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Khalifah The Fisherman of Baghdad

Then he hurled the net with all his force, of the excess of his wrath, and the purse with the hundred dinars flew out of his collar pocket and, lighting in midstream, was carried away by the strong current. Whereupon he threw down the net, and doffing his clothes, left them on the bank and plunged into the water after the purse. He dived for it nigh a hundred times, till his strength was exhausted and he came up for sheer fatigue, without chancing on it. When he despaired of finding the purse, he returned to the shore, where he saw nothing but staff, net, and basket and sought for his clothes but could light on no trace of them. So he said in himself: "O vilest of those wherefor was made the byword: ’The pilgrimage is not perfected save by copulation with the camel!"’ Then he wrapped the net about him, and taking staff in one hand and basket in other, went trotting about like a camel in rut, running right and left and backward and forward, disheveled and dusty, as he were a rebel Marid let loose from Solomon’s prison.
So far for what concerns the fisherman Khalifah; but as regards the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, he had a friend, a jeweler called Ibn al-Kirnas, and all the traders, brokers, and middlemen knew him for the Caliph’s merchant. Wherefore there was naught sold in Baghdad by way of rarities and things of price or Mamelukes or handmaidens but was first shown to him. As he sat one day in his shop, behold, there came up to him the Sheikh of the brokers, with a slave girl whose like seers never saw, for she was of passing beauty and loveliness, symmetry and perfect grace, and among her gifts that she knew all arts and sciences and could make verses and play upon all manner musical instruments. So Ibn al-Kirnas bought her for five thousand golden dinars and clothed her with other thousand. After which he carried her to the Prince of True Believers, with whom she lay the night, and who made trial of her in every kind of knowledge and accomplishment and found her versed in all sorts of arts and sciences, having no equal in her time. Her name was Kut al-Kulub and she was even as saith the poet:

I fix my glance on her, whene’er she wends,
And nonacceptance of my glance breeds pain.
She favors graceful-necked gazelle at gaze,
And "Graceful as gazelle" to say we’re fain.

On the morrow the Caliph sent for Ibn al-Kirnas, the jeweler, and bade him receive ten thousand dinars to her price. And his heart was taken up with the slave girl Kut al-Kulub and he forsook the Lady Zubaydah bint al-Kasim, for all she was the daughter of his father’s brother, and he abandoned all his favorite concubines and abode a whole month without stirring from Kut al-Kulub’s side save to go to the Friday prayers and return to her all in haste. This was grievous to the lords of the realm and they complained thereof to the Wazir Ja’afar the Barmecide, who bore with the Commander of the Faithful and waited till the next Friday, when he entered the cathedral mosque and, forgathering with the Caliph, related to him all that occurred to him of extraordinary stories anent seld-seen love and lovers, with intent to draw out what was in his mind.
Quoth the Caliph, "By Allah, O Ja’afar, this is not of my choice, but my heart is caught in the snare of love and wot I not what is to be done!" The Wazir Ja’afar replied: "O Commander of the Faithful, thou knowest how this girl Kut al-Kulub is become at thy disposal and of the number of thy servants, and that which hand possesseth soul coveteth not. Moreover, I will tell thee another thing, which is that the highest boast of kings and princes is in hunting and the pursuit of sport and victory; and if thou apply thyself to this, perchance it will divert thee from her, and it may be thou wilt forget her." Rejoined the Caliph: "Thou sayest well, O Ja’afar. Come let us go a-hunting forthright, without stay or delay." So soon as Friday prayers were prayed, they left the mosque, and at once mounting their she-mules, rode forth to the chase, occupied with talk, and their attendants outwent them.
Presently the heat became overhot and Al-Rashid said to his Wazir, "O Ja’afar, I am sore athirst." Then he looked around, and espying a figure in the distance on a high mound, asked Ja’afar, "Seest thou what I see?" Answered the Wazir: "Yes; O Commander of the Faithful. I see a dim figure on a high mound. Belike he is the keeper of a garden or of a cucumber plot, and in whatso wise water will not be lacking in his neighborhood," presently adding, "I will go to him and fetch thee some." But Al-Rashid said: "My mule is swifter than thy mule, so do thou abide here, on account of the troops, whilst I go myself to him and get of this person drink and return." So saying, he urged his she-mule, which started off like racing wind or railing water, and in the twinkling of an eye made the mound, where he found the figure he had, seen to be none other than Khalifah the fisherman, naked and wrapped in the net.
