Post-classical history

§ The Brutality of al-Yaghisiyani

The atabeg used to say to me, ‘I have three retainers:278 one of them fears God (may He be exalted) but does not fear me [157] (meaning Zayn al-Din ‘Ali Kujak, may God have mercy upon him); the second fears me, but does not fear God (may He be exalted) (meaning Nasir al-Din Sunqur, may God have mercy upon him); and the third fears neither God nor me (meaning Salah al-Din al-Yaghisiyani, may God have mercy upon him).’

I witnessed something of al-Yaghisiyani (may God overlook his excesses) that confirms what the atabeg said. One day we marched against Homs. But the night before, such a great rain had fallen on the ground that the horses were unable to manage with the thick layer of mud there, while our infantry were already engaged. Al-Yaghisiyani had halted and I was by his side, and we could see the infantry before us. Just then, one of our infantrymen ran over to the infantry of Homs and hid among them while al-Yaghisiyani watched him. So he said to one of his comrades, ‘Go and fetch the man who was next to the one who deserted.’ And he went and got him.

Al-Yaghisiyani asked him, ‘Who was that who fled from his post by your side and entered Homs?’

‘By God, my lord,’ the soldier replied, ‘I don’t know him.’

‘Cut this man in half!’ ordered al-Yaghisiyani.

At this, I said, ‘My lord, you should imprison this man and investigate further the case of that man who deserted. If it turns out that he does know him or is related to him, then you can execute him. If not, then you can deal with him as you see fit.’

He looked as if he was inclined to my suggestion, but a retainer of his standing behind him said, ‘If a soldier flees, the man that was next to him is taken and either has his head struck off or is cut in half.’

The retainer’s words revived al-Yaghisiyani’s rancour and so he ordered him to be cut in half. They trussed the soldier up following the usual procedure and chopped him in two. But no fault can be brought to al-Yaghisiyani except for his obstinacy and his lack of fear of the punishment of God, may He be exalted.

I was in his presence on another occasion after our return from the battle at Baghdad.279 The atabeg was going to great lengths to give an appearance of endurance and strength and had ordered al-Yaghisiyani to march against the amir Qafjaq and [158] take him by surprise. We set out from Mosul for a journey of six days, although we were extremely weak. When we arrived at Qafjaq’s location, we found that he had perched himself up in the mountains of Kuhistan.280 So we went down to a fortress called Masurra and encamped against it at sunrise.

Just then, a woman came up to us from the fortress, saying, ‘Have you got some raw cloth with you?’

We replied, ‘Is this really the time for buying and selling?’

‘We need the cloth’, she said, ‘to use as your winding-sheets. In five days, you’ll all be dead.’ By this, she was telling us that the place was stricken with disease.

Al-Yaghisiyani set up camp and planned out an attack on the fortress for the early morning. He ordered the sappers to go in under the walls of one of the towers, since the fortress was built entirely of mud-brick, and the soldiers manning it were just peasants. Meanwhile, we marched on the fortress and climbed up towards its hill. The Khurasanian troops undermined one tower, which collapsed with two men on it. One of these men was killed, but the other was taken captive by our comrades, who brought him to al-Yaghisiyani

‘Cut him in half!’ he said.

‘My lord,’ I said, ‘this is the month of Ramadan, and this man is a Muslim. We cannot bear such a sin.’

Al-Yaghisiyani replied, ‘Cut him in half so they’ll surrender the fortress!’

‘My lord,’ I said, ‘you will be taking possession of the fortress in but a moment.’

‘Cut him in half,’ he repeated. And they trussed the man up and chopped him in two.

We took the fortress that very moment.

Al-Yaghisiyani then went to the gate, intending to descend from the fortress, a crowd and the victors accompanying him.

He delegated control of the fortress to a group of his comrades and went on down to his tent just for a moment, but long enough for the army that was with him to disperse. Then he took to his horse and said to me, ‘Mount up!’

We rode out and climbed up to the fortress, where he seated himself and ordered the intendant of the fortress to be brought before him so that he might find out from him what was in it. He likewise had the women and children brought before him, Christians and Jews.

An old Kurdish woman came and presented herself before him. She asked the intendant of the fortress, ‘Have you seen my son?’ and gave his name.

‘Killed,’ he replied. ‘An arrow got him.’

‘And my other son?’ she asked, giving his name.

‘The amir cut him in half,’ he replied.

The woman screamed and uncovered her head, her hair looking like carded cotton.

[159]’Quiet! The amir!’ said the intendant of the fortress to her.

‘And what more could he possibly do to me?’ she asked. ‘I had two sons and he has killed them both!’

But they just pushed her away.

The intendant then went and brought forward a very old man, with lovely white hair, who was walking on two canes. He greeted al-Yaghisiyani.

‘And who is this old man?’ asked the amir.

‘The imam of the fortress,’ replied the keeper.

‘Come forward, old man,’ the amir beckoned, saying, ‘Come, come,’ until the old man sat before him. The amir then reached out and grabbed the old man’s beard and, pulling out a knife that was hanging from the belt of his robe, cut off his beard right close to his chin and dangled it from his hand like a parcham-ornament.281

So the old man said to him, ‘My lord, what have I done to make you do such a thing to me?’

‘You have rebelled against the sultan!’ he replied.

‘By God,’ the old man responded, ‘I didn’t even know you had arrived until just now when the intendant came and told me when he summoned me.’

We then departed and encamped against another fortress belonging to the amir Qafjaq, called al-Karkhini.282 We captured it and found there a treasury full of raw cloth that had been woven as alms for the poor of Mecca. Al-Yaghisiyani also took captive all the Jews and Christians in that fortress, people of the covenant, and plundered both fortresses as if he were plundering Romans!283 Glory be to God, and may He overlook his excesses.

I will stop in this section at this point, following the example of my own verses:

Stop now from the mention of those whom passion has slain,

   Their tale would turn the hair of our newborns white.

§ Bravery Saves the Day

I will return now to an account of something that happened to us while the Isma’ilis were in the citadel of Shayzar.

On that day, a cousin of mine called Abu ‘Abdallah ibn Hashim (may God have mercy upon him) was walking along [160] when he saw a Batini man in a tower of my father’s home, wielding a sword and shield. The door was open and a great crowd of our comrades stood outside it, but no one dared to go in.

So my cousin said to one of those men standing there, ‘Get in there after him!’ and he did.

But the Batini did not waste any time and struck the man, injuring him, and the man came back out, wounded. Now my cousin said to another man, ‘Go in after him!’

The man did so, but the Batini struck him, too, and wounded him and he came back out, just as his comrade had done. So then my cousin said to Chief Jawad, ‘Chief Jawad, you go in there after him.’

At this, the Batini shouted down to my cousin, ‘Hey, hang-behind! How come you don’t come in here? You send everybody else in, but you just stand there. Get in here so’s you can get a look!’

Chief Jawad now went in and killed the Batini. This Jawad was a master of combat, a man of courage and an expert fighter.

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