ANCESTORS: THE OPENING EPISODE OF THE EPIC
Al-Harith (Fatima's great-great-grandfather) was a legendary leader of the Bani Kilab tribe. He led a brave life of hunting in the rugged Yemeni deserts, steppes, and river valleys in the days of the seventh-century caliph Abd al- Malik bin Marwan. One day, in the process of capturing some ferocious men and looting a camp, he saw a girl named Al-Rabab, and he fell in love. The girl's father, emotionally attached to her, cried when Al-Harith approached. Al-Harith asked the father, "Why are you crying, Shaykh?"
"I'm crying because you're taking my daughter by force. If you didn't take her against her will, then I would not cry. If you really want her, then marry her properly. It's to your advantage, ultimately, to follow the prophet's example."
Al-Harith readily released the elderly man, his daughter, and all their people, giving the man one thousand she-camels and a hundred gold dinars as dowry. After ensuring that the marriage was legitimate and respectable, Al-Harith and Al-Rabab moved on into the wilderness.
It was not long before Al-Rabab became pregnant. One night near the end of her pregnancy, she saw in her dreams that she was in a desert, surrounded by plains. As she neared a tall hill, her hem lifted and fire came out from beneath it in incandescent colors. When it reached the ground, it burned everything both near and far. She whirled around, and she too was engulfed in flames.
Al-Rabab started in her sleep in sheer terror. Al-Harith asked, "What's wrong, dear?"
"I saw something terrible and had such a fright," and she told him her dream from start to finish.
"Tomorrow I'll get a diviner. I'll bring you someone knowledgeable. You can tell him the dream and see what he says."
At daybreak, Al-Harith rode to the scholar's camp. There he exchanged greetings and introduced himself, and the men of the camp invited him to sit with them before asking what he needed. He explained, "Gentlemen, I come to you in need. I have seen you defer to this shaykh, and I understand that he is incredibly wise." Then Al-Harith sat closer to the shaykh, greeted him, and recounted his wife's vision.
The shaykh replied, "I see that yours is a special situation, and so the interpretation will also be uncommon. For if I am correct, based upon my knowledge of the holy books of all the great peoples, this woman will give birth to an extraordinary child, unmatched in his time for greatness, ethics, and good looks. Yet I fear that the mother will die when he appears safely in this world."
Al-Harith found the news generally positive. "The important thing is that he will live. His mother and I have seen much, and death comes for rich and poor alike."
Al-Harith returned to his camp with the shaykh and took him to meet his wife. He told her what the shaykh had said and asked her to recount her dream. Turning to the shaykh, she spoke in verse:
O Shaykh, by the Sacred Family,
By Mina, Zamzam, and the Maqam of Abraham,
I had an astonishing dream
Hear my words, and interpret my vision
I saw that I was in a great desert,
Spacious prairies surrounding me.
Beneath me was a tall sand dune,
My hem lifted, and my tears fell,
And from within me there came a fire
It flared and burned
In many colors, including black
It spread, burning the tent,
Burning the tribes and campsites
It turned, lighting up the darkness, and
I was terrified and afraid:
That is what happened to me in the dream.
The shaykh replied in kind:
I tell you the meaning of the dream,
And what you saw in the dark,
Your child nears, full of fury,
He will be long remembered.
He will arise, a brave and heroic warrior,
Stirring up enemies among every people
He will be raised an orphan, lacking both father and
Mother, and he will travel far and wide
From him there will come a valiant leader
Opposing enemies with the sword
This is the sign I have from my studies
In interpretation of your dream.
Then he recorded the dream and the baby's genealogy, put it in a tiny silver case, and gave it to Al-Rabab as an amulet for the baby.
Within days, Al-Harith fell ill and died. The leader's death, in a time of instability, caused chaos. No longer held back by fear and respect for Al-Harith, nearby tribes sought to claim all that was his. For Al-Rabab, the unrest followed a time of peace made possible by her husband's bravery. She cried hard for the memory of him and composed poetry mourning her loss. In grave danger, she decided to escape with the remaining servant, the others having already fled. Unfortunately, he had remained out of desire for her, which would prove her demise. When Al-Rabab asked the servant for help, he asked what he could do for her.
"Travel with me by night, so that no horses will come across us, and deliver me to my people or to any of the Arab encampments that will offer us sanctuary. We'll go in plain clothes because I fear that someone might take advantage of me. You know how much your master Al-Harith used to assert himself over the Arabs. I have become a prize.... Some hostile leader might demand from me that which men want from women, but I swear by the Victorious, the Almighty Sovereign, I will not give in to any man, good or bad."
