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


One day Rustem thought that he would hunt. So he filled his quiver with arrows, and, mounting his horse Raksh, set out for the country which borders on Tartary. As he went he came upon a plain which was covered with herds of wild asses. Rustem smiled to see them, and, pursuing them on his fleet-footed horse, killed many of them, some with his arrows, and some, first catching them with his lasso, with his club. His hunting done, he lighted a great fire of brushwood, brambles, and branches of trees; then taking a young tree to serve him for a spit, ran it through the body of one of the asses, and roasted the flesh at the fire. When it was well done, he tore it joint from joint, ate his full of it, and broke the bones for the marrow. His meal finished, he lay down to sleep, while Raksh grazed on the plain. While he slept, seven Tartar warriors came that way, and saw the tracks of Raksh, who had wandered far away from his master's camping-place. Not long afterwards they came upon him, and made haste to possess themselves of him. First they tried to throw a lasso over him, but when Raksh saw the lasso he rushed at them like a lion, struck two of them dead with two blows of his fore-feet, and bit off the head of a third. Thus three of the company were dead, and the brave Raksh was not yet taken. Nevertheless the other four entangled him with their lassos, and, so capturing him, took him with them to the town.

When Rustem woke from his sleep, he looked about for his horse, but could find no traces of him. "How can I go," he said to himself, "carrying my quiver and my club, this heavy helmet, this sword, and this coat of mail? The Tartars will say, Rustem slept and some one stole his horse, and I shall be covered with shame."

When he came near to the town of Semengan, the King and his nobles saw that it was Rustem that was approaching. The King went out to meet him, and said: "What has hap;ned? How is it that you came on foot? Tell us how we can serve you. We are all at your bidding."

Rustem saw that they were friends, and answered: "My horse Raksh has escaped from me on this plain without bit or reins. Find him for me, and I will reward you as is fitting. But if Raksh is not found, I will make many suffer for it."

The King said: "No one will dare to do you a wrong in this matter. Come and be my guest. Let us drive away care with the wine-cup. Anger profits nothing. It is by charming that one brings the serpent out of his hole. As for the horse Raksh, it is not possible that he should be hid, for all the world knows of him. We will look for him, and bring him to you without delay."

So Rustem put away all suspicion out of his mind, and became the guest of the King. So they sat and drank wine together, and the King waited upon him as though he were his slave.

While the hero tarried in the palace, the King's daughter, who had often heard of his prowess and courage, and of the great exploits which he had done, saw him and loved him. She was the most beautiful of maidens. Her eyebrows were arched, the two plaits of her hair like the ropes of a lasso, her lips like rubies, and she was tall as a cypress.

Rustem asked her in marriage of her father, and the King, who was glad to find so noble a husband for her, gladly listened to his suit. So the two—the maiden's name was Tehmina—were married with much rejoicing.

When the time came that Rustem must leave the King's court—for there were grave matters that called him back to Persia—he took an onyx bracelet that he wore upon his arm, and gave it to his wife, saying, "If God should give you a daughter, fasten this bracelet under the curls of her hair, But if you should bear a son, let him wear it on his arm, as his father has worn it."

So Rustem departed, taking his horse with him, for the King had found Raksh.

In due time Tehmina bore a son. The infant was as beautiful as the moon. When he was but a month old he had the limbs of a yearling child; at three years he learnt exercises of arms; at five he was as bold as a lion; at ten there was not a man in the whole country that dared wrestle with him. One day he went to his mother, and said, "Tell me who I am. What must I say when they ask me my father's name?"

Tehmina said, "You are the son of Rustem. Never since God made the world has there been such a warrior as he;" and she showed him a letter from Rustem, and three rubies which he had sent for a gift. "But," she said, "King Afrasiab must know nothing of this, for he is the sworn foe of Rustem. He would kill the son because he hates the father. And besides, if your father knew to what strength and stature you are grown, he would send for you, and your mother's heart would break for grief."

Sohrab said—for that was the youth's name: "This is a story that cannot be hid. But listen to what I will do. I will put myself at the head of an innumerable army of Tartars. I will, deprive King Kaous of his kingdom. I will set Rustem upon his throne; and, this done, I will make war against Afrasiab and possess myself of his throne. Seeing that Rustem is my father and I am his son, I will not suffer that there should be any kings in the world but he and I."

Sohrab, after he had chosen for himself a horse, having the good fortune to find one that was of the breed of Raksh, asked his grandfather to help him. "I would go," he said, "to the land of Persia, and help my father."

The King loaded him with gifts, and sent him away.

