Shah-nama (The Epic of Kings)

By Firdausi

Translated by Helen Zimmern [1883]



The Shahs of Old



Zal and Rudabeh


The March into Mazinderan

Kai Kaous Committeth More Follies

Rustem and Sohrab


The Return of Kai Khosrau


The Vengeance of Kai Khosrau

Byzun and Manijeh

The Defeat of Afrasiyab

The Passing of Kai Khosrau


Rustem and Isfendiyar

The Death of Rustem


But a little while had Kai Khosrau sat upon the throne of Iran, yet the world resounded with his fame, and all men bare upon their lips the praises of his wisdom. He cleansed the earth of the rust of care, and the power of Afrasiyab was chained up. And men from all parts of the earth came forth to do homage before him; and Rustem also, and Zal the aged, did obeisance at his footstool. And there came with them an army that made the plains black like to ebony, and the sounds of their war trumpets made the heart to tremble. Then Kai Kaous made ready a great feast to do honour to his Pehliva. And when they were seated thereat his mouth ran over with praises of Saiawush, and he lamented the evil that he had done, and he poured maledictions upon the head of Afrasiyab. And he spake unto Kai Khosrau his son, and said:

"I demand of thee that thou swear before me a great oath, and that thou keep it carefully. Swear unto me that thy heart shall be ever filled with hatred of Afrasiyab, and that thou wilt not let this flame be quenched by the waters of forgetfulness, and that thou regard him not as the father of thy mother, and that thou think only of Saiawush thy sire, whom he hath slain. And swear unto me further that there shall be no other mediator between you save only the sword and the mace."

Then Kai Khosrau turned him towards the fire and sware the oath demanded of his sire, and he vowed to keep it in the name of God the Most High. And Kai Kaous caused the oath to be written on a royal scroll, and he confided it to the care of Rustem his Pehliva. And when it was done they feasted seven days without ceasing, but on the eighth Kai Khosrau mounted his throne. Then he called about him his nobles, and he said unto them that the time was ripe to avenge the death of his father, and he bade them make ready their armies, and he told them how on a certain day they should lead them out before him.

Now when the day was come Kai Khosrau descended into the plains to receive them. And he was seated upon an elephant of war, and on his head he wore the crown of might, and about his neck the chain of supremacy; and in his hand he bare a mace of might, and on his arms were bracelets of great worth, and precious stones were strewn about his garments. Now when he was come into the midst of the camp he threw a ball of silver into a cup of gold. And when the army heard the sound thereof they knew it to be the signal, and they arose and passed before the Shah. And the first to come forth was the army of Friburz. And Friburz was seated upon a horse of saffron hue, and he wore shoes of gold upon his feet, and in his hands were a sword and a mace; and around his saddle was rolled a cord of might, and over his head floated a banner the colour of the sun. And Kai Khosrau, when he saw him, invoked blessings upon his head. And there came after Friburz Gudarz the wise in counsel, and behind him was borne a standard whereon was broidered a lion. And at his right hand and his left marched his mighty sons, and a brave army followed after them. And they did homage before the Shah, and Kai Khosrau regarded them kindly. Then there came after them yet many other noble knights, eager for battle as a bull whom no man hath put to flight, and the sounds of cymbals and the bells of war-elephants filled the air, and lances and targets gleamed in the sun, and banners of many hues streamed upon the breeze. And Kai Khosrau blessed his heroes every one. Then he caused his treasurer to bring forth rich gifts of gold and jewels and slaves, and brocades of Roum, and cloth of gold, and skins of beaver. And they placed them before him, and he divided them into portions, and he said they should be owned of those who should do feats of valour in the war against Afrasiyab. Then he bade them to a great feast, and they made merry in the house of the Shah.

