THE CITY OF BRASS
It is related that the Commander of the Faithful Abdulmelik ben Merwan (53) was seated one day in his palace at Damascus, conversing with his grandees and officers of state of the histories of people of old time, when the talk turned upon the traditions of our lord Solomon, son of David, (on whom be peace,) and of that which God the Most High had bestowed on him of lordship and dominion over men and Jinn and birds and beasts and reptiles and other created things, and quoth one of those who were present, 'Of a truth we hear from those who forewent us that God (blessed and exalted be He!) vouchsafed unto none the like of that which He vouchsafed unto our lord Solomon and that he attained unto that whereto never attained other than he, in that he was wont to imprison Jinn and Marids and Satans in vessels of copper and stop them with molten lead and seal them with his signet.'
Then said Talib ben Sehl, (who was a seeker after treasures and had books that discovered to him hoards and treasures hidden under the earth,) 'O Commander of the Faithful, (God make thy dominion to endure and exalt thy dignity in the lands!) my father told me of my grandfather, that the latter once took ship with a company, intending for the island of Sicily, and sailed till there arose against them a contrary wind, which drove them from their course and brought them to a great mountain in one of the lands of God the Most High. Quoth my grandfather, "This was in the darkness of the night and as soon as it was day, there came forth to us, from the caves of the mountain, folk black of colour and naked of body, as they were wild beasts, understanding not what was said to them; nor was there any one of them who knew Arabic, except their King, who was of their own kind. When the latter saw the ship, he came down to it with a company of his followers and saluting us, bade us welcome and questioned us of our case. So we told him how we had been driven from our course by a contrary wind, and he said, 'No son of Adam hath ever come to our land before you: but fear not, no harm shall befall you, and rejoice in the assurance of safety and return to your own country.' Then he entertained us three days, feeding on the flesh of birds and wild beasts and fish, than which they had no other meat, and on the fourth day he carried us down to the beach, that we might divert ourselves by looking upon the fishermen. There we saw a fisherman, casting his nets to catch fish, and presently he pulled them up, and behold, in them was a casting-bottle of copper, stopped with lead and sealed with the signet of Solomon, son of David, on whom be peace. He brought the vessel to land and broke it open, when there came forth a blue smoke, which rose to the zenith, and we heard a terrible voice, saying, 'I repent! I repent! Pardon, O prophet of God! I will never return to that which I did aforetime.' Then the smoke became a terrible great giant, frightful to look upon, whose head was level with the mountain tops, and he vanished from our sights, whilst our hearts were like to burst for terror; but the blacks thought nothing of it. Then we returned to the King and questioned him of the matter; whereupon quoth he, 'Know that this was one of the Jinn whom Solomon, son of David, being wroth with them, shut up in these vessels and cast into the sea, after stopping the mouths with melted lead. Our fishermen ofttimes, in casting their nets, bring up the vessels, which being broken open, there come forth of them genies, who, deeming that Solomon is still alive and pardoneth them, make their submission to him and say, "I repent, O prophet of God!"'
The Khalif marvelled at Talib's story and said, 'Glory be to God! Verily, Solomon was given a mighty dominion.' Now En Nabigheh edh Dhubyani (54) was present, and he said, 'Talib hath spoken sooth, as is proven by the saying of the All-wise, the Primæval One:And Solomon, when God the Lord of old to him did say, "Take thou the Khalifate and rule with firm and strenuous sway.
Wherefore he used to put them in vessels of copper and cast them into the sea.'
The poet's words seemed good to the Khalif, and he said, 'By Allah, I long to look upon some of these vessels.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' replied Talib, 'it is in thy power to do so, without stirring abroad. Send to thy brother Abdulaziz ben Merwan, so he may write to Mousa ben Nuseir, (55) governor of Morocco, bidding him take horse thence to the mountains whereof I spoke and which adjoin the confines of his government, and fetch thee therefrom as many of the vessels in question as thou hast a mind to.' The Khalif approved his counsel and said, 'Thou hast spoken truly, O Talib, and I desire that thou be my messenger to Mousa ben Nuseir, touching this matter; wherefore thou shalt have the white ensign (56) and all thou hast a mind to of wealth and honour and so forth, and I will care for thy family during thine absence.' 'With all my heart, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered Talib. 'Go, with the aid and blessing of God,' said the Khalif and bade write a letter to his brother Abdulaziz, his viceroy in Egypt, and another to Mousa ben Nuseir, his viceroy in Northern Africa, bidding him, ceasing all excuse, take guides and go himself in quest of the vessels of Solomon, leaving his son to govern in his room. Moreover, he charged him to be not remiss in the matter and to spare neither men nor money. Then he sealed the letters and committed them to Talib, bidding him advance the [royal] ensigns before him and make his utmost speed; and he gave him treasure and horsemen and footmen, to further him on his way, and made provision for the wants of his household during his absence.
So Talib set out and arrived in due course at Cairo, where the governor came out to meet him and entertained him and his company whilst they tarried with him. Then he gave them a guide, to bring them to Upper Egypt, where the Amir Mousa had his abiding-place; and when the latter heard of Talib's coming, he went forth to meet him and rejoiced in him. Talib gave him the Khalif's letter, and he read it and laying it on his head, said, 'I hear and obey the Commander of the Faithful.' Then he assembled his chief officers and acquainting them with the Khalif's commandment, sought counsel of them how he should accomplish it. 'O Amir,' answered they, 'if thou seek one who shall guide thee to the place in question, send for the Sheikh Abdussemed son of Abdulcuddous es Semoudi, for he is a man of experience, who has travelled much and knoweth all the seas and wastes and deserts and countries of the world and the inhabitants and wonders thereof; wherefore send thou for him and he will surely guide thee to thy desire.'
So Mousa sent for him, and behold, he was a very old man, broken down with lapse of years and days. The Amir saluted him and said, 'O Sheikh Abdussemed, our lord the Commander of the Faithful, Abdulmelik ben Merwan, hath commanded me thus and thus. Now I have small knowledge of the land wherein is that which the Khalif desires; but it is told me that thou knowest it well and the way thither. Wilt thou, therefore, go thither with me and help me to accomplish the Khalif's need? So it please God the Most High, thy pains and travail shall not be wasted.' 'I hear and obey the bidding of the Commander of the Faithful,' replied the Sheikh; 'but know, O our lord, that the road thither is long and difficult and the ways few.' 'How far is it?' asked Mousa, and the Sheikh answered, 'It is a journey of two years and some months thither and the like back, and the way is full of perils and terrors and toils and wonders. Now thou art a champion of the Faith (57) and our country is hard by that of the enemy, and peradventure the Nazarenes may come out upon us in thine absence; wherefore it behoves thee to leave one to rule thy government in thy stead.' 'It is well,' answered the Amir and appointed his son Haroun governor during his absence, requiring the troops to take the oath of fealty to him and bidding them obey him in all he should command, which they promised to do.
