NINETEEN -- The pigeon’s letter arrives in Ctesiphon, and plans are made to kill Muqbil, etc., and ‘Amar suddenly arrives.
        When Hamzah and his party reached Egypt, they were escorted into the city by the admiring populace and treated as honored guests.  The *King of Egypt showed them lavish hospitality--but put knockout drugs in their wine.  When they awoke, they found themselves in a dungeon, loaded with chains and under constant guard.  The King of Egypt sent a letter to Naushervan through a carrier-pigeon, asking permission to kill the prisoners.  While awaiting a reply, he charged the chief of his ‘ayyars, *Sarhang the Egyptian, to keep the strictest watch over Hamzah and his companions.
When the pigeon, leaving Egypt behind, flew off, it arrived before night had fallen at the pigeon-roost of Naushervan the Just, and stopped there.  The pigeon-handler, seeing the new arrival, released the other pigeons, lifted the net, scattered grain, and splashed the pigeon with water, for it had been without food and water, tired and worn out, for a whole day.  The new pigeon entered the net ahead of all the others and settled there.  The pigeon-handler pulled the net shut, went inside it, and confidently picked up the new bird.  He noticed that there was a letter around its neck.  Taking the letter, he gave the pigeon grain and water and left it in the net.

He took the letter before Bakhtak and said, “I’ve just caught a pigeon.  This letter was tied around its neck--I found it in a little bag.  So I’ve brought it before Your Excellency; I gave the pigeon grain in the net and came to you.”  When Bakhtak opened the letter and read it, his morose face became all smiles, and his heart expanded in ecstasy.  That very instant he presented himself before the king and happily congratulated him, and gave him the letter.  Naushervan too, when he read the letter, almost burst the buttons of his robe with happiness.

Bakhtak petitioned, “Now Your Majesty should most quickly write, in answer to this, a warrant authorizing the killing of Hamzah, and Your Majesty should bestow it on me, and should not consult with anybody else about the matter.  For this servant has an Egyptian pigeon:  if the letter is tied to its neck and it’s released in the morning, by evening it will have carried the letter to the addressee.”  Naushervan said, “In such a difficult matter it is most necessary to have Buzurchmihr’s advice, for I wish to act on my father’s injunction in all circumstances.”

That gallows-bait replied, “As you command.  But Buzurchmihr is a Muslim--he will always take the Muslims’ side.  Mighty ones like Hamzah will hardly fall into your clutches repeatedly; you will not have a chance like this again.”  The king said, “This consultation will test Buzurchmihr’s faith also:  his religion will become apparent.”/1/  With these words, he summoned Buzurchmihr, and gave him the letter to read.

When Buzurchmihr read the letter, he felt that the bird of his senses was about to take wing:  what a dreadful disaster!  At length, pulling himself together, he said, “May the Lord make this auspicious for you--that you have no part in all this, and yet a great trouble has been removed!  But just now it’s not proper for you to write ordering that Hamzah be killed.  I say this because if the news quickly reaches Landhaur and Bahram and Muqbil, then before the pigeon arrives, there won’t be even a bird or beast--not to speak of a human being--left alive in Ctesiphon.  And afterwards, God knows what will become of Egypt!  First please allow for these people in your plans, then afterwards order that Hamzah be killed.”

Bakhtak replied, “That’s no great matter--it doesn’t need a miracle of intelligence to deal with those people!  Tomorrow when they present themselves in court, let Your Majesty arrange a feast of meat and wine and, by putting a knockout drug in the wine, make those three pass out on the floor.  Afterwards, you should write the letter commanding the King of Egypt to kill Hamzah, then tie it around the pigeon’s neck and send it off.  You should use the pigeon which is in your humble servant’s possession.  When Hamzah’s head arrives, then you can confidently kill Landhaur, etc., and wipe out a daily threat of mischief and disruption in your country.”

Naushervan was very pleased by this idea, and expressed the greatest admiration for Bakhtak’s wisdom.  Since Bakhtak knew that Buzurchmihr worshiped the Lord, he neither went himself to his house that night nor, with the king’s permission, allowed Buzurchmihr to go to his own house.

When morning came, the time for court arrived.  Landhaur and Bahram and Muqbil presented themselves at court as usual, and sat in their various places according to their respective ranks.  The king behaved very graciously toward them and, as had been decided the night before, arranged a joyous gathering.  Wine mixed with knockout drugs began to circulate, Portuguese and French wines began to be poured.  Although Buzurchmihr, behind the  others’ backs, winked at Bahram and Muqbil and Landhaur, none of them understood, none of them paid attention to his signal.

Muqbil, having drunk two cups, realized something of the truth and, on the pretext of a headache, rose and left the gathering, and went straight along by the shortest route to Buzurchmihr’s house; arriving there, he lost consciousness and collapsed on the floor.  Landhaur and Bahram, having drunk four or five cups, lost consciousness and fell from their chairs and couches.  The king had leg-irons put on their feet, iron collars on their necks, chains around their waists, and spiked balls under their arms to torture them; he had them both sent to a dungeon.

