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Posts Tagged ‘Zahhak’

The evil spirit Ahriman found his perfect puppet in the person of Zahhak, a prince he deceived into becoming king — then cursed with a dragon’s head growing from either shoulder. And these dragon heads could only be placated by one food: human brains.

Whatever goodness may once have been inside Zahhak, he now gave himself completely to evil. His greatest fear was that the two dragons might turn and devour his brain someday. Using a network of spies, he began to arrest anyone who spoke against his rule. And there must have been plenty of protest — no matter how great or small the crime, two prisoners each day were sacrificed and their brains served to Zahhak.

Ahriman must have settled in to enjoy the reign of terror. Zahhak did not rest easily, however. After some time, he had a terrible dream that a rebellion arose. The leader struck him down with a mighty club, then dragged him off toward a high mountain. Upon awakening, Zahhak summoned all his wise men and advisors to interpret this dream. They hemmed and hawed, none wishing to present bad news when their brains might be at stake. The king demanded answers! Finally one admitted that the dream foretold the end of Zahhak’s bloody rule. He even named the man who would bring about Zahhak’s doom. His name was Fereydun.

Nobody knew anything about this person, but Zahhak at once sent his spies to find out. After long searching, the spies discovered that Fereydun was a young boy who lived hidden in the mountains and fed on the milk of a magical cow. Somehow Fereydun must have learned that the spies were coming, for he fled before they reached him. They killed the cow and returned to Zahhak.

While the hunt went on, a pair of dissidents managed to work their way into the kitchens of Zahhak’s palace. There they worked out a plan where they served sheep’s brains instead of human and allowed some of the prisoners to escape. The dragon heads didn’t seem to notice a difference, but Fereydun’s army grew steadily.

Meanwhile, Zahhak embarked on a political campaign to head off the rebellion. He drew up a document that testified to his righteousness, thinking that this would remove the justification for a revolt. Then he summoned leaders from every part of the land and commanded them to sign it. Fearing death, most of them complied. However, a blacksmith named Kava stood up and protested that all of his sons had been arrested and only one was still alive. Seeking to appear merciful, Zahhak agreed to release Kava’s son. Once his son was freed, Kava tore up the document and fled.

He raised his blacksmith’s apron as a banner and gathered many followers. Soon they joined Fereydun’s cause. As the boy had now grown into a man, Kava made for him a mighty mace shaped like an ox’s head. They marched forth to war. The tyrant fled with his army in retreat, and Fereydun soon took the capital city. The surviving prisoners were freed.

Zahhak’s government officials swore to serve the rebel leader. However, the treasurer, Kondrow, snuck off with information on where Fereydun’s forces were arrayed. Zahhak snuck back in, thinking to catch his enemy unawares. But it all happened even as he had dreamed. Fereydun struck him down with the ox-headed mace and dragged him to Mount Damavand, a volcanic peak in modern-day Iran. There the bloodthirsty tyrant was imprisoned for all time, with his own dragon heads gnawing at his skull.

Wow. There’s just nothing like a true dragon legend, is there!


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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In 2014, I retold the legend of Zahhak, a dragonlike character from Persian and Zoroastrian mythology. Recently a comment pointed out that I had called Zahhak an “Arabian dragon” when in fact the myth is Iranian. This is true, and I apologize for assigning a generic nationality. However, the legend is complicated, as stories often are.

According to this article, the legend of Zahhak does come from Iran but the character of Zahhak is described in the legend as an Arab. It seems that Arabs had conquered Iran in the 7th Century. When it came time for storytellers to identify Zahhak’s origins, they were not able to resist the temptation of linking him to the conquerors.

Here is my original post, edited properly.


Zahhak

 

Long ago in Persia, a king named Merdas had only one son. Prince Zahhak was clever and handsome, but his character was weak. He found it easier to go along with what the courtiers and advisers said than to think for himself. This was observed by Ahriman, an evil spirit rather like Satan of Jewish and Biblical tradition. Like Satan, Ahriman aspired to cover the earth with his malevolent rule, and Zahhak seemed like a perfect tool toward this goal.

Ahriman wormed his way into King Merdas’s court and became close to Prince Zahhak. Over time, he persuaded Zahhak to murder his father and assume the throne. The means was to dig a deep pit in a place where the king often walked, and conceal it with brush. This was done; the king fell into the pit and was killed, leaving his son a bloody throne.

Perhaps the new king repented at this, for his former friend was banished from the court. But this was no impediment to Ahriman. He changed his form and returned in the guise of a chef whose food was so wonderful that after some weeks King Zahhak promised him any reward he wanted. The “humble” chef asked to kiss the king on both shoulders. This was agreed. But when the chef had kissed the king’s shoulders, he suddenly disappeared.