Now this Haroun was a man of great prowess and a renowned warrior, and the Sheikh Abdussemed feigned to him that the place they sought was distant [but] four months' journey along the shore of the sea, with camping- places all the way, adjoining one another, and grass and springs, adding, 'God will assuredly make the matter easy to us for thy sake, O lieutenant of the Commander of the Faithful.' Quoth the Amir Mousa, 'Knowest thou if any of the kings have trodden this land before us?' 'Yes,' answered the Sheikh; 'it belonged aforetime to Darius the Greek, King of Alexandria.' But he said to Mousa [privily], 'O Amir, take with thee a thousand camels laden with victual and store of gugglets.' (58) 'And what shall we do with these [latter]?' asked the Amir. Quoth the Sheikh, 'In our way is the desert of Cyrene, the which is a vast desert, four days' journey long, and lacketh water, nor therein is voice to be heard or soul to be seen. Moreover there bloweth the Simoum and [other hot] winds called El Jewajib, that dry up the waterskins; but, if the water be in gugglets, no harm can come to it.' 'True,' answered Mousa and sending to Alexandria, let bring thence great plenty of gugglets. Then he took with him his Vizier and two thousand horse, clad in complete steel, and set out, whilst Abdussemed forewent them, riding on his hackney, to guide them.
They fared on diligently, now passing through inhabited countries and now ruins and anon traversing frightful deserts and thirsty wastes and anon mountains that rose high into the air; nor did they leave journeying a whole year's space, till, one morning, when the day broke, after they had travelled all night, the Sheikh found himself in a land he knew not and said, 'There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Supreme!' Quoth the Amir, 'What is to do, O Sheikh?' And he answered, saying, 'By the Lord of the Kaabeh, we have wandered from our road!' 'How cometh that?' asked Mousa, and Abdussemed replied, 'The stars were obscured and I could not guide myself by them.' 'Where are we now?' said the Amir, and the Sheikh, 'I know not; for I never set eyes on this land till now.' Quoth Mousa, 'Guide us back to the place where we went astray;' but the other said, 'I know it no more.' Then said Mousa, 'Let us push on; it may be God will guide us to it or direct us aright of His power.' So they fared on till the hour of noonday prayer when they came to a fair and wide champaign, level as it were the sea in a calm, and anon there appeared to them in the distance, some great thing, high and black, in whose midst was as it were smoke rising to the confines of the sky. They made for this and stayed not in their course, till they drew near thereto, when, behold, it was a high castle, firm of fashion and great and gruesome as it were a lofty mountain, builded all of black stone, with frowning battlements and a door of gleaming China steel, that dazzled the eyes and dazed the wit. Round about it were a thousand steps and in its midst was a dome of lead, a thousand cubits high, which appeared afar off as it were smoke.
When the Amir saw this, he marvelled thereat exceedingly and how this place was void of inhabitants; and the Sheikh, after he had certified himself thereof said, 'There is no god but God and Mohammed is the Apostle of God!' Quoth Mousa, 'I hear thee praise God and hallow him and [meseems] thou rejoicest.' 'O Amir,' answered Abdussemed, 'rejoice, for God (blessed and exalted be He!) hath delivered us from the frightful deserts and thirsty wastes.' 'How knowest thou that?' asked Mousa, and the other, 'I know it for that my father told me of my grandfather that he said, 'We were once journeying in this land and straying from the road, came to this palace and thence to the City of Brass;" between which and the place thou seekest is two months' travel; but thou must take to the sea-shore and leave it not, for there be wells and watering and camping places, established by King Iskender Dhoulkernein; for, when he went in quest of Morocco, he found by the way thirsty deserts and wastes and wilds and dug therein wells and built cisterns.' Quoth Mousa, 'May God rejoice thee with good news!' and Abdussemed said, 'Come, let us go look upon yonder palace and its marvels, for it is an admonition to whoso will be admonished.'
So the Amir went up to the palace, with the Sheikh and his chief officers, and coming to the gate, found it open. Now this gate was builded with lofty columns and porticoes whose walls were inlaid with gold and silver and precious stones, and there led up to it flights of steps, among which were two wide stairs of coloured marble, never was seen their like; and over the doorway was a tablet, whereon were graven letters of gold in the ancient Greek character. 'O Amir,' said the Sheikh, 'shall I read?' 'Read and may God bless thee!' replied Mousa. 'For all that betideth us in this journey dependeth upon thy blessing.' So the Sheikh, who was a very learned man and versed in all tongues and characters, went up to the tablet and read the following verses:Their vestiges, after that they once did do, Forewarn us that we in their footsteps must ensue.
When the Amir heard this, he wept till he lost his senses and said, 'There is no god but God, the Living, the Eternal, who ceaseth not!' Then he entered the palace and was confounded at its beauty and the goodliness of its ordinance. He diverted himself awhile by viewing the figures and images therein, till he came to another door, over which also were written verses, and said to the Sheikh, 'Come, read me these.' So he came forward and read as follows:How many in their halls have halted for a day Of old, then taken leave and fared upon their way!
At this the Amir wept sore; the world grew pale before his eyes and he said, 'Verily, we were created for a mighty matter!' Then they proceeded to explore the palace and found it desert and void of living thing, its chambers and dwelling-places laid waste and desolate. In the midst stood a lofty pavilion, with a dome rising high into the air, and about it were four hundred tombs, builded of yellow marble. The Amir drew near unto these and behold, amongst them was a great tomb, wide and long, and at its head a tablet of white marble, whereon were graven the following verses:How often have I stood, how oft set on in fight! How many a thing, indeed, hath passed before my sight!
The Amir and his companions wept; then, drawing near unto the pavilion, they saw that it had eight doors of sandal-wood, studded with nails of gold and stars of silver and inlaid with all manner precious stones. On the first door were written these verses:That which I left, I left it not of generous purpose; nay, But fate and fortune fore-ordained still o'er mankind bear sway.