"My Lady, I am at your service." They rode away at night as refugees, leaving most of the wealth behind. When he swerved away from the path, she followed unknowingly. They had been nearing a camp led by a man named Darim, but the servant saw her beauty and could not resist an attempt to seduce her. Al-Rabab resisted with insults and exhorted him to protect her honor and her person, but he claimed that he had waited long enough. She screamed at him that she had declined the offers of great leaders, so how could she give in to a servant? At the height of their argument, the servant knocked Al-Rabab to the ground, and she began bleeding. The servant backed away and asked, "What is this blood?"
Al-Rabab answered, "Didn't you know that I was pregnant with Al-Harith's child? You pushed me so hard that I've gone into labor." He dragged her to the river to wash, then moved away to think. Al-Rabab sat by the river crying, shaking from the contractions, wishing she could die instead of enduring the pains of labor. A little while later, Al-Rabab gave birth to a boy, like a piece of the moon. She cut the umbilical cord, wrapped him in a piece of her sash and her scarf, and put the silver amulet on him. Then she took him into her lap, and as he began nursing, his eyes opened. Looking down at him, she whispered, "Where is your father? If only he could gaze on you.... But this must be God's will for us...."
The servant, overtaken by frustration after so nearly attaining his desire, blamed Al-Rabab for the timing of the birth. Despite her protestations that the timing was out of her hands, he struck her with a sword, and she slumped to the ground, dead. The servant took what money she had and left her on the sand before escaping to a mountainous area. Al-Rabab lay on her side, the infant in her lap, still latched to her breast.
A man named Darim ruled the valley where Al-Rabab lay. His wife had recently given birth to a son who did not survive. In order to distract him from his grief, he took his people's advice and went out hunting with some of his kinsmen. When a herd of wild animals saw the approaching hunting party, they dispersed and fled. In the chase, Darim was led by fate to the place where he discovered a baby still suckling from the fallen corpse of his mother. Despite the heat, the baby was healthy, and beautiful "like the moon." God had sent a cloud of jundaba
locusts to shade him. Darim turned to one of his companions, saying, "Cousin, look at this murdered girl, the baby at her side, and the cloud of locusts giving him shade. See how the mother is nursing him even though she is dead. Tell me at once: What do you make of this?"
The man, who was Darim's adviser and right hand, deduced a story from the scene: "Sir, such mysteries only God can know fully. If only I had known of her, I could have saved her from this. However, I'll tell you what I imagine happened. This girl was born to a noble family. A ruler asked to marry her, but a servant caught her eye, and she ended up losing her virginity. When her family learned of the relationship, they brought her to this place and killed her when she gave birth. They left the baby at her side and left her as she lays now. That's what occurs to me."
"How dare you insult her! If she had fornicated, she wouldn't be nursing him while dead, and God would not have sent the swarm to shade him." Turning to the corpse, he mused in verse,
I wonder who killed you,
Who felled you with his sword?
Were you an innocent victim,
Or were you by fate served?
You are clearly a noblewoman
And I think virtuous, because of the milk poured...
May the little one have a bright future,
Blessed by the Lord.
"I'm sure you're right, Sir. Your son just passed away, and this boy is clearly precious. You should take care of him."
Darim sent a messenger, calling for women skilled in preparing a corpse for burial and for men to dig a grave. He oversaw the funeral, praying over her, and removed his outer garments in order to descend into the grave to lay the body carefully in the ground before covering it with dirt. Then he returned home, the baby in his arms.
His wife, Husna, met him at the door, inquiring about why he had needed a corpse washer and what he had found during the hunt. He told her what had happened from start to finish, saying, "I went hunting for a wild animal, but instead I bring you a wonder It's a boy!" He handed her the baby, and the amulet that he had worn. "Take this amulet, and put it over his head. I feel as if this is the baby we lost. Let's raise him, and may he bring us blessings." Husna put the amulet over the baby's head and kept the child.
An old woman accused the baby of illegitimate birth. So Husna asked her husband about the child's parentage when he returned from a meeting and expressed her concern for their reputation. Darim replied, "Cousin, don't worry about that. People say all kinds of crazy things. This child's mother was the daughter of a great amir. If she had been dishonorable, then the Compassionate would not have indicated her innocence by allowing her dead body to continue nursing her infant. Nor would there have been a swarm of locusts shading the babe. Look, I'll give you ten gold dinars every month, and you feed the baby and take care of him. The Compassionate won't disappoint us if we are patient and do what is right."
