Lohurasp reigned in wisdom upon the crystal throne, and Iran was as wax under his hands. And men were content under his sway, save only Gushtasp, his son, who was rebellious of spirit. And Gushtasp was angered because his father would not abandon unto him the sovereignty. Wherefore, when he beheld that his pleading was vain, he stole away from Iran and sought out the land of Roum, and the city that Silim his forefather had builded. And he did great deeds of prowess in the land, so that the King gave unto him his daughter to wife.
Now Lohurasp, when he learned of the mighty deeds done of his son, strove to win him back unto himself. So he sent forth messengers bearing words of greeting and entreated of Gushtasp that he would return unto the courts of his father. And he sware unto him that if he would listen unto his voice, he would abandon unto him the throne. So Gushtasp listened to the voice of his father, and he returned him unto Iran. And Lohurasp stepped down from off the throne of the Kaianides and gave place unto Gushtasp, his son. And one hundred and twenty years had he reigned in equity, and now that it was done he hid himself within the temples of Balkh, that he might live in the sight of God, and make him ready to meet his end. And Gushtasp, his son, ruled the land worthily, and he administered justice in such wise that sheep could drink at the same brook as the wolves.
Now when he had sat some while upon the throne, there appeared in the land Zerdusht, the prophet of the Most High. And he came before the Shah and taught him, and he went out in all the land and gave unto the people a new faith. And he purged Iran of the might of Ahriman. He reared throughout the realm a tree of goodly foliage, and men rested beneath its branches. And whosoever ate of the leaves thereof was learned in all that regardeth the life to come, but whosoever ate of the branches was perfect in wisdom and faith. And Zerdusht gave unto men the Zendavesta, and he bade them obey its precepts if they would attain everlasting life.
But tidings concerning Zerdusht were come even unto Arjasp, who sat upon the throne of Afrasiyab, and he said within himself, “This thing is vile.” So he refused ear unto the faith, and he sent a writing unto Gushtasp, wherein he bade him return unto the creed of his fathers. And he said – “If thou turn thee not, make thee ready for combat; for verily I say unto thee, that unless thou cast out Zerdusht, this man of guile, I will overthrow thy kingdom and seat me upon thy throne.”
When Gushtasp heard the haughty words that Arjasp had spoken, he marvelled within himself. Then he called before him a scribe, and sent back answer unto Arjasp. And he said that he would deliver up unto the sword whosoever swerved from the paths of Zerdusht, and whosoever would not choose them, him also would he destroy. And he bade him, therefore, get ready to meet Iran in battle. Then when he had sent this writing, Gushtasp got together his hosts and mustered them, and he beheld that they outnumbered the grass upon the fields. And the dust that uprose from their feet darkened the sky, and the neighing of their horses and the clashing of their armour were heard above the music of the cymbals. And the banners pierced the clouds like to trees that grow upon a mountain. And Gushtasp gave the command of this host unto Isfendiyar, his son. And Isfendiyar was a hero of renown, and his tongue was a bright sword, and his heart was bounteous as the ocean, and his hands were like the clouds when rain falls to gladden the earth. And he took the lead of the army, and he led it forth into Turan.
Now when the men of Turan and of Iran met in conflict, a great battle was waged between them, and for the space of twice seven days they did not cease from combat, neither did any of the heroes close their eyes in slumber. And their rage was hot one against another, but in the end the might of Iran overcame, and Arjasp fled before the face of Isfendiyar. Then Isfendiyar returned him unto Iran, and presented himself before his father, and demanded a blessing at his hands. But Gushtasp said – “The time is not yet come when thou shouldest mount the throne.” So he sent him forth yet again that he might turn all the lands unto the faith of Zerdusht. And Isfendiyar did as Gushtasp commanded.
Now while he was gone forth there came before the Shah one Gurjam, who was of evil mind and foe unto Isfendiyar. And he spake ill of Isfendiyar unto his father, and he said unto Gushtasp that his son strove to wrest from him the sovereignty. And Gushtasp, when he learned it, was wroth, and he sent forth messengers that they should search out Isfendiyar, and bring him before the Shah in the assembly of the nobles. And when Isfendiyar was come, Gushtasp spake not unto him in greeting, but he turned him to his nobles, and he recounted unto them a parable. Then he told unto them of a son who sought to put to death his father, and he asked of them what punishment this father should mete out unto his child. And the nobles cried with one accord – “This thing which thou relatest unto us, it is not right, and if there be a son so evil, let him be put into chains and cast in bondage.”
