Sinbad’s Seventh Voyage by Arthur Szyk

[Webshaykh’s Note: This last semester I taught an Honors Seminar on the Arabian Nights. The last assignment asked students to write the 8th voyage of Sindbad, drawing on what happened in earlier voyages. I will post several of these here for your enjoyment. This is the second one I am publishing and it is by Marissa Priest. For the first by Taryn Teurfs, click here.]

The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad
By Marissa Priest

Before all the hairs of his beard could turn white, Sinbad the Sailor longed for one last voyage. Yet after all the turmoil of his past adventures, his wife was worried for his safety. Her concern only multiplied when their young son Hamza showed the same symptoms of wanderlust. Like his father, he longed to sail the seas to gather wealth and taste adventure. Despite her pleading, the two set off to begin the eighth voyage. First, Sinbad took his son with him to the docks to gather a reliable crew. They found plenty of honest and faithful men who were eager to set out with the fabled Sinbad. After gathering enough supplies, the men sailed out with no idea where they would find themselves.

Sinbad had chosen a mighty ship, but she was not strong enough to last the force of a great sea storm. As the great waves pounded across the ship, the men were tossed back and forth. Many were thrown into the sea to perish. Provisions flew off the ship and broke apart in the ocean. Sinbad was not afraid, but clung to the mast and instructed his son to do the same. Catching some rope that flew past him, Sinbad tied himself to the mast. Before he could secure his son, the ship capsized. The dominant water swept his son away, carrying him far out of sight. Despite his cries, Sinbad was subject to the ocean’s whims as well. Still bound to the now broken mast, he bobbed across the vicious water for days until being spat out on the shore of a foreign island. After untangling himself from the wet rope and shattered wood, Sinbad rose to study his new surroundings.

More of his ship was washing up on the shore, but Sinbad saw no food or his son Hamza. The beach was wide and bare before giving way to a dense jungle. To avoid the oncoming dark clouds, he ran into the jungle for shelter. While the trees shielded him from the rain, Sinbad could not help but feel as if he was being watched. Moving carefully, he climbed up one of the trees with the thought he would be safe there. However, as he climbed up the trees, Sinbad noticed bright eyes completely surrounding him. As the hidden figures were still, Sinbad mustered up the strength to speak.

“My name is Sinbad and I have come here from the great city of Baghdad. I was sailing with my son when our ship was destroyed in a great storm,” he spoke loudly, but words incited rage in the shadowy creatures. They began to shriek with an alarming high pitched frequency. Sinbad’s ears rang out with pain, but he stood his ground. Yet when the darkness receded, he felt terror strike his heart. The trees were filled with large beasts, half man and half ape. The pounded their broad chests with nonstop cries. Expecting any of them to attack, Sinbad jumped out of the tree. He had lost his sword during the tempest, and was vastly outnumbered by the ape-men. As they pursued him, Sinbad fled back to the beach. No one followed him out of the forest, and Sinbad had a moment to catch his breath.

Night would soon be falling, and there was no shelter on the beach. Needing a place to rest, Sinbad gathered the shredded bits of his ship that were spread across the beach. He used them to prop up a little shelter, which was just big enough to cover him. After crawling inside, Sinbad quickly fell asleep. When the sun rose the next morning, he felt well rested and ready to face the dangers of the island. The imposing forest still blocked him from exploring any more of the island, but Sinbad would not be stopped. He selected one board to use as a weapon and ventured back into the jungle. As he walked, he heard the rustling of the trees behind him. The noise did not scare Sinbad, until the leaves parted and one of the ape people approached Sinbad.

Before Sinbad could strike, the creature lifted both its arms and let out a soft whimper. It confused Sinbad, even more when the ape man approached him and lifted an arm. When he lowered his bat, the ape took Sinbad’s arm. The creature made a series of low sounds and took Sinbad by the arm. After looking into each other’s eyes, Sinbad felt a compulsion to follow the ape man. And so, the two slowly walked through the jungle until reaching a large cave.

Once inside, the ape man released Sinbad to rush to the back of the cave. Driven by curiously, Sinbad followed him without questioning. He was astonished to see that the back wall was covered in roughly carved drawings. The ape stood aside as Sinbad tried to understand the strange shapes before him. It was a collage, telling the story of the ape people of the island.

They too had washed on the shores of the island, but the drawings showed humans walking on the beach. Like him, they explored the jungle but came across a different inhabitant. The largest of the drawings showed the men standing before a large flame, and then transforming into apes. Sinbad was astonished by what he saw and turned to his guide.

