The Epic of Kings
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The Epic of Kings.
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The Epic of Kings
Written 1010 A.C.E.
Translated by Helen Zimmern
But a little while had Kai Khosrau sat upon the throne of Iran, yet the
world resounded with his fame, and all men bare upon their lips the praises
of his wisdom. He cleansed the earth of the rust of care, and the power
of Afrasiyab was chained up. And men from all parts of the earth came forth
to do homage before him; and Rustem also, and Zal the aged, did obeisance
at his footstool. And there came with them an army that made the plains
black like to ebony, and the sounds of their war trumpets made the heart
to tremble. Then Kai Kaous made ready a great feast to do honour to his
Pehliva. And when they were seated thereat his mouth ran over with praises
of Saiawush, and he lamented the evil that he had done, and he poured maledictions
upon the head of Afrasiyab. And he spake unto Kai Khosrau his son, and
"I demand of thee that thou swear before me a great oath, and that
thou keep it carefully. Swear unto me that thy heart shall be ever filled
with hatred of Afrasiyab, and that thou wilt not let this flame be quenched
by the waters of forgetfulness, and that thou regard him not as the father
of thy mother, and that thou think only of Saiawush thy sire, whom he hath
slain. And swear unto me further that there shall be no other mediator
between you save only the sword and the mace."
Then Kai Khosrau turned him towards the fire and sware the oath
demanded of his sire, and he vowed to keep it in the name of God the Most
High. And Kai Kaous caused the oath to be written on a royal scroll, and
he confided it to the care of Rustem his Pehliva. And when it was done
they feasted seven days without ceasing, but on the eighth Kai Khosrau
mounted his throne. Then he called about him his nobles, and he said unto
them that the time was ripe to avenge the death of his father, and he bade
them make ready their armies, and he told them how on a certain day they
should lead them out before him.
Now when the day was come Kai Khosrau descended into the plains
to receive them. And he was seated upon an elephant of war, and on his
head he wore the crown of might, and about his neck the chain of supremacy;
and in his hand he bare a mace of might, and on his arms were bracelets
of great worth, and precious stones were strewn about his garments. Now
when he was come into the midst of the camp he threw a ball of silver into
a cup of gold. And when the army heard the sound thereof they knew it to
be the signal, and they arose and passed before the Shah. And the first
to come forth was the army of Friburz. And Friburz was seated upon a horse
of saffron hue, and he wore shoes of gold upon his feet, and in his hands
were a sword and a mace; and around his saddle was rolled a cord of might,
and over his head floated a banner the colour of the sun. And Kai Khosrau,
when he saw him, invoked blessings upon his head. And there came after
Friburz Gudarz the wise in counsel, and behind him was borne a standard
whereon was broidered a lion. And at his right hand and his left marched
his mighty sons, and a brave army followed after them. And they did homage
before the Shah, and Kai Khosrau regarded them kindly. Then there came
after them yet many other noble knights, eager for battle as a bull whom
no man hath put to flight, and the sounds of cymbals and the bells of war-elephants
filled the air, and lances and targets gleamed in the sun, and banners
of many hues streamed upon the breeze. And Kai Khosrau blessed his heroes
every one. Then he caused his treasurer to bring forth rich gifts of gold
and jewels and slaves, and brocades of Roum, and cloth of gold, and skins
of beaver. And they placed them before him, and he divided them into portions,
and he said they should be owned of those who should do feats of valour
in the war against Afrasiyab. Then he bade them to a great feast, and they
made merry in the house of the Shah.
