This is the translation of one of the world’s greatest masterpieces
The Epic of Shahnameh Ferdowsi
(The Epic of Kings: Hero Tales of Ancient Persia)
Hakim Abol-Ghasem Ferdowsi Toosi (940-1020)
World famous Persian (Iranian) poet
The Return of Kai Khosrow
In a little time it came about that there was born unto Ferangis, in the house of Piran, a son of the race of Saiawush. And Piran, when he had seen the babe, goodly of mien, who already in his cradle was like unto a king, sware a great oath that Afrasiyab should not destroy it. And when he went before the King to tell unto him the tidings, he pleaded for him with his lips. Now the heart of Afrasiyab had been softened in his sorrow for Saiawosh, wherefore he shut his ear unto the evil counsellors that bade him destroy the babe which should bring vengeance upon Turan. And he said-
“I repent me of mine evil deed unto Saiawosh, and though it be written that much evil shall come upon me from this child sprung from the loins of Tur and Kai Kobad, I will strive no more to hinder the decree of the stars; let him, therefore, be reared unto manhood. Yet I pray that he be brought up among shepherds in the mountains far from the haunts of men, and that his birth be hidden from him, that he may not learn of his father or of the cruel things I did unto Saiawosh.”
And Piran consented unto the desires of Afrasiyab, and he rejoiced because he had spared the babe. Then he took the infant from its mother and bare it unto the mountains of Kalun, and confided the boy unto the shepherds of the flocks. And he said-
“Guard this child even as your souls, so that neither rain nor dust come near him.”
Thus it came about that no man knew of the babe, neither did Ferangis know whither it was vanished. But oftentimes was Piran sore disturbed in his spirit, for he knew that the beginning of strife was yet to come, and that much evil must befall Turan from this infant. Yet he forgot not his promise of protection given unto Saiawosh his friend, whom he had led to put his trust in Afrasiyab. So he quieted his spirit from thinking, for he knew that no man can change the course of the stars.
Now when some time was passed the shepherds came out to Piran and told him how they could not restrain this boy, whose valour was like to that of a king. Then Piran went forth to visit Kai Khosrow, and he was amazed when he looked upon him and beheld his beauty and his strength, and he pressed him unto his heart with tenderness. Then Kai Khosrow said-
“O thou that bearest high thy head, art thou not ashamed to press unto thee the son of a shepherd?”
But Piran was inflamed with love for the boy, so he pondered not his words, but said-
“O heir of kings, thou art not the son of a shepherd.” Then he told him of his birth, and clad him in robes befitting his station, and took him back with him unto his house. And henceforward was Kai Khosrow reared in the bosom of Piran and of Ferangis his mother. And the days rolled above their heads in happiness.
Then it came about one night that Piran was awakened by a messenger from Afrasiyab the King. And the King bade Piran come before him. And when he was come unto him, he said-
“My heart is disquieted because of the child of Saiawosh, and I repent me of my weakness which kept him alive; for in my dreams I have beheld that he will do much evil unto Turan. Wherefore I would now slay him to avert calamity.”
Then Piran, wise in counsel, opened his mouth before Afrasiyab and spake, saying-
“O King, disquiet not thyself because of this boy, for he is devoid of wit; and though his face be like unto that of a Peri, his head, which should bear a crown, is empty of reason. Commit, therefore, no violence, but suffer that this innocent continue to dwell among the flocks.”
Afrasiyab, when he had listened to these words of wile, was comforted; yet he said-
“Send Kai Khosrow before me, that I may behold with mine eyes his simplicity.”
And Piran assented to his request, because he ventured not to gainsay it. So he returned him unto his house and sought out the boy, and told him how he should disguise his wit before the King. Then he led him unto the court mounted upon a goodly charger, and all the people shouted when they beheld his beauty and his kingly mien. And Afrasiyab too was confounded at his aspect, and he gazed with wonder at his limbs of power, and he strove to remember the promise that he had given unto Piran that he would not hurt a hair of the head of this boy. Then he began to question him that he might search his spirit. And he said-
“Young shepherd, how knowest thou the day from the night? What doest thou with thy flocks? How countest thou thy sheep and thy goats?”
