TWENTY-SIX -- Khvajah Nihal
sets out toward Mecca to bring back Mihr Nigar, and dies at ‘Amar’s hands.
After Hamzah went
to Qaf, Naushervan caused Hurmuz to launch several attacks on Hamzah’s
army; these were all beaten back by ‘Amar’s clever generalship and trickery.
Queen Mihr Angez proposed a new strategy: to send a letter through
an old family servant, *Khvajah Nihal, to Mihr Nigar. When Khvajah
Nihal should succeed in gaining entry to the fort, he would contrive somehow
to have ‘Amar poisoned. Naushervan gladly agreed to this plan; he
also took the precaution of sending off fresh troops under a new general.
The narrators of sweet speech write that the
king, after permitting Khvajah Nihal to depart, wrote a formal letter to
Hurmuz and sent it off by the hand of a messenger ‘ayyar. The king
gave Hurmuz this message: “Oh my son, the day before yesterday I
sent *Akhzar Elephant-ears with seventy thousand men to assist you.
He set out in your direction with the greatest pomp and magnificence.
Today I carefully instructed Khvajah Nihal, and sent him off with gifts
and presents, and explained all the ins and outs of the matter to him.
You should try by some means to get Khvajah Nihal into the fort, so that
he can carry out my order, and you can be rescued from this peril. If somehow
Khvajah Nihal is unable to enter the fort, then take Akhzar Elephant-ears
and assault the fort and destroy it, and achieve your goal.”
Now please hear about Khvajah Nihal.
Only one day after Akhzar Elephant-ears’ departure, Khvajah Nihal had set
out. Making a double march with a change of horses, he caught up
with Akhzar Elephant-ears, and told him about the plan and the proposal.
Both together, traveling on through many stages and stations, arrived in
Hurmuz’s camp after about three months. After paying their respects,
they presented the royal letters to Hurmuz, and told him all the circumstances
in great detail.
Although Hurmuz already knew, through the
letter that the ‘ayyar had brought him, what these royal letters were about,
he nevertheless read the letters and gave robes of honor to both men, and
left them well content with his graciousness and favor. Since both
were tired from traveling, they soon took leave and went to their tents.
An ‘ayyar brought this news to ‘Amar, and
told him all about their arrival: that Naushervan had sent a great
army to Hurmuz’s aid. ‘Amar said to himself, “Let me inquire who
has been made chief this time, and who has been sent by Naushervan as commander.”
Assuming the guise of a washerman, he entered Hurmuz’s camp. He went
and stood wherever men were conversing, and began to listen alertly to
their words. At one spot several men were saying to each other, “This
time Naushervan has sent Akhzar Elephant-ears, with seventy thousand brave
horsemen, to Hurmuz’s aid. Surely the fort will fall, and ‘Amar will
be killed, and this army will succeed in its mission!”
One man said, “He has sent Khvajah Nihal too.”
Another said, “He has not ordered him to fight. Instead, he has commanded
him, ‘Contrive to get into the fort somehow, kill ‘Amar by treachery, bring
back Mihr Nigar, and in recompense you will receive much gold, cash, and
a robe of high renown.’ Well, this plan doesn’t seem very good, in
my view, because ‘Amar isn’t the one to fall into anyone’s snare, or to
be fooled by any kind of trickery or deceit! Indeed, if Akhzar Elephant-ears
could come up with something, then it might perhaps be managed--although
in all likelihood even this is a remote possibility. As for the rest,
we’ll hope for the best.”
‘Amar, leaving that place, abandoned the guise
of a washerman and took on the guise of a groom, and carried out another
plan. Taking a bowl of grain in his hand, he began calling out, “Oh
friends, someone please show me where Khvajah Nihal’s tent is! In
the evening I went to get the grain, and now that night has fallen I’ve
forgotten the way. The horse must be pawing the ground for his grain!
Anyone who will kindly take me there will get a great reward.” One
man spoke up, “Come along, brother, I’ll show you Khvajah Nihal’s tent,
and take you as far as his pavilion.” After going some paces, he
said, “Look--there before us is Khvajah Nihal’s tent, which you’re so anxiously
‘Amar, taking on his true appearance, went
to Khvajah Nihal’s tent, and said to the doorkeepers, “Inform Khvajah Nihal
that ‘Amar has come to see him and has brought him some good news.”
Khvajah Nihal, hearing ‘Amar’s name, felt very disturbed and anxious.
He grew thoughtful and perplexed at heart: “Why has ‘Amar come to
me at this time--what urgent task has brought him?” But welcoming
‘Amar, he brought him in, and seated him on the couch next to himself.
