The March into Mazinderan
Kai Kaous seated him on the crystal throne, and the world was obedient to his will. But Ahriman was angry that his power was so long broken in Iran, and he sware unto himself that happiness should no longer smile upon the land. And he imagined guile in his black heart. Now it came about one day that the Shah sat in his trellised bower in the garden of roses, drinking wine and making merry with his court. Then Ahriman, when he beheld that they were thus forgetful of care, saw that the time served him. So he sent forth a Deev clad as a singer, and bade him ask for audience before the Shah. And the Deev did as he was bidden. And he came before the servants of the King, and begged for entrance into the arbour of flowers. “For verily,” he said, “I am a singer of sweet songs, and I come from Mazinderan, and desire to pour my homage at the throne of my lord.”
Now when Kai Kaous learned that a singer waited without, he commanded that he should be brought in. Then he gave him wine and permitted him to open his mouth before him. Now the Deev, when he had done homage before the Shah, warbled unto his lyre words of deep cunning. And he sang how that no land was like unto his own for beauty and riches, and he inflamed the desires of the Shah after Mazinderan. And Ahriman fanned the flame within the mind of the King, and when the Deev had ended, Kai Kaous was become uplifted in his heart, like unto Jemshid. So he turned him unto his warriors and said-
“O my friends, mighty and brave, we have abandoned ourselves unto feasting, we have revelled in the arms of peace. But it behoveth not men to live long in this wise, lest they grow idle and weak. And above all it behoveth not me that am a Shah, for the Shah is called to be a hero among men, and the world should be his footstool. Now verily the power and splendour of Jemshid was lower than mine, and my wealth surpasseth that of Zohak and Kai Kobad. It beseemeth me therefore to be greater also than they in prowess, and to be master of Mazinderan, which ever resisted their might. I bid you therefore make ready for combat, and I will lead you into the land whereof this singer hath sung so sweetly.”
Now the nobles, when they had heard these words, grew pale with fear, for there was not one among them who listed to combat with Deevs. But none durst open their lips in answer, yet their hearts were full of fear and their mouths of sighs. But at last, when they could keep silence no longer, some spake and said – “Lord, we are thy servants, and that which thou biddest surely we must do.”
But among themselves they took counsel how they should act if the Shah held firm by his desire. And they recalled how not even Jemshid in his pride had thought to conquer the Deevs of Mazinderan, before whom the sword hath no power and wisdom no avail, neither had Feridoun, learned in magic, or Minuchihr the mighty, ventured on this emprise. Then they bethought them of Zal the son of Saum, and they sent forth a wind-footed dromedary and a messenger. And they said unto Zal – “Haste, we pray thee, neither tarry to cleanse thine head though it be covered with dust; for Ahriman hath strown evil seed in the heart of Kai Kaous, and it ripeneth to fruit already, and already it hath borne fruit, and Iran is threatened with danger. But we look to thee that thou speak words of good counsel unto the Shah, and avert these sorrows from our heads.”
Now Zal was sore distressed when he learned that a leaf on the tree of the Kaianides was thus faded. And he said – “Kai Kaous is void of knowledge, and the sun must revolve yet oft above his head before he learneth the wisdom of the great. For unto true wisdom alone is it given to know when to strike and when to tarry. But he is like unto a child who deemeth the world will tremble if it but upraiseth its sword. And but for my duty unto God and unto Iran, I would abandon him to his folly.”
Then Zal revolved in his mind this trouble even until the sun was set. But when the glory of the world was arisen yet again, he girt his sash about his loins, and took in his hand the mace of might and set forth unto the throne of the Shah. And he craved for audience, and prostrated himself before the King. And when Kai Kaous permitted it, Zal opened his mouth and spake words of wisdom. And he said – “O King powerful and great, word is come unto me, even unto Seistan, of thy device. But it seemeth unto me that mine ears have not heard aright. For Mazinderan is the abode of Deevs, and no man can overcome their skill. Give not, therefore, unto the wind thy men and thy treasures. Turn, I pray thee, from this scheme, neither plant in the garden of Iran the tree of folly, whose leaves are curses and whose fruits are evil, for thus did not the kings before thee.”