But when the sun had unsheathed its sword of light and the sombre night was fled in fear, Kai Khosrau commanded that the trumpets of departure sound. Then the army came before the Shah, and he gave into the keeping of Tus the standard of Kawah, and he bade him lead forth the hosts. And he said unto Tus:

"Be obedient unto my will and lead mine army aright. I desire of thee that thou avenge the death of my father, but I desire also that thou molest none but those that fight. Have mercy upon the labourer and spare the helpless. And furthermore, I charge thee that thou pass not through the land of Kelat, but that thou leave it on one side and take thy course through the desert. For in Kelat abideth Firoud my brother, who was born of the daughter of Piran, and he dwelleth in happiness, and I would not that sorrow come nigh unto him. And he knoweth no man in Iran, not even by name, and unto no man hath he done hurt, and I desire that no harm come to him."

And Tus said, "I will remember thy will and take the road that thou commandest."

Then the army set forth towards Turan, and they marched many days until they came to a spot where the roads parted. And the one led unto the desert, arid and devoid of water, and the other led unto Kelat. Now when they were come to the parting of the roads the army halted until Tus should have told unto them which road they should follow. And when Tus came up he said unto Gudarz:

"The desert is void of water, and what shall we do deprived thereof, for the army sore needeth refreshment after its march of weariness? It is better, therefore, that we should take the road that leadeth to Kelat, and abide there a while that our men may be rested."

And Gudarz said, "The King hath set thee at the head of his army, but I counsel thee choose the path that he hath named, lest sorrow come upon thee."

But Tus laughed, and said, "O noble hero, disquiet not thyself, for what I do is pleasing in the sight of the King."

Then he commanded the army that they march into Kelat, and he remembered not the desires of Kai Khosrau.

Now when Firoud saw that the sky was darkened with dust from the feet of dromedaries and elephants of battle, he called before him Tokhareh his counsellor, and questioned him concerning these things. And Tokhareh said:

"O young man, thou knowest not what is come to pass. This army pertaineth unto thy brother, and he hath sent it forth into Turan that the death of thy father be avenged; and it marcheth right upon Kelat, and I know not where the battle may take place."

Now Firoud, who was void of experience, was troubled when he learned this; and he made safe his castle that was upon a high hill, and he gathered in his flocks. Then he seated himself upon the ramparts and looked down over the sea of armour that approached him. And when he had done so he went in before his mother, who had never ceased from weeping for Saiawush her spouse. And he told her what was come about, and he asked of her how he should act. Then she said unto him:

"Listen, O my son. There is a new Shah in Iran, and he is brother unto thee, for ye are sprung from one father. Now, since thy brother sendeth forth an host to avenge his murder, it beseemeth thee not to remain aloof, but rather shouldst thou serve as vanguard unto the host. Wherefore call together thy knights, and then go forth and seek out the leader of this host, and make thyself known to him. For it behoveth not a stranger to reap this glory or usurp the place that is due unto thy rank."

Then Firoud said, "Who shall be my stay in battle among the heroes who carry high their heads?"

And his mother said, "Seek out Bahram, for he was a friend unto thy father. And listen also to the words of Tokhareh, and go not out at once with thine army until thou hast made thyself known unto the men of Iran."

Then Firoud said, "O my mother, I will faithfully observe thy counsel."

And he went forth unto a high place on the mountain, and he took with him Tokhareh, and they looked down upon the mighty army that was spread at their feet. Then Firoud questioned of the warriors, and Tokhareh answered him according to his knowledge. And he counted up the standards of the heroes, and he made Firoud acquainted with the names of might in Iran.

Now, while they were so doing, Tus beheld them upon the heights, and he was angered at the sight of them, and said:

"Let a wary knight go forth unto those two seated aloft, and search out what manner of men they be. And if they be of the army, let them be lashed two hundred times about the head; but if they be Turks and spies, bind them, and bring them before me that I may destroy them."

Then Bahram, the son of Gudarz, said, "I will search into this matter."

And he rode forth towards the mountain. Now Firoud, beholding him, said unto Tokhareh, "Who is he that cometh out with so haughty an air? By his bearing it would seem that he holdeth me of light esteem, and that he would mount hither by force."

Then Tokhareh said, "O Prince, be not angered thus easily. I know not his name, but I seem to behold the device of Gudarz, and perchance this is one of his sons."

