Shah Nameh/Rúdábeh


The chief of Kábul was descended from the family of Zohák. He was named Mihráb, and to secure the safety of his state, paid annual tribute to Sám. Mihráb, on the arrival of Zál, went out of the city to see him, and was hospitably entertained by the young hero, who soon discovered that he had a daughter of wonderful attractions.

  Her name Rúdábeh; screened from public view,
  Her countenance is brilliant as the sun;
  From head to foot her lovely form is fair
  As polished ivory. Like the spring, her cheek
  Presents a radiant bloom,--in stature tall,
  And o'er her silvery brightness, richly flow
  Dark musky ringlets clustering to her feet.
  She blushes like the rich pomegranate flower;
  Her eyes are soft and sweet as the narcissus,
  Her lashes from the raven's jetty plume
  Have stolen their blackness, and her brows are bent
  Like archer's bow. Ask ye to see the moon?
  Look at her face. Seek ye for musky fragrance?
  She is all sweetness. Her long fingers seem
  Pencils of silver, and so beautiful
  Her presence, that she breathes of Heaven and love.

Such was the description of Rúdábeh, which inspired the heart of Zál with the most violent affection, and imagination added to her charms.

Mihráb again waited on Zál, who received him graciously, and asked him in what manner he could promote his wishes. Mihráb said that he only desired him to become his guest at a banquet he intended to invite him to; but Zál thought proper to refuse, because he well knew, if he accepted an invitation of the kind from a relation of Zohák, that his father Sám and the King of Persia would be offended. Mihráb returned to Kábul disappointed, and having gone into his harem, his wife, Síndokht, inquired after the stranger from Zábul, the white-headed son of Sám. She wished to know what he was like, in form and feature, and what account he gave of his sojourn with the Símúrgh. Mihráb described him in the warmest terms of admiration--he was valiant, he said, accomplished and handsome, with no other defect than that of white hair. And so boundless was his praise, that Rúdábeh, who was present, drank every word with avidity, and felt her own heart warmed into admiration and love. Full of emotion, she afterwards said privately to her attendants:

  "To you alone the secret of my heart
  I now unfold; to you alone confess
  The deep sensations of my captive soul.
  I love, I love; all day and night of him
  I think alone--I see him in my dreams--
  You only know my secret--aid me now,
  And soothe the sorrows of my bursting heart."

The attendants were startled with this confession and entreaty, and ventured to remonstrate against so preposterous an attachment.

  "What! hast thou lost all sense of shame,
  All value for thy honored name!
  That thou, in loveliness supreme,
  Of every tongue the constant theme,
  Should choose, and on another's word.
  The nursling of a Mountain Bird!
  A being never seen before,
  Which human mother never bore!
  And can the hoary locks of age,
  A youthful heart like thine engage?
  Must thy enchanting form be prest
  To such a dubious monster's breast?
  And all thy beauty's rich array,
  Thy peerless charms be thrown away?"

This violent remonstrance was more calculated to rouse the indignation of Rúdábeh than to induce her to change her mind. It did so. But she subdued her resentment, and again dwelt upon the ardor of her passion.

  "My attachment is fixed, my election is made,
  And when hearts are enchained 'tis in vain to upbraid.
  Neither Kízar nor Faghfúr I wish to behold,
  Nor the monarch of Persia with jewels and gold;
  All, all I despise, save the choice of my heart,
  And from his beloved image I never can part.
  Call him aged, or young, 'tis a fruitless endeavour
  To uproot a desire I must cherish for ever;
  Call him old, call him young, who can passion control?
  Ever present, and loved, he entrances my soul.
  'Tis for him I exist--him I worship alone,
  And my heart it must bleed till I call him my own."

As soon as the attendants found that Rúdábeh's attachment was deeply fixed, and not to be removed, they changed their purpose, and became obedient to her wishes, anxious to pursue any measure that might bring Zál and their mistress together. Rúdábeh was delighted with this proof of their regard.

