The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Al-Nu’uman and the Arab of the Banu Tay287

It is said that Al-Nu’umán288 had two boon-companions, one of whom was hight Ibn Sa’ad and the other Amrú bin al-Malik, and he became one night drunken and bade bury them alive; so they buried him. When he arose on the morrow, he asked for them and was acquainted with their affair, whereupon he built over them a building and appointed to himself a day of ill-luck and a day of good fortune. If any met him on his unlucky day, he slew him and with his blood he washed that monument, which is a place well known in Kufah; and if any met him on this day of good fortune he enriched him. Now there accosted him once, on his day of ill-omen, an Arab of the Banú Tay289 and Al-Nu’uman would have done him dead; but the Arab said, “Allah quicken the king! I have two little girls and have made none guardian over them; wherefore, and the king see fit to grant me leave to go to them, I will give him the covenant of Allah290 that I will return to him, as soon as I shall have appointed unto them a guardian.” Al-Nu’uman had ruth on him and said to him, “An a man will be surety for thee of those who are with us, I will let thee go, and if thou return not I will slay him.” Now there was with Al-Nu’uman his Wazir Sharik bin Amru: so the Táí291 looked at him and said,

“Ho thou, Sharik, O Amru-son is there fro’ Death repair?

O brother to men brotherless, brother to all in care!

O brother of Al-Nu’uman an old man this day spare,

An old man slain and Allah deign fair meed for thee prepare!”

Quoth Sharik, “On me be his warranty, Allah assign the king!” So the Táí departed, after a term had been assigned him for his returning. Now when the appointed day arrived, Al-Nu’uman sent for Sharik and said to him, “Verily the high noon of this day is past;” and Sharik answered, “the king hath no procedure against me till it be eventide.” Whenas evened the evening there appeared one afar off and Al-Nu’uman fell to looking upon him and on Sharik who said to him, “Thou hast no right over me till yonder person come, for haply he is my man.” As he spake, up came the Táí in haste and Al-Nu’uman said, “By Allah, never saw I any more generous than you two! I know not which of you be the nobler, whether this one who became warrant for thee in death-risk or thou who returnest to thy slaughter.” Then quoth he to Sharik, “What drave thee to become warrant for him, knowing the while it was death?” and quoth he, “I did this lest it be said, Generosity hath departed from Wazirs.” Then Al-Nu’uman asked the Táí, “And thou, what prompted thee to return, knowing that therein was death and thine one destruction?” and the Arab answered, “I did this lest it be said, Fidelity hath departed from the folk; for such thing would be a shame to mine issue and to my tribe.” And Al-Nu’uman cried, “By Allah, I will be the third of you, lest it be said, Mercy hath departed from the kings.” So he pardoned him and bade abolish the day of ill-luck; whereupon the Arab began to say,

“A many urged me that I false my faith,

But I refused whatso the wights could plead;

For I’m a man in whom Faith dwells for aye,

And every true man’s word is pledge of deed.”

Quoth Al-Nu’uman, “What prompted thee to keep faith, the case being as thou sayest?” Quoth he, “O king, it was my religion.” Al-Nu’uman asked, “What is thy religion?” and he answered “The Nazarene!” The king said, “Expound it to me.” So the Táí expounded it to him and Al-Nu’uman became a Christian.292

287 Bresl. Edit., vol. viii. pp. 226-9, Nights dclx-i.

288 King of the Arab kingdom of Hirah, for whom see vol. v. 74. This ancient villain rarely appears in such favourable form when tales are told of him.

289 The tribe of the chieftain and poet, Hátim Táí, for whom see vol. iv. 94.

290 i.e. I will make a covenant with him before the Lord. Here the word “Allah” is introduced among the Arabs of The Ignorance.

291 i.e. the man of the Tribe of Tay.

292 A similar story of generous dealing is told of the Caliph Omar in The Nights. See vol. v. 99 et seq.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31