Post-classical history

§ A ‘Master’s Blow’ is Not what it Seems

Another case that I witnessed of the recovery of someone who had been stabbed, and who had been expected to die, happened as follows. We encountered the advance cavalry of Mahmud ibn Qaraja, who had come into our territory and set up an ambush against us. Once our infantry and his were drawn up at the ready, our cavalry dispersed.

A horseman from our army called ‘Ali ibn Sallam al-Numayri came up to me and said, ‘Our companions have dispersed. If the enemy attacks them, they will annihilate them.’

‘Hold back my brothers and cousins,’ I offered, ‘so that I can bring the men back alone.’

So he told them, ‘Amirs, let this man bring the horsemen back, and do not follow him. For if you do, the enemy will attack them and dislodge them.’

‘Go ahead,’ they replied and I galloped off on my horse to bring them back. The enemy were keeping away from them in order to draw them further out and then overpower them.

When the enemy saw that I was bringing the horsemen back, they attacked us. Their ambush-party also came out against us, while I remained behind some distance from my companions. So I turned back to confront the ambush-party, wanting to defend the rear of my companions. But I found that my cousin, Layth al-Dawla Yahya (may God have mercy upon him), had already circled back behind his companions from the southern side of the road while I was to its north. So we went at them.

Now one of their horsemen, called Faris ibn Zimam, who was an Arab and a renowned cavalier, rushed past us wanting to put his spear [39] into our companions. But my cousin beat me to him and thrust his spear at him. Both Faris and his horse fell to the ground and my cousin’s spear exploded with such a loud noise that I and everyone else could hear it.

Now, my father (may God have mercy upon him) had earlier sent a messenger to Mahmud ibn Qaraja, and Mahmud brought the messenger with him when he set out to attack us. And so, when Faris ibn Zimam was speared, and Mahmud did not get what he wanted from us, he sent that messenger from where he was with an answer to the message that my father had sent him to deliver in the first place, and returned to Hama.6 So I asked the messenger, ‘Did Faris ibn Zimam die?’

‘No,’ he replied. ‘By God, he wasn’t even wounded! Layth al-Dawla thrust his spear at him – and I saw him do it – and threw Faris and his horse to the ground. And I heard the noise of the spear breaking, too. But what happened was that when Layth al-Dawla struck at him from the left, Faris inclined to the right side, his quntariya-spear7 gripped in his hand. As a result, his horse fell upon his quntariya-spear, while the spear happened to be poised spanning a ditch, and it snapped. Layth al-Dawla tried to hit Faris from behind with his spear, but it fell from his hand. So what you heard was the noise from the quntariya-spear of Faris ibn Zimam. As for the spear of Layth al-Dawla, they brought it before Mahmud ibn Qaraja while I was present, and it was completely intact, not a scratch on it, and Faris hadn’t even a wound on him.’

I was amazed that he was safe at all. That spear-thrust was like the ‘master’s blow’ that ‘Antara speaks of:

The horsemen and even the horses know

That I smote their host with a master’s blow.

The entire enemy contingent, including the ambush-party, retreated without having accomplished anything they had wanted. The verse I just quoted above is from some verses by ‘Antara ibn Shaddad,8 who says in them:

I am a man, one part from Abs’s line nobly made, The other part, this I protect with my naked blade.

When the war-band looks about and makes to run and hide,

    I best those men who in all their uncles take such pride.

If Death could be depicted, it would wear my face, Should those men ever find themselves in a hard, tight place.

The horsemen and even the horses know That I smote their host with a master’s blow.

They challenged me to dismount – I was the first to land: For why would I ride a horse if I could never stand?

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