But when the sun had unsheathed its sword of light and the sombre
night was fled in fear, Kai Khosrau commanded that the trumpets of departure
sound. Then the army came before the Shah, and he gave into the keeping
of Tus the standard of Kawah, and he bade him lead forth the hosts. And
he said unto Tus-
"Be obedient unto my will and lead mine army aright. I desire of
thee that thou avenge the death of my father, but I desire also that thou
molest none but those that fight. Have mercy upon the labourer and spare
the helpless. And furthermore, I charge thee that thou pass not through
the land of Kelat, but that thou leave it on one side and take thy course
through the desert. For in Kelat abideth Firoud my brother, who was born
of the daughter of Piran, and he dwelleth in happiness, and I would not
that sorrow come nigh unto him. And he knoweth no man in Iran, not even
by name, and unto no man hath he done hurt, and I desire that no harm come
And Tus said, "I will remember thy will and take the road that
Then the army set forth towards Turan, and they marched many days
until they came to a spot where the roads parted. And the one led unto
the desert, arid and devoid of water, and the other led unto Kelat. Now
when they were come to the parting of the roads the army halted until Tus
should have told unto them which road they should follow. And when Tus
came up he said unto Gudarz-
"The desert is void of water, and what shall we do deprived thereof,
for the army sore needeth refreshment after its march of weariness? It
is better, therefore, that we should take the road that leadeth to Kelat,
and abide there a while that our men may be rested."
And Gudarz said, "The King hath set thee at the head of his army,
but I counsel thee choose the path that he hath named, lest sorrow come
But Tus laughed, and said, "O noble hero, disquiet not thyself,
for what I do is pleasing in. the sight of the King."
Then he commanded the army that they march into Kelat, and he remembered
not the desires of Kai Khosrau.
Now when Firoud saw that the sky was darkened with dust from the
feet of dromedaries and elephants of battle, he called before him Tokhareh
his counsellor, and questioned him concerning these things. And Tokhareh
"O young man, thou knowest not what is come to pass. This army
pertaineth unto thy brother, and he hath sent it forth into Turan that
the death of thy father be avenged; and it marcheth right upon Kelat, and
I know not where the battle may take place."
Now Firoud, who was void of experience, was troubled when he learned
this; and he made safe his castle that was upon a high hill, and he gathered
in his flocks. Then he seated himself upon the ramparts and looked down
over the sea of armour that approached him. And when he had done so he
went in before his mother, who had never ceased from weeping for Saiawush
her spouse. And he told her what was come about, and he asked of her how
he should act. Then she said unto him-
"Listen, O my son I There is a new Shah in Iran, and he is brother
unto thee, for ye are sprung from one father. Now, since thy brother sendeth
forth an host to avenge his murder, it beseemeth thee not to remain aloof,
but rather shouldst thou serve as vanguard unto the host. Wherefore call
together thy knights, and then go forth and seek out the leader of this
host, and make thyself known to him. For it behoveth not a stranger to
reap this glory or usurp the place that is due unto thy
Then Firoud said, "Who shall be my stay in battle among the heroes
who carry high their heads?"
And his mother said, "Seek out Bahram, for he was a friend unto
thy father. And listen also to the words of Tokhareh, and go not out at
once with thine army until thou hast made thyself known unto the men of
Then Firoud said, "O my mother, I will faithfully observe thy
And he went forth unto a high place on the mountain, and he took
with him Tokhareh, and they looked down upon the mighty army that was spread
at their feet. Then Firoud questioned of the warriors, and Tokhareh answered
him according to his knowledge. And he counted up the standards of the
heroes, and he made Firoud acquainted with the names of might in
Now, while they were so doing, Tus beheld them upon the heights,
and he was angered at the sight of them, and said-
"Let a wary knight go forth unto those two seated aloft, and search
out what manner of men they be. And if they be of the army, let them be
lashed two hundred times about the head; but if they be Turks and spies,
bind them, and bring them before me that I may destroy
Then Bahram, the son of Gudarz, said, "I will search into this
And he rode forth towards the mountain. Now Firoud, beholding him,
said unto Tokhareh, "Who is he that cometh out with so haughty an air?
By his bearing it would seem that he holdeth me of light esteem, and that
he would mount hither by force."
Then Tokhareh said, "O Prince, be not angered thus easily. I know
not his name, but I seem to behold the device of Gudarz, and perchance
this is one of his sons."
Now Bahram, when he had neared the summit, lifted up his voice,
that was like unto thunder, and cried, saying-
"Who art thou that seatest thyself upon the heights and lookest
down upon the army? Fearest thou not Tus the Pehliva?
Then Firoud answered and said-
"Speak not unto me thus haughtily, for I have given thee no cause.
