“Why!” he said, “there are more of them in there. I saw their eyes and heard them snarl. Now, give me a burning branch and I will show you, brother, that you are not the only one who can fight a lion.”
“Let be, you foolish man,” broke in Masouda. “Doubtless those are her cubs, and if you kill them, her mate will follow us for miles; but if they are left safe he will stay to feed them. Come, let us begone from this place as swiftly as we can.”
So having shown them the skin of the lion, that they might know it was but a dead thing, at the sight of which they snorted and trembled, they packed it upon one of the mules and rode off slowly into a valley some five miles away, where was water but no trees. Here, since Godwin needed rest, they stopped all that day and the night which followed, seeing no more of lions, though they watched for them sharply enough. The next morning, having slept well, he was himself again, and they started forward through a broken country towards a deep cleft, on either side of which stood a tall mountain.
“This is Al-je-bal’s gateway,” said Masouda, “and tonight we should sleep in the gate, whence one day’s ride brings us to his city.”
So on they rode till at length, perched upon the sides of the cleft, they saw a castle, a great building, with high walls, to which they came at sunset. It seemed that they were expected in this place, for men hastened to meet them, who greeted Masouda and eyed the brethren curiously, especially after they had heard of the adventure with the lion. These took them, not into the castle, but to a kind of hostelry at its back, where they were furnished with food and slept the night.
Next morning they went on again to a hilly country with beautiful and fertile valleys. Through this they rode for two hours, passing on their way several villages, where sombre-eyed people were labouring in the fields. From each village, as they drew near to it, horsemen would gallop out and challenge them, whereon Masouda rode forward and spoke with the leader alone. Then he would touch his forehead with his hand and bow his head and they rode on unmolested.
“See,” she said, when they had thus been stopped for the fourth time, “what chance you had of winning through to Masyaf unguarded. Why, I tell you, brethren, that you would have been dead before ever you passed the gates of the first castle.”
Now they rode up a long slope, and at its crest paused to look upon a marvellous scene. Below them stretched a vast plain, full of villages, cornfields, olive-groves, and vineyards. In the centre of this plain, some fifteen miles away, rose a great mountain, which seemed to be walled all about. Within the wall was a city of which the white, flat-roofed houses climbed the slopes of the mountain, and on its crest a level space of land covered with trees and a great, many-towered castle surrounded by more houses.
“Behold the home of Al-je-bal, Lord of the Mountain,” said Masouda, “where we must sleep to-night. Now, brethren, listen to me. Few strangers who enter that castle come thence living. There is still time; I can pass you back as I passed you hither. Will you go on?”