When Mousa heard these verses, he wept till he swooned away; then, coming to himself, he entered the pavilion and saw therein a long tomb, dreadful to look upon, whereon was a tablet of China steel, bearing the following inscription: 'In the name of the Eternal God, the One, the Everlasting; in His name who begetteth not nor is begotten and to whom there is no like; in the name of God the Lord of Majesty and Might, the Living One who dieth not! O thou who comest to this place, take warning by that which thou seest of the doings of time and the vicissitudes of fortune and be not deluded by the world and its pomps and lies and fallacies and vain allurements, for that it is deceitful and flattering and treacherous, and the things thereof are but a loan, which it will take again from the borrower. It is like unto the dreams of the dreamer and the vain visions of the sleeper or as the mirage of the desert, which the thirsty take for water; (59) and Satan maketh it fair for men even unto death. These are the ways of the world; wherefore put not thou thy trust therein neither incline unto it, for it bewrayeth him who leaneth upon it and committeth himself thereunto in his affairs. Fall not thou into its toils neither take hold upon its skirts, [but be warned by my example]. I possessed four thousand bay horses and a palace, and I had to wife a thousand daughters of kings, high-bosomed maids, as they were moons. Moreover, I was blessed with a thousand sons, as they were fierce lions, and I abode a thousand years, glad of heart and mind, and amassed treasures beyond the competence of all the kings of the regions of the earth, deeming that delight would still endure to me; but there fell on me unawares the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies, he who desolates the abodes of men and lays waste the inhabited places, the slayer of great and small, babes and children and mothers, he who hath no compassion on the poor man, by reason of his poverty, neither feareth he kings, because of their commandment and forbiddance. Yea, we abode in security in this palace, till there descended upon us the judgment of the Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of the heavens and the earths; the vengeance of the Manifest Truth (60) overtook us and there died of us every day two, till a great company of us had perished. When I saw that destruction had entered our dwellings and taken up its abode with us and drowned us in the sea of deaths, I summoned a writer and bade him write these verses and admonitions, the which I let grave, with rule and compass, on these doors and tablets and tombs. Now I had an army of a thousand thousand horsemen, hardy, strong-armed warriors, armed with spears and coats of mail and sharp swords; so I bade them don their long hauberks and gird on their keen swords and mount their high-mettled chargers and couch their dreadful spears; and whenas there fell on us the doom of the Lord of heaven and earth, I said to them, "Ho, all ye soldiers and troopers, can ye avail to ward off that which is fallen on me from the Omnipotent King?" But they availed not unto this and said, "How shall we war with Him to whom no chamberlain bars access, the Lord of the gate that hath no doorkeeper?" Then quoth I to them, "Bring me my treasures." Now I had in my treasuries a thousand cisterns, in each of which were a thousand quintals of red gold and the like of white silver, besides pearls and jewels of all kinds and other things of price, beyond the competence of the kings of the earth. So they did as I bade them and when they had laid all the treasure before me, I said to them, "Can ye ransom me with all this treasure or buy me therewith one day of life?" But they could not; so I resigned myself to fore-ordained fate and submitted to the judgment of God, enduring patiently that which He decreed unto me of affliction, till he took my soul and made me to dwell in my grave. And if thou ask of my name, I am Koush, the son of Sheddad, son of Aad the Greater.'An thou wouldst know my name, who lived so long ago, After the shifts of time and fortune's changes, know
The Amir Mousa wept till he swooned away, for what he saw of the slaughtering-places of the folk; then, as they went about the palace, viewing its sitting-chambers and pleasaunces, they came upon a table of yellow onyx, upborne on four feet of juniper-wood, and thereon these words graven: 'A thousand kings blind of the right eye and a thousand blind of the left and yet other thousand sound of both eyes have eaten at this table, all of whom have departed the world and taken up their sojourn in the tombs and the burial-places.'
All this the Amir wrote down and left the palace, taking with him nothing but the table aforesaid. Then he fared on with his retinue three days' space, under the guidance of the Sheikh Abdussemed, till they came to a high hill, whereon stood a horseman of brass. In his hand he held a lance with a broad head of blinding brightness, whereon were graven the following words: 'O thou that comest hither, if thou know not the way to the Brazen City, rub the hand of this horseman and he will turn round and presently stop. Then take the direction in which he faces and fare on boldly, for it will bring thee, without hardship, to the City of Brass.'
The Amir accordingly rubbed the horseman's hand and he revolved, like the dazzling lightning, and stopped, facing in a direction other than that wherein they were journeying. So they took the road to which he pointed and finding it a beaten track, fared on days and nights till they came to a pillar of brass, wherein was one sunken up to his armpits. He had two great wings and four arms, two like men's arms and other two as they were lions' paws, with claws of iron, and he was black and tall, with hair like horses' tails and eyes like blazing coals, slit endlong in his face. Moreover, he had a third eye, as it were that of a lynx, amiddleward his forehead, from which flew sparks of fire, and he cried out, saying, 'Glory to my Lord, who hath adjudged unto me this grievous punishment and sore affliction until the Day of Resurrection!' When the folk saw him, they lost their reason for affright and turned to flee; and the Amir Mousa said to the Sheikh Abdussemed, 'What is this?' 'I know not,' answered he, whereupon quoth Mousa, 'Draw near and question him; haply he will discover to thee his case.' 'God assain the Amir!' replied the Sheikh. 'Indeed, I am afraid of him;' but the Amir rejoined, saying, 'Fear not; he is hindered from thee or any other by that wherein he is.'
So Abdussemed drew near to the pillar and said to him who was therein, 'O creature, what is thy name and what art thou and how camest thou here on this wise?' 'I am an Afrit of the Jinn,' replied he, 'by name Dahish, son of El Aamesh, and am confined here by way of punishment, by the judgment of the Almighty, till it please Him, to whom belong might and majesty, to release me.' Then said Mousa, 'Ask him why he is prisoned in this column.' So the Sheikh asked him of this, and he replied, saying, 'My story is strange and my case extraordinary, and it is on this wise. One of the sons of Iblis had an idol of red cornelian, whereof I was guardian, and there served it a king of the kings of the sea, a prince of great power and prowess, ruling over a thousand thousand warriors of the Jinn, who smote with swords before him and answered to his call in time of need. All these were under my commandment and did my bidding, being all rebels against Solomon, son of David, on whom be peace! And I used to enter the [hollow] belly of the idol and command and forbid them thence. Now this King's daughter loved the idol and was frequent in prostration to it and assiduous in its service; and she was the fairest woman of her day, accomplished in beauty and grace and elegance. She was described unto Solomon and he sent to her father, saying, "Give me thy daughter to wife and break thine idol of cornelian and testify that there is no god but God and that I am His prophet. If thou do this, that which is ours shall be thine and thy debt shall be our debt; but, if thou refuse, make ready to answer the summons [of God] and don thy grave-clothes, for I will come upon thee with an irresistible host, that shall fill the waste places of the earth and make thee even as yesterday that is passed away and hath no returning."
When this message reached the King, his pride revolted from obeying Solomon's bidding and he said to his Viziers, "Know that Solomon, son of David, hath sent, requiring me to give him my daughter to wife and break my idol of cornelian and enter his faith: what say ye of this?" "O mighty King," answered they, "how shall Solomon do thus with thee? Even could he come at thee in the midst of this vast ocean, he could not prevail against thee, for the Marids of the Jinn will fight on thy side and thou wilt seek succour of thine idol whom thou servest, and he will help thee and give thee the victory over him. So thou wouldst do well to consult thy Lord," meaning the idol aforesaid, "and hear what he says. If he say, 'Fight him,' fight him, and if not, not." So the King went in forthright to his idol and offered up sacrifices and slaughtered victims; after which he fell down before him, prostrate and weeping, and repeated the following verses:Lord, I know thy puissance and thy power confess: Solomon would have me break thee. In my stress,
Then I, of my ignorance and lack of wit and recklessness of the commandment of Solomon and want of knowledge of his power, entered the belly of the idol and made answer as follows:Solomon I fear not, dread him not to foe, For that, of my wisdom, everything I know.
When the King heard this, he hardened his heart and resolved to do battle with the prophet; wherefore he beat the messenger grievously and returned a flouting answer to Solomon, threatening him and saying, "Thy soul hath suggested to thee a vain thing: dost thou threaten me with lying words? But gird thyself for battle; for, an thou come not to me, I will assuredly come to thee."
