TWENTY-FOUR -- Naushervan discovers that the Amir has gone to Qaf, and sends an army off to Mecca.
        At Naushervan’s urging, Gustahm took an army and attacked Hamzah’s army, just before Hamzah was to set out for Qaf.  But Hamzah had help from his new allies, Shahpal and his army of Jinns and Parizads; the result of such an unequal battle was a resounding defeat for Gustahm’s army.  Gustahm himself was killed.
The chroniclers of past events give an account like this:  hearing what had happened to Zhopin and ‘Ayyashan Malik, Naushervan was already saddened--when Gustahm’s body came, and his companions told all the circumstances:  “When Gustahm formed his battle-lines, Hamzah’s throne, like an unexpected disaster, came down from the heavens.  Hamzah killed Gustahm, and someone began lifting up the horsemen from the ground, taking careful aim with them from mid-air, and hurling them down so that the horsemen beneath were crushed to death too!  In this way twenty thousand men were killed, and the slayer could not be seen.”  The king, when he heard this, looked with surprise toward Buzurchmihr.

Buzurchmihr, telling him the whole story of the Realm of Qaf, said, “Shahpal son of Shahrukh has sent for Hamzah to help him, and Hamzah has gone to his aid.  Although Hamzah has promised his people to stay for only eighteen days, he will remain there for eighteen years.  Having destroyed the Devs of Qaf, he will return to the world; no Dev will ever overcome him.  So on the very day Hamzah had decided to set out for Qaf, Gustahm attacked.  As for Gustahm, Hamzah struck him down, and the Jinns killed his horsemen.”

Naushervan, hearing about this situation, was thoroughly delighted:  “In eighteen years, let’s see who lives and who dies!  Hamzah will surely perish at the hands of some Dev or other--how could he escape from the hands of such a gang?  Now is the time to give the Muslims an untimely death, and take vengeance on them for all this.”

With this thought he gave to *Velam and Qelam--among the Sasanians there was no one mightier than they--thirty thousand horsemen, and sent them off toward Mecca, and said, “Now Hamzah has gone to Qaf.  The coast is clear, you have a free hand in every way.  Go and devastate Mecca, and bring back Princess Mihr Nigar; let me give my eager eyes a sight of her.”  The two took their leave of the king, and set out for Mecca.

Now please hear about the King of the ‘Ayyars, ‘Amar ‘Ayyar, the infidel-slayer of the age.  When after eighteen days some more days had passed, and the Amir did not come, ‘Amar began to weep uncontrollably and wail aloud.  Then he went to Mihr Nigar; he found her distraught as well.  Mihr Nigar began saying to ‘Amar, “Well, Father ‘Amar, the Amir has still not come--there’s no telling what’s happened to him!  That’s the land of Devs and Paris, and he is a son of Adam, all alone.  Only God can protect the Amir.  What else can I say?  But I’m going to take poison and die!”

The Khvajah said, “Oh Queen of the Universe, are you in your senses?  Do people act like that--when separated from somebody, do they take poison and die?  Don’t you remember the verse, ‘Do not despair of God’s mercy’?/1/  Don’t you hope for help from the Lord?  I’m going now to Ctesiphon to find out about the Amir.  I’ll inquire of Buzurchmihr, and come right back.  Please don’t distress yourself, don’t let agitation enter your heart.”

Having consoled Mihr Nigar, he went to Muqbil, and said to him, “I am going to Ctesiphon to find out about the Amir from Buzurchmihr, and I’ll tell you the plan:  you and your forty thousand sharp-shooting archers stay on the alert to protect Mihr Nigar, and station powerful champions at various places on the walls of the fort.”  ‘Amar himself, donning his ‘ayyari equipment, set out for Ctesiphon by way of the Benevolent Forest.

