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Abu Nuwasi and the Thieves


Abu Nuwasi bought a sheep at the market one day. As he led the sheep down the road to his house, a thief jumped from the forest and began beating him with a stick. Another thief ran off with the sheep as Abu Nuwasi tried to defend himself. Abu Nuwasi was too old to fight off the thieves and rescue his sheep. When they were gone, he got up from the road and dusted himself. "God knows what happened here today," he said as he went home to plot his revenge.

He soon found that the thieves often robbed travelers on that part of the road, where the forest was close and thick and they could easily hide. Abu Nuwasi then hunted till he caught two gazelles that looked alike. He penned them in a corral and then went to a part of the road near where he had been robbed. Climbing a tree that bore gourds, he carefully cut a hole in each of several gourds and filled their hollow spaces with gold coins. Then he replaced what he had cut out, leaving the gourds hanging from their branch.

He hired men to bring his bed underneath the tree and to stand guard over it with their weapons. Then he went home and killed one of his oxen. He filled a small skin with some of its blood and had his wife wear it under her dress where no one could see it. He and his wife cut up the meat and began preparing it to cook. When all was done, he went back down the road and lay in his bed.

The two thieves eventually saw the strange sight. They did not recognize him. They pretended to be travelers and asked why he was in a bed underneath the tree.

"We are guarding this tree," replied Abu Nuwasi. "It belongs to my family, This tree grows gold coins."

The thieves laughed. Abu Nuwasi instructed his guards to cut the gourds from the branch he had used before. The thieves were astonished when the gourds were cut open and the coins fell out. They begged him to sell the tree, but he refused until they offered him a hundred head of cattle in exchange. Abu Nuwasi drove home the hundred head of cattle and the men he had hired brought home his bed as well.

It was not long before the thieves discovered that they had been tricked. They found Abu Nuwasi with one of the gazelles in his fields and wanted their cattle back. "Of course," said Abu Nuwasi. "But first, let us go to my home for a good meal before you take your cattle. Gazelle, go tell my wife to slaughter an ox and fix a meal that will suit two honored guests." He slapped the gazelle on its back and untied the leash that held it. The gazelle ran off through the forest. It was never seen again, but when the three men came to Abu Nuwasi's house, the thieves saw the other gazelle in the corral and thought that the first one had actually returned home and delivered the message.

His wife, who shared Abu Nuwasi's plans, had used the ox meat for a fine supper that day, with plenty of food for Abu Nuwasi and both thieves. As planned, Abu Nuwasi began complaining to his wife that she had not cooked a good enough meal for their guests. She insulted him and they seemed to fight. Abu Nuwasi gripped his dagger and pretended to stab his wife where he knew she had placed the skin. The blood covered her chest and she fell to the ground as if she was dead.

The horrified thieves watched as Abu Nuwasi stood over the body and cried out, "My dear wife! What have I done to you?" Then he fetched a stick from a corner and touched it to her heart, mumbling some strange words as he did it. His wife rose from the floor as if she had been dead and brought back to life again. She and Abu Nuwasi forgave each other and sat down at the table again to eat.

The thieves could hardly believe what they had seen that day. They told Abu Nuwasi and his wife to keep the hundred head of cattle and offered a thousand gold pieces for the gazelle messenger and the magic stick. The offer was accepted and the thieves left that evenng with the gazelle and the stick.

Abu Nuwasi then sent a messenger to the land's ruler to bring some soldiers to his house as quickly as possible. He hid the soldiers in the house. It was not long before the thieves fell to fighting over who would get the stick and who would get the gazelle. One thief soon killed the other. Regretting what he had done, he touched his dead comrade with the stick. His comrade stayed dead.

Then the thief remembered that Abu Nuwasi had used some strange words. Thinking that the words had been part of the stick's magic, he went back to Abu Nuwasi's home and told what had happened. When he asked what the words had been, the soldiers (who had heard everything) came out of hiding and arrested the thief.

A short time later, the body of the other thief was found. The surviving thief was found guilty of murder and put to death. Abu Nuwasi and his wife used the thousand gold pieces to pay all those who had helped them, but had plenty left over for themselves.