Rustam was the king of Zabulistan and a trusted helper of the Iranian emperors. One day Rustam went hunting to his favourite hunting ground on the border between Iran and Turan. Tired, he went off to sleep leaving Raksh to graze on his own. Some soldiers of the king of Samangan saw a handsome horse roaming about and with great difficulty 8-10 soldiers overpowered the horse and took him to the king’s stable expecting a handsome reward for capturing such a beautiful horse.
When Rustam woke up, and did not seem Rakhsh, he realised that something was amiss. Moving around, he saw marks of a struggle, and on following the footmarks of the horse and the people, he reached Samangan city. Word soon spread that a distraught Rustam was in Samangan, and it was not long before the king of Samangan sent for Rustam.
On reaching the palace, Rustam told the king about his lost horse and the king assured him all help possible to find his steed. However, till that was done, he asked him to enjoy his hospitality to which Rustam readily agreed.
A feast was ordered in Rustam’s honour, after which Rustam went to sleep. When two-thirds of the night had passed, Rustam was woken up by a creek of his door. E saw a beautiful maiden entering his room with a maid. She told Rustam that she was tehmina, the princess of Samangan and since long she loved the great Rustam on account of his immense deeds of bravery. She requested Rustam to marry and him and assured Rustam of her loyalty.
Rustam too was smitten by the beautiful and wise Tehmina. He sent for a wise man who conveyed the desire of the two to get married to the king. The king too was very happy at this happy tiding and a laish traditional marriage was arranged for the two.
Rustam stayed in Samangan for a few weeks. His Rakhsh too was found. Rustam spent some loving days with Tehmina but soon realized that it was time for him to leave. When Rustam informed Tehmina about hi departures, she informed him that she was carrying their child. Rustam was overjoyed at this news but he had to go. He gave a gemstone to Tehmina, requesting her to tie it in the hair, if the child was a baby girl, and on the forearm if the baby was a boy. Then with ha heavy heart, Rustam ascended on his steed and bade her a tearful farewell.
Birth of Sohrab
In due course of time, Tehmina gave birth to a cherubic baby boy, and name him Sohrab. The child, like his father, was a big, handsome baby. As he grew up, he kept inquiring with his mother about the identity of his father, but the mother always managed to evade the answer.
When Sohrab came into his teens, Tehmina was unable to keep off his persistent queries about his father and ancestry. She finally confided to him and revealed that he was the son of the world renowned Hero Rustam, the grandson of Zal and the great grandson of Sam. To further attest the truth to the almost unbelieving son, she showed some of Rustam’s effects like his dagger and some jewels and gave them to Sohrab.
Sohrab was jubilant on knowing his magnificent ancestry. He asked his mother, why she had kept it a secret from him for so long.
The mother revealed that she feared that the father may call him for warfare and the son may prefer to go to him to train in the martial arts, and she would have been left lonely and heartbroken. She was living without her husband, she did not want to live without her son. Hence she had hidden the fact of the identity from both the father and the son.
She further cautioned Sohrab against the treacherous Afrasiyab and his army and asked to stay away from them.
Sohrab was bubbling with ambition. Unaware of the ways of the world, the young and immature youth, overconfident of his strength and ability, immediately declared that he would garner a huge army, defeat King Kae Kaus of Iran and instate his father as the king and his mother as the queen of Iran.
Sohrab goes to Iran
With the help of Turanian king Afrasiyab, Sohrab gathered an army and went towards Iran to search for his father.
All was going well for King Kae Kaus when he received a letter from Gazdam, the care-taker of the fort of Sapid, which was on the border between Iran and Turan. A young lad of 14 by the name of Sohrab, who hailed from Turkistan, had come with the army from Turan. He was creating havoc and was unstoppable. His facial features resembled Rustam and he seemed to be of the family of Nariman.
Hazir, son of Gudarz, who was the custodian of the fort, was defeated and imprisoned by
sohrab within the blink of an eye. Gazdam requested for instant help from the king, dispatched a messenger at night through a secret route and he himself with his family fled the fort at night. The next morning Sohrab entered the fort without any difficulty or opposition.
When King Kae Kaus received Gazdam’s message, he realised the urgency of the situation and immediately called a conference of his trusted warriors Toos, Keshvad, Gudarz, Giv, Gurgin, Behram and Farhad and appraised them of the situation. It was unanimously decided in the conference that Rustam was the only person who could contain the might of Sohrab and save the Iranians, and so they selected Giv to be urgently sent to Zabulistan to summon Rustam.
