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THE WHITE-HEADED ZAL
 THERE is a mountainous country in Persia which in olden
times was called Seistan. Long, long ago—so long that
nobody remembers the years—that country was ruled by a
mighty king whose name was Saum.
Now, although Saum was rich and great, he was very
unhappy; for he had no son to rule his kingdom after
him. At length, however, a baby boy was born to him.
This child was faultless in form
 and beautiful in face and limb, but his hair was like
that of an old, old man—long, and white as snow.
The infant was eight days old before its father knew of
its birth. For every one was afraid to tell the king
lest he should be angry when he learned that his son
was so strangely different from other children. But on
the ninth day one of the women of the household
gathered courage to go into the presence of mighty
She bowed herself to the earth before him and made it
known that she wished to speak. And when the king had
given her leave, she cried out:—
"May heaven's blessing rest upon Saum, the hero! May
his days be long and full of joy! For a son is born to
the king—a child faultless in form and beautiful in
face and limb. His face is as fair as the full moon in
its glory. His eyes are as glorious as the sun at its
rising. He has not any blemish, save that his hair is
like unto the hair of an old, old man—long, and white
as snow. This child, O my master, is heaven's gift to
thee. Let thy heart turn to him in love, and let thy
thoughts be full of gratitude to God."
Then Saum arose and went into the women's house to see
his child. And the nurse brought to him the moon-faced
babe that was faultless in form
 and limb but had hair like unto the hair of an old, old
The king gazed long upon the helpless little one, and
his heart turned to it in love and pity. But when he
had gone out of the room his pride began to touch him.
He thought how all the world would laugh at him because
of this his only son, so strangely different from other
children. The longer he thought, the more bitterly did
he grieve, and his love was turned to shame and
"Why has the Lord of Light given me such a son?" he
cried. "When men see his white hair they will laugh at
me. They will turn their backs upon him, and will not
have him for their king. Better it would be if I had no
Thus spoke Saum, the hero; and, as the days went by,
his heart was hardened because of his shame and
disappointment. At length he called his trustiest
servant, and bade him carry the child into some lonely
place and leave it there to perish.
Now on the borders of Seistan, far from the homes of
men, there is a mountain called Elburz. Its top reaches
to the stars, and its sides are so steep that no man
has ever climbed halfway to its dizzy summit. At the
foot of this mountain the king's servant left the
child. He left it lying in its princely robes and
smiling at the blue sky above it.
 High, on the topmost rock of the mighty mountain a
wonderful bird had built her nest. Simurgh was the name
of this bird, and her nest was a marvel to behold. She
had made it of ebony and of sandalwood, and had twined
it about with twigs of aloes. Inside and out, it was
like a king's house for comfort and beauty.
For a thousand years this wise bird had had her home on
that lofty mountain peak. There she breathed the pure
air of the skies and talked with the twinkling stars.
And she was learned in the wisdom of the ages and knew
the language of men.
The Simurgh saw the helpless babe lying at the foot of
the mountain. She saw him as the sun went down, and
heard him crying from loneliness and hunger. She
spread her wings and flew lightly down. She picked him
up in her talons, and carried him to her lofty nest.
She had intended to give him to her nestlings to devour
as they would devour a rabbit or a lamb. But when she
saw how gentle and fair he was, and how faultless in
form and limb, her heart was moved with pity.
"My children," she said, "I have brought you a rare and
noble gift. Here is the son of the king. I bid you to
do him no harm, but to love and treat him as your
 She chose the tenderest of food for her little guest.
In her curved beak she brought him the milk of wild
goats and honey from the home of the bees. She gave him
ripe, sweet berries and whatever she could find that
was good for a growing child. Her nestlings loved him
as their brother, and shared with him all the pleasant
things that were theirs in their lofty home.
Thus months and years went by. The Simurgh never grew
tired nor slacked her care. And the white-haired babe
grew into a prattling boy, and then into a youth,
strong and beautiful.
One day some travelers were passing near the foot of
Mount Elburz. They looked up and saw the great nest of
the Simurgh midway between the earth and the sky. As
they looked they beheld a youth walking on the rocky
height and going in and out of the nest as though it
were his home. The youth was fair of face and faultless
in form, but his long, flowing hair was white as snow.
