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Sixth Voyage

from The Arabian Nights Entertainments





It must be a marvel to you how, after having five times met with
shipwreck and unheard of perils, I could again tempt fortune and risk
fresh trouble. I am even surprised myself when I look back, but
evidently it was my fate to rove, and after a year of repose I prepared
to make a sixth voyage, regardless of the entreaties of my friends and
relations, who did all they could to keep me at home. Instead of going
by the Persian Gulf, I travelled a considerable way overland, and
finally embarked from a distant Indian port with a captain who meant to
make a long voyage. And truly he did so, for we fell in with stormy
weather which drove us completely out of our course, so that for many
days neither captain nor pilot knew where we were, nor where we were
going. When they did at last discover our position we had small ground
for rejoicing, for the captain, casting his turban upon the deck and
tearing his beard, declared that we were in the most dangerous spot
upon the whole wide sea, and had been caught by a current which was at
that minute sweeping us to destruction. It was too true! In spite of
all the sailors could do we were driven with frightful rapidity towards
the foot of a mountain, which rose sheer out of the sea, and our vessel
was dashed to pieces upon the rocks at its base, not, however, until we
had managed to scramble on shore, carrying with us the most precious of
our possessions. When we had done this the captain said to us:

"Now we are here we may as well begin to dig our graves at once, since
from this fatal spot no shipwrecked mariner has ever returned."

This speech discouraged us much, and we began to lament over our sad
fate.

The mountain formed the seaward boundary of a large island, and the
narrow strip of rocky shore upon which we stood was strewn with the
wreckage of a thousand gallant ships, while the bones of the luckless
mariners shone white in the sunshine, and we shuddered to think how
soon our own would be added to the heap. All around, too, lay vast
quantities of the costliest merchandise, and treasures were heaped in
every cranny of the rocks, but all these things only added to the
desolation of the scene. It struck me as a very strange thing that a
river of clear fresh water, which gushed out from the mountain not far
from where we stood, instead of flowing into the sea as rivers
generally do, turned off sharply, and flowed out of sight under a
natural archway of rock, and when I went to examine it more closely I
found that inside the cave the walls were thick with diamonds, and
rubies, and masses of crystal, and the floor was strewn with ambergris.
Here, then, upon this desolate shore we abandoned ourselves to our
fate, for there was no possibility of scaling the mountain, and if a
ship had appeared it could only have shared our doom. The first thing
our captain did was to divide equally amongst us all the food we
possessed, and then the length of each man's life depended on the time
he could make his portion last. I myself could live upon very little.

Nevertheless, by the time I had buried the last of my companions my
stock of provisions was so small that I hardly thought I should live
long enough to dig my own grave, which I set about doing, while I
regretted bitterly the roving disposition which was always bringing me
into such straits, and thought longingly of all the comfort and luxury
that I had left. But luckily for me the fancy took me to stand once
more beside the river where it plunged out of sight in the depths of
the cavern, and as I did so an idea struck me. This river which hid
itself underground doubtless emerged again at some distant spot. Why
should I not build a raft and trust myself to its swiftly flowing
waters? If I perished before I could reach the light of day once more
I should be no worse off than I was now, for death stared me in the
face, while there was always the possibility that, as I was born under
a lucky star, I might find myself safe and sound in some desirable
land. I decided at any rate to risk it, and speedily built myself a
stout raft of drift-wood with strong cords, of which enough and to
spare lay strewn upon the beach. I then made up many packages of
rubies, emeralds, rock crystal, ambergris, and precious stuffs, and
bound them upon my raft, being careful to preserve the balance, and
then I seated myself upon it, having two small oars that I had
fashioned laid ready to my hand, and loosed the cord which held it to
the bank. Once out in the current my raft flew swiftly under the
gloomy archway, and I found myself in total darkness, carried smoothly
forward by the rapid river. On I went as it seemed to me for many
nights and days. Once the channel became so small that I had a narrow
escape of being crushed against the rocky roof, and after that I took
the precaution of lying flat upon my precious bales. Though I only ate
what was absolutely necessary to keep myself alive, the inevitable
moment came when, after swallowing my last morsel of food, I began to
wonder if I must after all die of hunger. Then, worn out with anxiety
and fatigue, I fell into a deep sleep, and when I again opened my eyes
I was once more in the light of day; a beautiful country lay before me,
and my raft, which was tied to the river bank, was surrounded by
friendly looking black men. I rose and saluted them, and they spoke to
me in return, but I could not understand a word of their language.
Feeling perfectly bewildered by my sudden return to life and light, I
murmured to myself in Arabic, "Close thine eyes, and while thou
sleepest Heaven will change thy fortune from evil to good."

One of the natives, who understood this tongue, then came forward
saying:

"My brother, be not surprised to see us; this is our land, and as we
came to get water from the river we noticed your raft floating down it,
and one of us swam out and brought you to the shore. We have waited
for your awakening; tell us now whence you come and where you were
going by that dangerous way?"

I replied that nothing would please me better than to tell them, but
that I was starving, and would fain eat something first. I was soon
supplied with all I needed, and having satisfied my hunger I told them
faithfully all that had befallen me. They were lost in wonder at my
tale when it was interpreted to them, and said that adventures so
surprising must be related to their king only by the man to whom they
had happened. So, procuring a horse, they mounted me upon it, and we
set out, followed by several strong men carrying my raft just as it was
upon their shoulders. In this order we marched into the city of
Serendib, where the natives presented me to their king, whom I saluted
in the Indian fashion, prostrating myself at his feet and kissing the
ground; but the monarch bade me rise and sit beside him, asking first
what was my name.

