The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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increased the curiosity of the champion ; but she at length
complied. She told him who she was, the daughter of Afra-
siyab, the story of her love, and the misfortunes of Byzun, and
pointed out to him the pit in which he was imprisoned and
bound down with heavy chains.

" For the sake of him has been my fall
From royal state, and bower, and hall,


And hence this pale and haggard face,
This saffron hue thy eye may trace,
Where bud of rose was wont to bloom,

But withered now and gone ;
And I must sit in sorrow's gloom

TJnsuccoured and alone."

Rustem asked with deep interest if any food could be con-
veyed to him, and she said that she had been accustomed to
supply him with bread and water through a fissure in the huge
stone which covered the mouth of the pit. Upon receiving
this welcome information, Rustem brought a roasted fowl, and
inclosing in it his own seal-ring, gave it to Manijeh to take to
Byzun. The poor captive, on receiving it, inquired by whom
such a blessing could have been sent, and when she informed
him that it had been given to her by the chief of a caravan
from Iran, who had manifested great anxiety about him, his
smiles spoke the joyous feelings of his heart, for the name of
Rustem was engraved on the ring. Manijeh was surprised to
see him smile, considering his melancholy situation, and could
not imagine the cause. " If thou wilt keep my secret," said
he, I will tell the cause." " What ! " she replied, " have I
not devoted my heart and soul to thee ? have I not sacrificed
everything for thy love, and is my fidelity now to be suspected ?

" Can I be faithless, then, to thee,
The choice of this fond heart of mine ;

Why sought I bonds, when I was free.
But to be thine for ever thine ? "

"True, true! then hear me: the chief of the caravan is
Rustem, who has undoubtedly come to release me from this
dreadful pit. Go to him, and concert with him the manner in
which my deliverance may be soonest effected." Manijeh ac-
cordingly went and communicated with the champion ; and it
ivas agreed between them that she should light a large fire to
guide him on his way. He was prompt as well as valiant, and
repaired in the middle of the following night, accompanied by
seven of his warriors, directed by the blaze, to the place where


Byzun was confined. The neighbourhood was infested by
demons with long nails, and long hair on their bodies like the
hair of a goat, and horny feet, and with heads like dogs, and
the chief of them was the son of Akwan Diw. The father
having been slain by Eastern, the son nourished the hope of
revenge, and perpetually longed for an opportunity of meeting
him in battle. Well knowing that the champion was engaged
in the enterprise to liberate Byzun, he commanded his demons
to give him intelligence of his approach. His height was
tremendous, his face was black, his mouth yawned like a
cavern, his eyes were fountains of blood, his teeth like those
of a wild boar, and the hair on his body like needles. The
monster advanced, and reproaching Rustem disdainfully for
having slain Akwan Di\v, and many other warriors in the
Turanian interest, pulled up a tree by the roots and challenged
him to combat. The straggle began, but the Demon frequently
escaped the fury of the champion by vanishing into air. At
length Rustem struck a fortunate blow, which cut the body of
his towering adversary in two. His path being now free from
interruption, he sped onward, and presently beheld the pro-
digious demon-stone which covered the mouth of the pit, in
which Byzuu was imprisoned.

And praying to the Almighty to infuse
Strength through his limbs, he raised it up, and tlung
The ponderous mass of rock upon the plain,
Which shuddered to receive that magic load !

The mouth of the cavern being thus exposed, Rustem applied
himself to the extrication of Byzun from his miserable condi-
tion, and letting down his kamund, he had soon the pleasure of
drawing up the unfortunate captive, whom he embraced with
great affection ; and instantly stripped off the chains with
which he was bound. After mutual congratulations had been
exchanged, Rustem proposed that Byzun and Manijeh should
go immediately to Iran, whilst he and his companions in arms
attacked the palace of Afnisiyab ; but though wasted as he was


by long suffering, Byzun could not on any consideration consent
to avoid the perils of the intended assault, and determined, at
all hazards, to accompany his deliverer.

" Full well I know thy super-human power
Needs no assistance from an arm like mine ;
But grateful as I am for this great service,
I cannot leave thee now, and shrink from peril,
That would be baseness which I could not bear."