Then Kai Kaous, when he had listened, said, “I despise not thy counsel, nor do I bid thee hold thy peace, for thou art a pillar unto Iran. But neither shall thy words divert me from my desire, and Mazinderan shall pay tribute to my hands. For thou considerest not how that my heart is bolder and my might more great than that of my fathers before me. I go, therefore, and the kingdom will I leave between thy hands and those of Rustem thy son.”
When Zal heard these words, and beheld that Kai Kaous was firm in his purpose, he ceased from opposing. Then he bowed him unto the dust, and spake, saying – “O Shah, it is thine to command, and whether it be just or unjust, thy servants serve thee even unto death. I have spoken the words that weighed upon my heart. Three things it is not given to do, even unto a king: to elude death, to bind up the eye of destiny, to live without nurture. Mayst thou never repent thee of thy resolve, mayst thou never regret my counsels in the hour of danger, may the might of the Shah shine for ever!” And when he had ended, Zal went out of the presence of the King, and he was right sorrowful, and the nobles mourned with him when they learned how nought had been accomplished. Then, ere the day succeeded unto the night, Kai Kaous set forth with his horsemen unto Mazinderan.
Now when they were come within its borders, Kai Kaous commanded Gew that he should choose forth a strong band from out their midst, and go before the city with mighty clubs. And he bade him destroy the dwellers of the town, neither should they spare the women nor the young, because that they too were the children of Deevs. And Gew did as the Shah commanded. Then clubs rained down upon the people like to hail, and the city that resembled a garden was changed into a desert, and all the inmates thereof perished at the hands of the enemy, neither did they find any mercy in their eyes. But when the men of Iran had ceased from killing, they sent news thereof unto the Shah, and told him of the riches that were hidden within the palaces. And Kai Kaous said, “Blessed be he who sang to me of the glories of this realm.”
And he marched after Gew with the rest of his host, and seven days did they never cease from plundering, neither could they be sated with the gold and jewels that they found. But on the eighth the tidings of their deeds pierced unto the King of Mazinderan, and his heart was heavy with care. He therefore sent a messenger unto the mountains where dwelt the White Deev, who was powerful and strong, and he entreated him that he would come unto his succour, or verily the land would perish under the feet of Iran. The White Deev, when he heard the message, uprose like to a mountain in his strength, and he said – “Let not the King of Mazinderan be troubled, for surely the hosts of Iran shall vanish at my approach.”
Then, when the night was fallen, he spread a dark cloud, heavy and thick, over the land, and no light could pierce it, neither could fires be seen across its midst, and you would have said the world was steeped in pitch. And the army of Iran was wrapt in a tent of blackness. Then the Deev 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. And they wandered astray in their distress, and no man could find his fellow, and their hearts were angered against the Shah for this emprise. But when the morning was come, and glory was arisen upon the world, they could not see it, for the light of their eyes was gone out. And Kai Kaous too was blinded, and he wept sore, and the whole army wept with him in their anguish.
And the Shah cried in his distress – “O Zal, O my Pehliva wise and great, wherefore did I shut mine ear unto thy voice!” And the army echoed his words in their hearts, but their lips were silent for boundless sorrow. Then the White Deev spake unto Kai Kaous with a voice of thunder, and he said – “O King, thou hast been struck like to a rotten trunk, on thine own head alone resteth this destruction, for thou hast attained unto Mazinderan, and entered the land after which thy heart desired.”
And he bade his legion guard the Shah and all his army, and he withheld from them wine and good cheer, and gave unto them but enough for sustenance, for he desired not that they should die, but gloried in their wretchedness. Then when he had so done he sent tidings thereof unto the King of Mazinderan. And he bade the King take back the booty and rejoice in the defeat of Iran. And he counselled him that he suffer not Kai Kaous to perish, that he might learn to know good fortune from ill. And the White Deev bade the King sing praises unto Ahriman the mighty, who had sent him unto his aid. And having spoken thus he returned him unto his home in the mountains, but the King of Mazinderan rejoiced in his spoils.
