Shah Nameh/Capture of the Brazen Fortress and Death of Arjásp
|←The Heft-Khan of Isfendiyár||Shah Nameh by , translated by James A. Atkinson
Capture of the Brazen Fortress and Death of Arjásp
|The Death of Isfendiyár→|
Isfendiyár returned from reconnoitring the fortress with acute feelings of sorrow and despair. He was at last convinced that Kurugsar had spoken the truth; for there seemed to be no chance whatever of taking the place by any stratagem he could invent. Revolving the enterprise seriously in his mind, he now began to repent of his folly, and the overweening confidence which had led him to undertake the journey. Returning thus to his tent in a melancholy mood, he saw a Fakír sitting down on the road, and him he anxiously accosted. "What may be the number of the garrison in this fort?" "There are a hundred thousand veteran warriors in the service of Arjásp in the fort, with abundance of supplies of every kind, and streams of pure water, so that nothing is wanted to foil an enemy." This was very unwelcome intelligence to Isfendiyár, who now assembled his officers to consider what was best to be done. They all agreed that the reduction of the fortress was utterly impracticable, and that the safest course for him would be to return. But he could not bring himself to acquiesce in this measure, saying: "God is almighty, and beneficent, and with him is the victory." He then reflected deeply and long, and finally determined upon entering the fort disguised as a merchant. Having first settled the mode of proceeding, he put Bashútan in temporary charge of the army, saying:--
"This Brazen Fortress scorns all feats of arms,
Nor sword nor spear, nor battle-axe, can here
Be wielded to advantage; stratagem
Must be employed, or we shall never gain
Possession of its wide-extended walls,
Placing my confidence in God alone
I go with rich and curious wares for sale,
To take the credulous people by surprise,
Under the semblance of a peaceful merchant."
Isfendiyár then directed a hundred dromedaries to be collected, and when they were brought to him he disposed of them in the following manner. He loaded ten with embroidered cloths, five with rubies and sapphires, and five more with pearls and other precious jewels. Upon each of the remaining eighty he placed two chests, and in each chest a warrior was secreted, making in all one hundred and sixty; and one hundred more were disposed as camel-drivers and servants. Thus the whole force, consisting of a hundred dromedaries and two hundred and sixty warriors, set off towards the Brazen Fortress, Isfendiyár having first intimated to his brother Bashútan to march with his army direct to the gates of the fort, as soon as he saw a column of flame and smoke ascend from the interior. On the way they gave out that they were merchants come with valuable goods from Persia, and hoped for custom. The tidings of travellers having arrived with rubies and gold-embroidered garments for sale, soon reached the ears of Arjásp, the king, who immediately gave them permission to enter the fort. When Isfendiyár, the reputed master of the caravan, had got within the walls, he said that he had brought rich presents for the king, and requested to be introduced to him in person. He was accordingly allowed to take the presents himself, was received with distinguished attention, and having stated his name to be Kherád, was invited to go to the royal palace, whenever, and as often as, he might please. At one of the interviews the king asked him, as he had come from Persia, if he knew whether the report was true or not that Kurugsar had been put to death, and what Gushtásp and Isfendiyár were engaged upon. The hero in disguise replied that it was five months since he left Persia; but he had heard on the road from many persons that Isfendiyár intended proceeding by the way of the Heft-khan with a vast army, towards the Brazen Fortress. At these words Arjásp smiled in derision, and said: "Ah! ah! by that way even the winged tribe are afraid to venture; and if Isfendiyár had a thousand lives, he would lose them all in any attempt to accomplish that journey." After this interview Isfendiyár daily continued to attend to the sale of his merchandise, and soon found that his sisters were employed in the degrading office of drawing and carrying water for the kitchen of Arjásp. When they heard that a caravan had arrived from Irán, they went to Isfendiyár (who recognized them at a distance, but hid his face that they might not know him), to inquire what tidings he had brought about their father and brother. Alarmed at the hazard of discovery, he replied that he knew nothing, and desired them to depart; but they remained, and said: "On thy return to Irán, at least, let it be known that here we are, two daughters of Gushtásp, reduced to the basest servitude, and neither father nor brother takes compassion upon our distresses.
"Whilst with bare head, and naked feet, we toil,
They pass their time in peace and happiness,
Regardless of the misery we endure."
Isfendiyár again, in assumed anger, told them to depart, saying: "Talk not to me of Gushtásp and Isfendiyár--what have I to do with them?" At that moment the sound of his voice was recognized by the elder sister, who, in a transport of joy, instantly communicated her discovery to the younger; but they kept the secret till night, and then they returned to commune with their brother. Isfendiyár finding that he was known, acknowledged himself, and informed them that he had undertaken to restore them to liberty, and that he was now engaged in the enterprise, opposing every obstacle in his way; but it was necessary that they should continue their usual labor at the wells, till a fitting opportunity occurred.
