25.HOW RAJA RASALU SWUNG THE SEVENTY FAIR MAIDENS
Now, as Raja Rasalu journeyed along to play pachisi with the King, he came to a burning forest, and a voice rose from the fire saying, ‘Oh traveller, for God’s sake save me from the fire!’
Then the Prince turned towards the burning forest, and it turned out that the voice was the voice of a tiny cricket. Nevertheless, Rasalu snatched it from the fire and set it free. Then the little creature, full of gratitude, pulled out one of its feelers, and giving it to its rescuer, said, ‘Keep this, and should you ever be in trouble, put it into the fire, and instantly I will come to your aid.’
The Prince smiled, saying, ‘what help could you give me?’ Nevertheless, he kept the hair and went on his way.
Now, when he reached the city of King Sarkap, seventy maidens, daughters of the King, came out to meet him—seventy fair maidens, merry and full of smiles and laughter; but one, the youngest of them all, when she saw the gallant young Prince riding on Bhaunr Irâqi, going to his doom, was filled with pity, and called to him, saying, ‘Fair Prince turn back and flee or else you will lose your head today. I beg you turn back’
But he, smiling at the maiden, answered lightly ’Fair maiden, I come from afar and have conquered many enemies. King Sarap will be sorry I came for I will cut his head into quarters. Then, Fair Maiden, I will make you my bride’
Now when Rasalu replied so gallantly, the maiden looked in his face, and seeing how fair he was, and how brave and strong, she straightway fell in love with him, and would gladly have followed him through the world.
But the other sixty-nine maidens, being jealous, laughed scornfully at her, saying, ‘Not so fast, Oh gallant warrior! If you would marry our sister you must first do our bidding, for you will be our younger brother.’
‘Fair sisters!’ said Rasalu happily, ‘give me my task and I will perform it.’
So the sixty-nine maidens mixed a hundredweight of millet seed with a hundredweight of sand, and giving it to Rasalu, told him separate the seed from the sand.
Then he thought of the cricket, and drawing the feeler from his pocket, threw it into the fire. Immediately there was a whirring noise in the air, and a great swarm of crickets landed beside him, and among them the cricket whose life he had saved.
Then Rasalu said, ‘Separate the millet seed from the sand.’
‘Is that all?’ said the cricket; ‘had I known how small a job you wanted me to do, I would not have called so many of my brothers.’
With that the crickets set to work, and in one night they separated the seed from the sand.
Now when the sixty-nine fair maidens, daughters of the King, saw that Rasalu had performed his task, they set him another, telling him swing them all, one by one, in their swings, until they were tired.
He laughed, saying, ‘There are seventy of you, counting my little bride, and I am not going to spend my life in swinging girls. By the time I have given each of you a swing, the first will be wanting another! No! If you want to swing, get in, all seventy of you, into one swing, and then I will see what I can do.’
So the seventy maidens, merry and full of smiles and laughter, climbed into the one swing, and Raja Rasalu, standing in his shining armour, fastened the ropes to his mighty bow, and drew it up to its fullest bent. Then he let go, and like an arrow the swing shot into the air, with its burden of seventy fair maidens, merry and full of smiles and laughter.
But as it swung back again, Rasalu, standing there in his shining armour, drew his sharp sword and cut the ropes. Then the seventy fair maidens fell to the ground .Some were bruised and some hurt, but the only one who escaped unhurt was the maiden who loved Rasalu, for she fell out last, on the top of the others, and so came to no harm.
After this, Rasalu walked on till he came to the seventy drums that everyone who came to play pachisi with the King had to beat in turn. He beat them so loudly that he broke them all. Then he came to the seventy gongs, all in a row, and he hammered them so hard that they were smashed to pieces.
Seeing this, the youngest Princess, who was the only one who could run, fled to her father the King in a great fright, saying, ’A mighty Prince, has come. He swung us, seventy maidens and threw us out headlong. He broke the drums you placed there and the gongs too. I am sure, he will kill you father and take me for his bride!’
But King Sarkap replied scornfully, ’Silly maiden, it is a very small matter. As soon as I’ve eaten
I’ll go out and cut off his head!’
Despite these brave and boastful words, he was in reality very much afraid, having heard of Rasalu’s reputation. After learning that he was stopping at the house of an old woman in the city, till the hour for playing pachisi arrived, Sarkap sent slaves to him with trays of sweetmeats and fruit, as to an honoured guest. But the food was poisoned.
Now when the slaves brought the trays to Raja Rasalu, he rose up, saying, ‘Go, tell your master I do not want his friendship. I am his sworn enemy, and I will not eat his food!’
So saying, he threw the sweetmeats to Raja Sarkap’s dog, which had followed the slaves and the dog died.
Then Rasalu was very angry, and said bitterly, ‘Go back to Sarkap, slaves, and tell him that Rasalu does not consider it a brave act to kill someone by treachery.’