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Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church

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THE SEVEN ADVENTURES OF RUSTEM (CONTINUED)

[176] RUSTEM mounted on Raksh, and rode gaily forward, and Aulad ran in front of him. For a whole day and night he ran, nor ever grew tired, till they reached the foot of Mount Asprus, where King Kaous had fallen into the power of the Genii. About midnight they heard a great beating of drums, and saw many fires blaze up.

Rustem said to Aulad, "What mean these fires that are blazing up to right and left of us?"

Aulad answered, "This is the way into Mazanderan. The great Genius Arzeng must be there."

Then Rustem went to sleep; and when he woke in the morning he took his lasso and fastened Aulad to the trunk of a tree. Then hanging his grandfather's club to his saddle-bow, he rode on.

[177] His conflict with Arzeng, the chief of the army of the Genii, was soon finished. As he approached the camp he raised his battle cry. His shout was loud enough, one would have said, to split the very, mountains, and Arzeng, when he heard it, rushed out of his tent. Rustem set spurs to his horse, and galloping up to the Genius, caught him by the head, tore it from the body, and threw it into the midst of the army. When the Genii saw it, and caught sight also of the great club, they fled in the wildest confusion, fathers trampling upon their sons in their eagerness to escape. The hero put the whole herd of them to the sword, and then returned as fast as he could to the place where he had left Aulad bound to the tree. He unloosed the knots of the lasso, and bidding him lead, the way to the prison-house of the King, set spurs to Raksh, Aulad running in front as before.

When they entered the town, Raksh neighed. His voice was as loud as thunder, and the King heard it, and in a moment understood all that had happened. "That is the voice of Raksh," he said to the Persians that were with him; [178] "our evil days are over. This was the way in which he neighed in King Kobad's time, when he made war on the Scythians."

The Persians said to themselves, "Our poor King has lost his senses, or he is dreaming. There is no help for us." But they had hardly finished speaking when the hero appeared, and did homage to the King. Kaous embraced him, and then said: "If you are to help me, you must go before the Genii know of your coming. So soon as the White Genius shall hear of the fall of Arzeng, he will assemble such an army of his fellows as shall make all your pains and labour lost. But you must know that you have great difficulties to overcome. First, you must cross seven mountains, all of them occupied by troops of Genii; then you will see before you a terrible cavern—more terrible, I have heard say, than any other place in the world. The entrance to it is guarded by warrior Genii, and in it dwells the White Genius himself. He is both the terror and the hope of his army. Conquer him, and all will be well. A wise physician tells me that the only remedy for my blindness is to drop into my eyes three drops of the White [179] Genius' blood. Go and conquer, if you would save your King."

Without any delay Rustem set forth, Raksh carrying him like the wind. When he reached the great cavern, he said to Aulad, who had guided him on his way as before, "The time of conflict is come. Show me the way."

Aulad answered, "When the sun shall grow hot, the Genii will go to sleep. That will be your time to conquer them."


[Illustration]

RUSTEM SLAYING THE WHITE GENIUS

Rustem waited till the sun was at its highest, and then went forth to battle. The Genii that were on guard fled at the sound of his voice, and he went on without finding any to resist him till he came to the great cavern of which the King had spoken. It was a terrible place to see, and he stood for a while with his sword in his hand, doubting what he should do.. No one would choose such a spot for battle, and as for escaping from it, that was beyond all hope. Long he looked into the darkness, and at last be sa ,v a monstrous shape which seemed to reach across the whole breadth of the cave. It was the White Genius that was lying asleep. Rustem did not attempt to surprise him in his [180] sleep, but woke him by shouting his battle cry. When the White Genius saw him he rushed at once to do battle with him. First he caught up from the ground a stone as big as a millstone and hurled it at him. For the first time Rustem felt a thrill of fear, so terrible was his enemy. Nevertheless, gathering all his strength, he struck at him a great blow with his sword and cut off one of his feet. The monster, though having but one foot, leapt upon him like a wild elephant, and seized him by the breast and arms, hoping to throw him to the ground, and tore from his body great morsels of flesh, so that the whole place was covered with blood. Rustem said to himself, "If I escape to-day I shall live for ever;" and the White Genius thought, "Even if I do deliver myself from the claws of this dragon, I shall never see Mazanderan again." Still he did not lose courage, but continued to struggle against the hero with all his might.

So the two fought together, the blood and sweat running from them in great streams. At last Rustem caught the Genius round the body, and, putting out all his strength, hurled [181] him to the ground with such force that his soul was driven out of his body. Then he plunged his poniard into the creature's heart, and tore the liver out of his body. This done he returned to Aulad, whom he had left bound with his lasso, loosed him, and set out for the place where he had left the King. But first Aulad said to him, "I have the marks of your bonds upon me; my body is bruised with the knots of your lasso; I beseech you to respect the promise which you made me of a reward. A hero is bound to keep his word."

