One of the desert spear-armed Bedouins
Of noble birth then lived a virtuous king ,
Just , highborn , generous , and hight Mardas ,
Who sought his God with reverence and sighs ,
He kept a thousand head of all milch cattle ,
Goats , camels , sheep , and kine—a gentle breed—
With Arab steeds , all timid beauties they ,
And grudged the milk to none . He had a son
Whom much he loved—Zahhak , a gallant prince ,
But hasty . People called him Biwarasp .
Ten thousand is " biwar " in ancient Persian ,
And he possessed ten thousand Arab steeds
With golden equipage—a famous stud .
Most of his days and nights he spent on horseback
[ p . 136 ]
Engaged in superintendence not in war .
One day Iblis approached him as a friend
And led his wits astray . The youth gave ear
With pleasure and all unsuspectingly
Gave to Iblis heart , reason , and pure soul ,
And heaped the dust on his own head . Iblis
Exulted seeing that the youth was snared
And gulled the simpleton with specious words ,
Thus saying : " I could tell thee many things
Known to myself alone . "
The youth made answer : —
" Tell me at once , my worthy monitor ! "
Iblis replied : " First promise , then my story . "
The guileless youth swore as Iblis dictated : —
" Thy secret shall be kept , thy bidding done . "
Then said Iblis : " Great prince ! shall any rule
Here but thyself ? What profiteth a sire
With such a son ? Now hearken to my rede :
The lifetime of this ancient potentate
Continueth , thou art shelved . Seize on his court
And goods . His place will suit thee , thou shalt be
King of the world if thou durst do my bidding . "
Zahhak looked grave ; to shed his sire ' s blood grieved him .
He said : " Not so , suggest some other course :
This cannot be . "
" Then thou , " Iblis rejoined ,
" Art perjured and wilt still be despicable ,
Thy father honoured . "
Thus he snared the Arab ,
Who asked : " What must I do ? I will obey . "
Iblis replied : " Leave me to scheme . Thy head
Shall touch the sun . I only ask thy silence ;
No help need I , myself am competent ,
But keep the sword of speech within the scabbard . "
[ p . 137 ]
Now in the palace was a jocund garth ,
And thither used Mardas to go at dawn
To bathe him ere he prayed , without a slave
To light him on his way . The wicked Div ,
Intent on ill , dug in the garden-path
« milestone unit= " vullers " n= " 30 " / »
A deep pit , masked and made it good with boughs .
Ere dawn the Arab chieftain hied him thither
And , as he reached the pit , his fortunes fell ;
That good man tumbled , broke his back , and died .
He ne ' er had breathed a cold breath on his son ,
But cherished him and lavished treasure on him ,
Yet that abandoned youth respected not
His father , but conspired to shed his blood .
I heard a sage once say : " Though fierce in strife
No son will dare to take his father ' s life ;
If such a crime should seem to be implied ,
Seek for the reason on the mother ' s side . "
Vile and unjust Zahhak thus seized the throne ,
Assumed the Arabs ' crown and governed them
For good or ill .
Iblis encouraged thus
Began again and said : " Since Thou hast turned
To me , and gained thy heart ' s desire , come pledge me
Thy word once more to do as I require ;
And then thy realm shall spread throughout the world ,
Birds , beasts , and fishes shall be all thine own . "
When this was said he set about to use ,
Most marvellous ! another kind of ruse .
In those days , in the land of the Arabs , there was a good and fine king who sighed with fear before God . His name was Merdas , and he was a man of great generosity and justice .
Each of the herds he had entrusted to his shepherds numbered a thousand , whether of cows , or Arab horses , or goats , or milk-giving sheep , and he freely gave milk to anyone who needed it .
This righteous man had a son , whose character had very little kindness in it . He was an ambitious youth named Zahhak , brave , turbulent in his moods , and of an evil disposition . Everyone called him Bivarasp , a Pahlavi word meaning " ten thousand horses , " because he had ten thousand Arab horses , all with golden bridles . He spent most of his days and nights riding them , not into battle so much as to demonstrate his wealth and greatness .
One day at dawn Eblis appeared before Zahhak , presenting himself as a friendly well-wisher , and the youth was charmed by his conversation . Eblis said , " First I want your promise that our talk will be confidential , and then I will tell you what I have to say . " The young man greeted him kindly , and answered , " I will tell no one about anything I hear from you . "
Eblis said , " Listen to my advice . No one but you should be in charge here ; with a son like you , why should an old , worn-out father go on ruling for so long ? Take his place , you’re the person best fitted for his position . If you listen to my advice , you will be the ruler of the world . " Zahhak heard him out and considered his words , but the thought of shedding his father’s blood troubled his heart . He said , " This is wrong ; give me different advice , this is not something I can do . " Eblis said , " If you don’t follow my advice , you’re breaking your promise ; you’ll stay as a wretched subject and your father will stay as ruler . "
And so he led the Arab into his trap , and Zahhak decided to obey him . He said , " Tell me how to do it , what’s the best way to accomplish this ? Don’t make excuses now . " Eblis replied , " I will take care of how it’s to be done ; Your head will rise in heaven , like the sun . " King Merdas owned a fine orchard , and he would go there in the dawn’s darkness , to wash his head and body , and to pray . The servant who accompanied him did not bring a lamp .
Eblis dug a deep pit there , and when the Arab king arrived in the orchard the next morning he fell into the pit and broke his back . The reverent man’s good fortune was at an end , and his life departed . Then Eblis filled the pit in with soil and went on his way . This noble king had taken pains to bring up his son in comfort ; he had rejoiced in him and given him wealth . But his evil offspring broke faith with him and became complicit in his father’s murder .
I heard a wise man say that , no matter how much of a savage lion a man might be , he does not shed his father’s blood , and if there is some untold secret here , it is the mother who can answer an inquirer’s questions .
In this way the willful , unjust Zahhak seized his father’s throne , placed the Arab crown on his head , and became the dispenser of largess and punishments to his people . When Eblis saw how effective his words had been , he gave some new evil advice . He said to Zahhak , " If you do my will , I will give you all you could wish from the world . Follow my orders and you will be king of the earth ; its animals , men , birds , and fish will all be yours . "