Avt'handil Sets Forth in Quest of the Knight
DIONISI1 the wise, Ezros2 bear me witness in this:
It is pitiable when the rose wherewith the ruby of
Badakhshan is not to be compared, and whereto a reedstem
serves as form, becomes covered with rime and frostbitten;
wherever he wanders abroad he is wearied of abodes.
AVT'HANDIL travelled over that plain at a flying pace,
he left the bounds of the Arabs, he journeyed in foreign
lands; but separation from his sun had taken away part of
his life. He said: "If I were near her now I should not shed
hot tears."
FRESH snow had fallen, and, freezing on the rose,
blasted it. He wished to strike his heart; sometimes he
uplifted his knife. He said: "The world has increased my
grief ninety, a hundredfold. I have gone away from all
rejoicing, from harp, lyre and pipe."
THE rose separated from its sun faded more and more.
He said to his heart: "Be patient!" Thus he fainted not
wholly. He journeyed through passing strange places on
his quest, he asked tidings of wayfarers, he was friendly
with them.
AVTHANDIL, shedding tears which flowed to increase
the sea, seeks him everywhere. The land seems to him a
couch, his arm his pillow. He says to himself: "0 beloved, I
am far from thee, my heart stays with thee; I lament,
for thy sake death would be joy to me."
HE journeyed over all the face of the earth, he went
thoroughly over it, so that beneath heaven was no place
left where he had not been; but he met none who had heard
tidings of him he sought; meanwhile three years save three
months had passed.
HE arrived in a certain dreadful country, exceeding rough;
for a month he saw no man, no son of Adam. Neither
Vis nor Ramin3 saw such woe like unto his. By day and by
night he thought of her, his beloved.
HE reached as a resting-place the slope of a great high
mountain; thence appeared a plain which it would take
seven days to cross. At the foot of the mountain flowed
a river that could not be bridged; both sides were covered
down to the water's edge with forests.
HE goes up, turns round and counts the time, the remaining
days-he has two months left. He sighs at this, he rejoices
not. "Alas! if the thing were revealed!" Again he is timid
in heart by reason of this. No man can turn evil to good;
none can be born again of himself.
HE became thoughtful; he stood to consider the matter. 
He said to himself: "If I return thus, why have I spent so 
much time in the field ? What can I dare say to my star, 
how I have spent the days ? I have learned not even 
gossip regarding him I seek.
"IF I return not, I must spend yet more time in the quest,
if I can learn no tidings of him I seek; when the time
agreed upon with Shermadin is past, his cheeks will be
bathed in tears; he will go and tell the king whatsoever
things are fitting.
"HE will tell him of my death, as I myself bade him.
Then would there be mourning, weeping; bitter would the
matter be for them. Thereafter should I return after
travelling everywhere." On this he thinks, weeping,
distressed in mind.
HE said: "0 God, why make Thy judgments crooked
because of me ? Why, alas! should I have made such a
journey in vain? Thou hast rooted up joys from my heart;
Thou hast given griefs a nest there. All my days my tears
will never cease."
THEN he said, "Patience is better," and communed thus
with himself: "Let me not die a day too soon, cast not
down my heart; without God I can do nothing, my tears
flow in vain. No one can change that which is decreed; that
which is not to be will not be."
HE said to himself: "Die, for thee it is better than
shameful life. Thou wilt go back; T'hinat'hin, who
brightens the sunny day, will meet thee; she will ask thee
for tidings of that sun; what does groaning avail?" Thus
thinking, he forthwith sets out for the reedy, watery edge
of the wood.
"SURELY have I passed by in turn all beings under the
sun, but regarding that man nought can I learn anywhere.
Doubtless they who called him a Kadj4 spoke truth. Now
tears avail me not; why should I weep in vain ?"
AVT'HANDIL descended the mountain, he crossed river
and woods, he put his steed to a gallop towards the plain;
the murmur of the water and trees annoys him; the power
of his arms and his pride were spent; the crystal field with the
jetty growth was beautiful.
