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Boys of the Ages by  Laura Woolsey Lord Scales


 

 

YUSUF AND THE STAR OF HIS FATE

THE SARACEN SCHOLAR

[65] "See that star! There yonder over the topmost of the Kara Dagh! Surely that is the star of his fate!"

"Hush! Let us watch it. Mark well its course. See what influences move it, which of the planets will draw it. Hush! Look well!"

Two old men were whispering to each other as they stood and gazed into the skies. All the rest of the world was asleep. And they, wrapped about in their long cloaks, were like two tiny black dots lost in the wide spaces of the night; their whispers only made the stillness greater. There was not even a breeze, the sheep lay fast asleep, the tents stood quiet, and the great mountains rose silent and black, with their high heads far away among the stars. The stars were clear and bright, sparkling to one another. As all night long they swung across the heavens, now alone, now side by side or in groups, it was as if they spoke together in the only voice or language there was in all the world. The two old men stood hour after hour watching them. At dawn, when the morning stars had sung together their last song, a little breeze crept up, [66] the flowers waked, and the sheep shook themselves and Ayûb went to his tent door. But there was no one to be seen, for the old men had gone.


[Illustration]

AN IMĀM

A religious leader of the Mohammedans. (Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


As the sun rose over the mountains, Ayûb threw himself on the ground with his face toward Mecca, and he prayed to Allah with a new fervor: "Praise be to God, the Lord of creatures, the merciful and gracious. Thee we serve. . . . Lead us in the right way, the way of those to whom Thou hast shown mercy." Ayûb was happy. A new sound was rising from the earth that morning to greet the sun, a new baby's cry,—for in the night a son had been born to him. And it was because of the baby that old Ibrahim and Al-Kindi had been searching the face of the sky, trying to find out from the stars what his future was to be.

[67] Ayûb was all impatience to know about it. And he wandered about restlessly until the old men should have cast the baby's horoscope with the help of the ancient writings, and should come to tell him what they had found. At last he saw them coming, their long camel's-hair cloaks wrapped about them and a kerchief, or Tailasân, over their turbans to protect their heads from the sun.

"Well come indeed are ye!" Ayûb greeted them and bowed low, and at the door of his tent placed rugs for them to sit upon. In spite of his impatience he ordered bowls of honeyed milk for their refreshment. Then at last he spoke, "Have pity, I pray. Forgive my haste, but tell me, will all be well with my son?"

Ibrahim of the long gray beard, the older of the two, answered, and slowly and carefully told him the meaning of the stars. At first the star of the child's life moved serenely on its way, he said, but then a stranger-influence crossed its path. It seemed without harm at first, but always it lurked close by, casting a threatening shadow. Sorrow or danger or both it meant, for alas! it was an evil influence; but what the end would be no man could tell.

Ayûb's face went white as the distant snow on the tops of the Kara Dagh, and when he tried to speak his tongue was dry as if he had come a long ride across the desert. "It is the will of Allah," he tried to say as usual, but he ended, "And there is then no escape?"

[68] Al-Kindi answered him. "Evil is ever to be avoided, unless indeed it can be turned into good."

"But how avoid evil when one knows not even its name?"

"It is therefore that we speak to thee," Al-Kindi answered again.

"Ah, ye know it!" Ayûb exclaimed. "Tell me then its name!"

The two old men looked at each other, and each waited for the other. Finally Ibrahim spoke, "Know then, O Ayûb, that the star which crossed his path—alas, it is well known!—is the star that rose long since, the year when first the Franks defiled our land."

"The Franks!" Ayûb sprang to his feet. "The Franks! The cursed dogs! Tell me not that. Already my cup of hatred overflows."

The old men bowed their heads; they knew what good reason Ayûb had to hate the Franks. For the Franks had taken his father's flocks and herds and killed his brother and driven him to seek safety for his family in the East, far from the home of his people. For the Franks were the Crusaders who had come to win back from the Saracens the sacred places in the Holy Land. Seventy years before they had conquered Jerusalem and driven the infidel, as they called him, from the region, and still their king ruled over it and over many cities that had belonged to the Saracen caliph. And in these cities and along the coast they had destroyed many homes and killed many people.

