Avt'handils Tale as Told to Asmath in the Cave
HE came down and loosed his horse, which he had tied
to the tree, he mounted and rode up; the door of the cave
was open, the heart-shaken, tear-flooded maiden ran out
thence; she thought the rose-faced, crystal-haloed one was
come back.
SHE knew not the face, it was not like the face of that
knight; swiftly she turned, with a cry she made for rock and
tree; the knight leaped from his horse, seized her like a
partridge in a net; the rocks resounded with the maid's
monotonous cry.
SHE yielded not to that knight; even the sight of him
was hateful. Like a partridge under an eagle she fluttered
hither and thither; she called on a certain Tariel for help,
but he succoured her not. Avt'handil threw himself on his
knees; he entreated her with his fingers.
HE said: "Hush! what ill can I do thee? I am a man of
Adam's race. I have seen those roses and violets grown pale.
Tell me something of him. Who is the cypress-formed, the
halo-faced ? I shall do nought else to thee, be comforted,
cry not thus loudly."
THE weeping girl said—and her speech was more like
discussion than complaint.—"If thou be not mad, let me go;
if thou art mad, return to reason. Now thou lightly askest
me to tell thee a very hard matter; try not in vain, look
not to me to tell his story."
AGAIN she said: "0 knight, what wilt thou, or what
dost thou request of me ? This thing cannot be even written
with the pen. Once thou shalt say 'Tell me!' a hundred
times I shall tell thee 'No!' As smiling is better than
weeping, so I prefer mourning to song."
"MAIDEN, thou knowest not whence I come, what woes I
have endured! For as long as I have sought tidings, from
none have I heard them. I have found thee; however much
my words may annoy thee, I cannot let thee go till thou tell
me. Be not bashful with me."
THE maiden said: "Why have I fallen in with thee? Who
am I ? Or who art thou ? The sun is not near me, this thou
knewest, 0 hoarfrost, therefore thou thus annoyest me;
long discourse is tedious, so I shall speak shortly to thee;
on no account shall I tell thee aught, do whatsoever thou
YET again he adjured her, he threw himself on his knees
before her, but nought could he win from her; he wearied of
entreaty, his indignation mounted to his face, blood flowed
to his eyes, he arose, he drew her by the hair, he put a
knife to her throat.
THUS he spoke: "How can I forgive thee so much ill-will ?
If I weep, shall the tear be in vain. It is better for thee
to tell me, I shall trouble thee no more; if not, may God
slay mine enemy as I slay thee!"
THE maid replied: "Thou hast done exceeding ill to
think of using force. If thou kill me not I shall not die;
I am hale and alive. Why shall I tell thee anything until
the time when I shall no longer see woes, and if thou kill
me I shall have no head to converse with thee.
AGAIN she said: "Oh, why didst thou find me! Who art
thou that speakest with me ? Who ? I cannot be made to tell
this story with living tongue. I will make thee kill me at
mine own wish; like a despised letter, easily shalt thou
tear me.
"THINK not that death would be suffering to me, for it
would free me from weeping; it is the drier-up of the ford of
tears; the whole world seems to me as straw, even so do I
weigh it; I know not who thou art, that I should tell thee
trusty words."
THE knight said to himself: "Thus shall I not make her
speak, I must think of some other way; it is better to ponder
the matter." He let her go, and sat down apart; he wept, he
began to shed tears. He said to the maiden: "I have angered
thee; now I know not, alas! how I shall survive."
THE maiden sat morose, she is sulky, she is not yet
sweetened. Avt'handil sits below weeping; no longer does he
speak. In the rose-garden the pool of tears is dammed up.
The maiden, too, weeps over yonder, her heart softening
towards him.
She pitied the weeping knight, therefore her hot tears
flowed, but she sat, strange to the stranger, she spake
not. The knight perceived that her hasty thoughts towards
him were calmed; with flowing tears he entreated her;
he arose and bent his knee before her.
HE said: "I know that now I am by no means to hope
from thee; I have angered thee; I remain a stranger to thee
and thus lonely; yet even now I have hope for myself from
thee, for it is said that sin shall be forgiven unto seven
"THOUGH my beginning in service has pleased thee ill,
it is fitting to pity the lover; understand thou this: from
any other, whomsoever, I can have no aid, none is my
strength. I yield thee my life for my heart's sake. What
more can I do?"
WHEN the maid heard from the knight of his love, with
heart sobs she began to shed tears a hundredfold more;
again she raised her voice in wailing, she smiled not. God
gave Avt'handil his wish, his heart's comfort.
HE said to himself: "These words have changed her
colour; doubtless her tears flow faster for that she is mad
for someone." He spoke once more: "0 sister, a lover is
pitied even by his foes; thou, too, knowest that he himself
seeks death, he shuns it not.
"I AM a lover, a madman to whom life is unbearable.
My sun sent me to seek that knight. Even a cloud not
reach me where I have been on that quest. I have found thy
heart; his to thee, thine to him.
"HIS face I have imprinted on my heart like a holy
picture. For him mad, cut off, have I given up all my joy.
One of two things do thou to me: make me a prisoner or set
me free, give me life or slay me, adding grief to grief."
THE maiden spoke to the knight a word more pleasant than her first: "What thou hast now thought of is much better; just now thou didst sow enmity in my heart, now thou hast found in me a friend more sisterly than a sister.
"THEN, since thou hast thought of love as thine aid,
henceforth it will not be that I shall not be thy servant;
if I devote not myself to thee, I shall make thee mad, I
shall make thee sad; I shall die for thy sake if I find not
some means to help thee.