It was spring-time, and the attendants repaired towards the halting-place of Zál, in the neighborhood of the city. Their occupation seemed to be gathering roses along the romantic banks of a pellucid streamlet, and when they purposely strayed opposite the tent of Zál, he observed them, and asked his friends--why they presumed to gather roses in his garden. He was told that they were damsels sent by the moon of Kábulistán from the palace of Mihráb to gather roses, and upon hearing this his heart was touched with emotion. He rose up and rambled about for amusement, keeping the direction of the river, followed by a servant with a bow. He was not far from the damsels, when a bird sprung up from the water, which he shot, upon the wing, with an arrow. The bird happened to fall near the rose-gatherers, and Zál ordered his servant to bring it to him. The attendants of Rúdábeh lost not the opportunity, as he approached them, to inquire who the archer was. "Know ye not," answered the servant, "that this is Ním-rúz, the son of Sám, and also called Dustán, the greatest warrior ever known." At this the damsels smiled, and said that they too belonged to a person of distinction--and not of inferior worth--to a star in the palace of Mihráb. "We have come from Kábul to the King of Zábulistán, and should Zál and Rúdábeh be of equal rank, her ruby lips may become acquainted with his, and their wished-for union be effected." When the servant returned, Zál was immediately informed of the conversation that had taken place, and in consequence presents were prepared.

  They who to gather roses came--went back
  With precious gems--and honorary robes;
  And two bright finger-rings were secretly
  Sent to the princess.

Then did the attendants of Rúdábeh exult in the success of their artifice, and say that the lion had come into their toils. Rúdábeh herself, however, had some fears on the subject. She anxiously sought to know exactly the personal appearance of Zál, and happily her warmest hopes were realized by the description she received. But one difficulty remained--how were they to meet? How was she to see with her own eyes the man whom her fancy had depicted in such glowing colors? Her attendants, sufficiently expert at intrigue, soon contrived the means of gratifying her wishes. There was a beautiful rural retreat in a sequestered situation, the apartments of which were adorned with pictures of great men, and ornamented in the most splendid manner. To this favorite place Rúdábeh retired, and most magnificently dressed, awaiting the coming of Zál, whom her attendants had previously invited to repair thither as soon as the sun had gone down. The shadows of evening were falling as he approached, and the enamoured princess thus addressed him from her balcony:--

  "May happiness attend thee ever, thou,
  Whose lucid features make this gloomy night
  Clear as the day; whose perfume scents the breeze;
  Thou who, regardless of fatigue, hast come
  On foot too, thus to see me--"

Hearing a sweet voice, he looked up, and beheld a bright face in the balcony, and he said to the beautiful vision:--

  "How often have I hoped that Heaven
    Would, in some secret place display
  Thy charms to me, and thou hast given
    My heart the wish of many a day;
  For now thy gentle voice I hear,
    And now I see thee--speak again!
  Speak freely in a willing ear,
    And every wish thou hast obtain."

Not a word was lost upon Rúdábeh, and she soon accomplished her object. Her hair was so luxuriant, and of such a length, that casting it loose it flowed down from the balcony; and, after fastening the upper part to a ring, she requested Zál to take hold of the other end and mount up. He ardently kissed the musky tresses, and by them quickly ascended.

  Then hand in hand within the chambers they
  Gracefully passed.--Attractive was the scene,
  The walls embellished by the painter's skill,
  And every object exquisitely formed,
  Sculpture, and architectural ornament,
  Fit for a king. Zál with amazement gazed
  Upon what art had done, but more he gazed
  Upon the witching radiance of his love,
  Upon her tulip cheeks, her musky locks,
  Breathing the sweetness of a summer garden;
  Upon the sparkling brightness of her rings,
  Necklace, and bracelets, glittering on her arms.
  His mien too was majestic--on his head
  He wore a ruby crown, and near his breast
  Was seen a belted dagger. Fondly she
  With side-long glances marked his noble aspect,
  The fine proportions of his graceful limbs,
  His strength and beauty. Her enamoured heart
  Suffused her cheek with blushes, every glance
  Increased the ardent transports of her soul.
  So mild was his demeanour, he appeared
  A gentle lion toying with his prey.
  Long they remained rapt in admiration
  Of each other. At length the warrior rose,
  And thus addressed her: "It becomes not us
  To be forgetful of the path of prudence,
  Though love would dictate a more ardent course,
  How oft has Sám, my father, counselled me,
  Against unseeming thoughts,--unseemly deeds,--
  Always to choose the right, and shun the wrong.
  How will he burn with anger when he hears
  This new adventure; how will Minúchihr
  Indignantly reproach me for this dream!
  This waking dream of rapture! but I call
  High Heaven to witness what I now declare--
  Whoever may oppose my sacred vows,
  I still am thine, affianced thine, for ever."