[69] Ayûb paced back and forth before his tent, his fingers clutching at the air, as he remembered these things and many more. "The Franks, the dogs of Franks!" he muttered. "Always because of them we are at war; because of them, prince Zangi was murdered in his sleep, and Nur-ud-din and the noble young Saladin risk their lives and the lives of all our youths in wars. But I swear it," he raised his hand to the sky, "my son shall not go to war. Since the stars have warned me, I shall keep him safe. He shall not fight the Frank. I will make him a wise man and a scholar. So shall we flee from fate."

The old men rose and held out their hands to him. "Wisdom is with thee. May Allah grant thee thy desire."

From that day on there was one idea in Ayûb's mind—to protect Yusuf, his little son, from the Franks. In these far-away mountains of the East he was at present safe, but Ayûb had already planned to leave these mountains and go back westward to settle again on his father's land. For now Nur-ud-din had retaken that country and driven the Franks farther off toward the coast. And Ayûb's soul longed for the house of his fathers. Yet, to be safe, he put off his going year by year until Yusuf was eight years old, and until noble Saladin, following after Nur-ud-din, had won still more victories.

Yusuf by that time had learned many things. He knew how to ride a horse as well as his father, and [70] could help pitch a tent and pack a saddlebag. He could throw a spear and shoot an arrow, and already he loved to hunt the deer and even the wild panther with his father. One other lesson he was learning thoroughly,—to hate the Franks, or at least the Franks as he pictured them. For Ayûb kept talking to him about them. "Fear the Frank as thou wouldst fear Satan, the Evil One," he said over and over, "for he is a child of darkness and all his ways are black. Dread him like a panther in his fury, like a tiger whose claws drip blood. Allah's curse be on him and on his children after him! And thou, do thou beware! The very stars cry out to warn thee from him." So Ayûb painted the picture in the worst colors he could think of, until little Yusuf, without knowing it, was seeing a strange monster of a Frank. He saw him big and bony, with a broad panther-like face, cruel, and hung about with wild black hair. His hands had clawlike fingers red with blood, and he was black all over. He was black and fearsome-looking, like a strange man Yusuf had once seen when his father took him to town to one of the great fairs. He never told anyone of his picture of this demon-Frank of his; and all the time that he was half afraid of him he was half longing to see him, to find out what he would do.


[Illustration]

HUNTING SCENE

This is a Persian painting, or miniature, where things are not pictured realistically but yet give the fire of the chase and the charm of the landscape. (Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


For even at eight Yusuf was very brave; his life in the wild mountains and his riding and hunting had made him fearless beyond most boys of his age. On the day when they started on the long journey to the [72] Lebanon Mountains his father gave him his own falcon to carry perched on his wrist to help him in the hunting. For on the way they had to stop constantly to hunt for deer and game to give themselves food. Yusuf was of course under orders never to go out of sight of his father or old Ismaîl, the herdsman, but one day when they were nearly at their journey's end he saw some creature and, forgetting orders and every thought of fear, he started after it up the mountainside, and before he knew it he was lost.

He stopped and looked about. He and his horse and falcon were alone in the strange mountains, and he did not know which way to turn. Suddenly his falcon gave a scream. There, bounding toward them, was a leopard. Yusuf tried all in a minute to unleash his falcon and reach for his bow. But his fingers shook. Already the leopard was close and about to spring at his horse's neck. Then an arrow whizzed through the air, and the leopard fell back, pierced through the head.

Yusuf looked up and saw a lone horseman. He was not one of their own band—he could tell that in an instant; and when the man came close to him, he saw that he was indeed some one very different. He had white skin like an angel and fair hair and blue eyes full of kindness. He wore a shirt of mail, as other men did, but over it was a long coat of silk covered with many golden crosses. Yusuf stared at him as if he had really dropped from heaven. But the man touched him to make sure he was unhurt and spoke to him in [73] a deep pleasant voice, using his own language. "Hast thou any harm?" he said.

