“I know not, lord,” answered the captain, “who, after they paid their passage money, took no more note of them. Still they play and sing well, and served to keep the sailors in good humour when we were becalmed.”
“Sir,” I broke in, “I am a Northman named Hodur, and this woman is my niece. I was a trader in amber, but thieves robbed me and my companions of all we had as we journeyed to Byzantium. Me, who was the leader of our band, they held to ransom, blinding me lest I should be able to swear to them again, but the others they killed. This is the only child of my sister, who married a Greek, and now we get our living by our skill in music.”
“Truly you Christians love each other well,” said the officer. “Accept the Koran and you will not be treated thus. But why do you come to Egypt?”
“Sir, we heard that it is a rich land where the people love music, and have come hoping to earn some money here that we may put by to live on. Send us not away, sir; we have a little offering to make. Niece Hilda, where is the gold piece I gave you? Offer it to this lord.”
“Nay, nay,” said the officer. “Shall I take bread out of the mouth of the poor? Clerk,” he added in Arabic to a man who was with him, “make out a writing giving leave to these two to land and to ply their business anywhere in Egypt without question or hindrance, and bring it to me to seal. Farewell, musicians. I fear you will find money scarce in Egypt, for the land has been stricken with a famine. Yet go and prosper in the name of God, and may He turn your hearts to the true faith.”
Thus it came about that through the good mind of this Moslem, whose name, as I learned when we met again, was Yusuf, our feet were lifted over many stumbling-blocks. Thus it seems that by virtue of his office he had power to prevent the entry into the land of such folk as we seemed to be, which power, if they were Christians, was almost always put in force. Yet because he had seen the captain appear to illtreat me, or because, being a soldier himself, he guessed that I was of the same trade, whatever tale it might please me to tell, this rule was not enforced. Moreover, the writing which he gave me enabled me to go where we wished in Egypt without let or hindrance. Whenever we were stopped or threatened, which happened to us several times, it was enough if we presented it to the nearest person in authority who could read, after which we were allowed to pass upon our way unhindered.
Before we left the ship I had a last conversation with the captain, Menas, telling him that he was to lie in the harbour, always pretending that he waited for some cargo not yet forthcoming, such as unharvested corn, or whatever was convenient, until we appeared again. If after a certain while we did not appear, then he was to make a trading journey to neighbouring ports and return to Alexandria. These artifices he must continue to practise until orders to the contrary reached him under my own hand, or until he had sure evidence that we were dead. All this the man promised that he would do.