David of Sassoun

[Page 153]

David of Sassoun

Part I

David's Fight against Msrah Melik


[154] Again, we pray for mercy
on Deghtzoun Jewgh Dzam
—Forty mercies.

Again, we pray for mercy
on Kerry Toros
—Forty mercies.

Again, we pray for mercy
on Tzenov Hovan
—Forty mercies.

Again, we pray for mercy
on the Old Widow, the owner of a patch of land
—Forty mercies.

Again, we will not pray for mercy
On Ch'm'shkig Sultan
—No mercy for her.

Again, we will not pray for mercy
On Msrah Melik
—No mercy for him.

Again, we pray for mercy
On Ismil Khatoun
—Forty mercies.

Again, we pray for mercy
On Khantout Khanum
—Forty mercies.

Again, we pray for mercy
On Tarlan [Stalwart] David
—A thousand mercies.


The Child David in Msr


David was left an orphan.
His uncles came together
[To decide on what to do with the child].
Tzenov Hovan asked:
—Vergo, will you take David, or shall I take him?
Vergo said: —No, I have my own son;
You take him and care for him.
Tzenov Hovan took David,
Adopted him as his foster-child.
They took the child
To all the wet-nurses in Sassoun,
The child would not take the breast of anyone.

Tzenov Hovan assembled the townsmen of Sassoun;
He said: —The child will die;
What shall we do?
We cannot give him the proper care.
The Sassounites said:
—Mher lived [with a woman] in Msr for seven years.
She is a nursing mother;
Send David to her,
She will nurse him, take care of him.for Mher's sake.
He will thrive there.
If he is kept here, he will die.
He takes no one's breast.



Hovan asked: —But who will take him to Msr?
They said: —Put him on Kourkig Jelaly's saddle,
Tie him well;
Prod Kourkig with a stick,
He will take the child to Msr.

Tzenov Hovan led Kourkig Jelaly out of his stall;
They curried him,
Swaddled David and tied him to Kourkig's back.
Then Hovan entreated [the horse]:
—Kourkig Jelaly, I beg of you,
Don't drop my child into a river,
Don't hit my child against a rock,
Don't ride through a thicket.
Take him to Msr,
Deliver him securely to Ismil Khatoun.
Kourkig Jelaly, I entrust to you
Our light of Sassoun.
Don't hit him against rocks,
Don't drop him among thickets,
Deliver him safely—our Light of Sassoun.


Kourkig Jelaly took David
And soared through the sky.
Msrah Melik's mother, sitting at her window,
Saw sparks shooting from the earth,
And a cloud of dust gathering over the fields.
Msrah Melik said:
—That is not a thunder-cloud.
Those sparks are flying from Kourkig Jelaly's hoofs.
Ismil Khatoun ordered:
—Gate men, throw the gates open,
[157] A horse is coming to our door.
The gate men opened the gates;
And there stood Kourkig Jelaly
With something on his back.
—Msrah Melik, called Ismil Khatoun,
Take that bundle down and bring it to me.

Msrah Melik went to Kourkig Jelaly;
The horse bent down his head,
Melik saw a bundle on his back.
He took it down,
Handed it to Ismil Khatoun.
She unwrapped the bundle and saw the child, David,
With a letter lying at his side.
In the letter Tzenov Hovan wrote:
—Sister-in-law, favorite of my brother,
A son was born to Mher after his return to Sassoun.
Mher and his wife died; the child is an orphan.
For Mher's sake, take the child and nurse him
So that he may live — When he is grown,
I will take him and care for him.

The queen of Msr said to herself:
—Mher was good to me,
I will raise this child for his sake.
There is still milk in my breast,
I will wean my own son [to nurse this child].
I will raise him, keep him here.
He and Melik will be brothers,
Live like brothers;
They will rule Msr, conquer the world.
After he is raised here,
Will he go to Sassoun? I wonder!