The messenger returned to Solomon and told him all that had passed, which when the prophet heard, he was exceeding wroth and levied an army of men and Jinn and birds and beasts and reptiles. He commanded his Vizier Ed Dimiryat, King of the Jinn, to assemble the Marids of the Jinn from all parts, and he gathered together unto him six hundred millions of devils. Moreover, by his order, his Vizier Asef ben Berkhiya levied him an army of men, to the number of a thousand thousand or more. These all he equipped with arms and armour and mounting, with his host, upon his magic carpet, flew through the air, whilst the beasts fared under him and the birds flew overhead, till he lighted down on the island of the refractory King and encompassed it about, filling the earth with his hosts. Then he sent to our King, saying, "Behold, I am come: defend thyself against that which is fallen upon thee, or else make thy submission to me and confess my apostleship and give me thy daughter to wife and break thine idol and worship the one God, the alone Worship-Worth, and testify, thou and thine, that there is no god but God and that I am His prophet. This if thou do, thou shalt have peace and pardon; but, if not, it will avail thee nothing to fortify thyself in this island, for God, blessed and exalted be He, hath commanded the wind to obey me; so I will bid it bear me to thee on my carpet and make thee an example to deter others." But the King made answer to his messenger, saying, "It may not in any wise be as he demandeth; so tell him I come forth to him." Then he gathered together all the Jinn that were under his hand, to the number of a thousand thousand, and added to them other than they of Marids and Satans from the islands of the sea and the mountain-tops and opened his armouries and distributed to them arms and armour.
Meanwhile the prophet Solomon drew out his host in battle array, dividing the beasts into two bodies, one on the right wing and the other on the left, and bidding them tear the enemies' horses in sunder. Moreover, he commanded the birds to hover over their heads and whenas the assault should be made, that they should [swoop down upon their battle and] tear out their eyes with their beaks and buffet their faces with their wings; and they answered, saying, "We hear and obey God and thee, O prophet of God!" Then Solomon seated himself [on his carpet] on a throne of alabaster, inlaid with jewels and plated with red gold, and commanding the wind to bear him aloft, arrayed the beasts and vipers and serpents before him, setting his Vizier Asef ben Berkhiya and the kings of mankind on his right and his Vizier Ed Dimiryat and the kings of the Jinn on his left. Then they all set on us together, and we gave them battle two days over a vast plain; but, on the third day, disaster befell us and the judgment of God the Most High was executed upon us.
The first to charge upon them were I and my troops, and I said to my companions, "Abide in your places, whilst I sally forth to them and provoke Ed Dimiryat to single combat." And behold, he came forth as he were a vast mountain, casting out fire and smoke, and shot at me a flame of fire; but I swerved from it and it missed me. Then I cast at him, in my turn, a flame of fire, and it smote him; but his poison (61) overcame my fire and he cried out at me so terrible a cry that meseemed the skies were fallen on me, and the mountains shook at his voice. Then he commanded his hosts to charge; so they rushed on us and we on them, each crying out upon other whilst the air was filled with flames and smoke and hearts were like to cleave in sunder. The birds and the flying Jinn fought in the air and the beasts and men and the Jinn of the earth in the dust, and the battle raged and I fought with Ed Dimiryat, till I was aweary. At last, I grew weak and turned to flee from him, whereupon my companions and tribesmen likewise took to flight and my hosts were put to the rout, and Solomon cried out, saying, "Take yonder proud tyrant, accursed and infamous!" Then man fell upon man and genie upon genie and the armies of the prophet charged down upon us, with the beasts on their right hand and on their left, rending our horses and devouring our men, whilst the birds hovered above them in the air, pecking out our eyes with their claws and beaks and buffeting our faces with their wings, till the most of us lay prone upon the face of the earth, like palm tree trunks, and defeat befell our king and we became a spoil unto Solomon.
As for me, I fled from before Ed Dimiryat; but he followed me three months' journey, till I fell down for weariness and he overtook me and pouncing upon me, made me prisoner. Quoth I, "By the virtue of Him who hath advanced thee and abased me, spare me and bring me before Solomon, on whom be peace!" So he carried me before Solomon, who received me after the foulest fashion and let bring this pillar and hollow it out. Then he set me therein and chained me and sealed me with his signet, and Ed Dimiryat bore me to this place. Moreover, he charged a great angel to guard me, and this pillar is my prison until the Day of Judgment.'
The folk marvelled at his story and at the frightfulness of his favour, and the Amir Mousa said, 'There is no god but God! Of a truth Solomon was gifted with a mighty dominion.' Then said the Sheikh Abdussemed to the genie, 'Harkye, I would fain ask thee of a thing, whereof do thou inform us.' 'Ask what thou wilt,' answered Dahish and the Sheikh said, 'Are there hereabouts any of the Afrits imprisoned in vessels of brass in the time of Solomon, on whom be peace?' 'Yes,' replied the genie; 'there be such in the sea of El Kerker, on the shores whereof dwell a people of the lineage of Noah, on whom be peace; for their country was not reached by the Deluge and they are cut off there from the [other] sons of Adam.' 'And which,' asked Abdussemed, 'is the way to the City of Brass and the place wherein are the vessels of Solomon, and what distance is there between us and it?' Quoth the Afrit, 'It is near at hand,' and directed them in the way thither.
So they left him and fared on till there appeared to them, afar off, a great blackness and therein two fires facing one another, and the Amir Mousa said to the Sheikh, 'What is yonder vast blackness and its twin fires?' 'Rejoice, O Amir,' answered the guide; 'for this is the City of Brass, as it is described in the Book of Hidden Treasures. Its walls are of black stone and it hath two towers of Andalusian brass, which appear to the beholder in the distance as they were twin fires, and hence is it named the City of Brass.'
Then they fared on without ceasing till they drew near the city and saw it as it were a piece of a mountain or a mass of iron cast in a mould. So they lighted down and sought for a gate, but saw none neither found any trace of opening in the walls, albeit there were five-and-twenty gates to the city, but none of them was visible from without. Then said the Amir, 'O Sheikh, I see no sign of any gate to this city;' and he answered, saying, 'O Amir, thus is it described in my Book of Hidden Treasures; it hath five-and-twenty gates, but none thereof may be opened save from within the city.' 'And how,' asked Mousa, 'shall we do to enter the city and view its wonders!' 'May God assain the Amir!' said Talib. 'Let us rest here two or three days, and God willing, we will make shift to come into the city.'
Then Mousa bade one of his men mount a camel and ride round about the city, so haply he should light upon a gate or breach by which they might enter. So he mounted and rode round the city two days and two nights, without drawing rein to rest, but found the wall thereof as it were one block, without breach or way of ingress; and on the third day, he came again in sight of his companions, amazed at what he had seen of the extent and loftiness of the place, and said, 'O Amir, the easiest place of access is this where you are encamped.' Then Mousa took Talib and Abdussemed and ascended a high hill that overlooked the town. When they reached the top, they turned and beheld beneath them a city, never saw eyes a greater or goodlier, full of lofty palaces and glittering domes and fair-builded mansions and running streams and orchards laden with fruit and flowered pleasaunces, a gated city and an inexpugnable; but it was silent and deserted, without sound or movement or sign of life, except the hooting of the owl in its market-places and the wheel of the birds over its gardens and the croak of ravens in its streets and thoroughfares, bewailing those that had been therein.
