Sinbad The Sailor: Fifth Voyage

LOOKING back from the position of safety and comfort to which I had returned I came in time to make light of the perils I had encountered and the sufferings I had endured. The advantages that had come to me through these perils and sufferings now stood in the foreground of my thoughts and I said within myself, "It is the life for a man; for how otherwise can he come at the meaning of the great book of the world than by treading its pages?" And, moreover I had conceived the wish to become the owner of a ship, for thus the gain accruing from a voyage to other lands would be so much greater.

Having considered the matter deeply, I arose from my life of luxury and ease and departed with many bales of merchandise for the city of El-Basrah. There in the river I found at length a splendid vessel, which I purchased. I found a master and a crew, over whom I set my own trusty servants; and, having secured a goodly company of merchants as passengers, I embarked their bales and mine, and we set sail. We worked our way outwards, calling at island after island, and doing the usual business that merchants find in those places, until one day we came to a large uninhabited island.

Here, while I was engaged in matters concerning the vessel, the merchants landed and, as I afterwards learned, they found there the great egg of a rukh, such as I had met with on a former voyage. Mistaking it for a deserted structure, and, failing to find an entrance, they had amused themselves by casting stones at it, so that it broke; whereupon a young rukh came forth from the shell. And they set upon this monstrous chicken in its helpless condition, and slew it, and brought great slabs of its flesh back to the ship.

When I heard what they had done I was sore afraid and reproached them for their rash action. "For, look you," I said, "there is not a doubt the mother rukh will seek to revenge the loss of her young, and, seeing our ship, will attribute the deed to us, and attack us and destroy us." But they neither heeded my warning nor repented them of their rash action.

The vengeance of the rukh was sudden and dire. Scarce had I spoken when the sun was obscured from our sight, and, looking up, we beheld the gigantic bird descending upon the island. When it saw that its egg had been broken and its young one destroyed it flew above us, looking down at the ship and shrieking in a voice that filled the sky. On this it was joined by its mate, and the two circled round us, their hoarse cries of rage falling like thunder on the sea. In great fear I bade the master and the sailors hoist the sails and seek safety in flight.

Then, as soon as we began to draw off from the island, the rukhs left us and flew inland, so that we thought we had made good our escape. But soon they reappeared and came after us, each bearing in its talons a huge mass of rock. One of them flew above us and dropped the rock, so that we saw death descending upon us. But the great mass missed the ship by a narrow space, and, falling close astern, raised such a commotion of waves that the ship was flung up on a mountain of water and then hurled down against the bottom of the sea before little by little she came to rest on the level tide. Then the other rukh dropped the rock from its talons, and fate ordained that it struck the ship astern with a mighty crash. Amid cries of fear and despair we sank into the sea, and all seemed lost.

How I survived the shock and turmoil of that sudden shipwreck I cannot describe clearly, for I was like one stunned or wrenched from his mind apart. How I sought to save myself is gone from me by reason of the extreme peril. I can imagine only that I touched some wreckage and clung to it, for, when my mind returned to me, I found myself on the shore of an island sitting upon a plank, which, it seemed had borne me hither. That I had fought against wind and wave I knew, for I was well nigh exhausted. I could do nothing more than drag myself painfully to a sheltered spot, where I rested and slept.

When I arose later in the day, I was refreshed; and, having found both fruit and water, I ate and drank and my strength returned to me. I went forth upon the island, and to and fro in it, but I found no other's footprint on the shore, nor any sign of human habitation from coast to coast. But that there was a dweller there I was soon to learn, and to my cost.

It was on the following day towards evening, when I was walking among the trees, that I came upon an old man sitting on the bank of a stream. He was a comely old man, with flowing silver locks and an ample white beard. He was clothed, from the waist downward, with the leaves of trees threaded together. As I regarded him for some moments I felt that his whole aspect betokened a disposition of simplicity and mild benevolence. Advancing upon the bank I spoke to him, but he shook his head sadly and sighed; and I saw that his speech was gone. Then he made signs with his hands as if to say, "Mount me upon thy neck and carry me across the stream."

I felt kindly disposed towards this mild and gentle old man, and wished to do him a service; so I mounted him upon my neck and took him across the stream. "Now," I said, "Thou canst dismount when it pleaseth thee!" But, instead of dismounting, he wound his legs still more closely round my neck, and pressed his feet into my chest, so that I cried out with pain and rage and attempted to throw him from my shoulders. But my frantic efforts were in vain; he stuck like a leech, and I could not dislodge him. Indeed, he clung so tight that he nearly throttled me, and I fell to the ground exhausted. Then he belaboured me sorely with his feet until I arose with him again, and, in this way, he compelled me to obey him. When he would go in among the trees he made a sign with his hand, and, if I obeyed not with alacrity, he beat me with his feet unmercifully. By reason of his behaviour I was at last compelled to cancel my first opinion of him and, though he cleaved to me night and day, we were by no means friends. I was his captive and he ceased not to remind me of it. If I dallied by the way, or stumbled, his hard feet would rain blows upon me; and, at night, when he slept with his legs wound tightly round my neck, he would often dream that I had disobeyed him and would beat me violently with his feet and hands.

For many many days I was ridden hither and hither at the will of this obstinate old fellow, who, though he could not torment me with speech, was truculent enough in his manner. And I reproached myself for having desired to do him a service, saying constantly in my mind, "By Allah! never again while living will I do a service to any!"

