Adventures from Dastan of Ameer Hamza – Chapter 5
FIVE — [The Amir kills a lion on the way to Ctesiphon, and Amar makes use of its skin.]
One day Buzurg Ummid said to the Amir, “The king must be waiting for you, he must mention you again and again in court. Its best that you now set out for Ctesiphon, and gladden the people there too with your beauty and radiance.” At once the Amir, having visited the Kabah and taken leave of Khvajah Abdul Muttalib, set out for Ctesiphon together with Manzar Shah of Yemen and Numan bin Manzar Shah and Suhail of Yemen and Sultan Bakht of Maghrib and Adi Madikarab and Tauq bin Haran and a detachment of thirty thousand bloodthirsty enemy-killing horsemen. Stage after stage and day after day, crossing land and sea on the way, he and his companions and servants pressed on without delay, until a crossroads appeared.
The Amir asked Khvajah Buzurg Ummid, “Since you came this way, you must know where these roads go, and which lands borders they lead to.” Buzurg Ummid said, “Both roads go to Ctesiphon. One road is free from fear or danger, but the travel time is longer: it takes six months on that road. The other road gets to Ctesiphon very quickly, but it has been closed for five years because it goes through the Beneficent Forest. In this forest is a lion: whenever any poor traveler comes along it smells him, and leaps out from a reed-thicket and kills him. No matter how strong and powerful the man may be, he dies after a single blow. So no one goes by this road, everyone saves his life.” The Amir said, “That harmful beast causes vexation to Gods creatures; it is necessary for me to kill it.” With these words, he went along with the dagger-wielding runner, that is, Khvajah Amar Ayyar, on this dangerous road toward Ctesiphon. His soldiers and companions went with Khvajah Buzurg Ummid on the road that was free from fear or danger, and the Amir ordered them to proceed at double-quick time. Although Manzar Shah, etc., begged to ride by his side, the Amir did not agree.
The next day in the late afternoon, the Amir and Amar arrived at a reed-thicket in the Beneficent Forest. Finding the breeze refreshing, they dismounted and saw a spring, rivalling the stream of the Water of Life, with pure, clear, extremely sweet water, and wonderfully attractive foliage on its bank. Here and there stood shade trees with beautiful, colorful, melodious birds singing in them. The Amir and Amar spread out their saddle-blankets on the bank and sat down, and Amar began grazing his horse and enjoying the forest breeze–when suddenly within the reed-thicket a rustling occurred, the sound of an animals coming was heard, and a lion emerged from it.
Amar had never seen so much as a clay lion in his whole life; the moment he saw the lion he let go of his horse in fear, and climbed a splendid big tree, and began calling to the Amir: “Hamzah, a huge tall lion has come out of the reed-thicket and is heading in your direction! For the Lords sake escape from the spring and come over here with me, or climb a tree at once!” When the Amir heard these words of Amars he laughed a great deal and said, “Oh you cowardly creature, why are you so petrified? You must be half out of your mind! I came along this road in order to kill the lion, Ive come all this way just for that purpose, and have left my army behind–and you want to frighten me and make me run away from the lion, you want to turn me into a eunuch here in the forest!”
With these words, he turned his attention to the lion, and saw that in truth it was a very big one, extremely terrifying, over forty-five feet long to its tail, and taller than a cow. The Amir challenged the lion, “Come here, jackal, where are you running off to? I, your challenger, have arrived!” Hearing the voice, the lion at once leaped at the Amir. The Amir slid to one side and avoided its charge, then raised the battle-cry “God is great!” so loudly that the whole reed-thicket echoed. Seizing the lions hind legs, he gave such a jerk that its spinal column broke, and after six hours the lion died, screaming. Amar kissed the Amirs hands.
In the morning Amar removed the lions skin and cleaned it, and scrubbed it very well inside, and stuffed it with straw, and brought wood from the forest. He had a new trick in mind to try out: making a cart, he seated the lion on it in such a way that any beholder would take it for a living lion; and catching hold of a porter, he put it on his head and went along with the Amir. The Amir knew that the army would arrive in Ctesiphon only after many days. Wherever he and Amar found plenty of birds and a pleasant breezy place, they camped and hunted. Thus the Amir and Khvajah Buzurg Ummid arrived in Ctesiphon at the same time. The Amir went to his armys encampment, and Amar seated that straw-stuffed lion atop a hillock under the wall of the fort, in such a way that there was absolutely no difference between it and a living lion.
Thus the next day when the city gate was opened, and the grass-cutters passed by that hillock on their way to cut grass, the eye of one of them happened to fall on the lion. He let out a shriek and fainted, his throat choked with fear. His companions began to look around: “What did he see so terrifying that he screamed and fainted, that he passed out and fell to the ground?” As they were looking, their eyes met those of the lion. They all screamed, “A lion, a lion!” and ran toward the city, no one kept hold of himself.
