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The Story Of Bostanai

from Jewish Fairy Tales And Legends





In the days of long ago, when Persia was a famous and beautiful land,
with innumerable rose gardens that perfumed the whole country and
gorgeous palaces, there lived a king, named Hormuz. He was a cruel
monarch, this Shah of Persia. He tyrannized over his people and never
allowed them to live in peace. Above all, he hated the Jews.

"These descendants of Abraham," he said to his grand vizier, "never
know when they are beaten. How many times it has been reported to me
that they have been wiped out of existence, or driven from the land, I
know not. Yet nothing, it seems, can crush their spirit. Tell me, why
is this?"

"It is because they have a firm faith in their future," answered the
vizier.

"What mean you by those words?" demanded the king, angrily.

"I speak only of what I have heard from their wise men," the vizier
replied, hastily. "They hold the belief that they will be restored as
a united people to their own land."

"Under their own king?" interrupted Hormuz.

"Under a descendant of the royal House of David," the vizier answered,
solemnly.

The king stamped his foot with rage.

"How dare they think of any other Shah but me," he exclaimed, for his
one idea of ruling over people was that he had every right to be cruel
to them. Then he said suddenly, "Think you that if there were no more
people who could trace their ancestry to this--this David, their faith
would be shattered?"

"Peradventure, it may be so."

"It shall be so," cried the king. "There shall be no remnants of this
House of David."

He summoned his executioners, and when they were lined up before him,
he surveyed the evil-looking band with a cunning gleam in his eye.

"Unto you," he said, in a rasping voice, "I hand over all the
descendants of the House of David to be found among the Jews in the
whole of the realm of Persia. Slay them instantly. See to it that not
a single one--man, woman, or child--is left alive. Woe betide you, and
you my counselors"--this with a meaning glance at the grand
vizier--"if my commands are not carried out to the letter. To your
duties. Ye are dismissed from the presence."

Waving them away, he indulged his fancy in thoughts of the coming
executions, chuckling the while.

From day to day he received reports that his commands were being
carried out. The land was filled with weeping, for the cruel butchery
was worse than war. None could defend themselves. Mere suspicion was
enough for the executioners. They wasted no time with doubts, but slew
all who were said to belong to the House of David. The Shah looked
over the list each night and chuckled. At last he was informed that
all had been slaughtered.

"'Tis well, 'tis well," he said, rubbing his hands, gleefully, "I
shall sleep in peace tonight."

He slept in a bower in a rose garden, and nowhere in the world are the
roses so magnificent and so sweet-scented as in Persia.

"I shall have pleasant dreams," he muttered, but instead he had a
nightmare that frightened him terribly.

He dreamed that he was walking in his rose garden, but instead of
deriving pleasure from the beautiful trees, he was only angered.

"Are there no white, or yellow, or pink roses?" he asked, but received
no answer. "All red, deep, deep red," he muttered, in his troubled
manner.

"Tell me," he demanded fiercely, stopping before a tree heavily laden
with flowers, "why are you so red today?"

And the roses spoke and replied, "Because of the innocent blood that
has been shed. It is royal blood that has drenched the ground, and
none but crimson roses shall bloom this year in Persia."

"Bah!" screamed the enraged Shah and, drawing his scimitar, he began
hacking right and left among the flowers. The beautiful blooms fell to
the ground in great showers until the garden was so littered with the
red petals that it seemed flooded with a pool of blood. At last only
one tree remained, and as the Shah raised his sword to cut it down, an
old man stepped from behind it and confronted the king.

"Who art thou, and whence camest thou?" the monarch asked fiercely.

No answer did the old man make. Gazing sternly into the eyes of the
Shah, he raised his hand suddenly and unexpectedly, and struck the
king such a violent blow that he fell sprawling to the ground. He lay
half-stunned among the red petals, looking up at the old man.

"Art thou not satisfied with the destruction thou hast wrought?" the
old man asked. "Must thou take the life of the last rose tree?"

The old man stooped to pick up the scimitar which had fallen from the
king's grasp.

"No, no," screamed Hormuz, fearing that he was to be slain. He
scrambled to his knees and with clasped hands pleaded to the old man.
"Take not my life," he begged. "Spare me, and I shall spare the last
tree and cherish it tenderly."

