Roj Rashne Mah Spendarmad, 1382 Yz.
“Ba khune Nariman kamar-ra be-band;
Berav taaziaan taa ba Kuh-e- Sepand”
Zaal said: “Now gird your loins and tie your cummerbund to take the revenge of Nariman; and quickly march towards the fort of Mount Sepand!”
Mount Sepand was situated in a range of mountains in Iran. There existed a very old and unique fort on this mountain which had, over the years, become the residence of many sorcerers and evil followers of the Daevayasni path. Despite many expeditions to capture and destroy this fort, it remained unbeaten. One of the main reasons for this was the very steep incline of the mountain. Any person attempting to reach the walls of the fort had to climb this steep incline over a narrow path which extended for some three miles to the top in such a manner that it left them completely exposed to attacks from those inside the fort. There was absolutely no protection from these attacks. In one such expedition, Nariman, the grandfather of Zaal and great grandfather of Rostam, under the directions of the then Peshdadian monarch Faridun, had besieged the fort for a long time, but in an one attempt to reach the walls of the fort he was exposed on the narrow trail. The soldiers from the fort let loose a huge boulder which hurtled down and completely crushed and killed the valiant Nariman. Over the years, the population within the fort had increased and it had become like a small self-sufficient city. The general population was kept in control by the Daevayasni Masters, who through the power of their evil sciences and the benefit of their isolated position used this fortress as the headquarters for their nefarious activities. Although the fort was nearly self-sufficient in most items, it faced an acute scarcity of salt – a prized commodity in those times. Ever since the attack on the fort by Nariman, and his subsequent death, the Daevayasni Masters refused to open the gates of the fort and let anyone in or out.
Zaal was very keen to conquer this fort and avenge the death of his grandfather. He therefore gave this mandate to Rostam. As mentioned earlier, from the time he was born, Rostam had been gifted with some innate abilities. In addition to this, given his stature and his important missions, Rostam had the ability to be in direct contact with the Yazata Behram (presiding over warfare and victory), the Amesha Spenta Sherevar (presiding over righteous authority and metals) and the Yazata Dami Upaman (presiding over Wisdom). This awesome combination gave rise to the faculty of Aoj – spiritual potency which made Rostam invincible. Using these divine faculties, Rostam immediately came to the conclusion that a direct attack on the fort was neither feasible nor advisable. He therefore devised a stratagem and disguised himself as a salt trader and gathered together a caravan of helpers drawn from within the ranks of his soldiers. They hid their weapons within the large bags of salt, changed their dress to reflect their new trade and set off for Mount Sepand.
As they reached the base of the fort, they were stopped by the guards who asked them their business. Rostam immediately befriended them and confided that he was carrying a large quantity of salt to trade. The soldiers promptly despatched a messenger to their evil masters with this news. Given the acute scarcity of the commodity, and the no-risk profile of the caravan traders, the Daevayasni masters allowed the caravan to enter the walls of the fort. As they entered the city, Rostam immediately despatched a large quantity of the best salt to the Daevayasni masters as his tribute and gift to them. They gratefully allowed him to trade on the open market and as the day passed, Rostam and his soldiers sold huge quantities of the commodity to the general population of the fort. As darkness fell, the soldiers quickly changed their disguise and put on the arms and armour hidden beneath the bales of salt. They then fell upon the Daevayasni Masters and their soldiers and managed to kill most of them while the rest fled. As the sun rose the next morning, the victorious Rostam and his soldiers saw a huge stone building in the centre of the city which had a massive iron door with no visible means to open or enter. Rostam right away took his heavy mace and dealt a crushing blow on to the door and broke it open. The sight which beheld them was awesome. The entire building was a treasury which housed innumerable gold coins, precious stones and other items. As Firdausi writes in his colourful language:
“Who ever thought that we would find this here? It seems the mines of the earth have been emptied of their gold, and the oceans emptied of their pearls and treasures so that they could be collected and placed here, nay it seems they have been layered over here.”