  And thus Rúdábeh: "Thou hast won my heart,
  And kings may sue in vain; to thee devoted,
  Thou art alone my warrior and my love."
  Thus they exclaimed,--then Zál with fond adieus
  Softly descended from the balcony,
  And hastened to his tent.

As speedily as possible he assembled together his counsellors and Múbids to obtain their advice on the present extraordinary occasion, and he represented to them the sacred importance of encouraging matrimonial alliances.

  For marriage is a contract sealed by Heaven--
  How happy is the Warrior's lot, amidst
  His smiling children; when he dies, his son
  Succeeds him, and enjoys his rank and name.
  And is it not a glorious thing to say--
  This is the son of Zál, or this of Sám,
  The heir of his renowned progenitor?

He then related to them the story of his love and affection for the daughter of Mihráb; but the Múbids, well knowing that the chief of Kábul was of the family of Zohák, the serpent-king, did not approve the union desired, which excited the indignation of Zál. They, however, recommended his writing a letter to Sám, who might, if he thought proper, refer the matter to Minúchihr. The letter was accordingly written and despatched, and when Sám received it, he immediately referred the question to his astrologers, to know whether the nuptials, if solemnized between Zál and Rúdábeh, would be prosperous or not. They foretold that the nuptials would be prosperous, and that the issue would be a son of wonderful strength and power, the conqueror of the world. This announcement delighted the heart of the old warrior, and he sent the messenger back with the assurance of his approbation of the proposed union, but requested that the subject might be kept concealed till he returned with his army from the expedition to Karugsár, and was able to consult with Minúchihr.

Zál, exulting at his success, communicated the glad tidings to Rúdábeh by their female emissary, who had hitherto carried on successfully the correspondence between them. But as she was conveying an answer to this welcome news, and some presents to Zál, Síndokht, the mother of Rúdábeh, detected her, and, examining the contents of the packet, she found sufficient evidence, she thought, of something wrong.

  "What treachery is this? What have we here!
  Sirbund and male attire? Thou, wretch, confess!
  Disclose thy secret doings."

The emissary, however, betrayed nothing; but declared that she was a dealer in jewels and dresses, and had been only showing her merchandise to Rúdábeh. Síndokht, in extreme agitation of mind, hastened to her daughter's apartment to ascertain the particulars of this affair, when Rúdábeh at once fearlessly acknowledged her unalterable affection for Zál,

  "I love him so devotedly, all day,
  All night my tears have flowed unceasingly;
  And one hair of his head I prize more dearly
  Than all the world beside; for him I live;
  And we have met, and we have sat together,
  And pledged our mutual love with mutual joy
  And innocence of heart."

Rúdábeh further informed her of Sám's consent to their nuptials, which in some degree satisfied the mother. But when Mihráb was made acquainted with the arrangement, his rage was unbounded, for he dreaded the resentment of Sám and Minúchihr when the circumstances became fully known to them. Trembling with indignation he drew his dagger, and would have instantly rushed to Rúdábeh's chamber to destroy her, had not Síndokht fallen at his feet and restrained him. He insisted, however, on her being brought before him; and upon his promise not to do her any harm, Síndokht complied. Rúdábeh disdained to take off her ornaments to appear as an offender and a supplicant, but, proud of her choice, went into her father's presence, gayly adorned with jewels, and in splendid apparel. Mihráb received her with surprise.

  "Why all this glittering finery? Is the devil
  United to an angel? When a snake
  Is met with in Arabia, it is killed!"

But Rúdábeh answered not a word, and was permitted to retire with her mother.

When Minúchihr was apprised of the proceedings between Zál and Rúdábeh, he was deeply concerned, anticipating nothing but confusion and ruin to Persia from the united influence of Zál and Mihráb. Feridún had purified the world from the abominations of Zohák, and as Mihráb was a descendant of that merciless tyrant, he feared that some attempt would be made to resume the enormities of former times; Sám was therefore required to give his advice on the occasion.

The conqueror of Karugsár and Mázinderán was received on his return with cordial rejoicings, and he charmed the king with the story of his triumphant success. The monarch against whom he had fought was descended, on the mother's side, from Zohák, and his Demon army was more numerous than ants, or clouds of locusts, covering mountain and plain. Sám thus proceeded in his description of the conflict.

