This is an old tale and like many old tales, it has many versions, and so I chose the version that made the most sense to me while also relying on a bit of artistic license in the process. You see, in days long gone, scribes and monks and those burdened with recording history applied the rule of logic and reason and they did it through a lens of religion. They applied it to incidents and occurrences and things unexplained, and when these happenings appear too fantastical or incompatible with the accepted narrative they made them either unfantastical or wrote them off as lore and fable.
The adventures of our Persian hero, Arsalān, is just such a tale. Broken down to its essence, it’s a story of love. Of how love transcends both the now and hereafter. It’s a story of magic and fairy kings, and of demons and witches and of courage and bravery.
It is said that Arsalān, a warrior and a scholar of noble birth, fell in love with princess Farroḵ, daughter of King Patras–the king who conquered Rûm and killed Arsalān’s real father–after witnessing only a painting of her. It is also said the same spell overcame Farroḵ when her eyes fell on Arsalān’s likeness on a poster (He was branded an outlaw by King Patras). When at last their paths crossed, Destiny rejoiced for it was love at first sight as Arsalān’s and Farroḵ’s hearts reached out and embraced and formed a union unbreakable by even the seven planes of existence.
What follows is their story.
The Horned Demon and the Magic Sword
Arsalān and Farroḵ loved each other deeply. It was as if the stars sparkled just a little extra when they touched. For Arsalān, Farroḵ’s emerald eyes held a promise no words could define nor any riches could replace. It held beauty and innocence alien to the world of politics and war and deceit. He saw no corruption there, just affection and perfect love, and a steely determination as steadfast as his own.
To Farroḵ, Arsalān was a force of nature. The young warrior moved with the ease of a leopard, lithe and purposeful, but underneath his tight control hunkered a fury waiting for release. She saw it in the dark pools of his eyes, a cold, curious rage, coiling like a snake readying itself to strike. And yet when those same turbulent eyes looked at her, she could see the storm subside, replaced by a softening. A vulnerability reserved only for her.
And that was indeed true of Arsalān, for a vengeful rage drove the young warrior, fuelled by his father’s murder, of having his birthright stolen and his mother discarded and left to rot on a deserted island while she was still pregnant with him. It was a vengeance that stole his youth and ushered him into manhood. Arsalān immersed himself in his studies and the pursuit of warcraft. And when not in the library obsessing over old records of battles past and strategies and tactics by the great warlords, he practiced with his sword and spears, honing his skill with each, day after day, month after month, pushing himself to the brink of collapse, until in time it was impossible to separate the scholar from the warrior. He would take his land and crown back and he would slaughter those responsible. He had made the oath and not even the gods could take that away from him.
And yet, somehow, Farroḵ tempered his emotions. She calmed the storm in his heart. Though Arsalān’s resolve to reclaim his crown remained and his hatred of her father never subsided, Farroḵ’s presence somehow refined the chaos inside of him. True love does that. It tempers steel and shapes it. Love does not bring order to chaos. It harnesses chaos.
Alas, like all great loves, obstacles stood in their way. For one, Farroḵ was betrothed to another, to King Papas’ son–Prince Hushang. And, of course, there was her father, king Patras himself who wished Arsalān dead.
But Arsalān was not without means. He had already begun gathering loyalists from Rûm, warriors and soldiers who had served his father once and whose sons were now serving a pretender to the throne. They had learned the son had survived and that he was recruiting mercenaries to aid him in his quest for retaliation, and so the fathers had gathered their sons and travelled from the seven hills of Anatolia, from the Black Sea to Cappadocia and Urartu they came, archers, lancers, and swordsmen, deserting their posts in King Patras’ army to join the rightful heir of Rûm and prepare for the looming war.
Arsalān’s plans were perfect in formation and strategy and the execution would be exquisite in detail, but then the unthinkable happened.
There had long been whispers of kidnappings in small villages scattered across the provinces, mostly of young women and girls, by a winged creature of the night. A spawn from the Below World. Rumors that somehow survived generations and yet remained a muttering, scarcely audible to survive a retelling. Those with authority and power scoffed at the stories, labeling them tales told by old wives and drunkards and gave them no second thought. Yet the rumors persisted as more bodies disappeared under circumstances that could not be blamed on robbers or mountain barbarians. No evidence of men on horse or foot. No telltale signs of a scuffle or struggle. Nothing. Just the solitary footprints of the victim until it abruptly stopped.
Then came a name. Quivering lips haltingly mentioned Fūlād-zereh , eyes fixed in fear lest his ungodly ears caught his name on their mortal tongues, followed by a quick prayer to Manāt to save them from this vile damnation.
Mad with grief, Arsalān refused to believe the rumors. Fūlād-zereh was a myth, old folklore told to naughty children to frighten them. And yet the circumstances surrounding Farroḵ’s disappearance made no sense. Her royal servant’s testimony under threat of painful death remained unwavering. She saw a black clawed hand reach down from dark ominous clouds and seize the princess while she strolled in her private courtyard. It happened so fast, neither Farroḵ nor the servant had time to even scream. “It was Fūlād-zereh, the demon!” the servant had cried, eyes frozen in terror. Kohl stained her wet cheeks in rivulets of black and gray. Her fear reached even beyond the torturer’s chamber. Her mother had told her about the Women Stealer. It is true after all. It’s all true! And yet, no clouds appeared that day, dark or otherwise. The morning sun showed bright against an unblemished azure sky. Still, no human could enter the palace undetected, and certainly not enter the private courtyard of the princess. And how did they escape without being seen?
Perplexed, Arsalān’s sorrow was absolute and it left him desperate. His heart had been ripped from his chest in a cruel twist of fate. The Sun to his Moon had been plucked from the sky throwing his world into darkness. Arsalān had to take action.
His advisers could offer no explanation, insisting it must have been the work of his enemies and so, as his tormented mind struggled with questions no one could answer, he remembered how as a young student he had sneaked into the Library of Zardak and entered the forbidden section where among many old dusty scrolls and leather-bound books, he found an ancient tome called The Seals of Abgal. It was in that book that he first came across the name of Fūlād-zereh.
Fūlād-zereh, the vicious and cruel. At the time he thought it an exciting tale but his own ambitions had quickly driven it out of his thoughts. He had no time for fairytales. And yet, now during troubling times, he reached for those memories, looking for answers no one else seems capable of giving.
If there was a way to still save Farroḵ… If her abduction truly was a result of supernatural machinations, he would need to consult the wizard Šams.
End Part 1
Part 2 will come out next week. The story is evolving slightly so I should have it neatly tied together over three parts, I hope. My apologies for any grammatical errors. I edited with a writer’s eye but given the nightmare that is my current routine, my eyes are tired and fallible.