With a great deal of warmth he said, “It was
most kind of you to bring your gracious presence to this insignificant
one’s house! If you had not come today, then tomorrow I would have
gone to the fort to see you, and had the joy of beholding your perfect
beauty. Because seeing each other is part of friendship; and, if
you stop to consider, in truth it’s the only real pleasure of this transitory
life.” ‘Amar, with tears coming to his eyes, said, “Khvajah, what
can I say? I am caught in a great peril--it’s such an anxiety that
I no longer care about living!” Khvajah Nihal said, “Well, well,
what is it? Speak, and tell me the whole story.”
‘Amar said, “How can anything be “well”?
I see nothing but ill! Please attend to me and listen, and devise
some means to cure my anxiety. The truth is that Hamzah, entrusting
Mihr Nigar to me, and promising to return in eighteen days, went off to
the Realm of Qaf. So all this time has passed--there’s no telling
whether he’s alive, or dead at the hands of some Dev! I can no longer
take care of Mihr Nigar, for she too is anxious, and in her loneliness
endures much grief. If I entrust her to Hurmuz, then I’ll be afraid,
for I’ve committed many very rude acts, and caused much hardship.
I don’t know whether the king will forgive my wrongdoing, or take revenge
on me and punish me for my deeds. Although Naushervan is merciful
and gracious, and it would not be strange if he should forgive me and not
take revenge, still Bakhtak and *Bakhtyarak, who are my enemies, are very
wily. They will certainly incite the king to have me killed; they
won’t give up their vile ways.
“Today I decided, ‘Let whatever is to happen,
happen. I should go to Hurmuz, and beg him to forgive my wrongdoing,
and present myself in his service.’ When I entered the camp, I heard
the news of your arrival. I felt the most complete satisfaction.
So now I will entrust Mihr Nigar to you. I will remove that burden
from my shoulders--and for the rest, I will go wherever my fortune takes
Khvajah Nihal, hearing this speech of ‘Amar’s,
was very happy and thoroughly pleased; embracing ‘Amar, he said, “Khvajah
‘Amar, who is strong enough to malign you and me to the king, or to rouse
the king to anger against you? To have the king forgive your wrongdoing,
and beyond this, to have the governorship of Mecca given to you--this is
my responsibility! Treat this as my firm promise; know that I will
be true to this pledge.”
‘Amar said, “I hope for even more than this
from you.” With these words, he took out of his bag some dates, saying,
“These are auspicious ones from Mecca,” and gave them to him, and said,
“Be pleased to eat these, and enjoy them.” Khvajah Nihal, whom misfortune
had overtaken, without hesitation ate the dates, and had no suspicion in
his heart. ‘Amar took his leave, saying, “I am going to my house,
and will at once bring back Mihr Nigar.”
Coming outside, ‘Amar fed the Mecca dates
to all the attendants; he trapped all those fools too in the same trap.
Khvajah Nihal said to himself, “It’s my good fortune, for without any effort
I’ve accomplished my purpose!” Not even an hour had passed--when
outside, the attendants, and in the tent, Khvajah Nihal, lost consciousness;
they all fell unconscious.
‘Amar, entering the tent, pulled out keys
from Zanbil; opening the boxes and chests, he removed whatever cash and
valuables there were and put them in Zanbil. There was one very elaborate
box. When he opened it, he found a letter to Mihr Nigar from the
king, enclosed in several wrappings. He took it too, and hid it in
Zanbil, and refastened the locks on the boxes as before--he played such
tricks. Then he dug a pit and buried Khvajah Nihal alive in it.
He himself, taking on the appearance of Khvajah Nihal, went to sleep in
Khvajah Nihal’s bed, having completed all his tasks.
Now please hear about Hurmuz. In the
morning he discussed diplomacy with Bakhtyarak: “I want to hold a
feast for Akhzar Elephant-ears and Khvajah Nihal, and invite them here,
and offer them the best dishes.” Bakhtyarak said, “What could be
better? It’s very proper, it’s incumbent upon you to do so.”
Hurmuz arranged for the celebration, and authorized his steward to prepare
a feast. He had Akhzar Elephant-ears and Khvajah Nihal invited.
All the officers, together with Akhzar Elephant-ears, presented themselves,
and he had them all seated in their places.
After a little while, the false Khvajah Nihal--that
is, ‘Amar ‘Ayyar--also presented himself, paid his respects, and, with
hands folded, politely stood before the crown prince. Hurmuz was
very pleased by his behavior, and at once bestowed on him a resplendent
robe of honor and showed him much graciousness: “Oh Khvajah Nihal,
you have fulfilled the requirements of proper respect; we are very pleased
with your recognition of the claims of rank. Now come and sit in
the gathering like a brother, and forget the sorrows of the vile world
for a while.”
