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Khalifah The Fisherman of Baghdad

Such was his case, but as regards Harun al-Rashid, he had gone out a-hunting and a-fishing only to divert his thoughts from the damsel Kut al-Kulub. But when Zubaydah heard of her and of the Caliph’s devotion to her, the lady was fired with the jealousy which the more especially fireth women, so that she refused meat and drink and rejected the delights of sleep, and awaited the Caliph’s going forth on a journey or what not, that she might set a snare for the damsel. So when she learnt that he was gone hunting and fishing, she bade her women furnish the palace fairly and decorate it splendidly and serve up viands and confections. And amongst the rest she made a China dish of the daintiest sweetmeats that can be made, wherein she had put bhang.
Then she ordered one of her eunuchs go to the damsel Kut al-Kulub and bid her to the banquet, saying: "The Lady Zubaydah bint alKasim, the wife of the Commander of the Faithful, hath drunken medicine today, and having heard tell of the sweetness of thy singing, longeth to divert herself with somewhat of thine art." Kut al-Kulub replied, "Hearing and obedience are due to Allah and the Lady Zubaydah," and rose without stay or delay, unknowing what was hidden for her in the secret purpose. Then she took with her what instruments she needed and, accompanying the eunuch, ceased not faring till she stood in the presence of the Princess. When she entered she kissed the ground before her again and again, then rising to her feet, said: "Peace be on the Lady of the exalted seat and the presence whereto none may avail, daughter of the house Abbasi and scion of the Prophet’s family! May Allah fulfill thee of peace and prosperity in the days and the years!"
Then she stood with the rest of the women and eunuchs, and presently the Lady Zubaydah raised her eyes and considered her beauty and loveliness. She saw a damsel with cheeks smooth as rose and breasts like granado, a face moon-bright, a brow flower-white, and great eyes black as night. Her eyelids were languor-dight and her face beamed with light, as if the sun from her forehead arose and the murks of the night from the locks of her brow. And the fragrance of musk from her breath strayed, and flowers bloomed in her lovely face inlaid. The moon beamed from her forehead and in her slender shape the branches swayed. She was like the full moon shining in the nightly shade. Her eyes wantoned, her eyebrows were like a bow arched, and her lips of coral molded. Her beauty amazed all who espied her and her glances amated all who eyed her. Glory be to Him Who formed her and fashioned her and perfected her!
Quoth the Lady Zubaydah: "Well come, and welcome and fair cheer to thee, O Kut al-Kulub! Sit and divert us with thine art and the goodliness of thine accomplishments." Quoth the damsel, "I hear and I obey," and rose and exhibited tricks of sleight of hand and legerdemain and all manner pleasing arts, till the Princess came near to fall in love with her and said to herself, "Verily, my cousin Al-Rashid is not to blame for loving her!" Then the damsel kissed ground before Zubaydah and sat down, whereupon they set food before her. Presently they brought her the drugged dish of sweetmeats and she ate thereof, and hardly had it settled in her stomach when her head fell backward and she sank on the ground sleeping. With this, the lady said to her women, "Carry her up to one of the chambers, till I summon her," and they replied, "We hear and we obey. Then said she to one of her eunuchs, "Fashion me a chest and bring it hitherto to me!" And shortly afterward she bade make the semblance of a tomb and spread the report that Kut al-Kulub had choked and died, threatening her familiars that she would smite the neck of whoever should say, "She is alive."
Now, behold, the Caliph suddenly returned from the chase, and the first inquiry he made was for the damsel. So there came to him one of his eunuchs, whom the Lady Zubaydah had charged to declare she was dead if the Caliph should ask for her and, kissing ground before him, said: "May thy head live, O my lord! Be certified that Kut al-Kulub choked in eating and is dead." Whereupon cried Al-Rashid, "God never gladden thee with good news, O thou bad slave!" and entered the palace, where he heard of her death from everyone and asked, "Where is her tomb?" So they brought him to the sepulcher and showed him the pretended tomb, saying, "This is her burial place." The Caliph, weeping sore for her, abode by the tomb a full hour, after which he arose and went away, in the utmost distress and the deepest melancholy.
So the Lady Zubaydah saw that her plot had succeeded, and forthright sent for the eunuch and said, "Hither with the chest!" He set it before her, when she bade bring the damsel, and locking her up therein, said to the eunuch: "Take all pains to sell this chest, and make it a condition with the purchaser that he buy it locked. Then give alms with its price." So he took it and went forth to do her bidding.
Thus fared it with these, but as for Khalifah the fisherman, when morning morrowed and shone with its light and sheen, he said to himself, "I cannot do aught better today than visit the eunuch who bought the fish of me, for he appointed me to come to him in the palace of the Caliphate." So he went forth of his lodging, intending for the palace, and when he came thither, he found Mamelukes, Negro slaves, and eunuchs standing and sitting, and looking at them, behold, seated amongst them was the eunuch who had taken the fish of him, with the white slaves waiting on him. Presently, one of the Mameluke lads called out to him, whereupon the eunuch turned to see who he was and lo! it was the fisherman. Now when Khalifah was ware that he saw him and recognized him, he said to him: "I have not failed thee, O my little Tulip! On this wise are men of their word." Hearing his address, Sandal the eunuch laughed and replied, "By Allah, thou art right, O Fisherman," and put his hand to his pouch, to give him somewhat. But at that moment there arose a great clamor. So he raised his head to see what was to do, and finding that it was the Wazir Ja’afar the Barmecide coming forth from the Caliph’s presence, he rose to him and forewent him, and they walked about conversing for a longsome time.
Khalifah the fisherman waited awhile, then, growing weary of standing, and finding that the eunuch took no heed of him, he set himself in his way and beckoned to him from afar, saying, "O my lord Tulip, give me my due and let me go!" The eunuch heard him, but was ashamed to answer him because of the Minister’s presence, so he went on talking with Ja’afar and took no notice whatever of the fisherman. Whereupon quoth Khalifah: "O slow o’ pay! May Allah put to shame all churls and all who take folk’s goods and are niggardly with them! I put myself under thy protection, O my lord Bran-belly, to give me my due and let me go!" The eunuch heard him, but was ashamed to answer him before Ja’afar, and the Minister saw the fisherman beckoning and talking to him, though he knew not what he was saying. So he said to Sandal, misliking his behavior, "O Eunuch, what would yonder beggar with thee?" Sandal replied, "Dost thou not know him, O my lord the Wazir?" and Ja’afar answered: "By Allah I know him not! How should I know a man I have never seen but at this moment?"
Rejoined the Eunuch: "O my lord, this is the fisherman whose fish we seized on the banks of the Tigris. I came too late to get any and was ashamed to return to the Prince of True Believers emptyhanded when all the Mamelukes had some. Presently I espied the fisherman standing in midstream, calling on Allah, with four fishes in his hands, and said to him, ’Give me what thou hast there and take their worth.’ He handed me the fish and I put my hand into my pocket, purposing to gift him with somewhat, but found naught therein and said, ’Come to me in the palace, and I will give thee wherewithal to aid thee in thy poverty.’ So he came to me today and I was putting hand to pouch, that I might give him somewhat, when thou camest forth and I rose to wait on thee and was diverted with thee from him, till he grew tired of waiting. And this is the whole story how he cometh to be standing here."
The Wazir, hearing this account, smiled and said: "O Eunuch, how is it that this fisherman cometh in his hour of need and thou satisfiest him not? Dost thou not know him, O chief of the eunuchs?" "No," answered Sandal, and Ja’afar said. "This is the master of the Commander of the Faithful, and his partner and our lord the Caliph hath arisen this morning strait of breast, heavy of heart, and troubled in thought, nor is there aught will broaden his breast save this fisherman. So let him not go till I crave the Caliph’s pleasure concerning him and bring him before him. Perchance Allah will relieve him of his oppression and console him for the loss of Kut al-Kulub by means of the fisherman’s presence, and he will give him wherewithal to? better himself, and thou wilt be the cause of this." Replied Sandal: "O my lord, do as thou wilt, and may Allah Almighty long continue thee a pillar of the dynasty of the Commander of the Faithful, whose shadow Allah perpetuate and prosper it, root and branch!"
Then the Wazir Ja’afar rose up and went in to the Caliph, and Sandal ordered the Mamelukes not to leave the fisherman, whereupon Khalifah cried: "How goodly is thy bounty, O Tulip! The seeker is become the sought. I come to seek my due, and they imprison me for debts in arrears!" When Ja’afar came into the presence of the Caliph, he found him sitting with his head bowed earthward, breast straitened and mind melancholy, humming the verses of the poet:

