Post-classical history

§ A Woman’s Ruse Saves the Day

Another example was related to me in Mosul by the poet al-Mu’ayyad al-Baghdadi in the year 565109 (1169–70). He said:

The caliph had granted as fief to my father a village which he used to frequent. A gang of young toughs110 lived there who engaged in highway robbery, and my father used to let them do it out of fear, and to benefit from a piece of what they took in. One day, we were sitting in the village when a Turkish attendant approached on his horse, accompanied by a saddle-mule bearing a saddle-bag, with a serving-girl riding atop the bag.111 He dismounted, helped the girl to dismount and said, ‘Hey boys, help me get this saddle-baggage down.’ So we came [72] and lifted it down with him, and what do you know but it was filled with gold dinars and jewellery! He sat down with the girl and they ate something. Then he said, ‘Help me get this saddlebag up,’ and so with him we lifted it up. Then he asked us, ‘Which way to al-Anbar?’112 My father told him, ‘The road is over here (and he pointed to the road). But there are sixty young toughs on that road and they’ve made me afraid for you.’ The Turk just scoffed at my father and said, ‘Pfft!113Me, afraid of some tough-guys!’

So my father let him be and went off to the gang to tell them about the Turk and what he was carrying with him. They then all went out to intercept him on the road. When the Turk saw them, he took out his bow, nocked an arrow and bent his bow intending to shoot at them. But the bowstring snapped, the gang rushed at him and he fled. They seized the mule, the girl and the saddle-bag. But the girl said to them, ‘Now, boys, don’t dishonour me, by God! Instead, ransom me and the mule too for a jewelled necklace that the Turk has with him, worth five hundred dinars, and you can take the saddle-bag and its contents too.’ ‘Let’s do it,’ they said. ‘Send me’, she said, ‘with one of you accompanying me to speak with the Turk and get the necklace from him.’ So they sent her with someone to guard her until she came near the Turk and said to him, ‘I have ransomed myself and the mule for the necklace that is in the leg of your left boot, your shoe. Give it to me.’ ‘Will do,’ he replied and went to one side away from them and took off his boot and – guess what? – there was a bowstring in it which he strung on his bow! He then returned to them. The gang kept on fighting him while he picked them off one by one until he had killed forty-three men. And while looking around, who should he see but my father in the group of toughs still remaining. ‘You! Among them!’ he cried. ‘So you want me to give you your share of my arrows!’ ‘No!’ my father cried. ‘Then take these seventeen men who are left’, he said, ‘and bring them to the governor of the region so he can hang them.’ In the meantime, those men had thrown down their arms and were standing bug-eyed in fear. The Turk led his mule before him with everything that [73] was on it and marched away. Thus, through him, did God (may He be exalted) send a calamity and His great wrath upon that gang of toughs.

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