It was on the same night that Rustem and Byzun, and seven
of his warriors, proceeded against that part of the palace in
which the tyrant slept. He first put to death the watchman,
and also killed a great number of the guard, and a loud voice
presently resounded in the chamber of the king : " Awake
from thy slumbers, Afrasiyab, Byzun has been freed from his
chains." Rustem now entered the royal palace, and openly
declaring his name, exclaimed : " I am come, Afrasiyab, to
destroy thee, and By/,"D is also here to do thee service for thy
cruelty to him." The death-note awoke the trembling Afra-
siyab, and he rose up, and fled in dismay. Rustem and his
companions rushed into the inner apartments, and captured all
the blooming damsels of the shubistan, and all the jewels and
golden ornaments which fell in their way. The moon-faced
beauties were sent to Zabul ; but the jewels and other valuable
property were reserved for the king.

In the morning Afrasiyab hastily collected together his troops
and marched against Rustem, who, with Byzun and his thousand
warriors, met him on the plain prepared for battle. The cham-
pion challenged any one who would come forward to single
combat ; but though frequently repeated, no attention was paid
to the call. At length Rustem said to Afhlsiyab : " Art thou
not ashamed to avoid a contest with so inferior a force, a hun-
dred thousand against one thousand ? "We two, and our armies,
have often met, and dost thou now shrink from the fight ? "
The reproach had its effect,

For the tyrant at once, ar,d his heroes, began
Their attack like the deni r. e of Mazinderan.


But the valour and the bravery of Rustem were so eminently
shewn, that he overthrew thousands of the enemy.

In the tempest of battle, disdaining all fear,
With his kamund, and khanjer, his garz, and shamshir.
How he bound, stabbed, and crushed, and dissevered the foe,
So mighty his arm, and so fatal his blow.*

And so dreadful was the carnage, that Afrtisiya'b, unable to
resist his victorious career, was compelled to seek safety in

The field was red with blood, the Tartar banners
Cast on the ground, and when, with grief, he saw
The face of Fortune turned, his cohorts slain,
He hurried back, and sought Turan again.

Rustem having obtained another triumph, returned to Iriu
with the spoils of his conquest, and was again honoured with
the smiles and rewards of his sovereign. Manijeh was not for-
gotten ; she, too, received a present worthy of the virtue and
fidelity she had displayed, and of the magnanimity of her spirit
and the happy conclusion of the enterprise was celebrated with
festivity and rejoicing.


Afrasiydb after his defeat pursued his way in despair towards
Chin and Ma-chin, and on the road happened to fall in with a
man of huge and terrific stature. Amazed at the sight of so

* This is a favourite passage in the original. My old Munshi used to be
delighted with it, thinking the description and effects of each weapon so truly
admirable ; the entangling of the noose, the stabbing of the dagger, the crush-
ing of the mace, and the cutting of the sword being brought together within
so small a compass.


extraordinary a being, be asked him who and what he was."
" I am a villager," replied the stranger. "And thy father ? ''
" I do not know my father. My mother has never mentioned
his name, and my birth is wrapped in mystery." Afrasiyab
then addressed him as follows : " It is my misfortune to have
a bitter and invincible enemy, who has plunged me into the
greatest distress. If he could be subdued, there would be no
impediment to my conquest of Iran ; and I feel assured that
thou, apparently endued with such prodigious strength, hast
the power to master him. His name is Eustem." " What ! "
rejoined Barzii, "is all this concern and affliction about one
man about one man only ? " " Yes," answered Afrdsiyab ;
;< but that one man is equal to a hundred strong men. Upon
him neither sword, nor mace, nor javelin has any effect. In
battle he is like a mountain of steel." At this Barzii exclaimed
in gamesome mood : " A mountain of steel ! I can reduce to
dust a hundred mountains of steel ! What is a mountain of
steel to me ! " Afrasiyab rejoiced to find such confidence in
the stranger, and instantly promised him his own daughter in
marriage, and the monarchy of Chin and Ma-chin, if he suc-
ceeded in destroying Eustem. Barzii replied :

" Thou art but a coward slave,
Thus a stranger's aid to crave.
And thy soldiers, what are they ?
Heartless on the battle-day.
Thou, the prince of such a host !
What, alas ! hast thou to boast ?
Art thou not ashamed to wear
The regal crown that glitters there .'
And dost thou not disgrace the throne
Thus to be awed, and crushed by one ;
By one, whate'er his name or might.
Thus to be put to shameful flight ! ''

