TWENTY-ONE -- The Amir is brought out of the prison of the Pit of Joseph, and is freed through the help of Zuhrah of Egypt.
        In order to enter the city and rescue Hamzah, ‘Amar disguised himself as an Arab traveler; he was recognized, but managed to break free.  His next disguise, as a merchant with the extraordinary name of Tafus bin Mayus bin Sarbus bin Taq bin Tamtaraq,/1/ also aroused suspicion, but again he managed to elude the ‘ayyars who were following him.  His third disguise, as a beggar, enabled him to reach an old kabob-seller who promised to take him to Hamzah. 
        On the way, ‘Amar and the kabob-seller discovered Muqbil in the bazaar, also trying to find Hamzah.  Last they met *Zuhrah of Egypt, the king’s daughter, who had been converted to Islam by Abraham in a dream and wanted to help them.  All four went on together.
The writers of the past recount that when those four arrived near the Pit of Joseph,/2/ Sarhang the Egyptian appeared before them.  The four had just noticed him, when Sarhang the Egyptian greeted them in a loud voice with “Peace be upon you,” and said, “Oh Khvajah ‘Amar, just now I was sleeping soundly, when Hazrat Abraham showed me Heaven and Hell in a dream, and converted me to Islam, and commanded, ‘Go at once and join those four persons who have come to rescue Hamzah--when you have brought that task to a successful conclusion, you will be blessed.’  The moment my eyes opened I removed the ‘ayyari weapons from my body and ran over here in a rush; I came without delay or doubt.  Now go conceal yourselves in a corner for a moment.  I’ll make the arrangements and then take you to the Pit of Joseph.‘

‘Amar, delighted, embraced Sarhang the Egyptian; together with the veiled Zuhrah of Egypt and Muqbil and the old kabob-seller, he hid in a corner.  Sarhang the Egyptian, rendering the guards of the Pit of Joseph unconscious, and taking Khvajah ‘Amar and his companions to the edge of the pit, separated the guards’ heads from their bodies, and opened the mouth of the well.  ‘Amar, throwing his lasso down into the well, gave the end of it to Sarhang the Egyptian to hold. Saying “In the name of God,” he descended into the well.

The captives chained in this disastrous pit were praying, and living out the days of their lives as best they could.  Hearing ‘Amar arrive, they thought that the King of Egypt had sent an executioner to kill them, that the thread of life was now just about to be cut off.  ‘Amar, approaching them, said, “Oh Muslims, who among you is named ‘Adi?  I have some business with him.”  ‘Adi thought, “It’s me he’s come to kill!”  Out of fear, he looked toward Manzar Shah of Yemen and replied, “He’s sitting right there!”  All the prisoners, when they heard ‘Adi’s words, laughed.

‘Amar said to Manzar Shah of Yemen, “Oh ‘Adi, the King of Egypt has ordered that you be released.”  ‘Adi very much repented his previous speech, and in overpowering agitation replied, “Sir, I’m the one who’s named ‘Adi!  I was only joking.”  ‘Amar replied, “It’s true; they described you, and told me, ‘One individual, ‘Adi by name, is exceedingly corpulent.  He shits all over and fouls the well, and distresses the other prisoners with the smell of his filth.  So take him out and kill him, and have his corpse thrown away somewhere.’”  Hearing this speech, ‘Adi was petrified, and grew even more ashamed and humiliated.

But the Amir realized from the speech, “This is definitely ‘Amar--this is that refined gentleman’s joking and trickery!”  He settled down on his knees, and as he gave the cry “God is great!” all his bonds, chains, collars, etc. snapped and tore like spider webs and fell off.  Brandishing a chain in menace, he ran at ‘Amar.  ‘Amar saw that if the chain fell, he would be finished.  Instantly he spoke up, “Oh Arab, is what you’re doing the proper duty of friendship?  Look out, be careful, I’m ‘Amar!  Your old friend--faithful to the death, true to his salt, and your bond-slave!”

