NUR AL-DIN ALI OF DAMASCUS AND THE DAMSEL SITT AL-MILAH. [FN#280]
There was one, in days of yore and in ages and times long gone before, a merchant of the merchants of Damascus, by name Abu al-Hasan, who had money and means, slave-blacks and slave-girls, lands and gardens, houses and Hammams in that city; but he was not blessed with boon of child and indeed his age waxed great. So he addressed himself to supplicate [FN#281] Allah Almighty in private and in public and in his bows and his prostrations and at the season of prayer-call, beseeching Him to vouchsafe him, before his decease, a son who should inherit his wealth and possessions. The Lord answered his prayer; his wife conceived and the days of her pregnancy were accomplished and her months and her nights; and the travail-pangs came upon her and she gave birth to a boy, as he were a slice of Luna. He had not his match for beauty and he put to shame the sun and the resplendent moon; for he had a beaming face and black eyes of Bábilí witchery [FN#282] and aquiline nose and carnelian lips; in fine, he was perfect of attributes, the loveliest of folk of his time, sans dubitation or gainsaying. His father joyed in him with exceeding joy and his heart was solaced and he was at last happy: he made banquets to the folk and he clad the poor and the widows. Presently he named the boy Sídí Nur al-Din Ali and reared him in fondness and delight among the hand-maids and thralls. When he had passed his seventh year, 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 was taught horsemanship and archery and to occupy himself with arts and sciences of all kinds, part and parts. [FN#283] He grew up pleasant and polite, winsome and lovesome; a ravishment to all who saw him, and he inclined to companying with brethren and comrades and mixing with merchants and travelled men. From these he heard tell of that which they had witnessed of the wonders of the cities in their wayfare and heard them say, "Whoso journeyeth not enjoyeth naught; [FN#284] especially of the city of Baghdad." So he was concerned with exceeding concern for his lack of travel and disclosed this to his sire, who said to him, "O my son, why do I see thee chagrined?" Quoth he, "I would fain travel;" and quoth Abu al-Hasan, "O my son, none travelleth save those whose need is urgent and those who are compelled thereto by want. As for thee, O my son, thou enjoyest ample means; so do thou content thyself with that which Allah hath given thee and be bounteous to others, even as He hath been bountiful to thee; and afflict not thyself with the toil and tribulation of travel, for indeed it is said that travel is a piece of Hell-torment." [FN#285] But the youth said, "Needs must I journey to Baghdad, the House of Peace." When his father saw the strength of his resolve to travel he fell in with his wishes and fitted him out with five thousand dinars in cash and the like in merchandise and sent with him two serving-men. So the youth fared forth, on the blessing of Allah Almighty; [FN#286] and his parent went out with him, to take leave of him, and returned to Damascus. As for Nur al-Din Ali, he ceased not travelling days and nights till he entered Baghdad city, and laying up his loads in the Wakálah, [FN#287] made for the Hammam-bath, where he did away that which was upon him of the soil of the road and doffing his travelling clothes, donned a costly suit of Yamaní stuff, worth an hundred dinars. Then he loaded his sleeve with a thousand miskals of gold and sallied forth a-walking and swaying gracefully as he paced along. His gait confounded all those who gazed upon him, as he shamed the branches with his shape and belittled the rose with the redness of his cheeks and his black eyes of Babilí witchcraft: thou wouldst deem that whoso looked on him would surely be preserved from bane and bale; [FN#288] for he was even as saith of him one of his describers in these couplets:--
"Thy haters and enviers say for jeer * A true say that profits what ears will hear;
'No boast is his whom the gear adorns; * The boast be his who adorns the gear!'"
So Sidi Nur al-Din went walking in the highways of the city and viewing its edifices and its bazars and thoroughfares and gazing on its folk. Presently, Abú Nowás met him. (Now he was of those of whom it is said, "They love fair lads," and indeed there is said what is said concerning him.) [FN#289] When he saw Nur al-Din Ali, he stared at him in amazement and exclaimed, "Say, I take refuge with the Lord of the Daybreak!" Then he accosted the youth and saluting him, asked him, "Why do I see my lord lone and lorn? Meseemeth thou art a stranger and knowest not this country; so, with leave of my lord, I will put myself at his service and acquaint him with the streets, for that I know this city." Nur al-Din answered, "This will be of thy favour, O nuncle." Abu Nowas rejoiced at this and fared on with him, showing him the streets and bazars, 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," replied Nur al-Din; and Abu Nowas said, "By Allah, thou art from a blessed city, even as saith of it the poet in these couplets,
'Now is Damascus a garth adorned * For her seekers, the Houris and Paradise-boys.'"
Sidi Nur al-Din thanked him and the twain entered the mansion of the slave-merchant. When the people of the house saw Abu Nowas, they rose to do him reverence, for that which they knew of his rank with the Commander of the Faithful; and the slave-dealer himself came up to them with two chairs whereon they seated themselves. Then the slave-merchant went inside and returning with a slave-girl, as she were a branch of Ban or a rattan-cane, clad in a vest of damask silk and tired with a black and white headdress whose ends fell down over her face, seated her on a chair of ebony; after which he cried to those who were present, "I will discover to you a favour as it were a full moon breaking forth from under a cloud-bank." They replied, "Do so;" whereupon he unveiled the damsel's face and behold, she was like the shining sun, with shapely shape and dawn-bright cheeks and thready waist and heavy hips; brief, she was endowed with an elegance, whose description is unfound, and was even as saith of her the poet, [FN#290]
"A fair one, to idolaters if she herself should show, They'd leave their idols and her face for only Lord would know;
And if into the briny sea one day she chanced to spit, Assuredly the salt sea's floods straight fresh and sweet would grow."