My blamers instant bid that I for her become consoled,
But I, what can I do, whose heart declines to be controlled?
And how can I in patience bear the loss of lovely maid
When fails me patience for a love that holds with firmest hold!
Ne’er I’ll forget her nor the bowl that ’twixt us both went round
And wine of glances maddened me with drunkenness ensouled.

Whenas Ja’afar stood in the presence, he said: "Peace be upon thee, O Commander of the Faithful, Defender of the honor of the Faith and descendant of the uncle of the Prince of the Apostles, Allah assain him and save him and his family one and an!" The Caliph raised his head and answered, "And on thee be. peace and the mercy of Allah and His blessings!" Quoth Ja’afar, "With leave of the Prince of True Believers, his servant would speak without restraint." Asked the Caliph: "And when was restraint put upon thee in speech, and thou the Prince of Wazirs? Say what thou wilt." Answered Ja’afar: "When I went out, O my lord, from before thee, intending for my house, I saw standing at the door thy master and teacher and partner, Khalifah the fisherman, who was aggrieved at thee and complained of thee, saying: ’Glory be to God! I taught him to fish and he went away to fetch me a pair of frails, but never came back. And this is not the way of a good partner or of a good apprentice.’ So, if thou hast a mind to partnership, well and good; and if not, tell him, that he may take to partner another."
Now when the Caliph heard these words, he smiled and his straitness of breast was done away with and he said, "My life on thee, is this the truth thou sayest, that the fisherman standeth at the door?" and Ja’afar replied, "By thy life, O Commander of the Faithful, he standeth at the door." Quoth the Caliph: "O Ja’afar, by Allah, I will assuredly do my best to give him his due! If Allah at my hands send him misery, he shall have it, and if prosperity, he shall have it." Then he took a piece of paper, and cutting it in pieces, said to the Wazir: "O Ja’afar, write down with thine own hand twenty sums of money, from one dinar to a thousand, and the names of all kinds of offices and dignities from the least appointment to the Caliphate; also twenty kinds of punishment, from the hightest beating to death." "I hear and I obey, O Commander of the Faithful," answered Ja’afar, and did as he was bidden.

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