And indeed he was horrible to behold, as to and fro he rolled with eyes for very redness like cresset gleam and dusty hair in disheveled trim, as he were, Ifrit or a lion grim. Al-Rashid saluted him and he returned his salutation, but he was wroth, and fires might have been lit at his breath. Quoth the Caliph, "O man, hast thou any water?" and quote Khalifah: "How, thou, art thou blind, or Jinnmad? Get thee to the river Tigris, for ’tis behind this mound." So Al-Rashid went around the mound, and going down to the river, drank and watered his mule. Then without a moment’s delay he returned to Khalifah and said to him, "What aileth thee, O man, to stand here, and what is thy calling.?" The fisherman cried: "This is a stranger and sillier question than that about the water! Seest thou not the gear of my craft on my shoulder?" Said the Caliph, "Belike thou art a fisherman?" and he replied, "Yes." Asked Al-Rashid, "Where is thy gabardine, and where are thy waistcloth and girdle, and where be the rest of thy raiment?"
Now these were the very things which had been taken from Khalifah, like for like, so when he heard the Caliph name them, he got into his head that it was he who had stolen his clothes from the riverbank, and coming down from the top of the mound, swiftlier than the blinding levin, laid hold of the mule’s bridle, saying, "Hark ye, man, bring me back my things and leave jesting and joking." Al-Rashid replied, "By Allah, I have not seen thy clothes, nor know aught of them!" Now the Caliph had large cheeks and a small mouth, so Khalifah said to him: "Belike thou art by trade a singer, or a piper on pipes? But bring me back my clothes fairly and without more ado, or I will bash thee with this my staff till thou bepiss thyself and befoul thy clothes." When Al-Rashid saw the staff in the fisherman’s hand and that he had the vantage of him, he said to himself, "By Allah, I cannot brook from this mad beggar half a blow of that staff!" Now he had on a satin gown, so he pulled it off and gave it to Khalifah, saying, "O man, take this in place of thy clothes." The fisherman took it and turned it about and said, "My clothes are worth ten of this painted aba cloak," and rejoined the Caliph, "Put it on till I bring thee thy gear."
So Khalifah donned the gown, but finding it too long for him, took a knife he had with him tied to the handle of his basket, and cut off nigh a third of the skirt, so that it fell only beneath his knees. Then he turned to Al-Rashid and said to him, "Allah upon thee, O piper, tell me what wage thou gettest every month from thy master, for thy craft of piping." Replied the Caliph, "My wage is ten dinars a month," and Khalifah continued: "By Allah, my poor fellow, thou makest me sorry for thee! Why, I make thy ten dinars every day! Hast thou a mind to take service with me, and I will teach thee the art of fishing and share my gain with thee? So shalt thou make five dinars a day and be my slavey and I will protect thee against thy master with this staff." Quoth Al-Rashid, "I will well," and quoth Khalifah: "Then get off thy she-ass and tie her up, so she may serve us to carry the fish hereafter, and come hither, that I may teach thee to fish forthright."
So Al-Rashid alighted, and hobbling his mule, tucked his skirts into his girdle, and Khalifah said to him, "O piper, lay hold of the net thus and put it over thy forearm thus and cast it into the Tigris thus." Accordingly the Caliph took heart of grace and, doing as the fisherman showed him, threw the net and pulled at it, but could not draw it up. So Khalifah came to his aid and tugged at it with him, but the two together could not hale it up. Whereupon said the fisherman: "O piper of ill-omen, for the first time I took thy gown in place of my clothes, but this second time I will have thine ass and will beat thee to boot till thou bepiss and beskit thyself, an I find my net torn." Quoth Al-Rashid, "Let the twain of us pull at once." So they both pulled together, and succeeded with difficulty in hauling that net ashore, when they found it full of fish of all kinds and colors, and Khalifah said to Al-Rashid: "By Allah, O piper, thou art foul of favor but an thou apply thyself to fishing, thou wilt make a mighty fine fisherman. But now ’twere best thou bestraddle thine ass and make for the market and fetch me a pair of frails, and I will look after the fish till thou return, when I and thou will load it on thine ass’s back. I have scales and weights and all we want, so we can take them with us, and thou wilt have nothing to do but to hold the scales and punch the price. For here we have fish worth twenty dinars. So be fast with the frails and loiter not."
