NOUREDDIN ALI OF DAMASCUS AND THE DAMSEL SITT EL MILAH. (1)
There was once, of old days and in bygone ages and times, a merchant of the merchants of Damascus, by name Aboulhusn, who had money and riches and slaves and slave-girls and lands and houses and baths; but he was not blessed with a child and indeed his years waxed great; wherefore he addressed himself to supplicate God the Most High in private and in public and in his inclining and his prostration and at the season of the call to prayer, beseeching Him to vouchsafe him, before his admittance [to His mercy], a son who should inherit his wealth and possessions; and God answered his prayer. So his wife conceived and the days of her pregnancy were accomplished and her months and her nights and the pangs of her travail came upon her and she gave birth to a male child, as he were a piece of the moon. He had not his match for beauty and he put to shame the sun and the resplendent moon; for he had a shining face and black eyes of Babylonian witchery (2) and aquiline nose and ruby lips; brief, he was perfect of attributes, the loveliest of the folk of his time, without doubt or gainsaying.
His father rejoiced in him with the utmost joy and his heart was solaced and he was glad; and he made banquets to the folk and clad the poor and the widows. He named the boy Sidi (3) Noureddin Ali and reared him in fondness and delight among the slaves and servants. When he came to seven years of age, his father put him to school, where he learned the sublime Koran and the arts of writing and reckoning: and when he reached his tenth year, he learned horsemanship and archery and to occupy himself with arts and sciences of all kinds, part and parts. (4) He grew up pleasant and subtle and goodly and lovesome, ravishing all who beheld him, and inclined to companying with brethren and comrades and mixing with merchants and travellers. From these latter he heard tell of that which they had seen of the marvels of the cities in their travels and heard them say, "He who leaveth not his native land diverteth not himself [with the sight of the marvels of the world,] and especially of the city of Baghdad."
So he was concerned with an exceeding concern for his lack of travel and discovered this to his father, who said to him, "O my son, why do I see thee chagrined?" And he answered, "I would fain travel." Quoth Aboulhusn, "O my son, none travelleth save those whose occasion is urgent and those who are compelled thereunto [by need]. As for thee, O my son, thou enjoyest ample fortune; so do thou content thyself with that which God hath given thee and be bounteous [unto others], even as He hath been bounteous unto thee; and afflict not thyself with the toil and hardship of travel, for indeed it is said that travel is a piece of torment." (5) But the youth said, "Needs must I travel to Baghdad, the abode of peace."
When his father saw the strength of his determination to travel, he fell in with his wishes and equipped him with five thousand dinars in cash and the like in merchandise and sent with him two serving-men. So the youth set out, trusting in the blessing of God the Most High, and his father went out with him, to take leave of him, and returned [to Damascus]. As for Noureddin Ali, he gave not over travelling days and nights till he entered the city of Baghdad and laying up his loads in the caravanserai, made for the bath, where he did away that which was upon him of the dirt of the road and putting off his travelling clothes, donned a costly suit of Yemen stuff, worth an hundred dinars. Then he put in his sleeve (6) a thousand mithcals (7) of gold and sallied forth a-walking and swaying gracefully as he went. His gait confounded all those who beheld him, as he shamed the branches with his shape and belittled the rose with the redness of his cheeks and his black eyes of Babylonian witchcraft; indeed, thou wouldst deem that whoso looked on him would surely be preserved from calamity; [for he was] even as saith of him one of his describers in the following verses:
So he went walking in the thoroughfares of the city and viewing its ordinance and its markets and thoroughfares and gazing on its folk. Presently, Abou Nuwas met him. (Now he was of those of whom it is said, "They love the fair," (8) and indeed there is said what is said concerning him. (9) When he saw Noureddin Ali, he stared at him in amazement and exclaimed, "Say, I take refuge with the Lord of the Daybreak!" (10) Then he accosted the young Damascene and saluting him, said to him, "Why do I see my lord alone and forlorn? Meseemeth thou art a stranger and knowest not this country; so, with my lord's permission, I will put myself at his service and acquaint him with the streets, for that I know this city." Quoth Noureddin, "This will be of thy favour, O uncle." Whereat Abou Nuwas rejoiced and fared on with him, showing him the markets and thoroughfares, till they came to the house of a slave-dealer, where he stopped and said to the youth, "From what city art thou?" "From Damascus," answered Noureddin; and Abou Nuwas said, "By Allah, thou art from a blessed city, even as saith of it the poet in the following verses:
Damascus is all gardens decked for the pleasance of the eyes; For the seeker there are black-eyed girls and boys of Paradise."
Noureddin thanked him and they entered the slave-merchant's house. When the people of the house saw Abou Nuwas, they rose to do him worship, for that which they knew of his station with the Commander of the Faithful. Moreover, the slave-dealer himself came up to them with two chairs, and they seated themselves thereon. Then the slave-merchant went into the house and returning with the slave-girl, as she were a willow-wand or a bamboo-cane, clad in a vest of damask silk and tired with a black and white turban, the ends whereof fell down over her face, seated her on a chair of ebony; after which quoth he to those who were present, "I will discover to you a face as it were a full moon breaking forth from under a cloud." And they said, "Do so." So he unveiled the damsel's face and behold, she was like the shining sun, with comely shape and day-bright face and slender [waist and heavy] hips; brief, she was endowed with elegance, the description whereof existeth not, [and was] even as saith of her the poet:
The dealer stood at her head and one of the merchants said, "I bid a thousand dinars for her." Quoth another, "I bid eleven hundred dinars;" [and a third, "I bid twelve hundred"]. Then said a fourth merchant, "Be she mine for fourteen hundred dinars." And the biddings stood still at that sum. Quoth her owner, "I will not sell her save with her consent. If she desire to be sold, I will sell her to whom she willeth." And the slave-dealer said to him, "What is her name?" "Her name is Sitt el Milah," (11) answered the other; whereupon the dealer said to her, "By thy leave, I will sell thee to yonder merchant for this price of fourteen hundred dinars." Quoth she, "Come hither to me." So he came up to her and when he drew near, she gave him a kick with her foot and cast him to the ground, saying, "I will not have that old man." The slave-dealer arose, shaking the dust from his clothes and head, and said, "Who biddeth more? Who is desirous [of buying?]" Quoth one of the merchants, "I," and the dealer said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, shall I sell thee to this merchant?" "Come hither to me," answered she; but he said "Nay; speak and I will hearken to thee from my place, for I will not trust myself to thee," And she said, "I will not have him."