Afrasiyab felt keenly the reproaches which he heard ; but,
nevertheless, solicited the assistance of Barzii, who declared
that he would soon overpower Eustem, and place the empire of
Iran under the dominion of the Tartar king. He would, he
said, overflow the land of Persia with blood, and take possession


of the throne ! The despot was intoxicated with delight, and
expecting his most sanguine wishes would be realised, made him
the costliest presents, consisting of gold and jewels, and horses,
and elephants, so that the besotted stranger thought himself
the greatest personage in all the world. But his mother, when
she heard these things, implored him to be cautious :

" My H.A, these presents, though so rich and rare,
Will be thy winding-sheet ; beware, beware !
They'll drive to madness thy poor giddy brain,
And thou wilt never be restored again.
Never ; for wert thou bravest of the brave,
They only lead to an untimely grave.
Then give them back, nor such a doom provoke,
Beware of Rustem's host-destroying stroke.
Has he not conquered demons ! and, alone,
Afrdsiyab's best warriors overthrown I
And canst thou equal them ? Alas 1 the day
That thy sweet life should thus be thrown away."

Barzii, however, was too much dazzled by the presents he had
received, and too vain of his own personal strength to attend to
his mother's advice. " Certainly," said he, " the disposal of
our lives is in the hands of the Almighty, and as certain it is
that my strength is superior to that of Rustem. Would it not
then be cowardly to decline the contest with him ? " The
mother still continued to dissuade him from the enterprise, and
assured him that Rustem was above all mankind distinguished
for the art, and skill, and dexterity with which he attacked his
enemy, and defended himself ; and that there was no chance of
his being overcome by a man entirely ignorant of the science
of fighting ; but Barzii remained unmoved : yet he told the
king what his mother had said ; and Afrasiytib, in consequence,
deemed it proper to appoint two celebrated masters to instruct
him in the use of the bow, the sword, and the javelin, and also
in wrestling and throwing the noose. Every day, clothed in
armour, he tried his skill and strength with the warriors, and
after ten days he was sufficiently accomplished to overthrow
eighteen of them at one time. Proud of the progress he had
made, he told the king that he would seize and bind eighteen


of his stoutest and most experienced teachers, and bring them
before him, if he wished, when all the assembly exclaimed :
" No doubt he is fully equal to the task ;

He does not seem of human birth, but wears
The aspect of the Evil One ; and looks
Like Alberz mountain, clad in folds of mail ;
Unwearied in the fight he conquers all."

Afr&iya'b's satisfaction was increased by this testimony to
the merit of Barzii, and he heaped upon him further tokens of
his good-will and munificence. The vain, newly-made warrior
was all exultation and delight, and said impatiently :

" Delays are ever dangerous let us meet

The foe betimes, this Rust em and the king,

Kai-khosrau. If we linger in a cause

Demanding instant action, prompt appliance,

And rapid execution, we are lost.

Advance, and I will soon lop off the heads

Of this belauded champion and his king,

And cast them, with the Persian crown and throne

Trophies of glory, at thy royal feet ;

So that Turan alone shall rule the world."

Speedily ten thousand experienced horsemen were selected
and placed under the command of Barzii ; and Humjin and
Barman were appointed to accompany him ; Afrjisiya'b himself
intending to follow with the reserve.

When the intelligence of this new expedition reached the
court of Kai-khosra"u, he was astonished, and could not conceive
how, after so signal a defeat and overthrow, Afrasiyab had the
means of collecting another army, and boldly invading his
kingdom. To oppose this invasion, however, he ordered Tiis
and Friburz, with twelve thousand horsemen, and marched
after them himself with a large army. As soon as Tiis fell in
with the enemy the battle commenced, and lasted, with great
carnage, a whole day and night, and in the end Barzii was
victorious. The warriors of the Persian force fled, and left Tiis
and Friburz alone on the field, where they were encountered by


the conqueror, taken prisoners, and bound, and placed in the
charge of Human. The tidings of the result of this conflict
were received with as much rejoicing by Afrtisiytib, as with
sorrow and consternation by Kai-khosrau. And now the
emergency, on the Persian side, demanded the assistance of
Rustem, whose indignation was roused, and who determined on
revenge for the insult that had been given. He took with him
Gustahem, the brother of Tiis, and- at midnight thought he had
come to the tent of Barzii, but it proved to be the pavilion of
Afrtisiyab, who was seen seated on his throne, with Barzii on
his right hand, and Piran-Wisah on his left, and Tiis and
Friburz standing in chains before them. The king said to the
captive warriors : " To-morrow you shall both be put to death
in the manner I slew Saitiwush." He then retired. Meanwhile
Rustem returned thanks to Heaven that his friends were still
alive, and requesting Gustahem to follow cautiously, he waited
awhile for a fit opportunity, till the watchman was off his
guard, and then killing him, he and Gustahem took up and
conveyed the two prisoners to a short distance, where they
knocked off their chains, and then conducted them back to