"All right, what shall we name him?" Husna asked.
"Jundaba, because I found jundaba
locusts at his head."
Husna took Jundaba in her lap and nursed him until he was full, and she and Darim came to love their new son.
JUNDABA'S CHILDHOOD AND FIRST ADVENTURE
At seven, Jundaba attended Quranic school. As he grew up, he rode horses and learned the arts of combat. Through regularly challenging local champions and learning from them, Jundaba gradually developed into a capable rider and a ferocious warrior.
One day, as Darim was riding with his companions, he stumbled upon the land of a woman named Al-Shamta. Not knowing that she was a fierce warrior in her own right, he began to drive her livestock away, as was the custom among rivals. After all, he was accompanied by one hundred warriors. Then he heard a horn blown to alert Al-Shamta of a threat. Al-Shamta mounted her horse and rode to attack him and his companions. She felled many of them before making for him as quickly as water bursting out of the narrowness of a pipe. Realizing his mistake, he attempted to fight her, but she blocked his blows and overcame him, knocking him off his horse. She jumped down from her mount and tied him with his own turban, before slapping his horse on the rump, sending it away. His remaining servants fled from her and returned to his camp, calling out the terrible news of Darim's capture. One of Darim's servants returned with his master's horse, confirming the news.
By this time, Darim and Husna had ten strapping sons in addition to Jundaba, who was away herding animals in the mountains. The sons were knowledgeable about warfare and combat, so the people of Darim's camp appealed to them to rescue their father. They set out on horseback to avenge him, fully armored and carrying spears. When they arrived within sight of Al-Shamta's fortress, and she realized that they were Darim's sons, Al-Shamta rose to meet them like a hungry lioness. She put on her battle dress and went out like a mother protecting her cub. Carrying her spear and moving like a tiger, she entered the square outside and stood in its center. She addressed the young men: "Sons of Lord Darim, I have come out to you, so finish me off here in this square or be exterminated."
The eldest, like a great lion, approached her and spoke in rhyme,
Al-Shamta, I am here to ransom my father.
If you bring him out, I'll be no bother.
She replied in kind,
You've sealed your fate. I am Al-Shamta, whom even lions fear.
For you, it is now too late.
She attacked him, baring her teeth. Then she parried, evading him, and said, "May God give me victory over you all!"
Hearing the plural in her words, the eldest son assumed that his brothers had joined behind him to help him attack her. She distracted him, and while he was caught off guard, she grabbed the end of his turban and used the cloth to tie him up. When his brothers saw this, they all wanted to attack her, but forty warriors had joined her in an instant. They could not possibly win a battle at these odds, so the second eldest took his turn in single combat with Al-Shamta. Their exchange did not last long before she had bested him, and then she set to beating each of his brothers in turn.
When the news traveled to their mother, she screamed and cried inconsolably. She challenged the people of Darim's camp to arise and fight Al-Shamta. But no one took the challenge, and she went about mourning and fearing for her sons and their father.
Then Jundaba returned with the herds that he had been shepherding. During the months of his absence, he had grown into a strong man. When he saw the desperation of the only mother he had ever known, and heard the news from her, and that no one would go to right this wrong, he was very disturbed. He swore that he alone would rescue his brothers and Darim with his spear and his strength, "and if I fail to protect my father and brothers, then I am not of Darim's family. Pray for me, that God will help me and bring me home safely."
Then Jundaba mounted a tall, lean palomino. He carried a sharp sword and a dark spear and rode to Al-Shamta's fortress. When she saw him, she saw courage shining from his eyes. She mounted a horse as fierce as a wolf. Approaching him at a gentle pace, she called out, "Who are you, who seeks his own demise? If you are lost, we will guide you. If you are a guest, we will host you."
Jundaba replied, "Do not consider me as one who merely happened upon your land. I am a huntsman come to tear this valley apart, and I aim to kill you."
She replied, "Too bad for you. I can see that you are very young, and so I will make this easy for you. I am Al-Shamta. You know what happened to your father, Darim, my hostage. His children are all mine as well, and you will soon join them!"
Jundaba's face darkened. "Al-Shamta, I am like no warrior you have ever fought before. You have overpowered people for too long. By my hand alone, your entire fortress will fall, and Darim and his sons will go free. You have been a thorn in everyone's sides for too long!"