HE resolved to return, he sighed and groaned; he turned
towards the plain; he traced out the road with his eyes; for
a month he has seen no human being anywhere; there were
terrible wild beasts, but he hunted them not.
THOUGH Avt'handil was become wild with heartgroaning
and sighing, yet he wished to eat, after the wont
of Adam's race; he killed game with his arrow, with arm
longer than Rostom's5; he alighted on the edge of the reedy
ground and kindled a fire with a steel.
HE let his horse pasture while he roasted the meat. He
saw six horsemen coming towards him. He said: "They
look like brigands; else what good is to be found ? No other
human being has ever been here."
HE took his bow and arrow in his hand, and went gaily
towards them. Two bearded men were leading their
beardless brother; his head was wounded, his heart had
swooned from loss of blood; they wept and grieved; alas!
his spirit was almost fled.
HE called out: "Brothers, who are ye? I took you for
brigands." They replied: "Be calm, help us and put out
the fire; if thou canst not help us, add grief to our grief,
and make it complete; weep with us who need pity,
scratch thy cheeks too."
AVT'HANDIL approached; he spoke to the men with the
grieved hearts. They told him their story, speaking with
tears: "We are three brothers, for this we shed bitter
tears; we have a large fortified town in the region of
"WE heard of good hunting ground, we went forth to the
chase, countless soldiers accompanied us, we dismounted on
the bank of a stream; the hunting pleased us, for a month
we went not away; we killed wild beasts without measure
in the plain, on the mountain and on the ridge.
"WE three brothers shamed the archers with us, so we
three vied still one with another; 'I kill best, I am better
than thou,' thus each pushed his claim with words; we
could not manifest the truth, we wrangled, we strove with
one another.
"TO-DAY we sent away the soldiers loaded with stags'
hides. We said among ourselves: 'Let us judge truly who of
us is mightier with his arm.' We remained alone, we were
private, we killed in our own sight, we shot not before
"WE had three armour-bearers with us; we ordered the
soldiers to go away, mistrusting nought; we hunted over
plain, through wood and den, we slaughtered the wild
beast, and not even a bird flew up.
"SUDDENLY there appeared a knight, morose and gloomy
of visage, seated on a black horse, black as Merani; his
head and form were clad in a tiger's skin with the fur
outside, and beauty such as his has ne'er been seen by man
"WE gazed upon his rays, we scarce could support the
brightness, we said: 'He is a sun on the earth; we cannot
say in heaven.’ We wished to seize him, we were
venturesome and tried; this is the cause of our sighs,
moans, weeping.
"I, THE eldest man, earnestly begged my younger brothers
to give me this man to fight, my next brother praised his
horse, this one only asked leave to conquer him. We
granted him this as his due. As we went towards him he
came forward unchanged, calmly and in beauty.
"RUBY mingled with crystal beautified the pale roses of
his cheeks. His tender thoughts towards us turned to
wrath, he explained nothing, neither did he let us go, he
showed not any consideration for us at all, with his whip
he ripened us who had spoken tartly to him.
"WE gave him over to our youngest brother, we elders
kept back, he seized upon him: 'Stand!' Thus he spake to
him with his tongue. The knight held no sword in his hand,
so we moved away; he struck him on the head with his
whip, we saw the blood flow indeed.
"WITH a stroke of his whip he cleft his head thus, like
a corpse he became lifeless, like earth he was brought to
earth; thus he humbled, levelled with the ground, him who
had been audacious to him. Before our eyes he went away,
bold, severe and haughty.
"HE turned not back again; he went away quietly and
without haste. Lo! There he rides-look! Like the sun and
moon." The weeping ones joylessly showed him far off to
Avt'handil; there only appeared his black steed carrying
along that sun.
BEHOLD, it befell Avt'handil that his cheeks need no
longer be covered with snow from tears, since he had not
passed so much time abroad in vain; when a man attains the
thing wished for, when he must find what he sought, then
need he no longer remember past woes.
HE said: "Brothers, I am a wanderer without a place. To
seek that knight I have gone far from the home of my
upbringing. Now from you I have learned what it was by
no means easy to discover. May God never again give you
cause to grieve.