Meanwhile it was told to King Afrasiab that Sohrab was gathering an army againt the King of Persia. He called his nobles and said: "Listen to me; I have a plan which shall rid us of our enemies. Rustem must not know that Sohrab is his son. The two will meet in battle, and it may be that the young lion will kill the old one. If it be so, one day we will take Sohrab by stratagem and slay him. But if Rustem, on the other hand, should slay his son, then his heart will be eaten away with grief, and we need fear him no more."

Accordingly Afrasiab sent messengers to Sohrab with gifts and this message: "You will do well if you can conquer the land of Persia. I will send you for your help such an army as is fitting. Go on, and prosper."

So Sohrab set out with his army. He came in his march to a certain stronghold that was called the White Fort, and was the chief hope of the Persians. The governor of the fort was an old man and very feeble; but in the garrison there was a very brave champion, Hedjir by name, who, when he saw the army of Sohrab approaching, rushed out to meet him. "Come to me," he said, in his pride, "and I will cut your head from your body, and give your flesh to the vultures to eat."

Sohrab smiled to hear such brave words, and charged his enemy. The two met. Hedjir struck Sohrab on the girdle with a spear, but the point did not pierce the armour. But Sohrab, reversing his spear, struck Hedjir with the shaft, and felled him from his saddle; then, leaping from his horse, stood over him, and would have cut his head from his body, but that the vanquished man begged for quarter. Sohrab granted him his life, bound him with cords, and sent him a prisoner to the King.

The old governor of the fort had a daughter, Gurdafurd by name, a very fair maiden, but as strong and brave as any warrior in the land. It troubled her greatly to see the young champion discomfited and bound, and without hesitating a moment she armed herself, hid her long hair under her helmet, and rode forth from the fort to do battle with the Tartars.

She rode in front of the army of the besiegers, and said, "Who is there among you that will come and fight with me?" None of them were willing to accept her challenge; but when Sohrab saw her he said, "Here is another wild ass for my lasso!" and hastily putting on his armour rode out to meet her. The girl let fly a storm of arrows at him, attacking him first from one side then from the other; and when Sohrab charged her, threw her bow over her shoulder, put her spear in rest, and galloped to meet him. Sohrab drew his spear back so far that the point was almost level with his body; then, delivering it with all his force, struck Gurdafurd on the girdle, burst the fastenings of her coat of mail, and hurled her from her saddle like a ball struck by a racquet. The girl twisted herself under her saddle, drew a sword from her girdle, and cut Sohrab's spear in half. Then she jumped again into the saddle, but turned to fly, for she had little liking for the conflict. Sohrab slackened the reins of his horse, and, galloping after her at full speed, overtook her, and catching her by the helmet, drew it from her head. Then all her long hair fell down, and the young hero knew that he had been fighting with a girl. "Well!" said he, "if the maidens of Persia fight in this fashion, the men must be notable warriors." He threw his lasso round her waist, and said, "Do not attempt to escape; but tell me, beautiful girl, why did you seek this conflict?"

The girl said, "All the army will laugh at you, if they should see my face and my hair. They will say, 'The brave Sohrab went out to fight a woman.' Let us conceal this adventure. The fort is yours, and all the soldiers in it and all the treasure, as soon as you shall be pleased to take possession of it."

Sohrab said, "Do not fail of your promise, and do not trust in the strength of your walls. Were they as high as the vault of heaven, my club would level them to the ground."

So they rode together to the gate of the fort, and Gurdafurd, wounded and wearied, dragged herself within. Her father received her with great joy, and said, "You have done well, my daughter. We have no cause to be ashamed of your courage and address. Thanks be to God, who has not suffered this stranger to kill you."

After this the girl mounted on the wall, and seeing Sohrab waiting beneath, said to him, "Why do you weary yourself with waiting, lord of the Tartars? Return to the place whence you came."

Sohrab said: "Treacherous one! I swear by heaven and earth that you will repent of this falsehood. Where is the treaty that you made with me, that you would deliver up the fort, with all its garrison and its treasure?"

The girl laughed, and said: "Take care; the great Rustem will soon be here, and not a man of your army will be left alive. Put what a pity that such arms and such a breast as yours should be a prey for jackals! Pride yourself as you will on your strength, but yet the stupid cow will eat the grass upon your grave."

Sohrab was covered with shame to hear these mocking words. But he said, "It is too late to give battle to-day; but with dawn to-morrow we will lay the fort level with the dust." Then he shook the reins of his horse, and galloped back to the camp.

At dawn he marched against the fort with his army. But there was no one to be seen upon the walls. He rode up to the gate, and it was opened to him. But there was not a single armed man in the whole place. In fact, the governor and the garrison had departed in the night by a passage under the earth, of which no one was aware, and with them was gone the beautiful Gurdafurd. This troubled Sohrab more than anything else, for his heart was full of love for the girl, so beautiful and so brave.

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