Then Gushtasp said, “Let Isfendiyar be put into chains.” And Isfendiyar opened his mouth in vain before his father, for Gushtasp would not listen unto his voice. So they cast him out into a dungeon, and chains of weight were hung upon him, and the daylight came not nigh unto him, neither did joy enter into his heart. And he languished many years, and the heart of the Shah was not softened towards him.
Now when Arjasp learned that the might of Isfendiyar was fettered, and that Gushtasp was given over to pleasures, he gathered together an army to fall into Iran and avenge the defeat that was come upon his hosts. So he fell upon Balkh before any were aware of it and he put to death Lohurasp the Shah and he made captive the daughters of Gushtasp. And Arjasp threw fire into the temples of Zerdusht and did much destruction unto the city and it was some while ere Gushtasp learned that which he had done. But when he had news thereof he was dismayed, and he called together his army and put himself at their head. But the Turanians were mightier than he, and they routed him utterly, and Gushtasp fled before their face. Then the Shah called together his nobles, and consulted with them how he should act in these sore straits. And one among them who was wise above the rest said – “I counsel thee that thou release Isfendiyar, thy son, and that thou give to him the command, for he alone can deliver the land.”
And Gushtasp said, “I will do as thou sayest, and if Isfendiyar shall deliver us from this foe, I will abandon unto him the throne and the crown.” Then he sent messengers unto Isfendiyar that they should unbind his chains. But Isfendiyar, when they came before him, closed ear unto their voice. And he said – “My father hath kept me in bondage until he hath need of me. Why therefore should I weary me in his cause? I will not go unto his aid.”
Then the men reasoned with him, and they told unto him how it had been revealed unto Gushtasp that the words spoken of Gurjam were false, and that he had sworn that he would deliver this man of false words unto the vengeance of his son. But Isfendiyar was deaf yet again to their voice. Then one spake and said – “Thou knowest not that thy brother is in bondage unto Arjasp. Surely it behoveth thee to deliver him.”
When Isfendiyar heard these words he sprang unto his feet, and he commanded that the chains be struck from off his limbs. And because the men were slow, he was angered, and shook himself mightily, so that the fetters fell down at his feet. Then he made haste to go before his father. And peace was made between them on that day, and Gushtasp sware a great oath that he would give the throne unto Isfendiyar when he should return unto him victorious.
So Isfendiyar went out against the foes of Iran, and he mowed them down with the sword and he caused arrows to rain upon them like hail in spring, and the sun was darkened by the flight of the weapons. And he brake the power of Arjasp, King of Turan, and he drove him out from the borders of the realm. And when it was done, and the men of Iran had prevailed over the men of Turan, Isfendiyar presented himself before his father and craved of him the fulfilment of his promises. But Gushtasp, when he beheld that all was well once more, repented him of his resolve, for he desired not to give the throne unto his son. So he pondered in his spirit what he should say in his excuse, and he was ashamed in his soul. But his mouth revealed not the thoughts of his heart, and he spake angrily unto his son, and he said – “I marvel that thou comest before me with this demand; for while thy sisters languish in the bondage of Arjasp, it beseemeth us not to hold this war as ended, lest men mock us with their tongues. And it hath been told unto me that they are hidden in the brazen fortress, and that Arjasp and all his men are gone in behind its walls. I charge thee, therefore, overthrow the castle and deliver thy sisters who pine. And I swear unto thee, when thou hast done it, I will abandon unto thee the throne, and thy name shall be exalted in the land.”
Then Isfendiyar said, “I am the servant of the Shah, let him command his slave what he shall do.” And Gushtasp said, “Go forth.” Then Isfendiyar answered, “I go, but the road is not known unto me.” And Gushtasp said, “A Mubid hath revealed it unto me. Three roads lead unto the fortress of brass, and the one requireth three months to traverse, but it is safe, and much pasture is found on its path. And the second demandeth but two moons, yet it is a desert void of herbs. And the third asketh but seven days, but it is fraught with danger.” Then Isfendiyar said, “No man can die before his time is come. It behoveth a man of valour to choose ever the shortest path.”