The dealer stood at the hand-maid's head and one of the merchants said, "I bid a thousand dinars for her." Quoth another, "I bid one thousand one hundred dinars;" and a third, "I bid twelve hundred." Then said a fourth merchant, "Be she mine for fourteen hundred ducats." And the biddings standing still at that sum, her owner said, "I will not sell her save with her consent: an if she desire to be sold, I will sell her to whom she willeth." The slave-dealer asked him, "What is her name?" Answered the other, "Her name is Sitt al-Miláh;" [FN#291] whereupon the dealer said to her, "With thy leave, I will sell thee to yonder merchant for this price of fourteen hundred dinars." Quoth she, "Come hither to me." So the man-vendor came up to her and when he drew near, gave him a kick with her foot and cast him to the ground, saying, "I will not have that oldster." The slave-dealer arose, shaking the dust from his dress and head, and cried, "Who biddeth more of us? Who is desirous?" [FN#292] Said one of the merchants, "I," and the dealer said to her, "O Sitt al-Milah, shall I sell thee to this merchant?" She replied, "Come hither to me;" but he rejoined, "Nay; speak and I will hear thee from my place, for I will not trust myself to thee nor hold myself safe when near thee." So she cried, "Indeed I will not have him." Then the slave-dealer looked at her and seeing her fix eyes on the young Damascene, for that in very deed he had fascinated her with his beauty and loveliness, went up to him and said to him, "O my lord, art thou a looker-on or a buyer? Tell me." Quoth Nur al-Din, "I am both looker-on and buyer. Wilt thou sell me yonder slave-girl for sixteen hundred ducats?" And he pulled out the purse of gold. Hereupon 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 al-Milah, shall I sell thee to yonder young Damascene for sixteen hundred dinars?" But she answered, "No," of bashfulness before her master and the bystanders; whereupon the people of the bazar and the slave-merchant departed, and Abu Nowas and Ali Nur al-Din arose and went each his own way, whilst the damsel returned to her owner's house, full of love for the young Damascene. When the night darkened on her, she called him to mind and her heart hung 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 asked her, "O Sitt al-Milah, how findest thou thyself?" Answered she, "O my lord, dead without chance of deliverance and I beseech thee to bring me my shroud, so I may look upon it ere I die." Therewith he went out from her, sore concerned for her, and betaking himself to the bazar, found 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 quoth he, "Sitt al-Milah is at the point of death and for 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 upon it ere I die.'" The draper replied, "Methinks naught aileth her but that she is in love with the young Damascene, and I counsel thee to mention his name to her and declare to her that he hath foregathered with thee on her account and is desirous of coming to thy quarters, so he may hear somewhat of her singing. An 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, an she say 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 al-Milah, I went out for thy need and there met me the young man of Damascus, and he saluted me with the salam and saluteth thee; he seeketh to win thy favour and prayed me to admit him as 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 leave her body, and answered, "He knoweth my plight and how these three days past I have not eaten nor drunken, and I beseech thee, O my lord, by Allah of All-Might, to do thy duty by the stranger 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 familiar the draper and said to him, "Thou wast right in the matter of the damsel, for that she is in love with the young Damascene; so how shall I manage?" Said the other, "Go to the bazar and when thou seest him, salute him, and say to him, 'Thy departure the other day, without winning thy wish, was grievous to me; so, an thou be still minded to buy the maid, I will abate thee of that which thou badest for her an hundred sequins by way of gaining thy favour; seeing thou be a stranger in our land.' If he say to thee, 'I have no desire for her,' and hold off from thee, be assured that he will not buy; in which case, let me know, so I may devise 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 bazar, where he found the youth seated at the upper end of the place where the merchants mostly do meet, 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 salam and he said to him, "O my lord, be not offended at the damsel's speech the other day, for her price shall be lowered to the intent that I may secure thy favour. An thou desire her for naught, I will send her to thee or an thou wouldst have me abate to thee her price, I will well, for I desire nothing save what shall content thee; seeing thou art a stranger in our land and it behoveth us to treat thee hospitably and have consideration for thee." The youth replied, "By Allah, I will not take her from thee but at an advance on that which I bade thee for her afore; so wilt thou now sell her to me for one thousand and seven hundred dinars?" And the other rejoined, "O my lord, I sell her to thee, may Allah bless thee in her!" Thereupon the young man went to his quarters and fetching a purse, sent for the girl's owner and weighed out to him the price aforesaid, whilst the draper was between the twain. Then said he, "Bring her forth;" but the other replied, "She cannot come forth at this present; but be thou my guest the rest of this day and night, and on the morrow thou shalt take thy slave-girl and go in the ward of Allah." The youth agreed with him on this and he carried him to his house, where, after a little, he bade meat and wine be brought, and they ate and drank. Then said Nur al-Din to the girl's owner, "I would have thee bring me the damsel, because 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 al-Milah, the young man hath paid down thy price and we have bidden him hither; so he hath come to our quarters and we have entertained him, and he would fain have thee be present with him." Therewith the damsel rose deftly and doffing her dress, bathed and donned sumptuous apparel and perfumed herself and went out to him, as she were a branch of Ban or a cane of rattan, 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 screwing up its pegs, [FN#293] smote thereon in four-and-twenty modes, after which she returned to the first and sang these couplets,
"My joy in this world is to see and sit near thee. * Thy love's my religion; thy Union my pleasure.
Attest it these tears when in memory I speer thee, * And unchecked down my cheeks pours the flood without measure.
By Allah, no rival in love hast to fear thee; * I'm thy slave as I sware, and this troth is my treasure.
Be not this our last meeting: by Allah I swear thee * Thy severance to me were most bitter displeasure!"
The young man was moved to delight and cried, "By Allah, thou sayest well, O Sitt al-Milah! Let me hear more." Then he largessed her with fifty gold pieces and they drank and the cups made circuit among them; and her seller said to her, "O Sitt al-Milah, this is the season of farewelling; so let us hear somewhat thereon." Accordingly she struck the lute and touching upon that which was in her heart, improvised these couplets,
"I thole longing, remembrance and sad repine, * Nor my heart can brook woes in so lengthened line.
O my lords think not I forget your love; * My case is sure case and cure shows no sign.
If creature could swim in the flood of his tears, * I were first to swim in these floods of brine:
O Cup-boy withhold cup and bowl from a wretch * Who ne'er ceaseth to drink of her tears for wine!
Had I known that parting would do me die, * I had shirked to part, but--'twas Fate's design."
