THE LOVES OF ABU ISA AND KURRAT AL-AYN.



Quoth Amrú bin Masa'dah: [FN#212] "Abú Isá, son of al-Rashíd and brother to al-Maamun, was enamoured of one Kurrat al-Ayn, a slave girl belonging to Ali bin Hishám, [FN#213] and she also loved him; but he concealed his passion, complaining of it to none neither discovering his secret to anyone, of his pride and magnanimity; for he had used his utmost endeavour to purchase her of her master, but he had failed. At last when his patience was at an end and his passion was sore on him and he was helpless in the matter, he went in to al-Maamun, one day of state after the folk had retired, and said to him, 'O Commander of the Faithful, if thou wilt this day make trial of thine Alcaydes by taking them unawares, thou wilt know the generous from the mean and note each one's place, after the quality of his mind.' But, in saying this he purposed only to sit with Kurrat al-Ayn in her lord's house. Quoth al-Maamun, 'Right is thy recking,' and bade make ready a barge, called 'the Flyer,' wherein he embarked with Abu Isa and a party of his chief officers. The first mansion he visited unexpectedly was that of Hamíd al-Tawil of Tús, whom he found seated"-- And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Four Hundred and Fifteenth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that al-Maamun embarked with his chief officers and fared on till they reached the mansion of Hamíd al-Tawil of Tús; and, unexpectedly entering they found him seated on a mat and before him singers and players with lutes and flageolets and other instruments of music in their hands. So Al Maamun sat with him awhile and presently he set before him dishes of nothing but flesh meat, with no birds among them. The Caliph would not taste thereof and Abu Isa said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, we have taken the owner of this place unawares, and he knew not of thy coming; but now let us go to another place which is prepared for thee and fitted for thee." Thereupon the Caliph arose and betook himself with his brother Abu Isa and his suite, to the abode of Ali son of Hisham who, on hearing of their approach, came out and received them with the goodliest of reception, and kissed the earth before the King. Then he brought them into his mansion and opened to them a saloon than which seer never saw a goodlier. Its floors, pillars and walls were of many coloured marbles, adorned with Greek paintings: and it was spread with matting of Sind [FN#214] whereon were carpets and tapestry of Bassorah make, fitted to the length and breadth of the room. So the Caliph sat awhile, examining the house and its ceilings and walls, then said, "Give us somewhat to eat." So they brought him forthwith nearly an hundred dishes of poultry besides other birds and brewises, fritters and cooling marinades. When he had eaten, he said, "Give us some thing to drink, O Ali;" and the host set before him, in vessels of gold and silver and crystal, raisin wine boiled down to one third with fruits and spices; and the cupbearers were pages like moons, clad in garments of Alexandrian stuff interwoven with gold and bearing on their breasts beakers of crystal, full of rose water mingled with musk. So al-Maamun marvelled with exceeding marvel at all he saw and said, "Ho thou, Abu al-Hasan!" Whereupon Ali sprang to the Caliph's carpet and kissing it, said, "At thy service, O Commander of the Faithful!" and stood before him. Quoth al-Maamun, "Let us hear some pleasant and merry song." Replied Ali, "I hear and obey, O Commander of the Faithful," and said to one of his eunuchs, "Fetch the singing women." So the slave went out and presently returned, followed by ten castratos, bearing ten stools of gold, which they set down in due order; and after these came ten damsels, concubines of the master, as they were shining full moons or gardens full of bloom, clad in black brocade, with crowns of gold on their heads; and they passed along the room till they sat down on the stools, when sang they sundry songs. Al-Maamun looked at one of them; and, being captivated by her elegance and fair favour, asked her, "What is thy name, O damsel?"; and she answered, "My name is Sajáhí, [FN#215] O Commander of the Faithful," and he said, "Sing to us, O Sajahi!" So she played a lively measure and sang these couplets,

    "I walk, for fear of interview, the weakling's walk *
         Who sees two lion whelps the fount draw nigh:
    My cloak acts sword, my heart's perplex'd with fright, *
         Lest jealous hostile eyes th' approach descry:
    Till sudden hapt I on a delicate maid *
         Like desert-doe that fails her fawns to espy."

