Shah Nameh/The Death of Isfendiyár

Isfendiyár, blind to the march of fate, treated the suggestion of his brother with scorn, and mounting his horse, was soon in the presence of Rustem, whom he thus hastily addressed: "Yesterday thou wert wounded almost to death by my arrows, and to-day there is no trace of them. How is this?

 "But thy father Zál is a sorcerer,
    And he by charm and spell
  Has cured all the wounds of the warrior,
    And now he is safe and well.
  For the wounds I gave could never be
  Closed up, excepting by sorcery.
  Yes, the wounds I gave thee in every part,
  Could never be cured but by magic art."

Rustem replied, "If a thousand arrows were shot at me, they would all drop harmless to the ground, and in the end thou wilt fall by my hands. Therefore, if thou seekest thy own welfare, come at once and be my guest, and I swear by the Almighty, by Zerdusht, and the Zendavesta, by the sun and moon, that I will go with thee, but unfetterd, to thy father, who may do with me what he lists."--"That is not enough," replied Isfendiyár, "thou must be fettered."--"Then do not bind my arms, and take whatever thou wilt from me."--"And what hast thou to give?"

  "A thousand jewels of brilliant hue,
    And of unknown price, shall be thine;
  A thousand imperial diadems too,
    And a thousand damsels divine,
  Who with angel-voices will sing and play,
  And delight thy senses both night and day;
  And my family wealth shall be brought thee, all
  That was gathered by Narímán, Sám, and Zál."

"This is all in vain," said Isfendiyár. "I may have wandered from the way of Heaven, but I will not disobey the commands of the king. And of what use would thy treasure and property be to me? I must please my father, that he may surrender to me his crown and throne, and I have solemnly sworn to him that I will place thee before him in fetters." Rustem replied, "And in the hopes of a crown and throne thou wouldst sacrifice thyself!"--"Thou shalt see!" said Isfendiyár, and seized his bow to commence the combat. Rustem did the same, and when he had placed the forked arrow in the bow-string, he imploringly turned up his face towards Heaven, and fervently exclaimed, "O God, thou knowest how anxiously I have wished for a reconciliation, how I have suffered, and that I would now give all my treasures and wealth and go with him to Irán, to avoid this conflict; but my offers are disdained, for he is bent upon consigning me to bondage and disgrace. Thou art the redresser of grievances--direct the flight of this arrow into his eyes, but do not let me be punished for the involuntary deed." At this moment Isfendiyár shot an arrow with great force at Rustem, who dexterously eluded its point, and then, in return, instantly lodged the charmed weapon in the eyes of his antagonist.

  And darkness overspread his sight,
  The world to him was hid in night;
  The bow dropped from his slackened hand,
  And down he sunk upon the sand.

"Yesterday," said Rustem, "thou discharged at me a hundred and sixty arrows in vain, and now thou art overthrown by one arrow of mine." Bahman, the son of Isfendiyár, seeing his father bleeding on the ground, uttered loud lamentations, and Bashútan, followed by the Iránian troops, also drew nigh with the deepest sorrow marked on their countenances. The fatal arrow was immediately drawn from the wounded eyes of the prince, and some medicine being first applied to them, they conveyed him mournfully to his own tent.

The conflict having thus terminated, Rustem at the same time returned with his army to where Zál remained in anxious suspense about the result. The old man rejoiced at the issue, but said, "O, my son, thou hast killed thy enemy, but I have learnt from the wise men and astrologers that the slayer of Isfendiyár must soon come to a fatal end. May God protect thee!" Rustem replied, "I am guiltless, his blood is upon his own head." The next day they both proceeded to visit Isfendiyár, and offer to him their sympathy and condolence, when the wounded prince thus spoke to Rustem: "I do not ascribe my misfortune to thee, but to an all-ruling power. Fate would have it so, and thus it is! I now consign to thy care and guardianship my son Bahman: instruct him in the science of government, the customs of kings, and the rules and stratagems of the warrior, for thou art exceedingly wise and experienced, and perfect in all things," Rustem readily complied, and said:--

  "That duty shall be mine alone,
  To seat him firmly on the throne."

Then Isfendiyár murmured to Bashútan, that the anguish of his wound was wearing him away, and that he had but a short time to live.

  "The pace of death is fast and fleet,
    And nothing my life can save,
  I shall want no robe, but my winding sheet,
    No mansion but the grave.

  "And tell my father the wish of his heart
    Has not been breathed in vain,
  The doom he desired when he made me depart,
    Has been sealed, and his son is slain!

  "And, O! to my mother, in kindliest tone,
    The mournful tidings bear,
  And soothe her woes for her warrior gone,
    For her lost Isfendiyár."

He now groaned heavily, and his last words were:--

  "I die, pursued by unrelenting fate,
  The hapless victim of a father's hate."

Life having departed, his body was placed upon a bier, and conveyed to Irán, amidst the tears and lamentations of the people.

Rustem now took charge of Bahman, according to the dying request of Isfendiyár, and brought him to Sístán. This was, however, repugnant to the wishes of Zúára, who observed to his brother: "Thou hast slain the father of this youth; do not therefore nurture and instruct the son of thy enemy, for, mark me, in the end he will be avenged."--"But did not Isfendiyár, with his last breath, consign him to my guardianship? how can I refuse it now? It must be so written and determined in the dispensations of Heaven."

The arrival of the bier in Persia, at the palace of Gushtásp, produced a melancholy scene of public and domestic affliction. The king took off the covering and wept bitterly, and the mother and sisters exclaimed, "Alas! thy death is not the work of human hands; it is not the work of Rustem, nor of Zál, but of the Símúrgh. Thou hast not lived long enough to be ashamed of a gray beard, nor to witness the maturity and attainments of thy children. Alas! thou art snatched away at a moment of the highest promise, even at the commencement of thy glory." In the meanwhile the curses and imprecations of the people were poured upon the devoted head of Gushtásp on account of his cruel and unnatural conduct, so that he was obliged to confine himself to his palace till after the interment of Isfendiyár.

Rustem scrupulously fulfilled his engagement, and instructed Bahman in all manly exercises; in the use of bow and javelin, in the management of sword and buckler, and in all the arts and accomplishments of the warrior. He then wrote to Gushtásp, repeating that he was unblamable in the conflict which terminated in the death of his son Isfendiyár, that he had offered him presents and wealth to a vast extent, and moreover was ready to return with him to Irán, to his father; but every overture was rejected. Relentless fate must have hurried him on to a premature death. "I have now," continued Rustem, "completed the education of Bahman, according to the directions of his father, and await thy further commands." Gushtásp, after reading this letter, referred to Bashútan, who confirmed the declarations of Rustem, and the treacherous king, willing to ascribe the event to an overruling destiny, readily acquitted Rustem of all guilt in killing Isfendiyár. At the same time he sent for Bahman, and on his arrival from Sístán, was so pleased with him that he without hesitation appointed him to succeed to the throne.

  "Methinks I see Isfendiyár again,
    Thou hast the form, the very look he bore,
    And since thy glorious father is no more,
  Long as I live thou must with me remain."