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.