Now Kai Kaous remained in the land after which he had yearned, and his heart was heavy with bitterness. And the eyes of his soul were opened, and he cried continually, “This fault is mine;” and he cast about in his spirit how he might release his host from the hands of the Deevs. But the Deevs guarded him straitly, and he could send no messenger into Iran. Howbeit it came about that a messenger escaped their borders, and bore unto Zal the writing of Kai Kaous the afflicted. And Kai Kaous bowed himself in his spirit unto the dust before Zal, and he wrote to him all that was come about, and how that he and his host were blind and captive, and he poured forth his repentance, and he said – “I have sought what the foolish seek, and found what they find. And if thou wilt not gird thy loins to succour me, I perish indeed.”
When Zal heard this message he gnawed his hands in vexation. Then he called before him Rustem, and said – “The hour is come to saddle Rakush 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.” And Rustem said, “My sword is ready, and I will go hence as thou dost bid. Yet of old, O my father, the mighty did not go forth of their own will to fight the powers of hell, neither doth one who is not weary of this world go into the mouth of a hungry lion. But if God be with me I shall overcome the Deevs and gird our army anew with the sashes of might. And I pray that His blessing rest upon me.”
Then Zal, when he heard these noble words, blessed his son, and prayed that Ormuzd too would give him his blessing. And he bestowed on him wise counsel, and told him how he could come unto the land of Mazinderan. And he said – “Two roads lead unto this kingdom, and both are hard and fraught with danger. The one taken of Kai Kaous is the safest, but it is long, and it behoveth vengeance to be fleet. Choose therefore, I charge thee, the shorter road, though it be beset with baleful things, and may Ormuzd return thee safe unto mine arms.”
When Rustem had drunk in the counsels of his father he seated him on Rakush the fleet of foot. But when he would have departed, his mother came out before him, and she made great wailing that Rustem should go before the evil Deevs. And she would have hindered him, but Rustem suffered her not. He comforted her with his voice, and bade her be of good cheer. He showed unto her how that he had not of his own choice chosen this adventure. And he bade her rest her hopes in God. And when he had done speaking she let him depart, but the heart of Rudabeh yearned after her son, and her eyes were red with weeping many days.
In the meanwhile the young hero of the world sped forth to do his duty unto the Shah. And Rakush caused the ground to vanish under his feet, and in twelve hours was a two days’ journey accomplished. Then when eve was fallen, Rustem ensnared a wild ass, and made a fire and roasted it for his meal. And when he had done he released Rakush from the bonds of his saddle and prepared for himself a couch among the reeds, neither was he afraid of wild beasts or of Deevs.
But in the reeds was hidden the lair of a fierce lion, and the lion when he returned unto his haunt beheld the tall man and the horse that watched beside him. And he rejoiced at the fat meal that he held was in store. And he thought within his mind, “I will first subdue the steed, then the rider will be an easy prey.” And he fell upon Rakush. But Rakush defended himself mightily. With his hoofs did he trample upon the forehead of the lion, with his sharp teeth did he tear his skin, and he trampled upon him till he died. But the noise of the struggle had wakened Rustem, and when he beheld the body of the lion, and Rakush standing beside it, he knew what had been done. Then he opened his mouth in reproof, and said – “O thoughtless steed, who bade thee combat lions? Wherefore didst thou not wake me? for if thou hadst been overcome, who, I pray thee, could have borne my weight into Mazinderan, whither I must hie me to deliver the Shah?
When he had thus spoken he turned again to sleep, but Rakush was sorrowful and downcast in his spirit. Now when morn was come they set forth once again upon their travels. And all day long they passed through a desert, and the pitiless sun burned down upon their heads, and the sand was living fire, and the steed and rider were like to perish of thirst, and nowhere could Rustem find the traces of water. So he made him ready to die, and commended his soul unto God, and prayed Him to remember Kai Kaous, His servant, nor abandon him in his distress. Then he laid him down to await the end. But lo! when he thought it was come, there passed before him a ram, well nourished and fat. And Rustem said unto himself – “Surely the watering-place of this beast cannot be distant.”
