20. The City of Brass

Caliph Abd al-Malik hears of Solomon who imprisoned Jinns in cucurbites. When the cucurbites are broken the Jinns ask for forgiveness. The Caliph wants to witness this for himself and sends out Talib and Musa to find the cucurbites. They arrive at a castle build of black stone where they find verses about everything that will turn into dust. When they move on they find a horseman of brass showing them the way to the City of Brass. Then they encounter an imprisoned Ifrit who tells them how he was imprioned by Solomon by his own arrogance. He also tells them where to find the cucurbites. When they reach the City they find it closed. Musa finds more verses about the transcience of life. Finally they decide to build ladders and climb the walls. The first climbers however cast themselves onto the ground, dead. It is Musa who overcomes the demons luring him to his own destruction. He opens the gates and a part of the group enters the empty city. They scout the city and in a palace find an embalmed lady telling them of her destruction. Talib wants to take her treasures, but is killed by the guards of copper. Musa goes the coast to find the cucurbites. He finds black people, sons of Ham, who tell him where to find the cucurbites. The cucubites are brought to the Caliph who opens them. The demons fly away asking for forgiveness. Musa retires to Jerusalem.

In Damascus of Syria there is a Caliph known as Abd al-Malik bin Marwan, the fifth of the Ommiade House. One day he converses with his Sultans, Kings and Grandees of his empire. The talk comes to Solomon and his lordship over men, Jinn, birds and beasts, reptiles, the wind and other created things. He imprisoned Jinns, Marids and Satans in cucurbites of copper and stopped them with lead and steel with his ring. Then Talib bin Sahl tells the Caliph a story of his father.

When he went to Sicily he met a contrary wind and went to an unknown land. Here were folk black of colour and naked. Only their King knew Arabic and welcomed them. And Talib and his men saw that the fishermen caught cucurbites of copper, stopped with lead and sealed with the signet of Solomon. When the cucurbite was broken a Giant came out screaming “I repent! I repent!” and vanished out of sight. When they asked the King he told them the fishermen caught a lot of these cucurbites. The Giants think Solomon is still alive and can pardon them.

Upon hearing this, the Caliph wishes to see these cucurbites. Talib answers that that is possible. He sends his brother Abd al-Aziz bin Marwan so he may write to Musa bin Nusayr, govenor of the Maghrib or Morocco. So Talib sets out for Egypt where Emir Musa abides. He joins Talib after seeing the Caliph’s letter. He is advised by his chief officers to ask Shaykh Abd al-Samad, ibn Abd al-Kuddus, al-Samudi, who has knowledge and travelled far. The Shaykh tells them it is about two years and some months travel.

They travel through the desert of Kayrawan or Cyrene which lacks water. They get lost because the stars are clouded but they move on. They come to a castle build from black stone and a door of China Steel. Then Musa praises Allah for his father told him once of this palace and the City of Brass which should be ahead. They find all kinds of verses telling of ‘greatness fallen into dust and clay’. Musa weeps over these verses. There are also tablets telling of the accidents of Time and the vicissitudes of Fortune. The tablet tells they were caught unawares by the Destroyer of Delights, Lord of the Heavens and Lord of the Earth. And more tablets tell of the turns of Fortune and Death. The Emir takes along the tablet.

The group travels for three more days till they come to a hill with a horseman of brass. At the horseman there is an engraving which states if you don’t know the way to the City of Brass you have to rub the hand. The horseman will turn into the direction of the city. Emir Musa does so and they go into the correct direction. The group encounters a pillar of black stone wherein resides an Ifrit of the Jinn. He says he is Dahish, son of Al-A’amash and is prisoned there by the Providence.

The Ifrit tells how he came into the pillar. One of the sons of Iblis had an idol of red carnelion of which the Ifrit was guardian. The King of the land rebelled against Solomon. Solomon wanted to marry the beautiful daughter of the King. She loved the idol but Solomon wanted them to renounce it. The King refused and went to his idol for advice. Dahish went into the idol and spoke for it that the King should fight Solomon. The King beat Solomon’s messenger and sent him back to his master.