  "And when he heard my voice, and saw what deeds
  I had performed, approaching me, he threw
  His noose; but downward bending I escaped,
  And with my bow I showered upon his head
  Steel-pointed arrows, piercing through the brain;
  Then did I grasp his loins, and from his horse
  Cast him upon the ground, deprived of life.
  At this, the demons terrified and pale,
  Shrunk back, some flying to the mountain wilds,
  And others, taken on the battle-field,
  Became obedient to the Persian king."

Minúchihr, gratified by this result of the expedition, appointed Sám to a new enterprise, which was to destroy Kábul by fire and sword, especially the house of Mihráb; and that ruler, of the serpent-race, and all his adherents were to be put to death. Sám, before he took leave to return to his own government at Zábul, tried to dissuade him from this violent exercise of revenge, but without making any sensible impression upon him.

Meanwhile the vindictive intentions of Minúchihr, which were soon known at Kábul, produced the greatest alarm and consternation in the family of Mihráb. Zál now returned to his father, and Sám sent a letter to Minúchihr, again to deprecate his wrath, and appointed Zál the messenger. In this letter Sám enumerates his services at Karugsár and Mázinderán, and especially dwells upon the destruction of a prodigious dragon.

  "I am thy servant, and twice sixty years
  Have seen my prowess. Mounted on my steed,
  Wielding my battle-axe, overthrowing heroes,
  Who equals Sám, the warrior? I destroyed
  The mighty monster, whose devouring jaws
  Unpeopled half the land, and spread dismay
  From town to town. The world was full of horror,
  No bird was seen in air, no beast of prey
  In plain or forest; from the stream he drew
  The crocodile; the eagle from the sky.
  The country had no habitant alive,
  And when I found no human being left,
  I cast away all fear, and girt my loins,
  And in the name of God went boldly forth,
  Armed for the strife. I saw him towering rise,
  Huge as a mountain, with his hideous hair
  Dragging upon the ground; his long black tongue
  Shut up the path; his eyes two lakes of blood;
  And, seeing me, so horrible his roar,
  The earth shook with affright, and from his mouth
  A flood of poison issued. Like a lion
  Forward I sprang, and in a moment drove
  A diamond-pointed arrow through his tongue,
  Fixing him to the ground. Another went
  Down his deep throat, and dreadfully he writhed.
  A third passed through his middle. Then I raised
  My battle-axe, cow-headed, and with one
  Tremendous blow, dislodged his venomous brain,
  And deluged all around with blood and poison.
  There lay the monster dead, and soon the world
  Regained its peace and comfort. Now I'm old,
  The vigour of my youth is past and gone,
  And it becomes me to resign my station,
  To Zál, my gallant son."

Mihráb continued in such extreme agitation, that in his own mind he saw no means of avoiding the threatened desolation of his country but by putting his wife and daughter to death. Síndokht however had a better resource, and suggested the expediency of waiting upon Sám herself, to induce him to forward her own views and the nuptials between Zál and Rúdábeh. To this Mihráb assented, and she proceeded, mounted on a richly caparisoned horse, to Zábul with most magnificent presents, consisting of three hundred thousand dínars; ten horses with golden, and thirty with silver, housings; sixty richly attired damsels, carrying golden trays of jewels and musk, and camphor, and wine, and sugar; forty pieces of figured cloth; a hundred milch camels, and a hundred others for burden; two hundred Indian swords, a golden crown and throne, and four elephants. Sám was amazed and embarrassed by the arrival of this splendid array. If he accepted the presents, he would incur the anger of Minúchihr; and if he rejected them, Zál would be disappointed and driven to despair. He at length accepted them, and concurred in the wishes of Síndokht respecting the union of the two lovers.

When Zál arrived at the court of Minúchihr, he was received with honor, and the letter of Sám being read, the king was prevailed upon to consent to the pacific proposals that were made in favor of Mihráb, and the nuptials. He too consulted his astrologers, and was informed that the offspring of Zál and Rúdábeh would be a hero of matchless strength and valor. Zál, on his return through Kábul, had an interview with Rúdábeh, who welcomed him in the most rapturous terms:--

  Be thou for ever blest, for I adore thee,
  And make the dust of thy fair feet my pillow.