When Afrtisiyab arose from sleep, he found his warriors in
close and earnest conversation, and was *told that a champion
from Persia had come and killed the watchman, and carried
off the prisoners. Piran exclaimed : " Then assuredly that
champion is Rustem, and no other." Afrtisiyab writhed with
anger and mortification at this intelligence, and sending for
Barzii, dispatched his army to attack the enemy, and challenge
Rustem to single combat. Rustem was with the Persian troops,
and, answering the summons, said : " Young man, if thou art
calling for Rustem, behold I come in his place to lay thee pros-
trate on the earth." " Ah ! " rejoined Barzii, " and why this
threat ? It is true I am but of tender years, whilst thou art
aged and experienced. But if thou art fire, I am water, and
able to quench thy flames." Saying this he wielded his bow,
and fixed the arrow in its notch, and commenced the strife.


Rustem also engaged with bow and arrows ; and then they
each had recourse to their maces, which from repeated strokes
were soon bent as crooked as their bows, and they were them-
selves nearly exhausted. Their next encounter was by wrest-
ling, and dreadful were the wrenches and grasps they received
from each other. Barzii finding no advantage from this
struggle, raised his mace, and struck Rustem such a prodigious
blow on the head, that the champion thought a whole mountain
had fallen upon him. One arm was disabled, but though the
wound was desperate, Rusteni had the address to conceal its
effects, and Barzii wondered that he had made apparently so
little impression on his antagonist. " Thou art," said he, " a
surprizing warrior, and seemingly invulnerable. Had I struck
such a blow on a mountain, it would have been broken into a
thousand fragments, and yet it makes no impression upon thee.
Heaven forbid ! " he continued to himself, " that I should ever
receive so bewildering a stroke upon my own head ! " Rusteni
1 laving successfully concealed the anguish of his wound, artfully
observed that it would be better to finish the combat on the
following day, to which Barzii readily agreed, and then they
both parted.

Barzii declared to Afrasiyab that his extraordinary vigour
and strength had been of no account, for both his antagonist
and his horse appeared to be composed of materials as hard as
flint. Every blow was without effect ; and " Heaven only
knows," added he, '' what may be the result of to-morrow's
conflict." On the other hand Rusteni shewed his lacerated arm
to Khosrau, and said : " I have escaped from him ; but who
else is there now to meet him, and finish the struggle ? Fera-
inurz, my son, cannot fulfil my promise with Barzii, as he, alas !
is fighting in Hindustan. Let me, however, call him hither,
and in the meanwhile, on some pretext or other, delay the
engagement." The king, in great sorrow and affliction, sanc-
tioned his departure, and then said to his warriors : " I will
fight this Barzii myself to-morrow ; " but Giidarz would not
consent to it, saying : "As long as we live, the king must not


be exposed to such hazard. Giw and Byzun, and the other
chiefs, must first successively encounter the enemy."

"When Rustem reached his tent, he told his brother Zuara to
get ready a litter, that he might proceed to Sistan for the pur-
pose of obtaining a remedy for his wound from the Simurgh.
Pain and grief kept him awake all night, and he prayed inces-
santly to the Supreme Being. In the morning early, Ziiara
brought him intelligence of the \velcome arrival of Feramurz,
which gladdened his heart ; and as the youth had undergone
great fatigue on his long journey, Rustem requested him to
repose awhile, and he himself, freed from anxiety, also sought
relief in a sound sleep.

A few hours afterwards both armies were again drawn up,
and Barzu, like a mad elephant, full of confidence and pride,
rode forward to resume the combat ; whilst Rustem gave in-
structions to Feramurz how he was to act. He attired him in
his own armour, supplied him with his own weapons, and
mounted him on Rakush, and told him to represent himself to
Bami as the warrior who had engaged him the day before.
Accordingly Feramurz entered the middle space, clothed in
his father's mail, raised his bow, ready bent, and shot an
arrow at Barzu, crying : " Behold thy adversary ! I am
the man come to try thy strength again. Advance ! " To
this Barzii replied : " Why this hilarity, and great flow of
spirits ? Art thou reckless of thy life ? " " In the eyes of
warriors," said Feramurz, " the field of fight is the mansion of
pleasure. After I yesterday parted from thee I drank wine
with my companions, and the impression of delight still
remains on my heart.