"So be it," said the old man, holding the sword above his head. It
dropped to the ground, and looking up, Hormuz saw that the stranger
had vanished.

The Shah awoke. His body trembled with fear, his head was wracked by a
burning pain. He looked round shudderingly to see if the angry old man
still stood above him with the threatening sword. Then he sent for his
wizards.

"Expound to me my horrid dream," he said.

Their interpretations, however, did not please him.

"Ye are fools," he cried. "Make search and find me a man of wisdom who
understands these mysteries. Seek a sage among the Jews."

The royal servants hastened to do the king's bidding. Full well they
knew that when Hormuz was in a rage, lives were quickly forfeit.

They seized the aged rabbi of the city and brought him before the
Shah.

"Canst thou interpret dreams?" asked the king, abruptly, dispensing
with the usual ceremonies.

"I can explain the meaning of certain things," returned the rabbi.

"Then fail not to unravel the mystery of my dream," said Hormuz, and
he related it. "The secret I must know," he concluded, "or----." But
he stopped. He was afraid to add the usual threat of death that
morning.

"'Tis a simple dream," said the rabbi, slowly. "The things of which
men--and even kings are but men--dream in their sleep are connected
with the deeds performed by day. Thy garden represents the House of
David which thou hast sought to destroy. The old man was King David
himself, and thou hast promised to cherish and nurture his one
remaining descendant."

The Shah listened in silence. Then, with a flash in his eye he said,
"But all the descendants of this King David were slain."

"All but one," said the rabbi. "There is a boy babe, born on the day
the executions ceased."

"Where is he?" asked Hormuz.

"Your vow...." the rabbi began, nervously, for he did not wish to hand
over this child to death.

"My promise shall be faithfully carried out," interrupted the monarch.

"The boy is in my house," said the rabbi. "His mother, who escaped the
massacre, died when he was born."

"Bring him hither," commanded Hormuz. "Fear not."

From his finger he drew a ring and handed it to the learned man.

"This is my bond," he said. "The possession of this ensures thy
safety."

The child was brought to the palace, and the Shah looked at him with
intent gaze.

"He shall be brought up as a prince," said the king. "Servants,
attendants and slaves shall he have in great number to minister unto
all his needs. He shall be treated with the utmost kindness. And
because of my dream in the garden, I name him Bostanai."

The Shah did this because "bostan" is the Persian word for rose
garden.

He touched the child with his jeweled scepter and all present bowed
low before the babe and showed him the respect and devotion due to a
prince.

Hormuz, however, was too cruel to be quite satisfied. He feared to
harm the boy, but he wanted some proof that Bostanai was really a
descendant of King David. The child grew up into a handsome, clever
youth, and Hormuz, partly out of fear, but partly because he had
really grown to love the boy, kept him constantly by his side.

One day, while sitting in the bower in the garden, he watched the boy
among the roses. The day was hot and a drowsiness came over the king.
He had not slept in that bower since the night of his fateful dream,
and he was not happy about doing so now. But he did not lack courage,
and he called the boy to him.

"Bostanai," he said, "stand guard by the door, and move not while I
sleep."

Hormuz slept soundly and peacefully for some time, and when he awoke
he saw the lad standing motionless where he had placed himself.

"Bostanai," he called, and when the boy turned, he was startled to see
blood trickling from a wound on his face.

"What is that?" he asked, anxiously.

"The sting of a wasp," Bostanai replied.

"Is it not painful?"

For answer, the boy only smiled.

"How did it happen?" asked the king.

"The wasp stung me while I stood guard."

"But couldst thou not brush it away?"

"No," replied the boy, proudly. "King David was my ancestor, and in
the presence of a king I must stand motionless until bidden to make
any movement."

Then, before the king could catch him, he swooned from loss of blood,
and fell to the ground. He soon recovered, however, and the Shah's
doubts were set at rest.

"I know now thou art truly of the House of David," he said, "for none
other could have shown such fortitude."

Bostanai became the Shah's favorite, and when he grew up he was made
the ruler of a province. He lived happily, and through him the Jews of
the land also lived in prosperity and peace.





Next: From Shepherd-boy To King

Previous: The Outcast Prince



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