King Kae Kaus sends for Rustam :
King Kae Kaus prepared a hasty letter and dispatched it to Rustam. In the letter, he first lauded the services of Rustam and his family to Iran, and then requested him to urgently come to the aid of his country. He dispatched Giv and advised him to come back immediately with Rustam without even waiting to rest. Giv immediately set off for Zabulistan and did not wait anywhere on the way either for eating or resting.
On reaching Zabulistan, he gave the urgent message of summons, but Rustam was not willing to go immediately, as he believed that he was not a servant of the king to go at his beck and call. He asked Giv to wait till he was ready. Three days passed during which Giv repeatedly reminded Rustam that the fury of the king would know no bounds if they were late, but Rustam was in no mood to relent. Finally on the fourth day, they set off for Iran.
King Kae Kaus insults Rustam :
As soon as Giv and Rustam reached the palace, they went to see the king. However the king was fuming with anger because of the long delay. He fired Rustam by saying, “Who do you think you are that you disobey the king’s orders and place your own whims before the interests of the country”. Then, in a fit of anger he ordered Toos to take Giv and Rustam to the gallows and hang them.
Rustam’s scathing reply :
This insult was too much for the great Rustam. As he was fuming with rage, Toos approached him to pacify him and take him away from the temperamental king. However, a furious Rustam jerked away the great warrior Toos, who was hurtled away like a small child.
Rustam reminded the king in no uncertain terms that he was alive and on the throne just because of him. He told the king, “Don’t think you are my master or provider – God alone is my provider. My horse Rakhsh is my throne, my mace is my seal and my helmet is my crown, I don’t need anything else.” He hastily he left the palace telling the other paladins to fend for themselves and their country as he was leaving Iran forever.
The paladins were very upset with their king for insulting and infuriating the great Rustam. They once again approached the senior paladin Gudarz for a solution to this problem. The aged warrior went to the king and reproached him for being rude to Rustam, who had several times saved the king from certain death.
Gudarz told the king that he will now be responsible for Iran’s plight as Gazdam had clearly indicated in his letter that no paladin except Rustam would be capable of taking on the might of Sohrab. He once again chided the king for loosing his cool instead of handling the situation delicately and wisely.
The reconciliation :
King Kae Kaus once again realised his folly. He agreed with Gudarz and sent an apology to Rustam. Some of the paladins along with Gudarz carried the king’s message to Rustam and asked him to forgive the king, who, though ill tempered was good at heart and had a noble disposition. Rustam was also told that by leaving Iran he was not punishing the king, but the entire nation, as it will be the people who would have to bear the brunt of the attack of the Turanians. Rustam however was very firm. He maintained that he was not a servant of the king and the king had no business to treat him so rudely.
When Rustam was not convinced, Gudarz tried another stratagem to convince him. He tried to appeal to the vanity of Rustam by telling him that the king, soldiers and people of Iran were thinking that he had left Iran because he is afraid to face the young paladin of Turkistan. All the soldiers and paladins think that if the great Rustam is not ready to face this young paladin they stand no chance before him, and so all are deciding to desert the war and flee. This argument touched a chord in Rustam’s heart and after some further persuasion he agreed to return to Iran.
As soon as the King Kae Kaus received the message that Rustam had agreed to come back to Iran, he was jubilant. He made elaborate preparations for receiving Rustam, and when he finally arrived, the king greeted him with profuse apologies. He asked forgiveness for his rudeness and blamed his natural disposition for his uncouth behaviour and fits of anger. Thereafter both the king and Rustam accepted each other’s respective superior positions and the king declared a feast to commemorate the reconciliation.
March towards the fort of Sapid :
Immediately the following day, the Iranian soldiers along with Rustam and other paladins marched towards the fort of Sapid which Sohrab had captured and where the Turanian army was stationed.
When Homan, the Turanian commander, and Sohrab saw from the fort that the Iranian army was approaching, Homan was distressed and tense, but Sohrab was confident of himself and his ability to fight against any warrior. He was also excited on the prospects of meeting his father Rustam.