Quoth the Caliph, "Thou hast done well, O damsel! whose are these lines?" She answered, "Written by Amru bin Ma'di Karib al -Zubaydi, [FN#216] and the air is Ma'abid's." [FN#217] Then the Caliph and Abu Isa and Ali drank and the damsels went away and were succeeded by other ten, all clad in flowered silk of Al-Yaman, brocaded with gold, who sat down on the chairs and sang various songs. The Caliph looked at one of the concubines, who was like a wild heifer of the waste, and said to her, "What is thy name, O damsel?" She replied, "My name is Zabiyah, [FN#218] 0 Commander of the Faithful;" and he, "Sing to us Zabiyah;" so she warbled like a bird with many a trill and sang these two couplets,

    "Houris, and highborn Dames who feel no fear of men, *
         Like Meccan game forbidden man to slam: [FN#219]
    Their soft sweet voices make you deem them whores, *
         But bars them from all whoring Al-Islam."

When she had finished, al-Maamun cried, "favoured of Allah art thou!"-- And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Four Hundred and Sixteenth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the slave girl finished her song, al-Maamun cried, "Favoured of Allah art thou! Whose is this verse?" and she answered, "Jarír's [FN#220] and the air is By Ibn Surayj." Then the Caliph and his company drank, whilst the girls went away and there came forth yet other ten, as they were rubies, robed in red brocade inwoven with gold and purfled with pearls and jewels whilst all their heads were bare. They sat down on the stools and sang various airs; so the Caliph looked at one of them, who was like the sun of the day, and asked her, "What is thy name, O damsel?"; and she answered, "O Commander of the Faithful, my name is Fátin." "Sing to us, O Fatin," quoth he; whereat she played a lively measure and sang these couplets,

    "Deign grant thy favours; since 'tis time I were engraced; *
         Tnough of severance hath it been my lot to taste.
    Thou'rt he whose face cloth every gift and charm unite, *
         Yet is my patience spent for that 'twas sore misplaced:
    I've wasted life in loving thee; and would high Heaven *
         Grant me one meeting hour for all this wilful waste."

"Well sung, O Fatin!'' exclaimed the Caliph; "whose verse is this?" And she answered, "Adi bin Zayd's, and the air is antique." Then all three drank, whilst the damsels retired and were succeeded by other ten maidens, as they were sparkling stars, clad in flowered silk embroidered with red gold and girt with jewelled zones. They sat down and sang various motives; and the Caliph asked one of them, who was like a wand of willow, "What is thy name, O damsel?"; and she answered, "My name is Rashaa, [FN#221] 0 Commander of the Faithful." "Sing to us, O Rashaa," quoth he; so she played a lively measure and sang these couplets,

    "And wand-like Houri, who can passion heal *
         Like young gazelle that paceth o'er the plain:
    I drain this wine cup on the toast, her cheek, *
         Each cup disputing till she bends in twain
    Then sleeps the night with me, the while I cry *
         'This is the only gain my Soul would gain!' "

Said the Caliph, "Well done, O damsel! Sing us something more." So she rose and kissing the ground before him, sang the following distich,

    "She came out to gaze on the bridal at ease *
         In a shift that reeked of ambergris."

The Caliph was highly pleased with this couplet and, when the slave girl saw how much it delighted him, she repeated it several times. Then said al-Maamun, "Bring up 'the Flyer,'" being minded to embark and depart: but Ali bin Hisham said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, I have a slave girl, whom I bought for ten thousand diners; she hath taken my heart in whole and part, and I would fain display her to the Commander of the Faithful. If she please him and he will accept of her, she is his: and if not, let him hear something from her." Said the Caliph, "Bring her to me;" and forth came a damsel, as she were a branchlet of willow, with seducing eyes and eyebrows set like twin bows; and on her head she wore a crown of red gold crusted with pearls and jewelled, under which was a fillet bearing this couplet wrought in letters of chrysolite,

    "A Jinniyah this, with her Jinn, to show *
         How to pierce man's heart with a stringless bow!"

