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The original, squashed down to read in about 50 minutes
Rostam fights the White Deev
The Shahname, the 'Book of Kings', is the great Epic Tale of Iran. Revered and retold in many surrounding lands too. It tells in rhyming verse of rulers and heroes, both historical and legendary. Composed around 1000CE by the poet known as ‘Ferdowsi Tusi’, at some 990 chapters in 100,000 lines it is almost certainly the longest poem ever written.
This abridgement is substantially based on the verse translation by Arthur and Edmond Warner of 1905 and the prose of Helen Zimmern of 1883. It reduces the original million words to about 7,000
Long years this Shahnameh I toiled to complete,
The First Shahs
Kaiumers was first to sit upon the throne of Iran and call himself Shah, and was master of the world. He lived in the mountains, and clad himself and his people in tiger-skins. Men and beasts from all the earth came to do him homage, and his glory was like to the sun.
And thus did Ahriman the Evil Angel and his Deevs wax envious of the Shah's honour and so they called up the tigers, lions, wolves, and fierce creatures, forever to make war against him. And all the while the good angel Serosch flew ever seven times around the earth each day, watching over all the children of the One God Ormuzd.
Then when Kaiumers laid him down to die, Husheng reigned in his stead, and was wise and just. It was he who first showed how win iron from rock by craft. He invented smithing, made axes, saws, and mattocks. He first gave fire to men, and he taught them how to water the land and to till and reap. And he divided the beasts and gave them names.
And when Husheng passed to the brighter life, he was followed by his son, Tahumers ‘The Binder of the Deevs’. He opened the eyes of men to spinning and weaving and he reigned over the land long and mightily. But of him were the Deevs right envious, and sought to destroy him. Tahumers overcame them and made the Deevs tell him the art of writing, and thus from the evil Deevs came a boon upon mankind.
And after thirty years on the golden throne he passed away and Jamshid, his glorious son, came after.
Now Jamshid reigned over the land seven hundred years girt with might, and the evil Deevs, the birds of the air, and the angel-winged Peris obeyed him. And the world was happier for his sake, and he too was glad, and death was unknown among men, neither did they wot of pain or sorrow. And he first parcelled out men into classes; priests, warriors, artificers, and husbandmen. And the year also he divided into periods. And by aid of the Deevs he raised mighty works, and builded the great city of Persepolis, of which the people are called ‘Persian’.
And Jamshid prepared a feast, and bade them keep it, and called it Neurouz, which is the New Day, and the people of Iran keep it to this hour.
But then it came about that the heart of Jamshid was uplifted in pride, and he forgot whence came his weal and the source of his blessings. He named himself God, and his image to be worshipped, so that his Mubids, which are astrologers and wise men, hung their heads in sorrow.
So God withdrew his hand from Jamshid, and the kings and the nobles rose up against him, and Ahriman the Evil Angel had power over the land.
Zohak the Serpent-King
Now there dwelt in the deserts of Arabia a king named Mirtas, generous and just, and he had a son, Zohak, whom he loved. Yet it came about that Ahriman the Evil Angel, disguised as a noble, came and tempted Zohak, saying; “I will raise thee above the sun. Thy father is aged, yet while he liveth thou wilt remain nothing.” Thus Zohak and Ahriman the Evil Angel made a snare in the garden and Mirtas fell into the snare and was killed. Then Zohak placed the crown upon his head, and Ahriman taught him the arts of magic, and he ruled over his people in good and evil, for he was not yet wholly given up to guile.
Then Ahriman the Evil Angel gave himself the form of a youth, and took work as a cook in the King’s kitchen. Now hitherto men had been nourished only with herbs, but Ahriman prepared flesh-meat for Zohak. And the flesh gave the King courage and strength like a lion, and he commanded that this cook be brought before him and ask a boon. And the cook said- “All this servant asks of his King is that I may kiss his shoulders”. Ahriman kissed him on his shoulders, and, lo! the ground opened and from each kiss sprang hissing serpents, venomous and black; and the King was afraid, and desired that they be cut off. But as often as the snakes were cut down did they grow again, and in vain the wise men and physicians cast about for a remedy.