Al-Shamta attacked him with a thrust of her sword and found him solid and unfazed. He blocked her moves, and the day lengthened, the heat increasing until the earth shone with heat waves. When Jundaba saw Al-Shamta's fighting force of forty seasoned Black warriors gathering behind her, he switched his tactics to offense. He attacked, forcing her to the limits of her abilities, and finally ran her through with his sword. Seeing their leader dead on the ground, the warriors charged at Jundaba as one whole.
Jundaba faced them like thirsty ground receiving the first drops of rain. He met them with firmness, yelling, "Don't tempt me! Are you insane? Al- Shamta's end is in your favor! I wish you no harm. You are fierce like brave lions, and yet you've been working for a hag who never deserved you. If your loyalty lies in payment, then know that I won't take one uqal
At that, the warriors looked at one another and said, "He's right." Speaking for all of them, one said, "Do as you like. We'll support you."
Jundaba replied, "You are all honorable members of the people of Ham, son of Noah. I wish you no harm. As tokens of my good wishes, I leave this fort to you, and all the wealth that it contains, to be evenly divided among you. All I want is the peaceful release of my father and brothers."
The warriors were impressed by his graciousness, as well as his martial skills. They accompanied him to the citadel. Jundaba entered the place where his foster father was imprisoned and released him and his sons from their shackles. He led them out of the fortress and mounted them on tall horses. Together they returned home, accompanied by some herds and valuables that they had been given.
News of the rescue preceded them; all the people of their band came out to meet the party and to honor Jundaba. The story of his rescue made him famous, and he became an instructor for young people who sought him out in order to learn from the best.
THE ROMANCE OF LAYLA AND SAHSAH
After many adventures, Jundaba lost a battle in a botched attack, wounding both his body and his reputation within the Bani Kilab clan. One day he called for his brother Attaf, walking forward to greet him with the aid of a staff. Attaf was handsome, wealthy, and successful. With numerous herds and a large band of followers, he represented a much more stable future for the clan.
"Brother, leadership requires resources," began Jundaba, "and I have lost mine. I don't even like to ride anymore, since the loss of Muzna, my favorite horse. My time has passed, but I am responsible for others. I think it would be best if you took my place as amir of the Bani Kilab."
Then he called together his tribe, and his warriors agreed to follow Attaf. The new leader distributed horses, camels, silver, and gold, and the people celebrated the dawning era of prosperity.
Jundaba retired from public life, living a little apart. He wore rough clothing and suffered from bouts of illness. His friends deserted him. One night after his prayers, Jundaba laid down to sleep and had a vision.
"Jundaba," said the night visitor, "take heart. God has ordained that you will enter paradise. Moreover, you will have a son who will take your place, uniting the tribes and leading the people. Rejoice and worry not about your losses."
Jundaba passed away a short time later and was shrouded and buried. He was mourned by all his people, from the children to the elders. A few days later, his wife discovered that she was pregnant. As she was living in poverty, she thought, I must go see amir Attaf
She found him sitting in council, surrounded by people, so instead she went to visit his wife. She wept as she spoke, "My Lady, God has protected you from poverty, and yet you and your husband still lead justly. You have seen and heard of our losses. I come to you in my time of need. When their men die, we women are humbled; hearts are hardened against us."
Attaf's wife inclined her head. "Amira," she said, "our treasury is yours. It's true: I've never been poor. But the only reason I didn't offer you support earlier is that I didn't want to break your heart by making you feel like a charity case. Whatever fortune we have now is in part from you and your people. Please, live with us. What we have is yours." She gave Jundaba's widow some of her own garments and designated a central place for the widow within her pavilion.
Jundaba's widow stayed with Attaf's wife, eating and drinking with her, for a full week, and nothing was withheld from her. Then Attaf returned from his council, and his wife told him of Jundaba's widow. Attaf's eyes grew misty, and he murmured, "Treat others as you want to be remembered."
It so happened that the two women were both pregnant, and they began labor on the same day. One on each end of the pavilion, they were both attended by the midwives. The widow gave birth first, to a son as stunning as the full moon. Then Attaf's wife gave birth to a girl like the rising moon. She was named Layla, "Night," and the boy was named Sahsah, "Bright." They thrived like two shining stars and were raised together.
When they turned fifteen, they were both outstanding among their peers. Layla had black eyes and a long, graceful neck, and her smile was like a light in the darkness. Sahsah had a noble bearing and a gift for eloquence. Bravery shone from his eyes, and he moved with grace.