Rustem said: "I promised, that you should be King of Mazanderan, and King you shall be. But I have much to do before my word can be kept. I have a great battle to fight, in which I may be conquered, and I must rid this country of the magicians with whom it is encumbered. But be sure that, when all is done, I will not fail of the promises which I have made."

So Rustem returned to King Kaous, and, dropping the blood of the White Genius into his eyes, gave him back his sight. Seven days the King and his nobles feasted together, Rustem having the chief place. On the [182] eighth day they set out to clear the country of the accursed race of magicians. When they had done this, the King said, "The guilty have now been punished. Let no others suffer. And now I will send a letter to the King of Mazanderan."

So the Kiewrote a letter in these words: "You see how God has punished the wrongdoers—how He has brought to nought the Genii and the Magicians. Quit then your town, and come here to pay homage and tribute to me. If you will not, then your life shall be as the life of Arzeng and the White Genius."

This letter was carried to the King by a certain chief named Ferbad. When the King had read it he was greatly troubled. Three days he kept Ferbad as his guest, and then sent Lack by him this answer: "Shall the water of the sea be equal to wine? Am I one to whom you can say, 'Come down from your throne, and present yourself before me '? Make ready to do battle with me, for verily I will bring upon the land of Persia such destruction that no man shall be able to say what is high and what is low."

[183] Ferbad hastened back to the King of Persia. "The man," he said, "is resolved not to yield." Then the King sent to Rustem. And Rustem said, "Send me with a letter that shall be as keen as a sword and a message like a thunder-cloud." So the King sent for a scribe, who, making the point of his reed as fine as an arrow-head, wrote thus: "These are foolish words, and do not become a man of sense. Put away your arrogance, and be obedient to my words. If you refuse, I will bring such an army against you as shall cover your land from one sea to the other; and the ghost of the White Genius shall call the vultures to feast on your brains."

The King set his seal to this letter, and Rustem departed with it, with his club hanging to his saddle-bow. When the King of Mazanderan heard of his coming, he sent some of his nobles to meet him. When Rustem saw them, he caught a huge tree that was by the wayside in his hands, twisted it with all his might, and tore it up roots and all. Then he poised it in his hand as if it were a javelin. One of the nobles, the strongest of them all, rode up to [184] him, caught one of his hands, and pressed it with all his might. Rustem only smiled; but when in his turn he caught the noble's hand in his, he crushed all the veins and bones, so that the man fell fainting from his horse.

When the King heard what had been done, he called one of his warriors, Kalahour by name, the strongest man in his dominions, and said to him, "Go and meet this messenger; show him your prowess, and cover his face with shame." So Kalahour rode to meet Rustem, and, taking him by the hand, wrung it with all the strength of an elephant. The hand turned blue with the pain, but the hero did not flinch or give any sign of pain. But when in his turn he wrung the hand of Kalahour, the nails dropped from it as the leaves drop from a tree. Kalahour rode back, his hand hanging down, and said to the King, "It will be better for you to make peace than to fight with this lion, whose strength is such that no man can stand against him. Pay this tribute, and we will make it good to you. Otherwise we are lost."

At this moment Rustem rode up. The [185] King gave him a place at his right hand, and asked him of his welfare. Rustem, for answer, gave him the letter of Kei-Kaous. When the King had read the letter, his face became black as thunder. .Then he said, "Carry back this answer to your master: 'You are lord of Persia, and I of Mazanderan. Be content; seek not that which is not yours. Otherwise your pride will lead you to your fall.'"

The King would have given Rustem royal gifts, robes of honour, and horses, and gold. But the hero would have none of them, but went away in anger. When he had returned to the King of Persia, he said to him, "Fear nothing, but make ready for battle. As for the warriors of this land of Mazanderan, they are nothing; I count them no better than a grain of dust."

Meanwhile the King of the Magicians prepared for war. He gathered an army, horsemen and foot-soldiers and elephants, that covered the face of the earth, and approached the borders of Persia; and, on the other hand, King Kaous marshalled his men of war and went out to encounter him. The King him- [186] self took his place in the centre of the line of battle, and in front of all stood the great Rustem.

One of the nobles of Mazanderan came out of their line, with a great club in his hands, and approaching the Persian army, cried in a loud voice, "Who is ready to fight with me? He should be one who is able to change water into dust."

None of the Persian nobles answered him, and Kill Kaous said, "Why is it, ye men of war, that your faces are troubled, and your tongues silent before this Genius."

But still the nobles made no answer. Then Rustem caught the rein of his horse, and, putting the point of his lance over his shoulder, rode up to the King, and said, "Will the King give me permission to fight with this Genius?"

The King said, "The task is worthy of you, for none of the Persians dare to meet this warrior. Go and prosper!"

So Rustem set spurs to Raksh, and rode against the warrior who had challenged the Persians.

"Hear," he said, as soon as he came near, [187] "your name is blotted out of the list of the living; for the moment is come when you shall suffer the recompense of all your misdeeds."

The warrior answered, "Boast not yourself so proudly. My sword makes mothers childless."

