Shah Nameh/The Death of Rustem


Firdusi seems to have derived the account of Shughad, and the melancholy fate of Rustem, from a descendant of Sám and Narímán, who was particularly acquainted with the chronicles of the heroes and the kings of Persia. Shughad, it appears, was the son of Zál, by one of the old warrior's maid-servants, and at his very birth the astrologers predicted that he would be the ruin of the glorious house of Sám and Narímán, and the destruction of their race.

  Throughout Sístán the prophecy was heard
  With horror and amazement; every town
  And city in Irán was full of woe,
  And Zál, in deepest agony and grief,
  Sent up his prayers to the Almighty Power
  That he would purify the infant's heart,
  And free it from that quality, foretold
  As the destroyer of his ancient house.
  But what are prayers, opposed by destiny?

The child, notwithstanding, was brought up with great care and attention, and when arrived at maturity, he was sent to the king of Kábul, whose daughter he espoused.

Rustem was accustomed to go to Kábul every year to receive the tribute due to him; but on the last occasion, it is said that he exacted and took a higher rate than usual, and thus put many of the people to distress. The king was angry, and expressed his dissatisfaction to Shughad, who was not slow in uttering his own discontent, saying, "Though I am his brother, he has no respect for me, but treats me always like an enemy. For this personal hostility I long to punish him with death."--"But how," inquired the king, "couldst thou compass that end?" Shughad replied, "I have well considered the subject, and propose to accomplish my purpose in this manner. I shall feign that I have been insulted and injured by thee, and carry my complaint to Zál and Rustem, who will no doubt come to Kábul to redress my wrongs. Thou must in the meantime prepare for a sporting excursion, and order a number of pits to be dug on the road sufficiently large to hold Rustem and his horse, and in each several swords must be placed with their points and edges upwards. The mouths of the pits must then be slightly covered over, but so carefully that there may be no appearance of the earth underneath having been removed. Everything being thus ready, Rustem, on the pretence of going to the sporting ground, must be conducted by that road, and he will certainly fall into one of the pits, which will become his grave." This stratagem was highly approved by the king, and it was agreed that at a royal banquet, Shughad should revile and irritate the king, whose indignant answer should be before all the assembly: "Thou hast no pretensions to be thought of the stock of Sám and Narímán. Zál pays thee no attention, at least, not such attention as he would pay to a son, and Rustem declares thou art not his brother; indeed, all the family treat thee as a slave." At these words, Shughad affected to be greatly enraged, and, starting up from the banquet, hastened to Rustem to complain of the insult offered him by the king of Kábul. Rustem received him with demonstrations of affection, and hearing his complaint, declared that he would immediately proceed to Kábul, depose the king for his insolence, and place Shughad himself on the throne of that country. In a short time they arrived at the city, and were met by the king, who, with naked feet and in humble guise, solicited forgiveness. Rustem was induced to pardon the offence, and was honored in return with great apparent respect, and with boundless hospitality. In the meantime, however, the pits were dug, and the work of destruction in progress, and Rustem was now invited to share the sports of the forest. The champion was highly gratified by the courtesy which the king displayed, and mounted Rakush, anticipating a day of excellent diversion. Shughad accompanied him, keeping on one side, whilst Rustem, suspecting nothing, rode boldly forward. Suddenly Rakush stopped, and though urged to advance, refused to move a step. At last the champion became angry, and struck the noble animal severely; the blows made him dart forward, and in a moment he unfortunately fell into one of the pits.

  It was a place, deep, dark, and perilous,
  All bristled o'er with swords, leaving no chance
  Of extrication without cruel wounds;
  And horse and rider sinking in the midst,
  Bore many a grievous stab and many a cut
  In limb and body, ghastly to the sight.
  Yet from that depth, at one prodigious spring,
  Rakush escaped with Rustem on his back;
  But what availed that effort? Down again
  Into another pit both fell together,
  And yet again they rose, again, again;
  Seven times down prostrate, seven times bruised and maimed,
  They struggled on, till mounting up the edge
  Of the seventh pit, all covered with deep wounds,
  Both lay exhausted. When the champion's brain
  Grew cool, and he had power to think, he knew
  Full well to whom he owed this treachery,
  And calling to Shughad, said: "Thou, my brother!
  Why hast thou done this wrong? Was it for thee,
  My father's son, by wicked plot and fraud
  To work this ruin, to destroy my life?"
  Shughad thus sternly answered: "'Tis for all
  The blood that thou hast shed, God has decreed
  This awful vengeance--now thy time is come!"
  Then spoke the king of Kábul, as if pity
  Had softened his false heart: "Alas! the day
  That thou shouldst perish, so ignobly too,
  And in my kingdom; what a wretched fate!
  But bring some medicine to relieve his wounds--
  Quick, bring the matchless balm for Rustem's cure;
  He must not die, the champion must not die!"
  But Rustem scorned the offer, and in wrath,
  Thus spoke: "How many a mighty king has died,
  And left me still triumphant--still in power,
  Unconquerable; treacherous thou hast been,
  Inhuman, too, but Ferámurz, the brave,
  Will be revenged upon thee for this crime."

Rustem now turned towards Shughad, and in an altered and mournful tone, told him that he was at the point of death, and asked him to string his bow and give it to him, that he might seem as a scare-crow, to prevent the wolves and other wild animals from devouring him when dead.

  Shughad performed the task, and lingered not,
  For he rejoiced at this catastrophe,
  And with a smile of fiendish satisfaction,
  Placed the strong bow before him--Rustem grasped
  The bended horn with such an eager hand,
  That wondering at the sight, the caitiff wretch
  Shuddered with terror, and behind a tree
  Shielded himself, but nothing could avail;
  The arrow pierced both tree and him, and they
  Were thus transfixed together--thus the hour
  Of death afforded one bright gleam of joy
  To Rustem, who, with lifted eyes to Heaven,
  Exclaimed: "Thanksgivings to the great Creator,
  For granting me the power, with my own hand,
  To be revenged upon my murderer!"
  So saying, the great champion breathed his last,
  And not a knightly follower remained,
  Zúára, and the rest, in other pits,
  Dug by the traitor-king, and traitor-brother,
  Had sunk and perished, all, save one, who fled,
  And to the afflicted veteran at Sístán
  Told the sad tidings. Zál, in agony,
  Tore his white hair, and wildly rent his garments,
  And cried: "Why did not I die for him, why
  Was I not present, fighting by his side?
  But he, alas! is gone! Oh! gone forever."

Then the old man despatched Ferámurz with a numerous force to Kábul, to bring away the dead body of Rustem. Upon his approach, the king of Kábul and his army retired to the mountains, and Ferámurz laid waste the country. He found only the skeletons of Rustem and Zúára, the beasts of prey having stripped them of their flesh: he however gathered the bones together and conveyed them home and buried them, amidst the lamentations of the people. After that, he returned to Kábul with his army, and encountered the king, captured the cruel wretch, and carried him to Sístán, where he was put to death.

Gushtásp having become old and infirm, bequeathed his empire to Bahman, and then died. He reigned one hundred and eight years.