Then he roused him and led Rakush and followed in the footsteps of the ram, and behold, it led him unto a spring of water, cool and clear. And Rustem drank thereof with greed, and he gave unto Rakush, and bathed him in the waters, and when they were both refreshed he sought for the traces of the ram. And they were nowhere to be found. Then Rustem knew that Ormuzd had wrought a wonder for his sake, and he fell upon the ground and lifted up his soul in thankfulness. Then when he had caught and eaten a wild ass, he laid him down to slumber. And he spake and said unto Rakush – “I charge thee, O my steed, that thou seek no strife during my slumbers. If an enemy cometh before thee, come unto me and neigh beside mine ear, and verily I will waken and come to thine aid.”
And Rakush listened, and when he saw that Rustem slumbered, he gambolled and grazed beside him. But when some watches of the night were spent, there came forth an angry dragon whose home was in this spot, a dragon fierce and fiery, whom even the Deevs dared not encounter. And when he beheld Rakush and Rustem he was astonished that a man should slumber softly beside his lair. And he came towards them with his breath of poison. Then Rakush, when he saw it, stamped his hoofs upon the ground and beat the air with his tail, so that the noise thereof resounded wide, and Rustem was awakened with the din. And he was angry with Rakush that he had wakened him, for the dragon had vanished, and he could see no cause for fear. And he said – “It is thy fault, O unkind steed, that slumber is fled from me.”
Then he turned him to sleep once again. But when the dragon saw it he came forth once more, and once more did Rakush wake Rustem, and once more did the dragon vanish ere the eyes of Rustem were opened. And when Rakush had thus awakened the hero yet three times, Rustem was beside him with anger, and wisdom departed from its dwelling. He piled reproaches upon the horse, and hurled bitter words upon his head, and he sware that if he acted thus again he would slay him with his arm of power, and would wander on foot unto Mazinderan. And he said – “I bade thee call upon me if dangers menaced, but thou sufferest me not to slumber when all is well.”
Then Rustem drew his leopard-skin about him and laid him down again to sleep. But Rakush was pained in his spirit, and pawed the ground in his vexation. Then the dragon came forth yet again, and was about to fall upon Rakush, and the steed was sore distressed how he should act. But he took courage and came beside Rustem once more, and stamped upon the ground and neighed and woke him. And Rustem sprang up in fury, but this time it was given unto him to behold the dragon, and he knew that Rakush had done that which was right. And he drew his armour about him and unsheathed his sword, and came forth to meet the fiery beast. Then the dragon said – “What is thy name, and who art thou that dost venture against me? for verily the woman that bore thee shall weep.” And the Pehliva answered, “I am Rustem, of the seed of Zal, and in myself I am an host, and none can withstand my might.”
But the dragon laughed at his words, and held them to be vain boasting. Then he fell upon Rustem, the son of Zal, and he wound himself about his body, and would have crushed him with his writhings, and you would have said that the end of this hero was come. But Rakush, when he beheld the straits of his master, sprang upon the dragon from the rear, and he tore him as he had torn the lion, and Rustem pierced the beast with his sword, and between them the world was delivered of this scourge. Then Rustem was glad, and he praised Rakush, and washed him at the fountain, 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.
Now when evening was fallen over the land they came unto a green and shady vale, and a brook ran through it, and cool woods clothed its sides. And beside a spring there was spread a table, and wine and all manner of good cheer stood thereon. And Rustem, when he saw it, loosened his saddle and bade Rakush graze and drink, and he seated him beside the table and enjoyed its fare. And his spirit laughed with pleasure that he had found a table ready dressed within the desert, for he knew not that it was the table of the magicians, who were fled on his approach. And he ate and drank, 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. And he sang – Rustem is the scourge of the base, Not for him were pleasures meant; Rare are his feasts and holidays, His garden is the desert place, The battlefield his tournament.
“There the sword of Rustem cleaves Not the armour of jousting knights, But the skulls of dragons and Deevs; Nor shall Rustem, as he believes, Ever be quit of the foes he fights. “Cups of wine and wreaths of rose, Gardens where cool arbours stand, Fortune gave such gifts as those Not to Rustem, but hurtling foes, Strife, and a warrior’s heart and hand.” Now the song of Rustem 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 Rustem and asked him his name, and toyed with him, and he was pleased with her company. 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 Rustem beheld her in all her vileness. Then his quick spirit knew her for what she was, and he made a noose and caught her in his snare, and severed her in twain. And all the magicians, when they saw it, were afraid, and none durst come forth to meet the hero. But Rustem straightway departed from this spot.