Now whilst they were thus enjoying whatso is most delicious of ease and delight, and indeed the wine was to them sweet and the talk a treat, behold, there came a knocking at the door. So the house-master went out, that he might see what might be the matter, and found ten head of the Caliph's eunuchs at the entrance. When he saw this, he was startled and said, "What is to do?" "The Commander of the Faithful saluteth thee and requireth of thee the slave-girl whom thou hast exposed for sale and whose name is Sitt al-Milah." "By Allah, I have sold her." "Swear by the head of the Commander of the Faithful that she is not in thy quarters." The slaver made oath that he had sold her and that she was no longer at his disposal: yet they paid no heed 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 Prince of True Believers. Therewith Nur al-Din's pleasure was troubled: he arose and donned his dress, and his host said, "Whither away this night, O my lord?" Said he, "I purpose going to my quarters, and tomorrow I will betake myself to the palace of the Commander of the Faithful and demand my slave-girl." The other replied, "Sleep till the morning, and fare not forth at the like of this hour." But he rejoined, "Needs must I go;" and the host said to him, "Go in Allah his safeguard." So the youth went forth and, drunkenness having got the mastery of his wits, he threw himself down on a bench before one of the shops. Now the watchmen were at that hour making their rounds and they smelt the sweet scent of essences and wine that reeked from him; so they made for it and suddenly beheld the youth lying on the bench, without sign of recovering. They poured water upon him, and he awoke, whereupon they carried him off to the office of the Chief of Police and he questioned him of his case. He replied "O my lord, I am an alien in this town and have been with one of my friends: I came forth from his house and drunkenness overcame me." The Wali bade carry him to his lodging; but one of those in attendance upon him, Al-Murádi hight, said to him, "What wilt thou do? This man is robed in rich raiment and on his finger is a golden ring, whose bezel is a ruby of great price; so we will carry him away and slay him and take that which is upon him of clothes and bring to thee all we get; for that thou wilt not often see profit the like thereof, especially as this fellow is a foreigner and there is none to ask after him." [FN#294] Quoth the Chief, "This wight is a thief and that which he saith is leasing." Nur al-Din said, "Allah forfend that I should be a thief!" but the Wali answered, "Thou liest." So they stripped him of his clothes and taking the seal-ring from his finger, beat him with a grievous beating, 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 [FN#295] of that which ye have taken from me; but now restore me to my lodging." They replied, "Leave this knavery, O rascal! thine intent is to sue us for thy clothes on the morrow." The youth cried, "By the truth of the One, the Eternal One, I will not sue any for them!" but they said, "We find no way to this." And the Prefect bade them bear him to the Tigris and there slay him and cast him into the stream. So they dragged him away, while he wept and said the words which shall nowise shame the sayer: "There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great!" When they came to the Tigris, one of them drew the sword upon him and Al-Muradi said to the sworder, "Smite off his head;" but one of them, hight Ahmad, cried, "O folk, deal softly with this poor wretch and slay him not unjustly and wickedly, for I stand in fear of Allah Almighty, lest He burn me with his fire." Quoth Al-Muradi, "A truce to this talk!" and quoth the Ahmad aforesaid, "An ye do with him aught, I will acquaint the Commander of the Faithful." They asked, "How, then, shall we do with him?" 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 a wronged man." Accordingly they agreed to this and taking him up cast him into the Prison of Blood, [FN#296] and then went their ways. So far as regards them; but returning to the damsel, they carried her to the Commander of the Faithful and she pleased him; so he assigned her a chamber of the chambers of choice. She tarried in the palace, neither eating nor drinking, and weeping sans surcease night and day, till, one night, the Caliph sent for her to his sitting-hall and said to her, "O Sitt al-Milah, be of good cheer and keep thine eyes cool of tear, for I will make thy rank higher than any of the concubines and thou shalt see that which shall rejoice thee." She kissed ground and wept; whereupon the Prince of True Believers called for her lute and bade her sing: so in accordance with that which was in her heart, she sang these improvised couplets,
"By the sheen of thy soul and the sheen of thy smile, [FN#297] * Say, moan'st thou for doubt or is't ring-dove's moan?
How many have died who by love were slain! * Fails my patience but blaming my blamers wone."
Now when she had made an end of her song, she threw the lute from her hand and wept till she fainted away, whereupon the Caliph bade carry her to her chamber. But he was fascinated by her and loved her with exceeding love; so, after a while, he again commanded to bring her in to the presence, and when she came, he ordered her to sing. Accordingly, she took the lute and chanted to it that which was in her heart and improvised these couplets,
"Have I patience and strength to support this despair? * Ah, how couldst thou purpose afar to fare?
Thou art swayed by the spy to my cark and care: * No marvel an branchlet sway here and there! [FN#298]
With unbearable load thou wouldst load me, still * Thou loadest with love which I theewards bear."
Then she cast the lute from her hand and fainted away; so she was carried to her sleeping-chamber and indeed passion grew upon her. After along while the Prince of True Believers sent for her a third time and commanded her to sing. So she took the lute and chanted these couplets,
"O of piebald wild ye dunes sandy and drear, * Shall the teenful lover 'scape teen and tear?
Shall ye see me joined with a lover, who * Still flies or shall meet we in joyful cheer?
O hail to the fawn with the Houri eye, * Like sun or moon on horizon clear!
He saith to lovers, 'What look ye on?' * And to stony hearts, 'Say, what love ye dear?' [FN#299]
I pray to Him who departed us * With severance-doom, 'Be our union near!'"
When she had made an end of her verse, the Commander of the Faithful said to her, "O damsel, thou art in love." She replied, "Yes;" and he asked, "With whom?" Answered she, "With my lord and sovran of my tenderness, for whom my love is as the love of the earth for rain, or as the desire 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 Prince of True Believers, whenever I call him to mind my vitals are consumed, for that I have not yet won my wish of him, and but that I fear to die, without seeing him, I had assuredly slain myself." Thereupon quoth he, "Art thou in my presence and durst bespeak me with the like of these words? Forsure I will gar thee forget thy lord." Then he bade take her away; so she was carried to her pavilion and he sent her a concubine, with a casket wherein were three thousand ducats and a collar of gold set with seed-pearls and great unions, 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 cried, "Allah forfend that I be consoled for the love of my lord and my master, though with an earth-full of gold!" And she improvised and recited these couplets,
"By his life I swear, by his life I pray; * For him fire I'd enter unful dismay!
'Console thee (cry they) with another fere * Thou lovest!' and I, 'By 's life, nay, NAY!'
He's moon whom beauty and grace array; * From whose cheeks and brow shineth light of day."
Then the Commander of the Faithful summoned her to his presence a fourth time and said, "O Sitt al-Milah, sing." So she recited and sang these couplets,
"The lover's heart by his beloved is oft disheartenPd * And by the hand of sickness eke his sprite dispiritPd,
One asked, 'What is the taste of love?" [FN#300] and I to him replied, * 'Love is a sweet at first but oft in fine unsweetened.'
I am the thrall of Love who keeps the troth of love to them [FN#301] * But oft they proved themselves 'Urkúb [FN#302] in pact with me they made.
What in their camp remains? They bound their loads and fared away; * To other feres the veilPd Fairs in curtained litters sped;
At every station the beloved showed all of Joseph's charms: * The lover wone with Jacob's woe in every shift of stead."
When she had made an end of her song, she threw the lute from her hand and wept herself a-swoon. So they sprinkled on her musk-mingled rose-water and willow-flower water; and when she came to her senses, Al-Rashid said to her, "O Sitt al-Milah, this is not just dealing in thee. We love thee and thou lovest another." She replied, "O Commander of the Faithful, there is no help for it." Thereupon he was wroth with her and cried, "By the virtue of Hamzah [FN#303] and 'Akíl [FN#304] and Mohammed, Prince of the Apostles, an thou name in my presence one other than I, I will assuredly order strike off thy head!" Then he bade return her to her chamber, whilst she wept and recited these couplets,
'Oh brave!' I'd cry an I my death could view; * My death were better than these griefs to rue,
Did sabre hew me limb by limb; this were * Naught to affright a lover leal-true."
