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The Thief and the Maiden

2006-07-14 00:20

  Said the vampire:

  O King! In the magnificent city of Ayodhya, the capital of the kingdom of the great King Rama, there lived a rich merchant who had a daughter named Lilavati.

  She was very beautiful, gentle and wise. Offers to marry her came from well-known warriors, and rich courtiers, merchants and princes. But she refused to marry any one of them because she had made up her mind to marry none with whom she did not first fall in love. So she waited and waited for such a suitor.

  Now, the city of Ayodhya was terrorized by a thief. Although the king's guards kept watch over the city by night, still the robberies continued to take place.

  All the merchants went in a body to King Rama, and said, “Your Majesty! None of us is safe. Thefts occur daily. In spite of their best efforts, your watchmen have not been able to catch the notorious thief. Something must be done immediately.”

  The king replied, “You take your leave now. From tonight I will myself go forth to keep watch over the city.”

  So when night came, the king, armed with a sword and disguised like a robber, slipped out of his palace and stationed himself in a dark corner of the Bazaar.

  At midnight he noticed a shadow figure slinking past a jeweler's shop.

  On seeing him, the king called out, “Who a are you?”

  He replied, “I also am a thief; who are you?”

  The king replied, “I also am a thief.”

  “A thief to others, but a friend to me,” said the figure. “Follow me. Be my guest,” said he and led the king to a cave-like opening inside a ruined building situated outside the city walls.

  What did the king see there? A huge treasure of precious jewellery, gold goblets of exquisite shapes and designs, and a hundred other articles of rare beauty and value

  “Sit here,” said the figure, with his face masked, and disappeared inside another side-room.

  The disguised king was going to sit on the gold-and-purple seat when a servant-maid rushed in from the back and whispered quickly in his ear, “Go away, you innocent stranger! He will kill you. He is the dangerous thief! This is a trap.”

  The king thanked her, slipped out, and returned within a few minutes with a body of armed palace guards. They surrounded the cave.

  “Come out, you thief!” shouted the king. “We have surrounded you! You can't escape! We know who are!”

  The thief dashed out with a naked sword, and fought like a demon for his life, killing a dozen of the palace guards as they grappled with him. But as he lifted his sword to kill another, the king struck his wrist with his sword. The sword dropped from his wounded hand; he cried in pain, and the guards overpowered him and took him prisoner.

  Next day, the king ordered the thief to be taken round the city, accompanied by two burly guards, before being taken to the place of execution by impalement.

  Bound and Bleeding, but his head erect with pride, the thief walked very much like a king, with majestic steps, between the guards, without the least fear of death.

  As he passed by the house of the rich merchant, Lilavati rushed to the balcony to see the spectacle. No sooner did she behold the thief's manly form than she fell in love with him. She rushed inside and said to her father, “That is the man I want to marry!”

  “Are you mad?” said her father. “Marry a condemned thief! Have you lost your head?”

  “I will marry him or I die with him,” she said.

  “Think of me!” her father pleaded. “What will I do?”

  “Father, if you love me, go to His Majesty, and ask pardon for the thief.”

  Puzzled and unwilling, the merchant hurried to the palace of King Rama.

  “Sire”, he began, “I have never before asked a favour of you. I have only one request now, though, I grant, it is a strange one. May it please Your Majesty to grant it. Pardon the thief, Sire, and free him, for my daughter has fallen in love with him and will marry no one else.”

  “It does not please us to grant your request,” said the king family. “You may go.”

  He returned home in despair, and said to his daughter, “I said all that was possible to say, but the king did not consent to the request.”

  In the meantime, taking the thief round the city, the guards brought him to the impaling stake. The merchant's daughter also reached there, accompanied by her weeping father her other relatives.

  She ran up to the thief, fell at his feet, and said, “I love you. I will marry you and none other. If you die, I will die with you. I will be your wife even in death.”

  The thief looked at her. Large tears rolled down his cheeks. Then he laughed aloud. The people in the meanwhile lifted him up and threw him on the sharp stake which pierced his chest and he died.

  The merchant's daughter lifted his body gently and placed it on the funeral pyre. She then quietly climbed the pyre to burn herself with him. She was just going to light the pyre, when Devi instantly came out of her temple, and said:

  “Daughter! I am pleased with your courage; ask a boon.”

  She said, “Mother! If you are pleased with me, restore this thief to life.”

  The goddess said, “So shall it be.”

  Having said this, she sprinkled a few drops of water over the dead body and restored it to life.

  Having told so much of the story, the vampire paused.

  “But tell me, O King! Why the thief first wept, and why he laughed afterwards. Answer rightly, or I'll suck your blood till you die.”

  “Thai's so simple,” replied Vikramaditya. “He wept because he thought within himself: How unworthy I am of the great love which the rich merchant's daughter has for me! Now that she is giving up all that she is giving up all that she possesses for my sake, what return can I make? And he laughed when he heard Lilavati confess her love for him when he was about to die, for he thought, 'Women are strange, are they not? Here is one who gives up life with a rich lord and prefers to love and die with a condemned thief!

  “Good!” exclaimed the vampire. “It is clear that you are a wise king. So I will not suck your blood.”

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