SIXTEEN -- Bakhtak’s mother Hell-cave Bano spreads a rumor of Princess Mihr Nigar’s death, and the Amir hears it and is distraught, and ‘Amar kills Hell-cave Bano and conceals that worthless one in the leaves.

The fickleness of Fortune is well known, the Conjurer’s marvelous tricks are clearer than clear.  Sometimes right in the midst of merriment, causes of grief make themselves felt; sometimes in the midst of utter despair, the bright face of hope can be glimpsed.  Therefore this dastan follows the same pattern.  The researchers of tales say this:  When the king entered the bedchamber of the harem, he asked Queen Mihr Angez, “What was your intention in pardoning Landhaur and rescuing him from execution?”

The queen said, “First, Landhaur is innocent; despite his strength and power, he never grew intransigent.  He is constrained by his love for the Amir.  Second, Landhaur too is king of a country;  kings do not kill kings in this fashion, they don’t permit each other to be humiliated in this way.  Third, word would spread from country to country, and your reputation would be destroyed:  people everywhere would blame you, no one would trust your words or deeds.  Fourth, if Landhaur were killed in this way, Hamzah would put out the lights of the whole land to avenge him.  Don’t you see that Landhaur was ready to give his head only at Hamzah’s command?  Otherwise, who among all your royal champions could have cut off Landhaur’s head?  For these reasons I gave Landhaur a robe of honor and permitted him to depart.”

The king praised and admired the queen’s wisdom, and was very pleased.  But growing downcast, he said, “It’s a pity that no plan has been hit upon for getting rid of Hamzah.”  *Hell-cave Bano, Bakhtak’s mother, was in attendance at the time.  With folded hands she said, “If I am ordered, then by means of an elegant scheme I will kill Hamzah, I’ll get rid of this pest at once.”  Naushervan said, “How?”  She said, “Tomorrow, before the whole court, let Your Majesty say to Hamzah, ‘A week from now your marriage with Mihr Nigar will be celebrated; prepare for the wedding.  We will order the royal servants to help as well.’  And this handmaiden will take Mihr Nigar to the underground apartments on the pretext of preparing her for the marriage, and will keep her hidden there.  Two days later you may falsely announce Mihr Nigar’s illness, and on the fourth day after that, the bad news of her death.  When Hamzah hears this news, he will put an end to himself.”

The king liked this scheme of Hell-cave Bano’s.  The next day, before the whole court, he ordered Hamzah to prepare for the marriage.  The Amir, full of joy, took his leave and returned to his own camp, and became absorbed in making preparations for the wedding.  And in the palace Hell-cave Bano, congratulating Mihr Nigar, took her to the underground apartments to prepare her for the wedding and said, “Dear daughter, for a full week you must not come out of these underground apartments, for this is the universal custom.”  And her companions assembled, and began to exchange pleasantries and make jokes; desiring to tell her about the pleasures of union, they explained to her whatever was to be explained.  Mihr Nigar, full of joy, remained in the underground apartments.  After two days, that deceiver made it known that Mihr Nigar was ill.  And four days later, mourning broke out in the palace:  “Mihr Nigar has gone to walk in the flower-beds of Paradise, she has gone to stroll in the garden of Nothingness!”

The Amir, merely hearing of her illness, had become the sickest of a thousand sick people.  When he heard of her death, he tried to thrust a dagger into his stomach.  Landhaur and Bahram fell at his feet, and took the dagger from his hands, and began to say words of solace:  “Never has anyone died with the dead--what recourse can there be against fate?”  The Amir said, “For the beloved to die, and the lover to live, is forbidden by the creed of Love. Whatever you do, I will give up my life; what concern have I with living?”  ‘Amar saw that the Amir could in no way be persuaded.  He said, “Please just listen to me for a moment.  It could be that someone has arranged a deception in order to kill you; this trick could be the work of some deceiver.  Then Mihr Nigar would still be alive, and you would be dead--she would have come to no harm, and you would have lost your life!  Be patient for a little while, let me go and find out about this.”  The Amir liked these words of ‘Amar’s, and the others also, when they heard ‘Amar’s opinion, admired and praised it.

‘Amar, running most swiftly, arrived at the queen’s door, and sent word of his presence to the queen.  Hell-cave Bano said to Queen Mihr Angez, “At this time it’s quite suitable to bring ‘Amar into the palace.  He will see the weeping and breast-beating, and will tell Hamzah about it.  When Hamzah hears this state of affairs directly from ‘Amar’s lips, he will at once put an end to himself.”  The queen called ‘Amar into the palace.  When ‘Amar entered the palace and looked around, everyone was dressed in mourning, and everyone, small and great, was grief-stricken.  But after a little while Hell-cave Bano came and whispered something in the queen’s ear, and went back at once.