Then the Caliph went in to the Lady Zubaydah, complexion-altered 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?" He replied, "O daughter of my uncle, I have a beautiful slave-girl, who reciteth verses by rote and telleth various tales, and she hath taken my whole heart; but she loveth other than myself and declareth that she affecteth her former lord; so I have sworn a great oath that, if she come again to my sitting- hall and sing for other than for me, I will assuredly shorten her highest part by a span." [FN#305] Quoth Zubaydah, "Let the Commander of the Faithful favour me by presenting her, so I may look on her and hear her singing." Accordingly he bade fetch her and she came, upon which the Lady Zubaydah withdrew behind the curtain, [FN#306] where the damsel saw her not, and Al-Rashid said to her, "Sing to us." So she took the lute and tuning it, recited these couplets,
"O my lord! since the day when I lost your sight, * My life was ungladdened, my heart full of teen;
The memory of you kills me every night; * And by all the worlds is my trace unseen;
All for love of a Fawn who hath snared my sprite * By his love and his brow as the morning sheen.
Like a left hand parted from brother right * I became by parting thro' Fortune's spleen.
On the brow of him Beauty deigned indite * 'Blest be Allah, whom best of Creators I ween!'
And Him I pray, who could disunite * To re-unite us. Then cry 'Ameen!'" [FN#307]
When Al-Rashid heard the end of this, he waxed exceeding wroth and said, "May Allah 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 slavegirl." So Masrur took her by the hand and led her away; but, when she came to the door, she turned and said to the Caliph, "O Commander of the Faithful, I conjure thee, by thy fathers and forefathers, behead me not until thou give ear to that I shall say!" Then she improvised and recited these couplets,
"Emir of Justice, be to lieges kind * For Justice ever guides thy generous mind;
And, oh, who blamest love to him inclining! * Are lovers blamed for lâches undesigned?
By Him who gave thee rule, deign spare my life * For rule on earth He hath to thee assigned."
Then Masrur carried her to the other end of the sitting-hall and bound her eyes and making her sit, stood awaiting a second order: whereupon quoth the Lady Zubaydah, "O Prince of True Believers, with thy permission, wilt thou not vouchsafe this damsel a portion of thy clemency? An thou slay her, 'twere injustice." Quoth he, "What is to be done with her?" and quoth she, "Forbear to slay her and send for her lord. If he be as she describeth him in beauty and loveliness, she is excused, and if he be not on this wise then kill her, and this shall be thy plea aainst her." [FN#308] Al-Rashid replied, "No harm in this rede;" and caused return the damsel to her chamber, saying to her, "The Lady Zubaydah saith thus and thus." She rejoined, "God requite her for me with good! Indeed, thou dealest equitably, O Commander of the Faithful, in this judgment." And he retorted, "Go now to thy place, and tomorrow we will bid them bring thy lord." So she kissed ground and recited these couplets,
"I indeed will well for whom love I will: * Let chider chide and let blamer blame:
All lives must die at fixt tide and term * But I must die ere my life-term came:
Then Oh whose love hath afflicted me * Well I will but thy presence in haste I claim."
Then she arose and returned to her chamber. Now on the morrow, the Commander of the Faithful sat in his hall of audience and his Wazir Ja'afar bin Yahya 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 Nur al-Din Ali the Damascene." Quoth Ja'afar, "Hearing and obeying," and going forth in quest of the youth, sent to the bazars and Wakalahs and Khans for three successive days, but discovered no trace of him, neither happened upon the place of him. So on the fourth day he presented himself before the Caliph and said to him, "O our lord, I have sought him these three days, but have not found him." Said Al-Rashid, "Make ready letters to Damascus. Peradventure he hath returned to his own land." Accordingly Ja'afar wrote a letter and despatched it by a dromedary-courier to the Damascus-city; and they sought him there and found him not. Meanwhile, news was brought that Khorasan had been conquered; [FN#309] whereupon Al-Rashid rejoiced and bade decorate Baghdad and release all in the gaol, giving each of them a ducat and a dress. So Ja'afar applied himself to the adornment of the city and bade his brother Al-Fazl ride to the prison and robe and set free the prisoners. Al-Fazl did as his brother commanded and released all save the young Damascene, who abode still in the Prison of Blood, saying, "There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great! Verily, we are God's and to Him are we returning." Then quoth Al-Fazl to the gaoler, "Is there any left in the prison?" Quoth he, "No," and Al-Fazl was about to depart, when Nur al-Din called out to him from within the prison, saying, "O our lord, tarry awhile, for there remaineth none in the prison other than I and indeed I am wronged. This is a day of pardon and there is no disputing concerning it." Al-Fazl bade release him; so they set him free and he gave him a dress and a ducat. Thereupon the young man went out, bewildered and unknowing whither he should wend, for that he had sojourned in the gaol a year or so and indeed his condition was changed and his favour fouled, and he abode walking and turning round, lest Al-Muradi come upon him and cast him into another calamity. When Al-Muradi learnt his release, he betook himself to the Wali and said, "O our lord, we are not assured of our lives from that youth, because he hath been freed from prison and we fear lest he complain of us." Quoth the Chief, "How shall we do?" and quoth Al-Muradi, "I will cast him into a calamity for thee." Then he ceased not to follow the Damascene from place to place till he came up with him in a narrow stead and cul-de-sac; whereupon he accosted him and casting a cord about his neck, cried out, "A thief!" The folk flocked to him from all sides and fell to beating and abusing Nur al-Din, [FN#310] whilst he cried out for aidance but none aided him, and Al-Muradi kept saying to him, "But yesterday the Commander of the Faithful released thee and to-day thou robbest!" So the hearts of the mob were hardened against him and again Al-Muradi carried him to the Chief of Police, who bade hew off his hand. Accordingly, the hangman took him and bringing out the knife, proceeded to cut off his hand, while Al-Muradi said to him, "Cut and sever the bone and fry [FN#311] not in oil the stump for him, so he may lose all his blood and we be at rest from him." But Ahmad, he who had before been the cause of his deliverance, sprang up to him and cried, "O folk, fear Allah in your action with this youth, for that I know his affair, first and last, and he is clear of offence and guiltless: he is of the lords of houses, [FN#312] and unless ye desist from him, I will go up to the Commander of the Faithful and acquaint him with the case from beginning to end and that the youth is innocent of sin or crime." Quoth Al-Muradi, "Indeed, we are not assured from his mischief;" and quoth Ahmad, "Set him free and commit him to me and I will warrant you against his doings, for ye shall never see him again after this." So they delivered Nur al-Din to him and he took him from their hands and said to him, "O youth, have ruth on thyself, for indeed thou hast fallen into the hands of these folk twice and if they prevail over thee a third time, they will make an end of thee; and I in doing thus with thee, aim at reward for thee and recompense in Heaven and answer of prayer." [FN#313] So Nur al-Din fell to kissing his hand and blessing him said, "Know that I am a stranger in this your city and the completion of kindness is better than its commencement; wherefore I pray thee of thy favour that thou make perfect to me thy good offices and generosity and bring me to the city-gate. So will thy beneficence be accomplished unto me and may God Almighty requite thee for me with good!" Ahmad replied, "No harm shall betide thee: go; I will bear thee company till thou come to thy place of safety." And he left him not till he brought him to the city-gate and said to him, "O youth, go in Allah's guard and return not to the city, for, an they fall in with thee again, they will make an end of thee." Nur al-Din 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 naught wherewith he might cover himself; so he wrapped himself up in one of the mats of the mosque and thus abode till dawn, when the Muezzins came and finding him seated in such case, said to him, "O youth, what is this plight?" Said he, "I cast myself on your protection, imploring this defence from a company of folk who seek to slay me unjustly and wrongously, without cause." And one of the Muezzins said, "I will protect thee; so be of good cheer and keep thine eyes cool of tear." Then he brought him old clothes and covered him therewith; he also set before him somewhat of victual and seeing upon him signs of fine breeding, said to him, "O my son, I grow old and desiring help from thee, I will do away thy necessity." Nur al-Din replied, "To hear is to obey;" and abode with the old man, who rested and took his ease, while the youth did his service in the mosque, celebrating the praises of Allah and calling the Faithful to prayer and lighting the lamps and filling the spout-pots [FN#314] and sweeping and cleaning out the place of worship. On this-wise it befel the young Damascene; but as regards Sitt al-Milah, the Lady Zubaydah, the wife of the Commander of the Faithful, made a banquet in her palace and assembled her slave-girls. And the damsel came, weeping-eyed and heavy-hearted, and those present blamed her for this, whereupon she recited these couplets,
"Ye blame the mourner who weeps his woe; * Needs must the mourner sing, weeping sore;
An I see not some happy day I'll weep * Brine-tears till followed by gouts of gore."
