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
Dire was the wailing among the army of Iran at their sore defeat, and they
turned them back discomfited. And they came before the Shah, their hearts
torn with anguish. And their hands were crossed upon their breasts, and
they were humble as slaves. And Kai Khosrau was angry when he beheld them,
and he remembered Firoud, and he railed against Tus, from whom was sprung
this evil. And he said-
"Cursed be he and his elephants and his cymbals." And the Shah
withdrew from his courts, and he withheld his countenance from the land.
So the nobles went out unto Rustem, and entreated of him that he would
intercede for them with the Shah. And Rustem did as they desired, and he
pleaded for the army and its leaders, and he spake good even of Tus. And
Kai Khosrau inclined his ear unto his Pehliva, and he let the light of
his countenance shine again upon his army, and he confided unto Tus once
more the standard of Kawah, but he made Gew march beside him and restrain
So they set forth again unto Turan, and Afrasiyab, when he learned
of their approach, made ready his army also. And there were joined unto
him the hosts of the Khakan of China, and of the Kamous of Kushan, men
mighty in the battlefield. And from Ind and all the highlands of Asia there
came forth troops unto the aid of Afrasiyab, King of Turan. And he rejoiced
thereat, for he was assured that if Rustem came not forth to aid them,
the men of Iran could not stand against his host.
Now when the two armies met, many and fierce were the combats waged
between them, and blows were given and received, and swords flashed and
showers of arrows descended on all sides. And the blood of brave men was
shed like unto the shedding of rain from a black cloud. And day by day
were the Iranians weakened, for they were smitten with great slaughter,
and the number of their dead was past the counting. But Afrasiyab rejoiced
in his victory, and his heart shouted within him when he learned after
many days that the Iranians were drawn back into the mountains. But Kai
Khosrau, when he learned it, was afflicted, and wept sore. Then he sent
greeting unto Rustem, his Pehliva, and he craved of him that he would come
forth to aid the army, for in him alone could he put his trust. And Rustem
"O Shah, since the day that mine arm could wield a mace, I have
ever fought the battles of Iran, and it would seem that rest may never
come nigh unto me. Yet since I am thy slave, it behoveth me to obey. I
am ready to do thy desires."
So he made ready an host to go unto the succour of Iran. And while
he did so the army was defeated yet again, and all heart went from the
Iranians, and they would have given them over unto their foes. But while
they pondered it, there came tidings unto Gudarz that Rustem was drawing
nigh. Yet they feared to give way unto belief. But Piran when he heard
it was sore discomfited, for he remembered of old the might of Rustem,
and he knew that none could stand before it. But the Khakan and the Kamous
scoffed at his fears, and they made loud boastings that Rustem should fall
by their hands.
Now when some days had passed in this disquietude, it came about
one night that, when the moon showed her face above the mountains, like
unto a victorious king seated upon a throne of turquoise, a watchman of
Iran set up a great cry. And he said-
"The plain is filled with dust, and the night resoundeth with noise.
And I behold a mighty army drawing nigh, and they bear torches, and in
their midst rideth Rustem the mighty."
When the men of Iran heard this, they set up a great shout, and
their hearts seemed to come back into their bodies, and their courage,
that had been as dead, returned. And glad was the greeting that they gave
unto Rustem the Pehliva. And Rustem mustered them and put them into battle
order, and when the sun had wearied of the black veil, and had torn the
night asunder, and reappeared unto the world, the men of Iran called upon
the host of Turan to come forth in combat. And they defied them unto battle,
and they fought with new valour, and they made great havoc in their ranks.
And when the evening was come, the day belonged unto
Then Piran called before him Human the brave, and said unto
"The nobles of Iran have found again their courage, since an army is
come to their aid. Yet I would know if Rustem be their leader, for him
alone do I fear."
And when he learned it his spirit was troubled. But the Kamous
mocked him, and sware a great oath that, ere the sun should be set once
more, he would have broken the might of Rustem. For he
"There is none, not even a mad elephant, that is mine equal in
So when the day was come, the Kamous challenged Rustem unto single
combat. And Rustem strode forth from the camp, and the Kamous met him upon
the plain. Then they struggled sore, and wrestled one with another, but
in the end Rustem caught the Kamous in the meshes of his cord. And he showed
him unto the army, and he asked of them, saying-
"What death desire ye that the Kamous should die, for his hour
Then he threw him among the nobles, and they made an end of him
with their spears, and they flung his body to the vultures.