Now Bahram, when he had neared the summit, lifted up his voice, that was like unto thunder, and cried, saying:

"Who art thou that seatest thyself upon the heights and lookest down upon the army? Fearest thou not Tus the Pehliva? "

Then Firoud answered and said:

"Speak not unto me thus haughtily, for I have given thee no cause. Thinkest thou, perchance, that I am but a wild ass of the desert, and that thou art a lion, great of might? It behoveth a man of sense to put a bridle on his tongue. For I say unto thee, that thou art in nowise my better, neither in courage nor in might. Look upon me, and judge whether I have not head and heart and brain, and when thou shalt have seen that I possess them, threaten me not with empty words. I counsel this unto thee in friendship. And if thou wilt listen to reason, I will put some questions unto thee."

Then Bahram replied, "Speak; thou art in the sky, and I am on the ground."

Then Firoud asked of him who were the chiefs of this army, and wherefore they were come forth. And Bahram named unto him the names of might. Then Firoud said unto him:

"Why hast thou not spoken the name of Bahram? There is none among all the host of Iran that mine eyes would rather look upon."

Then Bahram said, "O youth, say unto me who hath spoken unto thee thus of Bahram, and who hath made thee acquainted with Gudarz and Gew."

Then Firoud said, "My mother hath made them known unto me, and she bade me seek out Bahram from among this host, because that he was foster-brother unto my father."

Then Bahram spake, and said, "Verily thou are Firoud, of the seed of Saiawush."

And Firoud answered, "Thou hast said. I am a branch of the cypress that was struck down."

Then Bahram said, "Uncover thine arm, that I may behold the mark of the Kaianides."

And Firoud did so, and Bahram beheld the mark. Then he knew that Firoud was of the race of Kai Kobad, and he did homage before him, and he drew nigh unto him on the mountain. Then Firoud laid bare before Bahram his desires, and he said how that he would make a great feast unto the army in his house, and how, when this was done, he desired to take the lead and march with it into Turan, and he craved Bahram to bear his words of greeting unto Tus. And Bahram said:

"O Prince, brave and young, I will bear thy message unto Tus, and I will implore of him that he listen to thy voice. Yet because he is a man easily angered, I fear the answer he may return. For though he be valiant, yet is he also vain, and he cannot forget that he is sprung from the race of the Kaianides, and he deemeth ever that the first place pertaineth unto him."

Then Bahram told Firoud wherefore he had been sent forth by Tus, and he departed from him, saying:

"If Tus hearken unto my voice, I will return unto thee; but if thou beholdest another, confide not thyself to him."

Then he departed, and came before Tus, and related to him all that he had heard. And Tus was beside himself with anger, and he cried out against this young man, and questioned wherefore he would usurp his place. And he upbraided Bahram for that which he had done, and he refused to give credit unto his words, and he sware that he would cause this youth to perish. And he called upon his warriors, and bade them go forth and sever the head of this Turk. But Bahram said unto them:

"Ye know not that he sendeth you forth against Firoud, who is brother unto Kai Khosrau, and sprung from the seed of Saiawush. I counsel you have the fear of the Shah before your eyes, and lift not your hands in injustice against his brother."

When the warriors heard these words, they retreated back into the tents. But Tus was angered exceedingly, and he commanded yet again that one should go forth to do his behests. Then Rivniz, who was husband unto the daughter of Tus, said that he would do his desires. So he rode forth unto the mountain.

Now when Firoud beheld a horseman, who brandished aloft his sword in enmity, he said unto Tokhareh:

"Tus despiseth my words, and since Bahram cometh not back, my heart is disquieted. Look, I pray thee, if thou canst tell unto me what noble this may be."

And Tokhareh said, "It is Rivniz, a knight of great cunning, son unto Tus, whose daughter he hath in marriage."

Then Firoud asked, saying, "Since he attacketh me, whom shall I slay:the steed or its rider?"

And Tokhareh said, "Direct thine arms against the man, then perchance, when Tus shall learn of his death, he will repent him that he listened not unto thy words of peace."

