Post-classical history

§ The Hunt Must Go On

[214] The lord of Antioch once camped against us and we went to battle. But then he left without negotiating any truce. Even though the Frankish rearguard had not yet gone very far from the town, my father (may God have mercy upon him) had already ridden out to go hunting. When he had gone some way from town, the Franks turned back upon our own horsemen who had gone in their pursuit. The Franks eventually arrived outside the town. In the meantime, my father climbed up Tall Sikkin53 to observe them as they stood between him and the town. He remained in his position on top of that hill until they withdrew from the town. He then returned to the hunt.

§ Arab Horses versus Common Hackneys

My father (may God have mercy upon him) used to pursue roe-deer in the land around the Bridge Fortress. On one particular day, he must have bagged five or six of them while on a black horse of his called ‘Khurji’s horse’54 after the name of its owner, who sold it to my father. He bought it from him for 320 dinars. Anyway, as he was chasing the last of the roes, the front leg of the horse went into a pit that had been dug to catch wild boar and so the horse tumbled on top of him and broke my father’s collar-bone. Then the horse stood back up and galloped along for another twenty cubits or so, while my father was still flat on the ground. But then the horse returned and stood by his head neighing and whickering until he stood up and his attendants came and helped him to remount. This is how an Arab horse behaves.

Now, I went out with my father (may God have mercy upon him) towards the mountain to hunt partridge. An attendant of his, named Lu’lu’ (may God have mercy upon him), was riding a common hackney. This attendant started dismounting in order to attend to some errand of his own while it was still early in the morning and we were close to town. But when his hackney saw the shadow of his quiver, it became startled and threw him down, and ran off loose. So I, by God, galloped after it, along with an attendant of mine; we tried to catch it from early that morning until late in the afternoon until finally [215] we drove it to take refuge with a herd of animals pasturing in one of the cane-brakes. The herdsmen went and stretched out a rope for the hackney and captured it just like one captures a wild beast. So then I took it and returned. In the meantime, my father (may God have mercy upon him) was standing outside town waiting for me – he neither went hunting nor went to rest in his house. Thus, hackneys are more like wild beasts than horses.

§ A Scholar Tries to Save a Partridge

My father (may God have mercy upon him) told me the following story:

I used to go out hunting accompanied by chief Abu Turab Haydara ibn Qatramir – may God have mercy upon him (he was his sheikh, under whom he memorized the Qur’an and studied Arabic55). When we arrived at the hunting-grounds, Abu Turab would dismount and sit on a rock and recite the Qur’an while we did our hunting around him. Once we finished with the hunt, he would mount up and ride with us. One day he told me the following:

‘Sir, as I was sitting on a rock a partridge suddenly came trotting up, exhausted, towards the very rock upon which I was sitting. It slipped under cover of the rock just as a goshawk came in hot pursuit, though it was still a way off. The hawk now descended across from me while Lu’lu’ was shouting, ‘‘Your eyes, your eyes,56 master!’’ He then came galloping up, while I was saying, ‘‘O God, protect the partridge!’’ Lu’lu’ then said to me, ‘‘Master, where is the partridge?’’ I replied, ‘‘I didn’t see a thing. It didn’t come through here.’’ But then he dismounted from his horse and walked around the rock and, looking underneath it, he saw the partridge and said, ‘‘I say the partridge is here, yet you say it isn’t!’’ Then he took the partridge and… dear sir… he broke its legs and threw it to the hawk even as my heart was breaking into pieces because of it.’

§ Lu’lu’ and the Hares

This Lu’lu’ (may God have mercy upon him) was one of the most experienced men when it came to hunting. I saw him one day [216] when a number of hares, having been roused, came towards us from the wilderness. We used to go out and hunt them in large numbers. They were small, reddish hares. I saw Lu’lu’ one day, he having roused ten hares, hit and kill nine of them with his pike.57 Then he made for the tenth. But my father (may God have mercy upon him) just said to him, ‘Leave it alone. Let it run for the hounds and we’ll have some fun watching it.’ So they let it run and loosed the hounds on it. But the hare out-ran the hounds and escaped. At this Lu’lu’ exclaimed, ‘My lord, if you had just let me try to hit it, I would have got it!’

One day I saw a hare, which we had roused from its burrow and on which we had loosed our hounds. But it was driven into a hole in the bed of a wadi.58 A black bitch that was chasing it went into the hole after it, but the bitch came immediately out again, yelping, then fell to the ground and died. We had not even left her before she broke out in sores and she lay there dead and rotting. This was because a viper had bitten her when she went into the hole.

§ Amazing Bird-Stories

Another amazing occurrence while hunting with goshawks was the following. I had gone out hunting with my father (may God have mercy upon him), right after a period of constant rain that had kept us from any riding for days. Once the rain stopped, we went out with the hawks, hoping to catch some waterfowl. We saw some birds in a meadow beneath a rise. My father went forward and slipped on them a goshawk that was intermewed. The hawk flew up with the flushed birds, footed59 one of them and came to earth. But we could not see that it had any game. We dismounted where it had landed and – of all things – it had caught a starling,60 closing its talons around it without injuring or hurting it. The austringer bent down and released the starling, which was safe and sound.