In short, with the approbation of all parties the marriage at length took place, and was celebrated at the beautiful summer-house where first the lovers met. Sám was present at Kábul on the happy occasion, and soon afterwards returned to Sístán, preparatory to resuming his martial labors in Karugsár and Mázinderán.

As the time drew near that Rúdábeh should become a mother, she suffered extremely from constant indisposition, and both Zál and Síndokht were in the deepest distress on account of her precarious state.

  The cypress leaf was withering; pale she lay,
  Unsoothed by rest or sleep, death seemed approaching.

At last Zál recollected the feather of the Símúrgh, and followed the instructions which he had received, by placing it on the fire. In a moment darkness surrounded them, which was, however, immediately dispersed by the sudden appearance of the Símúrgh. "Why," said the Símúrgh, "do I see all this grief and sorrow? Why are the tear-drops in the warrior's eyes? A child will be born of mighty power, who will become the wonder of the world."

The Símúrgh then gave some advice which was implicitly attended to, and the result was that Rúdábeh was soon out of danger. Never was beheld so prodigious a child. The father and mother were equally amazed. They called the boy Rustem. On the first day he looked a year old, and he required the milk of ten nurses. A likeness of him was immediately worked in silk, representing him upon a horse, and armed like a warrior, which was sent to Sám, who was then fighting in Mázinderán, and it made the old champion almost delirious with joy. At Kábul and Zábul there was nothing but feasting and rejoicing, as soon as the tidings were known, and thousands of dínars were given away in charity to the poor. When Rustem was five years of age, he ate as much as a man, and some say that even in his third year he rode on horseback. In his eighth year he was as powerful as any hero of the time.

  In beauty of form and in vigour of limb,
  No mortal was ever seen equal to him.

Both Sám and Mihráb, though far distant from the scene of felicity, were equally anxious to proceed to Zábulistán to behold their wonderful grandson. Both set off, but Mihráb arrived first with great pomp, and a whole army for his suite, and went forth with Zál to meet Sám, and give him an honorable welcome. The boy Rustem was mounted on an elephant, wearing a splendid crown, and wanted to join them, but his father kindly prevented him undergoing the inconvenience of alighting. Zál and Mihráb dismounted as soon as Sám was seen at a distance, and performed the ceremonies of an affectionate reception. Sám was indeed amazed when he did see the boy, and showered blessings on his head.

Afterwards Sám placed Mihráb on his right hand, and Zál on his left, and Rustem before him, and began to converse with his grandson, who thus manifested to him his martial disposition.

  "Thou art the champion of the world, and I
  The branch of that fair tree of which thou art
  The glorious root: to thee I am devoted,
  But ease and leisure have no charms for me;
  Nor music, nor the songs of festive joy.
  Mounted and armed, a helmet on my brow,
  A javelin in my grasp, I long to meet
  The foe, and cast his severed head before thee."

Then Sám made a royal feast, and every apartment in his palace was richly decorated, and resounded with mirth and rejoicing. Mihráb was the merriest, and drank the most, and in his cups saw nothing but himself, so vain had he become from the countenance he had received. He kept saying:--

  "Now I feel no alarm about Sám or Zál-zer,
  Nor the splendour and power of the great Minúchihr;
  Whilst aided by Rustem, his sword, and his mace,
  Not a cloud of misfortune can shadow my face.
  All the laws of Zohák I will quickly restore,
  And the world shall be fragrant and blest as before."

This exultation plainly betrayed the disposition of his race; and though Sám smiled at the extravagance of Mihráb, he looked up towards Heaven, and prayed that Rustem might not prove a tyrant, but be continually active in doing good, and humble before God.