"No," Yusuf shook his head, and then stammered, "I—I did not see him. But for thy good arrow, my poor horse—I—I—it is a shame to me—My father—what would he say to me?"

The stranger smiled. "Are boys of thy race, then, expected to hunt alone even from their cradles?"

[74] Yusuf shook his head. "It is my fault. I lost my way."

"As wiser heads than thine have done, as I am proof. Yet," the man looked at the dead leopard, "perchance God willed it so, or there might have been a brave boy the less. But come, shall we ride together and see if we can find thy father?"


[Illustration]

A KING AND A KNIGHT

This picture, made at the end of the twelfth century and taken from a manuscript in the British Museum, shows the dress of a Crusader, with the chain armor and the surcoat ornamented with crosses


They rode in what Yusuf thought the right direction, but for many long hours they saw nothing but the many wild flowers of the region, which delighted the stranger. Yusuf was growing tired and hungry when at last his companion stopped and took from his wallet some sort of biscuit, broke one and handed half to him. Also he gave him wine to drink from a flask. "So," he said with his pleasant smile, "having broken bread and drunk together we are no longer enemies, but friends. Christian and infidel, we are friends. Is it not so?"

For answer Yusuf ran off and gathered an armful of flowers,—cyclamen, anemones, daffodils growing wild in the mountains,—and thrust them into the man's hands. "For you," he said shyly, "for Yusuf's friend. And thank you for saving my horse."

"Surely a brave, fine lad," the man murmured in his own language. "I would I could take him to Arnaud."

A sound had caught Yusuf's quick ear, and off in the distance he pointed to horsemen. "Look," he cried, "my father. Come!"

The stranger hesitated, then shook his head. "Nay, it were wiser not. Thy people do not love a Christian. [75] Ride on, and I'll watch thee to safety. But remember, Yusuf and Renaud part as friends. Farewell. Forget me not."

The boy lingered to look wistfully into his face. "Yusuf will not forget. Never."

When, flushed and excited, he told his story to his father his surprise was great, for first Ayûb shook like a dry leaf on a tree, then he raged like a mountain brook, then hugged his little son to his breast. "A Frank! A Frank! Yet art thou safe. Not this time then was thy fate come. Yet a Frank! My son, my son!"

"But no," Yusuf interrupted, "he was not a Frank. For he was as white as any angel; he was not black." He stopped short. The familiar picture of his demon-Frank was in his mind, and now for the first time he doubted it; perhaps it was not true. Yet he said nothing. And though his father would not let him out of his sight, and talked more than ever against the Franks, Renaud stayed warm and friendly in his memory.


[Illustration]

COURTYARD AND FOUNTAIN OF A MOSQUE AT DAMASCUS

The new life in the old home of his fathers was a happy one to Yusuf, and he grew up slim and straight and tall, browned by suns and rains, and loving the life beneath the skies with the sheep and horses. But when he was twelve years old, his father told him that he was to go away to school. The great prince Saladin had come to rule as Sultan in Damascus and was building mosques and schools there, where Yusuf could [76] safely go to study to become a wise man. For according to his early vow, Ayûb intended Yusuf for a scholar, and he meant that some day he should belong to the court of Saladin, who, though a soldier, loved learning [78] and the arts. So Yusuf, the boy of the mountains and open spaces, went to Damascus to live in the medressa, the School of the Mosque. With many other boys he lived and ate and studied and made his five prayers daily, all under one roof. He studied the Koran, and he learned the beautiful writing of his people, and he began the study of grammar, arithmetic and geography, and of the sciences, especially botany and astronomy, for his people were wise and skilled in many kinds of learning.

For four years Yusuf worked hard and steadily, and after the first he was a good pupil. At first he had been terribly homesick for the mountains and his horse. But as he had been brave when his body was in danger, so now he was brave in conquering the miseries of his mind. He made himself control his homesickness, and learned to live the new life. For it was his father's will.


