Post-classical history

§ Deeds of Women: Burayka, the Witch of Shayzar

As all this was transpiring, an old female servant called Burayka, owned by one of our Kurdish comrades called ‘Ali ibn Mahbub, was standing there in the midst of our horsemen on the bank of the river with a jar in her hand, filling it with water and giving it to our men to drink. Most of our comrades who were on that elevated spot, once they saw the Franks advancing in such numbers, rushed back towards the city. But that she-devil just stood there, unafraid of the fearsome events taking place.

I will now mention something concerning this Burayka, even though it’s not the place for it, but conversation drifts from one topic to another. [123] Her master, ‘Ali, was a pious man and never drank wine. One day he said to my father, ‘By God, amir, I do not consider it licit to subsist on an official stipend. I will not subsist on anything other than what Burayka brings in.’

So this idiot thinks that that illicit profit was more lawful than the stipend by which he was employed!221

This servant-woman had a son named Nasr, an older man, and he, along with another man called Baqiya ibn al-Usayfir, used to act as the supervisor of some lands that belonged to my father (may God have mercy upon him). This Baqiya related the following to me:

One night, I went into town on my way to my house on some errand I had to do. As I approached the town, I could see between the tombstones some sort of shape by the light of the moon, a shape neither human nor beast. So I stopped and stood a way off, in fright. But then I said to myself, ‘I’m Baqiya, am I not? Should I be afraid of some solitary thing?’ So I put down my sword,222 leather shield and javelin and crept ahead, inch by inch. As I did so, I could hear a voice coming from that shape and some vulgar singing. Once I had got close to it, I pounced on top of it, holding my dagger in my hand. I grabbed on to it and what should it be but Burayka, head uncovered, hair all wild, sitting astride a reed, neighing and traipsing about the tombs. ‘Shame on you!’ I said. ‘What are you getting up to at this hour in such a place?’ ‘I am practising black magic,’ she replied. And so I said to her, ‘May God abominate you and your magic, and out of all the crafts, may He abominate this craft of yours!’

§ The Bravery of Usama’s Aunt

The strength of that bitch’s spirit reminds me of the events that happened in connection with our women during the battle between us and the Isma’ilis, even though Burayka and our women were hardly of the same sort.

[124] On that day, the leader of the group of Isma’ilis, ‘Alwan ibn Harrar, and my cousin Shabib (may God have mercy upon him) encountered one another in the citadel. Shabib was the same age as me and we were born on the very same day, Sunday, 27 Jumada al-Akhira in the year 488 (4 July 1095), though he had not seen battle prior to that day, whereas I had become a master of it.

‘Alwan wanted to put Shabib under his obligation, so he said to him, ‘Go back to your home, carry off whatever you can and get out of here. You won’t be killed. We’ve already taken the castle.’

So Shabib returned to his house and said, ‘If anyone has any valuable things, give them to me.’ He said this to his aunt and his uncle’s women. Every one of them gave him something.

As he was doing this, a figure suddenly entered the house wearing a mail hauberk and a helmet, with a sword and shield. When Shabib saw this figure, he felt certain of death. The figure threw off its helmet and behold! It was his aunt, the mother of his cousin Layth al-Dawla Yahya (may God have mercy upon him).

‘What is it you are intending to do?’ she asked him.

‘I’m taking whatever I can carry and then I’ll climb down from the castle on a rope and go and make my way in the world,’ he replied.

‘What a wicked thing you are doing! You would leave the daughters of your uncle and the rest of your household in the hands of these cotton-carders223 and just take off? What sort of life would you be living, brought to shame in the eyes of your family and fleeing from them? Get out there and fight for your family until you are killed in their midst! And may God do something with you, and do it again!’224

And so she (may God have mercy upon her) prevented him from fleeing. After that, Shabib became one of our most noted horsemen.

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