Death of Zindeh-razam :
The Iranian army was stationed some distance away from the fort of Sapid. At dusk, Rustam decided to go to the fort in disguise to take stock of the situation in the enemy camp and get any information possible. He hid in a dark corner and spotted Sohrab sitting calmly discussing the stratagems of war. He was flanked on one side by the Turanian commanders Barman and Homan and on the other side was his maternal uncle Zindeh-razam, who was the prince of Samangan. He was specially sent by Tehmina, the mother of Sohrab to identify Rustam and facilitate the meeting between the father and the son.
Zindeh-razam saw some movement in the distant corner where Rustam was hiding so he went to investigate. Rustam was not able to identify Zindeh-razam in the darkness. Zindeh-razam too saw the silhouette of Rustam but failed to identify him, and tried to raise an alarm. Rustam immediately silenced him and dealt a powerful blow on his neck, rendering him lifeless. Thus was gone the only link who would have identified the father to the son.
When Sohrab realised that Zindeh-razam had not returned since a long time, he sent an attendant, who returned with the tragic news of the death of Zindeh-razam. Sohrab was grieved at this loss and immediately realised that an intruder had entered the palace. He told his men to prepare for the war and decided to launch an attack the following day.
Rustam returned to his camp and gave the news of war preparations in the enemy camp to King Kae Kaus. He even described the grandeur of Sohrab to the king and other Iranian paladins and asked them to be prepared to face an attack any time from the Turanians.
Sohrab takes stock :
The following day, Sohrab mounted his black horse and climbed to a strategic point from where he could take stock of the Iranian army. He called Hazir, the commander of the fort of Sapid whom he had imprisoned, and asked him to identify the different tents with the hope that he may get some clue to the identity of Rustam. Hazir properly identified the tents of all other paladins, but when he came to the tent of Rustam , he lied that the tent was that of a newly recruited warrior from China. Hazir’s intention was to protect Rustam – the greatest asset of the Iranian army, from any unsuspecting attack by the enemies. Sohrab was dejected that he could not get any information about Rustam.
Thereafter, Sohrab sped off alone towards the Iranian camp and went straight to King Kae Kaus’s tent where he challenged the king to send any of his warriors to fight him. King Kae Kaus was terrified by the gigantic looks of Sohrab and immediately sent Toos to summon Rustam to take on this great warrior. On receiving the urgent message in his tent, Rustam immediately prepared himself and set off for the battlefield.
Sohrab meets Rustam :
Both the great warriors -Sohrab and Rustam – came face to face with each other, and decided to go to a secluded place for a duel. While on the way, Sohrab felt affection towards Rustam and asked him whether he was Rustam. In order to put him off guard Rustam replied that he was a very small warrior in comparison to the great Rustam.
The two great warriors went to a secluded place and started their duel, first with spears and swords, and then with mace and bow-arrows. The duels between the two were so fierce that their weapons got worn out and their horses became tired, but none proved superior to the other. Finally, at dusk they stopped the duel for the day and decided to meet again the next day for a weaponless duel.
Rustam had never faced such stiff competition ever before. He was feeling frail and weak. He was dejected to such an extent that he even sent a message to King Kae Kaus not to continue the war in event of his death, because no one in Iran would be able to match the strength of Sohrab.
On the other hand Sohrab was feeling guilty for the duel firstly because of the age difference and secondly because he was feeling a strange attachment towards Rustam. He dreaded the possibility of actually fighting against his own father.
Rustam deceives Sohrab :
The following day Saohrab and Rustam met again. Sohrab once again appealed to Rustam to reveal his identity as he was feeling a great affection towards him, but Rustam misunderstood his tender sentiments as a young warrior’s ploy to outsmart him and did not reveal his true identity. He challenged Sohrab to a duel in which he felt powerless.
Within no time Sohrab flung Rustam to the ground and sat on his chest. As he was about to pierce his heart with a dagger, Rustam played a trick on him. He stopped Sohrab saying that it was against Iranian rules of war to strike the opponent the first time he is flung to the ground. Sohrab took this to be true, and partly due to his bravery and partly due to his large heartedness, let Rustam go. It was only when Sohrab returned to his camp and narrated the incident to Homan that he came to know that he was deceived.
On the other hand, Rustam was shaken by the happenings of the day. He prayed to God and asked back for the strength, which he had voluntarily surrendered when his feet had started sinking in the ground due to the weight of his body. He got back his strength, and reinvigorated met Sohrab the next day in a hand to hand combat.