“How could it be that you were once human, like I? What dark magic is at work in this place?” he declared and the ape man pointed once more to the large flame. Lifting his makeshift weapon in the air, Sinbad swore that he would find this magical fire and put it out. However, in his prideful boasting, he neglected to listen to the creature’s cries for him to stop. Sinbad rushed out of the cave and continued running through the jungle. None of the other apes attempted to stop or follow him. Sinbad ran and ran until he spotted a single mountain amidst all the trees. Instinct guided him there, but he could not climb up the mountain just yet.

Emerging from the trees, he heard people shouting. Readying for another strange terror, Sinbad readied his board. Instead of a monster, his son rushed out and was leading a woman towards the mountain. Shocked, Sinbad dropped his board and rushed to his son. “Hamza! Is that really you?” he cried out as father embraced son. ­The two were overjoyed to see each other, and Sinbad demanded to know how exactly his son came to be on the island.

“Oh father, you would not believe the amazing journey I have been on these past few days,” Hamza said and began his own tale. Like his father, he was tossed about in the ocean until being thrown onto the beach on the opposite side of the island. When he explored, he came across a large group of people who lived on the shore. They welcomed him into their society, giving plenty of food to the starving young man. Yet no matter how often he asked for their aid in searching for his father, ship, and the rest of the crew, the people did nothing. At the same time, they did nothing to restrain him.

Just as he finally mustered the courage to venture out on his own, Hamza saw everyone in the village leaving and heading towards the jungle. Plagued by curiosity, he followed and watched the leaders carrying a shrouded body over their shoulders. Behind them was a crying woman dressed all in black. Hamza was struck by her beauty, even though she was deep in mourning. The procession stopped in front of a deep cavern in the ground, and the woman’s cries grew louder. Concerned, Hamza approached one of the villagers and inquired after the man who died.

“That was Hodor, a kind but very sick man,” the man answered Hamza. And when the young lad asked after the woman, his face fell. “That is Hodor’s wife, the fair Samiya. We shall miss her as well,” he said, and then covered his hands as he cried. In his sorrow, he could not answer Hamza’s desperate inquiries. Another woman had to come over and pull him aside from the crowd.

“It is a custom among our people to bury spouses together. It protects us all from-” but the woman could not finish her explanation. Enraged by this fiendish act, Hamza rushed towards the front of the crowd. He attempted to persuade the men to spare the woman’s life, but no one would listen. Desperate to save her, he shouted the first thing that came to mind. “I will marry Samiya,” he declared to all the people. They watched in utter shock as he took the beautiful woman’s hand and led her back to the village.

Hamza ignored the vague warnings of the villagers and took her as his wife in a hasty ceremony. He thought all would be well with their marriage, but felt uneasy the next morning when he awoke. The village was silent, and when he looked outside he saw that everyone had left. Before he could question his new bridge about the disappearances, Hamza heard a disturbing scream. Grabbing a scimitar, he cautiously ventured forth. The cries were growing in multitude, striking fear into his heart. But when he saw the source of it all, Hamza could not move.

Shambling towards their village was a horde of the undead. Some made of bone, and others covered in decaying flesh, the long buried married couples set their decomposing eyes on destroying Hamza. As a young man, he had not nearly experience in such supernatural battles as his father did. Set on protecting him and his new bride, Hamza sought refuge up the mountain.

“Oh my son, you have indeed had your own wondrous adventure. This place is truly cursed,” Sinbad sighed as his son finished his tale. As he told of his own adventure with the ape people, the two embraced each other once again. Sinbad then turned to embrace his new daughter, the lovely Samiya.

“Indeed, this place has been cursed for many years. My people only bury a living spouse out of necessity,” Samiya spoke softly, her eyes filling up with tears. She then explained to the father and son of the jinn who was trapped on the island, millennia ago. In his rage, the jinn sought to punish all humans who came to his island. Her people were survivors of a cargo ship that came ashore to seek out more provisions. The jinn told the people that to save themselves they must burying one living family member with the dead. “But if we were to break that pact, all the dead would rise to seek out their next sacrifice,” Samiya told the men with a weary sigh.

“Then we must leave this place,” Hamza said quickly, his voice shaking with fear. But Sinbad had in him a stronger and wiser heart from his many adventures, and he stayed his son.

“To leave, we need a ship and we are currently without one. And we cannot leave the other inhabitants of this island to face the wrath of the jinn any longer,” Sinbad explained and his son nodded in submission. Even though the young married couple carried doubts in their hearts, they were silent as Sinbad studied the mountain. He devised a simple plan and then led their little party up the mountain. He was wary at first to bring Hamza’s young bride, but his son reminded him that she would be fodder for the undead on her own.

