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Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

THE SEVEN ADVENTURES OF RUSTEM

[165] RUSTEM made such speed that he accomplished two days' journey in one. But at last, finding himself hungry and weary, and seeing that there were herds of wild asses in the plain which he was traversing, he thought that he would catch one of them for his meal, and rest for the night. So pressing his knees into his horse's side he pursued one of them. There was no escape for the swiftest beast when Rustem was mounted on Raksh, and in a very short time a wild ass was caught with the lasso. Rustem struck a light with a flint stone, and making a fire with brambles and branches of trees, roasted the ass and ate it for his meal. This done he took the bridle from his horse, let him loose to graze upon the plain, and prepared to sleep himself in a bed of [166] rushes. Now in the middle of this bed of rushes was a lion's lair, and at the end of the first watch the lion came back, and was astonished to see lying asleep on the rushes a man as tall as an elephant, with a horse standing near him. The lion said to himself, "I must first tear the horse, and then the rider will be mine whenever I please." So he leapt at Raksh; but the horse darted at him like a flash of fire, and struck him on the head with his fore-feet. Then he seized him by the back with his teeth, and battered him to pieces on the earth. When Rustem awoke and saw the dead lion, which indeed was of a monstrous size, he said to Raksh, "Wise beast, who bade you fight with a lion? If you had fallen under his claws, how should I have carried to Mazanderan this cuirass and helmet, this lasso, my bow and my sword?" Then he went to sleep again; but awaking at sunrise, saddled Raksh and went on his way.


[Illustration]

MONSTERS

He had now to accomplish the most difficult part of his journey across a waterless desert, so hot that the very birds could not live in it. Horse and rider were both dying of thirst, and Rustem, [167] dismounting, could scarcely struggle along while he supported his steps by his spear. When he had almost given up all hope, he saw a well-nourished ram pass by. "Where," said he to himself, "is the reservoir from where this creature drinks?" Accordingly he followed, the ram's footsteps, holding his horse's bridle in one hand and his sword in the other, and the ram led him to a spring. Then Rustem lifted up his eyes to heaven and thanked God for His mercies; afterwards he blessed the ram, saying, "No harm come to thee forever! May the grass of the valleys and the desert be always green for thee, and may the bow of him that would hunt thee be broken, for thou hast saved Rustem; verily without thee he would have been torn to pieces by the wild beasts of the desert."

After this he caught another wild ass, and roasted him for his meal. Then having bathed in the spring, he lay down to sleep; but before he lay down, he said to Raksh, his horse: "Do not seek quarrel or friendship with any. If an enemy come, run to me; and do not fight either with Genius or lion."

[168] After this he slept; and Raksh now grazed, and now galloped about over the plain.

Now it so happened that there was a great dragon that had its bed in this part of the desert. So mighty a beast was it, that not even a Genius had dared to pass by that way. The dragon was astonished to see a man asleep and a horse by his side, and began to make its way to the horse. Raksh did as he had been bidden, and running towards his master, stamped with his feet upon the ground. Rustem awoke, and seeing nothing when he looked about him—for the dragon meanwhile had disappeared—was not a little angry. He rebuked Raksh, and went to sleep again. Then the dragon came once more out of the darkness, and the horse ran with all speed to his master, tearing up the ground and kicking. A second time the sleeper awoke, but as he saw nothing but darkness round him, he was greatly enraged, and said to his faithful horse—

"Why do you disturb me? If it wearies you to see me asleep, yet you cannot bring the night to an end. I said that if a lion came to attack you, I would protect you; but I did not tell [169] you to trouble me in this way. Verily, if you make such a noise again, I will cut off your head and go on foot, carrying all my arms and armour with me to Mazanderan."

A third time Rustem slept, and a third time the dragon came. This time Raksh, who did not venture to come near his master, fled over the plain; he was equally afraid of the dragon and of Rustem. Still his love for his master did not suffer him to rest. He neighed and tore up the earth, till Rustem woke up again in a rage. But this time God would not suffer the dragon to hide himself, and Rustem saw him through the darkness, and, drawing his sword, rushed at him.

But first he said—"Tell me your name; my hand must not tear your soul from your body before I know your name."


[Illustration]

RUSTEM SLAYING A DRAGON

The dragon said—"No man can ever save himself from my claws; I have dwelt in this desert for ages, and the very eagles have not dared to fly across. Tell me then your name, bold man. Unhappy is the mother that bare you:"

"I am Rustem, son of Zal of the white hair," [170] said the hero, "and there is nothing on earth that I fear."

Then the dragon threw itself upon Rustem. But the horse Raksh laid back his ears, and began to tear the dragon's back with his teeth, just as a lion might have torn it.

