possibly true story as set out by P.T. Barnum.

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