Then Ahriman the Evil Angel came once again, and spake, saying- “These serpents cannot be destroyed. They must be fed. And their only food is the brains of men. Thus daily were two good men taken to be slaughtered to make a meal of brains. But Armayel the Holy One, and Garmayel the Wise One saw the evil, and offered to man the kitchens and do the foul murders themselves, but daily they let one of the two captives live and go saying “save yourself in the hills”. And so their numbers grew, and they settled and became the people we call now the Kurds.
So the beloved of Ahriman the Evil Angel, Zohak the Serpent-King, sat upon the throne of Iran, the kingdom of Light. And despair filled all hearts, for it seemed mankind must perish to still the appetite of those snakes.
Feridoun is born
But Ormuzd saw all, and was moved with compassion for his people, so, far away from the Serpent-King, he caused a grandson to be born to Jamshid, and his parents called him Feridoun.
Now as Feridoun was born, Zohak dreamed he beheld a youth, slender as a cypress, coming towards him bearing a cow-headed mace. Then the tyrant awoke and trembled, and called for his Mubids, and bade the world be scoured to find the youth. And henceforth Zohak was consumed with bitterness of spirit, and he knew neither rest nor joy.
Now the mother of Feridoun feared lest the Shah should destroy her child so she took him to the great forest where dwelt the wondrous cow Purmaieh, whose hairs were like unto the plumes of a peacock for beauty. And three years Purmaieh the wondrous cow was nurse to her son. Then, his mother took Feridoun far away to Ind, into the care of the pious hermit of Mount Alberz.
And when the Shah heard that the boy was fled he was like unto a mad elephant in his fury. He slew the wondrous cow and all the living things in the forest.
Then Zohak caused his army to be strengthened, and he demanded each of his people swear that he was a just and noble king. And they obeyed for very fear. But one would not swear, saying “I am Kaweh, a blacksmith and a blameless man. Seventeen fair sons have I called mine, all slain to still the hunger of thy serpents. I will not swear for thee, O King.” And taking off the leathern apron of a smith, he raised it aloft upon the point of a lance, and Kaweh cried before the multitude - "Be this our banner to march forth and seek out Feridoun and entreat him to deliver us from the hands of the Serpent-King."
And Feridoun knew that his day was come unto him. And he caused a mighty club to be made, and the top thereof was the head of a cow, in memory of Purmaieh, his nurse. Then the host did wade across the River Tigris at Bagdad and came to the city which is now called Jerusalem, and there the glorious house of Zohak.
And Feridoun slew the Deevs that held the palace, and cast down the evil talisman that was graven upon the walls. Then Feridoun raised his cow-headed mace to slay the Serpent-King. But the blessed Angel Serosch swooped down, and bade him bind the usurper and carry him far from the haunts of men, to the Mount Demawend, there to bind him to the rock with mighty chains and nails driven into his hands, and leave him to perish in agony. And it was done, and the earth was delivered of Zohak the evil one, and Feridoun reigned as Shah in his stead.
So Feridoun ruled the world like to a paradise, and planted the cypress and the rose where the wild herb had sprouted. There were born to him three sons, whose mother was of the house of Jamshid, and, when he beheld that they were come to years of strength he bade them take as wives the fair daughters of the king of Yemen. And they went to Yemen. And they did marry. And and the King of Yemen gave to his new sons much treasure laid upon the backs of camels, and umbrellas.
Now when Feridoun learned that his sons were returning from Yemen, he determined to test them, so he took upon himself the form and shape of a dragon that foamed at the mouth with fury, and from whose jaws sprang mighty flames.
He threw himself upon the eldest born, who laid down his spear and said, "A wise man striveth not with dragons." And he fled, so that Feridoun declared; “I shall call you lim, and you will inherit the lands of the West, Roum and Khaver, which are the lands of the setting sun.”
Then the Feridoun the dragon sprang upon the second, and he said, "An it be that I must fight, what matter if it be a furious lion or a knight full of valour?" So he took his bow and stretched it, so that Feridoun declared; “I shall know you as Tur, and you will inherit the lands of the East, Turan and Turkestan and far China.”
But the youngest, seeing the dragon, said, "Thou reptile, flee from the name of Feridoun, for we are his sons, ready for the fight,"so that Feridoun declared; “I shall know you as Irij, and you will inherit the land of Iran, with the throne of might and the crown of supremacy.”