For the purpose of accelerating the moment of release, Isfendiyár represented to the king that at a period of great adversity, he had made a vow that he would give a splendid banquet if ever Heaven again smiled upon him, and as he then was in the way to prosperity, and wished to fulfil his vow, he hoped that his majesty would honor him with his presence on the occasion. The king accepted the invitation with satisfaction, and said: "To-morrow I will be thy guest, at thy own house, and with all my warriors and soldiers." But this did not suit the scheme of the pretended merchant, who apologized on account of his house being too small, and proposed that the feast should be held upon the loftiest part of the fortress, where spacious tents and pavilions might be erected for the purpose, and a large fire lighted to give splendor to the scene. The king assented, and every requisite preparation being made, all the royal and warrior guests assembled in the morning, and eagerly partook of the rich viands set before them. They all drank wine with such relish and delight, that they soon became intoxicated, and Kherád seizing the opportunity, ordered the logs of wood which had been collected, to be set on fire, and rapidly the smoke and flame sprung up, and ascended to the sky. Bashútan saw the looked-for sign, and hastened with two thousand horsemen to the gates of the fortress, where he slew every one that he met, calling himself Isfendiyár. Arjásp had enjoyed the banquet exceedingly; the music gave him infinite pleasure, and the wine had intoxicated him; but in the midst of his hilarity and merriment, he was told that Isfendiyár had reached the gates, and entered the fort, killing immense numbers of his people. This terrible intelligence roused him and quitting the festive board of Kherád, he ordered his son Kahram, with fifty thousand horsemen, to repel the invader. He also ordered forty thousand horsemen to protect different parts of the walls, and ten thousand to remain as his own personal guard. Kahram accordingly issued forth without delay, and soon engaged in battle with the force under Bashútan.
When night came, Isfendiyár opened the lids of the chests, and let out the hundred and sixty warriors, whom he supplied with swords and spears, and armor, and also the hundred who were disguised as camel-drivers and servants.
With this bold band he sped,
Whither Arjásp had fled;
And all who fought around,
To keep untouched that sacred ground;
(Resistance weak and vain,)
By him were quickly slain.
The sisters of Isfendiyár now arrived, and pointed out to him the chamber of Arjásp, to which place he immediately repaired, and roused up the king, who was almost insensible with the fumes of wine. Arjásp, however, sprang upon his feet,
And grappled stoutly with Isfendiyár,
And desperate was the conflict: head and loins
Alternately received deep gaping wounds
From sword and dagger. Wearied out at length,
Arjásp shrunk back, when with one mighty blow,
Isfendiyár, exulting in his power,
Cleft him asunder.
Two of the wives, two daughters, and one sister of Arjásp fell immediately into the hands of the conqueror, who delivered them into the custody of his son, to be conveyed home. He then quitted the palace, and turning his steps towards the gates of the fortress, slew a great number of the enemy.
Kahram, in the meantime, had been fiercely engaged with Bashútan, and was extremely reduced. At the very moment too of his discomfiture, he heard the watchmen call out aloud that Arjásp had been slain by Kherád. Confounded and alarmed by these tidings, he approached the fort, where he heard the confirmation of his misfortune from every mouth, and also that the garrison had been put to the sword. Leading on the remainder of his troops he now came in contact with Isfendiyár and his two hundred and sixty warriors, and a sharp engagement ensued; but the coming up of Bashútan's force on his rear, placed him in such a predicament on every side, that defeat and destruction were almost inevitable. In short, Kahram was left with only a few of his soldiers near him, when Isfendiyár, observing his situation, challenged him to personal combat, and the challenge was accepted.
So closely did the eager warriors close,
They seemed together joined, and but one man.
At last Isfendiyár seized Kahram's girth,
And flung him to the ground, and bound his hands;
And as a leaf is severed from its stalk,
So he the head cleft from its quivering trunk;
Thus one blow wins, and takes away a throne,
In battle heads are trodden under hoofs,
Crowns under heads.
After the death of Kahram, Isfendiyár issued a proclamation, offering full pardon to all who would unite under his banners. They had no king.
The country had no throne, no crown. Alas!
What is the world without a governor,
What, but a headless trunk? A thing more worthless
Than the vile dust upon the common road.
What could the people do in their despair?
They were obedient, and Isfendiyár
Encouraged them with kind and gentle words,
Fitting a generous and a prudent master.
Having first written to his father an account of the great victory which he had gained, he occupied himself in reducing all the surrounding provinces and their inhabitants to subjection. Those people who continued hostile to him he deemed it necessary to put to death. He took all the women of Arjásp into his own service, and their daughters he presented to his own sons.
Not a warrior of Chín remained;
The king of Túrán was swept away;
And the realm where in pomp he had reigned,
Where he basked in prosperity's ray,
Was spoiled by the conqueror's brand,
Desolation marked every scene,
And a stranger now governed the mountainous land,
Where the splendour of Poshang had been.
Not a dirhem of treasure was left;
For nothing eluded the conqueror's grasp;
Of all was the royal pavilion bereft;
All followed the fate of Arjásp!
When Gushtásp received information of this mighty conquest, he sent orders to Isfendiyár to continue in the government of the new empire; but the prince replied that he had settled the country, and was anxious to see his father. This request being permitted, he was desired to bring away all the immense booty, and return by the road of the Heft-khan. Arriving at the place where he was overtaken by the dreadful winter-storm, he again found all the property he had lost under the drifts of snow; and when he had accomplished his journey, he was received with the warmest welcome and congratulations, on account of his extraordinary successes. A royal feast was prepared, and the king filled his son's goblet with wine so repeatedly, and drank himself so frequently, and with such zest, that both of them at length became intoxicated. Gushtásp then asked Isfendiyár to describe to him the particulars of his expedition by the road of the Heft-khan; for though he had heard the story from others, he wished to have it from his own mouth. But Isfendiyár replied: "We have both drank too much wine, and nothing good can proceed from a drunken man; I will recite my adventures to-morrow, when my head is clear." The next day Gushtásp, seated upon his throne, and Isfendiyár placed before him on a golden chair, again asked for the prince's description of his triumphant progress by the Heft-khan, and according to his wish every incident that merited notice was faithfully detailed to him. The king expressed great pleasure at the conclusion; but envy and suspicion lurked in his breast, and writhing internally like a serpent, he still delayed fulfilling his promise to invest Isfendiyár, upon the overthrow of Arjásp, with the sovereignty of Irán.