After the victory Rostam dictated a letter detailing his exploits to his father Zaal and asking for further instructions. Zaal was overjoyed after reading the contents and heartily congratulated Rostam on his triumph. He further despatched one thousand camels to carry away the treasure from Mount Sepand and directed Rostam to raze the structure to the ground so that no one would even remember that it existed and also to ensure that all the evil circuits created by the Daevayasni Masters over the years would be totally destroyed. Upon receipt of the courier, Rostam followed the instructions and soon the fort of Mount Sepand was but a distant memory. Rostam was given a hero’s arrival in the court of Zaal and father and son met and exchanged greetings on a mission well accomplished. Zaal now dictated a letter to his father Saam detailing the exploits of Rostam and explaining how his father’s death had been properly avenged. Saam wrote back saying that Rostam’s victory did not come as a surprise to him, giving the analogy that a pet lion cub, even though separated from its parents and reared by humans, would also grow up to strike fear into the hearts of those same humans, since it was in the lion’s instinct to be fierce and kingly. So also, Rostam, having the genes of Saam and Zaal would rightly follow in their footsteps and achieve even greater fame than them. In this manner, through the success of the expedition to Mount Sepand, Rostam firmly established his credentials as a worthy successor in the line of Pehlivas like Saam and Zaal. The stage was now set for even greater successes. A beautiful couplet of Firdausi aptly summarizes the feeling at that time in Iran. He writes:
Jehaan zu pur-ummid shud yaksareh
Ze ru-e zameen taa ba burz-e-bareh
“From the flat plains of the earth to the constellation of Aries;
the whole creation became pregnant with expectation of his (Rostam’s) further exploits”
The news of his bravery and success soon reached the ears of the Peshdadian King Minocher, who was also happy and content that a new generation of loyal warriors to the Mazdayasni cause had been instituted. However, this atmosphere of happiness was soon overshadowed by the news of the death of King Minocher of old age.
King Navdar took over the reins of the empire after Minocher. After a short time, however, there was some discontent among the nobles and the general populace with his rule. Things went so far that the nobles summoned Saam to the capital and complained about King Navdar and requested him to take over as the King. Saam was furious at this suggestion and scolded all the nobles for having such treasonous thoughts. Saam displayed his true loyalty to wards the King and refused and such offers.
Now the news of this discontent soon reached the ears of Afrasiab, in Turan. Afrasiab was of course, the brave and enormously treacherous son of the Turanian King Pashang. Pashang was the son of Zadsham, who was the son of Tur, the son of Faridun. Every quick to pounce on any such opportunity, Afrasiab convened a council of war to discuss plans to invade Iran. The War Council was attended by King Pashang along with his sons Afrasiab, Agreras, and Garsivaz. Pashang’s brother Vese and his sons Piran, Homan, Barman and Kalbad were also in attendance.
As he incited the others present in the meeting, drawing up old history, Afrasiab was cautioned against this move by his saintly brother Agreras, who pleaded that they should not break the peace and start the cycle of war and revenge once again. However, Afrasiab and the other members of the Council refused to listen to this sage advice.
Meanwhile, news reached Iran that the old warrior Saam – the father of Zaal and the grandfather of Rostam, who was living in Zabulistan had passed away at a very advanced age. As soon as this news reached the capital, both Zaal and Rostam took leave of the King and proceeded towards Zabul to perform the after death ceremonies and the rituals for their father and grandfather.
When this news reached Afrasiab, he was doubly happy. Realizing that Zaal would be out of action for quite some time, since he would be busy not only in the prayers and rituals but also in the construction of the Dakhma for Saam, Afrasiab concluded that this was the best time to attack Iran and take his revenge. Disregarding the pleas of his brother Agreras, Afrasiab readied a huge army, numbering over 1 million soldiers and began the march towards the Jayhun river which marked the boundary between Iran and Turan.
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Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram
31 July 2013