Now the Mubids and the nobles who knew the dangers that were hidden in this path sought to deter him, but Isfendiyar would not listen to their voice. So he set forth with his army, and they marched until they came to the spot where the roads divided. Now it needed seven stages to reach the fortress of Arjasp, and at each stage there lurked a danger, and never yet had any man overcome them or passed beneath its walls. But Isfendiyar would not give ear to fear, and he set forth upon the road, and each day he overcame a danger, and each danger was greater than the last. And on the first day he slew two raging wolves, and on the second he laid low two evil Deevs that were clothed as lions, and on the third he overcame a dragon whose breath was poison.
And on the fourth day Isfendiyar slew a great magician who would have lured him into the paths of evil, and on the fifth he slew a mighty bird whom no man had ever struck down. And weariness was not known of Isfendiyar, neither could he rest from his labours, for there was no camping-place in his road of danger. And on the sixth day he was nigh to have perished with his army in a deep snow that fell upon him through the might of the Deevs. But he prayed unto God in his distress, and by the favour of Heaven the snow vanished from under his feet. Then on the seventh day he came nigh to perish in a flood of waters but Isfendiyar overcame them also, and stood before the castle of Arjasp. Now when he beheld it, his heart failed within him, for he saw that it was compassed by a wall of brass, and the thickness thereof was such that four horsemen could ride thereon abreast. So he sighed and said – “This place cannot be taken, my pains have been in vain.”
Yet he pondered in his spirit how it might be done, and he knew that only wile could avail. Wherefore he disguised himself in the garb of a merchant, and chose forth from his army a hundred camels, and he loaded them with brocades of Roum and much treasure. A hundred and sixty stalwart warriors too did he choose forth, and he seated them in chests, and the chests he bound upon the backs of the camels. And when the caravan was ready he marched at its head unto the doors of the fortress.
Now when he was come thither, he craved permission of Arjasp that he might enter and sell unto them that dwelt therein. And Arjasp granted his request, and gave unto him houseroom, and bade him barter his wares in safety. Then Isfendiyar spread forth his goods and unloaded the treasures of the camels, but the chests wherein were hidden the warriors did he keep from the eyes of men. And after he had sojourned a while in the castle he beheld his sisters, and he saw that they were held as slaves, and his heart went out towards them. So he spake to them tenderly, and they knew his voice, and that help was come out to them, but they held their peace and made no sign. And Isfendiyar, when he saw that he was trusted of Arjasp, came before him and asked of him a boon. And Arjasp said that he would grant it. Then Isfendiyar said – “Suffer that ere I go hence I may feast thee and thy nobles, that I may show my gratitude.”
And it was done as Isfendiyar desired, and he made a great feast and troubled the heads of the nobles with wine. And when their heads were heavy and the moon was seated upon her silver throne, Isfendiyar arose and let forth his warriors from the chests. Then he fell upon the nobles and slew them, and they weltered in their blood. And with his own hand Isfendiyar struck down Arjasp, and he hung up his sons upon high gallows. Then he made signals unto his army that they should come forth to aid him, for there were yet many men hidden in the fort, and Isfendiyar had but a handful wherewith to withstand them. And they did as he desired, and there was a great slaughter within the brazen fort, but Isfendiyar bare off the victory. Then he took with him his sisters and much booty, and made haste to return unto Iran, and come into the presence of Gushtasp, his father. And the Shah rejoiced in his sight, and he made a great feast, and gave gifts richly unto all his servants. And the mouths of men overflowed with the doughty deeds done of Isfendiyar, and there was gladness throughout the land.
(from ‘The Epic of Kings’ by Ferdowsi, translated by Helen Zimmern)
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting from a 16th century folio of Shah Tahmasps’ Shahnameh. It shows Isfandiyar slaying a dragon on his way to the Turanian fort (where his sisters were imprisoned). The painting was done by an artist at the Safavid court – Qasim ibn Ali. It is preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (USA).
- The Epic of Kings by Ferdowsi (The Internet Classics Archive)