Then he looked at her and seeing her eyes fixed on the young Damascene, for that in very deed he had ravished her with his beauty and grace, went up to the latter and said to him, "O my lord, art thou a looker-on or a buyer? Tell me." Quoth Noureddin, "I am both looker-on and buyer. Wilt thou sell me yonder slave-girl for sixteen hundred dinars?" And he pulled out the purse of gold. So the dealer returned, dancing and clapping his hands and saying, "So be it, so be it, or not [at all]!" Then he came to the damsel and said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, shall I sell thee to yonder young Damascene for sixteen hundred dinars?" But she answered, "No," of shamefastness before her master and the bystanders; whereupon the people of the bazaar and the slave-merchant departed, and Abou Nuwas and Ali Noureddin arose and went each his own way, whilst the damsel returned to her master's house, full of love for the young Damascene.
When the night darkened on her, she called him to mind and her heart clave to him and sleep visited her not; and on this wise she abode days and nights, till she sickened and abstained from food. So her lord went in to her and said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, how findest thou thyself?" "O my lord," answered she, "I am dead without recourse and I beseech thee to bring me my shroud, so I may look on it before my death." Therewithal he went out from her, sore concerned for her, and betook himself to a friend of his, a draper, who had been present on the day when the damsel was cried [for sale]. Quoth his friend to him, "Why do I see thee troubled?" And he answered, "Sitt el Milah is at the point of death and these three days she hath neither eaten nor drunken. I questioned her to-day of her case and she said, 'O my lord, buy me a shroud, so I may look on it before my death.'" Quoth the draper, "Methinks nought ails her but that she is enamoured of the young Damascene and I counsel thee to mention his name to her and avouch to her that he hath foregathered with thee on her account and is desirous of coming to thy house, so he may hear somewhat of her singing. If she say, 'I reck not of him, for there is that to do with me which distracteth me from the Damascene and from other than he,' know that she saith sooth concerning her sickness; but, if she say to thee other than this, acquaint me therewith.'"
So the man returned to his lodging and going in to his slave-girl, said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, I went out on thine occasion and there met me the young man of Damascus, and he saluted me and saluteth thee. Indeed, he seeketh to win thy favour and would fain be a guest in our dwelling, so thou mayst let him hear somewhat of thy singing." When she heard speak of the young Damascene, she gave a sob, that her soul was like to depart her body, and answered, saying, "He knoweth my plight and is ware that these three days past I have eaten not nor drunken, and I beseech thee, O my lord, by the Great God, to accomplish the stranger his due and bring him to my lodging and make excuse to him for me."
When her master heard this, his reason fled for joy and he went to his friend the draper and said to him, "Thou wast right in the matter of the damsel, for that she is enamoured of the young Damascene; so how shall I do?" Quoth the other, "Go to the bazaar and when thou seest him, salute him and say to him, 'Indeed, thy departure the other day, without accomplishing thine occasion, was grievous to me; so, if thou be still minded to buy the girl, I will abate thee an hundred dinars of that which thou badest for her, by way of hospitable entreatment of thee and making myself agreeable to thee; for that thou art a stranger in our land.' If he say to thee, 'I have no desire for her' and hold off from thee, know that he will not buy; in which case, let me know, so I may contrive thee another device; and if he say to thee other than this, conceal not from me aught.
So the girl's owner betook himself to the bazaar, where he found the youth seated at the upper end of the merchants' place of session, selling and buying and taking and giving, as he were the moon on the night of its full, and saluted him. The young man returned his salutation and he said to him, "O my lord, be not thou vexed at the girl's speech the other day, for her price shall be less than that [which thou badest], to the intent that I may propitiate thy favour. If thou desire her for nought, I will send her to thee, or if thou wouldst have me abate thee of her price, I will well, for I desire nought but what shall content thee; for that thou art a stranger in our land and it behoveth us to entreat thee hospitably and have consideration for thee." "By Allah," answered the youth, "I will not take her from thee but at an advance on that which I bade thee for her aforetime; so wilt thou now sell her to me for seventeen hundred dinars?" And the other answered," O my lord, I sell her to thee, may God bless thee in her."
So the young man went to his lodging and fetching a purse, returned to the girl's owner and counted out to him the price aforesaid, whilst the draper was between them. Then said he, "Bring her forth;" but the other answered, "She cannot come forth at this present; but be thou my guest the rest of this day and night, and on the morrow thou shall take thy slave-girl and go in the protection of God." The youth fell in with him of this and he carried him to his house, where, after a little, he let bring meat and wine, and they [ate and] drank. Then said Noureddin to the girl's owner, "I beseech thee bring me the damsel, for that I bought her not but for the like of this time." So he arose and [going in to the girl], said to her, "O Sitt el Milan, the young man hath paid down thy price and we have bidden him hither; so he hath come to our dwelling and we have entertained him, and he would fain have thee be present with him."
Therewithal the damsel rose briskly and putting off her clothes, washed and donned sumptuous apparel and perfumed herself and went out to him, as she were a willow-wand or a bamboo-cane, followed by a black slave girl, bearing the lute. When she came to the young man, she saluted him and sat down by his side. Then she took the lute from the slave-girl and tuning it, smote thereon in four-and-twenty modes, after which she returned to the first mode and sang the following verses:
Therewithal the young man was moved to delight and exclaimed, "By Allah, thou sayest well, O Sitt el Milan! Let me hear more." Then he handselled her with fifty dinars and they drank and the cups went round among them; and her seller said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, this is the season of leave-taking; so let us hear somewhat on the subject." Accordingly she struck the lute and avouching that which was in her heart, sang the following verses:
As they were thus in the enjoyment of all that in most delicious of easance and delight, and indeed the wine was sweet to them and the talk pleasant, behold, there came a knocking at the door. So the master of the house went out, that he might see what was to do, and found ten men of the Khalif's eunuchs at the door. When he saw this, he was amazed and said to them, "What is to do?" Quoth they, "The Commander of the Faithful saluteth thee and requireth of thee the slave-girl whom thou hast for sale and whose name is Sitt el Milah." By Allah," answered the other, "I have sold her." And they said, "Swear by the head of the Commander of the Faithful that she is not in thy dwelling." He made oath that he had sold her and that she was no longer at his disposal; but they paid no *need to his word and forcing their way into the house, found the damsel and the young Damascene in the sitting-chamber. So they laid hands upon her, and the youth said, "This is my slave-girl, whom I have bought with my money." But they hearkened not to his speech and taking her, carried her off to the Commander of the Faithful.
