FORTY-NINE -- The Amir arrives at the house of Samandun Dev the Thousand-armed, and rescues Zuhrah of Egypt from captivity.

On the twenty-first day, an enclosure of blended bell-metal came into view, of novel design.  But its gate was locked.  The Amir broke the gate down with his mace and went inside.  He saw a large field, very broad, empty, and desolate.  In it there was an enclosure of marble.  When he entered that enclosure, he saw a garden so pleasant that in all Qaf he had not seen its like.  The Amir spread his wolf-skin in the shade of a tree and sat down, using his mace as a backrest.  But the boys began playing and wandering here and there in the garden, they freely looked the whole garden over.

Suddenly they saw a pavilion, so elegant as to make the beholder forget all the other buildings in the world.  Khvajahs Ashob and Bahlol entered it without hesitation.  They saw that in a cradle a Dev baby, three hundred yards long, was sleeping.  And a woman with a face like the sun sat pulling the cradle-rope to rock it, she sat drawing the golden wire rope with her hands.  Seeing the boys, she said, “Oh boys, how have you come here?  Run away at once!  The baby has just cried himself to sleep with hunger, he is now asleep for a bit.  If he wakes, he will eat you both, to no purpose!”  The boys replied, “We are with the Wrath of God.  This creature is of no account--we are not afraid even of his father!”  Zuhrah of Egypt reflected that the one whom the boys called the Wrath of God might be the Sahib-qiran.  She said to the boys, “Oh boys, go and tell that man, and inform him quickly, that Zuhrah of Egypt is imprisoned here.”

Khvajahs Ashob and Bahlol went and said to the Amir, they went very quickly and told him, “There’s a pavilion in this garden, extremely elegantly made and peerless in every way.  When we entered it we saw a Dev baby, who cannot have been less than three hundred yards long, sleeping in a golden cradle.  And a human woman, who would be the envy of the sun, who in beauty and radiance is like Venus,/1/ was pulling the cradle-rope.  Seeing us, she said with great sympathy and love, ‘Run away from here, if he wakes he will eat you.’  We said, ‘With us is our friend the Wrath of God.  This creature is of no account--we are not afraid even of his father!’ Then the woman replied, ‘Go and tell that man whom you are with, that Zuhrah of Egypt is imprisoned here.’”

The moment he heard the name Zuhrah of Egypt, the Amir felt extremely perturbed; he ran there, saying to himself, “Somehow Zuhrah of Egypt has ended up here--I must find out what has happened to Mihr Nigar, in what peril she might be!”  When he entered the pavilion, he saw that in truth it really was Zuhrah of Egypt; seeing her, he wept uncontrollably, he sobbed long and bitterly.  The Amir asked Zuhrah of Egypt how she had come there.  She recounted the whole history, and said, “Now I am in this foul Dev’s captivity.  And the distress I endure--how can I find words for it!  If the Sahib-qiran comes, my release will be a simple matter.  All of Paristan has been subdued by him!  Otherwise, either this baby’s father will devour me one day, when he’s hungry and can’t find anything else to eat, or I myself will die of all these troubles, and pass beyond distress into death.”

The Sahib-qiran said, “Can you recognize the Sahib-qiran, do you know his appearance?”  She replied, “Why should I not recognize him?  I am his longtime maidservant, he brought me up.”  When the Amir pulled aside his turban to show the lock of hair of Abraham, the moment she saw it Zuhrah of Egypt ran and embraced his feet, and began to weep; she made the gesture of warding off evil from him onto herself.  Hearing the sound of weeping, the Dev baby awoke with a start.  He saw a number of sons of Adam standing nearby.  Wild with hunger, he ran to seize the Amir and dine on him, to fill his stomach.  The Amir seized him and tore him in half like an old piece of cloth, he spilled his brains out of his head.  And seating himself on the path, the Amir said to Zuhrah of Egypt, “You didn’t recognize me!”  She said, “When I saw you last, you were in the springtime of your youth; now, Lord bless you, you’ve grown old!  On top of that, you’re dressed as a faqir--how could this humble servant have recognized you, how could I have known that you were the Sahib-qiran?”

