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

Rustem Fights with Afrasiab

Zal marched with his army against the Tartars, Rustem leading the way. When he was within a few miles of the enemy, he assembled the veteran chiefs, and said—

"We have a great army; we have brave soldiers and wise counsellors; but we want union because we have no king. There is such a one as we want, the wise men tell me, at Mount Alburz; he is tall and strong, a lover of justice and truth, and he is of the royal race."

All the chiefs approved. Then Zal said to Rustem—

"Go at once to Mount Alburz; do homage to Prince Keikobad, but do not stay with him; you must be back in fourteen days—and tell him that the army is asking for its king."

Rustem, in great joy, leapt upon the back of Raksh, and rode off at full speed. A number of Tartars had posted themselves upon the road, and attacked him. Club in hand, he fell upon them, and struck many to the ground, and drove the rest before him, so that they returned to Afrasiab full of terror.

Rustem meanwhile went on his way. When he was now about a mile from Mount Alburz, he saw a splendid palace standing in a beautiful garden. Near a fountain was placed a throne, on which sat a young man of singular beauty, with a circle of nobles round him. They invited Rustem to alight from his horse, and drink a cup of wine with them.

Rustem thanked them courteously, but said—

"I am bound for Mount Alburz on an errand of great importance, nor must I delay for an hour. All the borders of Persia are overrun with enemies; in every house there is mourning, for the throne is without a king."

"If you are on your way to Mount Alburz," they said to him, "tell us who it is whom you want, and we will take you to him."

"There is there a king of the pure royal race," answered Rustem; "his name is Keikobad. Tell me, if any one of you know, where I can find him."

"I know him," cried one of the young men; "come in, and I will tell you his character."

When Rustem learnt that he was to hear tidings about Keikobad, he leapt from his horse, and went to where the nobles were sitting under the shade of the trees by the fountain.

The young man who had spoken to him seated himself on a chair, and holding Rustem's hand in one of his hands, filled with the other a cup of wine. He drank it to his guests, and gave another cup to Rustem.

"You ask me," he said, "about Keikobad. How do you know his name?"

"Prince," said he, "I bring good tidings. The nobles of Persia have chosen Keikobad to be their king; and my father, Zal, who is the chief among them, said to me—'Ride to Mount Alburz, find Keikobad, and pay him homage on our behalf.' Tell me, then, where I can find him."

The young man smiled and said, "I am Keikobad."

Rustem bowed his head, and coming down from his seat did homage to the King. The King called for a cup of wine, and touched it with his lips in Rustem's honnd Rustem drained a cup in honour of the King.

The King said—"See, my dream has come true; last night I dreamed that two falcons came to me by way of Persia, carrying a shining crown, and put it on my head. This is the reason why I assembled these nobles to meet you to-day."

The very same hour the two set out for Persia with a troop of horsemen. But when they came near the advanced posts of the Tartars, Kaloun, the great Tartar chief; came out to attack them.

When the King saw him and his followers, he was for giving him battle. But Rustem said—

"My lord, it does not become your greatness to fight in such a battle. My horse and my club, with God to help me, will be enough to deal with these enemies.

So saying he gave the rein to Raksh, and charged the Tartars. He caught one trooper from his horse, and striking another with the man as if he were a club dashed out his brains. He tore the riders out of their saddles, one after another, and dashed them upon the ground with such force as to break their skulls and necks and backs. Kaloun thought that it was a demon who had broken his chains, and was riding about with a club in his hand and a lasso fastened to his saddle. He charged him, struck him with his spear, and cut the fastenings of his cuirass. But Rustem, reaching out his hand, caught hold of Kaloun's spear, tore it from him, and struck him out of his saddle with it. Then as he lay upon the ground, he made Raksh trample on him till his brains were trodden out of his skull. When the Tartars saw their chief treated in this fashion, they turned their backs and fled.

Rustem and the King rode on till they came to Zal. Seven days they feasted and took counsel with the nobles, and on the eighth day Keikobad was crowned King of Persia.

A few days afterwards the Persian army marched against the Tartars, and joined battle with them. When the conflict had lasted for some time, Rustem said to his father, "Tell me, my father, where is that villainous Prince, Afrasiab? What dress does he wear? Where does he set up his standard? Yonder I see a bright violet flag; is it his?"

"My son," said Zal, "listen to me. This Tartar Afrasiab is as strong and as fierce as a dragon. Beware of him. His flag is black; his coat of mail is black, and he has an iron badge on his arm. His armour is of iron embossed with gold; and he has a black plume on his helmet."

Rustem answered, "Have no fear on my account. I will catch him by the girdle, and drag him hither with his face upon the earth."

So saying he set spurs to Raksh. Afrasiab saw him scouring the plain, and, astonished at his youth, said to his nobles, "Who is this dragon that has broken its chain? I do not know his name."

"It is the son of Zal, the son of San," said they, "Do you not see that he has the club of San in his hand?"

Afrasiab galloped in front of his army When Rustem saw him, he pulled up his horse and put his club over his shoulder; but when Afrasiab came near him, he let it hang down from his saddle, and caught the Prince by the girdle; he wished to drag him out of his sale, and carry him off as the prize of his days fighting. But, what with the weight of the King and Rustem's strong arm, the leather of the girdle broke. Afrasiab fell head foremost to the ground, and his nobles made a ring round him. When Rustem saw that the King had escaped him in this fashion, he bit the back of his hand, and said, "Why did I not lay hold under the armpits and carry him off, girdle and all?"

Meanwhile Afrasiab had been mounted by his attendants on a swift horse, and had escaped by way of the desert, leaving his army to shift for itself. And indeed it fared ill that day. Zal and Mihrab, the Prince of Cabul, and all the Persians and their allies, did wonders of valour. Many they killed, and many they took prisoners. But there was no one who could be compared to Rustem, who slew with his own hand as many as a whole army might have slain.

Meanwhile Afrasiab rode with all speed to the court of the Kingfather.

"My father," he said, "there is among the Persian warriors a your such as cannot be matched elsewhere. He saw my standard, and rushing upon me caught me, from my saddle—you would have said that I weighed no more than a fly. By good fortune the buckle of my girdle broke, and I escaped by the help of my nobles. But I am as nothing in his hands, and yet you know that I have some courage and strength. I say then—make peace with the Persians; for this man there is no resisting. You thought that the war was nothing more than a game; but it is a game of which your army has had enough."

The King was astonished to hear the fierce Afrasiab speak words of wisdom. Forthwith he wrote a letter to Keikobad. "There has been war enough," he said, "let us have peace. Let the Tartars keep to their borders and the Persians to theirs. Then the two nations shall have rest and happiness." This letter he sealed, and sent by a messenger to Keikobad.

When the King had read it, he said: "It is not I who was the first to raise my hand against the Tartars. Afrasiab came across our border, and killed Newder our king. Nevertheless, if you repent of your misdeeds and desire peace, I will not refuse it."

So peace was made between the Persians and the Tartars.

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