Msrah Melik thought to himself:
[We must keep Kourkig Jelaly.]
He called: —Boys, close the outer gates,
Kourkig Jelaly has fallen into our hands,
Let us hold him, keep him.
They closed the gates.
The hostlers surrounded the horse,
Tried to seize him.
Kourkig Jelaly said [to himself]:
—O God, how shall I escape from here?
He paced back and forth inside the high walls;
Then he exhorted: —O Lord God,
I am going to scale that wall,
I will either escape or be captured.
Kourkig Jelaly then gathered strength,
Broke through the hostlers.
Leaped over the wall forty kazes high,
And dashed away.
Msrah Melik shouted:
—Woe! Kourkig Jelaly is gone.


The horse escaped,
Ran day and night until he reached Sassoun.
Tzenov Hovan was watching the road impatiently.
Toward evening, suddenly he saw
A cloud of dust rising between earth and sky.
It was Kourkig Jelaly
Coming with nothing on his back.
As he drew near,
Tzenov Hovan went to him and asked:
—I would die for you, Kourkig Jelaly;
Over what mountain did you drop David?
Over what rock, in which thicket did you drop him?
[159] Which wolf, which beast did devour him,
My tarlan David?
Kourkig said:
—I did not drop him over a mountain or into a dale,
Neither a wolf nor a beast devoured him.
I took him to Msr, delivered him to Ismil Khatoun.
But I barely escaped.
They closed the outer gates, surrounded me
And tried to seize me.
I leaped a wall forty kazes high and ran away.
Tzenov Hovan kissed the horse on the forehead and said:
—The wrath of God on the house and offspring of anyone
Who discloses the whereabouts of this horse!
He led Kourkig Jelaly behind seven doors,
Locked all the doors, banked them with earth,
And kept serving him with grain and water
Through the skylight.


Ismil Khatoun rejoiced over David.
She gave her breast to him;
David took the breast, suckled for a time.
One day he refused to take her milk;
She would lay his head on one breast,
David would turn his head away;
She would lay his head on the other breast,
Again he would turn his head away;
For three days and nights David took no milk.
Ismil Khatoun wept; she was dismayed
And did not know what to do with him.
She called Msrah Melik and asked:
—This child has not taken my breast
For three days and nights,
What shall we do with him?
Msrah Melik said:
—He is stubborn like his race, Mother,
[160] He will bring us grief.
He is an Armenian, we are Arabs,
Don't give him your breast.
Ismil Khatoun said: —If he does not take my breast,
He will die.
We will be humiliated before his family.
We cannot neglect him, he is our responsibility.
—Doom to you! said Melik.
His father's household has great stores of provisions.
Don't they have honey, don't they have butter,
And delicious things?
Send Batmanah Bougheh to Mher's house [in Sassoun]
To bring a camel-load of honey,
A camel-load of butter.
Then make butter-honey, feed the child with it.
Ismil Khatoun sent Batmanah Bougheh
To get honey and butter.
Tzenov Hovan gave him honey and butter
And other things the child could eat—
He gave them all to Batmanah Bougheh.
Batmanah Bougheh brought a load of honey,
A load of butter,
And laid them before Ismil Khatoun.
Seeing this, Msrah Melik said [to his mother]:
—Now, where could you find anything as good as this?
Give it to him, let him eat and grow.
Ismil Khatoun fed David with butter and honey.
While other children grew by the year,
David grew by the day.
Ismil Khatoun was taking good care of David.
She was saying: —David will be Melik's companion;
Together they will rule the world.
David was so strong that he burst his swaddle straps.
Ismil Khatoun swathed him with chains;
David was so strong that he shattered the chains.
[161] She tried everything, nothing could withstand his strength.
She spun the waste of carded wool,
Wove it into elastic bands;
As David inhaled, the bands stretched;
As he exhaled, the bands contracted.