Therewithal Noureddin's life was troubled; so he arose and donned his clothes, and his host said, "Whither away this night, O my lord?" Quoth Noureddin, "I mean to go to my lodging, and to-morrow I will betake myself to the palace of the Commander of the Faithful and demand my slave-girl." "Sleep till the morning," said the other, "and go not forth at the like of this hour." But he answered, "Needs must I go;" and the host said to him, "[Go] in the safeguard of God." So Noureddin went forth, and drunkenness had got the mastery of him, wherefore he threw himself down on [a bench before one of] the shops. Now the watch were at that hour making their round and they smelt the sweet scent [of essences] and wine that exhaled from him; so they made for it and found the youth lying on the bench, without sense or motion. They poured water upon him, and he awoke, whereupon they carried him to the house of the Chief of the Police and he questioned him of his affair. "O my lord," answered Noureddin, "I am a stranger in this town and have been with one of my friends. So I came forth from his house and drunkenness overcame me."
The prefect bade carry him to his lodging; but one of those in attendance upon him, by name El Muradi, said to him, "What wilt thou do? This man is clad in rich clothes and on his finger is a ring of gold, the beazel whereof is a ruby of great price; so we will carry him away and slay him and take that which is upon him of raiment [and what not else] and bring it to thee; for that thou wilt not [often] see profit the like thereof, more by token that this fellow is a stranger and there is none to enquire concerning him." Quoth the prefect, "This fellow is a thief and that which he saith is leasing." And Noureddin said, "God forbid that I should be a thief!" But the prefect answered, "Thou liest." So they stripped him of his clothes and taking the ring from his finger, beat him grievously, what while he cried out for succour, but none succoured him, and besought protection, but none protected him. Then said he to them, "O folk, ye are quit of (12) that which ye have taken from me; but now restore me to my lodging." But they answered, saying, "Leave this knavery, O cheat! Thine intent is to sue us for thy clothes on the morrow." "By Allah, the One, the Eternal," exclaimed he, "I will not sue any for them!" But they said, "We can nowise do this." And the prefect bade them carry him to the Tigris and there slay him and cast him into the river.
So they dragged him away, what while he wept and spoke the words which whoso saith shall nowise be confounded, to wit, "There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Sublime!" When they came to the Tigris, one of them drew the sword upon him and El Muradi said to the swordbearer, "Smite off his head." But one of them, Ahmed by name, said, "O folk, deal gently with this poor wretch and slay him not unjustly and wickedly, for I stand in fear of God the Most High, lest He burn me with his fire." Quoth El Muradi, "A truce to this talk!" And Ahmed said, "If ye do with him aught, I will acquaint the Commander of the Faithful." "How, then, shall we do with him?" asked they; and he answered, "Let us deposit him in prison and I will be answerable to you for his provision; so shall we be quit of his blood, for indeed he is wrongfully used." So they took him up and casting him into the Prison of Blood, (13)went away.
Meanwhile, they carried the damsel into the Commander of the Faithful and she pleased him; so he assigned her a lodging of the apartments of choice. She abode in the palace, eating not neither drinking and ceasing not from weeping night nor day, till, one night, the Khalif sent for her to his sitting-chamber and said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, be of good heart and cheerful eye, for I will make thy rank higher than [any of] the concubines and thou shall see that which shall rejoice thee." She kissed the earth and wept; whereupon the Khalif called for her lute and bade her sing. So she improvised and sang the following verses, in accordance with that which was in her heart:
When she had made an end of her song, she cast the lute from her hand and wept till she swooned away, whereupon the Khalif bade carry her to her chamber. Now he was ravished with her and loved her with an exceeding love; so, after awhile, he again commanded to bring her to his presence, and when she came, he bade her sing. Accordingly, she took the lute and spoke forth that which was in her heart and sang the following verses:
Then she cast the lute from her hand and swooned away; so she was carried to her chamber and indeed passion waxed upon her. After a long while, the Commander of the Faithful sent for her a third time and bade her sing. So she took the lute and sang the following verses:
When she had made an end of her song, the Commander of the Faithful said to her, "O damsel, thou art in love." "Yes," answered she. And he said, "With whom?" Quoth she, "With my lord and my master, my love for whom is as the love of the earth for rain, or as the love of the female for the male; and indeed the love of him is mingled with my flesh and my blood and hath entered into the channels of my bones. O Commander of the Faithful, whenas I call him to mind, mine entrails are consumed, for that I have not accomplished my desire of him, and but that I fear to die, without seeing him, I would assuredly kill myself." And he said, "Art thou in my presence and bespeakest me with the like of these words? I will assuredly make thee forget thy lord."
