The Fourth Voyage of Sinbad

Sinbad takes to the seas again, and, as usual, is shipwrecked. The naked savages amongst whom he finds himself feed his companions a herb which robs them of their reason, prior to fattening them for the table. Sinbad realises what is happening, and  he escapes to an island, where their king befriends him and gives him a beautiful and wealthy wife.
Too late Sinbad learns of a peculiar custom of the land: on the death of one marriage partner, the other is buried alive with his or her spouse, both in their finest clothes and most costly jewels. Sinbad’s wife falls ill and dies soon after, leaving Sinbad trapped in an underground cavern.

The following night, there was again feasting and merriment inside the house of Sinbad the Merchant. He spoke to his namesake the porter and said:
“You see all around you that my house is bright and full of fun and laughter. When you have heard the story of my fourth voyage, you will know that in order to reach this happy state I had to crawl through a grim place more dead than alive.”

Once again I journeyed down to the Port of Basrah and boarded a merchant ship. We sailed through the straits of Hormuz and beyond. As before, we sailed from place to place doing brisk and profitable business. Then one day, the wind blew against us and and the captain cast out his anchors and brought the ship to a standstill, fearing lest she should founder in mid-ocean.

Then we all fell to prayer and humbling ourselves before the Most High, but as we did this we were hit by a furious squall which tore the sails to rags and tatters. The anchor cable snapped and the ship rolled this way and that until we were cast into the sea, goods and all.

The waves washed some of us ashore, almost dead with weariness and lack of sleep, cold, hungry, thirsty and fearful.

And so we walked about the island until we came to the gate of a fine house. A number of men came out. They did not speak our language, but they bowed and greeted us in a way that was welcoming and not at all threatening. We believed that we had been fortunate.

They led us through gardens and courtyards and into a great hall where they presented us to their king. He too proved to be most courteous and friendly, and signalled to us to sit down at the table. Servants brought plates full of delicious fruits and bread and placed them before us. Our men began to eat, but they had forgotten their good manners. They could not help themselves, but they greedily grabbed more and more food with their hands and stuffed it into their mouths. They chomped and slavered like animals. This rude behaviour was most unusual in them. It was as if they had been possessed by an evil spirit.

Our hosts did not seem to mind. They brought coconut milk and when the men had drunk this, they became still more greedy. Only after they had eaten enough to burst did they eventually cease to gobble the food. Now sated and drowsy, they allowed themselves to be led out to a pen where they were kept like cattle. For the next few weeks, they wandered amongst the trees and rested at will, growing fatter and fatter. But I, who had no interest in this animal behaviour, wasted away with lack of food and fear. I had by now realised the true intention was of our hosts. We had fallen into the hands of cannibals. The men were being fattened up to be eaten.

But one day, when the shepherds drove the men out onto the fields to graze, an old shepherd saw that I was standing apart from them. I understood from the look in his eye that he would make no objection if i made my escape. In fact, he pointed me the way to go. I left and found a road, which I followed for several days. I walked and walked, and lived on berries and herbs. Thanks to Almighty Allah for all his favours, I eventually saw the walls of a magnificent city.

When I was close to the city I fell in with some travellers who asked my name and where I was from. When they heard how I had escaped the cannibals’ farm, they marvelled and said that my story proved the greatness of Allah. Fate had once again favoured me, for these people were well connected and promised to introduce me to their king.

We entered the city and I was impressed by the fine houses, the prosperous people, and the markets well stocked with food. I saw that all the citizens, great and small, rode fine horses, high-priced and thoroughbred, but oddly they lacked saddles.

“Well now,” I thought, “these people lack for nothing but a comfortable seat to travel on. I see a gap in the market – a fine opportunity for a man of business to make money.”

When I met the king, he received me kindly. I told him my story, and he listened with great interest and amazement. When I had finished, he asked me my station in life in the city of Baghdad:

“Sire, I am a merchant,” I said. “When I am at home, I live a quiet life and have a great many friends. But let me say, I have an idea to remain in your fine city and set up a business. I have noticed how your citizens ride horses but make no use of saddles.”
“Saddles?” asked the king. “What are they?”

I described the leather seat and the other equipment that we use to ride a horse in comfort, and his Majesty was most interested. Indeed he asked if I could make one to show him. I answered that I would gladly do so.

I sought out a clever carpenter to make the frame, and a tanner to produce a comfortable leather seat and fine reins, and a blacksmith to hammer out the stirrups and bit. Moreover, I made beautiful fringes of silk.