[Illustration]

MECCA AND ITS MOSQUE

The Kaaba lies in a vast court, into which the pilgrims are making their way to walk about the Kaaba seven times. (From Robinson and Breasted, "History of Europe, Ancient and Medieval")


He did so well that when he was sixteen his father came to him with his reward. It was in the month of Dhu'l Hijja, the pilgrimage month, when the great caravan was setting out from Damascus for Medina and Mecca. Every good Moslem, as Yusuf knew, tried once in his life to go to the Prophet's birthplace and to take part in the ceremonies of the pilgrimage, for it meant that then he would be washed clean of his sins. For a boy of sixteen to go was rare good fortune, and Yusuf was aglow with excitement. There was not only the religious reward, but all the adventures by the way. For the routes everywhere were full of people: [79] Bedouins from the desert with their camels, soldiers on horseback, priests on asses, beggars on foot, and all were dressed as was Yusuf too, in the strange pilgrim dress of two pieces of white cotton cloth wrapped about the body, and all were bare of head and bare of feet. Once more Yusuf was on horseback, and so he delighted in the long journey.

Yet he was glad when they reached Mecca, and he saw the great mosque of the Prophet and the old, old Kaaba, the temple built, as some said, by Abraham or Ishmael, which has in it the Black Stone that fell direct to earth from heaven and so is very holy. On the first day he performed the rites at the Kaaba with the others. Seven times he went round and round it saying his prayers, "O Allah, make it an acceptable pilgrimage," "O Allah, verily I take refuge with thee," and when this was done he went to the Black Stone, touched it with his palms and kissed it. Then at evening he fed the mosque pigeons. The rites went on for many days. There was the journey to Arafat, the Holy Hill, where he listened for three hours to a sermon, and the day after at the village of Mina there was the stoning of the "Great Devil." The Great Devil was a large stone pillar at which all pilgrims threw stones. This was quite to Yusuf's mind: he took seven stones, nicely washed and, saying a prayer as he did it, he pelted the devil well. He did not stop until he had thrown seventy stones in all and so had thoroughly conquered the Evil One. His father made a sacrifice of a [80] sheep, and at last, with all the rites performed, their clothes changed and their heads shaved, they were ready to start homeward with the others of their caravan.

They had been gone a long time from Damascus and had heard little of the rest of the world, but not far from Medina they met another caravan which gave them important news. The Franks, they said, had attacked a caravan of the Saracens, murdered the men, and stolen the goods. Ayûb and the other men felt for their swords or daggers. That meant an end to the truce which Saladin had made with the Christians: it meant war again. Ayûb blazed with anger; the desert sun was not hotter than he in his wrath. "Dogs! Swine! So a cur keeps faith!" he cried. "No place is safe from them. Thou shalt not return to Damascus, Yusuf. I will not risk thee so near them. I will go, but thou! The cursèd dogs! Would I had ten thousand swords in my one right hand!"

But Yusuf was no longer a child. He begged his father to let him go to the camp of Saladin to join the army. But his father was as unmoved as his own mountains.

"No, go thou home with Ali by the desert route. It is long, but safe. Thinkest thou I have forgotten what Ibrahim and Al-Kindi said to me on the night when thou wast born?"

"But it was only one false Christian who broke up the caravan. The men themselves have said so," Yusuf pleaded.

[81] "All are the same, all false. I go to Damascus to arrange our affairs, but thou,—by another sunrise thou shalt be on thy way with Ali."

Yusuf had to obey, and though he started off with ten men as escort, his father's face was haggard with fear as he murmured over and over, "Allah preserve thee!" But any fear of the Franks soon fell from Yusuf's mind in the dreadful heat and thirst of the desert and the sand storms that came and choked him. Though they timed their day's marches so that they would reach a spring by nightfall, they suffered much, and one day it was long past dark when, fainting and blistered and parched, they finally reached the low hills and some water. The water and the cool night revived them, but it was with thankfulness for an escape from death that Yusuf made his sunrise prayer to Allah.

Then he heard two of his companions talking. They, in scouting about, had found just over the hill, not a bow-shot away, a band of Christians stretched out all but dead with thirst. "Far gone they were," said one of the men. "Though they were twenty and we only two, I had no fear."