Answered the Caliph, "I hear and obey" and mounting, left him with his fish, and spurred his mule, in high good humor, and ceased not laughing over his adventure with the fisherman till he came up to Ja’afar, who said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, belike when thou wentest down to drink, thou foundest a pleasant flower garden and enteredst and tookest thy pleasure therein alone?" At this Al-Rashid fell a laughing again and all the Barmecides rose and kissed the ground before him, saying: "O Commander of the Faithful, Allah make joy to endure for thee and do away annoy from thee! What was the cause of thy delaying when thou faredst to drink, and what hath befallen thee?" Quoth the Caliph, "Verily, a right wondrous tale and a joyous adventure and a wondrous hath befallen me.
And he repeated to them what had passed between himself and the fisherman and his words, "Thou stolest my clothes!" and how he had given him his gown and how he had cut off a part of it, finding it too long for him. Said Ja’afar, "By Allah, O Commander of the Faithful, I had it in mind to beg the gown of thee, but now I will go straight to the fisherman and buy it of him." The Caliph replied, "By Allah, he hath cut off a third part of the skirt and spoilt it! But, O Ja’afar, I am tired with fishing in the river, for I have caught great store of fish, which I left on the bank with my master Khalifah, and he is watching them and waiting for me to return to him with a couple of frails and a matchet. Then we are to go, I and he, to the market and sell the fish and share the price." Ja’afar rejoined, "O Commander of the Faithful, I will bring you a purchaser for your fish." And Al-Rashid retorted: "O Ja’afar, by the virtue of my holy forefathers, whoso bringeth me one of the fish that are before Khalifah, who taught me angling, I will give him for it a gold dinar!" So the crier proclaimed among the troops that they should go forth and buy fish for the Caliph, and they all arose and made for the riverside.
Now while Khalifah was expecting the Caliph’s return with the two frails, behold, the Mamelukes swooped down upon him like vultures and took the fish and wrapped them in gold-embroidered kerchiefs, beating one another in their eagerness to get at the fisherman Whereupon quoth Khalifah, "Doubtless these are the fish of Paradise!" and hending two fish right hand and left, plunged into the water up to his neck and fell a-saying, "O Allah, by the virtue of these fish, let Thy servant the piper, my partner, came to me at this very moment." And suddenly up to him came a black slave which was the chief of the Caliph’s Negro eunuchs. He had tarried behind the rest, by reason of his horse having stopped to make water by the way, and finding that naught remained of the fish, little or much, looked right and left till he espied Khalifah standing in the stream with a fish in either hand, and said to him, "Come hither, O Fisherman!" But Khalifah replied, "Begone and none of your impudence!" So the eunuch went up to him and said, "Give me the fish and I will pay thee their price." Replied the fisherman: "Art thou little of wit? I will not sell them." Therewith the eunuch drew his mace upon him, and Khalifah cried out, saying: "Strike not, O loon! Better largess than the mace."
So saying, he threw the two fishes to the eunuch, who took them and laid them in his kerchief. Then he put hand in pouch, but found not a single dirham, and said to Khalifah: "O fisherman, verily thou art out of luck for, by Allah, I have not a silver about me! But come tomorrow to the palace of the Caliphate and ask for the eunuch Sandal, whereupon the castratos will direct thee to me, and by coming thither thou shalt get what falleth to thy lot and therewith wend thy ways." Quoth Khalifah, "Indeed, this is a blessed day, and its blessedness was manifest from the first of it!"
Then he shouldered his net and returned to Baghdad, and as he passed through the streets, the folk saw the Caliph’s gown on him and stared at him till he came to the gate of his quarter, by which was the shop of the Caliph’s tailor. When the man saw him wearing dress of the apparel of the Caliph, worth a thousand dinars, he said to him, "O Khalifah, whence hadst thou that gown?" Replied the fisherman: "What aileth thee to be impudent? I had it of one whom I taught to fish and who is become my apprentice. I forgave him the cutting off of his hand for that he stole my clothes and gave me this cape in their place." So the tailor knew that the Caliph had come upon him as he was fishing and jested with him and given him the gown.

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