And, so, for many years Feridoun sat upon the golden throne in happiness and peace, but evil was hidden in the bosom of Fate. For Feridoun grew old, and as his life waned, the evil passions of his sons waxed stronger. For Silim and Tur grew anger in their hearts that they had the worse share, so they did Irij to death, and cut his head from his body, and filled it with musk, and sent it with a knight clad in the garb of woe unto their father, saying- "Behold the head of thy darling, give unto him now the crown and the throne.” And Feridoun wept day and night for his lost son, and watered the ground with his tears.
Then, after many years, Feridoun saw the daughter of Irij, his lost son, and how she was fair, and he wedded her unto Pescheng, a hero of the race of Jamshid. And there was born unto them a son, fair and strong, named him Minuchihr. And when, in due time, Feridoun vanished from the earth, Minuchihr mourned for his grandsire, and raised above him a stately tomb, and, when the seven days of mourning were ended, he put upon his head the crown of the Kaianides, and girt his loins with a red sash of might. And the nation called him Shah, and he was beloved in the land.
Zal the White-Haired
In Seistan, to the south of Iran, to King Saum, the Pehliva, was born a son, beautiful of face and limb, save that his hair was white. And the women were afraid, and kept him hid. And when Saum, at last, beheld his son and saw his head was like unto that of an aged man, Saum cried unto heaven and the Lord of Destiny, saying; “How have I deserved such? Have I strayed to the paths of Ahriman the Evil Angel? My soul is ashamed. I will remove this stain from the land, that Iran be not accursed.”
So they took the child and placed it far from the haunts of men at Mount Alberz, whose head toucheth the stars. And there the Simurgh-bird, the bird of marvel, with her nest of ebony and of sandal-wood, spied the infant, and cared for him as one of her own chicks. And thus the babe was grown to be a youth full of strength and beauty. And his renown filled the land, for neither good nor evil can be hidden for ever.
Then it came to pass in time that Saum had a dream in which he heard it said; “Thou hast offended against duty, who disownest thy son because his hair is white, though thine own resembleth the silver poplar, wilt thou abjure all kinship with him for ever?"
When Saum awoke he set forth unto the mountains, and found out his boy. And the Simurgh-bird saith; “O my son; I would keep thee beside me for ever, but another destiny is for thee. Bear with thee this feather of mine, and in the day of need cast it into the fire, and I will deliver thee from danger."
Then Saum bent low before the Simurgh and covered her with benison. And he blessed his son, and entreated his forgiveness. And he clothed him in rich robes and named him Zal, which meaneth the aged.
Zal and Rodabeh
Anon it came about that Zal desired to see the kingdom, and he marched with pomp into Cabul. And there did he hear tell of the daughter of the King of Cabul, Rodabeh, her face brighter than the sun, her mouth like a pomegranate flower. But Rodabeh was of the line of Zohak the Serpent King of which family no prince would engage.
And as Zal heard tell of Rodabeh, so Rodabeh heard tell of Zal the son of Saum, he with a heart like unto a lion and his strength as an elephant. He who to his friends is a gracious Nile, unto his enemies a wasting crocodile. He of whom his white locks but enhance his glory. And in each, their heart burned for the other, so that, when the sun was sunk, and the doors of the house were locked and the keys withdrawn, a slave went forth from the house of Rodabeh unto Zal, the son of Saum. And she spake unto him in a low voice- "Come now."
And when they were come to the house of the women Zal beheld the daughter of the King upon the roof, her beauty like unto a cypress on which the full moon shineth. Then the Peri-faced loosened her tresses, and they were long. And she said unto Zal- "Here, O Pehliva, seize my black locks and climb up, for it is fitting that I should be a snare unto thee." And Zal demured, for fear that he might hurt her, and called for a cord and swung himself upon the roof.
And they gazed upon each other and knew that they excelled in beauty, while love was fanned in their hearts. Then Zal cried- "O fair cypress, musk-perfumed, when Minuchihr shall learn of this he will be angered and Saum also will chide.