And Kai Khosrow replied-
“There is no game, and I have neither cords nor bow and arrows.”
Then the King questioned him concerning the milk that was given of the herds. And Kai Khosrow said-
“The tiger-cats are dangerous and have mighty claws.”
Then Afrasiyab put to him yet a third question, and he asked of him-
“What is the name of thy mother?”
And Kai Khosrow answered and said-
“The dog ventureth not to bark when a lion threateneth him.”
Then Afrasiyab asked him yet again whether he desired to go forth into the land of Iran and be avenged upon his enemies. And Kai Khosrow answered and said-
“When a leopard appeareth, the heart of a brave man is torn with fear.”
And Afrasiyab smiled at these answers and questioned him no further. And he said unto Piran-
“Restore the boy unto his mother, and let him be reared with kindness in the city that Saiawosh hath builded, for I behold that from him can no harm alight upon Turan.”
When Piran heard these words he hastened to remove Kai Khosrow from the court, and his heart was glad because of the danger that had passed by. So Kai Khosrow was reared in the house of his father, and Ferangis spake unto him of Saiawosh and of the vengeance that was due. And she instructed him concerning the heroes of Iran and their deeds of prowess, as she had learned them from Saiawosh her lord.
In the mean season Kai Kawous had learned of the death of Saiawosh his son, and a mighty wailing went forth throughout the land of Iran, so that even the nightingale in the cypress was silent of her song, and the leaves of the pomegranate tree in the forest were withered for sorrow. And the heroes that stood about the throne of Kai Kawous clad themselves in the garb of woe, and bare dust upon their heads in place of helmets. And Rostam, when he learned of it, was bowed to the earth with agony, and for seven days he stirred not from the ground, neither would he let food or comfort come near him. But on the eighth he roused him from the earth, and caused the trumpets of brass to be sounded into the air. And he assembled his warriors, and marched with them into Iran, and he came before Kai Kawous and demanded audience.
Now when he was come into the presence-chamber he found the Shah seated upon his throne. He was clothed in dust from his head unto his feet, because of his grief. But Rostam regarded it not, and straightway reproached him, and said-
“O King of evil nature, behold the harvest that is sprung from the seed that thou didst sow! The love of Sudaveh and her vile intents have torn from off thy head the diadem of kings, and Iran hath suffered cruel loss because of thy folly and thy suspicions. It is better for a king that he be laid within his shroud than that he be given over to the dominion of a woman. Alas for Saiawosh! Was ever hero like unto him? And henceforward I will know neither rest nor joy until his cruel death be avenged.”
When Kai Kawous had listened to the words of his Pehliva, the colour of shame mounted into his cheek, but he held his peace, for he knew that the words spoken of Rostam were deserved. Then Rostam, when he saw that the King answered him not, strode out from his presence. And he went into the house of the women, and sought for Sudaveh, who had given over Saiawosh unto death. And when he had found her, he tore her from off her throne, and he plunged his dagger into her heart, and he quitted her not until the life was gone from her. And Kai Kawous, when he learned it, trembled and was afraid, for he dared not oppose himself unto Rostam. Then Rostam commanded that the army of vengeance be made ready. And he said-
“I will make the earth to tremble before my mace, as it shall tremble on the day of judgment.”
And when all was prepared they made them haste to be gone, and the air was full of the gleaming of armour, and the rattling of drums was heard on all sides.
Now when Afrasiyab learned that a great army was come forth from Iran to avenge the death of Saiawosh, he bade Sarkha, the best beloved of his sons, lead forth the hosts of Turan against them. But he craved Sarkha have a care that Rostam, the son of Zal, put not his life in danger. And Sarkha set forth, bearing aloft the black banner of Turan, and he went towards the plains where Rostam was encamped. Now when the armies beheld one another, their hearts were inflamed, and the battle raged sore, and many were the brave heads laid low on that day. And Sarkha fell into the hands of Rostam, and he spared him not, because he was the best beloved son of Afrasiyab. So he gave orders that Sarkha be slain, even as Saiawosh was slain, that the heart of his enemy might be rent with anguish.