When she had made an end of her verses, the Lady Zubaydah bade each damsel sing a song, till the turn came round to Sitt al-Milah, whereupon she took the lute and tuning it, carolled thereto four-and-twenty carols in four-and-twenty modes; then she returned to the first and sang these couplets,
"The World hath shot me with all her shafts * Departing friends parting-grief t' aby:
So in heart the burn of all hearts I bear * And in eyes the tear-drops of every eye."
When she had made an end of her song, she wept till she garred the bystanders weep and the Lady Zubaydah condoled with her and said to her, "Allah upon thee, O Sitt al-Milah, sing us some, what, so we may hearken to thee." The damsel replied, "Hearing and obeying," and sang these couplets,
"People of passion, assemble ye! * This day be the day of our agony:
The Raven o' severance croaks at our doors; * Our raven which nigh to us aye see we.
The friends we love have appointed us * The grievousest parting-dule to dree.
Rise, by your lives, and let all at once * Fare to seek our friends where their sight we see."
Then she threw the lute from her hand and shed tears till she drew tears from the Lady Zubaydah who said to her, "O Sitt al-Milah, he whom thou lovest methinks is not in this world, for the Commander of the Faithful hath sought him in every place, but hath not found him." Whereupon the damsel arose and kissing the Princess's hands, said to her, "O my lady, an thou wouldst have him found, I have this night a request to make whereby thou mayst win my need with the Caliph." Quoth the Lady, "And what is it?" and quoth Sitt al-Milah, "'Tis that thou get me leave to fare forth by myself and go round about in quest of him three days, for the adage saith, Whoso keeneth for herself is not like whoso is hired to keen! [FN#315] An 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 the heat of that which is with me will be cooled." Quoth the Lady Zubaydah, "I will not get thee leave from him but for a whole month; so be of good cheer and eyes cool and clear." Whereat Sitt al-Milah rejoiced and rising, kissed ground before her once more and went away to her own place, and right glad was she. As for Zubaydah, she went in to the Caliph and talked with him awhile; then she fell to kissing him between the eyes and on his hands and asked him for that which she had promised to Sitt al-Milah, saying, "O Commander of the Faithful, I doubt me her lord is not found in this world; but, an she go about seeking 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; and indeed while she nourisheth hope, she will never take the right direction." And she ceased not cajoling him till he gave Sitt al-Milah leave to fare forth and make search for her lord a month's space and ordered a riding-mule and an eunuch to attend her and bade the privy purse give her all she needed, were it a thousand dirhams a day or even more. So the Lady Zubaydah arose and returning to her palace bade summon Sitt al-Milah and, as soon as she came, acquainted her with that which had passed; 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 with a mask, [FN#316] disguised herself; [FN#317] after which she mounted the she-mule and sallying forth, went round about seeking her lord in the highways of Baghdad three days' space, but happed on no tidings of him; and on the fourth day, she rode forth without the city. Now it was the noon-hour and fierce was the heat, and she was aweary and thirst came upon her. Presently, she reached the mosque of the Shaykh who had lodged the young Damascene, and dismounting at the door, said to the old Muezzin, "O Shaykh, hast thou a draught of cold water? Verily, I am overcome with heat and thirst." Said he, "'Tis with me in my house." So he carried her up into his lodging and spreading her a carpet, seated her; after which he brought her cold water and she drank and said to her eunuch, "Go thy ways with the mule and to-morrow come back to me here." Accordingly he went away and she slept and rested herself. When she awoke, she asked the old man, "O Shaykh, hast thou aught of food?" and he answered, "O my lady, I have bread and olives." Quoth she, "That be food which befitteth only the like of thee. As for me, I will have naught save roast lamb and soups and reddened fowls right fat and ducks farcis with all manner stuffing of pistachio-nuts and sugar." Quoth the Muezzin, "O my lady, I have never heard of this chapter [FN#318] in the Koran, nor was it revealed to our lord Mohammed, whom Allah save and assain!" [FN#319] She laughed and said, "O Shaykh, the matter is even as thou sayest; but bring me pen-case and paper." So he brought her what she sought and she wrote a note 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 Shroff and give him this my note." Accordingly the oldster betook himself to the city, as she bade him, and asked for the money-changer, to whom they directed him. So he gave him ring and writ, seeing which, he kissed the letter and breaking it open, read it and apprehended its contents. Then he repaired to the bazar and buying all that she bade him, laid it in a porter's crate and made him go with the Shaykh. The old man took the Hammál and went with him to the mosque, where he relieved him of his burden and carried the rich viands in to Sitt al-Milah. She seated him by her side and they ate, he and she, of those dainty cates, till they were satisfied, when the Shaykh rose and removed the food from before her. She passed that night in his lodging and when she got up in the morning, she said to him, "O elder, may I not lack thy kind offices for the breakfast! Go to the Shroff 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 Shroff brought him all she required and set it on the heads of Hammals; and the Shaykh took them and returned with them to the damsel, when she sat down with him and they ate their sufficiency, after which he removed the rest of the meats. Then she took the fruits and the flowers and setting them over against herself, wrought them into rings and knots and writs, whilst the Shaykh looked on at a thing whose like he had never in his life seen and rejoiced in the sight. Presently said she to him "O elder, I would fain drink." So he arose and brought her a gugglet of water; but she cried to him, "Who said to thee, Fetch that?" Quoth he, "Saidst thou not to me, I would fain drink?" and quoth she, "'I want not this; nay, I want wine, the solace of the soul, so haply, O Shaykh, I may refresh myself therewith." Exclaimed the old man, "Allah forfend that strong drink be drunk in my house, and I a stranger in the land and a Muezzin and an Imam, who leadeth the True Believers in prayer, and a servant of the House of the Lord of the three Worlds!" "Why wilt thou forbid me to drink thereof in thy house?" "Because 'tis unlawful." "O elder, Allah hath forbidden only the eating of blood and carrion [FN#320] and hog's flesh: tell me, are grapes and honey lawful or unlawful?" "They are lawful." "This is the juice of grapes and the water of honey." "Leave this thy talk, for thou shalt never drink wine in my house." "O Shaykh, people eat and drink and enjoy themselves and we are of the number of the folk and Allah is indulgent and merciful." [FN#321] "This is a thing that may not be." "Hast thou not heard what the poet saith?" And she recited these couplets,
"Cease thou to hear, O Sim'án-son, [FN#322] aught save the say of me; * How bitter 'twas to quit the monks and fly the monast'ry!