Now when the Khakan heard of the death of the Kamous, he sware
that he would avenge him, and he sent forth a messenger to defy Rustem.
But Rustem said unto the messenger-
"I seek no quarrel with the Khakan, and in all your army I desire
only to look upon the face of Piran. And I beg of him that he will come
forth to greet me, for my heart burneth towards him, because he was afflicted
for the death of Saiawush, my foster-son, and because of the good he did
unto Kai Khosrau and unto his mother."
So the messenger bare these words unto Piran. And Piran, when he
had taken counsel, listened unto the desires of Rustem, and came into his
tents. And he said-
"I am Piran, leader of the hosts of Turan. Speak unto me thy
And Rustem said, "I am Rustem of Zaboulistan, and I am armed with
a mace and a sword of Cabul."
Then he gave him greeting from Kai Khosrau, and he lauded him for
the good deeds that he had done unto Saiawush and to his son, and he entreated
him that he would turn away from Afrasiyab, and go with him unto Kai Khosrau.
And he said-
"Iran desireth not to destroy the innocent. Therefore deliver over
unto me the men upon whose head resteth the blood of Saiawush, and we will
withdraw our hosts, and there shall be peace in the
Then Piran said, "That which thou askest, verily it can never be,
for the slayers of Saiawush are near kinsfolk unto Afrasiyab. And because
he hath named me the leader of his hosts, it may not be that I abandon
them. But I say unto thee, that it would be sweeter unto me to die than
to conduct this warfare, and that my heart is torn because I must lift
up the sword of enmity against Kai Khosrau, my son."
And Rustem saw that the words that Piran spake were true, and he
sorrowed for him. And when they parted it was in friendship, although they
knew that battle must rage between them. Then they drew up their armies,
and for forty days there was waged a battle, mighty and terrible. And great
ravages were committed, and Rustem did deeds of valour, and the strong
and the weak were alike impotent before him. And the plains were strewn
with the bodies of the slain, until that an ant could not have found a
road to pass between them, and the blood of the wounded streamed on all
sides, and heads without bodies and bodies without heads covered the ground.
For neither the claw of the leopard nor the trunk of the elephant, neither
the high mountains nor the waters of the earth, could prevail against Rustem
when he fought at the head of his hosts. And he slew the mightiest among
the Turanians, and only Piran was he mindful to spare. And the Khakan of
China was enmeshed in his cord, and he sent him bound unto Kai Khosrau
with news of the victory. And when the Turanians fled before his face,
he followed after them and pursued them unto the mountains.
Then Piran made haste to come before Afrasiyab, and he spake to
him and said-
"The land is changed into a sea of blood, for Rustem is come forth,
and who can stand against him? And he followeth after me close. Wherefore
I counsel thee, flee; for how canst thou stand alone against him? Alas
for the woe that thou hast brought upon Turan! Thou hast wounded our hearts
with the iron of the arrow wherewith thou didst slay Saiawush the
Then he urged upon him that he tarry not. So Afrasiyab fled from
before the face of Rustem and hid himself in the mountains. And when Rustem
came into his courts and found that the King was fled, he seized upon much
booty and divided it among his men, and he feasted them many days in the
house of Afrasiyab, and he suffered them to enjoy repose. Then he destroyed
with fire the palace, and when he had done so he turned him to go back
unto Kai Khosrau.
Now when he was come within the city of the Shah, glad cries rang
through all the air, and the sound of drums filled the land of Iran, and
there was joy throughout its breadth because the destroyer of Turan was
returned. And the heart of Kai Khosrau rejoiced like a paradise, and he
came out to meet his Pehliva mounted upon an elephant gaily caparisoned,
and music and singers went before him. And he invited him to a great feast,
and he poured rich gifts upon him. And for a month Rustem abode in the
presence of his Shah, making merry with wine. And the singers chanted of
his great deeds, and the sounds of flutes and stringed instruments went
with their words. But when that time was over Rustem asked of Kai Khosrau
that he would suffer him to return unto Zal his father, for his heart yearned
to look upon his face. And Kai Khosrau suffered it.