[217] I have seen fortitude and courage in the ‘salamander-goose’ like the fortitude and courage of men. Here is an example. We once slipped our sakers on a flock of salamander-geese and beat the drum. They flew off and the sakers came up on the geese and took one, which they brought down to the ground far away from us. The goose cried out and five or six others rushed to it, beating back the sakers with their wings. Had we not arrived quickly on the scene, they would have got away with the goose that had been taken and would have cut up the sakers’ wings with their beaks.

This is in contrast to the courage of the bustard. When the saker gets near to the bustard, it descends to the ground. In whatever way the saker circles round it, the bustard keeps its tail facing the saker. When the saker closes in, the bustard mutes61 on it, covering its feathers and filling its eyes. If the bustard misses, then the saker will take it.

One of the most unusual hunts that a hawk engaged in with my father (may God have mercy upon him) took place like this:

My father had on his wrist a young hawk, still downy.62 On a stretch of water was an ‘ayma,63 which is a large bird the colour of a heron, but bigger than a crane, measuring fourteen spans from the tip of one wing to the other. The hawk began to seek out the‘ayma, so my father slipped it upon it and beat the drum for it. The ‘ayma flew up, but the hawk struck at its middle and managed to take it. They both then fell into the water. As it was, this was the cause of the hawk’s escape, for if it hadn’t done so, the‘aymawould surely have killed it with its beak. But one of the attendants threw himself into the water, clothed and armoured, and grabbed the ‘ayma and lifted it out. When it got to dry ground, the hawk just looked at it, [218] screeched and flew away from it, and didn’t bother it again. I have never seen a hawk try to hunt an ‘ayma, save that one. For the ‘ayma is as Abu al-’Ala’ ibn Sulayman64 said regarding the phoenix:

‘I consider the phoenix too great to be caught in the chase.’

My father (God have mercy upon him) used to head out for the Bridge Fortress, which was rich with game, and would stay there for a few days. We would accompany him, hunting partridge, francolin, waterfowl, roe-deer, gazelle and hare. One day he headed out there and we rode out to chase francolin. My father slipped at a francolin a certain goshawk that was carried and trained by a mamluk named Niqula. Niqula then set off at a gallop behind the hawk, but in the meantime the francolin had taken cover in a thicket of brambles. Suddenly, the cries of Niqula filled our ears and he returned at full gallop.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ we asked.

‘A lion came out of the thicket where the francolin came down,’ he replied, ‘so I left the hawk behind and fled.’ But – guess what? – the lion was as cowardly as Niqula! When it heard the jingling bells65 of the hawk in flight, it ran out of the thicket and fled towards the Ghab.66

§ The Skill of Shayzar’s Fishermen

On our return from hunting-trips, we would often encamp on the Bushamir, a little river near the citadel, and send for the fishermen to present themselves so that we could observe the wonderful things they did. One of them had with him a shaft of cane, with a spear-head; the shaft had a recess in it for the spear-head, as with a javelin.67 From the same recess, three iron hooks stuck out, each hook a cubit in length. On the other end of the cane-shaft was a long cord tied to the fisherman’s hand. The fisherman would then stand on the bank of the river, which had a rather narrow course, and when he spotted a fish he would stab at it with that cane-spear with the iron head. He never missed. He would then pull it out by the cord, bringing the fish up with it.

Another fisherman had with him a pole as thick as a fist, with an iron [219] fork-head. On the other end was a cord tied to his hand. He would climb down and wade into the water and when he spotted a fish he would snatch it with that fork-head and leave it stuck in it. Then, climbing out, he would pull it up by the cord, landing both fork and fish.

Still another would climb down and wade into the water, passing his hand under the willow-trees that grow on the banks towards a fish until he was able to put his fingers into its gills, while it neither moved nor escaped. He would then take it and climb out. Thus we gained as much amusement with the fishermen as we did hunting with hawks.

§ Ghana’im the Austringer

Rain and wind prevailed over us for days once while we were at the Bridge Fortress. But then the rain stopped for a while, and so Ghana’im, our austringer, came and said to my father, ‘The hawks are hungry and primed for the chase. It’s a nice day and the rain has let up – don’t you want to mount up?’

‘Indeed I do,’ replied my father.

So we rode out, but we had barely got as far as the desert when the very gates of heaven opened upon us, pouring rain. We complained to Ghana’im, ‘You claimed it was a nice day and the rain had stopped just to bring us out into this deluge!’

‘What, you don’t have the eyes to see the clouds and other signs of rain yourself?’ he replied. ‘You could have said, ‘‘You’re lying into your beard – it’s not nice out or clear!’’’

This Ghana’im was a master-craftsman in the art of training peregrines and goshawks, of great experience with regard to birds of prey, a pleasant conversationalist and delightful company. Of birds of prey, he had seen all that was known and unknown.