"But why?" Yusuf came up to them, "why were they thirsty, with this spring so near?"

"Ah, they know not the country, nor have they intelligence enough to lead them to the places of water."

"But you told them!" exclaimed Yusuf, with a sharp memory of his own thirst and suffering.

[82] "Told them!" the men looked at him and laughed. "Are we then babes in arms? Or who are we to oppose the will of Allah and give life to his enemies?"

"Oh, but to die of thirst! Surely the prophet would not wish even his enemies to die so cruelly."

The men laughed and walked away. "How they die, it matters not." But Yusuf was murmuring to himself, "Cowards. It is a coward's way. And did not Renaud save my life?"

So when they broke camp and started off he, with an excuse about a broken saddlebag, lingered behind, and as soon as the men were out of sight he dashed down to the place where he knew the Christians must be. He found them lying on the sand, weak and fainting, surrounded by their lifeless horses, and two were already dead. They paid no attention to his coming, except one boy who sat up and looked at him. To him Yusuf beckoned and pointed up the hill, making a gesture as if drinking. The boy crept to his side, his eyes questioning whether Yusuf were a ghost, a savior or a fiend. But Yusuf caught him up and put him on his horse and led him to the spring. He held the water to his lips, and the young Frank sipped slowly. Then, as the color came back to his face, he drank eagerly and stretched himself as if he were coming to life again. Yusuf filled his own gourd and some flasks which he had taken from the Christians, and with the water they revived the drooping men and afterwards the horses. Then Yusuf went to his own [83] horse to mount and be off, while the boy followed him, eagerly trying to say his thanks with his large blue eyes, since they could not speak each other's language. But suddenly a rough hand seized Yusuf's bridle. The leader of the group towered above him. "Hold! Thou shalt not go!" he said, then in his own tongue to the young Frank, "Hold him! He shall be a hostage, else when his fellows return once more to find him, as they surely will, we are all dead men."

"Guy, what villainy is this!" the boy cried. "He has saved our lives."

"And what good is that if we lose them straight away again? We cannot rest here. He shall go with us and guide us, for we know not the way."

Others came up and with the boy argued hotly against Guy, as Yusuf knew, though he could not understand the words. But it was no use. What Guy said prevailed, and as soon as camp could be broken the band was off.

"To Jerusalem!" Guy said to Yusuf in his own language. "Guide us safely, or thou art as good as dead already."

It was useless for Yusuf to explain that he did not himself know the way; and he trusted to his own and his horse's instinct to lead them somehow until they could ask the road. It was a long and hard journey, but for Yusuf it was cheered by a new friend. For Arnaud, as the young Frank was called, was always beside him, and long before they made up a language [84] in which they could speak to each other he had shown him his own loyalty and his disgust at Guy's treachery.

When at last they came to the walls of Jerusalem, the Christians found that they were none too soon. Saladin was close at hand with a great army ready to besiege the city. Yusuf was hurried in with his captors and, once in, they did not dare to let him go. For the garrison was reduced and the city in distress, and they feared that he would give information to their enemies. So he was kept in the city and was there when his own prince, the generous Saladin, sent in word: "I know that Jerusalem is a holy place. I do not wish to profane it. Abandon your ramparts, and I shall give you. . . as much land as you can cultivate." But the Christians were determined. They refused his good offer and resisted his siege. Food became short, and there was much suffering.

But Yusuf's suffering was not from lack of food. It was from longing, as he looked out through the loopholes in the towers and saw the camp of Saladin. He could see his people behind their intrenchments by day, the tents in rows like streets and the open squares where they held markets, and at night he could see their camp fires and imagine how they were sitting together in rings listening to stories of adventure or the poems and songs of their people told to the sound of a flute, until at last the setting of the stars sent them to bed. Arnaud understood his unhappiness and was constantly with him. One day as they stood on [85] the ramparts together he said, "I would that thou couldst turn Christian, but I see it: thy heart is ever yonder with thy people. Daily I am begging the queen to let thee go, for I cannot bear it that we are guilty of such treachery."