Then he bade take her away; so she was carried to her chamber and he sent her a black slave-girl, with a casket, wherein were three thousand dinars and a carcanet of gold, set with pearls, great and small, and jewels, worth other three thousand, saying to her, "The slave-girl and that which is with her are a gift from me to thee." When she heard this, she said, "God forbid that I should be consoled for the love of my lord and my master, though with the earth full of gold!" And she improvised and recited the following verses:
Then the Khalif summoned her to his presence a fourth time and said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, sing." So she improvised and sang the following verses:
When she had made an end of her song, she threw the lute from her hand and wept till she swooned away. So they sprinkled on her rose-water, mingled with musk, and willow-flower water; and when she came to herself, Er Reshid said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, this is not fair dealing in thee. We love thee and thou lovest another." "O Commander of the Faithful," answered she, "there is no help for it." Therewithal he was wroth with her and said, "By the virtue of Hemzeh (19) and Akil (20) and Mohammed, Prince of the Apostles, if thou name one other than I in my presence, I will bid strike off thy head!" Then he bade return her to her chamber, whilst she wept and recited the following verses:
Then the Khalif went in to the Lady Zubeideh, pale with anger, and she noted this in him and said to him, "How cometh it that I see the Commander of the Faithful changed of colour?" "O daughter of my uncle," answered he, "I have a beautiful slave-girl, who reciteth verses and telleth stories, and she hath taken my whole heart; but she loveth other than I and avoucheth that she loveth her [former] master; wherefore I have sworn a great oath that, if she come again to my sitting-chamber and sing for other than I, I will assuredly take a span from her highest part." (21)Quoth Zubeideh, "Let the Commander of the Faithful favour me with her presence, so I may look on her and hear her singing." So he bade fetch her and she came, whereupon the Lady Zubeideh withdrew behind the curtain, whereas she saw her not, and Er Reshid said to her, "Sing to us." So she took the lute and tuning it, sang the following verses:
When Er Reshid heard this, he waxed exceeding wroth and said, "May God not reunite you twain in gladness!" Then he summoned the headsman, and when he presented himself, he said to him, "Strike off the head of this accursed slave-girl." So Mesrour took her by the hand and [led her away; but], when she came to the door, she turned and said to the Khalif, "O Commander of the Faithful, I conjure thee, by thy fathers and forefathers, give ear unto that I shall say!" Then she improvised and recited the following verses:
Then Mesrour carried her to the other end of the sitting-chamber and bound her eyes and making her sit, stood awaiting a second commandment; whereupon quoth the Lady Zubeideh, "O Commander of the Faithful, with thy permission, wilt thou not vouchsafe this damsel a share of thy clemency? Indeed, if thou slay her, it were injustice." Quoth he, "What is to be done with her?" And she said, "Forbear to slay her and send for her lord. If he be as she describeth him in grace and goodliness, she is excused, and if he be not on this wise, then slay her, and this shall be thy justification against her." (22)
"Be it as thou deemest," answered Er Reshid and caused return the damsel to her chamber, saying to her, "The Lady Zubeideh saith thus and thus." Quoth she, "God requite her for me with good! Indeed, thou dealest equitably, O Commander of the Faithful, in this judgment." And he answered, "Go now to thy place, and to-morrow we will let bring thy lord." So she kissed the earth and recited the following verses:
Then she arose and returned to her chamber.
On the morrow, the Commander of the Faithful sat [in his hall of audience] and his Vizier Jaafer ben Yehya the Barmecide came in to him; whereupon he called to him, saying, "I would have thee bring me a youth who is lately come to Baghdad, hight [Sidi Noureddin Ali] the Damascene." Quoth Jaafer, "Hearkening and obedience," and going forth in quest of the youth, sent to the markets and khans and caravanserais three days' space, but found no trace of him, neither lit upon tidings of him. So on the fourth day he presented himself before the Khalif and said to him, "O our lord, I have sought him these three days, but have not found him." Quoth Er Reshid, "Make ready letters to Damascus. Belike he hath returned to his own land." So Jaafer wrote a letter and despatched it by a dromedary-courier to the city of Damascus; and they sought him there and found him not.
Meanwhile, news was brought that Khorassan had been conquered; (23) whereupon Er Reshid rejoiced and bade decorate Baghdad and release all who were in the prisons, giving each of them a dinar and a dress. So Jaafer addressed himself to the decoration of the city and bade his brother El Fezl ride to the prison and clothe and release the prisoners. El Fezl did his brother's bidding and released all but the young Damascene, who abode still in the Prison of Blood, saying, "There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Sublime! Verily, we are God's and to Him we return." Then said El Fezl to the gaoler, "Is there any prisoner left in the prison?" "No," answered he, and El Fezl was about to depart, when Noureddin called out to him from within the prison, saying, "O my lord, tarry, for there remaineth none in the prison other than I and indeed I am oppressed. This is a day of clemency and there is no disputing concerning it." El Fezl bade release him; so they set him free and he gave him a dress and a dinar. So the young man went out, bewildered and knowing not whither he should go, for that he had abidden in the prison nigh a year and indeed his condition was changed and his favour faded, and he abode walking and turning round, lest El Muradi should come upon him and cast him into another calamity.
When El Muradi heard of his release, he betook himself to the chief of the police and said to him, "O our lord, we are not assured from yonder youth, [the Damascene], for that he hath been released from prison and we fear lest he complain of us." Quoth the prefect, "How shall we do?" And El Muradi answered, saying, "I will cast him into a calamity for thee." Then he ceased not to follow the young Damascene from place to place till he came up with him in a strait place and a by-street without an issue; whereupon he accosted him and putting a rope about his neck, cried out, saying, "A thief!" The folk flocked to him from all sides and fell to beating and reviling Noureddin, whilst he cried out for succour, but none succoured him, and El Muradi still said to him, "But yesterday the Commander of the Faithful released thee and to-day thou stealest!" So the hearts of the folk were hardened against him and El Muradi carried him to the master of police, who bade cut off his hand.