And many were their troubles and fears, but at the end of day, the host of Saum came unto Cabul, and asked of Mihrab that he would give unto him her hand, and they concluded an alliance according to custom and the law. And the lovers were seated upon a throne, and Mihrab read out the list of the gifts, and it was so long the ear did not suffice to hear them. Then they repaired unto the banquet, and they feasted seven days without ceasing. And when a month had passed Saum went back to Seistan, and Zal and Rodabeh followed after him. And speedily did he set forth again to battle, and left the kingdom in the hands of his son, and Zal administered it with wisdom and judgment. And Rodabeh sat beside him on the throne, and he placed a crown of gold upon her head.
The Birth of Rostam
Now ere the son of Zal was born, Rodabeh in her child-bed was sore afflicted, so Zal bethought him of the Simurgh-bird, his nurse, and he cast her feather into the fire as she had commanded, and straightway a sound of rushing wings filled the air, and the bird of God stood before Zal. And she told him how he should act to secure an ease of birth, and Zal did as she had commanded, and there was born to him a son comely of limb. And they called him Rostam, which meaneth ‘safely delivered’.
Now it befell that when yet two springs had passed, Rostam was awakened from his slumber by a mighty roaring that shook the walls of the house and a cry went forth that the white elephant of the King had broken its chain in fury, and that the housemates were in danger. And Rostam sprang from his bed and beat the great elephant upon the head with his club, and smote him dead, and returned unto his bed and slept until the morning. And Zal, and all men with him, rejoiced because a hero was arisen in Iran.
Now, meantimes, in the land of Zaboulistan, Minuchihr made him ready to pass from the world, for he had reached twice sixty years. He called before him Nauder his son, and gave him wise counsels, and he bade him rest his throne upon the strength of Saum and Zal, and the child that was sprung from their loins. Then then Minuchihr closed his eyes and sighed, and there remained of him only a memory in the world.
The hand of Nauder was heavy upon the land. Therefore Poshang of Tur saw foul chance and called his son Afrasiyab to form a great host covering the ground like unto ants and locusts, and he went against Nauder, and won the day, and cut off the head of Nauder the Shah, and sat himself down upon the throne of light. But the people would not listen unto his voice, so that Zal bade the Iranians choose out Zew, the son of Thamasp, of the blood of Feridoun, of wisdom in speech, that he should rule over them. And Zew ruled rightly in the sight of Ormuzd, and God gave unto the land the key of abundance. Yet few were the years that he commanded with equity, and Garshasp his son reigned in his stead. But neither to him was it given to reign long with glory, and bitter fruit sprouted yet again from the tree of misfortune. And all the men of Iran were sore afraid, and they turned them once again unto Zal the son of Saum.
Rostam chooses a horse
And Zal spake to his son, “O Rostam my son, thy lips still smell of milk, and thy heart should go out to pleasure. But the days are grave, and Iran looketh unto thee.” And Rostam said, "Give unto me, therefore, a steed of strength and the mace of Saum, that I might meet the hosts of Ahriman the Evil Angel." Then Zal commanded that all the horses of Zaboulistan and Cabul be brought before his son. And Rostam, perceived in their midst a colt mighty like an elephant, and in colour it was as rose leaves that have been scattered upon a saffron ground, and no man had the strength to tame him. But Rostam swung himself upon the colt with a great bound, and rejoiced in Rakhsh (whose name, being interpreted, meaneth ‘lightning’), and Zal rejoiced with him, and they made them ready to stand against Afrasiyab.
And soon the battle raged hot and strong many days, and deeds of valour were done on either side; but the men of Turan could not stand against the men of Iran, neither could the strength of Rostam be broken. And Afrasiyab was discomfited, and fled, and his army followed after, and their hearts were bruised and full of care.
The Iranians turned then unto Kai Kobad and did homage before his throne. And Kai Kobad celebrated the victory with much pomp, as is the manner of kings; and he placed Rostam upon his right hand and Zal upon his left, and they feasted and made them merry with wine.
Now for the space of an hundred years did Kai Kobad rule over Iran with clemency, and the earth was quiet before him, and he gat his people great honour, and I ask of you what king can be likened unto him? But when this time had passed, his strength waned, he called before him Kai Kaous his son, and gave unto him counsels many and wise. And when he had done speaking he bade them make ready his grave, and he exchanged the palace for the tomb. And thus endeth the history of Kai Kobad the glorious. It behoveth us now to speak of his son.