So Firoud bent his bow and shot Rivniz through the breast. And he fell dead from off his saddle, and his horse turned him back in terror unto the camp. Now when Tus beheld the horse that was come back without its rider, he knew what was come to pass, and his anger against Firoud burned yet the more. So he called unto him Zerasp his son, and bade him go forth and avenge the blood of Rivniz. And when Firoud saw him approach, he asked yet again the name of his foe, and he prepared his bow, that Tus might learn that he was a man that should not be treated with dishonour. And when Zerasp would have fought with him, he pinned him dead unto his saddle. And the horse sped back with him into the camp, so that Tus saw that which was come about. Then his fury knew no limit, and he sprang upon his charger, and he set forth himself against Firoud.

Now when Tokhareh beheld it, he said unto Firoud:

"Tus himself is come forth to combat thee, and thou canst not stand against this crocodile. Retreat, therefore, I counsel thee, into thy castle, and let us await the decrees of the stars."

But Firoud answered in anger, "Who is Tus, that I should fear him? I will not flee from his presence."

Then Tokhareh said, "If thou be resolved to do battle with this lion, I counsel thee that thou destroy him not, lest thy brother be angered if the leader of his host perish by thy hand. Moreover, the army will come forth to avenge him, and how canst thou stand against an host? Direct thine arrows, therefore, against his charger, for a prince fighteth not on foot. if, therefore, thou kill his horse from Under him, thou wilt have shown unto him thy skill."

Then Firoud did as Tokhareh counselled, and the arrow was faithful to its aim, and he shot the horse of Tus from under him, and laid the charger low upon the ground. And Tus had to turn him back on foot unto his camp, and rage against Firoud burned in his spirit. And the nobles, when they beheld their Pehliva treated thus with contempt, were angry also, and Gew said:

"Who is this young man, that he despiseth an army, and how may he treat us with disdain? 'Though he be of the race of the Kaianides, and of the seed of Kai Kobad, he hath opened a door, and knoweth not whither it leadeth."

And as he spake he girded his armour about him, and made him ready to go out against Firoud.

Now when Firoud beheld him he sighed, and said, "This army is valiant, but it cannot distinguish good from evil. I fear me that by them will Saiawush not be avenged, for their leader is devoid of sense. Else could he not persist in enmity against me. Tell me now, I pray, who this new foe may be?"

Then Tokhareh said, "It is Gew, the son of Gudarz, a knight of great renown, before whom even the lion trembleth unto his marrow. And he led forth thy brother into Iran, and he is girt with the armour of Saiawush, that no man can pierce with in arrow. Direct thy bow, therefore, yet again unto the charger, or thy strife will be vain."

And Firoud the brave did as Tokhareh said, and he sent forth his arrow, and the horse of Gew sank unto the earth. Now all the nobles rejoiced when Gew returned unto them in safety; but Byzun, his son, was wroth, and he upbraided his father, and he said:

"O thou who fearest not an army, how canst thou turn thee back before a single knight?"

Then he sware a great oath that he would not quit the saddle until the blood of Rivniz and of Zerasp should be avenged.

Now Gew was afraid for his son, who was young, and would have restrained him. But Byzun suffered it not, and when his father saw that he was resolved, he gave unto him the armour of Saiawush, and sent him forth unto the mountain.

Now when Firoud saw that yet another was come out against him, he questioned Tokhareh again of his name. And Tokhareh said:

"It is a youth who hath not his like in Iran. Byzun is he called, and he is only son unto Gew the brave. And because that he is clad in the armour of Saiawush, thy father, strike at his horse, or thy bow will avail thee nought."

So Firoud shot his arrows at the horse, and he laid it low, as he had done the others. Then Byzun cried, saying:

"O young man, who aimest thus surely, thou shalt behold how warriors fight on foot."

And he ran up the side of the mountain, that he might come near unto Firoud. But Firoud turned and entered in upon his gates, and he rained down stones from his walls upon the head of his adversary. Then Byzun taunted him, and said:

"O hero of renown, thou fliest before a man on foot, thou who art brave! Alas! whither is vanished thy courage? "

Then he returned unto the camp, and told unto Tus how that this scion of the Kaianides was filled with valour, and how his bow was sure, and he said that he feared no man could stand against him. But Tus said, "I will raze unto the dust his castle, I will destroy this Turk, and avenge the blood that he hath spilled."

