Shah Nameh/The Return of Kai-Káús

It was a joyous day when Káús and his illustrious heroes were released from their fetters, and removed from the mountain-fortress in which they were confined. Rustem forthwith reseated him on his throne, and did not fail to collect for the public treasury all the valuables of the three states which had submitted to his power. The troops of Misser, Berberistán, and Hámáverán, having declared their allegiance to the Persian king, the accumulated numbers increased Káús's army to upwards of three hundred thousand men, horse and foot, and with this immense force he moved towards Irán. Before marching, however, he sent a message to Afrásiyáb, commanding him to quit the country he had so unjustly invaded, and recommending him to be contented with the territory of Túrán.

  "Hast thou forgotten Rustem's power,
  When thou wert in that perilous hour
  By him overthrown? Thy girdle broke,
  Or thou hadst felt the conqueror's yoke.
  Thy crowding warriors proved thy shield,
  They saved and dragged thee from the field;
  By them unrescued then, wouldst thou
  Have lived to vaunt thy prowess now?"

This message was received with bitter feelings of resentment by Afrásiyáb, who prepared his army for battle without delay, and promised to bestow his daughter in marriage and a kingdom upon the man who should succeed in taking Rustem alive.

This proclamation was a powerful excitement: and when the engagement took place, mighty efforts were made for the reward; but those who aspired to deserve it were only the first to fall. Afrásiyáb beholding the fall of so many of his chiefs, dashed forward to cope with the champion: but his bravery was unavailing; for, suffering sharply under the overwhelming attacks of Rustem, he was glad to effect his escape, and retire from the field. In short, he rapidly retraced his steps to Túrán, leaving Káús in full possession of the kingdom.

  With anguish stricken, he regained his home,
  After a wild and ignominious flight;
  The world presenting nothing to his lips
  But poison-beverage; all was death to him.

Káús being again seated on the throne of Persia, he resumed the administration of affairs with admirable justice and liberality, and despatched some of his most distinguished warriors to secure the welfare and prosperity of the states of Mervi, and Balkh, and Níshapúr, and Hírát. At the same time he conferred on Rustem the title of Jaháni Pahlván, or, Champion of the World.

In safety now from foreign and domestic enemies, Káús turned his attention to pursuits very different from war and conquest. He directed the Demons to construct two splendid palaces on the mountain Alberz, and separate mansions for the accommodation of his household, which he decorated in the most magnificent manner. All the buildings were beautifully arranged both for convenience and pleasure; and gold and silver and precious stones were used so lavishly, and the brilliancy produced by their combined effect was so great, that night and day appeared to be the same.

Iblís, ever active, observing the vanity and ambition of the king, was not long in taking advantage of the circumstance, and he soon persuaded the Demons to enter into his schemes. Accordingly one of them, disguised as a domestic servant, was instructed to present a nosegay to Káús; and after respectfully kissing the ground, say to him:--

  "Thou art great as king can be,
  Boundless in thy majesty;
  What is all this earth to thee,
       All beneath the sky?
  Peris, mortals, demons, hear
  Thy commanding voice with fear;
  Thou art lord of all things here,
    But, thou canst not fly!

  "That remains for thee; to know
  Things above, as things below,
    How the planets roll;
  How the sun his light displays,
  How the moon darts forth her rays;
  How the nights succeed the days;
  What the secret cause betrays,
    And who directs the whole!"

This artful address of the Demon satisfied Káús of the imperfection of his nature, and the enviable power which he had yet to obtain. To him, therefore, it became matter of deep concern, how he might be enabled to ascend the Heavens without wings, and for that purpose he consulted his astrologers, who presently suggested a way in which his desires might be successfully accomplished.

They contrived to rob an eagle's nest of its young, which they reared with great care, supplying them well with invigorating food, till they grew large and strong. A framework of aloes-wood was then prepared; and at each of the four corners was fixed perpendicularly, a javelin, surmounted on the point with flesh of a goat. At each corner again one of the eagles was bound, and in the middle Káús was seated in great pomp with a goblet of wine before him. As soon as the eagles became hungry, they endeavored to get at the goat's flesh upon the javelins, and by flapping their wings and flying upwards, they quickly raised up the throne from the ground. Hunger still pressing them, and still being distant from their prey, they ascended higher and higher in the clouds, conveying the astonished king far beyond his own country; but after long and fruitless exertion their strength failed them, and unable to keep their way, the whole fabric came tumbling down from the sky, and fell upon a dreary solitude in the kingdom of Chín. There Káús was left, a prey to hunger, alone, and in utter despair, until he was discovered by a band of Demons, whom his anxious ministers had sent in search of him.

Rustem, and Gúdarz, and Tús, at length heard of what had befallen the king, and with feelings of sorrow not unmixed with indignation, set off to his assistance. "Since I was born," said Gúdarz, "never did I see such a man as Káús. He seems to be entirely destitute of reason and understanding; always in distress and affliction. This is the third calamity in which he has wantonly involved himself. First at Mázinderán, then at Hámáverán, and now he is being punished for attempting to discover the secrets of the Heavens!" When they reached the wilderness into which Káús had fallen, Gúdarz repeated to him the same observations, candidly telling him that he was fitter for a mad-house than a throne, and exhorting him to be satisfied with his lot and be obedient to God, the creator of all things. The miserable king was softened to tears, acknowledged his folly; and as soon as he was escorted back to his palace, he shut himself up, remaining forty days, unseen, prostrating himself in shame and repentance. After that he recovered his spirits, and resumed the administration of affairs with his former liberality, clemency, and justice, almost rivalling the glory of Feridún and Jemshíd.