The Amir embraced ‘Amar, and removed the bonds of all his companions; with the help of the rope he climbed out of the well, and pulled all his companions out also.  ‘Amar told the Amir all the events that had occurred from the beginning until that moment, and duly prostrated himself in gratitude to the True God.  When he looked toward the sky, he saw that the morning star was shining like the fortune of the Amir, and the whiteness of dawn was about to appear.  The Amir, without waiting a moment, turned his attention to the King of Egypt’s house, and all his friends went with him.  Word spread that the King of Egypt had gone into hiding; however much they searched, they could find no trace of him.

The Amir’s companions, entering the royal garden, began to pick guavas, apricots, and mulberries from the trees and eat them.  ‘Adi, who was as voracious as a bull, ate God knows how many bushels of fruit.  After a little while, ‘Adi feared that his bowels might open; going into the royal privy, he began to obey the call of nature.  For some reason the unfortunate King of Egypt had hidden himself there.  He was drenched in filth from head to foot, and thought, “Even here I can’t escape their attention!”  Grabbing ‘Adi’s balls, he hung on to them.

When ‘Adi felt the pain in his balls, without cleaning himself he leaped up and fled from there.  The King of Egypt, hanging from him, was dragged along too.  ‘Adi, weeping and wailing, said, “This city is an extraordinary place--its climate makes men shit men!”  Manzar Shah of Yemen, etc., came running, and saw that the King of Egypt had grabbed ‘Adi’s balls and was hanging from them.  They laughed and laughed until they rolled on the ground.
They seized the King of Egypt and had him bathed, and took him before the Amir in a worn-out condition.  The Amir said, “Oh King, what you did has been done to you!  Now, are you willing to recognize the One God who has no partners?  Why should you delay in reciting the confession of faith in the One God?  I have no interest in your country--let your country be yours and welcome!  But you must become a Muslim, otherwise it will not be well, you will come to a bad end.”

The king, who in reality was a second Yazid,/3/ began to mouthe foolish words.  Agha Bulbul,/4/ who was standing beside him, at once struck such a blow with his sword that the king’s head fell a number of paces away from his body, and his body began to writhe like a slaughtered bird.

The Amir seated Zuhrah of Egypt on the throne, and made Sarhang the Egyptian steward of all the departments, and bestowed on him a resplendent robe of honor.  The Amir advised Muqbil, “Marry Zuhrah of Egypt, release her from the pain of waiting.”  Muqbil, with his hands folded, said, “Until Your Excellency marries Mihr Nigar, this slave will not marry either.”

The news-bearers brought the news, “A massacre is taking place in the city--the survivors are begging for mercy, the suppliants are crowding at Your Lordship’s door.”  The Amir ordered peace, and granted the people their lives, and himself, with his companions and allies, became absorbed in celebrating.  Festive music and singing began, the sound of felicitations rose to the skies.  When ‘Amar found leisure from the festivities, he brought word to the Amir’s auspicious ear that the King of Hind and Bahram were in prison; he showed the Amir Naushervan’s letter, which he had taken from the pigeon’s neck and kept with him.

The moment he read the letter, the Amir involuntarily cried out; he wept aloud.  Addressing the renowned chiefs he declared, “Just think, friends--what difficulties and disasters have I not endured for Naushervan’s sake?  Whatever he has said to do, I’ve done.  But he’s always shown only evil behavior toward me, and has entrapped me in the worst calamities.  Now I too, if God Most High wills, will go to Ctesiphon and put out the lights in the city.  If I don’t give the wives and daughters of every single Sasanian to grooms and camel-drivers, then my name isn’t Hamzah!  When have I ever gone back on my word?  All of you bear witness, so that now I won’t be considered a sinner before God, or be shamed before my peers among the people.”