; Wine exhilarates the soul,
Makes the eye with pleasure roll ;
Lightens up the darkest mien,
Fills with joy the dullest scene ;
Hence it is I meet thee now
With a smile upon my brow."

Barzu, however, thought that the voice and action of his adversary


were not the same as he had heard and seen the preceding day,
although there was no difference in the armour or the horse, and
therefore he said : " Perhaps the cavalier whom I encountered
yesterday is wounded or dead, that thou hast mounted his
charger, and attired thyself in his mail." " Indeed, rejoined
Ferdmurz, perhaps thou hast lost thy wits ; I am certainly the
person who engaged thee yesterday, and almost extinguished
thee ; and with God's favour thou shalt be a dead man to-day."
" What is thy name ? " " My name is Rustem, descended from
a race of warriors, and my pleasure consists in contending with
the lions of battle, and shedding the blood of heroes." Thus
saying, Fcramurz rushed on his adversary, struck him several
blows with his battle-axe, and drawing his noose from the
saddle-strap with the quickness of lightning, secured his prize.
He might have put an end to his existence in a moment, but
preferred taking him alive, and shewing him as a captive.
Afrasiyab seeing the perilous condition of Barzii, came up with
his whole army to his rescue ; but Kai-khosrau was equally on
the alert, accompanied by Rustem, who advancing to the
support of Feramurz, threw another noose round the neck of
the already-captured Barzii, to prevent the possibility of his
escape. Both armies now engaged, and the Turanians made
many desperate efforts to recover their gigantic leader, but all
their manoeuvres were fruitless. The struggle continued fiercely,
and with great slaughter, till it was dark, and then ceased ;
the two kings returning back to the respective positions they
had taken up before the conflict took place. The Turanians
were in the deepest grief for thelossofBarzu ; and Piran- Wisah
having recommended an immediate retreat across the Jihiin,
Afrasiyab followed his counsel, and precipitately quitted Persia
with all his troops.

Kai-khosrau ordered a grand banquet on the occasion of the
victory ; and when Barzii was brought before him, he com-
manded his immediate execution ; but Rustem, seeing that he
was very young, and thinking that he had not yet been
corrupted and debased by the savage example of the Turanians,


requested that he might be spared, and, given to him to send
into Sistan ; and his request was promptly complied with.

When the mother of Barzii, whose name was Shah-ni, heard
that her son was a prisoner, she wept bitterly, and hastened to
Iran, and from thence to Sistan. There happened to be in
Rustem's employ a singing-girl,* an old acquaintance of her's,
to whom she was much attached, and to whom she made large
presents, calling her by the most endearing epithets, in order
that she might be brought to serve her in the important
matter she had in contemplation. Her object was soon ex-
plained, and the preliminaries at once adjusted, and by the
hands of this singing-girl she secretly sent some food to Barzii,
in which she concealed a ring, to apprise him of her being near
him. On finding the ring, he asked who had supplied him
with the food, and her answer was : " A woman recently
arrived from Ma-chin." This was to him delightful intelligence,
and he could not help exclaiming, " That woman is my mother,
I am grateful for thy services, but another time bring me, if
thou canst, a large file, that I may be able to free myself from
these chains." The singing-girl promised her assistance ; and
having told Shah-rii what her son required, conveyed to
him a file, and resolved to accompany him in his flight.
Barzii then requested that three fleet horses might be provided
and kept ready under the walls, at a short distance ; and this
being also done, in the night, he and his mother, and the
singing-girl, effected their escape, and pursued their course
towards Tiiran.

It so happened that Rustem Avas at this time in progress
between Iran and Sista"n, hunting for his own pleasure the elk
or wild ass, and he accidentally fell in with the refugees, who
made an attempt to avoid him, but, unable to effect their
purpose, thought proper to oppose him. with all their might,

* Theocritus introduces a Greek singing-girl in Idyllium, xv. at the festival
of Adonis. In the Arabian Nights, the Kaliph is represented at his feasts
surrounded by troops of the most beautiful females playing on various instru-

Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 20 of 35)