Kai Kawous marches into Mazanderan
Kai Kwous seated him on the crystal throne, and the world was obedient to his will. But Ahriman the Evil Angel sent forth a Deev clad as a singer, warbled unto his lyre words of deep cunning, and he inflamed the desires of the Shah after the Land of Mazanderan. Yet Zal warned his Lord, “Mazanderan is a land of Deevs against whom no man can prevail, plant not in the garden of Iran the tree of folly."
But, ere the day succeeded unto the night, Kai Kawous set forth with his horsemen unto Mazanderan.
Now when they were come within its borders, Kai Kawous commanded his men destroy the city entire, neither should they spare the women nor the young, because they too were the children of Deevs. And the city that resembled a garden was changed into a desert.
Therefore, at the bidding of the King of Mazanderan the White Deev uprose like to a mountain, and caused it to rain stones and javelins, and the Iranians could not behold their source, neither could they defend themselves or stand against the arts of magic. So was the army of Shah Kai Kawous made captive at the pleasure of the Deev.
Now Kai Kawous cried continually, "This fault is mine;" Then he called before him Rostam, and said- "The hour is come to saddle Rakhsh and to avenge the world with thy sword. As for me, I number two hundred years, and have no longer the strength to fight with Deevs. But thou art young and mighty. Cast about thee, therefore, thy leopard-skin and deliver Iran from bondage."
But when he would have departed, his mother Rudabeh came out and made great wailing that Rostam should go before the evil Deevs, but she let him depart, but her eyes were red with weeping many days.
The Deeds of Rostam
In the meanwhile the young hero of the world sped forth upon Rakhshi his horse to do his duty unto the Shah, neither was he afraid of wild beasts or of Deevs. As he slept the first night among the reeds a fierce lion watched them, and rejoiced at the meal of man and horse that he held was in store. But with his hoofs did Rakhsh trample upon the lion him till he died.
And the second day they passed through a desert, and the sun and the sand was living fire, and the steed and rider were like to perish of thirst, and nowhere could Rostam find water. But lo! when he thought his end was come, there passed before him a ram, well nourished and fat. And behold, it led him unto a spring of water, cool and clear. And both horse and rider drank thereof and were refreshed. Yet when Rostam sought the ram, it was nowhere, and then Rostam knew that Ormuzd had wrought a wonder for his sake, and he lifted up his soul in thankfulness.
And when night came Rostam laid to slumber, entreating Rakhsh to wake him only if an enemy did appear. But at the first watch of the night, there came a dragon, fierce and fiery, whom even the Deevs dared not encounter. Then Rakhsh stamped his hoofs upon the ground and Rostam was angry with Rakhsh that he had wakened him, for the dragon had vanished. Then he turned him to sleep once again. But the dragon came forth once more, and once more did Rakhsh wake Rostam, and once more did the dragon vanish. And when Rakhsh had thus awakened the hero yet three times, Rostam was beside him with anger, and piled reproaches upon the horse, and drew his leopard-skin about him and laid him down again to sleep. Then the dragon came forth yet again, and Rakhsh once more stamped upon the ground. And Rostam sprang up in fury, but this time he beheld the dragon. Then the beast wound himself about Rostam, and would have crushed him with his writhings but Rakhsh sprang upon the dragon from the rear, and he tore him as he had torn the lion. Then Rostam was glad, and he praised Rakhsh, and gave thanks to God who had given unto him the victory. And when he had so done he sprang into his saddle, and rode until they were come unto the land of the magicians.
Rostam in the Far Lands
Now when evening was fallen over the land they came unto a green and shady vale, and cool woods clothed its sides. And beside a spring there was spread a table, and wine and all manner of good cheer so that Rostam seated him there and enjoyed its fare, for he knew not that it was the table of the magicians, who were fled on his approach. And when he had stilled his hunger he took up a lyre that lay beside him, and he lilted to it in his ease of heart.
Now the song of Rostam was come to the ears of one of the witches, and she changed herself into a damsel with a face of spring. And she came before Rostam and toyed with him. And he poured out wine and handed it unto her, and bade her drink unto Ormuzd. But the magician, when she heard the name of God, fell into a tremble and her visage changed, and Rostam beheld her in all her vileness. So he made a noose and caught her, and severed her in twain, and straightway departed.