The prince could not fail to observe the changed disposition of his father, and privately went to Kitabún, his mother, to whom he related the solemn promise and engagement of Gushtásp, and requested her to go to him, and say: "Thou hast given thy royal word to Isfendiyár, that when he had conquered and slain Arjásp, and restored his own sisters to liberty, thou wouldst place upon his head the crown of Irán; faith and honor are indispensable in princes, they are inculcated by religion, and yet thou hast failed to make good thy word." But the mother had more prudence, and said: "Let me give thee timely counsel, and breathe not a syllable to any one on the subject. God forbid that thou shouldst again be thrown into prison, and confined in chains. Recollect thine is the succession; the army is in thy favor; thy father is old and infirm. Have a little patience and in the end thou wilt undoubtedly be the King of Persia.
"The gold and jewels, the imperial sway,
The crown, the throne, the army, all he owns,
Will presently be thine; then wait in patience,
And reign, in time, the monarch of the world."
Isfendiyár, however, was not contented with his mother's counsel, and suspecting that she would communicate to the king what he had said, he one day, as if under the influence of wine, thus addressed his father: "In what way have I failed to accomplish thy wishes? Have I not performed such actions as never were heard of, and never will be performed again, in furtherance of thy glory? I have overthrown thy greatest enemy, and supported thy honor with ceaseless toil and exertion. Is it not then incumbent on thee to fulfil thy promise?" Gushtásp replied: "Do not be impatient--the throne is thine;" but he was deeply irritated at heart on being thus reproached by his own son. When he retired he consulted with Jamásp, and was anxious to know what the stars foretold. The answer was: "He is of exalted fortune, of high destiny; he will overcome all his enemies, and finally obtain the sovereignty of the heft-aklím, or seven climes." This favorable prophecy aggravated the spleen of the father against the son, and he inquired with bitter and unnatural curiosity: "What will be his death? Look to that."
"A deadly dart from Rustem's bow,
Will lay the glorious warrior low."
These tidings gladdened the heart of Gushtásp, and he said: "If this miscreant had been slain in his expedition to the Brazen Fortress I should not now have been insulted with his claim to my throne." The king then having resolved upon a scheme of deep dissimulation, ordered a gorgeous banquet, and invited to it all his relations and warriors; and when the guests were assembled he said to Isfendiyár: "The crown and the throne are thine; indeed, who is there so well qualified for imperial sway?" and turning to his warriors, he spoke of him with praise and admiration, and added: "When I was entering upon the war against Arjásp, before I quitted Sístán, I said to Rustem: 'Lohurásp, my father, is dead, my wife and children made prisoners, wilt thou assist me in punishing the murderer and oppressor?' but he excused himself, and remained at home, and although I have since been involved in numberless perils, he has not once by inquiry shown himself interested in my behalf; in short, he boasts that Kai-khosráu gave him the principalities of Zábul and Kábul, and Ním-rúz, and that he owes no allegiance to me! It behooves me, therefore, to depute Isfendiyár to go and put him to death, or bring him before me in bonds alive. After that I shall have no enemy to be revenged upon, and I shall retire from the world, and leave to Isfendiyár the crown and the throne of Persia, with confidence and satisfaction." All the nobles and heroes present approved of the measure, and the king, gratified by their approbation, then turned to Isfendiyár, and said: "I have sworn on the Zendavesta, to relinquish my power, and place it in thy hands, as soon as Rustem is subdued. Take whatever force the important occasion may require, for the whole resources of the empire shall be at thy command," But Isfendiyár thus replied: "Remember the first time I defeated Arjásp--what was my reward? Through the machinations of Gurzam I was thrown into prison and chained. And what is my reward now that I have slain both Arjásp and his son in battle? Thy solemn promise to me is forgotten, or disregarded. The prince who forgets one promise will forget another, if it be convenient for his purpose.
"Whenever the Heft-khan is brought to mind,
I feel a sense of horror. But why should I
Repeat the story of those great exploits!
God is my witness, how I slew the wolf,
The lion, and the dragon; how I punished
That fell enchantress with her thousand wiles;
And how I suffered, midst the storm of snow,
Which almost froze the blood within my veins;
And how that vast unfathomable deep
We crossed securely. These are deeds which awaken
Wonder and praise in others, not in thee!
The treasure which I captured now is thine;
And what is my reward?--the interest, sorrow.
Thus am I cheated of my recompense.
It is the custom for great kings to keep
Religiously their pledged, affianced word;
But thou hast broken thine, despite of honour.
"I do remember in my early youth,
It was in Rúm, thou didst perform a feat
Of gallant daring; for thou didst destroy
A dragon and a wolf, but thou didst bear
Thyself most proudly, thinking human arm
Never before had done a deed so mighty;
Yes, thou wert proud and vain, and seemed exalted
Up to the Heavens; and for that noble act
What did thy father do? The king for that
Gave thee with joyous heart his crown and throne.
Now mark the difference; think what I have done,
What perils I sustained, and for thy sake!
Thy foes I vanquished, clearing from thy mind
The gnawing rust of trouble and affliction.
Monsters I slew, reduced the Brazen Fortress,
And laid Arjásp's whole empire at thy feet,
And what was my reward? Neglect and scorn.
Did I deserve this at a father's hands?"