The Amir stood awhile, sorrowing for the desolation of the city and saying, 'Glory to Him whom nor ages nor times change, Him who created all things of His might!' Presently, he chanced to look aside and caught sight of seven tablets of white marble afar off. So he drew near them and finding inscriptions graven thereon, called the Sheikh and bade him read these. Accordingly, he came forward and examining the inscriptions, found that they contained matter of admonition and warning and restraint to those of understanding. On the first tablet was inscribed, in the ancient Greek character, the following: 'O son of Adam, how heedless art thou of that which is before thee! Verily, thy years and months and days have diverted thee therefrom. Knowest thou not that the cup of death is filled for thee and that ere long thou must drain it to the dregs? Look to thyself before thou enter thy grave. Where be they who held the dominion over the lands and abased God's servants and led armies? By Allah, the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies and the Devastator of inhabited houses came down upon them and transported them from their spacious palaces to the narrow room of the grave.'
And at the foot of the tablet were written the following verses:Where be the kings and where be they the earth who peopled? Where? That which they built thereon they left and to the grave did fare.
When the Amir heard this, he cried out and the tears ran down his cheeks and he exclaimed, 'By Allah, it is surest and most fitting to abstain from the world!' And he called for inkhorn and paper and wrote down what was graven on the tablet.
Then he drew near the second tablet and found these words graven thereon: 'O son of Adam, what hath seduced thee [from the service of] the Ancient of Days and made thee forget that thou must one day pay the debt of death? Knowest thou not, thou that takest thought unto the world and cleavest fast thereto, that it is a perishing dwelling, wherein there is abiding for none? Where be the kings who peopled Irak and possessed the four quarters of the world? Where be they who peopled Ispahan and the land of Khorassan? The voice of the summoner of death called them and they answered him, and the herald of destruction hailed them and they replied, saying, "Here are we." Verily, that which they builded and fortified profited them not, neither did what they had gathered and provided [against a time of stress] avail for their defence.'
And at the foot of the tablet were graven the following verses:Where be they these halls who builded and their galleries reared on high, Galleries whose stately fashion nought resembles neath the sky
The Amir wept and exclaimed, 'By Allah, we are indeed created for a grave matter!' Then he copied the above inscription and passed on to the third tablet, whereon was written what follows: 'O son of Adam, thou busiest thee with the love of the world and neglectest the commandment of thy Lord. All the days of thy life pass by and thou art content to live thus. Make ready thy provision against the appointed day and prepare to answer the Lord of all creatures.'
And at the foot were written these verses:Where's he who peopled all the lands, both Hind and Sind, of yore? He who transgressed and sinned and played the tyrant heretofore?
At this Mousa wept sore, then, going on to the fourth tablet, he read the following inscription thereon: 'O son of Adam, how long shall thy Lord bear with thee and thou every day sunken in the sea of thy delight? Hath it then been revealed unto thee that thou shalt not die? O son of Adam, let not the deceitful delights of thy days and nights and hours delude thee, but remember that death lieth in wait for thee, ready to spring on thy shoulders, nor doth a day pass but he riseth with thee in the morning and lieth down with thee by night. Beware, then, of his onset and make provision thereagainst. As it was with me, so is it with thee; thou wastest thy whole life and squanderest the delight of thy days. Hearken, therefore, to my rede and put thy trust in the Lord of Lords; for there is no stability in the world; it is but as a spider's web.'
And at the foot of the tablet were written the following verses:Where's he who traced the house and builded it forthright And fortified its walls and reared it to the height?
When the Amir read this, he swooned away and [presently coming to himself] marvelled exceedingly and wrote it down. Then he drew near the fifth tablet and behold, thereon was graven what follows: 'O son of Adam, what is it distracts thee from the obedience of thy Creator and the Author of thy being, Him who reared thee, whenas thou wast little, and fed thee, whenas thou grewest up? Thou art ungrateful for His bounty, albeit He watcheth over thee with His favours, letting down the curtain of His protection over thee. Needs must there be for thee a time more bitter than aloes and hotter than live coals. Provide thee, therefore, against it; for who shall sweeten its bitterness or quench its flaming fires? Bethink thee who forewent thee of peoples and heroes and take warning by them, ere thou perish.'
And at the foot of the tablet were graven the following verses:Where be the kings of the kings of the earth? Indeed, they are sped, And here, with that which they gathered, they lie in the graveyard's bed.
The Amir marvelled at this and wrote it down; after which he passed on to the sixth tablet and found thereon the following inscription: 'O son of Adam, think not that immunity will endure [for ever,] seeing that death is irrevocably decreed unto thy head. Where be thy fathers and thy brethren, where thy friends and dear ones? They have all gone to the dust of the tombs and presented themselves before the Glorious, the Forgiving One, as if they had never eaten nor drunken, and they are a pledge for that which they have earned. So look to thyself, ere thy tomb come upon thee.'
And at the foot of the tablet were graven these verses:Where be the kings of the kings of the Franks and where Is he who, I trow, abode in Tenjeh whilere?
At this Mousa marvelled and wrote it down, saying, 'There is no god but God! Indeed, how goodly were these folk!' Then he went up to the seventh tablet and behold, thereon was written what follows: 'Glory to Him who fore-ordaineth death to all He createth, the Living One, who dieth not! O son of Adam, let not thy days and their delights delude thee, neither thine hours and the sweet of their tides, and know that death cometh to thee and sitteth upon thy shoulders. Beware, then, of his assault and make ready for his onset. As it was with me, so is it with thee; thou wasteth the sweet of thy life and the delight of thine hours. Give ear, then, to my rede and put thy trust in the Lord of Lords and know that there is no stability in the world, but it is as it were a spider's web and all that is therein shall cease and die. Where is he who laid the foundations of Amid (62) and builded it and builded Farikin (63) and exalted it? Where be the peoples of the strong places? Whenas they had inhabited them [awhile], they descended, after their might, into the tombs. They have been carried off [by death] and we shall be [in like manner] afflicted. None abideth save God the Most High, God the Forgiving One.'
The Amir Mousa wept and copied all this, and indeed the world was belittled in his eyes. Then he descended the hill and rejoined his troops, with whom he passed the rest of the day, casting about for a means of access to the city. And he said to his Vizier [and] Talib ben Sehl and his chief officers, 'How shall we do to enter this city and view its marvels? It may be we shall find therein wherewithal to propitiate the favour of the Commander of the Faithful.' 'God prolong the Amir's fortune!' replied Talib. 'Let us make a ladder and mount the wall therewith, so haply we may come at the gate from within.' Quoth the Amir, 'This is what came to my thought also, and it is good counsel.' And he called for carpenters and blacksmiths and bade them cut wood and make a ladder clamped and banded with iron. So they made a strong ladder and wrought at it a whole month. Then all the company laid hold of it and set it up against the wall, and it reached the top as truly as if it had been made for it aforetime. The Amir marvelled at the excellence of their work and said, 'The blessing of God be upon you! It seemeth as though ye had taken the measure of the wall.' Then said he to his men, 'Which of you will mount the ladder and walk along the wall and cast about for a way of descending into the city, so to see how the case stands and let us know how we may open the gate?' Quoth one of them, 'I will go up, O Amir, and descend and open to you.' And Mousa answered, saying, 'Go and the blessing of God go with thee!'