Upon Sám departing, on his return to Karugsár and Mázinderán, Zál went with Rustem to Sístán, a province dependent on his government, and settled him there. The white elephant, belonging to Minúchihr, was kept at Sístán. One night Rustem was awakened out of his sleep by a great noise, and cries of distress when starting up and inquiring the cause, he was told that the white elephant had got loose, and was trampling and crushing the people to death. In a moment he issued from his apartment, brandishing his mace; but was soon stopped by the servants, who were anxious to expostulate with him against venturing out in the darkness of night to encounter a ferocious elephant. Impatient at being thus interrupted he knocked down one of the watchmen, who fell dead at his feet, and the others running away, he broke the lock of the gate, and escaped. He immediately opposed himself to the enormous animal, which looked like a mountain, and kept roaring like the River Nil. Regarding him with a cautious and steady eye, he gave a loud shout, and fearlessly struck him a blow, with such strength and vigor, that the iron mace was bent almost double. The elephant trembled, and soon fell exhausted and lifeless in the dust. When it was communicated to Zál that Rustem had killed the animal with one blow, he was amazed, and fervently returned thanks to heaven. He called him to him, and kissed him, and said: "My darling boy, thou art indeed unequalled in valor and magnanimity."

Then it occurred to Zál that Rustem, after such an achievement, would be a proper person to take vengeance on the enemies of his grandfather Narímán, who was sent by Feridún with a large army against an enchanted fort situated upon the mountain Sipund, and who whilst endeavoring to effect his object, was killed by a piece of rock thrown down from above by the besieged. The fort[1], which was many miles high, inclosed beautiful lawns of the freshest verdure, and delightful gardens abounding with fruit and flowers; it was also full of treasure. Sám, on hearing of the fate of his father, was deeply afflicted, and in a short time proceeded against the fort himself; but he was surrounded by a trackless desert. He knew not what course to pursue; not a being was ever seen to enter or come out of the gates, and, after spending months and years in fruitless endeavors, he was compelled to retire from the appalling enterprise in despair. "Now," said Zál to Rustem, "the time is come, and the remedy is at hand; thou art yet unknown, and may easily accomplish our purpose." Rustem agreed to the proposed adventure, and according to his father's advice, assumed the dress and character of a salt-merchant, prepared a caravan of camels, and secreted arms for himself and companions among the loads of salt. Everything being ready they set off, and it was not long before they reached the fort on the mountain Sipund. Salt being a precious article, and much wanted, as soon as the garrison knew that it was for sale, the gates were opened; and then was Rustem seen, together with his warriors, surrounded by men, women, and children, anxiously making their purchases, some giving clothes in exchange, some gold, and some silver, without fear or suspicion.

  But when the night came on, and it was dark,
  Rustem impatient drew his warriors forth,
  And moved towards the mansion of the chief--
  But not unheard. The unaccustomed noise,
  Announcing warlike menace and attack,
  Awoke the Kotwál, who sprung up to meet
  The peril threatened by the invading foe.
  Rustem meanwhile uplifts his ponderous mace,
  And cleaves his head, and scatters on the ground
  The reeking brains. And now the garrison
  Are on the alert, all hastening to the spot
  Where battle rages; midst the deepened gloom
  Flash sparkling swords, which show the crimson earth
  Bright as the ruby.

Rustem continued fighting with the people of the fort all night, and just as morning dawned, he discovered the chief and slew him. Those who survived, then escaped, and not one of the inhabitants remained within the walls alive. Rustem's next object was to enter the governor's mansion. It was built of stone, and the gate, which was made of iron, he burst open with his battle-axe, and advancing onward, he discovered a temple, constructed with infinite skill and science, beyond the power of mortal man, and which contained amazing wealth, in jewels and gold. All the warriors gathered for themselves as much treasure as they could carry away, and more than imagination can conceive; and Rustem wrote to Zál to know his further commands on the subject of the capture. Zál, overjoyed at the result of the enterprise, replied:

  Thou hast illumed the soul of Narímán,
  Now in the blissful bowers of Paradise,
  By punishing his foes with fire and sword.

He then recommended him to load all the camels with as much of the invaluable property as could be removed, and bring it away, and then burn and destroy the whole place, leaving not a single vestige; and the command having been strictly complied with, Rustem retraced his steps to Zábulistán.

  On his return Zál pressed him to his heart,
  And paid him public honors. The fond mother
  Kissed and embraced her darling son, and all
  Uniting, showered their blessings on his head.

notes (from the original)Edit

  1. The fort called Killah Suffeed, lies about seventy-six miles northwest of the city of Shiraz. It is of an oblong form, and encloses a level space at the top of the mountain, which is covered with delightful verdure, and watered by numerous springs. The ascent is near three miles, and for the last five or six hundred yards, the summit is so difficult of approach, that the slightest opposition, if well directed, must render it impregnable.