Shah Nameh/Kai-Káús

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133903Shah Nameh — Kai-KáúsJames Atkinson (1780-1852)Hakīm Abol-Qāsem Firdawsī Ṭūsī


WHEN Kai-káús[1] ascended the throne of his father, the whole world was obedient to his will; but he soon began to deviate from the wise customs and rules which had been recommended as essential to his prosperity and happiness. He feasted and drank wine continually with his warriors and chiefs, so that in the midst of his luxurious enjoyments he looked upon himself as superior to every being upon the face of the earth, and thus astonished the people, high and low, by his extravagance and pride. One day a Demon, disguised as a musician, waited upon the monarch, and playing sweetly on his harp, sung a song in praise of Mázinderán.

And thus he warbled to the king—
“Mázinderán is the bower of spring,
My native home; the balmy air
Diffuses health and fragrance there;
So tempered is the genial glow,
Nor heat nor cold we ever know;
Tulips and hyacinths abound
On every lawn; and all around.
Blooms like a garden in its prime,
Fostered by that delicious clime.
The bulbul sits on every spray,
And pours his soft melodious lay;
Each rural spot its sweets discloses,
Each streamlet is the dew of roses;
And damsels, idols of the heart,
Sustain a more bewitching part.
And mark me, that untravelled man
Who never saw Mázinderán,
And all the charms its bowers possess,
Has never tasted happiness!”

No sooner had Kai-káús heard this description of the country of Mázinderán than he determined to lead an army thither, declaring to his warriors that the splendor and glory of his reign should exceed that of either Jemshíd, Zohák, or Kaikobád. The warriors, however, were alarmed at this precipitate resolution, thinking it certain destruction to make war against the Demons; but they had not courage or confidence enough to disclose their real sentiments. They only ventured to suggest, that if his majesty reflected a little on the subject, he might not ultimately consider the enterprise so advisable as he had at first imagined. But this produced no impression, and they then deemed it expedient to despatch a messenger to Zál, to inform him of the wild notions which the Evil One had put into the head of Kai-káús to effect his ruin, imploring Zál to allow of no delay, otherwise the eminent services so lately performed by him and Rustem for the state would be rendered utterly useless and vain. Upon this summons, Zál immediately set off from Sístán to Irán; and having arrived at the royal court, and been received with customary respect and consideration, he endeavored to dissuade the king from the contemplated expedition into Mázinderán.

O, could I wash the darkness from thy mind,
And show thee all the perils that surround
This undertaking! Jemshíd, high in power,
Whose diadem was brilliant as the sun,
Who ruled the demons—never in his pride
Dreamt of the conquest of Mázinderán!
Remember Feridún, he overthrew
Zohák—destroyed the tyrant, but he never
Thought of the conquest of Mázinderán!
This strange ambition never fired the souls
Of by-gone monarchs—mighty Minúchihr,
Always victorious, boundless in his wealth,
Nor Zau, nor Nauder, nor even Kai-kobád,
With all their pomp, and all their grandeur, ever
Dreamt of the conquest of Mázinderán!
It is the place of demon-sorcerers,
And all enchanted. Swords are useless there,
Nor bribery nor wisdom can obtain
Possession of that charm-defended land,
Then throw not men and treasure to the winds;
Waste not the precious blood of warriors brave,
In trying to subdue Mázinderán!”

Kai-káús, however, was not to be diverted from his purpose; and with respect to what his predecessors had not done, he considered himself superior in might and influence to either Feridún, Jemshid, Minúchihr, or Kai-kobád, who had never aspired to the conquest of Mázinderán. He further observed, that he had a bolder heart, a larger army, and a fuller treasury than any of them, and the whole world was under his sway—

And what are all these Demon-charms,
That they excite such dread alarms?
What is a Demon-host to me,
Their magic spells and sorcery?
One effort, and the field is won;
Then why should I the battle shun?
Be thou and Rustem (whilst afar
I wage the soul-appalling war),
The guardians of the kingdom; Heaven
To me hath its protection given;
And, when I reach the Demon’s fort,
Their severed heads shall be my sport!

When Zál became convinced of the unalterable resolution of Kai-káús, he ceased to oppose his views, and expressed his readiness to comply with whatever commands he might receive for the safety of the state.

May all thy actions prosper—may’st thou never
Have cause to recollect my warning voice,
With sorrow or repentance. Heaven protect thee!

Zál then took leave of the king and his warrior friends, and returned to Sístán, not without melancholy forebodings respecting the issue of the war against Mázinderán. As soon as morning dawned, the army was put in motion. The charge of the empire, and the keys of the treasury and jewel-chamber were left in the hands of Mílad, with injunctions, however, not to draw a sword against any enemy that might spring up, without the consent and assistance of Zál and Rustem. When the army had arrived within the limits of Mázinderán, Kai-káús ordered Gíw to select two thousand of the bravest men, the boldest wielders of the battle-axe, and proceed rapidly towards the city. In his progress, according to the king’s instructions, he burnt and destroyed everything of value, mercilessly slaying man, woman, and child. For the king said:

Kill all before thee, whether young or old,
And turn their day to night; thus free the world.
From the magician’s art.

Proceeding in his career of desolation and ruin, Gíw came near to the city, and found it arrayed in all the splendor of heaven; every street was crowded with beautiful women, richly adorned, and young damsels with faces as bright as the moon. The treasure-chamber was full of gold and jewels, and the country abounded with cattle. Information of this discovery was immediately sent to Kai-káús, who was delighted to find that Mázinderán was truly a blessed region, the very garden of beauty, where the cheeks of the women seemed to be tinted with the hue of the pomegranate flower, by the gate-keeper of Paradise.