Gushtásp remained unmoved by this sharp rebuke, though he readily acknowledged its justice. "The crown shall be thine," said he, "but consider my position. Think, too, what services Zál and Rustem performed for Kai-khosráu, and shall I expect less from my own son, gifted as he is with a form of brass, and the most prodigious valor? Forbid it, Heaven! that any rumor of our difference should get abroad in the world, which would redound to the dishonor of both! Nearly half of Irán is in the possession of Rustem." "Give me the crown," said Isfendiyár, "and I will immediately proceed against the Zabúl champion." "I have given thee both the crown and the throne, take with thee my whole army, and all my treasure.--What wouldst thou have more? He who has conquered the terrific obstacles of the Heft-khan, and has slain Arjásp and subdued his entire kingdom, can have no cause to fear the prowess of Rustem, or any other chief." Isfendiyár replied that he had no fear of Rustem's prowess; he was now old, and therefore not equal to himself in strength; still he had no wish to oppose him:--
"For he has been the monitor and friend
Of our Kaiánian ancestors; his care
Enriched their minds, and taught them to be brave;
And he was ever faithful to their cause.
Besides," said he, "thou wert the honoured guest
Of Rustem two long years; and at Sístán
Enjoyed his hospitality and friendship,
His festive, social board; and canst thou now,
Forgetting that delightful intercourse,
Become his bitterest foe?"
"Tis true he may have served my ancestors;
But what is that to me? His spirit is proud,
And he refused to yield me needful aid
When danger pressed; that is enough, and thou
Canst not divert me from my settled purpose.
Therefore, if thy aim be still
To rule, thy father's wish fulfil;
Quickly trace the distant road;
Quick invade the chiefs abode;
Bind his feet, and bind his hands
In a captive's galling bands;
Bring him here, that all may know
Thou hast quelled the mighty foe."
But Isfendiyár was still reluctant, and implored him to relinquish his design.
"For if resolved, a gloomy cloud
Will quickly all thy glories shroud,
And dim thy brilliant throne;
I would not thus aspire to reign,
But rather, free from crime, remain
Sequestered and alone."
Again Gushtásp spoke, and said: "There is no necessity for any further delay. Thou art appointed my successor, and the crown and the throne are thine; thou hast therefore only to march to the scene of action, and accomplish the object of the war." Hearing this, Isfendiyár sullenly retired to his own house, and Gushtásp, perceiving that he was in an angry mood, requested Jamásp (his minister) to ascertain the state of his mind, and whether he intended to proceed to Sístán or not. Jamásp immediately went, and Isfendiyár asked him, as his friend, what he would advise. "The commands of a father," he replied, "must be obeyed." There was now no remedy, and the king being informed that the prince consented to undertake the expedition, no further discussion took place.
But Kitabún was deeply affected when she heard of these proceedings, and repaired instantly to her son, to represent to him the hopelessness of the enterprise he had engaged to conduct.
"A mother's counsel is a golden treasure,
Consider well, and listen not to folly.
Rustem, the champion of the world, will never
Suffer himself to be confined in bonds.
Did he not conquer the White Demon, fill
The world with blood, in terrible revenge,
When Saiáwush was by Afrásiyáb
Cruelly slain? O, curses on the throne,
And ruin seize the country, which returns
Evil for good, and spurns its benefactor.
Restrain thy steps, engage not in this war;
It cannot do thee honour. Hear my voice!
For Rustem still can conquer all the world."
Hear the safe counsel of thy anxious mother!
Thus spoke Kitabún, shedding ceaseless tears;
And thus Isfendiyár: "I fear not Rustem;
I fear not his prodigious power and skill;
But never can I on so great a hero
Place ignominious bonds; it must not be.
Yet, mother dear, my faithful word is pledged;
My word Jamásp has taken to the king,
And I must follow where my fortune leads."
The next morning Isfendiyár took leave of the king, and with a vast army, and immense treasure, commenced his march towards Sístán. It happened that one of the camels in advance laid down, and though beaten severely, could not be made to get up on its legs. Isfendiyár, seeing the obstinacy of the animal, ordered it to be killed, and passed on. The people, however, interpreted the accident as a bad omen, and wished him not to proceed; but he could not attend to their suggestions, as he thought the king would look upon it as a mere pretence, and therefore continued his journey.
When he approached Sístán, he sent Bahman, his eldest son, to Rustem, with a flattering message, to induce the champion to honor him with an istakbál, or deputation to receive him. Upon Bahman's arrival, however, he hesitated and delayed, being reluctant to give a direct answer; but Zál interposed, saying: "Why not immediately wait upon the prince?--have we not always been devoted to the Kaiánian dynasty?--Go and bring him hither, that we may tender him our allegiance, and entertain him at our mansion as becomes his illustrious birth," Accordingly Rustem went out to welcome Isfendiyár, and alighting from Rakush, proceeded respectfully on foot to embrace him. He then invited him to his house, but Isfendiyár said: "So strict are my father's commands, that after having seen thee, I am not permitted to delay my departure." Rustem, however, pressed him to remain with him, but all in vain. On the contrary the prince artfully conducted him to his own quarters, where he addressed him thus: "If thou wilt allow me to bind thee, hand and foot, in chains, I will convey thee to the king my father, whose humor it is to see thee once in fetters, and then to release thee!" Rustem was silent. Again Isfendiyár said: "If thou art not disposed to comply with this demand, go thy ways," Rustem replied: "First be my guest, as thy father once was, and after that I will conform to thy will." Again the prince said: "My father visited thee under other circumstances; I have come for a different purpose. If I eat thy bread and salt, and after that thou shouldst refuse thy acquiescence, I must have recourse to force. But if I become thy guest, how can I in honor fight with thee? and if I do not take thee bound into my father's presence, according to his command, what answer shall I give to him?" "For the same reason," said Rustem; "how can I eat thy bread and salt?" Isfendiyár then replied: "Thou needest not eat my bread and salt, but only drink wine.--Bring thy own pure ruby." To this Rustem agreed, and they drank, each his own wine, together.