Knowing that Mher was dead,
Msrah Melik issued a call to arms,
Gathered an army and marched on Sassoun.
He put to the sword
And decimated the people of Sassoun,
Levied a huge indemnity,
Drove the cattle and sheep away,
Pillaged the land and laid it waste.
He reduced Sassoun to a vassal state,
Made prisoners of Hovan and Vergo,
And took them to Msr.

Time passed.
Vergo and Hovan could not earn a livelihood in Msr.
Tzenov Hovan said to Melik:
—Grant us leave to return to our land.
Melik released them. They went to Sassoun.

Vergo became the governor of Sassoun;
Msrah Melik did not permit David to leave,
And gave orders
To keep him confined in a room.
In the morning David awoke, found his door locked.
He kicked the door and knocked it off its frame;
He came out;
In a park he saw boys playing seesaw.
David bent a tall plane tree,
Held its top on the ground and said [to the boys] :
—Come, have a ride, play horseback.
[162] The boys came and mounted the tree.
David held the tree down for a long, long while;
When his hands became too tired, he shouted:
—Get off, get off, my hands are tired.
But the boys paid no attention; they did not get off.
Then David let the treetop go;
All the boys fell down,
Some died, some had their skulls cracked.
They were the sons of prominent people.
Their fathers went to Melik,
Protested and said to him:
—O King, send that foolhardy boy away;
If you do not, we will leave your land.


Melik was furious;
He had David locked in a dark room
So that he could not see a ray of sunlight.
He appointed a master [tutor] to discipline him.
To the men who took food to David, Melik said:
—When you take him meat, take the bone out of the meat;
When you take him fruit, take the pit out of the fruit.
One day the guards so annoyed the servant
Carrying the food that
He said to himself: —Wait,
Today when I take the food to David,
I will not take the bones out of the meat.
He will eat the meat, take the bone,
Come out and kill you with it.
He took the food to David.
While he was eating, David sank his teeth into the meat
And found he could not chew the bone;
He threw the bone and broke a hole through the skylight.
Sunbeams streamed through the hole.
David said: —What is this falling into my room?
He tried to catch the beam of light,
[163] Fell on the floor, got up again,
Tried it again, again, and again,
Until he was drenched with sweat.

His master who was teaching him,
Entered the room
And saw David struggling, rising, falling on the floor.
He said: —David, I would die for you,
Why are you hitting the floor?
David replied: —This thing has entered my room,
And will not get out.
The master said: —Just shut your eyes.
David shut his eyes;
With a handkerchief the master plugged the hole,
The sunbeam disappeared. Then David said:
—I struggled so hard, but I could not chase it out.
Are you stronger than I?
The master said: —My soul, my pet,
That was not a man, it was a sunbeam.
David then said: —If there is sun outside,
Why have you imprisoned me in this room?
The master replied: —My soul, my pet,
There is sun, there is day, there is night.
David asked: —Then why don't you let me out?
The master replied: —I will go and ask the king.
The master went to the king and said: —Long live the King.
David wants to leave his room,
He wants to see the sunlight.
The king said: —Take him out for a walk.


The master came, took David's arm and
Led him out of the room. They walked through the city.
David asked about everything he saw—
Cattle, buffalo, and horses;
He asked about everything,
[164] What is this, what is that?
The master answered him: —This is this, that is that.
They came out of the city.
David saw all the city-folk gathered in a field;
He said: —Let us go there.
The master said: —I would die for you,
There is nothing for you to see; let us go this way.
He said: —No, take me there.
The master said again:
—There is nothing for us to see.
—Will you take me or not? asked David.
As the master said —No!
David gave a twist to his master's ear.
The master said: —Let us go.
They went to the far end of the maidan [gaming field].
There they stood. As they were watching,
David saw something flying in the sky—
He saw a javelin coming toward them.
It was a javelin thrown by Melik.
David caught the javelin and threw it back;
The javelin flew over Melik's head and ten-kaz beyond.
Melik asked: —Ah, ha!
Who is the pahlevan that outdistanced me?
They went, they saw, they came, and said:
—Long live the King, it was David.
Melik ordered: —Bring him here, I will cut his head off.
The vizier and deputies fell on their knees,
Kissed Melik's hand and feet,
And said: —Long live the King, David is a child,
Who is he that you should behead?
The vizier sent his men to tell the master:
—Doom to you! Do not bring him here again.
The master said: —Doom to you!
Do you think I brought him of my own accord?
He dragged me by the ear and forced me
[165] To bring him here.
They said to him: —Take him away, take him away.
The master took David back to his room.