And Rustem rode till that he was come unto a land where the sun never shineth, neither stars lighten the blackness, and he could not see his path. So he suffered Rakush to lead him at his will. And they stumbled along amid the blackness, but at the end they came out again into the light. And Rustem beheld a land that was swathed in verdure, and fields wherein the crops were sprouting. Then he loosened Rakush and bade him graze, and laid himself down to slumber awhile.
Now Rakush went forth to graze in a field that had been sown, and the guardian thereof, when he saw it, was angry, and ran unto the spot where Rustem was couched, and beat the soles of his feet with a stick and woke him. And he flung reproaches and evil words upon him for that his horse was broken into the pastures. Then Rustem was angry, and fell upon the man, and took him by the ears and tore them from his body. And the man fled, howling in his agony, and came before Aulad, the ruler of the land, and laid his plaints before him. And Aulad also was angry, and went forth to seek Rustem, and demand his name and mission, and wherefore he had thus disturbed their peace. And Aulad sware that he would destroy him for this deed.
Then Rustem answered, “I am the thunder-cloud that sendeth forth lightnings, and none can stand before my strength. But if thou shouldest hear my name, the blood would stand still within thy veins. Thou art come against me with an host, see therefore how I shall scatter them like the wind.” And when he had thus spoken, Rustem fell upon the warriors of Aulad, and he beat them down before him, and their heads fell under the blows of his sword of death. And the army was routed at the hands of one man. Now Aulad, when he saw it, wept and fled; but Rustem pursued him, and threw his noose about him, and caught him in the snare. And the world became dark unto Aulad. Then Rustem bound him, and threw him on the ground, and said – “If thou speak unto me that which is true, verily I will release thee; and when I shall have overcome the Deevs, I will give the land of Mazinderan into thy hands. Tell me, therefore, where dwelleth the White Deev, and where may I find the Shah and his men, and how can I deliver them from bondage?”
Then Aulad answered and told Rustem how it was an hundred farsangs unto the spot where Kai Kaous groaned in his bondage, and how it was yet another hundred unto the mountain pass where dwelt the Deev. And he told him how the passes were guarded by lions and magicians and mighty men, and how none had ever pierced thereunto. And he counselled him to desist from this quest. But Rustem smiled, and said, “Be thou my guide, and thou wilt behold an elephant overcome the might of evil.” And when he had thus spoken he sprang upon Rakush, and Aulad in his bonds ran after him, and they sped like the wind, neither did they halt by night or day till they were come unto the spot where Kai Kaous had been smitten by the Deevs. And when they were come there they could behold the watch-fires of Mazinderan. Then Rustem laid him down to sleep, and he tied Aulad unto a tree that he should not escape him. But when the sun was risen he laid the mace of Saum before his saddle, and rode with gladness towards the city of the Deevs.
Now when Rustem was come nigh unto the tents of Arzang, that led the army of Mazinderan, he uttered a cry that rent the mountains. And the cry brought forth Arzang from out his tent, and when he perceived Rustem he ran at him, and would have thrown him down. But Rustem sprang upon Arzang, and he seemed an insect in his grasp. And he overcame him, and parted his head from his body, and hung it upon his saddlebow in triumph. And fear came upon the army of Mazinderan when they saw it, and they fled in faintness of spirit, and so great was the confusion that none beheld whither he bent his steps. And fathers fell upon sons, and brothers upon brothers, and dismay was spread throughout the land.
Then Rustem loosened the bonds of Aulad, and bade him lead him into the city where Kai Kaous pined in his bondage. And Aulad led him. Now when they neared the city, Rakush neighed so loud that the sound pierced even unto the spot where Kai Kaous was hidden. And the Shah, when he heard it, rejoiced, for he knew that succour was come. And he told it unto his comrades. But they refused to listen unto these words, and deemed that grief had distraught his wits. In vain therefore did Kai Kaous insist unto them that his ears had heard the voice of Rakush. But not long did he combat their unbelief, for presently there came before him Tehemten, the stout of limb, and when the nobles heard his voice and his step they repented them of their doubts. And Kai Kaous embraced Rustem and blessed him, and questioned him of his journey and of Zal.