This invasion filled the heart of the king of Mázinderán with grief and alarm, and his first care was to call the gigantic White Demon to his aid. Meanwhile Kai-káús, full of the wildest anticipations of victory, was encamped on the plain near the city in splendid state, and preparing to commence the final overthrow of the enemy on the following day. In the night, however, a cloud came, and deep darkness like pitch overspread the earth, and tremendous hail-stones poured down upon the Persian host, throwing them into the greatest confusion. Thousands were destroyed, others fled, and were scattered abroad in the gloom. The morning dawned, but it brought no light to the eyes of Kai-káús; and amidst the horrors he experienced, his treasury was captured, and the soldiers of his army either killed or made prisoners of war. Then did he bitterly lament that he had not followed the wise counsel of Zál. Seven days he was involved in this dreadful affliction, and on the eighth day he heard the roar of the White Demon, saying:

O king, thou art the willow-tree, all barren,
With neither fruit, nor flower. What could induce
The dream of conquering Mázinderán?
Hadst thou no friend to warn thee of thy folly?
Hadst thou not heard of the White Demon’s power—
Of him, who from the gorgeous vault of Heaven
Can charm the stars? From this mad enterprise
Others have wisely shrunk—and what hast thou
Accomplished by a more ambitious course?
Thy soldiers have slain many, dire destruction
And spoil have been their purpose—thy wild will
Has promptly been obeyed; but thou art now
Without an army, not one man remains
To lift a sword, or stand in thy defence;
Not one to hear thy groans and thy despair.”

There were selected from the army twelve thousand of the demon-warriors, to take charge of and hold in custody the Iránian captives, all the chiefs, as well as the soldiers, being secured with bonds, and only allowed food enough to keep them alive. Arzang, one of the demon-leaders, having got possession of the wealth, the crown and jewels, belonging to Kai-káús, was appointed to escort the captive king and his troops, all of whom were deprived of sight, to the city of Mázinderán, where they were delivered into the hands of the monarch of that country. The White Demon, after thus putting an end to hostilities, returned to his own abode.

Kai-káús, strictly guarded as he was, found an opportunity of sending an account of his blind and helpless condition to Zál, in which he lamented that he had not followed his advice, and urgently requested him, if he was not himself in confinement, to come to his assistance, and release him from captivity. When Zál heard the melancholy story, he gnawed the very skin of his body with vexation, and turning to Rustem, conferred with him in private.

The sword must be unsheathed, since Kai-káús
Is bound a captive in the dragon’s den,
And Rakush must be saddled for the field,
And thou must bear the weight of this emprize;
For I have lived two centuries, and old age
Unfits me for the heavy toils of war.
Should’st thou release the king, thy name will be
Exalted o’er the earth.—Then don thy mail,
And gain immortal honor.”

Rustem replied that it was a long journey to Mázinderán, and that the king had been six months on the road. Upon this Zál observed that there were two roads—the most tedious one was that which Kai-káús had taken; but by the other, which was full of dangers and difficulty, and lions, and demons, and sorcery, he might reach Mázinderán in seven days, if he reached it at all.

On hearing these words Rustem assented, and chose the short road, observing:

Although it is not wise, they say,
With willing feet to track the way
To hell; though only men who’ve lost,
All love of life, by misery crossed,
Would rush into the tiger’s lair,
And die, poor reckless victims, there;
I gird my loins, whate’er may be,
And trust in God for victory.”

On the following day, resigning himself to the protection of Heaven, he put on his war attire, and with his favorite horse, Rakush, properly caparisoned, stood prepared for the journey. His mother, Rúdábeh, took leave of him with great sorrow; and the young hero departed from Sístán, consoling himself and his friends, thus:

O’er him who seeks the battle-field,
Nobly his prisoned king to free,
Heaven will extend its saving shield,
And crown his arms with victory.”


FIRST STAGE.—He rapidly pursued his way, performing two days’ journey in one, and soon came to a forest full of wild asses. Oppressed with hunger, he succeeded in securing one of them, which he roasted over a fire, lighted by sparks produced by striking the point of his spear, and kept in a blaze with dried grass and branches of trees. After regaling himself, and satisfying his hunger, he loosened the bridle of Rakush, and allowed him to graze; and choosing a safe place for repose during the night, and taking care to have his sword under his head, he went to sleep among the reeds of that wilderness. In a short space a fierce lion appeared, and attacked Rakush with great violence; but Rakush very speedily with his teeth and heels put an end to his furious assailant. Rustem, awakened by the confusion, and seeing the dead lion before him, said to his favorite companion:—

Ah! Rakush, why so thoughtless grown,
To fight a lion thus alone;
For had it been thy fate to bleed,
And not thy foe, my gallant steed!
How could thy master have conveyed
His helm, and battle-axe, and blade,
Kamund, and bow, and buberyán,
Unaided, to Mázinderán?
  1. Kai-káús, the second King of Persia of the dynasty called Kaianides. He succeeded Kai-kobád, about six hundred years B.C. According to Firdusi he was a foolish tyrannical prince. He appointed Rustem captain-general of the armies, to which the lieutenant-generalship and the administration of the state was annexed, under the title of “the champion of the world.” He also gave him a taj, or crown of gold, which kings only were accustomed to wear, and granted him the privilege of giving audience seated on a throne of gold. It is said that Kai-káús applied himself much to the study of astronomy, and that he founded two great observatories, the one at Babel, and the other on the Tigris.