And when Afrasiyab learned it he was beside himself with grief. And when he had torn his hair and wailed in the dust for his son, he arose to go forth unto the army, that he might avenge his death. And he said unto his knights-
“Henceforth ye must not think of sleep or hunger, neither must ye breathe aught but vengeance, for I will never stay my hand until this murder be avenged.”
Now when the army that was with Afrasiyab came nigh unto Rostam, Pilsam, that was brother to Piran, a warrior valiant and true, challenged Rostam unto single combat. Then Piran sought to stay him because of his youth, but Pilsam listened not unto his counsel. So Rostam came forth against him, and he was armed with a stout lance, and he was wrapped about with his anger. And he fell upon Pilsam with fury, and he lifted him from his saddle, and he took him by the girdle and flung him, as a thing that is vile, into the midst of the camp of the Turanians. Then he shouted with a voice of thunder-
“I counsel you, wrap ye this man in robes of gold, for my mace hath made him blue.”
Now when the Turanians beheld that Pilsam was dead, they wept sore, and their courage departed from out of them. And in vain did Afrasiyab pray them to keep their hearts. Yet he said within himself-
“The good fortune that watched over me is asleep.”
And when they were met in battle yet again, and the army of Rostam had beaten down once more that of Afrasiyab, the King bethought him of flight. And the hosts of Turan vanished like to the wind, but they left behind them much riches and goodly treasure.
Now while they were flying from the face of Rostam, Afrasiyab said unto Piran-
“Counsel me how I shall act concerning this child of Saiawosh.”
And Piran said-
“Haste not to put him to death, for he shall in nowise do thee hurt. But if thou wilt listen unto my voice, send him far into Khoten, that he be hidden from sight, and that the men of Iran learn not of his being.”
And Afrasiyab did as Piran counselled, and a messenger was sent forth to lead out the young King and his mother unto the land of Cathay. And Afrasiyab himself fled until that he came within the borders of China, and no man knew where he was hidden. And the land of Turan was given over to plunder, and the Iranians scathed it with fire and sword because of Saiawosh, whom Afrasiyab had foully slain. And Rostam seated himself in the seat of Afrasiyab, and for the space of seven years did he rule over the land. But in the eighth messengers came out to him, and said how that Kai Kawous was without a guide in Iran, and how they feared lest folly might result from his deeds. So Rostam went forth to stand beside his Shah.
Now when Afrasiyab learned that Rostam was departed out of the land of Turan, his fears forsook him, and he gathered together a mighty army, and he fell upon his borders, and he regained them unto himself. And he wept when he beheld the havoc that was come upon Turan, and he incited his army to be avenged. So they fell into Iran, and shattered its host, and they suffered not that repose come near unto their foes. And they pursued them with fire and sword, and laid waste their fields. And during seven years the heavens withheld their rains, and good fortune was turned away from Iran, and the prosperity of the land was quenched. And men groaned sore under these misfortunes, neither did Rostam come forth from Zaboulistan unto their aid.
Then it came about one night that Goodarz, who was descended from Kawah the smith, dreamed a dream. He beheld a cloud heavy with rain, and on the cloud was seated the Serosch the blessed. And the angel of God said unto Goodarz-
“Open thine ears, if thou wilt deliver thy land from anguish, and from Afrasiyab the Turk. There abideth in Turan the son of a noble race, an issue sprung from the loins of Saiawosh, who is brave, and beareth high his head. And he is sprung from Kai Kobad and from Tur, and from him alone can deliverance come to Iran. Suffer, therefore, that Geew, thy son, go forth in search of Kai Khosrow, and bid him remain in his saddle until he shall have found this boy. For such is the will of Ormuzd.”