The false Khvajah Nihal said, “How can this
slave be worthy of such honor? To sit down in your presence would
be contrary to etiquette.” The prince said, “For the present, stuff
this kind of talk away in a storage-niche!” Seizing his hand, the
prince seated him in a chair near himself, and showed him many attentions.
All the musicians and singers who had accompanied the army, and those who
came from around Mecca, harmonized their instruments and began to perform.
All those present at the gathering enjoyed their sweet voices and harmonious
music, and cries of ‘Drink up!’ and ‘Cheers!’ could be heard, so that the
party was very enjoyable and everyone was overcome with happiness.
The whole day passed in this way.
When night came, the lamp-lighters placed
pure camphor-white candles in two-branched, three-branched, and five-branched
candelabra, and lit them. Hurmuz poured a cup of double-strength
wine with his own hands, and gave it to Akhzar Elephant-ears, who respectfully
acknowledged it and drank it. Akhzar too filled a cup to the rim
and gave it to Hurmuz. Then it was settled that if anyone gave someone
else a cup, the latter should return the favor. In short, they all
began to offer each other wine in this way, and to taste the pleasure of
When one watch of the night had passed, the
seeming Khvajah Nihal rose and petitioned, “At this time this slave begs
leave to act as cupbearer--the party is now extremely delightful.”
Hurmuz said with pleasure, “Very fine, what could be better? You
must act as cupbearer, and fill everyone’s cup with your own hands.”
The seeming Khvajah Nihal, taking cup and flagon in his hands, first poured
a cup for Hurmuz to drink, and astounded him with his deftness. Afterwards
he passed the flagon around in the gathering. For two rounds he poured
out the same wine which they had been drinking previously.
In the third round he mixed knockout drops
into the flagon, and began to pour it out for everyone and make them all
sip it. Because they were already intoxicated, after only two rounds
they lost consciousness, and everyone fell senseless. The false Khvajah
Nihal saw that the whole party had passed out. Taking the cup and
flagon, he went outside, and poured drinks for all the attendants who were
there, and made them unconscious.
Returning to the tent, he bundled all the
carpets and rugs, goods and fabrics, even to the cups and woven mats of
the attendants, together with Hurmuz himself, into Zanbil. Shaving
off half of Akhzar Elephant-ears’ beard and moustache, on the shaven side
he put ornamental dots of seven colors, and on the unshaven side he tied
tiny ankle-bells into the moustache, and entirely blackened that side of
his face. He draped around his neck a robe made of mountain-goat
skin--he did all this to him.
Shaving Bakhtyarak’s beard and moustache,
and blackening his face, he made him look like a woman. On his forehead
he put vermilion moistened with oil--he made this poor man too look like
a clown. Bending both his feet back behind his neck, he tied them
that way with rope, and laid him down on a bed in Akhzar Elephant-ears’
lap. He treated each one in a different way. All those officers
present at the party, who were in a helpless stupor of intoxication, he
stripped naked; shaving their beards and moustaches and blackening their
faces, he tied them upside down to pillars. Still retaining the appearance
of Khvajah Nihal, he emerged from the tent, and went back to his own fort.
With perfect tranquility he rested, and disposed of whatever tasks needed
to be done.
When dawn came, people saw that in the pavilion
the officers of the army were hanging upside down from pillars. At
length the attendants freed them all. From shame, no one said a word.
Then clothes were brought from their houses, and they were washed and dressed.
Only then did those wretched ones look like men.
In the meantime Bakhtyarak too, having washed
his face and hands and changed his clothes, came and explained to Akhzar
Elephant-ears, “My dear man, no one but ‘Amar could possibly have managed
to do this to us, and bring down such disasters upon us!” Akhzar
ran his hand over his face in anger: “It’s between ‘Amar and me now--just
watch how I deal with him, and how I pay him back for this mischief!”
The tiny ankle-bells tinkled, and he realized that half the beard and moustache
were gone from his face, and in the remaining half tiny bells had been
tied. Akhzar grew even more enraged.
Bakhtyarak said, “You and I are in this shape--there’s
no telling what’s become of Hurmuz and Khvajah Nihal! Last night
when Khvajah Nihal acted as cupbearer, that was not Khvajah Nihal, it was
‘Amar. He certainly killed Khvajah Nihal and assumed his appearance.”
When they investigated, in fact Khvajah Nihal was not in his tent, nor
was any of his property there. ‘Amar had taken Hurmuz away also,
and had done them all great damage.
Akhzar, furious, ordered the war-drum sounded.
He said, “If I don’t level the fort until not even one brick is left on
another, if I don’t tear that son of a camel-driver limb from limb and
feed him to the kites and crows, if I don’t cause a river of Muslim blood
to flow in this desert--then my name isn’t Akhzar, and I’ll never have
any ease or peace!”
== on to Chapter