Now when the brilliant sun was vanished and the black night had invaded the earth with her army of stars, Firoud caused his castle to be strengthened. And while he did so, his mother dreamed a dream of evil portent, and she came forth weeping before her son. And she spake, saying:

"O my son, the stars are evil disposed towards us, and I am afraid for thee."

Then Firoud answered her, saying, "Woe unto thee, my mother, for I know it is not given unto thee to cease from shedding tears of sorrow. For verily I shall perish like unto my father, in the flower of my youth. Yet will I not crave mercy of these Iranians."

And he bade her go back unto the chamber of the women, and pray God for his soul.

Now when the sun returned and lifted his glorious face above the vault of heaven, there was heard the sound of armour on all sides, and Firoud beheld that the host of Iran was come forth against him. So he went out beyond the gates, leading his warriors. And since there was no plain whereon they could give battle, they fought upon the mountain-side, and many were the Turkish heads that were felled. But Firoud made great havoc among his enemies, and they beheld that he was a lion in the fight. But the stars of the young hero were waning, for even a brave man cannot contend alone against an host. For when he would have ridden back unto his castle, Rehham and Byzun lay in ambush against him, and they closed unto him the two ends of the path. But Firoud was not dismayed thereat. He fell upon the son of Gew, and would have slain him; but Rehham came upon him from behind, and struck him down with a mighty club. Then Firoud knew that his hour was come, and he returned unto his mother. Now when she saw him she raised a great cry, but he bade her keep silence, and he spake, saying:

"Weep not, for the time suffereth it not. For the Iranians follow fast upon me, and they will enter and take this house, and do violence unto thee and to thy women. Go out, therefore, and cast you from off the walls into the abyss, that death may come upon you, and that Byzun when he entereth find none alive. As for me, my moments are but few, for the heroes of Iran have murdered the days of my youth."

And the women did as he commanded, save only his mother, who abode beside him until the breath was gone out from his body. Then she made a great fire, and threw therein all his treasures, and she went out into the stables and laid low the horses that were therein. And when she had made the place a desert unto the Iranians, she returned unto the feet of her son, and pierced her body with a sword.

Now when the Iranians had broken down the bars of the gates and entered into the castle, they came unto the chamber and beheld the bodies of Firoud and of his mother. And when they saw them, they could not withhold their tears, and they sorrowed for the anger of Tus, and the fear of Kai Khosrau came upon them. And Gudarz said unto Tus:

"Thou hast sown hatred, and thou wilt reap war. It beseemeth not a leader to be quick to ire. Thy haste hath brought to death a youth of the race of the Kaianides, and hath caused the blood of thy sons to be spilled."

When Tus heard these words he wept in his sorrow, and said:

"Evil fortune is come upon me."

Then he caused a royal tomb to be made, and seated Firoud therein upon a throne of gold, and he decked him with all the signs of kingship. And when he had so done he returned with his army unto the plains, and three days they halted in their grief. But on the fourth the trumpets were sounded for departure, and Tus led forth the army towards Turan.

Now when Afrasiyab learned that a host was come forth against him from out of Iran, he bade Piran make ready his army. For he said:

"Kai Khosrau hath unveiled unto us the secrets of his heart, and we know now that forgiveness is not hidden in his soul."

Now while they made them in order, there came a great storm of snow that covered the earth like to a carpet, and the water became hard, and for many days no man beheld the earth or the sun. And food was lacking unto the Iranians, and they were fain to devour their steeds of battle. And when at last the sun came back, the earth was changed into a lake, and the Iranians suffered yet again. Then Tus said:

"Let us return whence we came forth." But his army said, "Not so. Shall we flee before the face of Afrasiyab?"

