IKKOR, the Jewish vizier of the king of Assyria, was the wisest man in the land, but he was not happy. He was the greatest favorite of the king who heaped honors upon him, and the idol of the people who bowed before him in the streets and cast themselves on the ground at his feet to kiss the hem of his garment. Always he had a kindly word and a smile for those who sought his advice and guidance, but his eyes were ever sad, and tears would trickle down his cheeks as he watched the little children at play in the streets.
His fame as a man of wisdom was known far beyond the borders of Assyria, and rulers feared to give offense to the king who had Ikkor as the chief of his counselors to assist in the affairs of state. But Ikkor would oft sit alone in his beautiful palace and sigh heavily. No sound of children's laughter was ever heard in the palace of Ikkor, and that was the cause of his sorrow. Ikkor was a pious man and deeply learned in the Holy Law; and he had prayed long and devoutly and had listened unto the advice of magicians that he might be blessed with but one son, or even a daughter, to carry down his name and renown. But the years passed and no child was born to him.
Every year, on the advice of the king, he married another wife, and now he had in his harem thirty wives, all childless. He determined to take unto himself no more wives, and one night he dreamed a dream in which a spirit appeared to him and said:
"Ikkor, thou wilt die full of years and honor, but childless. Therefore, take Nadan, the son of thy widowed sister and let him be a son to thee."
Nadan was a handsome youth of fifteen, and Ikkor related his dream to the boy's mother who permitted him to take Nadan to his palace and there bring him up as his own son. The sadness faded from the vizier's eyes as he watched the lad at his games and his lessons, and Ikkor himself imparted wisdom to Nadan. But, first to his surprise, and then to his grief, Nadan was not thankful for the riches and love lavished upon him. He neglected his lessons and grew proud, haughty and arrogant. He treated the servants of the household harshly and did not obey the wise maxims of Ikkor.
The vizier, however, was hopeful that he would reform and gain wisdom with years, and he took him to the palace of the king and appointed him an officer of the royal guard. For Ikkor's sake, the king made Nadan one of his favorites, and all in the land looked upon the young man as the successor of Ikkor and the future vizier. This only served to make Nadan still more arrogant, and a wicked idea entered his head to gain further favor with the king and supplant Ikkor at once.
"O King, live for ever!" he said one day, when Ikkor was absent in a distant part of the land; "it grieves me to have to utter words of warning against Ikkor, the wise, the father who has adopted me. But he conspires to destroy thee."
The king laughed at this suggestion, but he became serious when Nadan promised to give him proof in three days. Nadan then set to work and wrote two letters. One was addressed to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and read as follows:
"Pharaoh, son of the Sun and mighty ruler on earth, live for ever! Thou wouldst reign over Assyria. Give ear then to my words and on the tenth day of the next month come with thy troops to the Eagle Plain beyond the city, and I, Ikkor, the grand vizier, will deliver thine enemy, the King of Assyria, into thy hands."
To this letter he forged Ikkor's name; then he took it to the king.
"I have found this," he said, "and have brought it to thee. It shows thee that Ikkor would deliver this country to thine enemy."
The king was very angry and would have sent for Ikkor at once, but Nadan counseled patience.
"Wait until the tenth of next month, the day of the annual review, and thou wilt see what will surprise thee still more," he said.
Then he wrote the second letter. This was to Ikkor and was forged with the king's name and sealed with the king's seal which he obtained. It bade Ikkor on the tenth of the next month to assemble the troops on the Eagle Plain to show how numerous they were to the foreign envoys and to pretend to attack the king, so as to demonstrate how well they were drilled.
The vizier returned the day before the review, and while the king stood with Nadan and the foreign envoys, Ikkor and the troops, acting on their instructions, made a pretense of attacking his majesty.
"Do you not see?" said Nadan. "The king of Egypt not being here, Ikkor threatens thee," and he immediately gave orders to the royal trumpeters to sound "Halt!"
Ikkor was brought before the king and confronted with the letter to Pharaoh.
"Explain this, if thou canst," exclaimed the king, angrily. "I have trusted thee and loaded thee with riches and honors and thou wouldst betray me. Is not this thy signature, and is not thy seal appended?"
Ikkor was too much astounded to reply, and Nadan whispered to the king that this proved his guilt.
"Lead him to the execution," cried the king, "and let his head be severed from his body and cast one hundred ells away."
Falling on his knees, Ikkor pleaded that at least he should be granted the privilege of being executed within his own house so that he might be buried there.
