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The Sixth Voyage of Sinbad
The next morning, Sinbad the Porter prayed the dawn-prayer before setting off for the mansion owned by his namesake, Sinbad the Sailor. The wealthy Sinbad wished the poor Sinbad a good day, and invited him to sit and listen to the story of his sixth voyage.
My soul yearned for travel. I had all the riches that anyone could need, but I still loved the satisfaction of making a good deal, and adding to my pile of treasure. Besides, living in luxury and comfort has the disadvantage of following the same pattern every day. Like this silk cushion that I rest my arm on – soft and comfortable yes, but thrilling no.
Once again I made the great mistake of packing up my goods and heading to the port of Basrah. I boarded a good ship and travelled with other merchants from island to island, trading here and there. It seemed to us merchants that fortune was smiling on us. But then one day, after a particularly long voyage, the captain came up onto the deck, knelt down on his knees and began wailing and plucking out his beard, crying out: “Oh Alas! For my children will be orphans!”
We had no idea what was troubling him. One merchant asked:
“Captain, what is troubling you?”
“We have wandered off course and sailed into seas that are unknown to me. I have not the least idea where we are. We shall never find our way home!” he wailed.
This was not welcome news, and things went from bad to worse. A sailor called out from the top of the mast: “Look out! Rocks ahead!”
Hearing this, the captain wailed even louder saying:
“No man can prevent what is preordained by fate! By Allah, we have come to a place of sure destruction and not one of us can be saved!”
And as if answering him, the winds whistled and whirled. Our ship spun around three times and its hull was ripped apart on a rock. We were all plunged into the sea. Many of us drowned but I was one of those who survived. Bedraggled, covered in cuts and bruises, and half dead with exhaustion, I managed to scramble up on to the rocks that were strewn with the wreckage of many a ship that had been dashed to pieces before ours.
Now all over this island, precious stones were lying around like pebbles. The stream beds sparkled with diamonds. I picked up handfuls of royal pearls as easily as gravel. On the beaches and in the surf of the sea we found Ambergris, the floating gold that is made in the bellies of sea-monsters and spewed up by them.
The other merchants went crazy, wondering here and there, praising the works of Allah, and gathering as many precious things as they could carry. But nowhere could we find anything more than a few wild herbs and grass to eat. Over time we became weaker and weaker. It was not long before all my companions had died. I was angry with myself for my folly. What need had I for this sixth adventure when I already had more money than any man could need for his luxury and comfort?
Eventually Allah sent me a thought to explore the island further, to see if there would be any inhabitants who somehow had discovered a way to live here. After staggering some way, I came across a river, which provided me with an easy way to travel. I bound together some logs and made a raft. This I loaded with precious goods and the little food that I could find.
As I set sail I recited the poem:
“Fly, fly across the seas
Follow fate in the salty breeze
Trust in yourself and in no other
Land after land you shall discover
Fret not for your life when you sleep at night
For all will pass when the time is right..”
The waters carried me along, past woods and rocky plains, until eventually it passed into a tunnel that ran straight through a wall in the rock. I ducked my face down into the boat and was carried into the darkness, feeling the roof brush against my turban as we went. I began to wonder if my raft would become stuck deep inside the mountain and I should never see day again, until all of a sudden my eyes were filled again with the light of heaven. The stream had flowed out into the open. Some people had seen me and were calling out. One of them threw me a rope, which I grabbed, and they hauled me onto the bank, where I fell down exhausted. They spoke a language which I did not understand, until one of them said in Arabic:
“Peace be upon you brother!”
They were good men – workers in the field. They carried me, my boat, and the precious gems that were stored on it to the palace for an audience with the king. I offered up my store of treasure as a gift to His Majesty, the King of Sri Lanka, and told him my story from beginning to end. He asked me about my own country, and when he had heard all I had to say, he proclaimed:
“Your Caliph is wise and praiseworthy. You have made me admire him by all you have said.
I wish you to return to Baghdad and take greetings and gifts to him.”
I lived in great honour in the palace of the king until one day I heard that a company of merchants was fitting out a ship to set sail for Basrah. The king paid my passage, loaded a rich cargo on board, and gave me a letter for Caliph Harun al-Rashid. He said to me:
“Carry this with your own hand to the Commander of the Faithful and give him many greetings from us!”
“I hear and I obey,” I replied.
The letter was written on fine deer skin, in ink of ultramarine and read:
“Peace be upon you from King Al Hind, who commands a thousand elephants each bedecked with a thousand diamonds. You are a brother to us and a sincere friend. We are sending some trifling gifts in the hope that you shall be pleased to accept.”
The gifts included a cup of ruby a yard high, filled with precious pearls, the skin of a serpent that had swallowed an elephant, (and whosoever sat upon it should never grow sick), a tonne of sweet smelling perfumes, and a beautiful dancing girl who shone like the moon.
We set sail with a fair wind, and thanks be to Allah, (may he be praised and exalted) we arrived safely in Basrah, from where I travelled to Baghdad, the city of peace, where I requested an audience with the Caliph. He asked me:
“Sinbad, is it true what he writes?”
I kissed the ground before his feet and replied:
“Majesty, it is true and much more. For state processions, his throne is set upon a huge elephant, and men with golden javelins walk before and after him. He is followed by a thousand horsemen in gold brocade and silk.”
The Caliph was pleased with all that I told him, and only permitted me to return to my home after he had bestowed on me many honours, rich gifts and favours.
I distributed presents among my own friends and family, and gave help to the poor. Then I returned once again to my old life of comfort and feasting.
When Sinbad had finished telling the story of his sixth voyage, he gave a gold coin to his namesake, Sinbad the Porter, and they agreed to meet again the following morning to hear the seventh and final voyage of the merchant’s career.