So he mounted the ladder; but, when he came to the top of the wall, he stood up and gazed fixedly down into the city, then clapped his hands and crying out, at the top of his voice, 'By Allah, thou art fair!' cast himself down into the place and was dashed to pieces. Quoth Mousa, 'By Allah, the man is destroyed!' But another came up to him and said, 'O Amir, this was a madman and doubtless his madness got the better of him and undid him. I will go up and open the gate to you, if it be the will of God the Most High.' 'Go,' replied Mousa, 'and may God bless thee! But beware lest thou lose thy head, even as did he.' Then the man mounted the ladder, but no sooner had he reached the top of the wall than he laughed aloud and saying, 'Well done! Well done!' cast himself down into the city and died forthright.
When the Amir saw this, he said, 'If this be the fashion of a reasonable man, what is that of the madman? If all our men do thus, we shall have none left and shall fail of our errand and that of the Commander of the Faithful. Let us depart hence, for we have no concern with this city.' But another of the company said, 'Peradventure another may be steadier than they.' So a third mounted the wall and a fourth and a fifth and all cried out and cast themselves down, even as did the first; nor did they leave to do thus, till a dozen had perished.
Then said the Sheikh Abdussemed, 'This adventure is reserved for none other than myself, for the man of experience is not like the inexperienced.' Quoth the Amir, 'Indeed, I will not have thee go up, for thou art our guide and if thou perish, we shall all be cut off to the last man.' But he answered, saying, 'Peradventure, that which we seek may be accomplished at my hands, by the grace of God the Most High.' So they all agreed to let him go up, and he arose and heartening himself, said, 'In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful!' and mounted the ladder, calling on the name of God and reciting the Verses of Safety. (64) When he reached the top of the wall, he clapped his hands and gazed fixedly down into the city; whereupon the folk below cried out to him with one accord, saying, 'O Sheikh Abdussemed, for God's sake cast not thyself down!' And they said, 'Verily, we are God's and to Him we return! If the Sheikh fall, we are all dead men.'
Then he laughed long and loud and sat a great while, reciting the names of God and repeating the Verses of Safety; then he rose and cried out at the top of his voice saying, 'O Amir, have no fear: no hurt shall betide you, for God (to whom belong might and majesty) hath averted from me the wiles and malice of Satan, by the blessing of the words, "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful!"' 'O Sheikh,' quoth Mousa, 'what didst thou see?' 'When I came to the top of the wall,' answered Abdussemed, 'I saw ten maidens, as they were moons, calling and beckoning to me with their hands, as who should say, "Come hither to us;" and meseemed there was below me a lake of water. Therewith I thought to throw myself down, when behold, I espied my twelve companions lying dead, so I restrained myself and recited somewhat of the book of God the Most High, whereupon He dispelled from me the damsels' wiles and sorceries and they disappeared. And doubtless this was an enchantment devised by the people of the city, to repel those who should seek to enter the place.'
Then he walked on along the wall, till he came to the two towers of brass [from which the city took its name,] and saw therein two gates of gold, without locks or visible means of opening; whereat he marvelled and gazed about him awhile, till he espied, amiddleward one of the gates, a horseman of brass with hand outstretched, as if pointing, and thereon somewhat written. So he went up to it and read these words: 'Turn the pin in my navel twelve times, and the gate will open.' Accordingly, he examined the horseman's body and finding in his navel a pin of gold, firm-set and curiously wrought, turned it twelve times, whereupon the horseman revolved like the blinding lightning and the gate swung open with a noise like thunder. He entered and found himself in a long passage, which brought him down some steps into a guardroom, furnished with goodly benches, whereon sat men dead, with richly wrought targets and keen swords and bended bows and arrows on the string hanging at their heads.
Passing on, he came to the outer gate and finding it secured with curiously wrought locks and bars and bolts and other fastenings of wood and iron, said in himself, 'Belike the keys are with yonder dead folk.' So he turned back to the guardroom and seeing, amongst the dead soldiers, an old man seated upon a high bench, who seemed the chiefest of them, said in himself, 'Who knows but they are with this old man? Doubtless he was the seneschal of the city, and these others were under his hand.' So he went up to him and lifting his gown, saw the keys hanging to his girdle, whereat he rejoiced with an exceeding joy and was like to fly for gladness. Then he took them and going up to the gate, undid the locks and drew back the bolts and bars, whereupon the great gate swung open with a noise like the pealing thunder. At this he cried out, saying, 'God is most great!' And the folk without answered him with the same words, rejoicing and thanking him for his deed.
The Amir Mousa also rejoiced with an exceeding joy in the Sheikh's safety and the opening of the city-gate, and they all pressed forward to enter; but Mousa cried out to them, saying, 'O folk, it is not safe that we all enter at once, lest some ill chance betide us. Let half enter and other half tarry without.' So he entered with half his men, bearing their weapons of war, and saw the doorkeepers and guards and chamberlains and officers lying dead on couches of silk. Then they passed through the inner gate and coming upon their comrades lying dead, buried them; after which they fared on till they came to a great market-place, full of lofty buildings, none of which overpassed other, and saw all the shops open, with the scales hung out and the brazen vessels ranged in order and the magazines full of all manner goods and the merchants sitting in their places, dead, with shrivelled skin and rotted bones, a warning to those who can take warning; and here they saw four separate markets.
Then they went on till they came to the silk-market, where they found silks and brocades, woven with red gold and white silver upon all manner of colours, and the owners lying dead upon mats of scented goats' leather, as if they would speak; after which they traversed the market of pearls and rubies and other jewels and came to that of the money-changers, whom they saw sitting dead upon silken carpets, in shops full of gold and silver. Thence they passed to the drug-market, where they saw the shops filled with drugs of all kinds and bladders of musk and ambergris and aloes and camphor and other perfumes in vessels of ivory and ebony and khelenj-wood and Spanish brass, the which is equal in value to gold, and various kinds of Indian cane; but the shopkeepers were all dead, nor was there with them aught of food.
Hard by this last market they came upon a palace, magnificently built and decorated; so they entered and found therein banners displayed and drawn swords and bended bows and bucklers hanging by chains of gold and silver and helmets gilded with red gold. In the vestibules stood benches of ivory, plated with glittering gold and covered with silken stuffs, whereon lay men, whose skin had dried up on their bones; the unknowing had deemed them sleeping, but, for lack of food, they had perished and tasted the cup of death.
When the Amir Mousa saw this, he stood still, glorifying God the Most High and hallowing Him and contemplating the beauty of the palace and the fair perfection of its ordinance, for it was builded after the goodliest and stablest fashion and the most part of its adornment was of green lapis-lazuli; and on the inner door, which stood open, were written, in characters of gold and ultramarine, the following verses:Consider what thou seest here, O mortal, and beware And to thine end take thought before thou hence away must fare.
When the Amir read this, he wept, till he was like to swoon away, and bade write down the verses, after which he passed on into the inner palace and came to a vast hall, at each of whose four corners stood a lofty and spacious pavilion, enamelled with gold and silver and painted in various colours. Midmost the hall was a great fountain of alabaster, surmounted by a canopy of brocade, and in each of the pavilions was a richly-wrought fountain and cistern paved with marble and streams flowing in channels along the floor and meeting in a great cistern of many-coloured marble.