This request was granted, and Nabu Samak, the executioner, led Ikkor a prisoner to his palace. Nabu Samak was a great friend to Ikkor and it grieved him to have to carry out the king's order.
"Ikkor," he said, "I am certain that thou art innocent, and I would save thee. Hearken unto me. In the prison is a wretched highwayman who has committed murder and who deserves death. His beard and hair are like thine, and at a little distance he can easily be mistaken for thee. Him will I behead and his head will I show to the crowd, whilst thou canst hide and live in secret."
Ikkor thanked his friend and the plan was carried out. The robber's head was exhibited to the crowd from the roof of the house and the people wept because they thought it was the head of the good Ikkor. Meanwhile, the vizier descended into a cellar deep beneath his palace and was there fed, while his adopted son, Nadan, was appointed chief of the king's counselors in his stead.
Now, when Pharaoh, king of Egypt, heard that Ikkor, the wise, had been executed, he determined to make war upon Assyria. Therefore, he dispatched a letter to the king, asking him to send an architect to design and build a palace in the clouds.
"If this thou doest," he wrote, "I, Pharaoh, son of the Sun, will pay thee tribute; if thou failest, thou must pay me tribute."
The king of Assyria was perplexed when he received this letter which had to be answered in three months. Nadan could not advise him what to do, and he bitterly regretted that Ikkor, the man of wisdom, was no longer by his side to advise him.
"I would give one-fourth of my kingdom to bring Ikkor to life again," he exclaimed.
Hearing these words, Nabu Samak, the executioner, fell on his knees and confessed that Ikkor was alive.
"Bring him hither at once," cried the king.
Ikkor could scarcely credit the truth when his friend came to him in the cellar with the news, and the people wept tears of joy and pity when the old vizier was led through the streets. He presented a most extraordinary spectacle.
For twelve months he had been immured in the cellar and his beard had grown down to the ground, his hair descended below his shoulders and his finger nails were several inches long. The king wept, too, when he saw his old vizier.
"Ikkor," he said, "for months have I felt that thou wert innocent, and I have missed thy wise counsels. Help me in my difficulty and thou shalt be pardoned."
"Your majesty," said Ikkor, "I desire nothing more than to serve thee. I am innocent. Time will prove me guiltless."
When he saw Pharaoh's demand, he smiled.
"'Tis easy," he said. "I will go to Egypt and outwit Pharaoh."
He gave orders that four of the tame eagles in the gardens of the palace should be brought to him with cords five hundred ells long attached to their claws. Then he selected four youths, lithe of figure, and trained them to sit on the backs of the eagles and soar aloft. This done, he set out for Egypt with a big caravan and a long retinue of slaves.
"What is thy name?" asked Pharaoh, when he presented himself.
"My name is Akbam, and I am but the lowest of my king's advisers."
"Does thy master then think my demand so simple?" asked Pharaoh.
Ikkor bowed to indicate that this was so, and Pharaoh was much annoyed and puzzled.
"Perform thy task and at once," he commanded.
At a sign from Ikkor, the four youths mounted the eagles which flew aloft to the extremity of their cords. The birds remained in the air two hundred ells apart, as they had been trained, and the lads held cords in the form of a square.
"That is the plan of the palace in the clouds," said Ikkor, pointing aloft. "Bid your men carry up bricks and mortar. The task is so simple that the boys will build."
Pharaoh frowned. He had not expected to be thus outwitted, but he would not immediately acknowledge this.
"In this land," he said, sarcastically, "we use no mortar. We sew the stones together. Canst thou do this?"
"Easily," replied Ikkor, "if your wise men can make me a thread of sand."
"And canst thou weave a thread of sand?" asked Pharaoh.
"I can," responded Ikkor.
Noting the direction of the sun, he bored a tiny hole in the wall, and a thin sunbeam gleamed through. Then, taking a few grains of sand he blew them through the hole and in the sunbeam they seemed like a thread.
"Take it, quickly," he cried, but of course nobody could do this.
Pharaoh looked long and earnestly at Ikkor.
"Truly, thou art a man of wisdom," he said. "If he were not dead I should say thou wert Ikkor, the wise."
"I am Ikkor," answered the vizier, and he told the story of his escape.
"I will prove thy innocence," exclaimed Pharaoh. "I will write a letter to your royal master."
Not only did he do so, but he gave Ikkor many valuable presents and the vizier returned to Assyria, resumed his place by the king's side, and became a greater favorite than before. Nadan was banished and was never heard of again.