And Rostam rode till that he was come unto a land where the sun never shineth. And beyond, Rostam beheld a land that was swathed in verdure and planted with crops, and he loosened Rakhsh and laid himself down to slumber.
And the guardian of the land was angry, and woke Rostam, whereupon Rostam fell upon the man, and tore the ears off from his head. And the man fled to his master, Aulad. So Aulad returned with his warriors to destroy Rostam, but Rostam, in his might, routed the army by himself alone, and captured Aulad with a noose, and said- "Tell me where dwelleth the White Deev, that holds my Shah and his men in bondage?" Then Aulad answered how it was an hundred farsangs away, beyond mountain passes guarded by lions and magicians and mighty men. And he counselled him to desist from this quest.
Then Rostam loosened the bonds of Aulad, and bade him lead him into the city where Kai Kawous pined in his bondage. And when they had passed the Seven Mountains and were come unto the gates of hell, he came unto the lair of the White Deev. Then Rostam prayed to God, and God heard him and gave him strength, and Rostam overcame the White Deev and slew him. And he severed his head from his trunk, and cut his heart from out his midst.
And when Kai Kawous learned that Rostam was returned with victory upon his brow he shouted for joy, and all the host shouted with him. And they called down the blessings of Heaven upon the head of Rostam. But when the hero came before them, he took of the blood of the White Deev and poured it into their eyes, and the eyes of Kai Kawous and his men were opened, and they once again beheld the glory of the day.
Then Kai Kawous sent for a scribe, and the scribe cut a reed like to the point of an arrow, and he wrote with it in a letter the words that Kai Kawous dictated. He bade the King of Mazanderan lay aside his arrogance. Then he signed the letter with his royal seal, and Rostam bore it forth from the camp.
And Kai Kawous made ready his army, and the King of Mazanderan did likewise. And they marched forth unto the meeting-place, and the earth groaned under the feet of the war-elephants. And for seven days did the battle rage fast and furious, and all the earth was darkened with the black dust; and the fire of swords and maces flashed through the blackness like to lightning from a thundercloud. But victory leaned to neither side.
Then Rostam, perceiving the King of Mazanderan, challenged him to single combat. But the King put forth his arts of magic, and he was changed into a rock within sight of all the army, and the rock resisted all their efforts and none could move it a jot. Then Rostam, the elephant-limbed, came forward to test his power, and he grasped the rock in his mighty fist, and Rostam spake and said unto it- "Issue forth, I command thee, O King of Mazanderan, or I will break thee into atoms with my mace." When the King heard this threat he was afraid, and came out of the stone, and stood before Rostam in all his vileness. And Rostam took off the head of this wicked one from its trunk.
Then gave thanks unto God, and distributed rich gifts unto his army, and prepared a feast, and bade them rejoice and make merry with wine.
In time the King of Hamaveran and of Turan and Afrasiyab did oppose the Shah Kai Kawous, but Kai Kawous marched against the rebels with Rostam and broke and routed every one. And Afrasiyab was discomfited, and his spirit boiled over like to new wine that fermenteth. And he said- "Whoever shall bring Rostam, the Pehliva alive before me, I will give unto him a kingdom and an umbrella, and the hand of my daughter in marriage." But it availed them nought, for the Iranians were mightier than they, and they watered the earth with their blood until the ground was like a rose.
Then Kai Kawous seated himself once more upon his throne, and men were glad that there was peace. And the Shah gave thanks unto Rostam that he had aided him yet again, and he named him Jahani Pehliva, which being interpreted meaneth the champion of the world. Then he busied himself with building mighty towers and palaces, and the land of Iran was made fair at his hands, and all was well once more within its midst.
But Ahriman the Evil Angel whispered in the ear of Kai Kawous; “Thou art master of all the earth, therefore shouldst thou not make the heavens also obedient to thy will?" Wherupon Kai Kawous had built for him a framework of aloe-wood, and at the four corners thereof he placed javelins upright, and on their points he put the flesh of goats, and four great eagles strong of wing, he bound unto the corners of this chariot. And Kai Kawous seated himself in the midst thereof, and the eagles, when they smelt the flesh, desired after it, and they flapped their wings and raised themselves. And they bore the the Shah aloft unto the desert of Cathay, where he was lost and alone. And Rostam found him there, and said; “It will be a reproach unto Iran all her days that a king puffed up with idle pride deemed in his folly that he could mount unto the skies, and visit the sun and moon.”