When Melik returned home that evening,
David asked Ismil Khatoun:
—Mother mine, where does Msrah Melik go all day?
She said: —Mother would die for you!
He goes to his sporting grounds and returns at night;
He plays ball.
—But why doesn't he take me with him
So that I also can gain a bit more knowledge?
I am left alone at home and getting impatient;
I have no one to play with;
Let him take me to the sporting field, too.
His mother said: —I would die for you,
The horses will trample you to pieces.
We have nursed you, cared for you to this day,
We will be in disgrace [if any harm comes to you].
David cried and said:
—Mother, I will stand aside.
Ismil Khatoun said: —Melik, please,
Take David with you in the morning;
Let him join the ball game and learn how to play.
Msrah Melik said:
—David, you are too young, you cannot play with us.
David said: —I am coming with you.
Ismil Khatoun said: —Melik, I beg you,
Take David along. Don't you see how he is crying?
—Mother, Melik said,
He is the child of a hard-headed race,
I am afraid he will bring disaster on us.
Ismil argued with him and said:
[166] —No, you [must] take him;
Take him, set him at a high place,
Let him watch the game;
Don't let him come down and get under the horses' hoofs.
Msrah Melik said:
—If I do not take him with me, people will say,
Melik pays no attention to David because he is an orphan.
Very well, Mother, I will take him with me in the morning.


In the morning Msrah Melik mounted his horse,
Took David with him.
He did not want to keep the boy near him.
He sent him to a high hilltop.
Two pahlevans took him,
Bound his hands and feet,
Set him on top of a high hill,
And stayed with him as guards.
With his soldiers, ministers, and pahlevans
Melik descended to Lerra Dasht
And joined in games with the pahlevans.
From the place where David was,
One could hardly see Lerra Dasht.

David remained set there till noon.
He looked and looked but could not see anything.
He could not understand why he was kept there.
He was not happy.
Turning to his guards, he said:
—Pahlevans, untie my hands.
Pahlevans said:
—It is the king's order. We must hold you here
So that you will not go down
And get under the horses' hoofs.
[167] David's fight against Msrah Melik
David, annoyed, quietly bestirred himself,
And broke the ropes.
The two pahlevans hung onto him
But could not hold him down.
David dragged them face downward
All the way home.
At home he lay down on the floor.
Ismil Khatoun asked David:
—Why are you angry, why did you come back?
David said: —Msrah Melik took me,
Set me on top of a high hill,
Went down to the field, and joined in the games.
As I could see nothing, I came home.

In the evening Melik said to his pahlevans:
—Aim your balls to hit and kill David.
One after the other, the pahlevans and Melik
Aimed their balls and hit the spot
Where David would be.
But David was not there;
They left, returned home.

When Msrah Melik entered the room,
Ismil Khatoun did not rise to greet him.
Msrah Melik asked:
—Why are you angry? Why are you sitting there?
Why didn't you rise and greet me?
His mother replied:
—Why didn't you take David to the ball-field
So that he could watch [the games]?
Melik said: —Mother, he does not listen to me.
If a ball hit him, he would be killed.
Then people would say, Melik killed him
Because he begrudged the food the boy ate.
I would be put to shame before my people.
I took him with me; he ran away, came home.
In the evening they placed food before David.
[168] He was angry. They coaxed him, he would not eat.
Ismil Khatoun persisted, asking Melik again:
—Msrah Melik, my son,
Take him along in the morning and keep him near you.
Melik said: —Very well, Mother,
I will take him along tomorrow and keep him near me.