"I am Sindbad," I replied, "whom men call `the Sailor,' for I have
voyaged much upon many seas."

"And how come you here?" asked the king.

I told my story, concealing nothing, and his surprise and delight were
so great that he ordered my adventures to be written in letters of gold
and laid up in the archives of his kingdom.

Presently my raft was brought in and the bales opened in his presence,
and the king declared that in all his treasury there were no such
rubies and emeralds as those which lay in great heaps before him.
Seeing that he looked at them with interest, I ventured to say that I
myself and all that I had were at his disposal, but he answered me
smiling:

"Nay, Sindbad. Heaven forbid that I should covet your riches; I will
rather add to them, for I desire that you shall not leave my kingdom
without some tokens of my good will." He then commanded his officers
to provide me with a suitable lodging at his expense, and sent slaves
to wait upon me and carry my raft and my bales to my new dwelling
place. You may imagine that I praised his generosity and gave him
grateful thanks, nor did I fail to present myself daily in his audience
chamber, and for the rest of my time I amused myself in seeing all that
was most worthy of attention in the city. The island of Serendib being
situated on the equinoctial line, the days and nights there are of
equal length. The chief city is placed at the end of a beautiful
valley, formed by the highest mountain in the world, which is in the
middle of the island. I had the curiosity to ascend to its very
summit, for this was the place to which Adam was banished out of
Paradise. Here are found rubies and many precious things, and rare
plants grow abundantly, with cedar trees and cocoa palms. On the
seashore and at the mouths of the rivers the divers seek for pearls,
and in some valleys diamonds are plentiful. After many days I
petitioned the king that I might return to my own country, to which he
graciously consented. Moreover, he loaded me with rich gifts, and when
I went to take leave of him he entrusted me with a royal present and a
letter to the Commander of the Faithful, our sovereign lord, saying, "I
pray you give these to the Caliph Haroun al Raschid, and assure him of
my friendship."

I accepted the charge respectfully, and soon embarked upon the vessel
which the king himself had chosen for me. The king's letter was
written in blue characters upon a rare and precious skin of yellowish
colour, and these were the words of it: "The King of the Indies, before
whom walk a thousand elephants, who lives in a palace, of which the
roof blazes with a hundred thousand rubies, and whose treasure house
contains twenty thousand diamond crowns, to the Caliph Haroun al
Raschid sends greeting. Though the offering we present to you is
unworthy of your notice, we pray you to accept it as a mark of the
esteem and friendship which we cherish for you, and of which we gladly
send you this token, and we ask of you a like regard if you deem us
worthy of it. Adieu, brother."

The present consisted of a vase carved from a single ruby, six inches
high and as thick as my finger; this was filled with the choicest
pearls, large, and of perfect shape and lustre; secondly, a huge snake
skin, with scales as large as a sequin, which would preserve from
sickness those who slept upon it. Then quantities of aloes wood,
camphor, and pistachio-nuts; and lastly, a beautiful slave girl, whose
robes glittered with precious stones.

After a long and prosperous voyage we landed at Balsora, and I made
haste to reach Bagdad, and taking the king's letter I presented myself
at the palace gate, followed by the beautiful slave, and various
members of my own family, bearing the treasure.

As soon as I had declared my errand I was conducted into the presence
of the Caliph, to whom, after I had made my obeisance, I gave the
letter and the king's gift, and when he had examined them he demanded
of me whether the Prince of Serendib was really as rich and powerful as
he claimed to be.

"Commander of the Faithful," I replied, again bowing humbly before him,
"I can assure your Majesty that he has in no way exaggerated his wealth
and grandeur. Nothing can equal the magnificence of his palace. When
he goes abroad his throne is prepared upon the back of an elephant, and
on either side of him ride his ministers, his favourites, and
courtiers. On his elephant's neck sits an officer, his golden lance in
his hand, and behind him stands another bearing a pillar of gold, at
the top of which is an emerald as long as my hand. A thousand men in
cloth of gold, mounted upon richly caparisoned elephants, go before
him, and as the procession moves onward the officer who guides his
elephant cries aloud, `Behold the mighty monarch, the powerful and
valiant Sultan of the Indies, whose palace is covered with a hundred
thousand rubies, who possesses twenty thousand diamond crowns. Behold
a monarch greater than Solomon and Mihrage in all their glory!'"

"Then the one who stands behind the throne answers: 'This king, so
great and powerful, must die, must die, must die!'"

"And the first takes up the chant again, `All praise to Him who lives
for evermore.'"

"Further, my lord, in Serendib no judge is needed, for to the king
himself his people come for justice."

The Caliph was well satisfied with my report.

"From the king's letter," said he, "I judged that he was a wise man.
It seems that he is worthy of his people, and his people of him."

So saying he dismissed me with rich presents, and I returned in peace
to my own house.

When Sindbad had done speaking his guests withdrew, Hindbad having
first received a hundred sequins, but all returned next day to hear the
story of the seventh voyage, Sindbad thus began.





Next: Seventh And Last Voyage

Previous: Fifth Voyage



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