Accordingly, the hangman took him and bringing out the knife, offered to cut off his hand, what while El Muradi said to him, "Cut and sever the bone and sear (24) it not for him, so he may lose his blood and we be rid of him." But Ahmed, he who had aforetime been the means of his deliverance, sprang up to him and said, "O folk, fear God in [your dealings with] this youth, for that I know his affair from first to last and he is void of offence and guiltless. Moreover, he is of the folk of condition, (25) and except ye desist from him, I will go up to the Commander of the Faithful and acquaint him with the case from first to last and that the youth is guiltless of crime or offence." Quoth El Muradi, "Indeed, we are not assured from his mischief." And Ahmed answered, "Release him and commit him to me and I will warrant you against his affair, for ye shall never see him again after this." So they delivered Noureddin to him and he took him from their hands and said to him, "O youth, have compassion on thyself, for indeed thou hast fallen into the hands of these folk twice and if they lay hold of thee a third time, they will make an end of thee; and [in dealing thus with thee], I aim at reward and recompense for thee (26) and answered prayer." (27)
Noureddin fell to kissing his hand and calling down blessings on him and said to him, "Know that I am a stranger in this your city and the completion of kindness is better than the beginning thereof; wherefore I beseech thee of thy favour that thou complete to me thy good offices and kindness and bring me to the gate of the city. So will thy beneficence be accomplished unto me and may God the Most High requite thee for me with good!" ["Fear not,"] answered Ahmed; "no harm shall betide thee. Go; I will bear thee company till thou come to thy place of assurance." And he left him not till he brought him to the gate of the city and said to him, "O youth, go in the safeguard of God and return not to the city; for, if they fall in with thee [again], they will make an end of thee." Noureddin kissed his hand and going forth the city, gave not over walking till he came to a mosque that stood in one of the suburbs of Baghdad and entered therein with the night.
Now he had with him nought wherewithal he might cover himself; so he wrapped himself up in one of the rugs of the mosque [and abode thus till daybreak], when the Muezzins came and finding him sitting in that case, said to him, "O youth, what is this plight?" Quoth he, "I cast myself on your hospitality, imploring your protection from a company of folk who seek to kill me unjustly and oppressively, without cause." And [one of] the Muezzin[s] said, "Be of good heart and cheerful eye." Then he brought him old clothes and covered him withal; moreover, he set before him somewhat of meat and seeing upon him signs of gentle breeding, said to him, "O my son, I grow old and desire thee of help, [in return for which] I will do away thy necessity." "Hearkening and obedience," answered Noureddin and abode with the old man, who rested and took his ease, what while the youth [did his service in the mosque], celebrating the praises of God and calling the faithful to prayer and lighting the lamps and filling the ewers (28) and sweeping and cleaning out the place.
Meanwhile, the Lady Zubeideh, the wife of the Commander of the Faithful, made a banquet in her palace and assembled her slave-girls. As for Sitt el Milah, she came, weeping-eyed and mournful-hearted, and those who were present blamed her for this, whereupon she recited the following verses:
When she had made an end of her verses, the Lady Zubeideh bade each damsel sing a song, till the turn came round to Sitt el Milah, whereupon she took the lute and tuning it, sang thereto four-and-twenty songs in four-and-twenty modes; then she returned to the first mode and sang the following verses:
When she had made an end of her song, she wept till she made the bystanders weep and the Lady Zubeideh condoled with her and said to her, "God on thee, O Sitt el Milah, sing us somewhat, so we may hearken to thee." "Hearkening and obedience," answered the damsel and sang the following verses:
Then she cast the lute from her hand and wept till she made the Lady Zubeideh weep, and she said to her, "O Sitt el Milah, methinks he whom thou lovest is not in this world, for that the Commander of the Faithful hath sought him in every place, but hath not found him." Whereupon the damsel arose and kissing the Lady Zubeideh's hands, said to her, "O my lady, if thou wouldst have him found, I have a request to make to thee, wherein thou mayst accomplish my occasion with the Commander of the Faithful." Quoth the princess, "And what is it?" "It is," answered Sitt el Milah, "that thou get me leave to go forth by myself and go round about in quest of him three days, for the adage saith, 'She who mourneth for herself is not the like of her who is hired to mourn.' (29) If I find him, I will bring him before the Commander of the Faithful, so he may do with us what he will; and if I find him not, I shall be cut off from hope of him and that which is with me will be assuaged." Quoth the Lady Zubeideh, "I will not get thee leave from him but for a whole month; so be of good heart and cheerful eye." Whereupon Sitt el Milah was glad and rising, kissed the earth before her once more and went away to her own place, rejoicing.
As for Zubeideh, she went in to the Khalif and talked with him awhile; then she fell to kissing him between the eyes and on his hand and asked him that which she had promised Sitt el Milah, saying, "O Commander of the Faithful, I doubt me her lord is not found in this world; but, if she go about in quest of him and find him not, her hopes will be cut off and her mind will be set at rest and she will sport and laugh; for that, what while she abideth in hope, she will never cease from her frowardness." And she gave not over cajoling him till he gave Sitt el Milah leave to go forth and make search for her lord a month's space and ordered her an eunuch to attend her and bade the paymaster [of the household] give her all she needed, were it a thousand dirhems a day or more. So the Lady Zubeideh arose and returning to her palace, sent for Sitt el Milah and acquainted her with that which had passed [between herself and the Khalif]; whereupon she kissed her hand and thanked her and called down blessings on her.
Then she took leave of the princess and veiling her face, disguised herself; (30) after which she mounted the mule and sallying forth, went round about seeking her lord in the thoroughfares of Baghdad three days' space, but lit on no tidings of him; and on the fourth day, she rode forth without the city. Now it was the noontide hour and great was the heat, and she was aweary and thirst waxed upon her. Presently, she came to the mosque, wherein the young Damascene had taken shelter, and lighting down at the door, said to the old man, [the Muezzin], "O elder, hast thou a draught of cold water? Indeed, I am overcome with heat and thirst." Quoth he, "[Come up] with me into my house." So he carried her up into his lodging and spreading her [a carpet and cushions], seated her [thereon]; after which he brought her cold water and she drank and said to the eunuch, "Go thy ways with the mule and on the morrow come back to me here." [So he went away] and she slept and rested herself.
When she awoke, she said to the old man, "O elder, hast thou aught of food?" And he answered, "O my lady, I have bread and olives." Quoth she, "That is food fit but for the like of thee. As for me, I will have nought but roast lamb and broths and fat rissoled fowls and stuffed ducks and all manner meats dressed with [pounded nuts and almond-]kernels and sugar." "O my lady," replied the Muezzin, "I never heard of this chapter in the Koran, nor was it revealed unto our lord Mohammed, whom God bless and keep!" (31) She laughed and said, "O elder, the matter is even as thou sayest; but bring me inkhorn and paper." So he brought her what she sought and she wrote a letter and gave it to him, together with a seal-ring from her finger, saying, "Go into the city and enquire for such an one the money-changer and give him this my letter."
