Post-classical history

§ One Man Defeats Many: Two Examples

[70] A similar example was related to me by al-’Uqab the Poet, one of our Bedouin troops.106 He said, ‘My father left Palmyra107headed for the market of Damascus, accompanied by four horsemen and four men on foot, leading eight camels for sale. My father said:

We were on our way when what should we see coming from the very heart of the desert but a horseman, who kept on coming until he was quite close to us. He said, ‘Leave the camels!’ We shouted at him and cursed him, so he charged his horse at us and speared one of our horsemen, unhorsing and wounding him. We chased after him but he kept on ahead. Then he turned back and said, ‘Leave the camels!’ We shouted and cursed him again, so he charged at us and speared one of our infantrymen, badly wounding him. We followed and he kept ahead, but then he turned back and charged, with us having lost two of our men. So one of our men confronted him. Our comrade thrust his spear at him, but the blow fell on his foe’s saddlebow and broke our comrade’s spear. The horseman now thrust his spear at our man and wounded him, then charged at us again and speared one of our men, felling him. He then said, ‘Leave the camels! If not, I will wipe you out!’ And so we said, ‘Come here and take half of them instead.’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘set aside four of them and leave them standing there; then take your four and be off with you!’ And so we did, not trusting that we would escape with what he had let us keep. He led away those four camels as we watched, without being able to do anything about it. And so he went away with his plunder, and he was but a lone man while we were eight.

Another similar case occurred when Tancred, the lord of Antioch, made a raid on Shayzar, rustling a large quantity of our cattle and killing and taking prisoner some of our people. He encamped at a village called Zalin, in which there is an inaccessible cave hanging there in the middle of the mountain with no way to get to it climbing down from above or climbing up from below. Those seeking refuge there can only get down to it using ropes.

On that day, Thursday, 20 Rabi’ al-Akhir, the year [71] 502 (27 November 1108), some devil of a Frankish horseman went to Tancred and said, ‘Make me a box out of wood which I can sit in. Then lower me from the mountaintop down to them by chains fastened to the box. That way, they won’t be able to cut them with their swords and send me falling.’

So they made him a box and lowered him on the suspended chains down to the cave and he captured it, bringing down everyone in it to Tancred. That was because the cave was one large room, containing no place where the people could secrete themselves. So that Frank just shot arrows at them; not an arrow fell that did not strike someone, thanks to the narrowness of the place and the large number of people in it.

§§ Digression: A Bridal Surprise

Among those who were taken captive that day was a woman of noble Arab stock. Prior to this, she had been described to my uncle Sultan (may God have mercy upon him) while she was still living at the home of her father. So my uncle sent an old woman, one of our followers, to have a look at her. Whether because they had switched women on her or whether she had seen some other woman, our old woman came back describing her, her beauty and her intelligence. So my uncle engaged her and married her. But when she was then introduced to him, he saw something that had not been described to him,108 not to mention the fact that she was a mute. So he paid her dowry and sent her back to her people. It was this woman who was taken prisoner by the Franks on that day, taken from the home of her people. But my uncle said, ‘I will not let a woman whom I have married and who has uncovered herself before me become a prisoner of the Franks!’ and he ransomed her back (may God have mercy upon him) for five hundred dinars and delivered her to her family.

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