When the grass-cutters spread this news, a tumult broke out in the city: “A lion has come, a huge big one, its sitting on the hillock, any moment its likely to come after us! One of our men fainted and fell unconscious there–just wait and see if he ever comes home, or if hell be a tidbit for the lion!” Everything was topsy-turvy for a while, everyone was stunned and anxious: some began shutting up their doors, others strapped on their muskets and went to sit upstairs, no one went out or sat outside. All the outpost-guards were ordered to be careful and keep close watch. In the city the word was, “Wait and see–if, God forbid, the lion heads this way, itll murder thousands!” When the king heard this news, he went out onto the viewing-balcony of the fort, and the great nobles of the court and the soldiers and champions distinguished for courage went with him. They saw that indeed a lion was sitting on the hillock; and whoever saw it trembled.
It happened that Muqbil came out of his tent, which had been pitched outside the city, and went to meet the king; when he passed by the hillock, the lion could be seen. He pulled an arrow out of his quiver, strung it on his bow, and approached the lion. When he came closer and looked attentively, he found no sign of life in the lion; it appeared to be a fake. He thought, “Such a trick could hardly occur to anyone except Amar, this is just in character for that refined gentleman! For the Amir, hearing of the lions attacks, came by way of the Beneficent Forest, and must have freed the forest of that harmful and bloodthirsty lion, and killed it. Amar has stuffed its skin with straw and set it up on this hillock to frighten people, he has fixed up a trick.” He told his idea to the king. The king was persuaded of it too. Pleased, the Refuge of the World bestowed on Muqbil boxes of gold pieces, and granted him a robe of honor and valuable jewels, and said, “Look, where is the Amir staying, in which quarter of the city has he alighted? Go yourself quickly, and send runners, and find out and tell me at once.”
Muqbil took leave of the king and left the fort, and went toward the Beneficent Forest. By chance Amar, having escorted the Amir to the army camp, was coming toward the city, on his way to tell the king about the Amirs arrival. From afar he saw that a party had emerged from the fort and set out toward the Beneficent Forest. Amar followed them; as he drew quite near, he saw, “Its Muqbil the Faithful, my old friend.” Muqbil, seeing Amar, began asking, “Where is the Amir, where has his tent been pitched?” This displeased Amar: “He neither greeted me, nor asked how I was, nor alighted from his horse and embraced me–in fact, he didnt even shake hands!”
Addressing Muqbil he said, “Listen, oh you wretch, did the Amir send you to remain in attendance upon the king, or to stroll around at your pleasure?” Muqbil said, “Ive heard that the Amir has arrived, that he has just entered this region; I am going to wait upon him, not strolling around. Im going in the kings service.” Amar said, “It was very wrong of you to go to meet him.” Muqbil said, “Amar, have you gone mad, that you set yourself up as an equal to me?” Amar was just looking for an excuse, he grew angry and said, “Oh son of a slave, do you have the nerve to speak to me like that? Naushervan gave you a mere three boxes of gold pieces, and you lose your senses and imagine yourself a Khvajah!” With these words, he at once pulled out his sling from his turban, and removed from his ayyari-pouch a stone chiselled and chased, seasoned in sunlight and moonlight, nourished in a river-bed, and put it in the sling. He whirled it, aimed it, and flung it at the target. It struck Muqbils forehead; a fountain of blood began to gush out.
In this state Muqbil went before the Amir, and began to weep and moan. The Amir, who at first thought the people of Ctesiphon had bathed him in blood, that some ill-bred villain had given him a severe blow, was quite annoyed; but Muqbil complained against Amar. The Amir called Amar and said, “What is all this, why do you have such enmity between you?” Amar petitioned, “This is like the [Persian] proverb, Go alone before the judge, come back satisfied. Please listen to my side too, then assign the blame.” The Amir replied, “What do you have to say? Ill listen; whats your answer?”
Amar said, “Oh Dispenser of Bounty, a man hopes for help even from strangers, and when abroad even a casual acquaintance is so heartening: at least he is a companion! Muqbil and I met after quite a while; he neither greeted me, which is a mark of Islam and humanity, nor dismounted and embraced me, which is a sign of affection. And its clear that he and I are juggling-balls from the same bag, let me have justice! We two are equal before you, neither is superior to the other, both are equal! I was standing there to meet him, and he with total arrogance reined in his horse and began asking me about you. When I said in a friendly way, Oh you wretch, did the Amir send you to remain in attendance upon the king, or to stroll around at your pleasure? You are acting very badly in strolling and wandering around, then in answer to this what does he say to me–Do you set yourself up as equal to me! Your Excellency, judge us, let me have justice: except for the fact that through Your Excellencys grace the Lord has permitted him to wear a decorated robe given by Naushervan, and he has gotten three boxes of gold pieces, in what other way is he superior? But what can I do, he only cares about his own elevation and haughtiness! It has been truly said, May the Lord not give power to the petty-minded, or fingernails to the bald, and may He not bestow high position on the low-minded.”