Thinkest thou, perchance, that I am but a wild ass of the desert, and that
thou art a lion, great of might? It behoveth a man of sense to put a bridle
on his tongue. For I say unto thee, that thou art in nowise my better,
neither in courage nor in might. Look upon me, and judge whether I have
not head and heart and brain, and when thou shalt have seen that I possess
them, threaten me not with empty words. I counsel this unto thee in friendship.
And if thou wilt listen to reason, I will put some questions unto
Then Bahram replied, "Speak; thou art in the sky, and I am on the
Then Firoud asked of him who were the chiefs of this army, and
wherefore they were come forth. And Bahram named unto him the names of
might. Then Firoud said unto him-
"Why hast thou not spoken the name of Bahram? There is none among
all the host of Iran that mine eyes would rather look
Then Bahram said, "O youth, say unto me who hath spoken unto thee
thus of Bahram, and who hath made thee acquainted with Gudarz and
Then Firoud said, "My mother hath made them known unto me, and
she bade me seek out Bahram from among this host, because that he was foster-brother
unto my father."
Then Bahram spake, and said, "Verily thou are Firoud, of the seed
And Firoud answered, "Thou hast said. I am a branch of the cypress
that was struck down."
. Then Bahram said, "Uncover thine arm, that I may behold the mark
of the Kaianides."
And Firoud did so, and Bahram beheld the mark. Then he knew that
Firoud was of the race of Kai Kobad, and he did homage before him, and
he drew nigh unto him on the mountain. Then Firoud laid bare before Bahram
his desires, and he said how that he would make a great feast unto the
army in his house, and how, when this was done, he desired to take the
lead and march with it into Turan, and he craved Bahram to bear his words
of greeting unto Tus. And Bahram said-
"O Prince, brave and young, I will bear thy message unto Tus, and
I will implore of him that he listen to thy voice. Yet because he is a
man easily angered, I fear the answer he may return. For though he be valiant,
yet is he also vain, and he cannot forget that he is sprung from the race
of the Kaianides, and he deemeth ever that the first place pertaineth unto
Then Bahram told Firoud wherefore he had been sent forth by Tus,
and he departed from him, saying-
"If Tus hearken unto my voice, I will return unto thee; but if
thou beholdest another, confide not thyself to him."
Then he departed, and came before Tus, and related to him all that
he had heard. And Tus was beside himself with anger, and he cried out against
this young man, and questioned wherefore he would usurp his place. And
he upbraided Bahram for that which he had done, and he refused to give
credit unto his words, and he sware that he would cause this youth to perish.
And he called upon his warriors, and bade them go forth and sever the head
of this Turk. But Bahram said unto them-
"Ye know not that he sendeth you forth against Firoud, who is brother
unto Kai Khosrau, and sprung from the seed of Saiawush. I counsel you have
the fear of the Shah before your eyes, and lift not your hands in injustice
against his brother."
When the warriors heard these words, they retreated back into the
tents. But Tus was angered exceedingly, and he commanded yet again that
one should go forth to do his behests. Then Rivniz, who was husband unto
the daughter of Tus, said that he would do his desires. So he rode forth
unto the mountain.
Now when Firoud beheld a horseman, who brandished aloft his sword
in enmity, he said unto Tokhareh-
"Tus despiseth my words, and since Bahram cometh not back, my heart
is disquieted. Look, I pray thee, if thou canst tell unto me what noble
this may be."
And Tokhareh said, "It is Rivniz, a knight of great cunning, son
unto Tus, whose daughter he hath in marriage."
Then Firoud asked, saying, "Since he attacketh me, whom shall I
slay-the steed or its rider?"
And Tokhareh said, "Direct thine arms against the man, then perchance,
when Tus shall learn of his death, he will repent him that he listened
not unto thy words of peace."
So Firoud bent his bow and shot Rivniz through the breast. And
he fell dead from off his saddle, and his horse turned him back in terror
unto the camp. Now when Tus beheld the horse that was come back without
its rider, he knew what was come to pass, and his anger against Firoud
burned yet the more. So he called unto him Zerasp his son, and bade him
go forth and avenge the blood of Rivniz. And when Firoud saw him approach,
he asked yet again the name of his foe, and he prepared his bow, that Tus
might learn that he was a man that should not be treated with dishonour.
