Shah Nameh/Barzú, and His Conflict with Rustem


Afrásiyáb after his defeat pursued his way in despair towards Chín and Má-chín, and on the road happened to fall in with a man of huge and terrific stature. Amazed at the sight of so extraordinary a being, he asked him who and what he was. "I am a villager," replied the stranger. "And thy father?"--"I do not know my father. My mother has never mentioned his name, and my birth is wrapped in mystery." Afrásiyáb then addressed him as follows:--"It is my misfortune to have a bitter and invincible enemy, who has plunged me into the greatest distress. If he could be subdued, there would be no impediment to my conquest of Irán; and I feel assured that thou, apparently endued with such prodigious strength, hast the power to master him. His name is Rustem." "What!" rejoined Barzú, "is all this concern and affliction about one man--about one man only?" "Yes," answered Afrásiyáb; "but that one man is equal to a hundred strong men. Upon him neither sword, nor mace, nor javelin has any effect. In battle he is like a mountain of steel." At this Barzú exclaimed in gamesome mood:--"A mountain of steel!--I can reduce to dust a hundred mountains of steel!--What is a mountain of steel to me!" Afrásiyáb rejoiced to find such confidence in the stranger, and instantly promised him his own daughter in marriage, and the monarchy of Chín and Má-chín, if he succeeded in destroying Rustem. Barzú replied:--

  "Thou art but a coward slave,
  Thus a stranger's aid to crave.
  And thy soldiers, what are they?
  Heartless on the battle-day.
  Thou, the prince of such a host!
  What, alas! hast thou to boast?
  Art thou not ashamed to wear
  The regal crown that glitters there?
  And dost thou not disgrace the throne
  Thus to be awed, and crushed by one;
  By one, whate'er his name or might,
  Thus to be put to shameful flight!"

Afrásiyáb felt keenly the reproaches which he heard; but, nevertheless, solicited the assistance of Barzú, who declared that he would soon overpower Rustem, and place the empire of Irán under the dominion of the Tartar king. He would, he said, overflow the land of Persia with blood, and take possession of the throne! The despot was intoxicated with delight, and expecting his most sanguine wishes would be realized, made him the costliest presents, consisting of gold and jewels, and horses, and elephants, so that the besotted stranger thought himself the greatest personage in all the world. But his mother, when she heard these things, implored him to be cautious:--

  "My son, these presents, though so rich and rare,
  Will be thy winding-sheet; beware, beware!
  They'll drive to madness thy poor giddy brain,
  And thou wilt never be restored again.
  Never; for wert thou bravest of the brave,
  They only lead to an untimely grave.
  Then give them back, nor such a doom provoke,
  Beware of Rustem's host-destroying stroke.
  Has he not conquered demons!--and, alone,
  Afrásiyáb's best warriors overthrown!
  And canst thou equal them?--Alas! the day
  That thy sweet life should thus be thrown away."

Barzú, however, was too much dazzled by the presents he had received, and too vain of his own personal strength to attend to his mother's advice. "Certainly," said he, "the disposal of our lives is in the hands of the Almighty, and as certain it is that my strength is superior to that of Rustem. Would it not then be cowardly to decline the contest with him?" The mother still continued to dissuade him from the enterprise, and assured him that Rustem was above all mankind distinguished for the art, and skill, and dexterity, with which he attacked his enemy, and defended himself; and that there was no chance of his being overcome by a man entirely ignorant of the science of fighting; but Barzú remained unmoved: yet he told the king what his mother had said; and Afrásiyáb, in consequence, deemed it proper to appoint two celebrated masters to instruct him in the use of the bow, the sword, and the javelin, and also in wrestling and throwing the noose. Every day, clothed in armor, he tried his skill and strength with the warriors, and after ten days he was sufficiently accomplished to overthrow eighteen of them at one time. Proud of the progress he had made, he told the king that he would seize and bind eighteen of his stoutest and most experienced teachers, and bring them before him, if he wished, when all the assembly exclaimed:--"No doubt he is fully equal to the task;

 "He does not seem of human birth, but wears
  The aspect of the Evil One; and looks
  Like Alberz mountain, clad in folds of mail;
  Unwearied in the fight he conquers all."