‘Amar thought, “This is not without significance, this is a trick of that deceiver’s; that base one has definitely been up to something!” Evening had already come, and because of the mourning the whole palace lay in darkness.  ‘Amar quietly followed Hell-cave Bano; looking cautiously all around, he swiftly took on the appearance of an old woman.  When that bitch Hell-Cave Bano entered the lower garden, hearing the footfalls she hesitated and called out, “Who is there?”  ‘Amar said in a low voice, “It is I.  In a moment the Angel of Death will carry you off instead of the princess!”

The instant Hell-cave Bano stepped forward, ‘Amar, dropping a loop of his noose around her neck, jerked it back sharply.  She fell unconscious to the ground.  ‘Amar squeezed her throat so forcefully that Hell-cave Bano’s spirit went to the cave of Hell.  He hid her body in a pile of dry leaves, and himself took on her appearance.  ‘Amar went and stood on the path, but  he was perplexed:  “Where shall I go, and whom can I ask about the princess?”

In the meantime a young servant-girl, carrying a candle, came through the garden and said, “Auntie Hell-cave Bano, the princess wants you!  She has been asking for you for some time.”  ‘Amar made no reply, but went with the servant-girl into the underground apartments.  He saw that Princess Mihr Nigar, richly adorned, was sitting very happily on a bridal couch, and exchanging pleasantries with her companions.  A cup and a wine-flask had been placed before the couch.  Fitnah Bano kept refilling the cup and giving it to her, and the princess drank to the name of the Sahib-qiran.

Mihr Nigar said, “Hell-cave Bano, lately you have been very affectionate to me!  Previously you were not so gracious, or so attentive to my welfare.”  ‘Amar said, “I was afraid that you might, God forbid, suspect me of evil intentions:  you might think that Bakhtak’s mother, like that wretch Bakhtak, was hostile to you, God forbid.  So I kept apart from you.  But present or absent I always prayed heart and soul for your well-being, and only reluctantly kept myself away from your feet.  Now you know me as your well-wisher.  Just look at how preoccupied I am with the wedding preparations!  I’m never off my feet for a moment--I go running around here and there.”  Mihr Nigar said, “What you’ve said is true.  Now tell me, how long till the wedding procession arrives, and what preparations are they making over there?”

‘Amar, sending everyone else away, said, “How can there be a wedding procession, when the whole palace is in mourning for you?  You have died!  Our camp too is in a turmoil of grief.  When the Amir heard this bad news, he would in fact have killed himself, but I had an inspiration and said to the Amir, ‘Just be patient for a little, I will go and determine the true state of affairs, and tell it to you quite accurately.  Your enemies might have arranged this trick in order to kill you; those base ones might have concocted this trick!’  I came here and killed this old whore and hid her in the leaves; taking on her appearance, I reached you.  Now let me go quickly and give the Amir the good news of your well-being, to save his life and restore him to his senses and revive him.”

When she heard this news Mihr Nigar was pleased, and gave ‘Amar five packets of gold pieces, and permitted him to depart.  But as he was leaving ‘Amar had Mihr Nigar write a note to the Amir with her own hand, so that the Amir would be fully reassured.  And he went and placed that note in the Amir’s hand.  The Amir, reading that note, was recalled to life, and at once rewarded ‘Amar with ten thousand gold pieces.

‘Amar said to the Amir, “Now if you will do as I say, I’ll reveal this secret in the most elegant way; I’ll most thoroughly disgrace those bastards who have created this mischief!  I do believe the king will regret this crude deed his whole life long, and will never again treat honorable people so treacherously.”  The Amir said, “What could be better?  Whatever you say, I’ll do, and I’ll abide by your suggestions.”

‘Amar said, “You and Landhaur and Bahram, ‘Adi, Sultan Bakht, etc., all your officers, dress in black, go to the #Court of Kaikhusrau, and urge the king, ‘Please have the bier taken out quickly, so that people won’t make taunting remarks: ‘The dead daughter of the King of Kings of the Seven Realms was left lying around for so long!’’”  The Amir liked ‘Amar’s plan very much and, with Bahram and Landhaur, etc., dressed in black and went to the Court of Kaikhusrau.  There all the courtiers were seated, looking sorrowful and grief-stricken, in their respective places.  The Amir saw that the king, with all the Sasanians and *Kayanians, was dressed in black.  The court was tumultuous with cries and lamentations; weeping and wailing resounded loudly from every direction.

After an hour, the Amir petitioned the king, “Now what was to happen has happened.  Now, to keep the bier in the palace any longer will be a cause for disgrace; a longer delay does not appear proper.  Please order the bier to be removed from the palace and placed somewhere outside.”  The king sent word to Queen Mihr Angez.  The reply came, “Let Mihr Nigar remain a guest for one day more; at night the bier will be taken out.”  In short, that day passed in weeping and breast-beating, the palace remained in a frenzy of lamentation.