As the Amir was talking with Zuhrah of Egypt, Samandun Dev the Thousand-armed arrived like a whirlwind, he came down on the Amir’s head like a calamity.  He had seen that the gate lay broken, and was thus already displeased--when he saw his son lying dead, he glowed with wrath like a hot coal, the whole world grew dark and black before his eyes.  He said to the Amir, “Oh son of Adam, with your black head and white teeth and puny body!  What wind has blown you here, who has brought you here?”  The Amir said, “No wind has blown me here.  I’ve come of my own will:  I’ve come to send you to Hell, I’ve brought you a summons to eternity!  And I’m so puny of body that with these hands and feet I’ve killed ‘Ifrit, Ahriman, etc.--so many high-headed Devs!  In a few moments I’ll send you to join them.”

Then Samandun Dev picked up a thousand stones in his thousand hands, and hurled them all at once at the Amir.  The Amir, with a great leap, landed behind the Dev’s back.  Giving the battle-cry “God is great!”, he struck one blow with the Scorpion of Solomon at the Dev’s shoulder, so that five hundred hands, together with the shoulder, were cut off and fell to the ground.  The Dev gathered up the hands from the ground, and fled; he ran off to save his life.  After a little while, he came back hale and hearty, confronted the Amir, and attacked him as before, he gave him a blow.  The Amir too, as before, cut off his other shoulder together with five hundred hands.  He quickly gathered up the cut-off hands and went off; after a little while he returned and again attacked the Amir.

The Amir was very much astonished and troubled; seeing his enemy’s behavior, he was extremely worried and perplexed.  He began to pray.  Before his prayer was finished, Hazrat Khizr appeared and said, “Peace be upon you.”  The Amir returned the greeting and said, “Oh Hazrat, I’ve been very hard pressed by this Dev!  Here I cut off his hands, and there he comes back again hale and hearty to confront me, and shows his strength and power!”  Hazrat Khizr commanded, “Oh Sahib-qiran, there is a stream with water to which the Lord has given the power that any wound on which it falls will at once close up, the pain will vanish, the wound will be perfectly healed.  Come along--I’ll show you the stream, and then make it vanish, so that this Dev can be killed, and you’ll receive no further shocks at his hands.”

The Amir went with the Hazrat to that stream.  He saw that in truth its water was so clear that the water of the fountain of Paradise would seem dirty beside it; to the perceptive eye, that stream was indeed like the Water of Life.  Hazrat Khizr, stamping with his foot, made the stream vanish, he made it know its place.  And he broke off two leaves from a tree that overhung the edge of the stream; the tree bore leaves every one of which for brightness and purity would be the envy of the pearls of Adan.  He gave the two leaves to the Amir.  He commanded, “Carry these leaves with you carefully, and drop their sap into Buzurchmihr’s eyes, for Bakhtak has blinded him by passing poison-tipped needles over his eyes./2/  The sap of these leaves will give sight to his eyes; they will be able to see, and will return to their proper state.”  The Amir put the leaves into his turban, and petitioned, “Oh Hazrat, take me back inside the garden, do this favor for me.”  Hazrat Khizr, taking the Amir into the garden, disappeared; giving the Amir all the necessary information, he disappeared.  The next time Samandun went to the stream, after Hazrat Khizr’s visit, he saw that it had vanished.  With a loud groan, he died, beating his head on the ground, and lost his life.

The Amir saw a number of chambers in the garden; when he opened them, he saw various sorts and kinds of precious jewels, the sight of which gladdened the eyes.  The boys said, “We should take some of the jewels from here with us.  Where will we ever find such peerless jewels again?  We certainly ought to take some.”  The Amir laughed and said, “If you take them to the World, and go around showing them to people, there’s a brother of mine named ‘Amar who will snatch them away from you, and afterwards he won’t give you back even one!”  In short, the Amir stayed for two days in that garden.