And Kai Kawous was ashamed in his soul, and suffered himself to be led back unto his palace, and many days and nights did he lie in the dust before God. But when he deemed that God had forgiven him, he seated him upon his throne once again. And henceforth he ruled the land with justice, and he did that which was right in the sight of God.
Tahmineh of Samangan
Give ear now unto the story of Sohrab and Rostam, though it be a tale replete with tears.
It came about that on a certain day Rostam bethought him to go out to the chase. So he saddled Rakhsh and made in the direction of the city of Samengan. And in the wilds he slew an ass, and made a meal of it, and when he had broken the bones for the marrow, he laid himself down to slumber, and Rakhsh beside him.
Now there passed by seven knights of Turan, and they coveted Rakhsh. So they threw their cords at him to ensnare him. But Rakhsh fell upon them, of one man he bit off the head, and another he struck down under his hoofs, and he would have overcome them all, but they were too many. So they ensnared him and led him into the city. But Rostam when he awoke from his slumbers was sore grieved, saying; "How can I stand against the Turks, and how can I traverse the desert alone?" And his heart was full of trouble. Then he sought for the traces of the horse's hoofs, and he followed them, and they led him even unto the gates of the city.
So Rostam entered the house of the King of Samengan, and feasted with him, and beguiled the hours with wine.
Now when a portion of the night was spent, and the star of morning stood high in the arch of heaven, the door of Rostam's chamber was opened, and a murmur of soft voices came in from the threshold. And there stepped within a slave bearing a lamp perfumed with amber, and a woman whose beauty was veiled came after her, saying,
"My name is Tahmineh of Samangan,
Now while this moon of beauty was yet speaking, Rostam regarded her. And he saw that she was fair, and that wisdom abode in her mind. So he sent a Mubid unto the King and demanded the hand of Tahmineh from her father. And the King rejoiced, and concluded an alliance according to custom and the rites. And all men, young and old, within the house and city of the King were glad at this alliance, and called down blessings upon Rostam.
Now Rostam, when he was alone with the Peri-faced, took from his arm an onyx band that was known unto all the world. And he gave it to her, and said- "Cherish this jewel, and if Heaven cause thee to give birth unto a daughter, fasten it within her locks, and it will shield her from evil; but if it be granted unto thee to bring forth a son, fasten it upon his arm, that he may wear it like his father. And he shall be strong as Keriman, of stature like unto Saum and of grace of speech like unto Zal, my father." Then Rostam flung him upon Rakhsh, and the swift- footed bare him quickly from out of her sight back into Zaboulistan.
Now when nine moons had run their course there was born unto Tahmineh a son in the likeness of his father, a babe whose mouth was filled with smiles, wherefore men called him Sohrab. And when he numbered but five years he was skilled in arms, and when ten years were rolled above his head there was none in the land that could resist him in games of strength.
Then he came before his mother, saying; "Since I am greater and stronger than my peers, tell me my race and line, that I may know my sire. But if thou refuse, I will strike thee out from the rolls of the living." Wherupon Tahmineh smiled because that his fire was like to that of his father, and told him; “thou art the offspring of Rostam, from the seed of Saum and Zal" And she gave him gold and jewels and the far-famed onyx band for his arm.
And Sohrab said; “To all men are known the deeds of Rostam, I will go forth with an army of brave Turks and lead them unto Iran, I will cast Kai Kawous from off his throne, I will give to Rostam the crown, and together we will subdue the land.”
Now Tahmineh rejoiced at his courage, so she had the guardians of the flocks find a steed for her son. They brought before him a foal sprung from Rakhsh, the swift of foot. So he saddled it and sprang upon its back and cried, saying- "Now that I own a horse like thee, the world shall be made dark to many." Then he made ready for war against Iran, and the nobles and warriors flocked around him.
So Sohrab caused the cymbals of departure to be clashed, and the army made them ready to go forth. Then Sohrab led them into the land of Iran. And they spread fire and dismay abroad, and they marched on unstayed until they came unto the White Castle, the fortress wherein Iran put its trust.
Gurdafrid of Hujir
Now the guardian of the castle was named Hujir and was grown old, so that Sohrab overcame Hujir as though he were an infant, and he bound him and made him captive.