So they made them ready to meet their foes. And they fought right valiantly, and many were the heads of Turan that were laid in the dust by their hands, and the victory inclined towards them. Then Tus was glad, and made a great feast and invited thereto his warriors. And he darkened their heads with wine, so that they laid aside their armour, neither did they set watches in the camp. Now Piran, when he learned of this, saw that the time served him, and when the night was fallen he went out against the camp of Iran. And all the nobles were drunk save only Gudarz the wise. Now when he heard that the Turanians were come into the camp, he ran to the tents of Tus and cried, saying:

"Is this the hour to hold the wine-cup?"

Then he called together his sons, and he set his army in order; but the Turanians routed them utterly, for the men of Iran were heavy with wine, and they knew not whither they sent their blows. And the carnage was great, and when the sun had brought back the day the ground was strewn thick with the bodies of the Iranians. And cries of agony were heard around, and there were none to heal the hurts, for those that were whole were captive. And Tus was beside himself for sorrow, and Gudarz alone was not defraught of reason. So the old man sent forth a messenger to bear the tidings of woe unto the Shah. Now he was a messenger that made the earth disappear beneath his feet, and speedily did he stand within the courts of the King. And Kai Khosrau, when he had listened to his words, was angered, and his tongue called down curses on the head of Tus. Then he pondered all night how he should act, but when the cock crew he wrote a letter unto Friburz the son of Kai Kaous. And he bade him take unto him the flag of Kawah and the golden boots, and lead the army in the place of Tus. And he bade him in all things be obedient to the counsels of Gudarz the wise, and he recalled how Tus had disobeyed his commandments, and he said:

"I know no longer who is my friend or my foe."

Then he put his seal to the letter and gave it unto the messenger. And the man sped forth and brought it into the camp. Then Friburz read it out before the army. And when he had heard it Tus did that which the Shah desired, and when he had given over unto Friburz the command he turned him to go back unto Iran.

Now when he was come before Kai Khosrau, he fell upon the earth before his throne, and the Shah raised him not, neither did he give him words of greeting. And when he parted his lips, it was to let forth words of anger. And he made known to him his sore displeasure, and he reproached him with the death of Firoud, and he said:

"But that thou art sprung from Minuchihr, and that thy beard is white, I would sever thy head from off thy body for this deed. Yet, as it is, a dungeon shall be thy dwelling, and thine evil nature thy gaoler."

And when he had thus spoken he drove him from his presence, and gave orders that he should be put into chains.

Now while these things passed in Iran, Friburz craved of Piran that he would grant unto him a truce. And Piran said:

"It is ye who have broken into our land; yet I will listen unto your desires and grant unto you this truce, and it shall be of the length of one moon. But I counsel unto you that ye quit the land of Turan in its course."

But Friburz would not Lead back the army thus discomfited, and he spent the time accorded to him in preparation, and when it was at an end he offered battle again to the Turanians. And there was waged a combat s sun hath not looked upon its like, and the army of the Iranians was overthrown. And the slaughter was terrible, neither did the men of Turan escape, and many were the great ones of the land that perished. And the men of Iran fought till that their strength was departed. They had sought the conflict and found defeat. And they that were not slain fled from the battlefield, and it is they that saved their lives in this manner whom thou must bewail.

Now when another day was risen upon the world, Piran sent for his guards to bring him news of the Iranians. And when they told him that their tents were vanished from off the plains, he sent the news of victory to Afrasiyab. And the King rejoiced thereat, and all the land prepared a great feast unto the army. And when Piran entered into the city the terraces thereof were decked with carpets of gay hue, and the houses were clothed with arras of Roum, and pieces of silver rained down upon the warriors. And the King poured upon Piran gifts of such number that you would not have patience to hear me recount them. And he sent him back unto Khoten with much honour and many counsels.

And he said:

"Let not thine army slumber, and trust not thy foe because he is drawn back. I charge thee keep thine eyes fixed upon the land of Rustem, for if thy vigilance slumber he will surely come forth and destroy thee, for he alone is to be feared of the men of Iran. Therefore be brave and watchful, and may Heaven preserve thee unto my throne."

And Piran listened unto the words spoken of Afrasiyab, as it beseemed him. And when he was returned unto his kingdom, he set watchers upon all sides, that they might acquaint him concerning Rustem the Pehliva.