When evening came, hundreds of Brahmans began sounding conches and bells, and chanting the names of their one hundred seventy-five gods.  In the palace, a search was made for Hell-cave Bano, and her corpse was found in the leaves.  Mihr Angez, putting that very corpse in a box, sent it out of the palace.  Hundreds of thousands of torches were lighted, and thousands of men accompanied the bier.  ‘Amar saw that the Brahmans were going along sounding conches and bells, and embracing their co-religionists, and reciting the praises of their one hundred seventy-five gods, and setting off fireworks at every step.  ‘Amar too, disguising himself, took a bell in his hand, praised *Lat and Manat, and began embracing every single fire-worshipper.

Gradually, he made his way over to Bakhtak.  Lighting a “muskrat” fire-cracker,/1/ he put it down Bakhtak’s collar, and squeezed him in a very tight embrace.  Who besides ‘Amar would do such a thing to Bakhtak?  Involuntarily Bakhtak cried out, “Ah!  I’m burning!  Ah!  I’m burning!”  and begged, “’Amar, let me go, for Hamzah’s sake!  My whole chest and stomach are burning, my whole body is turning into a blister!”  ‘Amar said, “Your mother has died--if you burn from head to foot like a fireworks-tree,/2/ people will say you’re a dutiful son!”  With these words, he released the unlucky Bakhtak, and himself went on forward.  The muskrat fire-cracker, having burned Bakhtak’s stomach and chest, shot out from his collar; his skin had been burned all over.

Bakhtak, seeing a pit full of water by the side of the road, threw himself into it; he completely lost control.  All those in the funeral procession, who had been weeping, now burst out laughing, and some Brahmins put out the flames on Bakhtak’s body.  But Bakhtak couldn’t bear the pain.  He confided his dead mother to the Brahmans’ care, and he himself returned, weeping and beating his breast, to his home.

When they had lowered Bakhtak’s mother into the grave and returned, all the courtiers, seeing the king seated in the audience hall grief-stricken and weeping, began to weep and wail.  When ‘Amar looked carefully, he saw that there was an onion in the king’s handkerchief:  when the king applied it to his eyes, its sharpness made the tears flow.  Going very close to him, ‘Amar said softly, “A king as hypocritical as you has never been seen or heard of!  Has anybody ever gone back on his pledged word, or deceived nobles and faithful servants, so basely?”

The king laughed and said, “The one who was guilty of treachery and deceit has been suitably punished.”  Although the king said this, he was inwardly very much ashamed, and broke out in a sweat of embarrassment.  The Amir said, “Bakhtak has received his punishment; nothing else seems to be clear.”  ‘Amar replied, “Your Excellency, that bier was his mother’s.  He’s busy mourning for his affectionate mother; he has gotten his just deserts.  So he’s gone home and is mourning in seclusion.”

Naushervan apologized profusely to the Amir and said, “I was absolutely unaware of this deceit; please don’t have such suspicions about me!  The one whose trick this was has received her punishment.”  The Amir said, “In any case, I am at your command, I am obedient to you heart and soul.  Please tell me, now when will the marriage be, when will my house be brightened?”  The king said, “After forty days the marriage will be celebrated; your wish will be fulfilled.”  The Amir, taking his leave, betook himself to Tal Shad Kam.

But ‘Amar stayed behind.  When the king dismissed the court, ‘Amar, seconded by Buzurchmihr, petitioned the king on behalf of the Amir:  “The Amir does not want a delay of forty days before the marriage--it’s not necessary to postpone doing a good work!”  The king said, “The dowry is not ready yet, we are waiting for the wedding arrangements to be completed.”  ‘Amar replied, “Your Majesty is the King of Kings, whatever you command is no sooner said than done--what delay can there be in preparing things?”  At length, after some discussion, Buzurchmihr extracted from the king a promise of twenty days.

Khvajah ‘Amar was perfectly delighted with this conversation.  ‘Amar said, “Oh wise and enlightened Guide, please write a letter to this effect to the Sahib-qiran, so that when he sees it he can feel assured, and can make arrangements for the marriage on his own part.”  The king wrote a note by way of a formal agreement.  When ‘Amar went and put that document into the Amir’s hands, the Amir read it and jumped with joy at ‘Amar’s shrewdness, and embraced him, and gave him ten thousand dinars, and ordered a celebration.  Congratulations and good wishes filled the air.

Now please hear about the king:  Entering the harem, he embraced Mihr Nigar, and told her of the promise he had made to hold the marriage in twenty days.  After this, he described the mischievous tricks ‘Amar had played while following the bier of Hell-cave Bano.  Queen Mihr Angez and Princess Mihr Nigar, when they heard about ‘Amar’s mischievous doings, laughed and laughed until they rolled on the ground.

/1/ A “muskrat” [chhachhuundar] is a type of fire-cracker still used in India.  It is cone-shaped, and when one side is lit, it moves around under its own power.
/2/ A fireworks-tree [sarv-e chiraa;Gaa;N] was a tree-shaped framework into which the stationary, steadily glowing type of fireworks were inserted.  When lit, they made a tree of light.

== on to Chapter 17 ==

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