Quoth the Amir to the Sheikh Abdussemed, 'Come, let us visit yonder pavilions.' So they entered the first and found it full of gold and silver and pearls and rubies and other precious stones and metals, besides chests filled with brocades, red and white and yellow. Then they repaired to the second pavilion and opening a closet there, found it full of arms and armour, such as gilded helmets and Davidean (65) hauberks and Indian swords and Arabian spears and Chorasmian maces and other warlike gear. Thence they passed to the third pavilion, wherein they saw closets locked and covered with curtains wrought with all manner broidery. They opened one of these and found it full of weapons curiously wrought and inlaid with gold and silver and jewels. Then they entered the fourth pavilion and opening one of the closets there, beheld in it great store of eating and drinking vessels of gold and silver, with platters of crystal and cups set with fine pearls and goblets of cornelian and so forth. So they all fell to taking that to which they had a mind, and each of the soldiers carried off what he could.
When they left the pavilions, they saw in the midst of the palace a door of teak-wood, inlaid with ivory and ebony and plated with glittering gold, over which hung a silken curtain, wrought with all manner broideries, and on this door were locks of white silver, that opened by artifice without a key. The Sheikh Abdussemed went boldly up thereto and by the aid of his knowledge and skill, succeeded in opening the locks, whereupon the door swung back and admitted them into a corridor paved with marble and hung with tapestries broidered with figures of all manner beasts and birds, whose bodies were wroughten of red gold and white silver and their eyes of pearls and rubies, amazing all who saw them. Passing along the corridor, they came to a saloon builded all of polished marble, inlaid with jewels, so wonder-clear and smooth that it seemed to the beholder as there were water running over its floor and whoso walked thereon slipped. The Amir bade the Sheikh strew thereon somewhat, that they might walk over it; which being done, they made shift to pass on till they came to a great pavilion of stone, plated with red gold and crowned with a dome of alabaster, about which were set lattice-windows, painted and jewelled with wands of emerald, beyond the competence of any king; nor had they seen aught goodlier in all the place.
Under this dome was a canopy of brocade, reared upon columns of red gold and wrought with figures of birds with feet of emerald, and beneath each bird was a network of fine pearls. The canopy was spread above a fountain of ivory and cornelian, plated with glittering gold and set with pearls and rubies and other jewels, and thereby stood a couch and a pillar of red gold. On the top of the pillar was perched a bird fashioned of red rubies and holding in its bill a pearl, that shone like a star; and on the couch lay a damsel, as she were the shining sun, never saw eyes a fairer. She was clad in a robe of fine pearls, with a crown of red gold on her head, filleted with gems, and on her brow were two great jewels, whose light was as the light of the sun. On her breast she wore a jewelled amulet, filled with musk and ambergris and worth the empire of the Cæsars, and round her neck hung a collar of rubies and great pearls, [hollow and] full of odoriferous musk. Whoso looked on her would deem her alive and not dead, for it seemed as if she gazed on them with eyes as they were gazelles' eyes, that followed them from side to side.
The Amir Mousa marvelled at her beauty and was confounded at the blackness of her hair and the redness of her cheeks and said to her, 'Peace be on thee, O damsel!' But she returned not his salutation and the Sheikh said to him, 'O Amir, verily this damsel is dead and there is no life in her; so how shall she return thy greeting? Indeed, she is but a corpse embalmed with exceeding art; her eyes were taken out after her death and quicksilver set under them, after which they were restored to their sockets. Wherefore they glisten and when the air moves the lashes, she seems to wink and it appears to the beholder as though she looked at him, for all she is dead.' At this the Amir marvelled beyond measure and said, 'Glory be to God, who subjecteth His creatures unto death!'
Now the couch, on which the damsel lay, had steps, and thereon stood two slaves, one white and the other black. The first held a mace of iron and the second a sword of watered steel, whose radiance dazzled the eye; and between them, on one of the steps of the couch, lay a golden tablet, whereon were written, in characters of white silver, the following words: 'In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful! Praise be to God, the Creator of mankind, the Lord of Lords, the Causer of Causes! In the name of the Eternal God, the Everlasting, the Ordainer of Fate and Fortune! O son of Adam, how unknowing art thou in thine unending hope and how heedless of the inevitable end! Knowst thou not that death calleth for thee and hasteneth to seize upon thy soul? Be ready, therefore, for the last journey and provide thee [for thy departure] from the world; for, assuredly, ere long thou shalt leave it. Where is Noah and his progeny? Where be the kings of the Chosroës and the Cæsars? Where the kings of India and Chaldæa and the monarchs of the four quarters of the earth? Where be the sons of Amalek and the giants of old time? Indeed, the dwelling-places are void of them and they have departed lands and kindred. Where be the kings of the Arabs and the princes of the barbarians? They are dead, all of them, and are become corruption. Where be the lords of high degree? They are all dead. Where are Korah and Haman? Where is Sheddad son of Aad? Where be Canaan and the Lord of the Stakes (66)? By Allah, the Reaper of lives (67) hath cut them off and made void the lands of them. Did they provide them against the appointed day or make ready to answer the Lord of all creatures?
O man, if thou know me not, I will acquaint thee with my name: I am Tedmureh, daughter of the kings of the Amalekites, of those who held dominion over the lands and brought low the necks of mankind. I possessed that which never king possessed and was righteous in my rule and did justice among my subjects; yea, I gave gifts and largesse and freed slaves, male and female. Thus lived I many years in all ease and delight of life, till death knocked at my gates and calamities took up their abode with me and with my folk; and it was on this wise. There betided us seven successive years of drought, wherein no drop of rain fell on us from heaven and no green thing sprouted for us on the face of the earth. So we ate what was with us of victual and [when we had made an end thereof] we fell upon the cattle and ate them, till there was nothing left. Then I let bring my treasures and meted them with a measure and sent out trusty men to buy food. They visited all the lands in quest thereof and left not a single city unsought, but found no victual and returned to us with the treasure, after a long absence, disappointed, and gave us to know that they could not avail to barter fine pearls for wheat, bushel for bushel neither weight for weight. So, when we despaired of succour, we displayed all our riches and things of price and shutting the gates of the city, resigned ourselves to the judgment of our Lord and committed our affair to our Master. Then we all died, as thou seest us, and left what we had builded and what we had treasured up. This, then, is our story, and after the substance abideth the trace.'
Then they looked at the foot of the tablet and read these verses:O son of Adam, let not hope make mock of thee, I pray. From all thy hands have treasured up thou shalt be snatched away.
And under this was written: 'By Allah, the fear of God is the best of all things, the keystone of certainty and the [only] sure stay. Verily, death is the manifest truth and the sure promise, and therein, O man, is the goal and place of returning. Take warning, therefore, by those who have foregone thee to the dust and hastened in the way of the predestined end. Seest thou not that hoariness calls thee to the grave and that the whiteness of thy locks maketh moan for thee of thy life? Wherefore be thou on the watch, ready for thy departure and account. O son of Adam, what hath seduced thee from the service of thy Lord? Where be the peoples of old time? [They are become] a warning to whoso will take warning. Where be the kings of China and the lords of power and prowess? Where is Sheddad ben Aad and where the cities he built and stablished? Where is the proud tyrant Nimrod and Pharaoh who rebelled against God and denied Him? Death followed hard upon them and laid them low, sparing neither great nor small, male nor female; yea, and the Reaper of Mankind cut them off, by Him who maketh the night to return upon the day!