And when Zerasp would have fought with him, he pinned him dead unto his
saddle. And the horse sped back with him into the camp, so that Tus saw
that which was come about. Then his fury knew no limit, and he sprang upon
his charger, and he set forth himself against Firoud.
Now when Tokhareh beheld it, he said unto Firoud-
"Tus himself is come forth to combat thee, and thou canst not stand
against this crocodile. Retreat, therefore, I counsel thee, into thy castle,
and let us await the decrees of the stars."
But Firoud answered in anger, "Who is Tus, that I should fear him?
I will not flee from his presence."
Then Tokhareh said, "If thou be resolved to do battle with this
lion, I counsel thee that thou destroy him not, lest thy brother be angered
if the leader of his host perish by thy hand. Moreover, the army will come
forth to avenge him, and how canst thou stand against an host? Direct thine
arrows, therefore, against his charger, for a prince fighteth not on foot.
if, therefore, thou kill his horse from Under him, thou wilt have shown
unto him thy skill."
Then Firoud did as Tokhareh counselled, and the arrow was faithful
to its aim, and he shot the horse of Tus from under him, and laid the charger
low upon the ground. And Tus had to turn him back on foot unto his camp,
and rage against Firoud burned in his spirit. And the nobles, when they
beheld their Pehliva treated thus with contempt,- were angry also, and
"Who is this young man, that he despiseth an army, and how may
he treat us with disdain? 'Though he be of the race of the Kaianides, and
of the seed of Kai Kobad, he hath opened a door, and knoweth not whither
And as he spake he girded his armour about him, and made him ready
to go out against Firoud.
Now when Firoud beheld him he sighed, and said, "This army is valiant,
but it cannot distinguish good from evil. I fear me that by them will Saiawush
not be avenged, for their leader is devoid of sense. Else could he not
persist in enmity against me. Tell me now, I pray, who this new foe may
Then Tokhareh said, "It is Gew, the son of Gudarz, a knight of
great renown, before whom even the lion trembleth unto his marrow. And
he led forth thy brother into Iran, and he is girt with the armour of Saiawush,
that no man can pierce with in arrow. Direct thy bow, therefore, yet again
unto the charger, or thy strife will be vain."
And Firoud the brave did as Tokhareh said, and he sent forth his
arrow, and the horse of Gew sank unto the earth. Now all the nobles rejoiced
when Gew returned unto them in safety; but Byzun, his son, was wroth, and
he upbraided his father, and he said-
"O thou who fearest not an army, how canst thou turn thee back
before a single knight?"
Then he sware a great oath that he would not quit the saddle until
the blood of Rivniz and of Zerasp should be avenged.
Now Gew was afraid for his son, who was young, and would have restrained
him. But Byzun suffered it not, and when his father saw that he was resolved,
he gave unto him the armour of Saiawush, and sent him forth unto the
Now when Firoud saw that yet another was come out against him,
he questioned Tokhareh again of his name. And Tokhareh
"It is a youth who hath not his like in Iran. Byzun is he called,
and he is only son unto Gew the brave. And because that he is clad in the
armour of Saiawush, thy father, strike at his horse, or thy bow will avail
So Firoud shot his arrows at the horse, and he laid it low, as
he had done the others. Then Byzun cried, saying-
"O young man, who aimest thus surely, thou shalt behold how warriors
fight on foot."
And he ran up the side of the mountain, that he might come near
unto Firoud. But Firoud turned and entered in upon his gates, and he rained
down stones from his walls upon the head of his adversary. Then Byzun taunted
him, and said-
"O hero of renown, thou fliest before a man on foot, thou who art
brave! Alas! whither is vanished thy courage? "
Then he returned unto the camp, and told unto Tus how that this
scion of the Kaianides was filled with valour, and how his bow was sure,
and he said that he feared no man could stand against him. But Tus said,
"I will raze unto the dust his castle, I will destroy this Turk, and avenge
the blood that he hath spilled."