When, on the FLte of Palms there stood, amid the hallowed fane, [FN#323] * A pretty Fawn whose lovely pride garred me sore wrong to dree.
May Allah bless the night we spent when he to us was third, * While Moslem, Jew, and Nazarene all sported fain and free.
Quoth he, from out whose locks appeared the gleaming of the morn, * 'Sweet is the wine and sweet the flowers that joy us comrades three.
The garden of the garths of Khuld where roll and rail amain, * Rivulets 'neath the myrtle shade and Bán's fair branchery;
And birds make carol on the boughs and sing in blithest lay, * Yea, this indeed is life, but, ah! how soon it fades away.'"
She then asked him, "O Shaykh, an Moslems and Jews and Nazarenes drink wine, who are we that we should reject it?" Answered he, "By Allah, O my lady, spare thy pains, for this be a thing whereto I will not hearken." When she knew that he would not consent to her desire, she said to him, "O Shaykh, I am of the slave-girls of the Commander of the Faithful and the food waxeth heavy on me and if I drink not, I shall die of indigestion, nor wilt thou be assured against the issue of my case. [FN#324] As for me, I acquit myself of blame towards thee, for that I have bidden thee beware of the wrath of the Commander of the Faithful, after making myself known to thee." When the Shaykh heard her words and that wherewith she threatened him, he sprang up and went out, perplexed and unknowing what he should do, and there met him a Jewish man, which was his neighbour, and said to him, "How cometh it that I see thee, O Shaykh, strait of breast? Eke, I hear in thy house a noise of talk, such as I am unwont to hear with thee." Quoth the Muezzin, "'Tis of a damsel who declareth that she is of the slave-girls of the Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid; and she hath eaten meat and now would drink wine in my house, but I forbade her. However she asserteth that unless she drink thereof, she will die, and indeed I am bewildered concerning my case." Answered the Jew, "Know, O my neighbour, that the slavel-girls of the Commander of the Faithful are used to drink wine, and when they eat and drink not, they die; and I fear lest happen some mishap to her, when thou wouldst not be safe from the Caliph's fury." The Shaykh asked, "What is to be done?" and the Jew answered, "I have old wine that will suit her." Quoth the Shaykh, "By the right of neighbourship, deliver me from this descent [FN#325] of calamity and let me have that which is with thee!" Quoth the Jew, "Bismillah, in the name of Allah," and passing to his quarters, brought out a glass flask of wine, wherewith the Shaykh returned to Sitt al-Milah. This pleased her and she cried to him, "Whence hadst thou this?" He replied, "I got it from the Jew, my neighbour: I set forth to him my case with thee and he gave me this." Thereupon Sitt al-Milah filled a cup and emptied it; after which she drank a second and a third. Then she crowned the cup a fourth time and handed it to the Shaykh, but he would not accept it from her. However, she conjured him, by her own head and that of the Prince of True Believers, that he take the cup from her, till he received it from her hand and kissed it and would have set it down; but she sware him by her life to smell it. Accordingly he smelt it and she said to him, "How deemest thou?" Said he, "I find its smell is sweet;" and she conjured him by the Caliph's life to taste thereof. So he put it to his mouth and she rose to him and made him drink; whereupon quoth be, "O Princess of the Fair, [FN#326] this is none other than good." Quoth she, "So deem I: hath not our Lord promised us wine in Paradise?" He answered, "Yes! The Most High saith, 'And rivers of wine, delicious to the drinkers.' [FN#327] And we will drink it in this world and in the next world." 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 bent in hand from her another and another, till he became drunken and his talk waxed great and his prattle. The folk of the quarter heard him and assembled under the window; and when the Shaykh 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 whatso he willeth and none hindereth him; but we drink one single day and ye assemble and come, panders that ye are! To-day, wine, and to-morrow business; [FN#328] and from hour to hour cometh relief." So they laughed together and dispersed. Then the girl drank till she was drunken, when she called to mind her lord and wept, and the Shaykh said to her, "What maketh thee weep, O my lady?" Said she, "O elder, I am a lover and a separated." He cried, "O my lady, what is this love?" Cried she, "And thou, hast thou never been in love?" He replied, "By Allah, O my lady, 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, in these couplets,
"How oft shall they admonish and ye shun this nourishment; * When e'en the shepherd's bidding is obeyPd by his flocks?
I see you like in shape and form to creatures whom we term * Mankind, but in your acts and deeds you are a sort of ox" [FN#329]
The Shaykh laughed at her speech and her verses pleased him. Then cried she to him, "I desire of thee a lute." So he arose and brought her a bit of fuel. [FN#330] Quoth she, "What is that?" and quoth he "Didst thou not say: Bring me fuel?" Said she, "I do not want this," and said he, "What then is it that is hight fuel, other than this?" She laughed and replied, "The lute is an instrument of music, whereunto I sing." Asked he, "Where is this thing found and of whom shall I get it for thee?" and answered she, "Of him who gave thee the wine." So he arose and betaking himself to his neighbour the Jew, said to him, "Thou favouredst us before with the wine; so now complete thy favours and look me out a thing hight lute, which be an instrument for singing; for she seeketh this of me and I know it not." Replied the Jew, "Hearkening and obedience," and going into his house, brought him a lute. The old man carried it to Sitt al-Milah, whilst the Jew took his drink and sat by a window adjoining the Shaykh'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 these couplets,
"Remains not, after you are gone, or trace of you or sign, * But hope to see this parting end and break its lengthy line:
You went and by your wending made the whole world desolate; * And none may stand this day in stead to fill the yearning eyne.