Some days later, having arrived at his destination, he disguised himself as a grain-merchant, and went and stood at Buzurchmihr’s door.  It happened that Buzurchmihr was just returning from the court.  Seeing ‘Amar, he asked, “Who are you?”  ‘Amar said, “I am a peasant from your estate.  People have very much mistreated me, and have thoroughly cheated me.  So I’ve come as a plaintiff:  if you won’t give me justice, I’ll go and swing the Chain of Justice and tell my wrongs to the king.”  When Khvajah Buzurchmihr sent for his petition through a servant and read it, he realized that this was ‘Amar.  Calling him into a private room, he embraced him, and asked about his welfare and well-being.

‘Amar said, “How can I tell you what kind of difficulty I’m caught in, and how distressed and anxious I am!  When Hamzah left he promised to return in eighteen days, but even beyond that as many days again have passed.  There’s no telling what disaster may have overtaken him, and what may have befallen him!  Mihr Nigar is determined to take poison.”

The Khvajah said, “It’s true that Hamzah, when he left, promised to return in eighteen days.  But he will come and meet you at the fort of the #Western Dominion in eighteen years.  He will kill all the rebellious Devs, and no sort of harm will come to him.  During this time you will have to confront many challenges:  kings and champions of the age will attack you from every direction, and devote themselves to causing you harm.  But don’t you be alarmed--no one will prevail over you, you alone will be victorious over them all.  And now go in haste to Mecca, and look well to your fort, and don’t fear anyone.  Naushervan has sent Velam and Qelam with thirty thousand horsemen to fight you, and to bring back Mihr Nigar.”

‘Amar said, “Well, even if I die for my friendship and loyalty to Hamzah, I will not hesitate, I am very sure of that.  Whatever efforts I can make, I will make, to the point of dying in his service.  As for the rest, Velam and Qelam are nothing!  If even *Jamshed and Kaikhusrau should rise up from the grave and come and mention Mihr Nigar’s name, they’d be sent right back to the grave, and wouldn’t get hold of her!  But for your part please write a letter of counsel to Mihr Nigar, so that she’ll be comforted and will obey my instructions.”

Buzurchmihr, sending for his pen-case, wrote Mihr Nigar a letter full of counsel, and told her how long it would be till the Amir came, and added many comforting reflections, and gave it to ‘Amar ‘Ayyar.  ‘Amar, taking this letter, set out toward Mecca by way of the Beneficent Forest; this time he traveled night and day, stage after stage, until he entered the fort and gave Buzurchmihr’s letter to Mihr Nigar.  She, when she read it, began to weep and sob, and said, “Alas for my destiny, since I am forced to burn in the fire of separation for eighteen more years!”  ‘Amar consoled Mihr Nigar:  “Oh Queen of the Universe, you will live a long time yet, if God Most High wills.  Eighteen years will pass like eighteen days, and he’ll be back safe and sound.”

After consoling Mihr Nigar, ‘Amar went to the army, and drawing them up in formation, said to everyone, “I have heard from Buzurchmihr’s lips that Hamzah will remain in Qaf for eighteen years.  Therefore, friends, whoever wishes to leave, let him set out for his home at once, and whoever wishes to stay, let him live here in brotherly unity.  When Hamzah returns safely, he will definitely be pleased with each loyal comrade and will accord him great honor and dignity.”  All the troops present--not to speak of the chiefs and Hamzah’s close companions--said with one voice, “Oh Khvajah, we have entered Hamzah’s service with our whole heart and soul!  We will not abandon our loyal comradeship with him.  As long as life is in our bodies, and you are in Hamzah’s place, how could we leave you, how could we step outside the bounds of your authority?”

‘Amar, delighted, embraced them one by one and said, “You are all as dear to me as my own life!  I am your obedient servant, you are my brothers.”  Those who had to be stationed on the ramparts of the fort, he stationed there, and gave orders for the fullest alertness.  And he himself, putting on regal robes, had an ornate carpet spread beneath a gold-embroidered canopy, and displayed his radiant presence on a jewel-encrusted chair.  Positioning Muqbil the Faithful with his sharp-shooting archers, he began to wait for Velam and Qelam.