The last duel :
With renewed strength Rustam started fighting Sohrab, and soon got an upper hand over him. At the first opportunity he toppled Sohrab on the ground and before the winking of an eye thrust a dagger in his heart. This took the young warrior by surprise, as he had expected a reprieve for the first time. He cried foul against Rustam and lamented that now he would have to end his life without being able to see the face of his beloved father, to find whom he had undertaken this campaign. He, however, warned Rustam saying that he had killed him by treacherous means, and when his father Rustam would find this out he would seek him out from anywhere in the world and take revenge.
Rustam was shocked to hear this. He asked Sohrab about any evidence that he was Rustam’s son and Sohrab ripped open his armour and showed him the gemstone, which was tied to his arm. This was the same gemstone which Rustam had given to his wife Tehmina and instructed her to give it to their child for identification. When Rustam saw the gemstone he took the head of his son in his lap and screamed in agony. He was inconsolable when he realised that he himself had brought about the death of his son.
When Rustam did not return to the Iranian camp by evening, the other paladins became worried and went searching for him. On seeing Rustam’s horse standing alone in a corner, they jumped to the hasty conclusion that he might have been killed in the duel by Sohrab and immediately rushed to King Kae Kaus to give him the news. King Kae Kaus immediately sent a messenger to the Turanian camp to ascertain the fate of Rustam.
However, it was Sohrab who was breathing his last. The young warrior was however happy and contented that he had finally found his father. He made a final request to Rustam to spare the Turkish and Turanian soldiers as now without him they would be rudderless and will not be able to fight the mighty Iranian warriors.
Rustam immediately set off to fulfill his son’s last wish. When the Iranian camp saw Rustam, they heaved a sigh of relief, but were worried to see him in such a disheveled state with clothes torn and eyes red with tears. Rustam narrated the unfortunate incident of his having stabbed his own son with his own hands. The entire Iranian camp was shocked at hearing this news. Rustam sent his brother Zavareh to Homan, the Turanian commander, to relay him the tragic news. Homan, who had nurtured Sohrab in the arts of warfare, was also stunned by this news. He put the blame of the whole tragedy on Hazir who had knowingly concealed the identity of Rustam from Sohrab.
Zavareh returned to the Iranian camp and informed Rustam that Hazir was the culprit behind this tragedy. Mad with rage, Rustam rushed to even scores with Hazir. He was about to kill him when other warriors intervened and pacified Rustam to spare Hazir as whatever he had done, was with good intentions. Rustam let off Hazir and immediately sped off along with Toos, Gudarz and Gastaham towards his wounded son.
Rustam requests for ‘Noshdaru’ :
Suddenly Rustam realised that King Kae Kaus had a medicine by the name ‘Noshdaru’ which healed the worst of wounds. He requested Gudarz to get it urgently. When Gudarz went to King Kae Kaus and requested him to give the medicine, the king declined to give it as he feared that if Sohrab survived, than the father and son would form a formidable duo. He suspected that the two may get together, topple his rule and snatch his throne away from him. Gudarz returned to Rustam and asked him to go personally and request the king for the medicine. As an anguished Rustam set out to go, he received the news that Sohrab was no more in the world.
Sohrab breathes his last :
The news of Sohrab’s death at his own hands was too much for Rustam to bear. He grieved and sobbed uncontrollably. He requested the other paladins who were sharing his grief to request the king to announce the end of war as per the last wishes of Sohrab.
The lifeless body of Sohrab was taken to Zabulistan where his grandparents Zal and Rodabeh too broke down on seeing the young and handsome Sohrab lying in a state of eternal rest. Rustam had a new Dakhma (Dakhma – an open round structure where dead bodies of Mazdayasnis/Zoroastrians are exposed to the elements) erected in the shape of a horseshoe and laid the body of his son it.
The news of Sohrab’s death spread like wild-fire all around the world. In Turan, Homan delivered the news to Afrasiyab who too was grieved at this sudden death. In no time, the tragic news reached the King of Samangan who conveyed the same to Tehmina, the young mother of Sohrab. Tehmina who was excitedly preparing for the return of her young son along with his father was shattered at this news. She could not come to terms with the fact that her young promising son was now a lifeless lump of flesh.
In a mad frenzy, she destroyed everything that reminded her of Sohrab. Unable to bear the pain, she often lapsed into unconsciousness. She donned a black dress and passed her days in a dazed state. Unable to bear the shock, she too passed away within a year of her son’s death.