The hero stood astonished for a while; then, drawing his sword, severed the monster's head from its body. Then, having first performed his ablutions, he returned thanks to God, and mounting on Raksh, went his way.

All that day he travelled across the plain, and came at sunset to the land of the magicians. Just as the daylight was disappearing, he spied a delightful spot for his night's encampment. There were trees and grass, and a spring of water. And beside the spring there was a flagon of red wine, and a roast kid, with bread and salt and confectionery neatly arranged. Rustem dismounted, unsaddled his horse, and looked with astonishment at the provisions thus prepared. It was the meal of certain magicians, who had vanished when they saw him approach.

Of this he knew nothing, but sitting down without question, filled a cup with wine, and [171] taking a harp which he found lying by the side of the flagon, sang—

"The scourge of the wicked am I,

And my days still in battle go by;

Not for me is the red wine glows

In the reveller's cup, nor the rose

That blooms in the land of delight;

But with monsters and demons to fight."

The music and the voice of the singer reached the ears of a witch that was in those parts. Forthwith, by her art, she made her face as fair as spring, and, approaching Rustem, asked him how he fared, and sat down by his side. The hero thanked heaven that he had thus found in the desert such good fare and excellent company—for he did not know that the lovely visitor was a witch. He welcomed her, and handed her a cup of wine; but, as he handed it, he named the name of God, and at the sound her colour changed, and she became as black as charcoal.

When Rustem saw this, quick as the wind he threw his lasso over her head.

"Confess who you are," he cried; "show yourself in your true shape."

[172] Then the witch was changed into a decrepid, wrinkled old woman. Rustem cut her in halves with a blow of his sword.

The next day he continued his journey with all the speed that he could use, and came to a place where it was utterly dark. Neither sun, nor moon, nor stars could be seen; and all that the hero could do was to let the reins fall on his horse's neck, and ride on as chance might direct.

In time he came to a most delightful country, where the sun was shining brightly, and where the ground was covered with green. Rustem took off his cuirass of leopard skin, and his helmet, and let Raksh find pasture where he could in the fertile fields, and lay down to sleep. When the keeper of the fields saw the horse straying among them and feeding, he was filled with rage, and running up to the hero, dealt him with his stick a great blow upon the feet.

Rustem awoke.

"Son of Satan," said the keeper, "why do you let your horse stray in the corn-fields?"

Rustem leapt upon the man, and without uttering a single word good or bad, wrenched his ears from his head.

[173] Now the owner of this fertile country was a young warrior of renown named Aulad. The keeper ran up to him with his ears in his hand, and said—

"There has come to this place a son of Satan, clad in a cuirass of leopard skin, with an iron helmet. I was going to drive his horse out of the corn-fields, when he leapt upon me, tore my ears from my head without saying a single word, and then lay down to sleep again."

Aulad was about to go hunting with his chiefs; but when he heard the keeper's story he altered his plan, and set out to the place where he heard that Rustem had been seen. Rustem, as soon as he saw him approach, and a great company with him, ran to Raksh, leapt on his back, and rode forward. Aulad said to him, "Who are you? What are you doing here? Why did you pluck off my keeper's ears and let your horse feed in the corn-fields?"

"If you were to hear my name," said Rustem, "it would freeze the blood in your heart."

So saying he drew his sword, and fastening his lasso to the bow of his saddle, rushed as a lion rushes into the midst of a herd of oxen. [174] With every blow of his sword he cut off a warrior's head, till the whole of Aulad's company was either slain or scattered. Aulad himself he did not kill, but throwing his lasso, caught him by the neck, dragged him from his horse, and bound his hands. "Now," said he, "if you will tell me the truth, and, without attempting to deceive, will show me where the White Genius dwells, and will guide me to where King Kaous is kept prisoner, then I will make you King of Mazanderan. But if you speak a word of falsehood you die."

"It is well," said Aulad;" I will do what you desire. I will show you where the King is imprisoned. It is four hundred miles from this place ; and four hundred miles further, a difficult and dangerous way, is the dwelling of the White Genius. It is a cavern so deep that no mere man has ever sounded it, and lies between two mountains. Twelve thousand Genii watch it during the night, for the White Genius is the chief and master of all his tribe. You will find him a terrible enemy, and, for all your strong arms and hands, your keen sword, your lance and your club, you will scarcely be able to [175] conquer him; and when you have conquered him, there will still be much to be done. In the city of the King of Mazanderan there are thousands of warriors, and not a coward among them; and besides these, there are two hundred war-elephants. Were you made of iron, could you venture to deal alone with these sons of Satan?"

Rustem smiled when he heard this, and said, "Come with me, and you will see what a single man, who puts his trust in God, can do. And now show me first the way to the King's prison."


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