The Second Voyage of Sinbad (1001 nights)

In the first episode a wealthy merchant called Sinbad invited a humble porter into his mansion. By coincidence the poor man has the same name as the wealthy one. He bemoans the unfairness of the world. The rich Sinbad responds by telling the stories of the seven sea voyages that made him wealthy.

My first voyage had been very profitable. I was again a wealthy man. I did not lack for luxury or entertainment. But, my friend, I could not rest for long. I had tasted the salt air and the thrill of travel and adventure. Soon I was pulled by the will of Allah back to the seaport at Basra, where I found a newly-made ship with fine sails and the best equipment. The captain was gathering merchants for a voyage. I booked my place with him, and then went to the market to buy up goods for trade.

We set sail the very next day, and cruised from island to island in the fine weather. Wherever we landed we found a crowd of merchants and clients eager to do business with us. At last we came to a peaceful island, with no sign of human inhabitants. It was a lovely place, with green trees, brightly coloured birds, and cool running streams. I roamed around and found a pleasant spot to eat the lunch that I had brought with me. After I had enjoyed my food, I allowed my eyes to close, and fell into a pleasant sleep.

When I awoke, I felt uneasy. I hurried back to the beach where we had come ashore. My fellow travellers had left tracks in the sand. I found the skins of fruit that they had eaten, and the smokey remains of a fire that they had lit for cooking. But they themselves were gone. They had left me. I was marooned.

Now I sat down on the shore and looked out to sea. All the time I expected to see our ship sail back around the headland to pick me up, but she did not. The crew, and my fellow merchants, had forgotten all about me. Tears came into my eyes as I thought of the life I had lost in Baghdad. My fine house, the silken cushions on my bed, the playful fountain in my courtyard, the purple rose petals of my garden, the smell of roast meat from my kitchen, my servants, the company of my friends – there was no luxury that I lacked then. Now I had exchanged all those comforts for a bed of leaves on a desert island.

The tears stung my eyes. I felt that a djinn had climbed inside my head and was going to drive me crazy. I had to stop all this weeping and pull myself together. Perhaps I was not as alone as I thought? After all, I had not explored the whole island. I got up and walked back to the tall tree underneath which I had slept earlier. I grabbed hold of a branch and pulled myself up onto it. Then I climbed and climbed round and round the tree until I reached the top. From there I surveyed the island. I could not see a plume of smoke or any sign of human life. But I did see some sort of strange building – a giant dome, smooth and white. This I had to examine more closely.

I climbed down to the ground and walked in the direction of the dome. When I reached it, I strode all around and counted 50 paces. I ran my hands over its sides, hoping to find a secret door, but there was none that I could discover. It felt, if anything, like an eggshell.

I sat down for a while, and towards evening the sky turned dark. At first, I thought that perhaps a large storm cloud had blown overhead, but as I looked up I realised that the cloud was in fact a giant bird. Its wings were flapping and gusts of wind sent twigs and leaves flying this way and that. I ran to hide among the trees and saw the feathered monster descend and land on the egg. While it settled there, I recalled travellers’ tales of a bird, monstrous in size, called a Roc.

“Yes, this is indeed such a creature,” I thought. I was seized by a reckless impulse. I was so desperate to escape the deserted island that I was willing to try even the maddest of ideas. I crawled out of my hiding place, and crept towards the brooding bird. When I reached it, I climbed up onto its giant claw and tied myself to its leg using the cloth from my turban. There, upon the bird’s foot, I spent the most uncomfortable night of my life. When morning came, the bird awoke from its slumbers and began to stretch out gigantic wings. Then it began to flap them, causing great gushes of wind. We arose high into the air. I could see the island below me, and the sparkling blue sea. Off we flew, crossing the waves, until we reached a mountainous land. I could see pointed volcanoes with plumes of smoke coming out of them.
Everywhere I looked were rocks and lava. Then I began to weep.

“Oh that I had stayed on the island, for at least there were fruits to eat and spring water to drink in that place. I have exchanged one terrible place for a far worse one but Allah in his wisdom must have willed it so, and it is the lot of man to submit to His fate.”

At least, I thought, my situation could not grow any more dreadful. But it did. We landed in a deep ravine. I untied myself from the bird’s foot and dived behind a rock; from there I took a look at where we had arrived. On either side of us were steep walls, far too high for any man to scale. And the bottom was home to death in the form of enormous serpents, each the size of a palm tree, who could have eaten an elephant with one gulp. Their monstrous heads, with razor sharp fangs and darting forked tongues, made me shake with fear. But the ground beneath my feet held a very different wonder – one that under different circumstances would have filled me with joy. The rocks sparkled and glittered, for they were encrusted with enormous diamonds. Just one of those stones could make a man wealthy beyond his dreams – but that was back in civilisation. What use were riches in this valley of death?

I spent a day and a night, hiding from the serpents. When darkness fell, I could see their red eyes glowing in the dark. The sight was too terrible for me, and I hid inside a cave where I piled up rocks to prevent anything slithering inside. A little later, I realised that at the other end of the cave, a giant serpent was brooding on her eggs. My flesh quaked and my hair stood on end, but I raised my eyes to Heaven, gave myself up to fate, and spent all that night without sleep sharing my refuge with a monster. At daybreak, I took down the rocks, and staggered out like a drunken man, giddy with fear and hunger.

I wondered a little way down the valley. As I walked, first one, and then another, huge piece of meat dropped down from the sky and landed on the rocks. Had a giant bird let them go? Then I recalled a traveller’s’ tale of a dangerous mountain range that is full of riches. The story went that merchants would drop pieces of meat into a valley in the hope that diamonds would stick to them. They would wait for an eagle or another bird to swoop down, pick the meat, and carry it to its nest. Then the merchants would climb up to the nest, and scare away the bird by shouting and throwing sticks and stones. In this way they could recover a diamond. When I had recalled this tale, it was clear to me what I had to do. First I filled my pockets with diamonds. Then, taking off my turban, I attached the meat to my chest. I lay and waited for a giant eagle to spot the easy meal and pick it up in its claws. When it carried the meat off to its nest, it took me with it. And so I was lifted out of the valley. When we settled down in the nest, the eagle had little time to peck at its meal, for it was soon disturbed by loud shouting, and sticks and stones landed in the nest. It flapped its wings and flew off. Men approached and were surprised to see me rise up and wave my arms to greet them. My heart was filled with joy, but at first they were disappointed and angry.

“What trick of fate is this?” said one. “We risked our lives to rescue a fortune from the valley, not a man!”

“Do not fret,” I called out in my happiness. “My pockets are filled with enough riches to satisfy all of us! I will share them with the man who threw down the piece of meat.”

As we went off, I told the merchants of my adventures, and all that had happened to me, and they were filled with marvel. It took us two days to walk down from the mountain range. At last we arrived in a flat and pleasant land shaded by giant trees. The only danger was from giants with leathery skins and horns on their noses. These rhinoceroses can easily trample a man to death if they are disturbed. We managed to avoid them by staying down wind, so that our scent did not carry to their nostrils. We safely reached the ship and sailed for Baghdad where we sold our diamonds for a great fortune. Now I was twice as wealthy as before, and I swore that I would never walk up the gangplank of a ship again. Oh, my friend, if only I had kept my promise.

The porter was in awe of all that he had heard. The merchant gave him 100 gold dinars and invited him to return the following evening to hear another tale.