Afrásiyáb's satisfaction was increased by this testimony to the merit of Barzú, and he heaped upon him further tokens of his good-will and munificence. The vain, newly-made warrior was all exultation and delight, and said impatiently:--

  "Delays are ever dangerous--let us meet
  The foe betimes, this Rustem and the king,
  Kai-khosráu. If we linger in a cause
  Demanding instant action, prompt appliance,
  And rapid execution, we are lost.
  Advance, and I will soon lop off the heads
  Of this belauded champion and his king,
  And cast them, with the Persian crown and throne
  Trophies of glory, at thy royal feet;
  So that Túrán alone shall rule the world."

Speedily ten thousand experienced horsemen were selected and placed under the command of Barzú; and Húmán and Bármán were appointed to accompany him; Afrásiyáb himself intending to follow with the reserve.

When the intelligence of this new expedition reached the court of Kai-khosráu, he was astonished, and could not conceive how, after so signal a defeat and overthrow, Afrásiyáb had the means of collecting another army, and boldly invading his kingdom. To oppose this invasion, however, he ordered Tús and Fríburz, with twelve thousand horsemen, and marched after them himself with a large army. As soon as Tús fell in with the enemy the battle commenced, and lasted, with great carnage, a whole day and night, and in the end Barzú was victorious. The warriors of the Persian force fled, and left Tús and Fríburz alone on the field, where they were encountered by the conqueror, taken prisoners, and bound, and placed in the charge of Húmán. The tidings of the result of this conflict were received with as much rejoicing by Afrásiyáb, as with sorrow and consternation by Kai-khosráu. And now the emergency, on the Persian side, demanded the assistance of Rustem, whose indignation was roused, and who determined on revenge for the insult that had been given. He took with him Gustahem, the brother of Tús, and at midnight thought he had come to the tent of Barzú, but it proved to be the pavilion of Afrásiyáb, who was seen seated on his throne, with Barzú on his right hand, and Pírán-wísah on his left, and Tús and Fríburz standing in chains before them. The king said to the captive warriors: "To-morrow you shall both be put to death in the manner I slew Saiáwush." He then retired. Meanwhile Rustem returned thanks to Heaven that his friends were still alive, and requesting Gustahem to follow cautiously, he waited awhile for a fit opportunity, till the watchman was off his guard, and then killing him, he and Gustahem took up and conveyed the two prisoners to a short distance, where they knocked off their chains, and then conducted them back to Kai-khosráu.

When Afrásiyáb arose from sleep, he found his warriors in close and earnest conversation, and was told that a champion from Persia had come and killed the watchman, and carried off the prisoners. Pírán exclaimed: "Then assuredly that champion is Rustem, and no other." Afrásiyáb writhed with anger and mortification at this intelligence, and sending for Barzú, despatched his army to attack the enemy, and challenge Rustem to single combat. Rustem was with the Persian troops, and, answering the summons, said: "Young man, if thou art calling for Rustem, behold I come in his place to lay thee prostrate on the earth." "Ah!" rejoined Barzú, "and why this threat? It is true I am but of tender years, whilst thou art aged and experienced. But if thou art fire, I am water, and able to quench thy flames." Saying this he wielded his bow, and fixed the arrow in its notch, and commenced the strife. Rustem also engaged with bow and arrows; and then they each had recourse to their maces, which from repeated strokes were soon bent as crooked as their bows, and they were themselves nearly exhausted. Their next encounter was by wrestling, and dreadful were the wrenches and grasps they received from each other. Barzú finding no advantage from this struggle, raised his mace, and struck Rustem such a prodigious blow on the head, that the champion thought a whole mountain had fallen upon him. One arm was disabled, but though the wound was desperate, Rustem had the address to conceal its effects, and Barzú wondered that he had made apparently so little impression on his antagonist. "Thou art," said he, "a surprising warrior, and seemingly invulnerable. Had I struck such a blow on a mountain, it would have been broken into a thousand fragments, and yet it makes no impression upon thee. Heaven forbid!" he continued to himself, "that I should ever receive so bewildering a stroke upon my own head!" Rustem having successfully concealed the anguish of his wound, artfully observed that it would be better to finish the combat on the following day, to which Barzú readily agreed, and then they both parted.

