Mathurin Kerbouchard, the protagonist of Louis L'Amour's The Walking Drum, encounters a large range of women in his travels, many of whom he chooses to rescue. However, he is aided greatly by one woman, Safia, who helps him find a job as a translator in Córdoba.
Mathurin frequently chooses to describe Safia in detail, first as having:
...the body of a siren, the face of a goddess, and the mind of an Armenien camel dealer.
It is clear that Safia's intellect is incredibly sharp and that she plans on using Mathurin as a tool in aiding her own interests. Nevertheless, she persists in using her strange power to pull strings for him, helping him achieve a hearing with the scholars of the city with "but a word" from her mouth.
She is extremely educated (having been provided with a great deal of fine schooling as a girl) and manages to teach Mathurin Persian, as well as some Hindi. She was born in Basra as the daughter of an emir and a slave girl and was eventually promised in marriage to a Bengali prince, who died before their marriage was carried out. Instead, she married a member of the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad and "engaged in intrigue to seize the caliphate of Córdoba for him." After she failed this task, she became a spy. In other words, she seems to have lasting allegiances to very few individuals, and her loyalty clearly has a price.
Safia is a wealthy and courageous woman who is invigorated by her travel, with "[r]iding in the fresh, clear air... raising color in her cheeks, and the dead, lackluster expression of her eyes... gone." It is not until Chapter 30 that Safia makes the decision to leave Mathurin's company. Safia discovers that Mathurin's father is at Alamut. She gives him this information, and the pair part ways as they reach Paris, with Safia remaining in the French city and Mathurin continuing on his quest. Perhaps he describes her best when he states that she is:
...unreadable, beautiful again, and a mystery forever. She was soft and lovely…yet quiet, with much of the queen in her presence. There was a steel in her, a command of herself and those about her such as I had seen in no other woman...
A male character who serves an important role in the story is Mahmoud al-Zawila, the helper of Sinan who Mathurin initially meets in Córdoba in the Garden of Abdallah. Mahmoud is described as:
...[a] tall young man of twenty-four, vain of his pointed beard and mustaches. He was much of a dandy, but keen of wit and a ready hand with a blade.
Mahmoud, like Mathurin, is well-educated. He is a student of the law who shares an enjoyment of learning. Despite living in a Muslim city and keeping up appearances with the religion, Mahmoud indulges in some rather "untraditional" practices, like consuming wine. He is bold, brazen and impressive, and he and Mathurin talk about all sorts of complex topics:
...war and women, of ships, camels, weapons... of religion and philosophy, of politics and buried treasure...
Despite his wonderful intellectual qualities, Mathurin distrusts Mahmoud, questioning his "intense vanity," which comes out to play when Mahmoud claims that Aziza--who is betrothed to Prince Ahmed--is attracted to him. In an act of great dishonor and jealousy, Mahmoud ends up betraying Mathurin to Prince Ahmed, resulting in his imprisonment and a death sentence. Thankfully, Mathurin is able to escape. Mathurin bitterly describes Mahmoud as follows:
I feared the man. The weak can be terrible when they wish to appear strong, and he was such a man, darkly vengeful and unforgiving. If dying, he would strike out wickedly in all directions to injure all he could.
After a significant time spent apart, Mahmoud and Mathurin reunite in Alamut, as Mathurin has travelled widely. At this point, Mahmoud has been significantly worn down: "his features had coarsened, his eyes were harder." He was forced to kill Prince Ahmed after getting into trouble with the man--a further example of his dishonorable nature and selfish interests. Ultimately, he is killed by Mathurin in a duel at the end of the book.