"AS I meet my wish, my heart's desire, so even may God
not let your brother suffer." He showed them his
resting-place. "Go at your ease," said he, "give him
repose in the shade, rest your weary selves."
THUS he spoke and went his way, he spurred on his horse,
he flew like a hawk not hindered by the string, or like the
moon meeting the sun, the sun apparelled in cloth of gold,
for this cause he has extinguished his burning fires.
HE drew nearer, he bethought himself how he might
contrive the meeting: "Senseless converse yet more enrages
a madman. If a wise man would compass a difficult deed,
he must not lose his presence of mind and tranquillity.
"SINCE your man is so unreasoning and dazed that he
suffers not any to speak with him or look on him, if I go up
we shall meet only to slaughter each other, either he will
kill me or I shall kill him; he will be still more hidden."
AVT’HANDIL said: "Why should I suffer so many woes in
vain ? Whatever he is, it cannot be that he has no nest; let
him go whithersoever he will, whatever walls encompass
him there shall I seek him if my powers fail not."
TWO days and nights they fared, one behind, one before,
wearied by day and by night, eating no food; nowhere they
paused, not one moment of time, from their eyes tears
flowed, moistening the plains.
ONE day they travelled, and at eventide high rocks
appeared. In the rocks were caves, in front a stream flowed
down, it was not possible to say how many rushes were at
the water's edge, tall trees whose tops eye could not reach
rose high against the rock.
THE knight made for the cave; he passed the streams and
rocks. Avt'handil alighted from his horse, he betook himself
to the great trees, he climbed up to look, at the foot he
tethered his horse, thence he watched; that knight went
shedding tears.
WHEN the knight, the tiger-skin-clad, passed the woods,
a maiden dressed in a black mantle came forth to the door
of the cave, she wept aloud, her tears uniting with the sea;
the knight dismounted, with his arms he embraced her neck.
THE knight said: "Sister Asmat'h, our bridges are fallen
into the sea; we shall never, timely, come upon the track
of her for whom fires burn us." Thus he spoke and beat his
hands upon his breast; the tears rained down. The maiden
swooned, he embraced her; they wiped each other's tears of
THE forest became thicker from the tearing of their hair;
each embraced the other, the youth the maid, and the
maid the youth; they wailed, they lamented, the rocks
reechoed their voices; Avt'handil gazed in wonder on their
THAT maid composed her soul, she endured the wound of
her heart, she led the steed into the cave, she took off
its trappings, she unbuckled the knight, she ungirded his
armour. They went in. That day they did not come out
AVT'HANDIL was surprised. "How am I to know this
story?" said he. Day dawned. The maiden came forth clad
in the same colour; she put the bridle on the black horse,
she furbished it with the end of her veil; she saddled the
horse, she carried the armour quietly, with no clattering.
IT was the custom, it seems, with that knight never
to tarry longer. The maiden wept and beat her breast, she
tore her thick hair; they embraced each other, he kissed her
and mounted his horse. Asmat'h, already gloomy, became
more gloomy still.
AVT'HANDIL once more saw near him the face of that
man, his moustaches had hardly grown, he was without a
beard. "Is it not the sun of heaven?" said he. He smelt the
smell of the aloe wafted on the wind. For him the killing of
a lion was just as easy as for a lion to kill a goat.
HE rode out the same road he had come in by the day
before, he passed the rushes, he went beyond, far into the
plain. Avt'handil gazed in wonder; secretly he was hidden
in the tree. He said: "God has managed this matter
exceeding well for me.
"HOW could God have done better for me than this? I
will seize the maid, I will make her tell me the story of
that knight; I shall also tell her all mine, I shall make her
know the truth. I shall not smite the knight with the
sword, nor shall I have to be pierced by him."
1 Dionysius, the Areopagite.
2 Ezra.
3 The story of the love of Vis and Ramin, of which the scene is laid in Merv, is the oldest novel in the world. It is by the Persian poet Fakhrud-din Gurgani.
4 Kadj—a sorcerer
5 A character in The Book of Kings (Shah-Nameh), by Firdausi, a Persian poet of the tenth century.
6 Cathay.