In a short space Rustem observed that he wished to consult his father Zál; and being allowed to depart, he, on his return home, described in strong terms of admiration the personal appearance and mental qualities of Isfendiyár.
"In wisdom ripe, and with a form
Of brass to meet the battle-storm,
Thou wouldst confess his every boon,
Had been derived from Feridún."
Bashútan in the meanwhile observed to his brother, with some degree of dissatisfaction, that his enemy had come into his power, on his own feet too, but had been strangely permitted to go away again. To this gentle reproof Isfendiyár confidently replied, "If he does fail to return, I will go and secure him in bonds, even in his own house,"--"Ah!" said Bashútan, "that might be done by gentleness, but not by force, for the descendant of Sám, the champion of the world, is not to be subdued so easily." These words had a powerful effect upon the mind of Isfendiyár, and he became apprehensive that Rustem would not return; but whilst he was still murmuring at his own want of vigilance, the champion appeared, and at this second interview repeated his desire that the prince would become his guest. "I am sent here by my father, who relies upon thy accepting his proffered hospitality."--"That may be," said Isfendiyár, "but I am at my utmost limit, I cannot go farther. From this place, therefore, thou hadst better prepare to accompany me to Irán." Here Rustem paused, and at length artfully began to enumerate his various achievements, and to blazon his own name.
"I fettered fast the emperor of Chin,
And broke the enchantment of the Seven Khans;
I stood the guardian of the Persian kings,
Their shield in danger. I have cleared the world
Of all their foes, enduring pain and toil
Incalculable. Such exploits for thee
Will I achieve, such sufferings will I bear,
And hence we offer thee a social welcome.
But let not dark suspicion cloud thy mind,
Nor think thyself exalted as the heavens,
Because I thus invite thee to our home."
Isfendiyár felt so indignant and irritated by this apparent boasting and self-sufficiency of Rustem, that his first impulse was to cast a dagger at him; but he kept down his wrath, and satisfied himself with giving him a scornful glance, and telling him to take a seat on his left hand. But Rustem resented this affront, saying that he never yet had sat down on the left of any king, and placed himself, without permission, on the right hand of Isfendiyár. The unfavorable impression on the prince's mind was increased by this independent conduct, and he was provoked to say to him, "Rustem! I have heard that Zál, thy father, was of demon extraction, and that Sám cast him into the desert because of his disgusting and abominable appearance; that even the hungry Símúrgh, on the same account, forebore to feed upon him, but conveyed him to her nest among her own young ones, who, pitying his wretched condition, supplied him with part of the carrion they were accustomed to devour. Naked and filthy, he is thus said to have subsisted on garbage, till Sám was induced to commiserate his wretchedness, and take him to Sástán, where, by the indulgence of his family and royal bounty, he was instructed in human manners and human science." This was a reproach and an insult too biting for Rustem to bear with any degree of patience, and frowning with strong indignation, he said, "Thy father knows, and thy grandfather well knew that Zál was the son of Sám, and Sám of Narímán, and that Narímán was descended from Húsheng. Thou and I, therefore, have the same origin. Besides, on my mother's side, I am descended from Zohák, so that by both parents I am of a race of princes. Knowest thou not that the Iránian empire was for some time in my hands, and that I refused to retain it, though urged by the nobles and the army to exercise the functions of royalty? It was my sense of justice, and attachment to the Kais and to thy family, which have enabled thee to possess thy present dignity and command. It is through my fidelity and zeal that thou art now in a situation to reproach me. Thou hast slain one king, Arjásp, how many kings have I slain? Did I not conquer Afrásiyáb, the greatest and bravest king that ever ruled over Túrán? And did I not also subdue the king of Hámáverán, and the Khakán of Chín? Káús, thy own ancestor, I released from the demons of Mázinderán. I slew the White Demon, and the tremendous giant, Akwán Díw. Can thy insignificant exploits be compared with mine? Never!" Rustem's vehemence, and the disdainful tone of his voice, exasperated still more the feelings of Isfendiyár, who however recollected that he was under his roof, otherwise he would have avenged himself instantly on the spot. Restraining his anger, he then said softly to him, "Wherefore dost thou raise thy voice so high? For though thy head be exalted to the skies, thou wert, and still art, but a dependent on the Kais. And was thy Heft-khan equal in terrible danger to mine? Was the capture of Mázinderán equal in valorous exertion to the capture of the Brazen Fortress? And did I not, by the power of my sword, diffuse throughout the world the blessings of my own religion, the faith of the fire-worshipper, which was derived from Heaven itself? Thou hast performed the duties of a warrior and a servant, whilst I have performed the holy functions of a sovereign and a prophet!" Rustem, in reply, said:--
"In thy Heft-khan thou hadst twelve thousand men
Completely armed, with ample stores and treasure,
Whilst Rakush and my sword, my conquering sword,
Were all the aid I had, and all I sought,
In that prodigious enterprise of mine.
Two sisters thou released--no arduous task,
Whilst I recovered from the demon's grasp
The mighty Káús, and the monsters slew,
Roaring like thunder in their dismal caves.