Layla would join her companions to pick flowers in the meadow, and Sahsah would go out to be in nature. One day, as Layla gathered blooms into her arms like a peacock's tail, Sahsah was taken by the lovely sight of her and the beautiful surroundings. His heart was wounded by the coquetry of her eyes. It overflowed, its contents pouring from his tongue in the form of poetry.
When Layla heard him, she was embarrassed and said, "Sahsah, you disgrace me with your poetry."
He replied, "My Lady, I neither meant you nor named you."
Worried nonetheless, she returned home to confide in her mother. Her mother said, "He must have meant someone else. After all, he is merely an orphan living under your father's protection."
One of the maids heard these words and spoke of the incident to some of her girl cousins. Somehow the news reached Layla's father. Furious that his daughter's charms might be exposed and even made popular and unforgettable through poetry, Attaf summoned his wife.
"Cousin," he concluded, "this Sahsah has reached manhood, and Layla has reached womanhood. They are accustomed to each other's company since childhood, but the time has come for them to part ways. Otherwise we could lose face among the clans." His wife agreed and went immediately to confront Sahsah.
"Peace be upon you," Sahsah greeted Layla's mother on her approach.
She returned his greeting, "Wa'alaykum salam
. Son, you have reached manhood, as everyone can tell. It is time for you to move on before you bring shame on us all. I say this not because I don't like you, but because I am concerned what people might say about us."
Sahsah's head and shoulders dropped, as if pulled down by reins. As he turned, tears flowed down his cheeks. He walked home, composing gloomy love poetry in his head.
When he complained to his mother that Layla's parents had cut off their support and forebade him from seeing Layla, she replied, "Son, this is what comes of that tongue of yours. If you had not spouted off poetry about Layla, we would be living comfortably all our lives. You put your uncle and his family in danger of gossip. You endangered Layla's prospects for marriage. Anyone envying or resenting them is sure to benefit from your behavior. You are merely an orphan and should not abuse the favor of those who helped raise you. Now you leave your moping and mooning around, and get to work. You and I will have to rely on our own strength now."
"No!" Sahsah broke into verse:
I am alight with passion—
For Layla, lonely
Blame me if you want,
It means naught to me.
His mother felt sorry for him, but she was also concerned about his reputation and his future. She warned him that pursuing Layla was potentially dangerous.
"But, Mother, she's perfect for me. And isn't she my paternal cousin? There is no shame in my paternity. We may be poor now, but our fortunes could turn."
"Shh! Do you want to ruin us? If talk like that reached your uncle, he'd be hard-pressed not to kill you on the spot, or at least banish you from here. Look, we'd be going hungry tonight if your uncle's household did not provide for us. When this is your reality, you have certain responsibilities. How does one climb to the heavens to reach the stars? One doesn't—not even with the support of allies—whether of the East or the West."
Sahsah sighed, and a tear spilled down his cheek. His longing for Layla grew, but his only recourse was poetry:
My heart heeds naysayers not
Don't tell me to be patient
My heart is full to bursting
They tell me to keep away
As if I were some vagabond.
Even from a distant land,
My heart homes to her
At news of her, my very being flies
Your face alone, dear Layla,
Remains my beacon.
"Mother, do you still have Father's old tent?"
"Yes, I stored it with a relative."
"Why don't you go get it, and we can set up camp on our own. I'll put it at the edge of the campsite." This sounded sensible to Sahsah's mother, because the end of the campsite was reserved for the poor and the needy. She went to Attaf's wife's quarters for a few items, and they settled into the old tent at the far end of the campsite. It took all Sahsah's willpower to resist the urge to go near his uncle's pavilion so he could check on Layla.
One day, when Sahsah's mother came to pick something up, Layla asked her, "How's my cousin?"
"My dear, he's a wreck. He spends his nights gazing at the stars." She told Layla everything, even reciting Sahsah's lovelorn poetry.
Layla sobbed, "Oh, Auntie, you know my parents didn't send him away because they didn't like him. They were just worried about what people would say about us being together so much. I love him... so much more than he loves me! If only his tongue had not lost him my father's protection. Tell him to keep his feelings under wraps and be patient. As they say, patience is beautiful
. May the One who allowed our separation see fit to bring us back together." She handed her a few coins. "Tell him to take heart, Auntie. Kiss his face and hands for me, and then tell him this:
Oh Sahsah, I have passion
Twice as much as yours.
I concealed from you my ardor
Now you conceal yours
Talk reached my father
I exhort patience upon myself for fear of losing you
Love has foreordained to censure us
For now, act unattached.