The old man betook himself to the city, as she bade him, and enquired for the money-changer, to whom they directed him. So he gave him the ring and the letter, which when he saw, he kissed the letter and breaking it open, read it and apprehended its purport. Then he repaired to the market and buying all that she bade him, laid it in a porter's basket and bade him go with the old man. So the latter took him and went with him to the mosque, where he relieved him of his burden and carried the meats in to Sitt el Milah. She seated him by her side and they ate, he and she, of those rich meats, till they were satisfied, when the old man rose and removed the food from before her.
She passed the night in his lodging and when she arose in the morning, she said to him, "O elder, may I not lack thy kind offices for the morning-meal! Go to the money-changer and fetch me from him the like of yesterday's food." So he arose and betaking himself to the money-changer, acquainted him with that which she had bidden him. The money-changer brought him all that she required and set it on the heads of porters; and the old man took them and returned with them to Sitt el Milah. So she sat down with him and they ate their sufficiency, after which he removed the rest of the food. Then she took the fruits and the flowers and setting them over against herself, wrought them into rings and knots and letters, whilst the old man looked on at a thing whose like he had never in his life seen and rejoiced therein.
Then said she to him, "O elder, I would fain drink." So he arose and brought her a gugglet of water; but she said to him, "Who bade thee fetch that?" Quoth he, "Saidst thou not to me, 'I would fain drink'?" And she answered, "I want not this; nay, I want wine, the delight of the soul, so haply, O elder, I may solace myself therewith." "God forbid," exclaimed the old man, "that wine should be drunk in my house, and I a stranger in the land and a Muezzin and an imam, (32) who prayeth with the true-believers, and a servant of the house of the Lord of the Worlds! "Quoth she, "Why wilt thou forbid me to drink thereof in thy house?" "Because," answered he, "it is unlawful." "O elder," rejoined she, "God hath forbidden [the eating of] blood and carrion and hog's flesh. Tell me, are grapes and honey lawful or unlawful?" Quoth he, "They are lawful;" and she said, "This is the juice of grapes and the water of honey." But he answered, "Leave this thy talk, for thou shall never drink wine in my house." "O Sheikh," rejoined she, "folk eat and drink and enjoy themselves and we are of the number of the folk and God is very forgiving, clement." (33) Quoth he, "This is a thing that may not be." And she said, "Hast thou not heard what the poet saith ... ?" And she recited the following verses:
"O elder," added she, "if Muslims and Jews and Nazarenes drink wine, who are we [that we should abstain from it]?" "By Allah, O my lady," answered he, "spare thine endeavour, for this is a thing to which I will not hearken." When she knew that he would not consent to her desire, she said to him, "O elder, I am of the slave-girls of the Commander of the Faithful and the food waxeth on me (34) and if I drink not, I shall perish, (35) nor wilt thou be assured against the issue of my affair. As for me, I am quit of blame towards thee, for that I have made myself known to thee and have bidden thee beware of the wrath of the Commander of the Faithful."
When the old man heard her words and that wherewith she menaced him, he arose and went out, perplexed and knowing not what he should do, and there met him a Jew, who was his neighbour, and said to him, "O Sheikh, how cometh it that I see thee strait of breast? Moreover, I hear in thy house a noise of talk, such as I use not to hear with thee." Quoth the Muezzin, "Yonder is a damsel who avoucheth that she is of the slave-girls of the Commander of the Faithful Haroun er Reshid; and she hath eaten food and now would fain drink wine in my house, but I forbade her. However she avoucheth that except she drink thereof, she will perish, and indeed I am bewildered concerning my affair." "Know, O my neighbour," answered the Jew, "that the slave-girls of the Commander of the Faithful are used to drink wine, and whenas they eat and drink not, they perish; and I fear lest some mishap betide her, in which case thou wouldst not be safe from the Khalifs wrath." "What is to be done?" asked the Sheikh; and the Jew replied, "I have old wine that will suit her." Quoth the old man, "[I conjure thee] by the right of neighbourship, deliver me from this calamity and let me have that which is with thee!" "In the name of God," answered the Jew and going to his house, brought out a flagon of wine, with which the Sheikh returned to Sitt el Milah. This pleased her and she said to him, "Whence hadst thou this?" "I got it from my neighbour the Jew," answered he. "I set out to him my case with thee and he gave me this."
Sitt el Milah filled a cup and emptied it; after which she drank a second and a third. Then she filled the cup a fourth time and handed it to the old man, but he would not accept it from her. However, she conjured him, by her own head and that of the Commander of the Faithful, that he should take it from her, till he took the cup from her hand and kissed it and would have set it down; but she conjured him by her life to smell it. So he smelt it and she said to him, "How deemest thou?" "Its smell is sweet," replied he; and she conjured him, by the life of the Commander of the Faithful, to taste it. So he put it to his mouth and she rose to him and made him drink; whereupon, "O princess of the fair," said he, "this is none other than good." Quoth she, "So deem I. Hath not our Lord promised us wine in Paradise?" And he answered, "Yes. Quoth the Most High, 'And rivers of wine, a delight to the drinkers.' (36) And we will drink it in this world and the world to come." She laughed and emptying the cup, gave him to drink, and he said, "O princess of the fair, indeed thou art excusable in thy love for this." Then he took from her another and another, till he became drunken and his talk waxed great and his prate.