Now Rustem was not returned long unto Zaboulistan before there
came into the courts of the Shah a shepherd who desired to speak with Kai
Khosrau. And the Shah granted his request, and the man opened his mouth
before him, and he said-
"A wild ass is broken in among my horses, and he doeth great mischief,
for his breath is like unto a lion. Send forth, therefore, I entreat of
thee, O King of Kings, a warrior of thine host that he may slay
Now Kai Khosrau, when he had listened, knew that this was not a
wild ass but the Deev Akwan, who had taken this disguise upon him. So he
cast about whom he should send forth to meet him, and he knew there was
none other but Rustem, the son of Zal, to whom he could turn in this strait.
So he sent a messenger swift as a cloud before a storm to summon him forth
yet again. And Rustem obeyed the voice of his Shah, and he set forth in
search of the Deev, and he was mounted upon Rakush his steed. And in his
hand was a mighty mace, and round his wrist was rolled a cord of length.
And he went in search of the wild ass, and when he had found him he threw
his cord about him. But the ass vanished under his hands. Then Rustem knew
that it was a Deev, and that he fought against the arts of magic. Yet was
he not dismayed. And after a while the ass came forth again, and Rustem
threw his cord once more about him. And yet again the Deev vanished under
his hand. And thus did the Deev three days and three nights without ceasing,
so that weariness came upon Rustem and he was heavy with slumber. So he
sought out a spot of safety and he laid him down to rest, and he bade Rakush
browse beside him.
Now when the Deev saw that Rustem was sleeping, he drew nigh and
loosened the earth whereon he lay, and lifted it and placed it upon his
head, that he might cast it away and destroy Rustem. But as he carried
him Rustem awoke, and when he saw what was come to pass he feared that
his hour was come. And the Deev, when he beheld that Rustem was awakened,
spake, and said unto him-
"O hero, which death dost thou covet? Shall I fling thee down upon
the mountain or cast thee into the sea?"
Now Rustem knew that the Deev questioned him in wile, and he bethought
him that he would of a surety do that which Rustem desired not, so he
"I have heard it said that it is not given to those that perish
in the waters to look upon the face of the Serosch or to find rest in the
life that is beyond."
Then the Deev said, "I desire that thou know not
And he flung him into the sea at a spot where hungry crocodiles
would devour him.
Now Rustem, when he felt the water beneath him, forthwith drew
out his sword and combated the crocodiles with his right hand, and with
his left he swam towards the shore. And long did he struggle and sore,
but when the night was fallen he put his foot upon the dry land. Then,
when he had given thanks unto God and rested him, he returned unto the
spot where he had found the Deev. And he sought after Rakush his steed,
and his eye beheld him not. Then fear filled his spirit, and he roamed
around to seek him. And he found him at last among the horses of Afrasiyab,
that grazed in a spot hard by, for the keepers had ensnared him. But when
Rakush heard the voice of Rustem he neighed aloud, and brake from the keepers
and ran towards his master. And Rustem put the saddle upon him and mounted
him. Then he slew the keepers and took their herds unto
Now while he was so doing Afrasiyab came forth from his hiding-place,
for his heart yearned to look upon his horses. And when he beheld Rustem
in their midst he was dismayed, and knew not whither he should turn, for
he deemed that the Pehliva had discovered his hiding-place and was come
forth against him. So he offered battle unto him with the men that were
with him. And Rustem accepted the challenge, although he was alone; and
he fought with might and overcame the men, and slew sixty of them with
his sword and forty with his mace. And Afrasiyab fled once more from before
Now when it was done the Deev came forth again, for he thought
he could quell Rustem now that he was weary. But Rustem sprang on him and
crushed him, and he was slain at his hands. Then the Pehliva returned unto
Kai Khosrau. And when the Shah had learned of all his deeds, and beheld
the booty that he had brought back, his mouth could not cease from praising
the prowess of Rustem, and he would have kept his Pehliva beside him for
ever. But Rustem said-
"Suffer thy servant to go forth. For I would make ready an host,
since it behoveth us not to cease from the vengeance that is due unto Saiawush,
for his murderers yet cumber the ground."
Wherefore Rustem departed yet again from out the courts of the