In that same moment, two black serpents grew from the king’s shoulders. The horrified king commanded that they be cut off, but as soon as that happened, two more dragon heads grew. Days passed by, and no one could find a way to remove the dragons. In fact, the hungry beasts bit and snapped at everyone, so that no one dared approach.

Except for Ahriman, who now wore the shape of a wise physician. Ahriman told King Zahhak that the dragons couldn’t be removed, but they could be temporarily sated. The only food they would accept? Human brains.

…Oh, didn’t I mention this is a zombie dragon story? Check back next time for the next chapter.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Zahhak, the three-headed dragon, is a fascinating character that really is in a class all his own. Not just because Arab and Iranian legends are so little known here in the US.

When you hear the words “three-headed dragon,” don’t you picture a beast with three dragon heads? But Zahhak actually has two dragon heads and one human. That’s a pretty unique combination.

He also falls into that rare group of dragons who start out life as human, but become dragons because of their own evil. The legends relate that Zahhak, as a prince, was clever but weak-willed. He allowed the evil spirit Ahriman to lure him from the path of righteousness. In fact, it was Ahriman himself who “rewarded” Zahhak’s cooperation by giving him the two dragon heads.

This isn’t the same as Maleficent, who in the 1959 movie Sleeping Beauty turned into a dragon to battle Prince Phillip. Zahhak makes decisions that there’s no coming back from. The only other dragon I can think of who’s like this is Fafnir, of Germanic myth. Fafnir, a dwarf, was so overcome by lust for gold that he killed his own father. He, too, transformed into a dragon and never regained his original shape.

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The evil spirit Ahriman found his perfect puppet in the person of Zahhak, a prince he connived and deceived into becoming king — then cursed with a dragon’s head growing from either shoulder. And these dragon heads could only be placated by one food: human brains.

Whatever goodness may once have been inside Zahhak, he now gave himself completely to evil. His greatest fear was that the two dragons might turn and devour his brain someday. Using a network of spies, he began to arrest anyone who spoke against his rule. And there must have been plenty of protest — no matter how great or small the crime, two prisoners each day were sacrificed and their brains served to Zahhak.

Ahriman must have settled in to enjoy the reign of terror. Zahhak did not rest easily, however. After some time, he had a terrible dream that a rebellion arose. The leader struck him down with a mighty club, then dragged him off toward a high mountain. Upon awakening, Zahhak summoned all his wise men and advisors to interpret this dream. They hemmed and hawed, none wishing to present bad news when their brains might be at stake. The king demanded answers! Finally one admitted that the dream foretold the end of Zahhak’s bloody rule. He even named the man who would bring about Zahhak’s doom. His name was Fereydun.

Nobody knew anything about this person, but Zahhak at once sent his spies to find out. After long searching, the spies discovered that Fereydun was a young boy who lived hidden in the mountains and fed on the milk of a magical cow. Somehow Fereydun must have learned that the spies were coming, for he fled before they reached him. They killed the cow and returned to Zahhak.

While the hunt went on, a pair of dissidents managed to work their way into the kitchens of Zahhak’s palace. There they worked out a plan where they served sheep’s brains instead of human and allowed some of the prisoners to escape. The dragon heads didn’t seem to notice a difference, but Fereydun’s army grew steadily.

Meanwhile, Zahhak embarked on a political campaign to head off the rebellion. He drew up a document that testified to his righteousness, thinking that this would remove the justification for a revolt. Then he summoned leaders from every part of the land and commanded them to sign it. Fearing death, most of them complied. However, a blacksmith named Kava stood up and protested that all of his sons had been arrested and only one was still alive. Seeking to appear merciful, Zahhak agreed to release Kava’s son. Once his son was freed, Kava tore up the document and fled.

He raised his blacksmith’s apron as a banner and gathered many followers. Soon they joined Fereydun’s cause. As the boy had now grown into a man, Kava made for him a mighty mace shaped like an ox’s head. They marched forth to war. The tyrant fled with his army in retreat, and Fereydun soon took the capital city. The surviving prisoners were freed.

Zahhak’s government officials swore to serve the rebel leader. However, the treasurer, Kondrow, snuck off with information on where Fereydun’s forces were arrayed. Zahhak snuck back in, thinking to catch his enemy unawares. But it all happened even as he had dreamed. Fereydun struck him down with the ox-headed mace and dragged him to Mount Damavand, a volcanic peak in modern-day Iran. There the bloodthirsty tyrant was imprisoned for all time, with his own dragon heads gnawing at his skull.

Wow. There’s just nothing like a true dragon legend, is there!

Read Full Post »