"NOW, whatever I tell thee, if thou wilt be obedient to
me therein thou shalt meet whatever thou seekest, thou
shalt certainly not fail; if thou hearkenest not to me thou
shalt not find, let thy tears flow as will;
with the world shall come upon thee, thou shalt die, thou
shalt be put to shame."
THE knight replied: "This only resembles one thing: Two
men were journeying somewhere along some road; the one
who was behind saw the one in front fall into a well. He
came up, called down, weeps and cries 'Woe!'
"THUS he spoke: 'Comrade, stay there, wait for me, I
go to bring ropes, I want to pull thee out.' The man who
was beneath laughed, he marvelled greatly, he shouted up:
'Unless I wait, whither can I flee from thee, whither can
I go?'
"NOW, sister, thou boldest the rope about my neck;
without thee I can undertake nothing; whatever thou doest
to me rests with thee, thou art balm to the mad. Otherwise
who would bind his sound head with hay-ropes ?"
THE maid replied: "Thy discourse, 0 knight, pleases me.
Doubtless thou art some good knight, worthy of the praise
of the wise. Since thou hast heretofore suffered such griefs,
hearken to what I tell thee, and thou hast found what thou
"NOWHERE can news of that knight be found. If he
himself tell thee not it will not be told; none other shouldst
thou believe. If thou canst wait so long, wait until he come.
Be calm; freeze not the rose, let not be snowed up in
"I WILL tell thee our names if thou wishest to know
them: Tariel is the name of that distracted knight; I am
called Asmat'h, whom the hot fire burns, sigh upon sigh,
not once alone, but many times.
"MORE words about him than these I cannot tell thee. The
elegant, slender-formed roams the plain. I eat, alas! alone
of the meat brought by him from the chase. He may come
anon, I know not, or he may tarry a long time.
"I ENTREAT thee to wait; go not elsewhere. When he
comes I shall plead with him; it may be I shall be able to
do something. I shall make you known to each other; I shall
make him love thee. He himself will tell thee his story; thou
shalt make thy beloved to rejoice."
THE knight listened to the maid, he was obedient, he
submitted. Thereupon they looked round, they heard a
splash from the glen, they saw the moon come forth from
the water, its rays beaming. They hastened back: they
made no long tarrying there.
THE maid said: "0 knight. God give thee soon what thou
desirest; but make thyself unseen, hide thyself inside. No
human being is disobedient to that knight; perchance I
may so contrive that the sight of thee anger him not."
THE maiden hastily hid Avt'handil secretly in the cave.
That knight alighted from his horse; his quiver and sword
adorn him. They wept aloud, their tears flowing even to the
sea. Avt'handil gazed forth, himself hidden from view.
THE bath of tears turned the crystal to the colour of
jasper. A long time the knight and that black-robed maiden
wept. She unbuckled his armour and took it in; she also led
in the horse. They were silent; the black knife of jet cut
off the tears.
AVT'HANDIL watched, a prisoner but now freed from
his dungeon. The maid laid down the tiger's skin, the
knight sat upon it, he sighs with added grief; the jetty
eyelashes are plaited by tears of blood.
THAT maiden betook herself to the lighting of a gentle
fire with a steel; she thought he would eat meat roasted,
whole; she gave it to him, he bit off a piece, it was difficult
for him to eat, he had not strength; he began to spit it
out unchewed.
HE lay down a little, he fell asleep, but only for a short
time; he was afraid, he screamed aloud, he leaped up as
if dazed, he cried and incessantly beat his breast with a
stone and his head with a stick; the maiden sits apart
looking at him, and scratches her face.
"WHY hast thou returned?" she asked. "Tell me what has
happened to thee." He answered: "I came upon a certain
king hunting; he had countless soldiers, heavy weighed their
baggage, he hunted in that plain where beaters were
"IT was melancholy for me to see men, the fire flamed
up still more; I came not near to meet him; I pitied myself.
I returned pale from them. I hid in the wood. I thought:
'If he pursues me no more, I shall go away at daybreak
tears sprang forth a hundredfold, ten
thousandfold more THE maiden's. She said: "Thou roamest alone with
wild beasts in the deep forest, thou approachest no man for
converse and entertainment; thou canst not help her thus;
why dost thou waste thy days in vain ?
"THOU hast fared over the whole face of the earth; how
couldst thou not find one man in whom to take pleasure,
and who could be with thee without making thee mad,
though it would not lessen thy grief? If thou diest and she
perisheth, what doth this profit thee ?"
HE said: "0 sister, this is like thy heart, but for this
wound there is no balm upon earth. Who can find such
a man as hath not yet come into the world ? My joy is
death, the severance of flesh and soul.
"WHERE, why should God cause a man to be born under
the same planet as I, even if I desired his companionship
and converse ? Who could bear my woes, or even attempt it ?
Save thee, sister, I have no human being anywhere."
THE maid said: "Be not angry with me, I fear and entreat
thee; since God has appointed me thy vizier, I cannot
conceal the best that I know in the matter: to go to
extremes is of no use; thou hast overstepped the bounds."
THE knight replied: "I know not what thou askest of me;
tell me clearly. How can I create a man for my service
without God? God needs me to be unhappy; what can I do?
Of a truth I am become as a wild beast, to this pass have
I brought myself."
THE maid again spoke: "I have harassed thee with
overmuch advice, but if I could find a man who would
come to thee of his own free will, who would stay near
thee, who would rejoice thee by his acquaintance, wilt
thou swear not to kill him nor do him any hurt ?"
HE answered: "If thou wilt show him to me, greatly
shall I rejoice at sight of him. I swear by the love of her
for whose sake I wander mad in the fields, I shall do nought
unpleasing, I shall never cause any bitterness to him; I
shall be pleasant and love him, and do all I can to be