The folk of the quarter heard him and assembled under the window; and when he was ware of them, he opened the window and said to them, "Are ye not ashamed, O pimps? Every one in his own house doth what he will and none hindereth him; but we drink one poor day and ye assemble and come, cuckoldy varlets that ye are! To-day, wine, and to-morrow [another] matter; and from hour to hour [cometh] relief." So they laughed and dispersed. Then the girl drank till she was intoxicated, when she called to mind her lord and wept, and the old man said to her, "What maketh thee weep, O my lady?" "O elder," replied she, "I am a lover and separated [from him I love]." Quoth he, "O my lady, what is this love?" "And thou," asked she, "hast thou never been in love?" "By Allah, O my lady," answered he, "never in all my life heard I of this thing, nor have I ever known it! Is it of the sons of Adam or of the Jinn?" She laughed and said, "Verily, thou art even as those of whom the poet speaketh, when as he saith ..." And she repeated the following verses:
The old man laughed at her speech and her verses pleased him. Then said she to him, "I desire of thee a lute." (38) So he arose and brought her a piece of firewood. Quoth she, "What is that?" And he said, "Didst thou not bid me bring thee wood?" "I do not want this," answered she, and he rejoined, "What then is it that is called wood, other than this?" She laughed and said, "The lute is an instrument of music, whereunto I sing." Quoth he, "Where is this thing found and of whom shall I get it for thee?" And she said, "Of him who gave thee the wine." So he arose and betaking himself to his neighbour the Jew, said to him, "Thou favouredst us aforetime with the wine; so now complete thy favours and look me out a thing called a lute, to wit, an instrument for singing; for that she seeketh this of me and I know it not" "Hearkening and obedience," replied the Jew and going into his house, brought him a lute. [The old man took it and carried it to Sitt el Milah,] whilst the Jew took his drink and sat by a window adjoining the other's house, so he might hear the singing.
The damsel rejoiced, when the old man returned to her with the lute, and taking it from him, tuned its strings and sang the following verses:
When she had made an end of her song, she wept sore, till presently sleep overcame her and she slept.
On the morrow, she said to the old man, "Get thee to the money-changer and fetch me the ordinary." So he repaired to the money-changer and delivered him the message, whereupon he made ready meat and drink, as of his wont, [with which the old man returned to the damsel and they ate till they had enough. When she had eaten,] she sought of him wine and he went to the Jew and fetched it. Then they sat down and drank; and when she grew drunken, she took the lute and smiting it, fell a-singing and chanted the following verses:
And when she had made an end of her song, she wept sore.
All this time, the young Damascene was hearkening, and whiles he likened her voice to that of his slave-girl and whiles he put away from him this thought, and the damsel had no whit of knowledge of him. Then she broke out again into song and chanted the following verses:
Then she drank three cups and filling the old man other three, sang the following verses:
When she had made an end of her song, she threw the lute from her hand and wept, whilst the old man wept for her weeping. Then she fell down in a swoon and presently coming to herself, filled the cup and drinking it off, gave the old man to drink, after which she took the lute and breaking out into song, chanted the following verses:
Then she wept till her voice rose high and her lamentation was discovered [to those without]; after which she again began to drink and plying the old man with wine, sang the following verses:
When she had made an end of her song, she threw the lute from her hand and wept and lamented. Then she slept awhile and presently awaking, said, "O elder, hast thou what we may eat?" "O my lady," answered the old man, "there is the rest of the food;" but she said, "I will not eat of a thing I have left. Go down to the market and fetch us what we may eat." Quoth he, "Excuse me, O my lady; I cannot stand up, for that I am overcome with wine; but with me is the servant of the mosque, who is a sharp youth and an intelligent. I will call him, so he may buy thee that which thou desirest." "Whence hast thou this servant?" asked she; and he replied, "He is of the people of Damascus." When she heard him speak of the people of Damascus, she gave a sob, that she swooned away; and when she came to herself, she said, "Woe's me for the people of Damascus and for those who are therein! Call him, O elder, that he may do our occasions."
So the old man put his head forth of the window and called the youth, who came to him from the mosque and sought leave [to enter]. The Muezzin bade him enter, and when he came in to the damsel, he knew her and she knew him; whereupon he turned back in bewilderment and would have fled; but she sprang up to him and seized him, and they embraced and wept together, till they fell down on the ground in a swoon. When the old man saw them in this plight, he feared for himself and fled forth, seeing not the way for drunkenness. His neighbour the Jew met him and said to him, "How comes it that I see thee confounded?" "How should I not be confounded," answered the old man, "seeing that the damsel who is with me is fallen in love with the servant of the mosque and they have embraced and fallen down in a swoon? Indeed, I fear lest the Khalif come to know of this and be wroth with me; so tell me thou what is to be done in this wherewith I am afflicted of the affair of this damsel." Quoth the Jew, "For the nonce, take this casting-bottle of rose-water and go forth-right and sprinkle them therewith. If they be aswoon for this their foregathering and embracement, they will come to themselves, and if otherwise, do thou flee."
The old man took the casting-bottle from the Jew and going up to Noureddin and the damsel, sprinkled their faces, whereupon they came to themselves and fell to relating to each other that which they had suffered, since their separation, for the anguish of severance. Moreover, Noureddin acquainted Sitt el Milah with that which he had endured from the folk who would have slain him and made away with him; and she said to him, "O my lord, let us presently give over this talk and praise God for reunion of loves, and all this shall cease from us." Then she gave him the cup and he said, "By Allah, I will nowise drink it, whilst I am in this plight!" So she drank it off before him and taking the lute, swept the strings and sang the following verses:
When she had made an end of her song, she wept and Noureddin wept also. Then she took the lute and improvised and sang the following verses:
When Noureddin heard these his slave-girl's verses, he fell a-weeping, what while she strained him to her bosom and wiped away his tears with her sleeve and questioned him and comforted his mind. Then she took the lute and sweeping its strings, played thereon, after such a wise as would move the phlegmatic to delight, and sang the following verses:
On this wise they abode till the morning, tasting not the savour of sleep; and when the day lightened, behold, the eunuch came with the mule and said to Sitt el Milah, "The Commander of the Faithful calleth for thee." So she arose and taking her lord by the hand, committed him to the old man, saying, "I commend him to thy care, under God, (40) till this eunuch cometh to thee; and indeed, O elder, I owe thee favour and largesse such as filleth the interspace betwixt heaven and earth."