Then he said – “O my Pehliva, we may no longer waste the moments with sweet words. I must send thee forth yet again to battle. For when the White Deev shall learn that Arzang is defeated, he will come forth from out his mountain fastness, and bring with him the whole multitude of evil ones, and even thy might will not stand before them. Go therefore unto the Seven Mountains, and conquer the White Deev ere the tidings reach him of thy coming. Unto thee alone can Iran look for her succour, for I cannot aid thee, neither can my warriors assist thee with their arms, for our eyes are filled with darkness, and their light is gone out. Yet I grieve to send thee into this emprise alone, for I have heard it spoken that the dwelling of the Deevs is a spot of fear and terror, but alas! my grief is of no avail. And I conjure thee, slay the Deev, and bring unto me the blood of his heart, for a Mubid hath revealed unto me that only by this blood can our sight be restored. And go forth now, my son, and may Ormuzd be gracious unto thee, and may the tree of gladness sprout again for Iran!
Then Rustem did as Kai Kaous commanded, and he rode forth, and Aulad went beside him to lead him in the way. And when they had passed the Seven Mountains and were come unto the gates of hell, Rustem spake unto Aulad, and said – “Thou hast ever led me aright, and all that thou hast spoken I have surely found it true. Tell me, therefore, now how I shall vanquish the Deevs.” And Aulad said, “Tarry, I counsel thee, till that the sun be high in the heavens. For when it beateth fierce upon the earth the Deevs are wont to lay them down to slumber, and when they are drunk with sleep they shall fall an easy prey into thine hands.” Then Rustem did as Aulad bade him, and he halted by the roadside, and he bound Aulad from head to foot in his snare, and he seated himself upon the ends. But when the sun was high he drew forth his sword from out its sheath, and shouted loud his name, and flung it among the Deevs like to a thunderbolt. Then before they were well awakened from their sleep, he threw himself upon them, and none could resist him, and he scattered their heads with his sword. And when he had dispersed the guards he came unto the lair of the White Deev.
Then Rustem stepped within the rocky tomb wherein the Deev was hidden, and the air was murky and heavy with evil odours, and the Pehliva could not see his path. But he went on void of fear, though the spot was fearful and dangers lurked in its sides. And when he was come unto the end of the cave he found a great mass like to a mountain, and it was the Deev in his midday slumber. Then Rustem woke him, and the Deev was astonished at his daring, and sprang at the hero, and threw a great stone like a small mountain upon him. And Rustem’s heart trembled, and he said unto himself, “If I escape to-day, I shall live for ever.” And he fell on the Deev, and they struggled hot and sore, and the Deev tore Rustem, but Rustem defended himself, and they wrestled with force till that the blood and sweat ran down in rivers from their bodies. Then Rustem prayed to God, and God heard him and gave him strength, and in the end Rustem overcame the White Deev and slew him. And he severed his head from his trunk, and cut his heart from out his midst.
Then Rustem returned him unto Aulad and told him what he had done. And Aulad said – “O brave lion, who hast vanquished the world with thy sword, release now, I pray thee, this thy servant, for thy snare is entered into my flesh. And suffer that I recall to thee how that thou hast promised to me a recompense, and surely thou wilt fulfil thy word.” And Rustem answered and said, “Ay, verily; but I have yet much to do ere that my mission be ended. For I have still to conquer the King of Mazinderan; but when these things shall be accomplished, in truth I will fulfil my words unto thee.” Then he bade Aulad follow him, and they retraced their steps until they were come unto the spot where Kai Kaous was held in bondage. And when Kai Kaous learned that Rustem was returned with victory upon his brow he shouted for joy, and all the host shouted with him, and they could not contain themselves for happiness. And they called down the blessings of Heaven upon the head of Rustem. 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 Kaous and his men were opened, and they once again beheld the glory of the day. Then they swept the ground around them with fire, with swords they overcame their gaolers. But when they had finished, Kai Kaous bade them desist from further bloodshed.
