Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir - A Lost King
Arabian Knights - Volume 1

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Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Qadeem Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Times of Old…

Where an affluent Arabian king, named Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir, decided he was bored, so he gathered up his fawning court and rode out to hunt. Unfortunately for the king, his horse that day was a spirited stallion with a mind of its own. It broke free from the hunting party and ran away with the king, who was clinging in a most undignified manner to its mane.

Despite their best efforts, the members of the king's hunting party could not keep up with the swift stallion and before long, they were all left behind. The king, no longer bored, found himself lost and very much alone as the stallion continued to gallop hither and thither.

After the headstrong stallion had run itself into exhaustion, it calmed down enough for Al-Numan to finally regain control of it. The lost king rode aimlessly about until nightfall, hoping to come across someone who could show him the way home.

As the night grew darker and rain started to fall, Al-Numan searched for any kind of shelter with increasing urgency. It took some time, but he finally came across a small tent which was the home of a poor man, Hanthala, and his wife.

Despite the darkness and the late hour, the solitary couple fearlessly came forward to take in their unexpected guest. Just as quickly as he could have wished, the king found himself safe and warm and with a stomach filled with freshly grilled lamb.

To his surprise, Al-Numan greatly enjoyed the company of his impoverished hosts, who were both kind and caring people, and the three of them stayed up late talking. As soon as his eyes grew heavy with sleep, Al-Numan was given warm blankets and was ushered into the humble tent where he slept comfortably through what remained of the stormy night.

The next morning, which dawned bright and clear, Al-Numan took his leave of his gracious hosts. He lithely mounted his horse and, just before he rode away, revealed his identity to the surprised couple. He told them that if they ever came to see him, he would reward them greatly for their kindness. The king of Al-Heira then trotted away on his horse, leaving the speechless couple standing before their tent.

Not long afterwards, Al-Numan came across his frantic hunting party and safely made his way back home.

Time passed and the fortunes of Hanthala and his wife began to wane further and further. They soon found themselves in truly desperate straits. Recalling the strange man who had claimed himself a king, Hanthala's wife urged her husband to go to the court of the king of Al-Heira and, should it prove to be their guest, ask him for the promised reward. Seeing the wisdom in his wife's council, Hanthala set out.

Hanthala neared the court of the king of Al-Heira and found himself traveling on a well-tended road which he deemed quite a luxury. As he rode along, he saw a man sitting on a horse that stood patiently by side of the rode. When he reached the strangely still forms, Hanthala saw that the man on the horse was his one-time guest and that there was a camp filled with well-dressed people nearby.

“It's true then?” Hanthala said happily. “You are the king of Al-Heira?!”

Al-Numan sat on his horse and was silent for a long moment. Finally, he said quietly to Hanthala, “You are the man who gave me shelter on that rainy night. I wish you had come yesterday or even tomorrow! Curse it! Now I will have to kill you.”

Appalled by this reply, Hanthala knew not what to say or where to look. By then, both he and the king of Al-Heira had been surrounded by the members of the king's richly dressed court. Someone stepped forward and quietly whispered to the shocked man why today was to be the day he died.

Apparently, in a moment of boredom and insane whim, Al-Numan had decreed that he would sit by the side of the road every day. On one day, whoever encountered him first, he would make a rich man and treat him like a prince. On the next day, whoever encountered him first, he would sentence to death and have the sentence carried out that very day.

Day after day, Al-Numan would amuse himself by making some men rich and having others executed according to what day it was. And he did this simply because he was bored.

For the first time since he had begun his cruel game of life and death, Al-Numan found himself feeling conflicted. He remembered Hanthala and his wife well, and he recalled their generosity and kindness so very vividly, and with so much gratitude. It grieved him to make a widow of the kind woman, and a corpse of her equally kind husband, rather than giving them the riches he had promised them.

Hanthala hoped to reason with Al-Numan so he said in a pleading voice, “I had no knowledge of this decree! Will you kill me for my ignorance?!”

“Curse it!” Al-Numan growled, “If Qaboos, my son, came across me on this day, I would kill him, too! I cannot make ANY exceptions! Ask me for whatever you wish in this life because you are moving on to the next life soon.”

“What use have I for worldly wealth if I am dead?!” Hanthala cried out unhappily.

“No exceptions,” Al-Numan said firmly, mercilessly.

“At least, delay my sentence until I can return to my family and set my affairs in order. I swear to you I will return,” Hanthala said with despair churning in his stomach and weakening his knees.