"This great exploit my single arm achieved;
And when Kai-khosráu gave the regal crown
To Lohurásp, the warriors were incensed,
And deemed Fríburz, Káús's valiant son,
Fittest by birth to rule. My sire and I
Espoused the cause of Lohurásp; else he
Had never sat upon the throne, nor thou
Been here to treat with scorn thy benefactor.
And now Gushtásp, with foul ingratitude,
Would bind me hand and foot! But who on earth
Can do that office? I am not accustomed
To hear harsh terms, and cannot brook their sting,
Therefore desist. Once in Káús's court,
When I was moved to anger, I poured out
Upon him words of bitterest scorn and rage,
And though surrounded by a thousand chiefs,
Not one attempted to repress my fury,
Not one, but all stood silent and amazed."
"Smooth that indignant brow," the prince replied
"And measure not my courage nor my strength
With that of Káús; had he nerve like mine?
Thou might'st have kept the timorous king in awe,
But I am come myself to fetter thee!"
So saying, he the hand of Rustem grasped,
And wrung it so intensely, that the champion
Felt inwardly surprised, but careless said,
"The time is not yet come for us to try
Our power in battle." Then Isfendiyár
Dropped Rustem's hand, and spoke, "To-day let wine
Inspire our hearts, and on the field to-morrow
Be ours the strife, with battle-axe and sword,
And my first aim shall be to bind thee fast,
And show thee to my troops, Rustem in fetters!"
At this the champion smiled, and thus exclaimed,
"Where hast thou seen the deeds of warriors brave?
Where hast thou heard the clash of mace and sword
Wielded by men of valour? I to-morrow
Will take thee in my arms, and straight convey thee
To Zál, and place thee on the ivory throne,
And on thy head a crown of gold shall glitter.
The treasury I will open, and our troops
Shall fight for thee, and I will gird my loins
As they were girt for thy bold ancestors;
And when thou art the chosen king, and I
Thy warrior-chief, the world will be thy own;
No other sovereign need attempt to reign."
"So much time has been spent in vain boasting, and extravagant self-praise," rejoined Isfendiyár, "that the day is nearly done, and I am hungry; let us therefore take some refreshment together." Rustem's appetite being equally keen, the board was spread, and every dish that was brought to him he emptied at once, as if at one swallow; then he threw aside the goblets, and called for the large flagon that he might drink his fill without stint. When he had finished several dishes and as many flagons of wine, he paused, and Isfendiyár and the assembled chiefs were astonished at the quantity he had devoured. He now prepared to depart, and the prince said to him, "Go and consult with thy father: if thou art contented to be bound, well; if not, thou wilt have cause to repent, for I will assuredly attend to the commands of Gushtásp."--"Do thou also consult with thy brethren and friends," replied Rustem, "whether thou wilt be our guest to-morrow, or not; if not, come to this place before sunrise, that we may decide our differences in battle." Isfendiyár said, "My most anxious desire, my wish to heaven, is to meet thee, for I shall have no difficulty in binding thee hand and foot. I would indeed willingly convey thee without fetters to my father, but if I did so, he would say that I was unable to put thee in bonds, and that would disgrace my name." Rustem observed that the immense number of men and demons he had contended against was as nothing in the balance of his mind compared with the painful subject of his present thoughts and fears. He was ready to engage, but afraid of meriting a bad name.
"If in the battle thou art slain by me,
Will not my cheek turn pale among the princes
Of the Kaiánian race, having cut off
A lovely branch of that illustrious tree?
Will not reproaches hang upon my name
When I am dead, and shall I not be cursed
For perpetrating such a horrid deed?
Thy father, too, is old, and near his end,
And thou upon the eve of being crowned;
And in thy heart thou knowest that I proffered,
And proffer my allegiance and devotion,
And would avoid the conflict. Sure, thy father
Is practising some trick, some foul deception,
To urge thee on to an untimely death,
To rid himself of some unnatural fear,
He stoops to an unnatural, treacherous act,
For I have ever been the firm support
Of crown and throne, and perfectly he knows
No mortal ever conquered me in battle,
None ever from my sword escaped his life."
Then spoke Isfendiyár: "Thou wouldst be generous
And bear a spotless name, and tarnish mine;
But I am not to be deceived by thee:
In fetters thou must go!" Rustem replied:
"Banish that idle fancy from thy brain;
Dream not of things impossible, for death
Is busy with thee; pause, or thou wilt die."
"No more!" exclaimed the prince, "no more of this.
Nor seek to frighten me with threatening words;
Go, and to-morrow bring with thee thy friends,
Thy father and thy brother, to behold
With their own eyes thy downfall, and lament
In sorrow over thy impending fate."
"So let it be," said Rustem, and at once
Mounted his noble horse, and hastened home.
The champion immediately requested his father's permission to go and fight Isfendiyár the following day, but the old man recommended reconciliation and peace. "That cannot be," said Rustem, "for he has reviled thee so severely, and heaped upon me so many indignities, that my patience is exhausted, and the contest unavoidable." In the morning Zál, weeping bitterly, tied on Rustem's armor himself, and in an agony of grief, said: "If thou shouldst kill Isfendiyár, thy name will be rendered infamous throughout the world; and if thou shouldst be killed, Sístán will be prostrate in the dust, and extinguished forever! My heart shudders at the thoughts of this battle, but there is no remedy." Rustem said to him:--"Put thy trust in God, and be not sorrowful, for when I grasp my sword the head of the enemy is lost; but my desire is to take Isfendiyár alive, and not to kill him. I would serve him, and not sever his head from his body." Zál was pleased with this determination, and rejoiced that there was a promise of a happy issue to the engagement.