Indeed, you've burdened weakling me, by strength and force of you * With load no hill hath power t'upheave nor yet the plain low li'en:
And I, whenever fain I scent the breeze your land o'erbreathes, * Lose all my wits as though they were bemused with heady wine.
O folk no light affair is Love for lover woe to dree * Nor easy 'tis to satisfy its sorrow and repine.
I've wandered East and West to hap upon your trace, and when * Spring-camps I find the dwellers cry, 'They've marched, those friends o' thine!'
Never accustomed me to part these intimates I love; * Nay, when I left them all were wont new meetings to design."
Now when she had ended her song, she wept with sore weeping, till presently sleep overcame her and she slept. On the morrow, she said to the Shaykh, "Get thee to the Shroff and fetch me the ordinary;" so he repaired to the money-changer and delivered him the message, whereupon he made ready meat and drink, according to his custom, with which the old man returned to the damsel and they ate their sufficiency. When she had eaten, she sought of him wine and he went to the Jew and fetched it. Then the twain sat down and drank; and when she waxed drunken, she took the lute and smiting it, fell a-singing and chanted these couplets,
"How long ask I the heart, the heart drowned, and eke * Refrain my complaint while I my tear-floods speak?
They forbid e'en the phantom to visit me, * (O marvel!) her phantom my couch to seek." [FN#331]
And when she had made an end of her song, she wept with sore weeping. All this time, the young Damascene was listening, and now he likened her voice to the voice of his slave-girl and then he put away from him this thought, and the damsel had no knowledge whatever of his presence. Then she broke out again into song and chanted these couplets,
"Quoth they, 'Forget him! What is he?' To them I cried, * 'Allah forget me when forget I mine adored!'
Now in this world shall I forget the love o' you? * Heaven grant the thrall may ne'er forget to love his lord!
I pray that Allah pardon all except thy love * Which, when I meet Him may my bestest plea afford."
After ending this song she drank three cups and filling the old man other three, improvised these couplets,
"His love he hid which tell-tale tears betrayed; * For burn of coal that 'neath his ribs was laid:
Giv'n that he seek his joy in spring and flowers * Some day, his spring's the face of dear-loved maid.
O ye who blame me for who baulks my love! * What sweeter thing than boon to man denayed?
A sun, yet scorcheth he my very heart! * A moon, but riseth he from breasts a-shade!"
When she had made an end of her song, she threw the lute from her hand and wept, whilst the Shaykh wept for her weeping. Then she fell down in a fainting fit and presently recovering, crowned the cup and drinking it off, gave the elder to drink, after which she took the lute and breaking out into song, chanted these couplets,
"Thy parting is bestest of woes to my heart, * And changed my case till all sleep it eschewed:
The world to my being is desolate; * Then Oh grief! and O lingering solitude!
Maybe The Ruthful incline thee to me * And join us despite what our foes have sued!"
Then she wept till her voice rose high and her wailing was discovered to those without; after which she again began to drink and plying the Shaykh with wine, sang these couplets,
"An they hid thy person from eyen-sight, * They hid not thy name fro' my mindful sprite:
Or meet me; thy ransom for meeting I'll be [FN#332] * Or fly me; and ransom I'll be for thy flight!
Mine outer speaks for mine inner case, * And mine inner speaks for mine outer plight."
When she had made an end of her verses, she threw the lute from her hand and wept and wailed. Then she slept awhile and presently awaking, said, "O Shaykh, say me, hast thou what we may eat?" He replied, "O my lady, I have the rest of the food;" but she cried, "I will not eat of the orts I have left. Go down to the bazar and fetch us what we may eat." He rejoined, "Excuse me, O my lady, I cannot rise to my feet, because I am bemused 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 whatso thou wantest." Asked she, "Whence hast thou this servant?" and he answered, "He is of the people of Damascus." When she heard him say "of the people of Damascus," she sobbed such a sob that she swooned away; and when she came to herself, she said, "Woe is me for the people of Damascus and for those who are therein! Call him, O Shaykh, that he may do our need." Accordingly, 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 come in, and when he appeared before the damsel, he knew her and she knew him; whereupon he turned back in bewilderment and would have fled at hap-hazard; but she sprang up to him and held him fast, and they embraced and wept together, till they fell to the floor in a fainting fit. When the Shaykh saw them in this condition, he feared for himself and fared forth in fright, seeing not the way for drunkenness. His neighbour the Jew met him and asked him, "How is it that I behold thee astounded?" Answered the old man, "How should I not be astounded, seeing that the damsel who is with me is fallen in love with the mosque servant and they have embraced and slipped down in a swoon? Indeed, I fear lest the Caliph come to know of this and be wroth with me; so tell me thou what is thy device for that wherewith I am afflicted in the matter of this damsel." Quoth the Jew, "For the present, take this casting-bottle of rose-water and go forthright and sprinkle them therewith: an they be aswoon for this their union and embrace, they will recover, and if otherwise, then take to flight." The Shaykh snatched the casting-bottle from the Jew and going up to the twain, sprinkled their faces, whereupon they came to themselves and fell to relating each to other that which they had suffered, since both had been parted, for the pangs of severance. Nur al-Din also acquainted Sitt al-Milah with that which he had endured from the folk who would have killed [FN#333] him and utterly annihilated him; and she said to him, "O my lord, let us for the nonce leave this talk and praise Allah for reunion of loves, and all this shall cease from us." Then she gave him the cup and he said, "By Allah, I will on no wise drink it, whilst I am in this case!" So she drank it off before him and taking the lute, swept the strings and sang these couplets,
"O absent fro' me and yet present in place, * Thou art far from mine eyes and yet ever nigh!
Thy farness bequeathed me all sorrow and care * And my troublous life can no joy espy:
Lone, forlorn, weeping-eyelidded, miserablest, * I abide for thy sake as though banisht I:
Then (ah grief o' me!) far thou hast fared from sight * Yet canst no more depart me than apple of eye!"
When she had made an end of her verse, she wept and the young man of Damascus, Nur al-Din, wept also. Then she took the lute and improvised these couplets,
"Well Allah wots I never namPd you * But tears o'erbrimming eyes in floods outburst;
And passion raged and pine would do me die, * Yet my heart rested wi' the thought it nurst;
O eye-light mine, O wish and O my hope! * Your face can never quench mine eyes' hot thirst."
