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 seeking.”

‘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 me.”

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 wine-drinking.

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 27 ==

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