In the morning Rustem arrayed himself in his war-attire, helmet and breast-plate, and mounted Rakush, also armed in his bargustuwan. His troops, too, were all assembled, and Zál appointed Zúára to take charge of them, and be careful of his brother on all occasions where assistance might be necessary. The old man then prostrated himself in prayer, and said, "O God, turn from us all affliction, and vouchsafe to us a prosperous day." Rustem being prepared for the struggle, directed Zúára to wait with the troops at a distance, whilst he went alone to meet Isfendiyár. When Bashútan first saw him, he thought he was coming to offer terms of peace, and said to Isfendiyár, "He is coming alone, and it is better that he should go to thy father of his own accord, than in bonds."--"But," replied Isfendiyár, "he is coming completely equipped in mail--quick, bring me my arms."--"Alas!" rejoined Bashútan, "thy brain is wild, and thou art resolved upon fighting. This impetuous spirit will break my heart." But Isfendiyár took no notice of the gentle rebuke. Presently he saw Rustem ascend a high place, and heard his summons to single combat. He then told his brother to keep at a distance with the army, and not to interfere till aid was positively required. Insisting rigidly on these instructions, he mounted his night-black charger, and hastened towards Rustem, who now proposed to him that they should wait awhile, and that in the meantime the two armies might be put in motion against each other. "Though," said he, "my men of Zábul are few, and thou hast a numerous host."
"This is a strange request," replied the prince,
"But thou art all deceit and artifice;
Mark thy position, lofty and commanding,
And mine, beneath thee--in a spreading vale.
Now, Heaven forbid that I, in reckless mood,
Should give my valiant legions to destruction,
And look unpitying on! No, I advance,
Whoever may oppose me; and if thou
Requirest aid, select thy friend, and come,
For I need none, save God, in battle--none."
And Rustem said the same, for he required
No human refuge, no support but Heaven.
The battle rose, and numerous javelins whizzed
Along the air, and helm and mail were bruised;
Spear fractured spear, and then with shining swords
The strife went on, till, trenched with many a wound,
They, too, snapped short. The battle-axe was next
Wielded, in furious wrath; each bending forward
Struck brain-bewildering blows; each tried in vain
To hurl the other from his fiery horse.
Wearied, at length, they stood apart to breathe
Their charges panting from excessive toil,
Covered with foam and blood, and the strong armor,
Of steed and rider rent. The combatants
Thus paused, in mutual consternation lost.
In the meantime Zúára, impatient at this delay, advanced towards the Iránians, and reproached them for their cowardice so severely, that Núsháwer, the younger son of Isfendiyár, felt ashamed, and immediately challenged the bravest of the enemy to fight. Alwaí, one of Rustem's followers, came boldly forward, but his efforts only terminated in his discomfiture and death. After him came Zúára himself:--
Who galloped to the charge incensed, and, high
Lifting his iron mace, upon the head
Of bold Núsháwer struck a furious blow,
Which drove him from his steed a lifeless corse.
Seeing their gallant leader thus overthrown,
The troops in terror fled, and in their flight
Thousands were slain, among them brave Mehrnús,
Another kinsman of Isfendiyár.
Bahman, observing the defeat and confusion of the Iránians, went immediately to his father, and told him that two of his own family were killed by the warriors of Zábul, who had also attacked him and put his troops to the rout with great slaughter. Isfendiyár was extremely irritated at this intelligence, and called aloud to Rustem: "Is treachery like this becoming in a warrior?" The champion being deeply concerned, shook like a branch, and swore by the head and life of the king, by the sun, and his own conquering sword, that he was ignorant of the event, and innocent of what had been done. To prove what he said, he offered to bind in fetters his brother Zúára, who must have authorized the movement; and also to secure Ferámurz, who slew Mehrnús, and deliver them over to Gushtásp, the fire-worshipper. "Nay," said he, "I will deliver over to thee my whole family, as well as my brother and son, and thou mayest sacrifice them all as a punishment for having commenced the fight without permission." Isfendiyár replied: "Of what use would it be to sacrifice thy brother and thy son? Would that restore my own to me? No. Instead of them, I will put thee to death, therefore come on!" Accordingly both simultaneously bent their bows, and shot their arrows with the utmost rapidity; but whilst Rustem's made no impression, those of Isfendiyár's produced great effect on the champion and his horse. So severely was Rakush wounded, that Rustem, when he perceived how much his favorite horse was exhausted, dismounted, and continued to impel his arrows against the enemy from behind his shield. But Rakush brooked not the dreadful storm, and galloped off unconscious that his master himself was in as bad a plight. When Zúára saw the noble animal, riderless, crossing the plain, he gasped for breath, and in an agony of grief hurried to the fatal spot, where he found Rustem desperately hurt, and the blood flowing copiously from every wound. The champion observed, that though he was himself bleeding so much, not one drop of blood appeared to have issued from the veins of his antagonist. He was very weak, but succeeded in dragging himself up to his former position, when Isfendiyár, smiling to see them thus, exclaimed:--
"Is this the valiant Rustem, the renowned,
Quitting the field of battle? Where is now
The raging tiger, the victorious chief?
Was it from thee the Demons shrunk in terror,
And did thy burning sword sear out their hearts?
What has become of all thy valour now?
Where is thy matchless mace, and why art thou,
The roaring lion, turned into a fox,
An animal of slyness, not of courage,
Losing thy noble character and name?"