When Goodarz awoke, he thanked God for his dream, and touched the ground with his white beard. And when the sun was risen and had chased away the ravens of night, he called before him his son, and he spake to him of his dream. And he commanded him that he go forth to do the behests of God.
And Geew said-
“I will obey thine orders while I live.”
Then Goodarz said-
“What companions wilt thou take with thee?”
And Geew said-
“My cord and my horse will suffice unto me for company, for it is best to take none with me into Turan. For behold, if I lead out an host, men will ask what I am, and wherefore I come forth; but if I go alone, their doubts will slumber.”
Then Goodarz said-
“Go, and peace be upon thee.”
So Geew made ready his steed, and when he had bidden farewell unto the old man his father, he set out upon his travels. And wherever he met a man walking alone, he questioned him concerning Kai Khosrow; and if the man knew not the name, he struck off his head, that none might learn his secret or wherefore he was come forth.
Now Geew wandered thus many days throughout the length of Turan, like to a man distraught, and he could learn nought concerning Kai Khosrow, the young king. And seven years rolled thus above his head, and he grew lean and sorrowful. And for house he had nought save only his saddle, and for nourishment and clothing the flesh and skin of the wild ass, and in place of wine he had only bad water. And he began to be downcast in his spirit, and afraid lest the dream dreamed of his father had been sent unto him by a Deev. Now it came about one day that while he pondered thus he entered a forest, and when he was come into its midst, he beheld therein a fountain, and a young man, slim as a cypress, seated beside it. And the youth held in his hand a wine-cup, and on his head was a crown of flowers, and his mien was such that the soul of Geew rejoiced thereat, and the door of his cares was loosened. And he said within himself-
“If this be not the King, then must I abandon my search, for I think to behold in him the face of Saiawosh.”
Then he went nigh unto him. Now when Kai Khosrow beheld the warrior, he smiled and said-
“O Geew, thou art welcome unto my sight, since thou art come hither at the behest of God. Tell unto me now, I pray thee, tidings of Toos and Goodarz, of Rostam, and of Kai Kawous the King. Are they happy? Do they know of Kai Khosrow?”
When Geew heard this speech, he was confounded; and when he had returned thanks unto God, he opened his mouth and spake, saying-
“O young King, who bearest high thy head, reveal unto me who hath told thee of Goodarz and of Toos, of Rostam and of Kai Kawous, and how knowest thou my name and aspect.”
Then Kai Khosrow said-
“My mother hath told me of the things which she learned of my father. For I am son unto Saiawosh, and before he entered upon death he foretold unto Ferangis how Geew would come forth from Iran to lead me unto the throne.”
Then Geew said-
“Prove unto me thy words. Suffer that mine eyes behold the mark of the Kaianides which thou bearest about thy body.”
Then Kai Khosrow uncovered his arm, and when Geew looked upon the mark that was borne of all the royal house since the time of Kai Kobad, he fell down upon the ground and did homage before this youth. But Kai Khosrow raised him from the dust and embraced him, and questioned him concerning his journey and the hardships he had passed through. Then Geew mounted the young King upon his charger, and he walked before him bearing an Indian sword unsheathed in his hand. And they journeyed until they came to the city that Saiawosh had builded.
Now when Ferangis saw them she received them joyfully, for her quick spirit divined what was come to pass. But she counselled them to tarry not in whatsoever they would do. For she said-
“When Afrasiyab shall learn of this he will neither eat nor sleep, he will send out an army against us. Let us flee, therefore, before he cometh. And listen now unto the words that I shall speak. Go forth unto the mountain that is raised unto the clouds, and take with thee a saddle and a bridle. And when thou shalt have scaled its crest thou wilt behold a meadow green as a paradise, and browsing upon it the flocks of Saiawosh. And in their midst will be Behzah the steed of battle. Go nigh unto him, my son, and embrace him, and whisper thy name into his ear; and when he shall have heard it he will suffer thee to mount him, and seated upon him thou shalt escape from the slayer of thy father.”