Al-Numan pondered Hanthala’s words for a while as his conflicted emotions chased one another across his face. Then his face cleared and he said, “Someone here must guarantee your return, and be willing to be killed in your place should you fail to return.”

Hanthala turned to Al-Numan's closest friend, Shareek bin Amr, and spoke the following lines of poetry:

O' Shareek O' son of Amr --- is not death inevitable?
O' brother to the injured --- O brother to the brotherless
O' brother to Al-Numan --- Free his guest today

Fearing for his life and unmoved by Hanthala's pleas and poetry, Shareek bin Amr refused to guarantee Hanthala's return. Hanthala stood there with sweat pouring down his face, knowing that if Shareek was too afraid to guarantee his return, then no one would.

Just then a man from the Bani Kalib tribe, named Qurad bin Ajda'a stepped forward and addressed Al-Numan, “Curse it! I'll guarantee him!”

“You?” Al-Numan said, startled.

“Yes,” Qurad returned defiantly.

“So be it,” Al-Numan said in clipped tones.

He then ordered that five hundred camels be given to Hanthala, and that he be allowed to go home to his family, provided he agreed to return in exactly one year's time. Hanthala left that day knowing that if he failed to return, Al-Numan would have Qurad bin Ajda'a killed in his stead.

Exactly one year later, Al-Numan gathered his court and set out for the stretch of road where he usually waited for his next unwitting victim or beneficiary. As soon as he arrived there, he issued an order for Qurad to be killed.

Al-Numan's ministers quickly objected saying it was premature to kill Qurad so early in the day, Hanthala may yet return. Al-Numan hesitated because he would rather kill Qurad than Hanthala, but he was unwilling to fight his ministers over a few hours’ time, so he agreed to delay Qurad's execution.

Hour after hour, Al-Numan and his court sat and waited. Qurad stood looking down the road, his face a mix of hope and despair. Next to him, Al-Numan's executioner stood, sword in hand, ready to kill Qurad as soon as Al-Numan gave the order.

After many hours of anxious waiting, the sun began to set and Qurad's wife began to weep while her husband’s eyes grew dim with despair.

“Kill him!” Al-Numan ordered sharply.

“Wait!” a voice cried, “I see a man approaching!”

Everyone turned to the road except Al-Numan's executioner who turned to the king. Angrily, Al-Numan conceded with ill grace, “We will wait until the man, whoever he is, arrives.”

When the man arrived, it proved to be none other than Hanthala. Al-Numan looked reproachfully at his kind host and said sadly, “What made you return? You were safe!”

“Faithfulness,” Hanthala shrugged as though his imminent death didn’t bother him at all.

“What makes you so faithful?” Al-Numan demanded sullenly.

“My religion,” Hanthala said.

“What religion is that?” Al-Numan asked, curious now.

“Christianity,” Hanthala replied proudly.

“Tell me about it,” Al-Numan commanded.

So Hanthala spent the next few hours speaking to Al-Numan and his court of his Christian faith. When he had finished, Al-Numan became a Christian and the people of his court quickly followed suit.

Al-Numan then declared that he had pardoned both Qurad and Hanthala, and said, “I know not which of these two men is more faithful and generous, the man who could have left and disappeared but instead came back, or the man that guaranteed him at the risk of his own life. By God, I will not be the lesser man of the three!”

Hanthala smiled and said:

I could not betray his faith (in me) --- After his kindness to me on that day
Though my wife begged me to stay --- I could only do things the right way

That very night Al-Numan rescinded his cruel decree and from that day forth, travelers on the Arabian king's roads were able to come and go in peace.

*Written by © 2011. Care to read or leave Comments?

Notes:
  1. Names, Translations and Aliases:
    • Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir: النعمان بن المنذر.
    • Hanthala: حنظلة
    • Qaboos (heir of Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir): قابوس بن النعمان بن المنذر
    • Qurad bin Ajda'a: قراد بن أجدع
    • Shareek bin Amr: شريك بن عمرو

Sources:
  1. Al-Bayhaqi, Ibrahim bin Muhammad. (2011 AD, 1432 H). المحاسن و المساوئ [Merits and Faults]. Beirut: Al-Maktaba Al-Assrya. Book 1. Page 124-125.
  2. Ibrahim, M., Al-Mowla, M., Al-Bajawi, A. (2011 AD, 1432 H). قصص العرب [Stories of the Arabs]. Beirut: Al-Maktaba Al-Assrya. Volume 1. Page 123-125.

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