I presented the work to the king, and demonstrated how to make use of it to ride a horse. He was greatly impressed by the comfort of this arrangement – so much less bruising than riding bareback. He paid me a fine price for my equipment, and his officials and all the nobility in the land wished to imitate him. A great number of wealthy people ordered saddles and horse equipment from me, and I soon became quite wealthy. One day the king called me to his office and said:
“Your industry and business have improved the quality of life in our city. I have in mind to reward you with a beautiful and wealthy wife, so that you will wish to stay in our country and continue your work.”

So he summoned the prime minister and witnesses and married me straightway to a lady of a noble family, the flower of an ancient race of beauty and grace, and the owner of farms and estates and many houses.

I said to myself: “When I return to my native land, I will take her with me.” But I should not have tempted fate, for no one knows what destiny has in store for them.

From then on, my ease and prosperity, already great, continued to grow. Then about a year after I was married, ill-fortune struck my neighbour’s house. My friend, who lived next door, lost his wife to illness. He was beside himself with grief. I said to him:
“Do not mourn for your wife, who has now found the mercy of Allah. The Lord will surely give you a better one in her place, and your life shall be happy, prosperous, and long, God Willing!”

But the man could not be comforted. “You are a stranger here,” he said. “You do not yet know all our ways. This very day they bury my wife, they will bury me with her in the same tomb. It is our custom that if a man dies first, his wife is buried with him, and if a wife dies first the husband is buried with her.”

And then I understood why my neighbour could not be consoled. The women of the house dressed the wretched man’s wife in her finest clothes, and decked her in her richest jewellery, with gold and diamonds. Later that day, soldiers took husband and wife on their last journey to the tomb. They set aside a great stone, and first lowered her down into it. Then they placed a rope of palm fibers under the husband’s armpits, they let him down into the cavern, and with him a great pitcher of fresh water and seven pieces of bread.

I asked the people who were gathered around: “And if the wife of a foreigner like myself were to die among you, would you do the same to him as you have done to this man?”

And they replied that assuredly, the would do just the same to me, for it was the custom of the place.
I feared greatly when I heard those words, but I remained in my comfortable house with my agreeable wife. Then a few months later, she sickened and took to her bed. I prayed to Allah who is merciful for her to get better soon, but her illness took a turn for the worse, and she passed away.

As soon as the doctor let it be known that my wife was gone to the next world, soldiers came to fetch both her and me. I cried out:
“Almighty Allah never made it lawful to bury the living with the dead!” They took no notice of my protests, but tied me up by force and let me down into the cavern, with a large jug of water and seven loaves of bread, according to their custom.

At the bottom of that dark pit, I said to myself:
“What curse was upon me to take a wife in this city? There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great! As often as I escape from one calamity, I fall into a worse.”
I looked around at the grim tomb and its grimmer contents. Even in this terrible place, the will to live was strong inside my heart. I resolved to eat and drink as little as possible to prolong my life.

And so I lived in the darkness among the bodies not knowing how many days and nights had passed. Groping in the dark I found collars and necklaces of pearls and jewels and trinkets of gold and silver set with precious stones and other ornaments and valuables that were worn by the deceased. I gathered this fortune and piled them into my turban. But what use was this fortune to me me here, below ground in the tomb.

But it was not my fate to die there. For eventually I heard a rustling and a scurrying. I realised that some animal, perhaps a fox or a dog, had found its way down into this grim place. And if it could get in, it must surely be able to get out. I followed its sound, crawling and wriggling on my belly like a worm. I made my way through a tunnel until eventually I saw a chink of light. This gave me strength to crawl faster. The hole was just big enough for a skinny man such as myself to get through. And then I found myself on the shore of the sea. I gulped in the fresh air and covered my eyes from the blazing sun. I gradually opened them, adjusting to the light. When I could see once again I spotted a ship at sea. I took a piece of a white shroud I had with me, and tying it to a stick, ran along the seashore making signals therewith and calling to the people in the ship, until they noticed me, and hearing my shouts, sent a boat to fetch me.

The captain and crew received me kindly and listened in awe of my return from the land of the dead. I travelled with them to Basrah via the islands of Bell, Kala and Hind. When I reached home I had once again added to my wealth, thanks to the rich ornaments of the dead that I had brought with me. I gave freely to beggars, widows and orphans, and still had plenty left over for a life of ease. Then I gave myself up to pleasure and enjoyment, returning to my old merry mode of life.