Barzú declared to Afrásiyáb that his extraordinary vigor and strength had been of no account, for both his antagonist and his horse appeared to be composed of materials as hard as flint. Every blow was without effect; and "Heaven only knows," added he, "what may be the result of to-morrow's conflict." On the other hand Rustem showed his lacerated arm to Khosráu, and said: "I have escaped from him; but who else is there now to meet him, and finish the struggle? Ferámurz, my son, cannot fulfil my promise with Barzú, as he, alas! is fighting in Hindústán. Let me, however, call him hither, and in the meanwhile, on some pretext or other, delay the engagement." The king, in great sorrow and affliction, sanctioned his departure, and then said to his warriors: "I will fight this Barzú myself to-morrow;" but Gúdarz would not consent to it, saying: "As long as we live, the king must not be exposed to such hazard. Gíw and Byzun, and the other chiefs, must first successively encounter the enemy."

When Rustem reached his tent, he told his brother Zúára to get ready a litter, that he might proceed to Sístán for the purpose of obtaining a remedy for his wound from the Símúrgh. Pain and grief kept him awake all night, and he prayed incessantly to the Supreme Being. In the morning early, Zúára brought him intelligence of the welcome arrival of Ferámurz, which gladdened his heart; and as the youth had undergone great fatigue on his long journey, Rustem requested him to repose awhile, and he himself, freed from anxiety, also sought relief in a sound sleep.

A few hours afterwards both armies were again drawn up, and Barzú, like a mad elephant, full of confidence and pride, rode forward to resume the combat; whilst Rustem gave instructions to Ferámurz how he was to act. He attired him in his own armor, supplied him with his own weapons, and mounted him on Rakush, and told him to represent himself to Barzú as the warrior who had engaged him the day before. Accordingly Ferámurz entered the middle space, clothed in his father's mail, raised his bow, ready bent, and shot an arrow at Barzú, crying: "Behold thy adversary! I am the man come to try thy strength again. Advance!" To this Barzú replied: "Why this hilarity, and great flow of spirits? Art thou reckless of thy life?" "In the eyes of warriors," said Ferámurz, "the field of fight is the mansion of pleasure. After I yesterday parted from thee I drank wine with my companions, and the impression of delight still remains on my heart.

  "Wine exhilarates the soul,
  Makes the eye with pleasure roll;
  Lightens up the darkest mien,
  Fills with joy the dullest scene;
  Hence it is I meet thee now
  With a smile upon my brow,"

Barzú, however, thought that the voice and action of his adversary were not the same as he had heard and seen the preceding day, although there was no difference in the armor or the horse, and therefore he said: "Perhaps the cavalier whom I encountered yesterday is wounded or dead, that thou hast mounted his charger, and attired thyself in his mail." "Indeed," rejoined Ferámurz, "perhaps thou hast lost thy wits; I am certainly the person who engaged thee yesterday, and almost extinguished thee; and with God's favor thou shalt be a dead man to-day." "What is thy name?" "My name is Rustem, descended from a race of warriors, and my pleasure consists in contending with the lions of battle, and shedding the blood of heroes." Thus saying, Ferámurz rushed on his adversary, struck him several blows with his battle-axe, and drawing his noose from the saddle-strap with the quickness of lightning, secured his prize. He might have put an end to his existence in a moment, but preferred taking him alive, and showing him as a captive. Afrásiyáb seeing the perilous condition of Barzú, came up with his whole army to his rescue; but Kai-khosráu was equally on the alert, accompanied by Rustem, who, advancing to the support of Ferámurz, threw another noose round the neck of the already-captured Barzú, to prevent the possibility of his escape. Both armies now engaged, and the Túránians made many desperate efforts to recover their gigantic leader, but all their manoeuvres were fruitless. The struggle continued fiercely, and with great slaughter, till it was dark, and then ceased; the two kings returned back to the respective positions they had taken up before the conflict took place. The Túránians were in the deepest grief for the loss of Barzú; and Pírán-wísah having recommended an immediate retreat across the Jihún, Afrásiyáb followed his counsel, and precipitately quitted Persia with all his troops.

Kai-khosráu ordered a grand banquet on the occasion of the victory; and when Barzú was brought before him, he commanded his immediate execution; but Rustem, seeing that he was very young, and thinking that he had not yet been corrupted and debased by the savage example of the Túránians, requested that he might be spared, and given to him to send into Sístán; and his request was promptly complied with.