The Amir, having heard this speech of Amars, said to Muqbil, “Its true that in this case the fault is yours for having treated Amar disdainfully. Arrogance and pride are out of place between you two. Go on, be reconciled with each other.” Muqbil approached to be reconciled, but Amar refused and said, “He is a gentleman of family and position, a gentleman of glory and splendor! I am a wretched commonplace ayyar, what do he and I have in common, what position do I have compared to him?” Muqbil, when Amar would not be reconciled, gave him a box of gold pieces and said, “Take it, brother; now forgive my offense, clear your heart of anger against me.” Amar was the greedy sort, after all: he took the gold pieces and was reconciled with Muqbil.
The next day Khvajah Buzurg Ummid attended upon the king, and told him the whole story of his journey and the Amirs return. The king was delighted and, as advised by Buzurchmihr, decided to go the next day with the nobles of the court to welcome the Amir. Bakhtak incited the Sasanians to opposition: “How improper it is to the dignity and grandeur and glory of the kingdom, that the King of the Seven Realms should welcome an Arab, and make a low servant and dependent so great and glorious!” Khvajah Buzurchmihr answered, “Besides the fact that the king has called Hamzah his son, how many favors Hamzah himself has done for you! He has saved you and your families from the enemys grasp, given you robes, horses, and provisions, and set you free. It seems that you people are thoroughly shameless and ungrateful, utterly senseless and devoid of wisdom.” At length, through Buzurchmihrs reprimand, the tumult quieted; each one stood quietly in his own place.
The king mounted a throne borne by four elephants, and with pomp and ceremony, and a retinue of all the nobles, went to receive Hamzah; the nobles of the court and the great lords rode with him. When they had gone about four miles, a cloud of dust appeared before them. When the shears of the wind-gusts had cut open the collar of the dust, and the effect of the breeze had cleaned the dust from the face of the field, thirty banners of thirty thousand horsemen became visible; the flags on the standards, lifted on the shoulder of the breeze, raised their heads high. In the circle of horsemen the Amir, under the shadow of the serpent-shaped banner, mounted on Black Constellation, came into view.
At his right hand famous kings, at his left hand dignified champions could be seen. And in front of the Amir the Father of the Runners of the World, the Chief of the Generals of the Age, the King of the Dagger-wielding Ayyars, Khvajah Amar Ayyar, with his gold-embroidered turban on his head; his vest embroidered in gold; his broadcloth socks; his ayyari-sling adorned with trickeries; his sword, bright from being dipped in the brilliance of lightning, in its scabbard; his jewelled dagger in his belt; his arrow-quiver slung on his shoulder; his nooses and snares for trickery, the worry of foolish enemies, in his hands; and shaping with his mouth six high notes, twelve tones, twenty-four melodies, and twenty-eight improvisations, he advanced, surrounded by his pupils. On both sides troops were arrayed: the right flank and the left flank, vanguard and rearguard, foot-soldiers and horsemen, experienced in war, sated with the wine of courage, resembling the radiant appearance of Gods power.
The king saw the Amir, who was fifteen or sixteen years of age, with the down just appearing on his face, before whose beauty the sun in the sky was a worthless particle of dust. With valor and generosity and bravery and benevolence and splendor he sat, mounted on Black Constellation, such that the eye of the heavens would never have seen another hero of his elegance on the face of the earth. Hardly anyone in the world would ever have heard of such a summation of perfections both bodily and mental, a hero so forbearing, peaceful, dignified, and noble. Naushervans eyes were fastened on the Amirs figure from head to foot as though he was turned to stone, and the gaze of all the mighty champions with powerful bodies and strong arms who were with the king became fixed on this sum of glory and splendor. Each one knew his own pretensions to be false, each ones ambitions were brought low.
The Amir, the moment he saw the kings throne, leaped down from his horse and came forward for the honor of attendance, and kissed the foot of the throne; and placed the Throne of Kaikhusrau, which Hisham (who was now in Hell) had taken, on his own head, and offered it, together with the crown and royal regalia, to the king. The reason the Amir lifted the throne on his head was that when Kaikhusrau, having subdued Turan, had taken Iran, Rustam bin Zal had lifted the throne onto his head and gone thirty steps for the honor of the king; therefore the Amir also did the same for the grandeur of Naushervan. He lifted the throne onto his head and went forty steps. Lifting this weighty throne like a flower, he considered it a mere turban-ornament: “I am ten times stronger than Rustam, I am chief of the champions of the world and of the mighty ones of the age!”
Naushervan was extremely happy at this deed of the Amirs, and gestured to his servants and retainers: “Take the throne down quickly from the Amirs head, and place it on your own heads as is proper.” And he himself, descending from his throne, approached the Amir and began to regard him with the greatest affection and joy. The Amir too advanced with extreme humility and eagerness; he came forward very very quickly, and with the utmost submissiveness kissed the kings feet. Naushervan seized both the Amirs arms and embraced him like a loved one, and at once told Hurmuz and Faramarz, his two sons, to embrace the Amir. He introduced him to all the chiefs, and informed him of the name and rank and position, in order of importance, of every single one.