Now when the brilliant sun was vanished and the black night had
invaded the earth with her army of stars, Firoud caused his castle to be
strengthened. And while he did so, his mother dreamed a dream of evil portent,
and she came forth weeping before her son. And she spake,
"O my son, the stars are evil disposed towards us, and I am afraid
Then Firoud answered her, saying, "Woe unto thee, my mother, for
I know it is not given unto thee to cease from shedding tears of sorrow.
For verily I shall perish like unto my father, in the flower of my youth.
Yet will I not crave mercy of these Iranians."
And he bade her go back unto the chamber of the women, and pray
God for his soul.
Now when the sun returned and lifted his glorious face above the
vault of heaven, there was heard the sound of armour on all sides, and
Firoud beheld that the host of Iran was come forth against him. So he went
out beyond the gates, leading his warriors. And since there was no plain
whereon they could give battle, they fought upon the mountain-side, and
many were the Turkish heads that were felled. But Firoud made great havoc
among his enemies, and they beheld that he was a lion in the fight. But
the stars of the young hero were waning, for even a brave man cannot contend
alone against an host. For when he would have ridden back unto his castle,
Rehham and Byzun lay in ambush against him, and they closed unto him the
two ends of the path. But Firoud was not dismayed thereat. He fell upon
the son of Gew, and would have slain him; but Rehham came upon him from
behind, and struck him down with a mighty club. Then Firoud knew that his
hour was come, and he returned unto his mother. Now when she saw him she
raised a great cry, but he bade her keep silence, and he spake,
"Weep not, for the time suffereth it not. For the Iranians follow
fast upon me, and they will enter and take this house, and do violence
unto thee and to thy women. Go out, therefore, and cast you from off the
walls into the abyss, that death may come upon you, and that Byzun when
he entereth find none alive. As for me, my moments are but few, for the
heroes of Iran have murdered the days of my youth."
And the women did as he commanded, save only his mother, who abode
beside him until the breath was gone out from his body. Then she made a
great fire, and threw therein all his treasures, and she went out into
the stables and laid low the horses that were therein. And when she had
made the place a desert unto the Iranians, she returned unto the feet of
her son, and pierced her body with a sword.
Now when the Iranians had broken down the bars of the gates and
entered into the castle, they came unto the chamber and beheld the bodies
of Firoud and of his mother. And when they saw them, they could not withhold
their tears, and they sorrowed for the anger of Tus, and the fear of Kai
Khosrau came upon them. And Gudarz said unto Tus-
"Thou hast sown hatred, and thou wilt reap war. It beseemeth not
a leader to be quick to ire. Thy haste hath brought to death a youth of
the race of the Kaianides, and hath caused the blood of thy sons to be
When Tus heard these words he wept in his sorrow, and
"Evil fortune is come upon me."
Then he caused a royal tomb to be made, and seated Firoud therein upon
a throne of gold, and he decked him with all the signs of kingship. And
when he had so done he returned with his army unto the plains, and three
days they halted in their grief. But on the fourth the trumpets were sounded
for departure, and Tus led forth the army towards Turan.
Now when Afrasiyab learned that a host was come forth against him
from out of Iran, he bade Piran make ready his army. For he
"Kai Khosrau hath unveiled unto us the secrets of his heart, and
we know now that forgiveness is not hidden in his soul."
Now while they made them in order, there came a great storm of
snow that covered the earth like to a carpet, and the water became hard,
and for many days no man beheld the earth or the sun. And food was lacking
unto the Iranians, and they were fain to devour their steeds of battle.
And when at last the sun came back, the earth was changed into a lake,
and the Iranians suffered yet again. Then Tus said-
"Let us return whence we came forth."
But his army said, "Not so. Shall we flee before the face of
So they made them ready to meet their foes. And they fought right
valiantly, and many were the heads of Turan that were laid in the dust
by their hands, and the victory inclined towards them. Then Tus was glad,
and made a great feast and invited thereto his warriors. And he darkened
their heads with wine, so that they laid aside their armour, neither did
they set watches in the camp. Now Piran, when he learned of this, saw that
the time served him, and when the night was fallen he went out against
the camp of Iran. And all the nobles were drunk save only Gudarz the wise.