Solomon was enraged and went with his army of a million men, Jann, birds and reptiles. But the King wouldn’t give in. The battle began and the Ifrit fought Al-Dimiryat, King of the Jann, an Ifrit, from whom he eventually had to flee. The rest of the army was always beaten. After three months Dahish was overtaken by Al-Dimiryat and brought before Solomon. He imprisoned Dahish in the pillar, chained him and sealed it with his ring. An angel guards the pillar till Judgment-day.

The Ifrit tells, after being questioned, that other Ifrits who are in brass bottles can be found in the sea of Al-Karkar. The City of Brass is also near at hand. The group reaches the city: a blackness with twin lights. The wall of the city are of black stone and it has two towers of Andalusian brass. When they reach the walls they cannot find a gate. The Shaykh says it is said in the Book of Hidden Treasures that there are twenty-five gates only to be opened from within. Then Musa, Talib and Abd Al-Samad ascend the highest hill nearby to have a look upon the city. The Emir finds marble tablets with messages of warning in Greek. They warn of death and talk about Allah causing the destruction: “Nor wealth nor refuge could their doom delay!” and “Where be the men who built and fortified / High places never man their like espied?” and “Look not for news of what is in the grave”. Musa copies all these words and returns to the rest.

They decide to craft a ladder and a strong one is crafted within a month. Finally a man climbs the wall. But when he reaches the top he cries out: “By Allah, thou art fair!” and casts himself down into the city. Another comes up and says the man must have been mad and they should let him ascend the ladder. When he reaches the top he casts himself down as well. The continues until Emir Musa goes up the ladder reciting the Verses of Safety. When he is on the wall he claps his hands and gazes fixedly down into the city. He laughs and then says to the rest not to fear. He tells them he saw ten maidens like Houris of Heaven and they were calling and sighning. But when he wanted to cast himself down he saw his twelve dead companions. He recited from Allah’s Book whereupon he dispelled the witchcraft.

Then Musa walks along the wall and encouters the two towers of brass in which are two doors of gold without visible means of opening. Then he espies a horseman of brass with an engraving to turn the pin in his navel twelve times. The gate opens and he comes in a guardroom with dead men. When he continues and comes to the gates of the city he finds them locked and returns to the guardroom to find the keys, which he does. He opens the gate and the others enter the city. But Musa lets half of them wait outside the city in case ill-chance betides the group within.

The group that goes in sees corpses and open shops, as if everbody died suddenly. Within the palace they find more corpses of people died by famine. In this palace Musa finds written on an inner door: “Consider how this people their palaces adorned / And in dust have been pledged for the seed of acts they sowed.” The verse is written down by Musa. They go to a pavallion and find many riches and weapons. The soldiers take what they seem fit. Eventually Emir Musa and Talib come to a couch under a canopy with a beautiful embalmed lady surrounded by treasure and wearing a precious amulet. Two statues of Andalusian copper represent slaves and on one of the steps lies a golden amulet: “Knowest thou not that that Death calleth for thee and hasteneth to seize upon the soul of thee?”

The embalmed lady is Tadmurah, daughter of the Kings of Amalekites. She found herself righteous and just. Then Death came at her door and there were seven years of drought. Food was bought in with treasures. When Emir Musa writes these lines down he says to fetch the camels and load them with treasures. Talib wants to take the treasures of the lady but Musa warns him not to. He does not heed hs warning and when Talib approaches the lady the two statues slaughter him. Then Emir Musa says greed indeed degrades man. They leave the place with precious ores and treasures and travel along the coast until they reach a cave with black men. They think the travellers are Jinn, but Musa says they’re not. The black people say they are children of Adam as well of the lineage of Ham and they worship Allah. There are more introductions and then Musa tells the black people he’s looking for cucurbites of brass containing Jinn sealed by Solomon. The cucurbites are promised and more stories about Musa’s travels follow. Twelve cucurbites are brought and given to Musa.

When the company finally arrives in Damascus they go to the Commander of the Faithful and tell him the whole story of what befell them and how Talib died. The Caliph opens the cucurbites and the demons leave them asking for forgiveness. The treasures are divided over the Faithful. Musa retires to Jerusalem where he dies.

From: The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night — Volume 06

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