Shah Nameh/The Death of Kai-Khosráu

Kai-khosráu at last became inspired by an insurmountable attachment to a religious life, and thought only of devotion to God. Thus influenced by a disposition peculiar to ascetics, he abandoned the duties of sovereignty, and committed all state affairs to the care of his ministers. The chiefs and warriors remonstrated respectfully against this mode of government, and trusted that he would devote only a few hours in the day to the transactions of the kingdom, and the remainder to prayer and religious exercises; but this he refused, saying:--"One heart is not equal to both duties; my affections indeed are not for this transitory world, and I trust to be an inhabitant of the world to come." The nobles were in great sorrow at this declaration, and anxiously applied to Zál and Rustem, in the hopes of working some change in the king's disposition. On their arrival the people cried to them:--

  "Some evil eye has smote the king;--Iblís
  By wicked wiles has led his soul astray,
  And withered all life's pleasures. O release
  Our country from the sorrow, the dismay
  Which darkens every heart:--his ruin stay.
  Is it not mournful thus to see him cold
  And gloomy, casting pomp and joy away?
  Restore him to himself; let us behold
  Again the victor-king, the generous, just and bold."

Zál and Rustem went to the palace of the king in a melancholy mood, and Khosráu having heard of their approach, enquired of them why they had left Sístán. They replied that the news of his having relinquished all concern in the affairs of the kingdom had induced them to wait upon him. "I am weary of the troubles of this life," said he composedly, "and anxious to prepare for a future state." "But death," observed Zál, "is a great evil. It is dreadful to die!" Upon this the king said:--"I cannot endure any longer the deceptions and the perfidy of mankind. My love of heaven is so great that I cannot exist one moment without devotion and prayer. Last night a mysterious voice whispered in my ear:--The time of thy departure is nigh, prepare the load for thy journey, and neglect not thy warning angel, or the opportunity will be lost." When Zál and Rustem saw that Khosráu was resolved, and solemnly occupied in his devotions, they were for some time silent. But Zál was at length moved, and said:--"I will go into retirement and solitude with the king, and by continual prayer, and through his blessing, I too may be forgiven." "This, indeed," said the king, "is not the place for me. I must seek out a solitary cell, and there resign my soul to heaven." Zál and Rustem wept, and quitted the palace, and all the warriors were in the deepest affliction.

The next day Kai-khosráu left his apartment, and called together his great men and warriors, and said to them:--

  "That which I sought for, I have now obtained.
  Nothing remains of worldly wish, or hope,
  To disappoint or vex me. I resign
  The pageantry of kings, and turn away
  From all the pomp of the Kaiánian throne,
  Sated with human grandeur.--Now, farewell!
  Such is my destiny. To those brave friends,
  Who, ever faithful, have my power upheld,
  I will discharge the duty of a king,
  Paying the pleasing debt of gratitude."

He then ordered his tents to be pitched in the desert, and opened his treasury, and for seven days made a sumptuous feast, and distributed food and money among the indigent, the widows, and orphans, and every destitute person was abundantly supplied with the necessaries of life, so that there was no one left in a state of want throughout the empire. He also attended to the claims of his warriors. To Rustem he gave Zábul, and Kábul, and Ním-rúz. He appointed Lohurásp, the son-in-law of Kai-káús, successor to his throne, and directed all his people to pay the same allegiance to him as they had done to himself; and they unanimously consented, declaring their firm attachment to his person and government. He appointed Gúdarz the chief minister, and Gíw to the chief command of the armies. To Tús he gave Khorassán; and he said to Fríburz, the son of Káús:--"Be thou obedient, I beseech thee, to the commands of Lohurásp, whom I have instructed, and brought up with paternal care; for I know of no one so well qualified in the art of governing a kingdom." The warriors of Irán were surprised, and murmured together, that the son of Kai-káús should be thus placed under the authority of Lohurásp. But Zál observed to them:--"If it be the king's will, it is enough!" The murmurs of the warriors having reached Kai-khosráu, he sent for them, and addressed them thus:--"Fríburz is well known to be unequal to the functions of sovereignty; but Lohurásp is enlightened, and fully comprehends all the duties of regal sway. He is a descendant of Húsheng, wise and merciful, and God is my witness, I think him perfectly calculated to make a nation happy." Hearing this eulogium on the character of the new king from Kai-khosráu, all the warriors expressed their satisfaction, and anticipated a glorious reign. Khosráu further said:--"I must now address you on another subject. In my dreams a fountain has been pointed out to me; and when I visit that fountain, my life will be resigned to its Creator." He then bid farewell to all the people around him, and commenced his journey; and when he had accomplished one stage he pitched his tent. Next day he resumed his task, and took leave of Zál and Rustem; who wept bitterly as they parted from him.

  "Alas!" they said, "that one on whom
    Heaven has bestowed a mind so great,
  A heart so brave, should seek the tomb,
    And not his hour in patience wait.
  The wise in wonder gaze, and say,
    No mortal being ever trod
  Before, the dim supernal way,
    And living, saw the face of God!"

After Zál and Rustem, then Khosráu took leave of Gúdarz and Gíw and Tús, and Gustahem, but unwilling to go back, they continued with him. He soon arrived at the promised fountain, in which he bathed. He then said to his followers:--"Now is the time for our separation;--you must go;" but they still remained. Again he said:--"You must go quickly; for presently heavy showers of snow will fall, and a tempestuous wind will arise, and you will perish in the storm." Saying this, he went into the fountain, and vanished!

  And not a trace was left behind,
    And not a dimple on the wave;
  All sought, but sought in vain, to find
    The spot which proved Kai-khosráu's grave!

The king having disappeared in this extraordinary manner, a loud lamentation ascended from his followers; and when the paroxysm of amazement and sorrow had ceased, Fríburz said:--"Let us now refresh ourselves with food, and rest awhile." Accordingly those that remained ate a little, and were soon afterwards overcome with sleep. Suddenly a great wind arose, and the snow fell and clothed the earth in white, and all the warriors and soldiers who accompanied Kai-khosráu to the mysterious fountain, and amongst them Tús and Fríburz, and Gíw, were while asleep overwhelmed in the drifts of snow. Not a man survived. Gúdarz had returned when about half-way on the road; and not hearing for a long time any tidings of his companions, sent a person to ascertain the cause of their delay. Upon proceeding to the fatal place, the messenger, to his amazement and horror, found them all stiff and lifeless under the snow!