All the listeners replied with one voice, “Your Excellency speaks truly.  Who else would ever have done all the tasks you have done, on the say-so of that ingrate, and would have endured all his wickedness, and would have ensnared himself in disasters for nothing, with no necessity, just at a little word?”  The Amir mounted and rode away from there; he entered his own camp, and gave the order for departure.  Preparations for the march began at once.

Zuhrah of Egypt went and petitioned the Amir, “This slave-girl has a great longing to see Mihr Nigar; I would rather serve her than rule this kingdom.  My honor will lie in serving her:
        The dust of her feet will be my true prize
        It will be the collyrium for my eyes./5/
If I am ordered, I will ride at your stirrup, and until the princess marries Your Excellency, I’ll remain in attendance upon the princess.”  The Amir granted her plea, and left the vazir Karavan in the city as Zuhrah of Egypt’s regent.  Taking Zuhrah along, the Amir set out toward Ctesiphon.

Please hear about Naushervan:  One day he was seated on his throne at court.  Suddenly, of his own volition, he said, “By the way, bring Landhaur and Bahram from the prison, and hang them in my presence.  Free the guards and watchmen from the confinement of having to guard them.”  Buzurchmihr submitted, “Just now it’s not proper to kill them.  At present you’re not in fear of anyone; it’s not as though these people would have to be killed quickly to prevent them from reaching their helpers and supporters.  It appears to me through geomancy that Hamzah is still alive, and that Your Majesty’s star is in an inauspicious house.  In fact, until the inauspicious influences of the stars have passed, it’s proper that Your Majesty should set out in some direction for a pleasant excursion and hunting trip.  The nobles, and the ladies of the harem of chastity, should go with you.  Adorn the mountains and forests with your presence.  When news of Hamzah’s death arrives, then you can have Landhaur and Bahram hanged, and wipe them both from the face of the earth.”

Naushervan asked Bakhtak, “What is your advice?”  Bakhtak said, “The Khvajah is right.  As I was releasing the pigeon, ‘Amar threatened me and then went off.  For Your Majesty to leave Ctesiphon is entirely proper; the Khvajah’s opinion about this is exactly on the mark.  In fact Your Majesty should decide to go toward Egypt, and should give orders to your officers to travel in that direction.  If by some chance Hamzah should not have been killed, you can have him killed in your presence, and return to Ctesiphon and have Landhaur and Bahram hanged as well.”  Naushervan accepted this advice, and left *Harut and Marut the Boar-tusked, with forty thousand horsemen, to guard the city and the prisoners. He himself, taking innumerable troops, set out for Egypt, and started on his way.

Now please hear a little about the Amir.  Traveling two or three times the normal distance each day in his anger, he arrived in Ctesiphon in a matter of days, and camped at Tal Shad Kam as usual.  When the Amir’s army, who had been encamped in the Beneficent Forest, heard of this, they presented themselves in the Amir’s service.  All the hundreds of thousands of them felt that their gloomy fortunes had suddenly brightened.  Both the ‘ayyars/6/ came and reported Naushervan’s doings:  that he had appointed Harut and Marut the Boar-tusked, with forty thousand, to guard the city and the captives, and had set off for Egypt, and that Bakhtak too had gone with him.

The Amir said, “I am concerned only with my purpose.  Wait and see!  If God Most High wills, before long this city will be finished off.”  With these words, he ordered ‘Amar, “Go to Harut and Marut and tell them, ‘Send Landhaur and Bahram to me.  I will be answerable to the king, I will not let any blame be placed on you.’”  Those doomed ones said, “Who is Hamzah, that we should release the king’s prisoners on his say-so?  If Hamzah has the strength, let him fight with us and get the prisoners released!”

‘Amar came and repeated their exact words.  The Amir began to tremble with rage, his face grew red with utter fury, and he commanded, “Let the war-drum be sounded instantly!  If I don’t make short work of the fort, then my name is not Hamzah, and I have no claim to courage and chivalry!”  The moment the order was given, the Drum of Alexander was beaten.  Panic fell on the city.  The Amir spent the night in grief and distress.