One day Rustem made a splendid feast; and whilst he and his brother warriors, Gíw and Gúdarz, and Tús, were quaffing their wine, it was determined upon to form a pretended hunting party, and repair to the sporting grounds of Afrásiyáb. The feast lasted seven days; and on the eighth, preparations were made for the march, an advance party being pushed on to reconnoitre the motions of the enemy. Afrásiyáb was soon informed of what was going on, and flattered himself with the hopes of getting Rustem and his seven champions into his thrall, for which purpose he called together his wise men and warriors, and said to them: "You have only to secure these invaders, and Káús will soon cease to be the sovereign of Persia." To accomplish this object, a Túránian army of thirty thousand veterans was assembled, and ordered to occupy all the positions and avenues in the vicinity of the sporting grounds. An immense clamor, and thick clouds of dust, which darkened the skies, announced their approach; and when intelligence of their numbers was brought to Rustem, the undaunted champion smiled, and said to Garáz: "Fortune favors me; what cause is there to fear the king of Túrán? his army does not exceed a hundred thousand men. Were I alone, with Rakush, with my armor, and battle-axe, I would not shrink from his legions. Have I not seven companions in arms, and is not one of them equal to five hundred Túránian heroes? Let Afrásiyáb dare to cross the boundary-river, and the contest will presently convince him that he has only sought his own defeat." Promptly at a signal the cup-bearer produced goblets of the red wine of Zábul; and in one of them Rustem pledged his royal master with loyalty, and Tús and Zúára joined in the convivial and social demonstration of attachment to the king.

The champion arrayed in his buburiyán, mounted Rakush, and advanced towards the Túránian army. Afrásiyáb, when he beheld him in all his terrible strength and vigor, was amazed and disheartened, accompanied, as he was, by Tús, and Gúdarz, and Gurgín, and Gíw, and Báhrám, and Berzín, and Ferhád. The drums and trumpets of Rustem were now heard, and immediately the hostile forces engaged with dagger, sword, and javelin. Dreadful was the onset, and the fury with which the conflict was continued. In truth, so sanguinary and destructive was the battle that Afrásiyáb exclaimed in grief and terror: "If this carnage lasts till the close of day, not a man of my army will remain alive. Have I not one warrior endued with sufficient bravery to oppose and subdue this mighty Rustem? What! not one fit to be rewarded with a diadem, with my own throne and kingdom, which I will freely give to the victor!" Pílsum heard the promise, and was ambitious of earning the reward; but fate decreed it otherwise. His prodigious efforts were of no avail. Alkús was equally unsuccessful, though the bravest of the brave among the Túránian warriors. Encountering Rustem, his brain was pierced by a javelin wielded by the Persian hero, and he fell dead from his saddle. This signal achievement astonished and terrified the Túránians, who, however, made a further despairing effort against the champion and his seven conquering companions, but with no better result than before, and nothing remained to them excepting destruction or flight. Choosing the latter they wheeled round, and endeavored to escape from the sanguinary fate that awaited them.

Seeing this precipitate movement of the enemy, Rustem impelled Rakush forward in pursuit, addressing his favorite horse with fondness and enthusiasm:--

  "My valued friend--put forth thy speed,
  This is a time of pressing need;
  Bear me away amidst the strife,
  That I may take that despot's life;
  And with my mace and javelin, flood
  This dusty plain with foe-man's blood."

  Excited by his master's cry,
    The war-horse bounded o'er the plain,
  So swiftly that he seemed to fly,
  Snorting with pride, and tossing high
    His streaming mane.

  And soon he reached that despot's side,
  "Now is the time!" the Champion cried,
    "This is the hour to victory given,"
  And flung his noose--which bound the king
  Fast for a moment in its ring;
    But soon, alas! the bond was riven.

  Haply the Tartar-monarch slipt away,
  Not doomed to suffer on that bloody day;
  And freed from thrall, he hurrying led
    His legions cross the boundary-stream,
  Leaving his countless heaps of dead
    To rot beneath the solar beam.

  Onward he rushed with heart opprest,
    And broken fortunes; he had quaffed
  Bright pleasure's cup--but now, unblest,
    Poison was mingled with the draught!

The booty in horses, treasure, armor, pavilions, and tents, was immense; and when the whole was secured, Rustem and his companions fell back to the sporting-grounds already mentioned, from whence he informed Kai-káús by letter of the victory that had been gained. After remaining two weeks there, resting from the toils of war and enjoying the pleasures of hunting, the party returned home to pay their respects to the Persian king:

  And this is life! Thus conquest and defeat,
  Vary the lights and shades of human scenes,
  And human thought. Whilst some, immersed in pleasure,
  Enjoy the sweets, others again endure
  The miseries of the world. Hope is deceived
  In this frail dwelling; certainty and safety
  Are only dreams which mock the credulous mind;
  Time sweeps o'er all things; why then should the wise
  Mourn o'er events which roll resistless on,
  And set at nought all mortal opposition?