The following morning,
As the horsemen of the city of Msr assembled,
Msrah Melik mounted his horse,
Took David,
And with his dignitaries,
Warriors, pahlevans, rode to the field
For a tournament of mace-throwing.
They put David near the ball-field,
One ardachap [patch of land] away.
Msrah Melik said: —David,
You stay here and watch the game.
Do you see that mace?
It is a wicked thing, very wicked.
If it hits a man, it will kill him.
Don't come near us, don't get into our game.
David said: —Yes, Brother, I will do as you say.

Melik at the ball-field
Was throwing the mace with his companions,
While David, sitting nearby, was playing with dust,
Pouring it on his toes and rolling in it.
The pahlevans were familiar with the game—
Having played it before.
They played without injuring anyone.
[169] David's fight against Msrah Melik
In this way they kept throwing their maces till midday.
David, sitting at his place, kept watching
Until it was Melik's turn to throw the mace.
Melik, at his turn, mounted his horse and
Rode into the midst of the soldiers.
They all gathered to watch him.
Melik held a huge mace
That weighed three hundred sixty-six liters.
He was limbering up,
Swinging the mace right and left.
As he tossed it up sparks flew from it.

As Melik hit the ground with his mace,
The earth split open like furrows cut in by oxcarts.
Seeing that it was Melik's turn,
David crawled into a deep furrow.
He wore a skull cap with a hole.
Sitting in the trench,
David was measuring dust with his cap,
Saying: —This is one.
He kept measuring and saying: —This is one;
He did not know how to say 'two.'
Melik shouted: —David, get out [of that trench],
I am going to throw my mace.
He called three times.
David pretended he did not hear him.
Melik said: —Pahlevans, Gagan, Aslan,
Go, grab his feet and drag him out.

Gagan, Aslan, and five pahlevans
Went to David, grabbed his feet,
Tried to drag him out, but could not budge him.
David kept saying: —This is one, this is one.
Again they tried, but could not budge him.
David was like a tree that could not be uprooted.

[170] The players were thrown into confusion,
Their game was disrupted.
Msrah Melik, angered, shouted:
—Throw your maces; kill him.
The players threw their maces;
David caught one with his right hand,
Hurled it into the air,
He caught another one with his left hand,
Hurled it into the air.
Seeing this feat, Msrah Melik was astonished.
He said: —Stand aside!
I am going to throw my mace.
I told my mother that I didn't want to bring him here.
I know his temperament;
Someday he will inflict harm upon me;
It is better that I hit him, kill him now.
I know he will be my doom. Stand aside.
David heard what Melik said. He shouted back:
—Hurl, hurl your mace, Melik, let it come.
Don't let me know, don't let me hear,
That you are wavering.
[God did not ordain
That my race shall take to flight before the men of Msr,
Nor David himself shall take to flight
Before Melik of Msr.]
Hearing these words of David, Melik said:
—'Dust you were, to dust you will return,'
And hurled his mace.

As David watched, it seemed to him that
A millstone was speeding to crash over his head.
He raised his arm and caught the mace,
Poised it in his hand and said: —Thousand regrets!
This mace is a bit light;
If forty pouts of lead
[171] Were melted and poured over it,
It would then suit David's strength.
Seeing this, Melik scowled, raised his eyebrows.
His companions, deriding him, said:
—Melik, Melik, you were saying that 'I am strong,'
David is still a boy,
But did you see how he caught your mace?
Melik said: —Woe to me!
How can it be that I throw my mace and fail to hit David?
He will take my kingdom away.
[While Melik was saying this,]
David ran his hands over Melik's mace
And hid it under his knees.

Gagan, Aslan and many pahlevans
Mounted their horses and rushed to David.
They looked for the mace throughout the field,
But could not find it.
David then took out the mace,
Poised it, rolled it in his hand, shouted:
— Gourz, sachar gourz! [Mace, third mace!]
And hurled it. As he hurled it,
The mace hit and killed Gagan, Aslan,
And five other pahlevans.