As soon as morning came, the Amir fell on the fort, and had it assaulted from all four sides, and besieged it.  Harut and Marut saw that Hamzah was advancing relentlessly, and was full of rage and anger.  They feared that he might break down the fort, devastate the city, and cause dismay and disarray among the royal army and the populace.   Hastily bringing Landhaur and Bahram out of the prison, they placed them on the battlements of the fort and called out, “Hamzah, if any of your men comes a step further, we’ll cut off both their heads and throw them into the moat, and we’ll have their bodies devoured by kites and crows!  Afterwards, whatever will happen will happen, we’ll see about that!”

The Amir became fearful:  “God forbid that those bastards should do as they say, and Landhaur and Bahram should die for no reason!”  He commanded the army, “Don’t go a step further, don’t raise a hand against anyone without my order.”  And he said to ‘Amar, “Khvajah, until now my steps have always gone forward--I’ve never taken a step backward!  If I turn back for Landhaur and Bahram’s sake, it will be utter disgrace and degradation:  I will have trampled my honor into the dust.  Use some strategy so that Landhaur and Bahram will not be killed, and the fort will be conquered, and these bastards will be disgraced.  In return for this I’ll give you one hundred thousand gold dinars--I’ll give you even more than I’ve promised!”

The Khvajah said, “Why this is hardly a big task!  The plan which those impotent bastards have thought up is thoroughly ridiculous.”  Jumping across the moat, he said to Harut and Marut, “The Amir says, ‘Don’t kill Landhaur and Bahram, we are turning back.  We won’t raise a hand in violence against your city.’”  And to Bahram and Landhaur he said, in the Indian and Chinese languages, “The Amir says, ‘Both of you are remarkable cowards and eunuchs--you just sit there with your hands folded!  In the Pit of Joseph, ‘Adi tore up his bonds like spider webs.  And you two with your full strength can’t even break two chains!  You can’t even budge leg-irons as thin as threads!’”

As Landhaur and Bahram felt themselves shamed, they raised the battle-cry “God is great!” and exerted their strength:  all their shackles and bonds broke like slender threads.  Harut and Marut, drawing their swords, rushed at them.  Bahram and Landhaur snatched away their swords, and with repeated blows of their fists sent them both to the depths of Hell.  And they killed all the men who were on the battlements of the fort.

In the meantime ‘Amar too, using his lasso, had joined them, and twelve or thirteen thousand Indian troops as well had climbed the battlements.  They began wielding their swords, and caused a river of blood to flow.  ‘Amar hastily opened the door of the fort.  The whole army of Islam entered the city, and the royal army met with defeat.  The Amir ordered the sacking of the city, and gave permission to plunder.  He said, “Capture as many women and men as you can, chain them up, and thoroughly pillage the whole city.”

The Amir, with ‘Amar, betook himself to the royal bedchamber:  he began to search for Princess Mihr Nigar.  When he found no trace of her, he asked Queen Mihr Angez where she was.  Mihr Angez said, “The king took her with him.  What would I gain by lying?”  The Amir said, “It’s impossible to believe that the king would leave you here, and take Mihr Nigar wandering through jungle after jungle on a hunting trip!”  Mihr Angez said, “The place is here--search it!  Go through all the mansions.”

The Amir told ‘Amar, “Brother, this work is cut out for you.  I will give you twelve thousand more gold dinars--your star is on the ascendant!  Mihr Nigar must be discovered, that Venus-like beauty must be searched out.”  ‘Amar searched the Forty Pillars and the Seven Heavens and the Lower Garden and the other royal palaces, but Mihr Nigar was as impossible to find as the #’anqa bird, and he grew seriously worried.