At length one day the old man guided and belaboured me into a space on the island where pumpkins grew in abundance. While he was eating some of these I took others that were ripe, and, having cleaned out the seeds and coarse matter through a small aperture, filled them with the juice of grapes; then I filled up the apertures and laid the pumpkins in the sun. Thus in a few days I procured pure wine, and, every day thereafter, while the old man on my neck ate of the pumpkins, I drank of the wine until I became intoxicated, and laughed and sang and danced about with him among the trees. And when, with fist and heel, he desired to know the cause of this, I showed him the wine that I had made. Seeing that its effect upon me was so agreeable he sought to achieve the same happy result by drinking largely of it himself, so that he grew hilarious and broke a pumpkin over my head, rocking and rolling in his seat with laughter. Then, as he continued to drink, he gradually lost control of his limbs and lolled from side to side; whereupon I grasped his feet and unwound them from my neck and threw him on the ground. And so at last, to rid the earth of such a monster, I slew him, and left him there for the vultures.

After this, happiness returned to me and I went about the island like one relieved of a heavy burden, as indeed I had been. And day by day I sat by the sea watching for a vessel. But I lived upon the island many days before at last I saw a ship approach and cast anchor off the shore. When the passengers had landed I ran towards them and welcomed them, answering their many questions respecting my condition. They listened to my story with great amazement. Then someone said, "This old man of whom thou speakest is surely he whom they call the Old Man of the Sea. He hath ridden many to death, and none hath escaped but thee. Therefore, praise God for thy deliverance."

They took me to the ship and set food before me, and, after I had eaten, they brought me some clean clothes and I clad myself decently. As the ship set sail for El-Basrah my thoughts went before it to Baghdad, The Abode of Peace; but I was destined to mischance, for a strange thing befell me. We had journeyed but a few days when we came to an island whereon was a city with lofty spires and splendid houses. This was the City of Apes, of which I had heard that at night-time the people, fearing the apes, put out in boats upon the sea, so to sleep in safety.

I landed on this island with some companions, and, in our going about the city, I missed them. While I was searching everywhere they must have returned to the ship, thinking I had preceded them, for, when I reached the shore later, the vessel had gone. I reproached myself for this mishap, for I had already suffered once at the hands of the apes. So I sat on the seashore bemoaning my fate.

While I was doing this, one of the people of the city came to me and enquired as to my trouble, and I told him. "Then come with us in our boat," he said, "for the night is falling, and if thou remain in the city the apes will devour thee." So I went with them, and we pushed off together with a multitude of other boats until we rested about a mile from the shore; and there we remained and slept till the morning, when everyone returned to the city and went about his occupation. And in like manner as the inhabitants sleep upon the sea by night, and dwell in the city by day, so the apes infest the city by night and sleep in the forests by day. Woe betide any remaining in that city after the sun goes down, for he will of a certainty be torn limb from limb and devoured.

I earned my bread in that island in a strange manner, and was able to set by a small store of gold. It was in this way. I observed many of the people gathering pebbles on the shore and placing them in bags, and, when they had collected a sufficient quantity, they went forth into a valley filled with lofty trees. Here slept the apes among the branches, for the trees were so high that none but an ape could climb them. It was the way of the people then to pelt the apes with the pebbles, whereupon they awoke screaming and chattering, and plucked the fruit from the trees, and hurled it down at their tormentors. And I saw that the fruit was the cocoanut. When a sufficient number of these nuts had been secured the people gathered them up and returned to the city, where they sold them. Very soon, I, too, was gathering pebbles and pelting the apes in the trees, and in this way I amassed a great store of cocoanuts. These I sold, and bought merchandise and traded and prospered in the city.

In this way I continued for a long time, until at last I took to buying cocoanuts from the people and storing them against the arrival of a ship, when I hoped to sell them in bulk. At length a large vessel anchored off the island, and I bargained with the merchants thereon. They agreed with me upon a good price for my store. With the money thus obtained I bought more of the merchandise of the place, and embarked it on the ship; then, bidding farewell to my companions in the city, I took my departure.

The ship was bound for El-Basrah, but on the voyage we lingered to visit many islands that I had not seen before. Upon one we found an abundance of cinnamon and pepper, and here I noted a peculiar thing. On every bunch of pepper was a large leaf that hung down when the sun shone, but, when it rained, this leaf twisted and erected itself above the tendrils to shield them. And this is truth.

So we sailed onwards, past the islands of the aloes-wood, where the people are depraved and know not the call to prayer, until we came at length to the Island of Pearls. Here I gave some cocoanuts to the divers, saying, "Dive for me for luck!" And they dived in the sea and returned to the surface with pearls of great size, which they gave to me, assuring me that my fortune was of the best. So that when we reached El-Basrah I was rich with pearls and merchandise, some of which I sold there, and some here in Baghdad.

Once more in the lap of luxury, and reposing in the bosom of my family, I returned to my former life of revelry and ease, and soon forgot the hardships I had endured. And this is the whole story of my fifth voyage. Return to-morrow, O Sindbad the Landsman, and thou shalt hear from me the adventures of my sixth voyage, for they are even yet more wonderful.

End of Sinbad The Sailor: Fifth Voyage