Then Geew and Kai Khosrow went out and did as Ferangis told unto them; and they found the steed, and when Behzah beheld the saddle of Saiawosh and the leopard-skin he had worn, he sighed, and his eyes were filled with tears. Then he suffered Kai Khosrow to mount him, and they turned back unto Ferangis. And she chose forth the armour of Saiawosh from among her treasures and gave it to her son, and she clad herself in mail of Roum like unto a warrior, and she sprang upon a horse of battle, and when all was done they set forth to fly from the land of Afrasiyab.
Now one brought tidings unto Piran of these things, and he was dismayed thereat, for he said-
“Now will be accomplished the fears of Afrasiyab, and mine honour will be tarnished in his eyes.”
So he bade Kelbad and three hundred valiant knights pursue Kai Khosrow and bind him and bring him back in chains.
Now Ferangis and her son slept for weariness by the roadside, but Geew held guard over them. And when he beheld Kelbad and the men that were with him, he knew that they were come in pursuit; yet he awakened not Kai Khosrow, but of his strength alone put them to flight. But when they were gone he roused the sleepers, and he urged haste upon them.
But Piran, when he beheld that Kelbad returned unto him defeated at the hand of one man, was loath to credit it, and he was angered against him, and said that he would go forth himself. So Piran made him ready, and a thousand brave warriors went with him. For Piran was afraid of the anger of Afrasiyab, and that he would put this flight unto his account, and not unto that of the rotation of the stars. Now when he was come unto the fugitives Geew and the young King slumbered, but Ferangis was keeping watch. And when she beheld the army she woke them and bade them prepare for combat; but Geew suffered not that Kai Khosrow should go forth, for he said-
“If I fall, what mattereth that? my father hath seventy and eight sons like unto me; but thou art alone, and if thy head shall fall, what other is worthy of the crown?”
And Kai Khosrow did as Geew desired. Then Geew gave combat unto Piran, and by his courage he overcame the army; and he caught the old man Piran in the meshes of his cord. Then he brought him bound before Ferangis and Kai Khosrow her son.
Now Piran, when he beheld Kai Khosrow, demanded not mercy at his hands, but invoked the blessings of Heaven upon his head, and he mourned the fate of Saiawosh. And he said-
“O King, had thy slave been nigh unto Afrasiyab, surely the head of thy father would not have fallen at his hands. And it was I who preserved thee and Ferangis thy mother, yet now is it given unto me to fall under thy hands.”
When Kai Khosrow heard these words his heart went out unto Piran, and when he looked towards his mother he saw that her eyes were filled with tears. Then she opened her mouth and poured forth curses upon Afrasiyab her father, and she wailed the fate of Saiawosh, and she pleaded for the life of this good old man. For she said-
“His tenderness hath been an asylum unto our sorrow, and now is it given unto us to remember the benefits we have received at his hands.”
But Geew, when he heard it, said-
“O Queen, I pray thee speak not thus, for I have sworn a great oath that I would stain the earth with the blood of Piran, and how can I depart from my vow?”
Then Kai Khosrow said, “O hero like unto a lion, thou shalt not break the oath that thou hast made before God. Satisfy thy heart and accomplish thy vow. Pierce with thy dagger the ear of Piran, and let his blood fall on the earth, that thy vengeance and my clemency may both be satisfied.”
Then Geew did as Kai Khosrow bade, and when he had crimsoned the earth with the blood of Piran, they mounted him upon a charger fleet of foot and bound him thereon, and caused him to swear unto them that none other but Gulshehr his wife should release him from these bonds. And Piran sware it and went forth, and his mouth poured blessings upon Kai Khosrow.
Now while these things were passing Afrasiyab grew impatient, and set forth himself at the head of a great army that he might learn tidings of Kai Khosrow. And when he heard that the armies had been beaten at the hand of one man, his cheeks grew pale with fear; but when he met Piran his Pehliva tied upon his charger, his anger knew no bounds, so that he cried aloud, and commanded Piran that he depart from out his presence. Then he sware that he would himself destroy this Geew, and lay low the head of Kai Khosrow and of his mother. And he made great haste after them, and he urged upon his men that they must find Kai Khosrow before he should have crossed the Jihun and have entered upon the land of Iran; yet before ever he was come nigh to them, the three were come unto its banks.
