Gateway to the Classics: Stories of the Magicians by Alfred J. Church
Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church

The First Exploits of Rustem

There was never in the world such a child as Rustem, the son of Zal. He was fed with the milk of ten nurses, and when he was weaned, his food was bread and meat, and he ate as much as five men. As for his strength and stature, they were such as never had been seen before or will be seen again.

One day he was sleeping in his chamber when he heard outside his door a great cry that the King's white elephant had broken its chain and was at liberty, and that the inhabitants of the palace were in great danger. In a moment he rushed to seize his grandfather's club, and prepared to go out. The attendants tried to stop him. "We dare not incur your father's rage," they said, "by opening the door. The night is dark; the elephant has broken his chain; and yet you are going out. What folly is this!" Rustem was greatly enraged to be so hindered, and struck the man who spoke so terrible a blow between the head and the nape of the neck, that his head fell off like a ball with which children play. When he turned to the others they soon made way for him. Then he struck the door with his club, and burst the bolts and bars with a single blow. This done, he laid the club upon his shoulder, and hastened after the elephant. As for his warriors, they were all as frightened of the beast as a lamb is frightened of a wolf. When the furious beast saw him, it rushed at him, lifting its trunk to strike him. Rustem gave it one blow, for only one was wanted; its legs failed under it and it fell; you had said, so vast was it, that a mountain had fallen. Rustem returned to his chamber and finished his sleep.

The next day Zal, hearing what his son had done, sent for him, and covered him with praises. "My son," he said, "you are yet but a child, and yet there is no one to match you in courage and stature. I have an enterprise for you to conduct. Many years ago my grandfather was sent by the King to take an enchanted fortress which is situated upon Mount Sipend, and was killed by a rock that was thrown upon his head by one of the besieged, after he had attacked it in vain for a whole year. After this my father San assembled an army, and marched against the place. But he could never find the way which led to the place. It is indeed so well provided that no one need ever leave it to get anything from without. San indeed wandered for years over the deserts, looking for the fortress, but was obliged at last to return without having avenged his father's death. Now, my son, it is your turn. Go in disguise; the keepers of the fort will not know you; and when you have made your way into the fortress, destroy the wretches root and branch."

"I will do it," said Rustem.

Zal went on: "Disguise yourself as a camel-driver. Pretend that you are coming in from the desert, and that you have a cargo of salt with you. There is nothing in that country that they value more than salt. Let them once hear that this is what you are bringing, and great and small will welcome you."

Rustem gladly undertook this business. He hid the great club with which he had slain the white elephant in a load of salt, and he chose a number of companions who were as prudent as they were brave. Their arms also were hidden in loads of salt, and so they approached the fortress.

The keeper of the gate saw them from a distance, and ran to the Prince, saying, "A caravan with a number of camel-drivers has arrived. If you ask me for what purpose they have come, I should say that, in my opinion, they have salt to sell."

Accordingly the Prince sent a messenger to the master of the caravan, to ask him what his packages contained.

Rustem said, "Go back, and tell your master that I have salt in my packages."

The Prince, on receiving this message, in great joy ordered the gate to be thrown open, and Rustem with his camels and their drivers, and the packages which they had with them, all entered the fortress. Rustem was courteously greeted by the Prince, and greeted him courteously in return. Then he made his way to the Bazaar, taking his camel-drivers with him. The people crowded round him, some with clothing, others with gold and silver; all were eager for his merchandise; and there was not a thought of fear or suspicion in the heart of any one of them. When the night came on Rustem executed his plan of attack. First, he fell upon the Prince and levelled him to the ground with a single blow of his club. There was not a chief in the whole fortress that could stand before him. Some he struck down with his club, and some with his sword. When the morning came there was not a single man of all the defenders of the fortress that was not either dead or disabled.

In the middle of the fortress there was a building of stone with a gate of iron. Rustem gave a blow of his club to the gate, and it flew open before him. Within there was a great vaulted hall, full of gold pieces and pearls. There never was such a sight in the world.

Rustem sent a message to his father, to tell him of his victory, and to ask him what he should do.

Zal wrote back to this effect: "I send you herewith two thousand camels to carry away your booty. Load them with all that is precious, and then burn the place with fire."

This Rustem did. He loaded the camels with precious stones, and gold, and costly swords, chains and girdles, pearls and jewels worthy of a king and Chinese brocades richly embroidered with figures. This done, he set fire to the fortress, and so departed.

All this Rustem did while he was yet a child.

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