Then Kai Kaous wrote a letter unto the King of Mazinderan, and he counselled him that he should conclude a peace. And he related to him how that his mainstay was broken, for Rustem had overcome Arzang and slain the White Deev. And he said that Rustem would slay him also if he should not submit unto Iran and pay tribute to its Shah. Then Kai Kaous sent a messenger with this writing unto the King of Mazinderan. Now the King, when he had read the letter, and learned how that Arzang and the White Deev and all his train were slain, was sore troubled, and he paled in his spirit, and it seemed to him that the sun of his glory was about to set. Howbeit he suffered not the messenger to behold his distress, but wrote haughty words unto Kai Kaous, and dared him to come forth to meet him. And he boasted of his might and reproached Kai Kaous with his folly. And he threatened that he would raze Iran unto the dust.
When Kai Kaous had read this answer he was wroth, and his nobles with him. And Rustem spake and said – “Permit me, O my Shah, that I go forth before the King of Mazinderan, and intrust unto me yet another writing.” Then Kai Kaous sent for a scribe, and the scribe cut a reed like to the point of an arrow, and he wrote with it the words that Kai Kaous dictated. And Kai Kaous made not many words. He bade the King lay aside his arrogance, and he warned him of the fate that would await his disobedience, and he said unto him that if he listened not he might hang his severed head on the walls of his own city. Then he signed the letter with his royal seal, and Rustem bore it forth from the camp.
Now when the King of Mazinderan learned that Kai Kaous sent him yet another messenger, he bade the flower of his army go forth to meet him. And Rustem, when he saw them come near, laid hold upon a tree of great stature and spreading branches that grew by the wayside. And he uprooted the tree from the earth, and brandished it in his hands like to a javelin. And those that saw it were amazed at his strength. Then Rustem, when he beheld their awe, flung the tree among them, and many a brave man was dismounted by this mace. Then there stepped forth from the midst of the host one of the giants of Mazinderan, and he begged that he might grasp Rustem by the hand. And when he had hold of the hand of the Pehliva he pressed it with all his might, for he thought that he could wring off this hand of valour. But Rustem smiled at the feebleness of his grasp, and he grasped him in return, and the giant grew pale, and the veins started forth upon his hands.
Then one set off to tell the King what he had seen. And the King sent forth his doughtiest knight, and bade him retrieve the honour of their strength. And Kalahour the knight said – “Verily so will I do, and I will force the tears of pain from the eyes of this messenger.” And he came towards Rustem and wrung his hand, and his gripe was like to a vise, and Rustem felt the pang thereof, and he winced in his suffering. But he would not let the men of Mazinderan glory in his triumph. He took the hand of Kalahour in his own, and grasped it and crushed it till that the blood issued from its veins and the nails fell from off its fingers. Then Kalahour turned him and went before the Shah and showed unto him his hand. And he counselled him to make peace with the land that could send forth such messengers whose might none could withstand. But the King was loath to sue for peace, and he commanded that the messenger be brought before him.
Then the elephant-bodied stood before the King of Mazinderan. And the King questioned him of his journey, and of Kai Kaous, and of the road that he was come. And while he questioned he took muster of him with his eyes, and when he had done speaking he cried – “Surely thou art Rustem, for thou hast the arms and breast of a Pehliva.” But Rustem replied, “Not so, I am but a slave who is not held worthy to serve even in his train; for he is a Pehliva great and strong, whose like the earth hath not seen.” Then he handed unto the King the writing of his master. But when the King had read it he was wild with anger, and he said to Rustem – “Surely he that hath sent thee is mad that he addresseth such words unto me. For if he be master in Iran, I am lord of Mazinderan, and never shall he call me his vassal. And verily it was his own overweening that let him fall between my hands, yet hath he learned no lesson from his disasters, but deemeth he can crush me with haughty words. Go, say unto him that the King of Mazinderan will meet him in battle, and verily his pride shall learn to know humility.”