When Nur al-Din heard these his slave-girl's verses, he fell a-weeping, 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 with such performing as would move the staidest to delight and sang these couplets,
"Indeed, what day brings not your sight to me, * That day I rem'mber not as dight to me!
And, when I vainly long on you to look, * My life is lost, Oh life and light o' me!"
After this fashion they fared till the morning, tasting not the nourishment of sleep; [FN#334] and when the day lightened, behold the eunuch came with the she-mule and said to Sitt al-Milah, "The Commander of the Faithful calleth for thee." So she arose and taking by the hand her lord, committed him to the Shaykh, saying, "This is the deposit of Allah, then thy deposit, [FN#335] till this eunuch cometh to thee; and indeed, O elder, my due to thee is the white hand of favour such as filleth the interval 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 ground before him. Quoth he to her, as who should make mock of her, "I doubt not but thou hast found thy lord;" and quoth she, "By thy felicity and the length of thy continuance on life, I have indeed found him!" Now Al-Rashid was leaning back; but, when he heard this, he sat upright and said to her "By my life, true?" She replied, "Ay, by thy life!" He said, "Bring him into my presence, so I may see him;" but she said, "O my lord, there have happened to him many hardships and his charms are changed and his favour faded; and indeed the Prince of True Believers 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 Al-Rashid, "Sooth thou sayest: the condition certainly was for a month; but tell me what hath betided him." Quoth she, "O my lord (Allah prolong thy continuance and make Paradise thy place of returning and thine asylum and the fire the abiding-place of thy foes!), when he presenteth himself to serve thee, he will assuredly expound to thee his case and will name to thee his wrongdoers; and indeed this is an arrear that is due to the Prince of True Believers, by whom may Allah fortify the Faith and vouchsafe him the victory over rebel and froward wretch!" Thereupon he ordered her a fine house and bade furnish it with carpets and vessels of choice and commanded them to give all she needed. This was done during the rest of the day, and when the night came, she sent the eunuch with a suit of clothes and the mule, to fetch Nur al-Din from the Muezzin's lodging. So the young man donned the dress and mounting, rode to the house, where he abode in comfort and luxury a full-told month, while she solaced him with four things, the eating of fowls and the drinking of wine and the sleeping upon brocade and the entering the bath after horizontal refreshment. [FN#336] Furthermore, she brought him six suits of linen stuffs and took to changing his clothes day by day; nor was the appointed time of delay accomplished ere his beauty and loveliness returned to him; nay, his favour waxed tenfold fairer and he became a seduction to all who looked upon him. One day of the days Al-Rashid bade bring him to the presence; so his slave-girl changed his clothes and robing him in sumptuous raiment, mounted him on the she-mule. Then he rode to the palace and presenting himself before the Caliph, saluted him with the goodliest of salutations and bespake him with Truchman's [FN#337] speech eloquent and deep-thoughted. When Al-Rashid saw him, he marvelled at the seemliness of his semblance and his loquence and eloquence and asking of him, was told that he was Sitt al-Milah's lord; whereupon quoth he, "Indeed, she is excusable in her love for him, and if we had put her to death wrongfully, as we were minded to do, her blood would have been upon our heads." Then he accosted the young man and entering into discourse with him, found him well-bred, intelligent, clever, quick-witted, generous, pleasant, elegant, excellent. So he loved him with exceeding love and questioned him of his native city and of his sire and of the cause of his journey to Baghdad. Nur al-Din acquainted him with that which he would know in the goodliest words and concisest phrases; and the Caliph asked him, "And where hast thou been absent all this while? Verily, we sent after thee to Damascus and Mosul and all other cities, but happened on no tidings of thee." Answered the young man, "O my lord, there betided thy slave in thy capital that which never yet betided any." Then he acquainted him with his case, first and last, and told him that which had befallen him of evil from Al-Muradi and the Chief of Police. Now when Al-Rashid heard this, he was chagrined with sore chagrin and waxed wroth with exceeding wrath and cried, "Shall this thing happen in a city wherein I am?" And the Háshimí vein [FN#338] started out between his eyes. Then he bade fetch Ja'afar, and when he came between his hands, he acquainted him with the adventure and said to him, "Shall this thing come to pass in my city and I have no news of it?" Thereupon he bade Ja'afar fetch all whom the young Damascene had named,and when they came, he bade smite their necks: he also summoned him whom they called Ahmad 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 costly robe of honour and made him Chief of Police in his city. [FN#339] Then he sent for the Shaykh, the Muezzin, and when the messenger came to him and told him that the Commander of the Faithfull summoned him, he feared the denunciation of the damsel and walked with him to the palace, farting for fear 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 tied, [FN#340] so that he could not speak. The Caliph smiled at him and said, "O Shaykh, thou hast done no offence; so why fearest thou?" Answered the old man (and indeed he was in the sorest of that which may be of fear), "O my lord, by the virtue of thy pure forefathers, indeed I have done naught, and do thou enquire of my manners and morals." The Caliph laughed at him and ordering him a thousand dinars, bestowed on him a costly robe of honour and made him headman of the Muezzins in his mosque. Then he called Sitt al-Milah and said to her, "The house wherein thou lodgest with all it containeth is a largesse to thy lord: so do thou take him and depart with him in the safeguard of Allah Almighty; but absent not yourselves from our presence." Accordingly she went forth with the young Damascene and when she came to the house, she found that the Prince of True Believers had sent them gifts galore and good things in store. As for Nur al-Din, he sent for his father and mother and appointed for himself agents in the city of Damascus, to receive the rent of the houses and gardens and Wakalahs and Hammams; and they occupied themseves 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 merchandise of price and, foregathering with their son, found that he was become of the chief officers and familiars of the Commander of the Faithful and of the number of his sitting-companions and nightly entertainers, wherefore they rejoiced in reunion with him and he also rejoiced in them. The Caliph assigned them solde and allowances; and as for Nur al-Din, his father brought him those riches and his wealth waxed and his estate was stablished, till he became the richest of the folk of his time in Baghdad and left not the presence of the Commander of the Faithful or by night or by day. He was vouchsafed issue by Sitt al-Milah, and he ceased not to live the goodliest of lives, he and she and his father and his mother, a while of time, till Abu al-Hasan sickened of a sore sickness and departed to the mercy of Allah Almighty. Presently, his mother also died and he carried them forth and shrouded them and buried and made them expiations and funeral ceremonies. [FN#341] In due course his children grew up and became like moons, and he reared them in splendour and affection, while his wealth waxed and his case never waned. He ceased not to pay frequent visits to the Commander of the Faithful, he and his children and his slave-girl Sitt al-Milah, and they abode in all solace of life and prosperity till there came to them the Destroyer of delights and the Sunderer of societies; and laud to the Abiding, the Eternal! This is all that hath come down to us of their story.