"If all the Franks were like thee," said Yusuf, "then—but it would break my father's heart." And he told Arnaud of his father's bitterness and of the wise men's prophecy. But he himself was not frightened, he said, for he had once proved the goodness of a Frank; and he told Arnaud the story of Renaud and the leopard. Arnaud was much excited. "Thou—thou art that lad. But Renaud was my father, my dear father, long since dead, and I have often heard him tell the tale. God must have sent thee to me. Once more I will beg Queen Sybilla herself for thy release. My father would wish it."

Arnaud was granted his request, but on one condition: that Yusuf give his promise not to tell a word about the state of Jerusalem, and if he broke his promise, Arnaud's own life was to be forfeit. Yusuf promised, and Arnaud led him at night to the city gate and gave him the password.—"God wills it." The two boys threw their arms about each other's neck, and Yusuf went out—his word, the word of an infidel, the only guarantee that the enemy would not learn the wasted condition of the city. He was seized at once by sentries of the Saracen camp, who mistrusted him for a spy and, in Saladin's absence, brought him [86] to one of the chiefs. When Yusuf had told his story, he and his counselors shook their heads. "How can we believe thee a true man and no spy," they said, "unless thou tell us the state of the enemy?"

"But I have promised not to," said Yusuf, "and my friend is surety for me."


[Illustration]

A PAGE FROM A KORAN

This title-page from an Arabic Koran, the Bible of the Mohammedans, is beautiful in color as well as in design. (Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


"Art thou a follower of the Prophet?" the men demanded. "Then the only wickedness is to withhold the truth and aid the enemy."

[87] Still Yusuf refused. "I gave my word," he said.

"As thou wilt," the chief answered, "for it is thy life, the life of a spy, or the truth about Jerusalem."

His father was out of reach, and could not help him, and so Yusuf demanded the right of appeal to Saladin.

At the very moment Saladin himself rode into their midst, and Yusuf fell on his face before him and told him his story.

"He pretends to be a follower of the Prophet, yet is false to his own people," said the chief. "If he has this news, bid him give it to us and save our men."

But Yusuf lifted his eyes to Saladin and spoke only to him. "Then would I be false to my trust, since I have given my word."

A pleasant smile passed over the great Saladin's face. "I believe thee," he said. "Never have I seen a spy with a face like thine. And thou hast well done. Who holds his honor dearer than his life is indeed beloved of Allah." Then he turned to his generals and counselors. "By bravery, not by breaking faith, will we conquer this city." And to Yusuf he said, "Remain here with me till the city falls. It will be soon."

It was but a few days later that the city surrendered. Saladin, who had every reason to deal hardly with the Christians, treated them kindly and, instead of making them captives, allowed them four days in which to secure a ransom for every man, woman and child—ten dinars (or about thirty dollars) for every soldier, five for a woman, and one for a child. Yusuf [88] sent to his father for money to ransom Arnaud, but Ayûb, overcome with a panic of fear, refused and ordered his son to come at once to Damascus. But Yusuf would not; he was determined to wait for the day of ransom. It came, and those whose ransoms were paid filed out of the city, taking their possessions with them, for such was Saladin's generosity. But many were unransomed. Then Saladin, the noble and chivalrous prince, himself paid the ransom for ten thousand of his enemies. He sent for Yusuf and with a smile gave him his orders. "Go, see to it thyself that thy young friend who trusted thee is among the ransomed."

So the boys met again and were happy, though it was a moment of parting. "Farewell, then," Arnaud spoke at last. "Do thou go back to thy father and tell him how by kindness thou hast overcome fate itself and hast made a friend out of thine enemies. And I,—I will return to my father's home, to France. The Holy Sepulcher is gone, and all the holy places are in the hands of the unbelievers. I have no heart to stay longer. But thanks to thee," and he put his hands on Yusuf's shoulders, "I will carry away one precious memory, the memory of a friend and of how one Saracen kept faith."

So the boys parted, Arnaud to his world and Yusuf to his. And Yusuf, since Saladin joined his father in advising it, went back to his studies in the medressa and fitted himself to become one of the learned men whom Saladin delighted to have at his court.


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