Suddenly, in the lawn of the garden, ‘Amar’s eye fell on a marble well.  ‘Amar said to himself, “May the Lord confirm my hope that Mihr Nigar is shut up in this well!”  When he approached the well, he saw that a slab of marble weighing many hundreds of pounds had been put over it; nowhere around it was there even enough of a crack for air to pass through.  How could ‘Amar possibly move this slab?  He called out to the Amir, “Please just come over here and take a look.”

When the Amir joined him, ‘Amar said, “Oh Amir, without a doubt Mihr Nigar is in this well!  They have shut her up in it, they have hidden that treasury of beauty in this well.  But I cannot move this slab.  The Mighty Lord has bestowed such strength only on you.”  The Amir approached the stone.  Removing it, he went down into the well.

At first he could discern nothing because of the darkness.  But after a moment a carpeted pavilion became visible.  When he went toward the pavilion, he saw Mihr Nigar sitting with her head bowed on her knees, weeping and weeping, drenching her skirt with tears.  When she heard the sound of the Amir’s footfalls, she raised her head and saw the Amir’s face.  She ran and clung to the Amir’s neck; weeping bitterly, she said,
        “When I fell in love, this was no part of my plan!
        I only fell in love, I did no harm to any man.
        I thought that I would surely spend my whole sweet life with 
        Oh faithless one, I didn’t know what separation would do!
Oh Hamzah, for God’s sake don’t make me part with you any more, for I’m not strong enough to bear the burning pain of separation.  My heart has no power to lift the burden of loneliness:
        My breast:  the east where the sun of longing-scars will rise
        The rip in my collar:  the crack of dawn in Doomsday morning

The Amir, wiping her rose-red tears with his sleeve, said, “Oh Hamzah’s life and soul, the night of separation is over, the day of union has come!  Days of joyousness have fallen to our lot, the pain of loneliness is on the wane:
        Today for me true lovers’ union is in sight
        At last I blacken the face of separation’s lonely night.
Come on, climb up this rope and come out of the well; leave this dark chamber 
and look at the face of light.”

With these words, first the Amir sent Mihr Nigar out of the well, then he had all her ladies taken out of the well.  Then he himself came up.  He at once sent for a jewelled palanquin, placed Mihr Nigar in it, and brought her to his camp at Tal Shad Kam.  All the renowned chiefs presented victory offerings to the Amir, and congratulations and good wishes filled the air.

Mihr Nigar said to the Amir, “Oh Father of Greatness, you were concerned for me.  Thanks be to the Uniter of the Separated, who has brought me together with you, and kept me alive, and saved you from a thousand disasters and difficulties!  So now, for my sake, release the captives of Ctesiphon, free those prisoners as an act of charity.”  The Amir said, “Most willingly.”  That very moment he freed all the prisoners, and ordered the plunder given back.  His order was obeyed instantly, and all the plunder was given back.  When morning came, the Amir ordered seven days of celebration.

/1/ This name, [:taifuus bin maayuus bin sarbuus bin :taaq bin :tum:taraaq], might be translated as Taifus son of Hopeless son of Head-kisser son of Odd son of Pomp.
/2/ The name “Pit of Joseph” [chaah-e yuusufii] evokes both the pit into which his brothers cast him, and the prison into which he was thrown in Egypt.  The story is told in the Quran (12:4-101).
/3/ Yazid [yaziid] was the ruler whose armies killed Husain, the Prophet’s grandson, on the battlefield of Karbala; to Muslims, he is the archetypal sinner.
/4/ All we know about Agha Bulbul [aa;Gaa bulbul], “Master Nightingale,” is his ludicrous-sounding name.  This is his only appearance in the story.
/5/ The verse is in Persian.
/6/ Presumably one of the ‘ayyars is ‘Amar, but we are not told who the other might be.
/7/ This is a famous verse by Nasikh [naasi;x] (1773-1838).  It is full of classical images of a lover’s passion.

== on to Chapter 22 ==

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