Stories of the Magicians - Alfred J. Church
King Keikobad died, and his son Kaous sat upon his throne. At first he was a moderate and prudent prince; but finding his riches increase, and his armies grow more and more numerous, he began to believe that there was no one equal to him in the whole world, and that he could do what he would. One day as he sat drinking in one of the chambers of his palace, and boasting after his custom, a Genius, disguised as a minstrel, came to the King's Chamberlain, .and desired to be admitted to the Royal presence. "I came," he said, "from the country of the Genii, and I am a sweet singer. Maybe the King, if he was to hear me, would eve me a post in his court."
The Chamberlain went to the King, and said, "There is a minstrel at the gate; he has a harp in his hand, and his voice is marvellously sweet."
"Bring him up," said the King.
So they brought him in, and gave him a place among the musicians, and commanded that he should give them a trial of his powers. So the minstrel, after playing a prelude on his harp, sang a song of the land of the Genii.
"There is no land in all the world"—this was the substance of his song—" ike Mazanderan, the land of the Genii. All the year round the rose blooms in its gardens and the hyacinth on its hills. It knows no heat nor cold, only an eternal spring. The nightingales sing in its thicket, and through its valleys wander the deer, and the water of its stream is as the water of roses, delighting the soul with its perfume. Of its treasures there is no end; the whole country is covered with gold and embroidery and jewels. No man can say that he is happy unless he has seen Mazanderan."
When the King heard this song, he immediately conceived the thought of marching against this wonderful country. Turning, therefore, to his warriors, he said: "We are given over to feasting; but the bravest must not suffer himself to rest in idleness. I am wealthier and, I doubt not, stronger than all the kings that have gone before me; it becomes me also to surpass them in my achievements. We will conquer the Land of Genii."
The warriors of the King were little pleased to hear such talk from his lips. No one ventured to speak, but their hearts were full of trouble and fear, for they had no desire to fight against the Genii.
"We are your subjects, O King," they said, "and will do as you desire." But when they were by themselves, and could speak openly, they said one to another, "What a trouble is this that has come of our prosperous fortune. Unless by good fortune the King forgets in his cups this purpose of his, we and the whole country are lost. Jemshid, whom the Genii and the Peris and the very birds of the air used to obey, never ventured to talk in this fashion of Mazanderan, or to seek war against the Genii; and Feriduri, though he was the wisest of kings, and skilful in all magical arts, never cherished such a plan." So they sat, overwhelmed with anxiety.
At last one of them said, "My friends, there is only one way of escaping from this danger. Let us send a swift dromedary to Zal of the white hair, with this message: 'Though your head be covered with dust, do not stay to wash it, but come.' Perhaps Zal will give the King wise advice, and, telling him that this plan of his is nothing but a counsel of Satan, will persuade him to change his purpose. Otherwise we are lost, small and great."
The nobles listened to this advice, and sent a messenger to Zal, mounted on a swift dromedary.
When Zal heard what had happened, he said: "The King is self-willed. He has not yet felt either the cold or the heat of the world. He thinks that all men, great and small, tremble at his sword, and it must needs be that he learn better by experience. However, I will go; I will give him the best advice that I can. If he will be persuaded by me, it will be well; but if not, the way is open, and Rustem shall go with his army." All night long he revolved these matters in his heart. The next morning he went his way, and arrived at the court of the King.
The King received him with all honour, bade him sit by his side, and inquired how he had borne the fatigue of his journey, and of the welfare of Rustem, his son. Then Zal spoke—
"I have heard, my lord, that you are forming plans against the Land of the Genii. Will it please you to listen to me? There have been mighty kings before you, but never during all my years, which now are many, has any one of them conceived in his heart such a design as this. This land is inhabited by Genii that are skilful in all magical arts. They can lay such bonds upon men that no one is able to hurt them. No sword is keen enough to cut them through; riches and wisdom and valour are alike powerless against them. I implore you, therefore, not to waste your riches, and the riches of your country and the blood of your warriors, on so hopeless an enterprise."
The King answered, "Doubtless it is true that the kings my predecessors never ventured to entertain such a plan. But am I not superior to them in courage, in power, and wealth? Had they such warriors as you, and Rustem your son? Do not think to turn me from my purpose. I will go against the country of these accursed magicians, and verily I will not leave one single soul alive in it, for they are an evil race. If you do not care to come with me, at least refrain from advising me to sit idle upon my throne."
When Zal heard this answer, he said: "You are the King, and we are your slaves. Whatever you ordain is right and just, and it is only by thy good pleasure that we breathe and move. I have said what was in my heart. All that remains now is to obey, and to pray that the Ruler of the world may prosper your counsels."
When he had thus spoken, Zal took leave of the King, and departed for his own country.
The very next day the King set out with his army for the Land of the Genii, and, after marching for several days, pitched his tent at the foot of Mount Asprus, and held a great revel all the night long with his chiefs. The next morning he said, "Choose me two thousand men who will break down the gates of Mazan deran with their clubs. And take care that .when you have taken the city to spare neither young nor old, for I will rid the world of these magicians." They did as the King commanded, and in a short space of time the city, which was before the richest and most beautiful in the whole world, was made into a desert.
When the King of Mazanderan heard of these things he called a messenger, and said: "Go to the White Genius and say to him, 'The Persians have come with a great army and are destroying everything.' Make haste and help me, or there will be nothing left to preserve."
The White Genius, said, "Tell the King not to be troubled; I will see to these Persians."
That same night the whole army of King Kaous was covered with a wonderful cloud. The sky was dark as pitch, and there fell, from it such a terrible storm of hailstones that no one could stand against them. When the next morning came, to! the King and all that had not fled—for many fled to their own country—or been killed by the hailstones, were blind. Seven days they remained trifled and helpless. On the eighth day they heard the voice, loud as a clap of thunder, of the White Genius.
"King," said he, "you coveted the land of Mazanderan, you entered the city, you slew and took prisoners many of the people; but you did not know what I could do. And now, see, you have your desire. Your lot is of your own contriving."
The White Genius then gave over the King and his companions to the charge of an army of twelve thousand Genii, and commanded that they should be kept in prison, and have just so much food given them as should keep them alive from day to day. Kaolls, however, contrived to send by one of his warriors a message to Zal the White-haired, telling him of all the troubles that had come upon him. When Zal heard the news he was cut to the heart, and sent without delay for Rustem. "Rustem," said he, "this is no time for a man to eat and drink and take his pleasure. The King is in the hands of Satan, and we must deliver him. As for me, I am old and feeble; but you are of the age for war. Saddle Raksh, your horse, and set forth without a moment's delay. The White Genius must not escape the punishment of his misdeeds at your hands."
"The way is long," said Rustem; "how shall I go?"
"There are two ways," answered Zal, "and both are difficult and dangerous. The King went by the longer way. The other is by far the shorter, a two weeks' march and no more; but it is full of lions and evil Genii, and it is surrounded by darkness. Still, I would have you go by it. God will be your helper; and difficult as the way maybe, it will have an end, and your good horse Raksh will accomplish it. And if it be the will of Heaven that you should fall by the hand of the White Genius, who can change the ordering of destiny? Sooner or later, we must all depart, and death should be no trouble to him who has filled the earth with his glory."
"My father, I am ready to do your bidding," said Rustem. "Nevertheless, the heroes of old cared not to go of their own accIrd into the land of death; and it is only he who is weary of life that throws himself in the way of a roaring lion. Still I go, and I ask for no help but from the justice of God. With that on my side I will break the charm of the magicians. The White Genius himself shall not escape me."
Rustem, armed himself, and went on his way.