And so the three climbed up the mountain, feeling a great heat arising from the top of the mountain. The rocks gave way and Sinbad spotted a cave. Lifting his sword, Hamza prepared to charge inside and attack the jinn himself. Once again, Sinbad restrained his son and chided him for his haste. “Flinging yourself head first into a battle will only result in disaster. Against the powerful jinn, your sword is as useless as a date seed. We must defeat him with our other strengths,” he instructed the boy.

Walking softly, Sinbad crept into the cave. The stone walls were lined with flickering tongues of fire, and in the middle was the most handsome man sitting on the floor. Sinbad could walk no further, as the jinn rose and looked at him. The intense heat in the cave began to rise until sweat ran down Sinbad’s face. As the jinn approached him, Sinbad kept his resolve from wavering.

While the jinn coyly demanded to know exactly who he was, Sinbad checked his pride. Instead of singing the praises of his past voyages, he only introduced himself as Sinbad the Sailor. But the humble disguise would not fool the jinn, who then calmly informed him that all who landed on this island were his enslaved subjects. “And by entering my mountain, you have forfeited your life and the life of your companions,” the jinn said finally.

“Great jinn, I have not doubted your power for a second. But wouldn’t you rather have a challenge before killing me and my companions?” Sinbad said, and then waited patiently for the jinn to respond. Indeed, the jinn looked amused by Sinbad’s offer.

“And what sort of challenge? I could turn your mortal shell into a pile of ash,” the jinn mocked him. But Sinbad had come into the jinn’s lair prepared. He suggested a battle of wits instead of arms. In Sinbad lost, he and the others would accept their death. And if he were to win, the jinn would allow everyone to leave the island. Still full of his own pride, the jinn agreed with no thought of defeat.

Sinbad spoke first: “At night, they come without being told. At day, they are lost without being stolen. What are they?” It did not take the jinn long to guess correctly, answering “stars”.

“I’m always hungry. I need to be fed. The finger I touch will soon turn red. What am I?” the jinn asked hastily. Sinbad thought carefully, and answered with “fire”.

Sinbad asked his next question: “Always running never walking. Often murmuring never talking. Has a bed but never sleeps. Has a mouth but never eats. What is it?”This took the jinn a little longer to answer, but he soon said “a river.”

Smirking, the jinn readied his next riddle. “I’m found deep in the earth. When beaten and burned I can become a blood thirsty killer. What am I?” After thinking, Sinbad answered with “iron”.

Holding his head high, Sinbad asked his next riddle. “What is it you must keep, after giving it to someone else?” This stumped the jinn, who could think of no earthly item. Laughing, Sinbad stepped up to the jinn. “It is your word. And by your own word, we are all free.”

The jinn was enraged, but was trapped by his own foolish bet. He watched Sinbad leave and return to the beach with his son and daughter-in-law. The walk there was lined with the scattered and motionless dead bodies that had been chasing after them earlier. When they reached the beach, Samiya’s people had returned and were celebrating the defeat of the undead. Yet their celebrations drew the ape people to the beach as well. Before the people could flee, Sinbad held up his hands and asked for them to wait. As they all watched, the fur began to fall off their bodies and they were men once again.

Overjoyed, they rushed to Sinbad and fell at his feet in thanks. One rose and introduced himself as the same ape who led Sinbad to the cave. He then proceeded to explain how the jinn had placed a curse on them that turned them into the ape people when they resisted becoming this slaves. They lived in the jungles as all the other people on the island fled from tem in fear. But now, they were all free to return to their separate homes.

“But alas! None of us have any ships,” Hamza lamented. Laughing, the previous ape men told him that they still had one ship hidden away. It would need some repairs, which they were unable to make in their ape state. And so, the men set about repairing the ship while the women gathered food and water from the fruitful jungle. In less than a week, they were all ready to return home.

Sinbad and his son returned all the people to their homes. At each stop, their heroic tasks were celebrated with great feasts and then they were rewarded with great riches. By the time Sinbad returned to Baghdad, their ship was laden with gold and jewels. All the people of the great city were happy to see him again, especially Sinbad’s wife. She welcomed them all home, and all the people rejoiced at their safe return. As he always did, Sinbad stored his riches, gave alms, and tended to the poor of the city. He taught his son to do the same. The two then returned to their family and resumed their merry life. Or until the next hungering for adventure strikes.