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Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church

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SOHRAB (CONTINUED)

[225] THAT night Rustem said to his brother, "If I fall to-morrow in the conflict, let all my army depart from the field of battle and return to Zabulistan, to the old man Zal. Console my mother in her sorrow. Let her not bind her heart for ever to the dead. I have no cause to complain of fate. Many a lion, many a warrior, many a Genius have I slain, many a fortress have I taken, and I have never been overcome. And say to Zal, my father, 'Be faithful to the King, and obey his commands.' As for me, let him remember that old and young must die."

Sohrab passed the night feasting. He said to one of his followers: "My heart goes out to that brave warrior with whom I have fought [226] to-day. I see in him all the signs by which my mother told me I was to recognize my father, and my heart trembles. I must not fight against my father."

The man to whom he spoke said: "I have seen Rustem in battle, and his horse Raksh also I have seen; nor is the horse of this warrior unlike him. Nevertheless, he does not strike the earth with so heavy a tread."

The next day at dawn Sohrab put on his cuirass and his helmet and armed himself, and, mounting his horse, rode into the space between the two armies. And Rustem, on the other hand, rode out to meet him.

Sohrab spoke to Rustem with a smile upon his lips. One would have thought that they had spent the night together as friends at a feast. "How have you slept?" he said. "How do you fare to-day? Why is your heart bent on battle? Put down your club and your sword. Let us sit together on the ground, and drive away our cares with the wine-cup. Wait till some one else shall come to do battle with you, but with me make a covenant of friendship, and tell me your name and your family. Surely [227] you are Rustem, lord of Zabulistan, son of the white-haired Zal.

Rustem answered: "Young man, we are met here to fight; I will not listen to your deceitful words. No, we will do our best, you and I; and the issue is with God."

Sohrab said: "Old man, I have spoken in vain. I would have you die in your bed when your time shall come, and when these whom you have behind you shall prepare for your burial. But since you put your life in my hands, let us accomplish the purposes of God."

The two warriors then dismounted, and tying their chargers to the rocks, rushed upon each other. Many a blow they struck, till they were both covered with blood and sweat. And so they fought, without advantage to one or the other, from morning till noonday, and from noonday till the shadows began to lengthen upon the sand. At last Sohrab, leaping like a lion, seized Rustem by the girdle, lifted him from the ground, and threw him down, his face and mouth covered with dust; and he couched upon him, as a lion couches on a wild ass that he has caught. Then he drew his dagger, and was about to cut his enemy's head from the body.

[228] Rustem bethought him of a device by which he might save his life. "Young man," he said, "truly you know well how to manage the lasso and the club, the sword and the bow. But listen to me. Our customs of war are not as yours. If a warrior fights with another, and throws him, he does not cut his head from the body the first time; but if he throw him a second time, then he has right to do so. This is our custom of war."

The young man believed what the old warrior said, for he was of a generous heart; and also fate would have it so. So he let Rustem go free.

After a while came one of the Tartar warriors, and asked him how he had fared in the conflict. When Sohrab told him what had happened, and what Rustem had said, the man cried: "Alas! young man, are you weary of your life? You have let the lion, whom you had caught in your snare, escape. Beware of what will happen. It was a wise man who said, Despise no enemy, be he ever so weak,' and think what an enemy is this!"

Sohrab was sorry to hear these words, but [229] said: "Trouble not yourself; I shall fight again to-morrow, and you shall see the yoke upon his neck once more." So saying he returned to the camp.

Rustem, on the other hand, when he rose from the ground, washed his face in a stream, and prayed to God to give him the victory, not knowing for what he prayed. It is said that Rustem's strength had once been such that when he put his feet upon a rock they would sink into it, and that he had prayed to God that a part of this strength might be taken from him. But now that he found himself in such danger, and was full of the fear of Sohrab, he prayed once more that his strength might be restored to him as it was before. And again he did not know for what he prayed.

When he had washed off the dust in the stream, he came back to the place of combat, and Sohrab also, seeing him return, left the camp. But when they met, and, laying hold of each other's belts, wrestled as before, then it seemed as if Sohrab had in a moment lost all his strength. Rustem seized him by the head and arm and bent him back, and so threw him [230] on the ground. No thought had he of waiting till he should have thrown the young man a second time, but, knowing that he would not long remain where he lay, drew his sword from its scabbard, and plunged it into his breast.

Sohrab knew that he had received his death-blow. He said to Rustem: "This is my own doing, and it is chance that has put in your hand the key of my fate. My mother told me the signs by which I should know my father, and my love for him has led me to my death. I sought to see his face, and I have sought in vain. I shall never see it; and now I die. But as for you, were you to become a fish in the sea, or a star in the sky, my father will take vengeance on you when he shall hear that I am dead."

Rustem's heart sank in him when he heard these words. "Tell me," he cried, "what marks you have of Rustem. If this that you say be true, may his name perish forever!" And he threw himself on the ground, and tore his hair with loud cries.

Sohrab said: "If it be so, if indeed you are Rustem, then it is of your own evil soul that [231] you have killed me. Did I not seek by every means to make peace between us? And did I find one movement of tenderness in you? But open my cuirass, and look at what you will see. When my mother heard the sound of my trumpets at the gate, she ran to meet me, her cheeks red with weeping, and fastened a bracelet of onyx to my arm, and said, 'Keep this, it is a remembrance of your father; and use it when the time is come.' But alas! the time is come too late. We have fought together, and the son is dying before the father's eyes."

When Rustem had opened the cuirass, and saw the bracelet of onyx, he tore his garments and cried out in despair, and threw dust upon his head.

But Sohrab said: "There is no remedy. It was to be, and it is. What profits this grief?"

After a while he said again: "Now that I am about to die, the Tartars are in an evil case. Show, I pray you, your love for me, by hindering the King from marching against them. It was because they trusted in me, that they have invaded the land of Persia. Let them, therefore, return to their own coun- [232] try in peace. And there is a prisoner in the camp; I asked him about you, and he lied to me, denying the signs which I knew in my heart to be yours. Nevertheless, see that he comes to no harm. And as for me, I came like the thunder, and I go as the wind; perhaps I shall meet you in heaven."

Rustem rode back to the army. The Persians were glad to see him return alive; but when they perceived that his garments were torn and his head covered with dust, they asked him the cause. "I have slain," he said, "the noblest of sons."

Thus Sohrab died by the hand of his father.


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