The travelers were filled with astonishment at what
they saw, and went on, wondering, into Seistan. In
every town they told of the strange sight they had
seen, and the story soon spread through all the
 land. It was not long before a servant of the king
heard it and it was repeated even to Saum, the hero.
Then one night Saum dreamed a dream. He thought that a
horseman came riding from the mountains with news of
the son he had so cruelly cast off. The horseman stood
before him and reproached him, saying:—
"O foolish king, think now of your folly! You doomed
your child to death for no other reason than that his
hair was white. You feared the laughter of men; and
still you are called a hero. Behold, you have been put
to shame by a bird who has more pity and kindness than
you for your own child. How long will you be so wicked,
so cruel? Arise! Make haste to find your son."
Then Saum awoke, sad at heart and sorely grieved. He
called his head men to his bedside and asked them about
the youth who had been seen on Mount Elburz. And one of
them who was bolder than the rest spoke up and bitterly
"O hard-hearted king," he said, "you have been more
cruel than even the tiger or the bear; for even they
love their little ones and do not cast them off for
some blemish. And you, unfeeling man, have rejected
your child because of his white hair. Go forth quickly
and repair the evil you
 have done. And if your child is still alive, take him
to your heart and turn to the Almighty for
The king bowed himself to the earth in sorrow and
shame. Then he gave orders that his fighting men should
be put in readiness for marching. And the next day, at
the head of a great army, with horses and camels and
elephants, he set out for the mountains to look for his
When he drew near the foot of Mount Elburz, Saum lifted
his eyes and beheld the nest of the Simurgh high on the
topmost peak. And, as he looked, he saw the wise bird
and a tall youth with flowing white hair looking down
from the edge of the gray cliff. He knew then that this
was his son, and he would have climbed the steep rock
if such had been possible. But the most that he could
do was to bow down in the dust and ask God for help.
And God heard him. For when the Simurgh saw that it was
the king, she knew why he had come; and she said to the
"O nestling of my pride and love, the hour has come for
us to part. For eighteen years I have been thy mother,
and thou hast lived in this nest, while thy brothers
have long ago flown away. But now thy father has come
to seek thee; and a kingly
 throne is waiting for thee in Seistan, where thou shalt
win great glory and renown."
Then the eyes of the youth were filled with tears.
"Art thou weary of me, my mother?" he said. "Am I no
longer good enough for this fair nest? This home on the
lofty mountain peak is better than a throne. Thy wings
protect me better than an army of men. I wish no glory
but to stay with thee."
But the Simurgh would not listen to his plea.
"It breaks my heart to give thee up," she said; "but
another destiny is thine. Be brave, my son. Go forth
and do the work which the world requires of thee."
Then she took him up in her talons and gently carried
him down to the spot where the king was kneeling in
prayer. The mighty hero lifted his head. Great was his
joy when he saw the white-haired youth standing beside
him. He bent low to the Simurgh and blessed her.
"O noblest of birds!" he cried. "O bird of heaven, by
whom the wicked are put to shame! May great glory and
endless life be thine!"
The bird made no answer, but flew up to her home on the
lofty mountain peak. And as the king looked at his son,
he saw that the youth was in every way worthy of
admiration. Faultless he
 was in form and feature, and he had no blemish save his
white hair. Proud, indeed, was the heart of the hero;
and all his followers, when they saw the young man,
shouted for joy.
Then the young man was clothed in princely garments. A
sword was buckled to his side and a spear was put in
his hand. And the king named him Zal, which means the
After this the army began its return to Seistan. The
drummers, on mighty elephants, rode in front. The
trumpets sounded, the cymbals were clashed together,
the fifes were played, and sounds of joy filled the
air; for Zal, the white-haired prince, was going home.
When the news reached Seistan, the city was dressed as
for a holiday, and old and young went out with music
and song to greet the new-found hero who was soon to be
Then the wise men of the country came, and the young
prince was placed in their care to be taught all that
one so noble should learn. As the days went by, Zal
grew wiser and wiser, until his wisdom was the talk of
the world. Then Saum, too old and feeble to rule
longer, gave up his kingdom to his son. And for many
long years Zal reigned with such prudence and skill
that men still talk of the golden age of the