But there abode also in the White Castle his daughter Gurdafrid, a warlike maid, firm in the saddle, and practised in the fight. So she clad herself in burnished mail, and she hid her woman’s tresses under a helmet of Roum, and she mounted a steed of battle and came forth before the walls as a warrior. Sohrab ran at Gurdafrid with fury, and threw her upon the ground. Yet ere he could raise his hand to strike her, she drew her sword and shivered his lance in twain, and she saw that the day was hers. Then Sohrab tore the helmet from off her head, for he desired to look upon the face of the man who could withstand the son of Rostam. And lo! Sohrab beheld it was a woman that had overcome him. And he was confounded, saying; "If the daughters of Iran are like to thee none can stand against this land."
Then Gurdafrid, full of wile, said; “Come unto the White Castle, and let us conclude a peace together.” And he followed after her unto its gates. And Gurdafrid stepped within the threshold, and she shut the door upon Sohrab, and came out upon the battlements and scoffed at him, and counselled him to go back whence he was come. And Sohrab was maddened for her words, and he departed from the walls in wrath, and rode far in his anger, and spread terror in his path. Yet Sohrab, in his heart yearned after Gurdafrid in love, and he cried aloud- "Woe, woe is me that this beautiful moon is vanished behind the clouds!"
So then, the people of the White castle called a scribe, and bade him write unto Kai Kawous that an army was come forth from Turan, at whose head rode a chief that was a child in years, but a lion in strength and stature, like to Rostam.
So Kai Kawous sent forth his knight Geew unto Zaboulistan, and bade bring Rostam himself with haste. And Geew came unto Rostam, and they feasted together three days. So when they returned unto the courts of the Shah, Kai Kawous, was angry at the tardiness, and berated Rostam viscously, threatening him with death. And Rostram was grieved and left the presence of the Shah. But the good words of good men brought him back, so that he might remind the Shah that but for Rostam he would not now be seated upon the throne of light. And the Shah beheld Rostam and craved his pardon, and made a great feast. Then he prepared his army to meet the hosts led by the child.
Now when night had thrown her mantle over the earth, Rostam went forth to the camp of the enemy that he might see what manner of man was this boy-warrior. And Rostam saw that he was tall like a cypress, and that his arms were like to the flanks of a camel, and that his stature was that of a hero.
Thus Rostam craved of his Shah that he might meet this youth in combat of twain, according to ancient custom. And so it was that the two met armed in the zone between the two camps. But the soul of Rostam melted with compassion, and he desired to save a boy thus fair and valiant. So he said unto him- “O young man, the earth is cold. Do not loose the boon of life. For if we combat, thou wilt surely fall, for none have withstood my power, neither men nor Deevs nor dragons. Desist, therefore, and join me in the ranks of Iran, for our nation needs heroes like thee.”
But the youth replied; “I am a mere slave, and do as my master biddeth”.
Then Rostam prayed unto Ormuzd that He would give him strength, and he struck. Then the boy knew it was his end, and he gave a great sigh of agony, and he said- “That which is come about is my own fault. But regard the onyx band upon my arm. A gift of my father, Rostam the Pehliva, and he shall be told how Sohrab his son perished.
When Rostam heard these words his sword fell from out of his grasp, and he was shaken with dismay. And he tore his clothes in his distress, and he covered his head with ashes.
And in Turan did all men grieve and weep for the child of prowess that was fallen in his bloom. And the King of Samengan tore his vestments, and Tahmineh, his daughter, cried after her son, and heaped black earth upon her head, and tore her hair, and wrung her hands, and rolled on the ground in her agony. Then she caused the garments of Sohrab to be brought unto her, and she cherished the robes as though they yet contained her boy, and she brought Rakhsh his steed, and stroked him and poured tears upon his hoofs. Then with his sword she cut off the tail of his steed and set fire unto the house of Sohrab, and she gave his gold and jewels unto the poor. And when a year had thus rolled over her bitterness, the breath departed from out her body, and her spirit went forth after Sohrab her son.
And such is the end of the story of the Shahs from the beginning of time unto the trials of Sohrab. But it is not the end of the story.
There is more to tell, but ...
“I shall not die, these seeds I've sown will save
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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