Sahsah's mother was heartened to learn of Layla's devotion to her son. "God bless you, Layla. Thank you," and she left to find her son. At home, he had just come in, so she called to him and recited for him Layla's poetry.
Sahsah did not sleep well that night.
At eighteen, Sahsah still loved Layla. My only fault
, he mused, is my poverty. Why don't I go out and find myself a fortune? I have no horse, armor, equipment, or money, but I also have nothing to lose
. He set out, barefoot, wearing only a shirt with sleeves too short. He looked the part of the orphan, someone lacking the support of a provider.
At dinnertime, his mother searched for him but could not find him. She feared that he had gone to his uncle's house, but when he was not there either, people began speaking of the poor son of Jundaba, if only his father could see him now. Attaf sent out a search party, but they returned empty-handed, and the tribe mourned his loss. Sahsah's mother wept at the grave of her late husband.
Sahsah walked by night and by day for three days, seeking fortune, or at least an end to his misery. On the fourth day, he arrived at a spacious meadow. Water lapped nearby, complete with waves, as if it were a sea. The land had absorbed buckets of water from the clouds overhead. Gazelles frolicked in the meadow, and birds sang on branches. There were flowers in bloom, and animals moved in the shade of the trees. Summer, in all his glory, had set up camp in the meadow, his pavilions laid out with flags flying. Having driven off winter, his troops filled the area with heaps of his bounty.
Sahsah halted and drank some water. He ate some of the food he had brought. Then he washed himself and prayed. As he sat on the ground, he ached to return but knew that his poverty would continue to hold him back. He raised his palms toward the sky, saying, "You who taught Adam the names of things, Creator of the heavens and the earth, I ask you in the name of all the prophets you sent, and your angels who remain near to us, and all those who follow you, including the one to whom you revealed your ayat
, please ease my burdens. Grant my desire, and bless me with legitimate wealth so I may return with it to my people. I ask this of the One who is near and hears our prayers."
The next morning, he washed and prayed the dawn prayer before eating from his dwindling provisions. Suddenly he noticed someone riding toward him. The horse was massive, built like a mountain. Sahsah remained seated until the horse reached him. The rider spoke as if with his last breath, "Peace be upon you." He was bleeding and injured. "Please, help me down." Sahsah helped ease the man to the ground, brought him water to drink, and treated his wounds.
He was dazzled by the horse. This horse could travel faster than a bird and stood as solid as a pillar of iron. Sahsah found himself in sympathy with its rider. "Tell me who did this to you."
"To be honest, I am a horse thief by trade. All my life, I have been stealing horses at night. I have stopped at nothing and feared no one. This is Shahiq; you may have heard tales of him. I set out from my tribe with the aim of taking this horse. From the stories alone, I had estimated his value at the price of four hundred camels, five male slaves, and five female slaves. When I arrived at their camp, I watched and waited, biding my time for days. Finally, I got him alone. As soon as I touched him with a crop, he flew away with me like a falcon! The whole tribe pursued me on horses from every direction, their swords drawn. Some of them preceded me to the river valley, to head me off. There they fell on me, injuring me pretty severely. But he rose like a shooting star or a deadly arrow, leaving them behind in a cloud of dust. It's been three days, and I'm still losing blood. My strength is gone, and I feel the world slipping away. I see that you don't have much to your name. Who are you?"
"My father was Jundaba of Bani Kilab." Sahsah recounted his story to the wounded rustler.
"Listen to me, boy. If you can carry me on my horse's back and return me to my people—you'll have to ride behind me—he's yours. If I die on the way, just take the horse in payment for helping me. I think you're more deserving of him than I am."
Sahsah agreed to help, but the rustler passed away that night. The next morning, Sahsah washed and buried him. Then he rode home.
Attaf was delighted by the sight of the formidable horse. "Tell me what happened," he urged. At the end of Sahsah's story, Attaf leaned back. "We were all worried about you when you went missing. Welcome back!"
Sahsah gave the horse to his uncle. Attaf said, "I remember hearing of this horse. If his owner had been willing to sell, I would have gladly paid one thousand camels for him. Now I have him for nothing, thanks to you, Ibn Jundaba.
"I won't leave you walking," Attaf said with a laugh, and called for a horse with the coloring of a blackbird. He also gave Sahsah a sword and armor, one hundred sheep, and ten camels. Sahsah thanked him and returned to his mother. She cried out in joy, covering his face with kisses.
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.