The handmaiden walked, with the gait of a gazelle in flight and fit to damn a devotee, till she came to a chair, whereon she seated herself.--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Four Hundred and Seventeenth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the hand maiden walked with the gait of a gazelle in flight, fit to damn a devotee, till she came to a chair whereon she seated herself. And Al- Maamun marvelled at her beauty and loveliness; but, when Abu Isa saw her, his heart throbbed with pain, his colour changed to pale and wan and he was in evil case. Asked the Caliph, "O Abu Isa, what aileth thee to change thus?"; and he answered, "O Commander of the Faithful, it is because of a twitch that seizeth me betimes." Quoth the Caliph, "Hast thou known yonder damsel before to day?" Quoth he, "Yes, O Commander of the Faithful, can the moon be concealed?" Then said al-Maamun to her, "What is thy name, O damsel?"; and she replied, "My name is Kurrat al-Ayn. O Commander of the Faithful," and he rejoined, "Sing to us, O Kurrat al-Ayn." So she sang these two couplets,

    "The loved ones left thee in middle night, *
         And fared with the pilgrims when dawn shone bright:
    The tents of pride round the domes they pitched, *
         And with broidered curtains were veiled fro' sight."

Quoth the Caliph, "Favoured of Heaven art thou, O Kurrat al-Ayn! Whose song is that?"; whereto she answered "The words are by Di'ibil al-Khuza'i, and the air by Zurzúr al-Saghír." Abu Isa looked at her and his tears choked him; so that the company marvelled at him. Then she turned to al-Maamun and said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, wilt thou give me leave to change the words?" Said he, "Sing what thou wilt;" so she played a merry measure and carolled these couplets,

    "If thou should please a friend who pleaseth thee *
         Frankly, in public practise secrecy.
    And spurn the slanderer's tale, who seldom [FN#222] *
         seeks Except the severance of true love to see.
    They say, when lover's near, he tires of love, *
         And absence is for love best remedy:
    Both cures we tried and yet we are not cured, *
         Withal we judge that nearness easier be:
    Yet nearness is of no avail when he *
         Thou lovest lends thee love unwillingly."

But when she had finished, Abu Isa said, "O Commander of the Faithful," -- And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Four Hundred and Eighteenth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when Kurrat al-Ayn had finished her verse, Abu Isa said, "O Commander of the Faithful, though we endure disgrace, we shall be at ease. [FN#223] Dost thou give me leave to reply to her?" Quoth the Caliph, "Yes, say what thou wilt to her." So he swallowed his tears and sang these two distichs,

    "Silent I woned and never owned my love; *
         But from my heart I hid love's blissful boon;
    Yet, if my eyes should manifest my love, *
         'Tis for my nearness to the shining moon."

Then Kurrat al-Ayn took the lute and played a lively tune and rejoined with these couplets,

    "An what thou claimest were the real truth, *
         With only Hope content thou hadst not been
    Nor couldest patient live without the girl *
         So rare of inner grace and outward mien.
    But there is nothing in the claim of thee *
         At all, save tongue and talk that little mean."

When Abu Isa heard this he fell to weeping and wailing and evidencing his trouble and anguish. Then he raised his eyes to her and sighing, repeated these couplets,

    "Under my raiment a waste body lies, *
         And in my spirit all comprising prize.
    I have a heart, whose pain shall aye endure, *
         And tears like torrents pour these woeful eyes.
    Whene'er a wise man spies me, straight he chides *
         Love, that misleads me thus in ways unwise:
    O Lord, I lack the power this dole to bear: *
         Come sudden Death or joy in bestest guise!"

When he had ended, Ali bin Hisham sprang up and kissing his feet, said, "O my lord, Allah hearing thy secret hath answered thy prayer and consenteth to thy taking her with all she hath of things rare and fair, so the Commander of the Faithful have no mind to her." Quoth Al Maamun, "Had we a mind to her, we would prefer Abu Isa before ourselves and help him to his desire." So saying, he rose and embarking, went away, whilst Abu Isa tarried for Kurrat al-Ayn, whom he took and carried to his own house, his breast swelling with joy. See then the generosity of Ali son of Hisham! And they tell a tale of



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