When Rustem heard this he cried with a voice of thunder, "I am Rustem!" and the warrior, who had no desire to fight the champion of the world, turned his back and fled. But Rustem pursued him, and thrust at him with his lance where the belt joins the coat of mail, and pierced him through, for the armour could not turn the point of the great spear. Then he lifted him out of his saddle, and raised him up in the air, as if he were a bird which a man had run through with a spit. This done, he dashed him down dead upon the ground, and all the nobles of Mazanderan stood astonished at the sight.

After this the two armies joined battle. The air grew dark, and the flashing of the swords and clubs flew like the lightning out of a thunder-cloud, and the mountains trembled with the cries of the combatants. Never had any living man seen so fierce a fight before.

[188] For seven days the battle raged, and neither the one side nor the other could claim the victory. On the eighth day King Kaous bowed himself before God, taking his crown from his head, and prayed with his face to the ground, saying, "O Lord God, give me, I beseech Thee, the victory over the Genii who fear Thee not."

Then he set his helmet on his head, and put himself the head of his army. First of all Rustem began the attack, charging the centre of the enemy's army. He directed his course straight to the place where the King of Mazanderan stood, surrounded with his chiefs and a great host of elephants. When the King saw the shine of his lance, he lost courage, and would have fled. But Rustem, with a cry like a lion's roar, charged him, and struck him on the girdle with his spear. The spear pierced the steel, and would have slain the King, but that by his magic art he changed himself, before the eyes of all the Persian army, into a mass of rock. Rustem stood astonished to see such a marvel.

When King Kaous came up with his warriors, he said to Rustem, "What is it? [189] What ails you that you tarry here, doing nothing?"

"My lord," answered Rustem, "I charged the King of Mazanderan, spear in hand; I struck him on the girdle, but when I thought to see him fall from his saddle, he changed himself into a rock before my eyes, and now he feels nothing that I can do."

Then King Kaous commanded that they should take up the rock and put it before his throne. But when the strongest men in the army came to handle the rock, or sought to draw it with cords, they could do nothing; it remained immovable. Rustem, however, without any one to help him, lifted it from the earth, and carrying it into the camp, threw it down before the King's tent, and said, "Give up these cowardly tricks and the art of magic. Else I will break this rock into pieces."

When the King of Mazanderan heard this, he made himself visible, black as a thunder-cloud, with a helmet of steel upon his head, and a coat of mail upon his breast. Rustem laughed, and caught him by the hand, and brought him before the King.

[190] "See," said he, "this lump of rock, who, for fear of the hatchet, has given himself up to me!"

When Kaous looked at him and observed how savage of aspect he was, with the neck and tusks of a wild boar, he saw that he was not worthy to sit upon a throne, and bade the executioner take him away and cut him in pieces. This done, he sent to the enemies' camp, and commanded that all the spoil, the King's throne, and his crown and girdle, the horses and the armour, the swords and jewels, should be gathered together. Then he called up his army, and distributed to them rewards in proportion to what they had done and suffered. After this he spent seven days in prayer, humbling himself before God, and offering up thanksgiving. On the eighth day he seated himself on his throne, and opened his treasures, and gave to all that had need. Thus he spent another seven days. On the fifteenth day, he called for wine and cups of amber and rubies, and sat for seven days on his throne, with the wine-cup in his hand.

He sent for Rustem, and said, "It is of your [191] doing, by your strength and courage, that I have recovered my throne."

Rustem answered, "A man must do his duty. As for the honours that you would give me, I owe them all to Aulad, who has always guided me on the right way. He hopes to be made King of Mazanderan. Let the King, therefore, if it please him, invest him with the crown."

And this the King did.

The next day Kaous and his army set out to return to the land of Persia. When he had reached his palace, he seated himself upon his, throne, and sending for Rustem, put him at his side.

Rustem said, "My lord, permit me to go back to the old man Zal, my father."

The King commanded that they should bring splendid presents for the hero. The presents were these: A throne of turquoise, adorned with rams' heads; a royal crown set about with jewels; a robe of brocade of gold such as is worn by the King of Kings; a bracelet and a chain of gold; a hundred maidens, with faces fair a. the full moon, and [192] girdles of gold; a hundred youths, whose hair was fragrant with musk; a hundred horses, caparisoned with gold and silver; a hundred mules with black hair, with loads of brocade that came from the land of Room and from Persia. After these they brought and laid at the hero's feet a hundred purses filled with gold pieces; a cup of rubies, filled with pure musk; another cup of turquoise, filled with attar of roses; and, last of all, a letter written on pages of silk in ink made of wine and aloes and amber and the black of lamps. By this letter the King of Kings gave anew to Rustem the kingdom of the South. Then Kaous blessed him, and said: "May you live as long as men shall see the sun and the moon in heaven! May the great of the earth join themselves to you! May your own soul be full of modesty and tenderness!"

Rustem prostrated himself on the earth, and kissed the throne; and so took his departure.


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