Know, O thou who comest to this place, that she whom thou seest here was not deluded by the world and its frail delights, for it is deceitful, perfidious, a house of perdition and vanity, and salutary to the creature is the remembrance of his sins; wherefore she feared her Lord and made fair her dealings and provided herself against the appointed day. Whoso cometh to our city and God vouchsafeth him to enter it, let him take of the treasure what he may, but touch not aught that is on my body, for it is the covering of my nakedness and my furniture for the last journey; wherefore let him fear God and despoil nought thereof; else will he destroy himself. This have I set for a warning from me to him and a trust; wherewith, peace be on you and I pray God to keep you from sickness and calamity.'
When the Amir Mousa read this, he wept till he swooned away and presently coming to himself, wrote down all he had seen and heard and was admonished thereby. Then he bade his men fetch the camels and load them with these treasures and vases and jewels. 'O Amir,' quoth Talib, 'shall we leave yonder damsel with what is upon her? Behold, they are things that have not their equal and whose like is not to be found and more perfect than aught else thou takest; nor couldst thou find a goodlier gift wherewithal to propitiate the favour of the Commander of the Faithful.' 'O man,' replied Mousa, 'heardst thou not what the lady says on the tablet? More by token that she gives it in trust to us, and we are no traitors [that we should betray a trust].' 'And shall we,' rejoined Talib, 'because of these words, leave yonder jewels and riches, seeing that she is dead? What should she do with these that are the adornments of the world and the ornament of the live? We have more right to them than she, seeing that one garment of cotton would suffice for her covering.' So saying, he mounted the steps of the couch, but when he came within reach of the two slaves, the mace-bearer smote him on the back and the other struck him with the sword he held in his hand and cut off his head, and he fell down dead. Quoth the Amir, 'May God have no mercy on thy soul! Indeed, there was enough in these treasures, and covetise assuredly dishonoureth a man.' Then he bade admit the troops; so they entered and loaded the camels with the treasures; after which they went forth the city and the Amir let shut the gate as before.
They fared on along the sea-shore a whole month, till they came in sight of a high mountain, overlooking the sea and full of caves, wherein dwelt a tribe of blacks, speaking an unknown tongue and clad in skins, with hooded cloaks of the same on their heads. When they saw the troops, they took fright and fled into the caverns, whilst their women and children stood at the doors, looking on the strangers. 'O Sheikh,' said the Amir, 'what are these folk?' 'They are those whom we seek,' answered Abdussemed. So they halted and setting down their loads, pitched their tents; whereupon down came the King of the blacks from the mountain and drew near the camp.
Now he understood the Arabic tongue; so, when he came to the Amir, he saluted him and Mousa returned his greeting and entreated him with honour. Then said he to the Amir, 'Are ye men or Jinn?' 'We are men,' answered Mousa; 'but doubtless ye are Jinn, of the vastness of your stature and your dwelling apart in this mountain, that is cut off from mankind.' 'Nay,' rejoined the black; 'we also are children of Adam, of the lineage of Ham, son of Noah, on whom be peace; and this sea is known as El Kerker.' Quoth Mousa, 'O king, what is your religion and what worship ye?' And he answered, saying, 'We worship the God of the heavens and our religion is that of Mohammed, whom God bless and keep!' 'And how came ye by the knowledge of this,' asked the Amir, 'seeing that no prophet inspired of God hath visited this country?' 'Know, O Amir,' replied the King, 'that there appeared to us [aforetime] from out the sea a man, from whom issued a light that illumined the whole horizon, and he cried out, in a voice that was heard of far and near, saying, 'O children of Ham, bow down to Him who seeth and is not seen and say, "There is no god but God and Mohammed is His apostle!" And he added, "I am Aboulabbas el Khizr." Before this, we used to worship one another, but he called us to the service of the Lord of all creatures. Moreover, he taught us to repeat these words, "There is no god save God alone, who hath no partner, and His are the kingdom and the praise. He giveth life and death and He can do all things." Nor do we draw near unto God (to whom belong might and majesty) but with these words, for we know none other; but every Friday eve we see a light upon the face of the earth and hear a voice saying, "Holy and glorious, Lord of the Spirit and the Angels! What He willeth, is, and what He willeth not, is not. Every blessing is of the grace of God and there is neither power nor virtue save in Him the Most High, the Supreme!"
'But ye,' said the black king, 'who and what are ye and what brings you to this land?' Quoth Mousa, 'We are officers of the sovereign of Islam, the Commander of the Faithful Abdulmelik ben Merwan, who hath heard tell of the lord Solomon, son of David (on whom be peace), and of that which God the Most High bestowed upon him of supreme dominion, how he held sway over Jinn and beasts and birds and was wont, whenas he was wroth with one of the Marids, to shut him in a vessel of brass and stopping its mouth on him with lead, whereon he impressed his seal, to cast him into the sea of Kerker. Now we have heard tell that this sea is in your country; so the Commander of the Faithful hath sent us hither, to fetch him some of these vessels, that he may look thereon and divert himself with their sight. This, then, is our case and what we seek of thee, O King, and we desire that thou further us in the accomplishment of our errand for the Commander of the Faithful.' 'With all my heart,' replied the black king and carrying them to the guest-house, entreated them with the utmost honour and furnished them with all they needed, feeding them upon fish.
They abode thus three days, at the end of which time he bade his divers fetch some of the vessels of Solomon from out the sea. So they dived and brought up twelve vessels, whereat the Amir and his company rejoiced in the accomplishment of the Khalif's need. Then Mousa gave the King of the blacks many and great gifts, and he in turn made him a present of wonders of the deep, being fish in human form, (68) saying, 'Your entertainment these three days has been of these fish.' Quoth the Amir, 'Needs must we carry some of these to the Khalif, for they will please him more than the vessels of Solomon.'
Then they took leave of the black king and setting out on their homeward journey, travelled till they came to Damascus, when Mousa went in to the Commander of the Faithful and told him all that they had seen and heard, together with the manner of the death of Talib ben Sehl; and the Khalif said, 'Would I had been with you, that I might have seen what you saw!' Then he took the brazen vessels and opened them, one after another, whereupon the devils came forth of them, saying, 'We repent, O prophet of God! Never again will we return to the like of this thing.' And the Khalif marvelled at this, saying, 'Never gave God unto any man the like of that which He bestowed upon Solomon, son of David!' As for the mermaids, they made them tanks of wood, full of water, and laid them therein; but they died of the great heat.
Then the Khalif divided the spoils of the Brazen City among the faithful, and the Amir Mousa sought leave of him to appoint his son governor of Africa in his stead, that he might betake himself to the holy city of Jerusalem, there to worship God. So the Commander of the Faithful invested Haroun with the government and Mousa repaired to Jerusalem, where he died. This, then, is all that hath come down to us of the story of the City of Brass, and God [alone] is All-knowing!