Now, a boat was lying ready, and a boatman slumbered beside it; and Geew roused him, and said that he should bear them across the river. But the man was greedy of gain, and beheld that Geew was in haste. So he said-
“Why should I carry thee across? Yet, if thou desire it, I demand that thou give unto me one of four things: thy coat of mail, or thy black horse, yon woman, or the crown of gold worn by this young man.”
Then Geew was angry, and said-
“Thou speakest like a fool; thou knowest not what thou dost ask.”
Then he turned unto Kai Khosrow, and said-
“If thou be Kai Khosrow indeed, thou wilt not fear to enter this river and cross it, even as it was crossed by Feridoun thy sire.”
Now the river was swollen with the rains, but the young King regarded it not. He entered upon its surge with Behzah his steed, and the horse of his father bare him across the boiling waters. And Ferangis followed after him and Geew the bold. And when Kai Khosrow was come unto the other side, he dismounted and knelt and kissed the ground of Iran, and gave thanks unto God the mighty.
Yet scarce were they come to the other side than Afrasiyab came up with his army. And Afrasiyab demanded of the boatman wherefore he had borne them across, and when the man told him how it was come to pass, the King was bowed down with anguish, for he knew now that that which was written would be accomplished. So he returned him right sorrowful unto his house.
Now when Kai Khosrow came nigh unto the courts of the Shah, Geew sent a writing unto Kai Kawous and told him all that was come to pass. And Kai Kawous sent forth riders to lead before him his son; and the city was decked to give him welcome, and all the nobles received him joyfully, and Kai Kawous was glad at the sight of him, and all men regarded Kai Khosrow as the heir, and only Toos was sorrowful at that which was come to pass. But Toos was angered, and said that he would pay homage only unto Fariborz, and to none other. And he came before Kai Kawous and said-
“Fariborz is thy son also, why therefore wilt thou give the crown unto one who is sprung from the race of Afrasiyab?
Then Geew said-
“It is fitting that the son of Saiawosh should succeed unto the throne.”
But Toos listened not, and refused allegiance unto Kai Khosrow, and there was strife among the nobles of Iran.
Then one came before Kai Kawous and begged of him that he would declare himself, for he said-
“If we are divided among ourselves we shall fall a prey into the hands of Afrasiyab. Let the Shah, therefore, bind up this quarrel.”
Then Kai Kawous said, “Ye ask of me that which is hard, for both my sons are dear unto me, and how should I choose between them? Yet I will bethink me of a means to quiet this dissension. Let Kai Khosrow and Fariborz go forth unto Bahman, the fortress that is upon my borders which no man hath conquered, for it is an abode of Deevs, and fire issueth thence continually. And let them take with them an army, and I will bestow my crown and my treasures upon him at whose hands the castle shall be subdued.”
So Fariborz and Kai Khosrow set forth, and Kai Khosrow suffered that his elder take the lead. But in vain did Fariborz strive against the Deevs that were hidden behind the walls, and when seven days had passed he returned discomfited from his emprise. Then Kai Khosrow set forth, and he wrote a letter, amber-perfumed, and in it he desired the evil Deevs that they give place unto him in the name of Ormuzd. And he affixed the letter unto the point of his lance, and when he was come nigh unto the burning fort he flung it beyond the walls. Then a great noise rent the air like thunder, and the world became darkened, and when the light returned unto the sky the castle was vanished from off the face of the earth.
Now when Kai Kawous heard it, he knew that the son of Saiawosh was learned in the arts of magic, as was fitting unto a king; and he beheld also that he was wise and brave. And because that he was weary he surrendered the throne unto him, and Kai Khosrow wore the crown of the Kaianides in his stead.
Translated by: Helen Zimmern