Then she mounted the mule and repairing to the palace of the Commander of the Faithful, went in to him and kissed the earth before him. Quoth he to her, as who should make mock of her, "I doubt not but thou hast found thy lord." "By thy felicity and the length of thy continuance [on life,]" answered she, "I have indeed found him!" Now Er Reshid was leaning back; but, when he heard this, he sat up and said to her, "By my life, [is this thou sayest] true?" "Ay, by thy life!" answered she; and he said, "Bring him into my presence, so I may see him." But she replied, "O my lord, there have betided him many stresses and his charms are changed and his favour faded; and indeed the Commander of the Faithful vouchsafed me a month; wherefore I will tend him the rest of the month and then bring him to do his service to the Commander of the Faithful." Quoth Er Reshid, "True; the condition was for a month; but tell me what hath betided him." "O my lord," answered she, "may God prolong thy continuance and make Paradise thy place of returning and thy harbourage and the fire the abiding-place of thine enemies, when he presenteth himself to pay his respects to thee, he will expound to thee his case and will name unto thee those who have wronged him; and indeed this is an arrear that is due to the Commander of the Faithful, in (41) whom may God fortify the Faith and vouchsafe him the mastery over the rebel and the froward!"
Therewithal he ordered her a handsome house and bade furnish it with carpets and other furniture and vessels of choice and commanded that all she needed should be given her. This was done during the rest of the day, and when the night came, she despatched the eunuch with the mule and a suit of clothes, to fetch Noureddin from the Muezzin's lodging. So the young man donned the clothes and mounting; rode to the house, where he abode in luxury and delight a full-told month, what while she solaced him with four things, to wit, the eating of fowls and the drinking of wine and the lying upon brocade and the entering the bath after copulation. Moreover, she brought him six suits of clothes and fell to changing his apparel day by day; nor was the appointed time accomplished ere his beauty returned to him and his goodliness; nay, his charms waxed tenfold and he became a ravishment to all who looked on him.
One day the Commander of the Faithful bade bring him to the presence; so his slave-girl changed his raiment and clothing him in sumptuous apparel, mounted him on the mule. Then he rode to the palace and presenting himself before the Khalif, saluted him with the goodliest of salutations and bespoke him with eloquent and deep-thoughted speech. When Er Reshid saw him, he marvelled at the goodliness of his favour and his eloquence and the readiness of his speech and enquiring of him, was told that he was Sitt el Milah's lord; whereupon quoth he, "Indeed, she is excusable in her love for him, and if we had put her to death unrighteously, as we were minded to do, her blood would have been upon our heads." Then he turned to the young man and entering into discourse with him, found him well bred, intelligent, quick of wit and apprehension, generous, pleasant, elegant, erudite. So he loved him with an exceeding love and questioned him of his native city and of his father and of the manner of his journey to Baghdad. Noureddin acquainted him with that which he would know in the goodliest of words and with the concisest of expressions; and the Khalif said to him, "And where hast thou been absent all this while? Indeed, we sent after thee to Damascus and Mosul and other the towns, but lit on no tidings of thee." "O my lord," answered the young man, "there betided thy slave in thy city that which never yet betided any." And he acquainted him with his case from first to last and told him that which had befallen him of evil [from El Muradi and his crew].
When Er Reshid heard this, he was sore chagrined and waxed exceeding wroth and said, "Shall this happen in a city wherein I am?" And the Hashimi vein (42) started out between his eyes. Then he bade fetch Jaafer, and when he came before him, he acquainted him with the matter and said to him, "Shall this come to pass in my city and I have no news of it?" Then he bade Jaafer fetch all whom the young Damascene had named [as having maltreated him], and when they came, he let smite off their heads. Moreover, he summoned him whom they called Ahmed and who had been the means of the young man's deliverance a first time and a second, and thanked him and showed him favour and bestowed on him a sumptuous dress of honour and invested him with the governance over his city. (43)
Then he sent for the old man, the Muezzin, and when the messenger came to him and told him that the Commander of the Faithful sought him, he feared the denunciation of the damsel and accompanied him to the palace, walking and letting wind (44) as he went, whilst all who passed him by laughed at him. When he came into the presence of the Commander of the Faithful, he fell a-trembling and his tongue was embarrassed, [so that he could not speak]. The Khalif laughed at him and said to him, "O elder, thou hast done no offence; so [why] fearest thou?" "O my lord," answered the old man (and indeed he was in the sorest of that which may be of fear,) "by the virtue of thy pure forefathers, indeed I have done nought, and do thou enquire of my conduct." The Khalif laughed at him and ordering him a thousand dinars, bestowed on him a sumptuous dress of honour and made him chief of the Muezzins in his mosque.
Then he called Sitt el Milah and said to her, "The house [wherein thou lodgest] and that which is therein Is a guerdon [from me] to thy lord. So do thou take him and depart with him in the safeguard of God the Most High; but absent not yourselves from our presence." [So she went forth with Noureddin and] when she came to the house, she found that the Commander of the Faithful had sent them gifts galore and abundance of good things. As for Noureddin, he sent for his father and mother and appointed him agents and factors in the city of Damascus, to take the rent of the houses and gardens and khans and baths; and they occupied themselves with collecting that which accrued to him and sending it to him every year. Meanwhile, his father and mother came to him, with that which they had of monies and treasures and merchandise, and foregathering with their son, saw that he was become of the chief officers of the Commander of the Faithful and of the number of his session-mates and entertainers, wherefore they rejoiced in reunion with him and he also rejoiced in them.
The Khalif assigned them pensions and allowances and as for Noureddin, his father brought him those riches and his wealth waxed and his case was goodly, till he became the richest of the folk of his time in Baghdad and left not the presence of the Commander of the Faithful night or day. Moreover, he was vouchsafed children by Sitt el Milah, and he ceased not to live the most delightsome of lives, he and she and his father and mother, a while of time, till Aboulhusn sickened of a sore sickness and was admitted to the mercy of God the Most High. After awhile, his mother died also and he carried them forth and shrouded them and buried and made them expiations and nativities. (45) Then his children grew up and became like unto moons, and he reared them in splendour and fondness, what while his wealth waxed and his case flourished. He ceased not to pay frequent visits to the Commander of the Faithful, he and his children and his slave-girl Sitt el Milah, and they abode, he and they, in all solace of life and prosperity till there came to them the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies; and extolled be the perfection of the Abiding One, the Eternal! This is all that hath come down to us of their story.