Then the king wrote in answer to the King of Egypt, “In truth you have done us a great service by imprisoning Hamzah.  It is necessary that the moment you receive this letter, you cut off his head and sent it to us, and finish off this affair as soon as possible.”  Having written the letter, he gave it to Bakhtak: “Put our seal at the top of it, tie it around the pigeon’s neck, and tomorrow morning send it off.  And be warned--let no one learn of this secret!”  Having given this order, the king dismissed the court, and entered the bedchamber of the harem.  Buzurchmihr, taking his leave, went to his own house.

Arriving there, he saw that Muqbil was lying unconscious and unmoving, like a dead man.  Giving him an antidote to the knockout drug, he brought him to his senses, recounted the whole story, and told him of the entire affair.  Muqbil began rending his clothes and wailing, and was ready to give up the ghost.  Buzurchmihr said, “This is not the time for wailing and breast-beating, this is the time for strategy!  At such a time, to let strategy slip from your hands is highly improper.  I have a female camel who can cover two hundred forty miles without stopping.  Mount her and rush off:  on the road, catch the pigeon wherever you can and kill it, for only if it’s killed will things be all right.  This is the soundest and most prudent strategy.”  Muqbil instantly mounted the camel and went off.

Buzurchmihr discovered by geomancy that this task could not be carried out without ‘Amar, this difficulty could not be resolved without ‘Amar.  He grew even more worried:  “’Amar is not here!  And where can I find any trace of him?”  In the meantime Buzurg Ummid, Buzurchmihr’s eldest son, came in from outside.  Seeing the Khvajah worried, he asked, “Is Your Excellency well?  Why are you worried?”  The Khvajah said, “Well, just throw the divining-dice yourself, and tell me why I’m worried, and what important matters are confronting me!”  Throwing the divining-dice, Buzurg Ummid said, “You are waiting for some missing person, and your agitation is because of him; he will arrive by evening, and will definitely meet with you.”

When Buzurchmihr put the faces of the divining-dice together and examined them, he joyfully said to a slave, “Go and see who is standing at the door, and what his height and stature and appearance are like.”  The slave came back and said, “A person of tall stature, with a white beard, is standing there, and says, ‘Convey my greeting to the Khvajah, and please just ask him to come here.’”  Buzurchmihr, hearing this, ran barefoot and brought ‘Amar into the house.  Telling him the whole story, he began to weep and said, “Khvajah ‘Amar, if you kill this pigeon on its way, then things will be all right, and everything will end well.  Otherwise, our goose is cooked!”

‘Amar too began to weep, and said, “Khvajah, how can I run three thousand miles in one day?  I don’t have wings and feathers like a pigeon, to fly along through the air!”  Buzurchmihr said, “Oh ‘Amar, I have seen in your fortune that three times in your life you’ll run as no one ever has run or will run.  The first time, you’ll cover three thousand miles in one day along with this pigeon.  The second time, when enemies tie the Amir between the torture-stakes, you will run thirty-three thousand miles in twelve days to rally the champions of Islam./2/  The third time, in the Wilderness of Alexander you will cover twenty-one thousand miles in seven days for the sake of Hamzah’s son, and will never tire at all.”/3/

‘Amar said, “Khvajah, you’ve told me very dismal news, and have read me a really fine fortune!  It appears that my whole life will be spent running, and my time will pass in racing around and bearing messages!”  The Khvajah said, “Be happy.  As wages for it you will receive unimaginable treasures, such as no one has ever even dreamed of--indeed, such as not even the greatest kings have ever heard of.  So get ready to leave at once!  This is not the occasion for negligence and indolence, it’s not the moment for taking your time.  I have mounted Muqbil on a female camel and sent him too; you’ll meet him on the way.  I feel sure you’ll catch up to him quickly.”

‘Amar, taking leave of the Khvajah, came to Tal Shad Kam.  He said to the officers of Hindustan and China, “For the present it’s not a good idea for you all to remain here.  Naushervan, seeing you leaderless, might do you some injury.  Go and camp in the Beneficent Forest, and hope for the Lord’s grace.  Wait and see what comes to light from the realm of the Unseen, what means of remedy God reveals.”

/1/ Buzurchmihr is a kind of covert Muslim, taking the Muslims’ side but always giving prudential reasons for his stand.
/2/ This prophecy is not fulfilled.  When the occasion arises, ‘Amar rallies the champions by sending them letters, not by running around to each one.  See Chapter 56.
/3/ No such event is described in the present text.  But ‘Amar is still alive after Hamzah’s death, and so are some of Hamzah’s sons, so there is room for it to occur in some other version of the story.

== on to Chapter 20 ==

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