And when the King had thus spoken he dismissed Rustem from his presence, but he would have had him bear forth rich gifts. But Rustem would not take them, for he too was angered, and he spurred him unto Kai Kaous with a heart hungry for vengeance. And Kai Kaous made ready his army, and the King of Mazinderan 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. And the screams of the Deevs, and the shouts of the warriors, and the clanging of the trumpets, and the beating of drums, and the neighing of horses, and the groans of the dying made the earth hideous with noise. And the blood of the brave turned the plain into a lake, and it was a combat such as none hath seen the like. But victory leaned to neither side.
Then on the eighth day Kai Kaous took from his head the crown of the Kaianides and bowed him in the dust before Ormuzd. And he prayed and said – “O Lord of earth, incline thine ear unto my voice, and grant that I may overcome these Deevs who rest not their faith in Thee. And I pray Thee do this not for my sake, who am unworthy of Thy benefits, but for the sake of Iran, Thy kingdom.” Then he put the crown once more upon his head, and went out again before the army. And all that day the hosts fought like lions, and pity and mercy were vanished from the world, and heaven itself seemed to rain maces. But Ormuzd had heard the prayer of His servant, and when evening was come the army of Mazinderan was faded like a flower. Then Rustem, perceiving the King of Mazinderan, challenged him to single combat.
And the King consented, and Rustem overcame him, and raised his lance to strike him, saying – “Perish, O evil Deev! for thy name is struck out of the lists of those who carry high their heads.” But when he was about to strike him, the King put forth his arts of magic, and he was changed into a rock within sight of all the army. And Rustem was confounded thereat, and he knew not what he should do. But Kai Kaous commanded that the rock should be brought before his throne. So those among the army who were strong of limb meshed it with cords and tried to raise it from the earth. But the rock resisted all their efforts and none could move it a jot. Then Rustem, the elephant-limbed, came forward to test his power, and he grasped the rock in his mighty fist, and he bore it in his hands across the hills, even unto the spot that Kai Kaous had named, and all the army shouted with amazement when they saw it.
Now when Rustem had laid down the stone at the feet of the Shah, he spake and said unto it – “Issue forth, I command thee, O King of Mazinderan, 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 Rustem in all his vileness. And Rustem took his hand and smiled and led him before Kai Kaous, and said – “I bring thee this piece of rock, whom fear of my blows hath brought into subjection.” Then Kai Kaous reproached the King with all the evil he had done him, and when he had spoken he bade that the head of this wicked man should be severed from its trunk. And it was done as Kai Kaous commanded. Then Kai Kaous gave thanks unto God, and distributed rich gifts unto his army, to each man according to his deserts. And he prepared a feast, and bade them rejoice and make merry with wine. And at last he called before him Rustem, his Pehliva, and gave to him thanks, and said that but for his aid he would not have sat again upon his throne.
But Rustem said – “Not so, O King, thy thanks are due unto Aulad, for he it was who led me aright, and instructed me how I could vanquish the Deevs. Grant, therefore, now that I may fulfil my promise unto him, and bestow on him the crown of Mazinderan.” When Kai Kaous heard these words he did as Rustem desired, and Aulad received the crown and the land, and there was peace yet again in Iran. And the land rejoiced thereat, and Kai Kaous opened the doors of his treasures, and all was well within his borders. Then Rustem came before the Shah and prayed that he might be permitted to return unto his father. And Kai Kaous listened to the just desires of his Pehliva, and he sent him forth laden with rich gifts, and he could not cease from pouring treasure before him.
And he blessed him, and said – “Mayst thou live as long as the sun and moon, and may thy heart continue steadfast, mayst thou ever be the joy of Iran!” Then when Rustem was departed, Kai Kaous gave himself up unto delights and to wine, but he governed his land right gloriously. He struck the neck of care with the sword of justice, he caused the earth to be clad with verdure, and God granted unto him His countenance, and the hand of Ahriman could do no hurt. Thus endeth the history of the march into Mazinderan.
(from ‘The Epic of Kings’ by Ferdowsi, translated by Helen Zimmern)
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting taken from the folio of Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnameh. It shows Rustam bringing the Div King to Kai Kavus for execution and is preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (USA).
- The Epic of Kings by Ferdowsi (The Internet Classics Archive)