Not even two hours had passed, when before the fort a dark and gloomy cloud of dust appeared, the extent of which caused all the land to be covered with dust.  When that dust-cloud came near, the wind blew the dust away, and arms and armor became visible, thirty standards came into view, and leading the vanguard, two mighty champions completely enveloped in steel armor could be seen.  ‘Amar knew that these were Velam and Qelam.

These fools, the moment they arrived, said to the army, “Come on, let’s surround the fort, kill the Muslims, and bring out Mihr Nigar, so that in recompense for it we can obtain robes of honor and rewards, and fill the skirt of desire with the sought-for pearls.  We will quickly return to Ctesiphon, and go and receive exalted rank from the king.”  At their order, the horsemen spurred their horses into a gallop, and reached the vicinity of the fort.  When they came within range of the fort, ‘Amar rained down such a shower of fire-missiles on them that those in front were burned by the fire, and those behind were unable, out of fear, to take a step forward.  Velam and Qelam saw that the day had drawn to a close, and the army too was in a bad state.  Having the retiring-drum sounded, they left the range of the fort and made camp, and ordered the army to send out patrols for protection.

It was ‘Amar’s custom, since the Sahib-qiran had gone to Qaf, to eat both meals of the day at Mihr Nigar’s table, and comfort and console Mihr Nigar.  In the evening, he went and took his place at her table; after the food had been served and eaten, he remained in attendance for two watches of the night, encouraging the princess.  Afterwards, he rose and called Sarhang the Egyptian and ordered, “Go and bring Manzar Shah of Yemen’s daughter Princess Huma; perform this task with care, so that she and Zuhrah of Egypt may divert Princess Mihr Nigar’s heart until the Sahib-qiran comes, and amuse her with pleasantries.”  With these words, he went to his own bedchamber and slept peacefully.

When morning came, he set them all to doing their own tasks, and sat, radiating splendor, on his chair under the canopy.  Velam and Qelam too, bringing their troops, came before the fort and confronted it, and ordered the army to charge.  ‘Amar, as on the day before, began to rain down fire-bottles, stones, bricks, and arrows from atop the fort; it was as though he created a Doomsday.  The whole army was dismayed, and fell back.

Velam and Qelam challenged the army, and called to the fleeing ones, “Once you have taken a step forward, you should never withdraw it and step back!  Fleeing is the act of the impotent; the brave and those with heart earn renown by fighting!”  The army again took up their horses’ reins, and showed their courage.  But they could not endure the fire-missiles, they could not take a step forward.

Velam and Qelam, holding their shields over their heads and guiding their horses with their knees, managed to reach the moat.  When the army saw that their chiefs were standing on the earthworks, shame took hold of them.  They all, calling out “Come what may!”, urged their horses forward and came up to join their chiefs.  ‘Amar thought to himself, “It’s a bad thing that the enemy have reached the moat!”  At once he took out from Zanbil a fire-box full of naphtha-oil, and lit it.  Fitting it into his sling, he whirled it two or three times, and slung it at Velam’s breast.

As the fire-box struck his breast it burst, and the naphtha-oil spread over his whole body and began burning like a raging fire.  Velam tried to extinguish it with his hands, and his fingers began to burn like wicks.  And when drops of oil fell on his beard, it burned like cotton-fluff.  When he ran his hand over his face, his eyebrows and moustaches sizzled and burned.  Qelam saw that Velam was burning and could do nothing to save himself.  Seeing his condition, he was very distressed, and went to him.  When he began trying to put out the flames, his condition became the same as Velam’s, and he too began to twist and turn in the greatest agitation.  Both brothers began to writhe like #ground-tumbler pigeons.

The army saw that their chiefs were burning, and couldn’t in any way get free of the flames.  Throwing dust and dirt on them, with the greatest difficulty the army finally extinguished the flames.  Then those two found relief.  They ran off toward their encampment, and occupied themselves in treating their burns.  All military activities were suspended.  ‘Amar, now free of care, sat down again comfortably under the canopy in the jewel-encrusted chair.

/1/ Part of Qur’an 39:53.  The translation is A. J. Arberry’s, in The Koran Interpreted (New York:  Macmillan, 1955).

== on to Chapter 25 ==

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