Now when he heard that the Turanians were come into the camp, he ran to
the tents of Tus and cried, saying-
"Is this the hour to hold the wine-cup?"
Then he called together his sons, and he set his army in order; but
the Turanians routed them utterly, for the men of Iran were heavy with
wine, and they knew not whither they sent their blows. And the carnage
was great, and when the sun had brought back the day the ground was strewn
thick with the bodies of the Iranians. And cries of agony were heard around,
and there were none to heal the hurts, for those that were whole were captive.
And Tus was beside himself for sorrow, and Gudarz alone was not defraught
of reason. So the old man sent forth a messenger to bear the tidings of
woe unto the Shah. Now he was a messenger that made the earth disappear
beneath his feet, and speedily did he stand within the courts of the King.
And Kai Khosrau, when he had listened to his words, was angered, and his
tongue called down curses on the head of Tus. Then he pondered all night
how he should act, but when the cock crew he wrote a letter unto Friburz
the son of Kai Kaous. And he bade him take unto him the flag of Kawah and
the golden boots, and lead the army in the place of Tus. And he bade him
in all things be obedient to the counsels of Gudarz the wise, and he recalled
how Tus had disobeyed his commandments, and he said-
"I know no longer who is my friend or my
Then he put his seal to the letter and gave it unto the messenger.
And the man sped forth and brought it into the camp. Then Friburz read
it out before the army. And when he had heard it Tus did that which the
Shah desired, and when he had given over unto Friburz the command he turned
him to go back unto Iran.
Now when he was come before Kai Khosrau, he fell upon the earth
before his throne, and the Shah raised him not, neither did he give him
words of greeting. And when he parted his lips, it was to let forth words
of anger. And he made known to him his sore displeasure, and he reproached
him with the death of Firoud, and he said-
"But that thou art sprung from Minuchihr, and that thy beard is
white, I would sever thy head from off thy body for this deed. Yet, as
it is, a dungeon shall be thy dwelling, and thine evil nature thy
And when he had thus spoken he drove him from his presence, and
gave orders that he should be put into chains.
Now while these things passed in Iran, Friburz craved of Piran
that he would grant unto him a truce. And Piran said-
"It is ye who have broken into our land; yet I will listen unto
your desires and grant unto you this truce, and it shall be of the length
of one moon. But I counsel unto you that ye quit the land of Turan in its
But Friburz would not Lead back the army thus discomfited, and
he spent the time accorded to him in preparation, and when it was at an
end he offered battle again to the Turanians. And there was waged a combat
s sun hath not looked upon its like, and the army of the Iranians was overthrown.
And the slaughter was terrible, neither did the men of Turan escape, and
many were the great ones of the land that perished. And the men of Iran
fought till that their strength was departed. They had sought the conflict
and found defeat. And they that were not slain fled from the battlefield,
and it is they that saved their lives in this manner whom thou must
Now when another day was risen upon the world, Piran sent for his
guards to bring him news of the Iranians. And when they told him that their
tents were vanished from off the plains, he sent the news of victory to
Afrasiyab. And the King rejoiced thereat, and all the land prepared a great
feast unto the army. And when Piran entered into the city the terraces
thereof were decked with carpets of gay hue, and the houses were clothed
with arras of Roum, and pieces of silver rained down upon the warriors.
And the King poured upon Piran gifts of such number that you would not
have patience to hear me recount them. And he sent him back unto Khoten
with much honour and many counsels. And he said-
"Let not thine army slumber, and trust not thy foe because he is
drawn back. I charge thee keep thine eyes fixed upon the land of Rustem,
for if thy vigilance slumber he will surely come forth and destroy thee,
for he alone is to be feared of the men of Iran. Therefore be brave and
watchful, and may Heaven preserve thee unto my throne."
And Piran listened unto the words spoken of Afrasiyab, as it beseemed
him. And when he was returned unto his kingdom, he set watchers upon all
sides, that they might acquaint him concerning Rustem the