I die of love for him, perfect in every way,
Lost in the strains of wafting music.
My eyes are fixed upon his delightful body
And I do not wonder at his beauty.
His waist is a sapling, his face a moon,
And loveliness rolls off his rosy cheek
I die of love for you, but keep this secret:
The tie that binds us is an unbreakable rope.
How much time did your creation take, O angel?
So what! All I want is to sing your praises.
- Abu Nuwas (750–810)
I, who have travelled far on this earth by the grace of Allah, have seen many strange things and met many kinds of men. I have heard the djinn of the desert and seen the spirits of these pagan woods. And I know that Robin of Huntingdon is not Robin of Loxley, and for this among many other things I am grateful. Not that I would wish to diminish the memory of that beloved leader who came before; Robin of Loxley saved me from Simon de Belleme, who was an infidel sorcerer with whom we hashshashin had sided against Salah al-Din. Salah al-Din I hated as a Sunni heretic, but it was de Belleme who betrayed us and enslaved me. When Loxley killed him, I was freed, and for that I am eternally indebted to him, and I pray that his deserving soul has found peace in Paradise. But Robin of Huntingdon is a nobleman’s son, educated and thoughtful. He is the first man for many months with whom I can speak freely. He has been the torment and salvation of my soul.
When I was one of the hashshashin, I would have slain any man who insinuated that I might one day long for the pale body of a Christian from far, cold lands. But since then I have seen more and learned more than they ever taught me in my madrasah as a youth. I still pray to Allah as my Christian friends still pray to their God, and we occasionally compare our worship. Christians do not pray five times a day, nor do they commit their holy book to memory, as many Muslims do. They sat in awe to hear me recite those eternal words:
“ In the Name of Allah, the Merciful Benefactor, The Merciful Redeemer: Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, The Beneficent, the Merciful. Owner of the Day of Judgment, Thee alone we worship; Thee alone we ask for help. Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured, not the path of those who earn Thy anger or that of those who go astray”.
They declared it strange yet beautiful, and I remembered thinking the same thing when I first heard their priests chant the words of their faith, and I was content.
So I am still a man of the faith, but I am no longer one of the hashshashin. I will not kill in the name of Allah, for I feel now that it cannot be by the will of the All-Merciful that war should ravage the Holy Land. I hear of the peace and prosperity which Salah al-Din has wrought, and I am grateful that I did not kill him. I judge him now to be a good and holy man, as I judge Robin to be a good and holy man. My father named me “Nasir”, which means “helper”, and so I shall help him that I love. My past is past, Robin and this land of England are my present, and my future shall be as Allah wills it.
In these barbaric northern wildernesses they cannot imagine the majesty and beauty of Baghdad, Córdoba, or Damascus. In my dreams I still feel the warm sun on my face and the calls of the imams, the chatter of the marketplaces filled with travellers from far and wide, come to see the splendour of the cities. The women and men there dress in bright clothes and sing beautiful songs. There, Muslim, Christian, and Jew live side by side in peace, for the followers of the Prophet, praise be upon him, do not persecute other folk of the Book. In such cities there are centres of learning of the like which none of my friends here could dream, where scrolls containing all the wisdom of the world lie stored away like so many treasures.
But who among my friends here has read Aristotle? Who could read the words of Allah, greatest and most merciful, even if His words were put down in their rough language before them? None but Robin of Huntingdon. With him, alone of these foreigners whom I love as family, can I speak of philosophy, of theology, or the histories of empires.
I should praise them all, though, for I love them all. If Allah wills it, I may spend the rest of my life with these kind people, who accept me as their own though my ways are strange to them. I see them and am proud to have earned their respect. There is Little John, brave and tall, Will Scarlet, fierce as a lion, Much, simple and true, and there is Tuck, as gracious as his girth. There is Marion, as gentle as Fatima, daughter of the Prophet, praise be upon him. I see all of them, and I am grateful.
But most of all, I praise Allah when I see Robin of Huntingdon, who moves like a gazelle through his green kingdom and whose heart is as great as the sea. And by Alllah, I love him. When I see him go, my chest aches and I wish to cry as the faithful did in exile from Mecca. When he returns, his eyes as blue as the fountains of Paradise, my heart praises Allah for bringing him back to me.
But there, I am far from home. At home, I was considered an eloquent man, whose words were sweet and well-chosen. It is not so in this land: I do not have mastery of their tongue, though I speak it well enough. I cannot say what I feel and think. And educated though he is, if I were to tell Robin that I find his eyes to be like those eternal fountains of Allah in Paradise, he would not understand. Even if our souls could speak, abandoning the shackles of our language, his spirit would shy away from mine: he loves Marion too well. And truly, she is worthy of him: brave in battle and as loving as Fatima, the shining one.
But Allah forgive me, I see him look at me sometimes, and I pray that I am not mad with love, that I do not hallucinate what I so hope to see in his eyes. Sometimes I feel a reassuring and friendly touch upon my shoulder, and every sense in my body quickens to feel the touch of his hand, and I hope that I do not imagine the way that hand lingers and lengthens the contact. And sometimes, when he says my name, I imagine that I hear more than my name – that I hear an echo of the call of my own heart.
I have said that I dream of the bright sun of my homeland, but it is not only of home that I dream. Some nights I have dreams which would delight the poets: visions of fragrant smokes and the rustle of silks, with Robin lying before me, fair and loving. When I sleep I hear him call me to him, a soft smile upon his face and his hands gentle and slow. In dreams we have known each other as lovers for nights uncounted, and every time was as precious as a jewel. But when I wake I find the jewel is false: as great as my joy was in dreams, it is surpassed by the sense of loss I feel upon waking. Then I rise and walk the woods alone, my heart heavy. I pray that, if Allah wills it, one day I shall find the words to tell Robin of my love and, if He is merciful, Robin will love me in return.