The other men said: —Melik,
We came here for a pastime.
If you knew that David was a foolhardy,
Why did you bring him to kill these men?
How shall we take these dead men to the city?
People will ask us:
—Did you go to the sports field
To have fun or to slaughter men?
[172] Melik became furious, he drew his sword,
Ran after David to cut his throat.
He was shouting: —I will kill that orphan whelp.
Pahlevans then rushed to him and said:
—Fie, fie, Melik, are you going to kill David?
One said: —He is an orphan to be pitied;
Another one said: —Let him alone;
[Others said:]
—He is a child, he cannot think.
—Melik, don't kill him. People will say,
'Melik killed an orphan
Because of the food he had to give him.'
—He could not throw your mace,
By the will of God the angel hurled your mace.
Many others said: —He is like Mher;
David has the strength of his father.
They did not let Melik kill David.

David ran all the way home
And threw himself on Ismil Khatoun's lap.
Ismil Khatoun asked: —What has happened?
David said: —Mother, Melik will kill me;
Any time he will come and cut my throat.
Ismil Khatoun asked: —Why should he cut your throat?
David told her what had happened.


When Melik came home in the evening,
Msrah Khatoun asked:
—Msrah Melik, why are you silent,
Why are you hanging your face?
Melik replied: —Why should I talk?
Today David put me to shame before people.
—What did he do, asked his mother?
[173] —He caught my mace when I hurled it.
Ismil said: —That is nothing [to get angry about].
Melik then became very angry with his mother, too.
He seized David's arm and shouted:
—Why did you catch my mace?
—Why shouldn't I catch it? said David.
I am not less of a man than you are.
I am going to throw mace with you, too.
Melik resented David.
He raised his arm and said:
—Mother, I am going to kill David.
Ismil rushed to Melik and said:
—Are you mad, son?
—Mother, said Melik, he who caught my mace today
Will seize my land and throne tomorrow.
Ismil said: —Mother would die for you, son;
David is your strength, your girdle-sword.*
David's father was your father. He was a great pahlevan.
Soon David also will become a pahlevan.
You will help support each other.
—Mother, said Msrah Melik,
People hit by my mace, die.
David caught my mace and did not die.
No, Mother, I will not listen to you,
I am going to cut his throat.


Melik summoned the ministers to the palace.
He asked them: —What do you advise?
That boy, David, has started throwing my mace,
He is killing my men.
A fair-minded man spoke:
—Long live the King!

[174] David cannot think, he is a child, liquid-brained.
—No, said Melik, he knows more than you and I.
I am going to kill him.
The man spoke again: —Long may the King live!
Will you put him to a test?
If he does not prove a child,
Cut off my head as well as his.
—What will be the test? Melik asked.
The man replied: —Have a pan of gold
And a pan of burning coals,
Place David between the two pans;
If he reaches for the fire,
He is a child, he has no sense;
If he reaches for gold,
Cut off his head.

They brought David in and placed before him
A pan of gold and a pan of burning coals,
And said to him: —David, pick the one you like.
David reached for the gold, [but]
An angel held his hand, turned it toward the burning coal.
As he touched the burning coal,
It stuck fast to his finger;
He put his finger in his mouth and burned his tongue.
The child screamed and wept.
They took the burning coal out of his mouth.
Isniil Khatoun took David in her arms and wept;
David kept crying.
Ismil then said: —Melik, son,
You see now that it will be a sin to kill this child.
You were saying he did that because he is wicked,
But did you see how naive he is?
He did not know; he put his hand into the fire,
Put the fire in his mouth, burnt his tongue
Became a lisper.
Then the fair-minded man asked:
—May the King live long!
Did I speak the truth or not?
Melik said: —Yes, you spoke the truth.
He is ignorant; he has no sense.

(Continued on Next Page)


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