On the third day, he seated the boys in the baskets as usual, and mounted Zuhrah of Egypt on Ashqar’s back, and himself took the reins and began to lead him along like a groom.  In this way Ashqar went on.  On the eleventh day they arrived at the Encircling River.  They were perplexed about how to cross it, for there was neither boat nor raft; it was a great problem, a big perplexity.  They were worrying about this, when Hazrat Khizr came and conveyed them to the other side, and with his miraculous power took them safely across.  The next day they reached that iron-walled enclosure where the Amir had killed Rahdar Dev, and with the greatest courage and hardihood had sent that high-headed, bloodthirsty Dev down into the torment of Hell.  Seeing its gate standing open, the Amir guessed that it was Friday, since the gate was never left open on any other day except Friday.  Going to the grave of Salim,/3/ the Amir said the prayer for the dead, and pleased Salim’s spirit with the merit of holy verses.

Setting out from there, the Amir said, “Praise be to God, today we have reached the outer boundary of Qaf!  Now we have escaped from this peril; God has given us comfort.  They walked along happily in the shade at the foot of the mountain.  Breaking off fruit from the wild fruit-trees, the Amir gave it to the boys and to Zuhrah of Egypt to eat.  In the evening, he was standing in the foothills planning where they should spend the night, when from one side came the sound of “Peace be upon you”; someone had spoken from the Unseen.  When he looked around, he couldn’t see anyone, there was no trace of the speaker to be found.  There was a Tree before him; when his gaze fell upon it, he saw that all its fruits hung there in the form of human heads, and the voice was coming from that Tree; God’s power was showing him its wondrous sights.  The Amir, in awe at the Lord’s power, returned the greeting, he answered as a Muslim should.

Again the voice came:  “Oh Sahib-qiran, my name is *Vaq.  Once Alexander too spent the night in my shade, I showed him hospitality.  Today I will show you hospitality as well; of my own free will I invite you as my guest.  Please rest here the whole night, and delight yourself with the sights and scenes here.”  After these words, a fruit fell from the Tree into the Amir’s lap.  The Amir cut it open and himself ate some of it, and fed it to Zuhrah of Egypt and the two boys as well.  They experienced such relish as they had never had from fruit before, and they felt thoroughly satisfied.  Then they made their beds under the Tree.

Through the whole night the Tree talked to the Amir, and delighted him with its eloquence.  It said, “Oh Sahib-qiran, on just the same spot where you are sitting, Alexander once made his bed, he too rested in this pleasing atmosphere.  He asked me, ‘When will I die, when will I take leave of this world?’  I said, ‘When the earth is iron and the sky is gold, then beyond all doubt you will take leave of this world.’  Two or three days afterwards, he arrived in Solomon’s Desert of Seven Wanderings, which is only a little way beyond this place, and in which there’s not even a hint of a tree.  And he was distressed by the heat of the sun, the intense heat made his condition extremely grave.  His companions spread out their chain-mail as bedding, and used their shields to shade his head; in this way they gave him some relief.  At that very moment Alexander’s soul was seized.”

The Amir asked, “Oh Tree, tell me also:  when will I die?”  It answered, “When no shoes remain on Ashqar’s feet, then realize that you are about to take leave of the world, and your life is over; the morning of your life has turned to evening.  But there’s a long time yet till then.”  In this way the Tree talked with the Amir the whole night long.  When morning came, the Amir took leave of the Tree and set off.

By noontime the desert began heating up, and the hot desert wind began to blow from every direction, so fiercely that their flesh melted, their hearts quivered like quicksilver with the heat, the force of the sun reduced them to a desperate condition.  If the Sahib-qiran hadn’t had the water-flask of Khizr with him, all their souls would have taken leave of their bodies, none of them would have managed to survive.  The Sahib-qiran continually drank water from the water-flask himself, and gave it to his companions.  In the evening, they all lay down in the sands of the desert to rest.  In the morning they set out again.  In short, for seven days they endured hardship in this desert, just as they had on the first day; they found no relief.