Zúára, when he came to Rustem, alighted and resigned his horse to his brother; and placing an arrow on his bow-string, wished himself to engage Isfendiyár, who was ready to fight him, but Rustem cried, "No, I have not yet done with thee." Isfendiyár replied: "I know thee well, and all thy dissimulation, but nothing yet is accomplished. Come and consent to be fettered, or I must compel thee." Rustem, however, was not to be overcome, and he said: "If I were really subdued by thee, I might agree to be bound like a vanquished slave; but the day is now closing, to-morrow we will resume the fight!" Isfendiyár acquiesced, and they separated, Rustem going to his own tent, and the prince remaining on the field. There he affectionately embraced the severed heads of his kinsmen, placed them himself on a bier, and sent them to his father, the king, with a letter in which he said, "Thy commands must be obeyed, and such is the result of to-day; Heaven only knows what may befall to-morrow." Then he spoke privately to Bashútan: "This Rustem is not human, he is formed of rock and iron, neither sword nor javelin has done him mortal harm; but the arrows went deep into his body, and it will indeed be wonderful if he lives throughout the night. I know not what to think of to-morrow, or how I shall be able to overcome him."
When Rustem arrived at his quarters, Zál soon discovered that he had received many wounds, which occasioned great affliction in his family, and he said: "Alas! that in my old age such a misfortune should have befallen us, and that with my own eyes I should see these gaping wounds!" He then rubbed Rustem's feet, and applied healing balm to the wounds, and bound them up with the skill and care of a physician. Rustem said to his father: "I never met with a foe, warrior or demon, of such amazing strength and bravery as this! He seems to have a brazen body, for my arrows, which I can drive through an anvil, cannot penetrate his chest. If I had applied the power which I have exerted to a mountain, the mountain would have moved from its base, but he sat firmly upon his saddle and scorned my efforts. I thank God that it is night, and that I have escaped from his grasp. To-morrow I cannot fight, and my secret wish is to retire unseen from the struggle, that no trace of me may be discovered."--"In that case," replied Zál, "the victor will come and take me and all my family into bondage. But let us not despair. Did not the Símúrgh promise that whenever I might be overcome by adversity, if I burned one of her feathers, she would instantly appear? Shall we not then solicit assistance in this awful extremity?" So saying, Zál went up to a high place, and burnt the feather in a censer, and in a short time the Símúrgh stood before him. After due praise and acknowledgment, he explained his wants. "But," said he, "may the misfortune we endure be far from him who has brought it upon us. My son Rustem is wounded almost unto death, and I am so helpless that I can do him no good." He then brought forward Rakush, pierced by numerous arrows; upon which the wonderful Bird said to him, "Be under no alarm on that account, for I will soon cure him;" and she immediately plucked out the rankling weapons with her beak, and the wounds, on passing a feather over them, were quickly healed.
To Rustem now she turns, and soothes his grief,
And drawing forth the arrows, sucks the blood
From out the wounds, which at her bidding close,
And the illustrious champion is restored
To life and power.
Being thus reinvigorated by the magic influence of the Símúrgh, he solicits further aid in the coming strife with Isfendiyár; but the mysterious animal laments that she cannot assist him. "There never appeared in the world," said she, "so brave and so perfect a hero as Isfendiyár. The favor of Heaven is with him, for in his Heft-khan he, by some artifice, succeeded in killing a Símúrgh, and the further thou art removed from his invincible arm, the greater will be thy safety." Here Zál interposed and said: "If Rustem retires from the contest, his family will all be enslaved, and I shall equally share their bondage and affliction." The Símúrgh, hearing these words, fell into deep thought, and remained some time silent. At length she told Rustem to mount Rakush and follow her. Away she went to a far distance; and crossing a great river, arrived at a place covered with reeds, where the Kazú-tree abounded. The Símúrgh then rubbed one of her feathers upon the eyes of Rustem, and directed him to take a branch of the Kazú-tree, and make it straight upon the fire, and form that wand into a forked arrow; after which he was to advance against Isfendiyár, and, placing the arrow on his bow-string, shoot it into the eyes of his enemy. "The arrow will only make him blind," said the Símúrgh, "but he who spills the blood of Isfendiyár will never be free from calamity during his whole life. The Kazú-tree has also this peculiar quality: an arrow made of it is sure to accomplish its intended errand--it never misses the aim of the archer." Rustem expressed his boundless gratitude for this information and assistance; and the Símúrgh having transported him back to his tent, and affectionately kissed his face, returned to her own habitation. The champion now prepared the arrow according to the instructions he had received; and when morning dawned, mounted his horse, and hastened to the field. He found Isfendiyár still sleeping, and exclaimed aloud: "Warrior, art thou still slumbering? Rise, and see Rustem before thee!" When the prince heard his stern voice, he started up, and in great anxiety hurried on his armor. He said to Bashútan, "I had uncharitably thought he would have died of his wounds in the night, but this clear and bold voice seems to indicate perfect health--go and see whether his wounds are bound up or not, and whether he is mounted on Rakush or on some other horse." Rustem perceived Bashútan approach with an inquisitive look, and conjectured that his object was to ascertain the condition of himself and Rakush. He therefore vociferated to him: "I am now wholly free from wounds, and so is my horse, for I possess an elixir which heals the most cruel lacerations of the flesh the moment it is applied; but no such wounds were inflicted upon me, the arrows of Isfendiyár being only like needles sticking in my body." Bashútan now reported to his brother that Rustem appeared to be more fresh and vigorous than the day before, and, thinking from the spirit and gallantry of his demeanor that he would be victorious in another contest, he strongly recommended a reconciliation.