One day we went out hunting from the citadel of Shayzar and at al-Jalali Mill we saw something that turned out to be a crane lying on the ground. An attendant dismounted and turned it over and it was dead, still warm, not yet cold. Ghana’im saw it and said, ‘This has been taken by a luzzayq; [220] have a look under its wing.’ And there was the side of the crane that had been pierced and its heart eaten out. Ghana’im remarked, ‘This luzzayq is a bird of prey, like the kestrel.68 She binds to the crane, clings beneath its wing, piercing its ribs, and then eats out its heart.’

God (glory be to Him) later decreed that I should enter into the service of the atabeg Zangi (may God have mercy upon him). A bird of prey like a kestrel was brought to him, with a red bill, red legs and red eyelashes. It was one of the best birds of prey and they said, ‘This is a luzzayq.’ It remained with him only a few days, however, for it tore through the jesses with its beak and flew off.

§ Hunting Wild Asses

One day, my father (may God have mercy upon his soul) went out to hunt gazelle, and I – still but a lad – accompanied him. Arriving at Wadi al-Qanatir, he came upon some slaves – bandits69 engaging in highway robbery. So he caught them, tied them up and handed them over to a group of his attendants to deliver them to the dungeon at Shayzar. As for me, I took a spear from one of them and we continued on to the hunt.

Suddenly, a herd of wild asses appeared. So I said to my father, ‘My lord, I’ve never seen wild asses before. With your permission, I’d like to gallop ahead to get a look at them.’

‘You may do so,’ he replied.

Under me was a chestnut horse, a thoroughbred. I galloped ahead with that spear, the one I took from the bandit. I went directly into the midst of the herd, singled out one ass and began thrusting the spear at it, but it didn’t do a thing to the animal, on account of the weakness of my arm and the dullness of the spear-point. So I drove back the ass until I had steered it back to my companions, who bagged it. My father and the men with him were amazed by the way that thoroughbred ran.

God (glory be to Him) decreed that I should go out one day to pass the time looking at the river of Shayzar, riding that horse. I was accompanied by a Qur’an-reciter who would recite poetry for a bit, then the Qur’an for a bit and then sing for a bit. I dismounted under [221] a tree and handed over my horse to my attendant, who made hobbles for it. He happened to be alongside the river and the horse took fright and fell into the river on its side. But every time it wanted to stand up, it would fall back down again in the water because of the hobbles. The attendant was a young boy and he was not able to save it. All the while we didn’t even know what was going on. Finally, when the horse was nearing death, the attendant yelled for us, and we came over to the horse, but it was breathing its last. We cut the hobbles and brought it out, but it died. The water in which it drowned did not even reach to the upper part of its leg – it was rather the hobbles that killed it.

§ Animals are also Subject to Fate

One day my father (may God have mercy upon him) went out hunting, accompanied by an amir called al-Samsam, one of the comrades (by way of service) of Fakhr al-Mulk ibn ‘Ammar,70 the lord of Tripoli. He was a man with little experience of hunting. My father slipped a goshawk on some waterfowl and it footed one of them and fell into the middle of the river.

Al-Samsam then began slapping one hand against the other, saying, ‘There is no power or strength save in God!71 Why did I have to go out today?’

So I said to him, ‘Samsam, are you worried the hawk is drowning?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘it’s drowned. Is it a duck, that it should fall into the water and not drown?’

I laughed and said, ‘It’ll be up in a moment.’

The hawk seized the head of the bird and swam with it until it climbed out of the water with it. Al-Samsam remained astounded by this, repeating ‘Glory be to God!’ and praising Him for the safe escape of the hawk.

Myriad are the fates of animals. My father (may God have mercy upon him) once slipped a white hawk72 on a francolin. The francolin fell in a thicket of brambles and the hawk went in with it. [222] In the thicket was a jackal, which caught the hawk and tore off its head. It was one of the finest and most skilful birds of prey.

I also witnessed the fate that had befallen a bird of prey. One day, I had ridden out with an attendant of mine before me, who carried a sparrow-hawk with him. He threw him off on some song-birds and it caught one, so he went and slaughtered the bird still clutched in the claws of the hawk. The hawk then shook its head, coughed up blood and fell to the ground dead, the slaughtered bird still in it clutches. Glory be to He who determines all fates!

One day in the citadel, I passed by a door we had opened for a building that was there; I was carrying a blowpipe. I noticed a song-bird on a wall, below which I was standing. So I shot a ball at it, but I missed the bird, which flew off. However, my eyes followed the ball, which went down the wall where, a bird having just poked its head out of a hole in the wall, it struck the bird on its head and stunned it. It fell right in front of me and I slaughtered it. And yet the shooting of that particular bird was never intended.

One day my father (may God have mercy upon him) slipped a goshawk on a hare which stood up before us in a cane-brake, full of thorns. The hawk captured the hare but it got loose from it. So the hawk sat on the ground and the hare ran away. I galloped off with a black thoroughbred beneath me to drive the hare back. But the horse’s foreleg fell into a hole and it tumbled on top of me. My hands and face were now covered in those thorns, and the hind leg of the horse was dislocated. But then the hawk, after the hare had gone all this distance, flew from the ground, caught up with the hare and captured it, as though it had had no other goal but to ruin my horse and hurt me with that fall into the thorns.

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