At length, on the eighth day, they reached a city.  Its ruler was a woman named Shirin,/4/ who was extremely virtuous and compassionate.  Welcoming the Sahib-qiran, she took him into the city, and showed him the most elegant hospitality; she honored him in every way.  The Sahib-qiran saw that there were only women, and not even a trace of a man.  He asked that woman, “What is this?  I don’t see any men here--in fact, not even any trace of them.”  She replied, “In our city only women are born, not men.”  The Sahib-qiran asked, “How do they get pregnant?”  She replied, “When a woman reaches maturity, there is a tree outside the city which never bears flowers or fruit--the woman goes and embraces it.  The moment she embraces it, she gives a shriek and loses consciousness.  After a time, she regains consciousness.  From that time on, she is pregnant, and gives birth to a girl.”

The Amir marveled at the power of the Lord.  All the women he looked at, he found to be beautiful and radiant; he had never before seen such beauty and radiance.  The boys said to the Amir, “The women here are most beautiful.  We ought to take a few along.”  Shirin said, “The women here cannot go anywhere else.  The Lord has appointed a Guardian over them.  Even if they go away, the Guardian brings them back:  no matter where they go, the Guardian causes them to return.”  The boys replied, “What are you saying?  Why, let some come with us--we’ll see who can take them away, whether anyone is capable of stealing them from us!”  Although Shirin argued with them, the boys would not be persuaded; they didn’t realize the mystery of it.

Obtaining Shirin’s permission, they took fifty women with them.  When evening came, the Amir reached a halting-place and rested for the night.  When they rose in the morning, they saw that half the women had disappeared.  The boys repented:  “We accepted Shirin’s kindness for nothing; why did we not do as she said?”  That night, the boys tied a rope around the women’s waists and their own waists as well, so that this way the women couldn’t go off, they wouldn’t have the chance to get separated.  And the boys went to sleep at their ease, secure in their belief that the women could not escape.

The female Simurgh, who was their Guardian, lifted those women up, and took them dozens of feet above the ground.  The boys too, dangling, were borne along; they were dragged along, lamenting their misfortune.  When the Amir awoke, he saw that someone was carrying off the women, and it wasn’t possible for him to catch hold of them.  The boys too were dangling in midair, they too were suffering great distress.  The Amir thought that it must be some Dev.  He shot an arrow that pierced clean through the female Simurgh’s wing.

She came down, together with the women, and said, “Sahib-qiran, what offense have I ever committed against you, what pain have I ever caused you, that you’ve wounded me?  The kindness that my husband showed you--is this its reward?  I have been appointed by the Lord to prevent these women from going outside their city.  What I have been appointed to do, I do.”  The Sahib-qiran, seeing the female Simurgh, was very much ashamed, and began to apologize:  “I didn’t know you, I swear that I didn’t recognize you!  In the Lord’s name, don’t mention this to your husband; overlook this offense of mine!  For I am very much indebted to him, how can I express all the thanks I owe him?”

The Amir at once prayed with fear and trembling in the Presence of God for her wing to be cured.  Accordingly, the Amir’s prayer was granted:  at once the wound in her wing healed.  His passionate lament had its effect, and no pain remained.  Taking leave of the Amir, and bearing the women with her, she set off.

/1/ A pun on her name:  the planet Venus is [zuhrah].
/2/ In Naushervan’s presence, Bakhtak and Buzurchmihr tested their powers of divination by describing the fetus inside a pregnant cow.  Bakhtak said its forehead was white, and Buzurchmihr said black.  When the fetus was examined, a piece of membrane adhering to the black forehead made it look white.  Bakhtak was declared the winner; his prize was Buzurchmihr as his slave.  He blinded Buzurchmihr.  Soon the truth was discovered, but by then the damage had been done.  Buzurchmihr pardoned Bakhtak and predicted that Hamzah would restore his sight.
/3/ Probably Salim [saalim] was the name of the old (unnamed) faqir Hamzah met on his way to Qaf, who predicted his victorious fortune and then died happy at having seen him.
/4/ [shiiriin], “Sweet.”  A common feminine name in Persian and Urdu. 

== on to Chapter 50 ==

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