When the mother of Barzú, whose name was Sháh-rú, heard that her son was a prisoner, she wept bitterly, and hastened to Irán, and from thence to Sístán. There happened to be in Rustem's employ a singing-girl,[50] an old acquaintance of hers, to whom she was much attached, and to whom she made large presents, calling her by the most endearing epithets, in order that she might be brought to serve her in the important matter she had in contemplation. Her object was soon explained, and the preliminaries at once adjusted, and by the hands of this singing-girl she secretly sent some food to Barzú, in which she concealed a ring, to apprise him of her being near him. On finding the ring, he asked who had supplied him with the food, and her answer was: "A woman recently arrived from Má-chín." This was to him delightful intelligence, and he could not help exclaiming, "That woman is my mother, I am grateful for thy services, but another time bring me, if thou canst, a large file, that I may be able to free myself from these chains." The singing-girl promised her assistance; and having told Sháh-rú what her son required, conveyed to him a file, and resolved to accompany him in his flight. Barzú then requested that three fleet horses might be provided and kept ready under the walls, at a short distance; and this being also done, in the night, he and his mother, and the singing-girl, effected their escape, and pursued their course towards Túrán.

It so happened that Rustem was at this time in progress between Irán and Sístán, hunting for his own pleasure the elk or wild ass, and he accidentally fell in with the refugees, who made an attempt to avoid him, but, unable to effect their purpose, thought proper to oppose him with all their might, and a sharp contest ensued. Both parties becoming fatigued, they rested awhile, when Rustem asked Barzú how he had obtained his liberty. "The Almighty freed me from the bondage I endured." "And who are these two women?" "One of them," replied Barzú, "is my mother, and that is a singing-girl of thy own house." Rustem went aside, and called for breakfast, and thinking in his own mind that it would be expedient to poison Barzú, mixed up a deleterious substance in some food, and sent it to him to eat. He was just going to take it, when his mother cried, "My son, beware!" and he drew his hand from the dish. But the singing-girl did eat part of it, and died on the spot. Upon witnessing this appalling scene, Barzú sprang forward with indignation, and reproached Rustem for his treachery in the severest terms.

  "Old man! hast thou mid warrior-chiefs a place,
  And dost thou practice that which brings disgrace?
  Hast thou no fear of a degraded name,
  No fear of lasting obloquy and shame?
  O, thou canst have no hope in God, when thou
  Stand'st thus defiled--dishonoured, false, as now;
  Unfair, perfidious, art thou too, in strife,
  By any pretext thou wouldst take my life!"

He then in a menacing attitude exclaimed: "If thou art a man, rise and fight!" Rustem felt ashamed on being thus detected, and rose up frowning in scorn. They met, brandishing their battle-axes, and looking as black as the clouds of night. They then dismounted to wrestle, and fastening the bridles, each to his own girdle, furiously grasped each other's loins and limbs, straining and struggling for the mastery. Whilst they were thus engaged, their horses betrayed equal animosity, and attacked each other with great violence. Rakush bit and kicked Barzú's steed so severely that he strove to gallop away, dragging his master, who was at the same time under the excruciating grip of Rustem. "O, release me for a moment till I am disentangled from my horse," exclaimed Barzú; but Rustem heeding him not, now pressed him down beneath him, and was preparing to give him the finishing blow by cutting off his head, when the mother seeing the fatal moment approach, shrieked, and cried out, "Forbear, Rustem! this youth is the son of Sohráb, and thy own grandchild! Forbear, and bring not on thyself the devouring anguish which followed the death of his unhappy father.

  "Think of Sohráb! take not the precious life
  Of sire and son--unnatural is the strife;
  Restrain, for mercy's sake, that furious mood,
  And pause before thou shedd'st a kinsman's blood."

"Ah!" rejoined Rustem, "can that be true?" upon which Sháh-rú showed him Sohráb's brilliant finger-ring and he was satisfied. He then pressed Barzú warmly and affectionately to his breast, and kissed his head and eyes, and took him along with him to Sístán, where he placed him in a station of honor, and introduced him to his great-grandfather Zál, who received and caressed him with becoming tenderness and regard.