King Shudraka and Hero's Family.
Which of the five deserves the most honour?
Then King Triple-victory went back under the sissoo tree and caught the goblin, who gave a horse-laugh. But the king without fear put him on his shoulder as before and started toward the monk. And as he walked along, the goblin on his shoulder said to him again: "O King, why do you take such pains for that wretched monk? Have you no sense about this fruitless task? Well, after all, I like your devotion. So, to amuse the weary journey, I will tell you another story. Listen."
There is a city called Beautiful, and it deserves the name. There lived a king named Shudraka, of tremendous power and mighty courage. He was so used to victory that the fire of his courage was kept blazing by the wind from the fans in the hands of the wives of his vanquished foes. Under his rule the earth was rich and always good, as in the days of old. And he was fond of brave men.
Now one day a Brahman named Hero came from Malwa to pay his homage to this king. He had a wife named Virtue, a son named Trusty, and a daughter named Heroic. And he had just three servants, a dagger at his hip, a sword in his hand, and a shield in his other hand. These were all the servants he had when he asked the king for five hundred gold-pieces a day as his wages.
And the king thought from his appearance that he was a remarkably brave man, so he gave him the wages he asked. But out of curiosity he put spies on his track, to learn what he did with all the money.
Now Hero called on the king in the morning, and at noon he took his sword and stood at the palace gate and divided his daily salary. One hundred gold-pieces he gave to his wife for food and household expenses. And with another hundred he bought clothes and perfumes and nuts and such things. And another hundred he devoted to the worship of Vishnu and Shiva, after taking the ceremonial bath. And the two hundred which were left he gave to Brahmans and the unhappy and the poor. This was the way he divided and spent the money every day. Then after he had sacrificed and eaten dinner, he stood every night alone at the palace gate with his sword and shield. All this King Shudraka learned from his spies and was greatly pleased and forbad the spies to follow him again. For he thought him a wonderful man, worthy of especial honour.
Then one day a veil of clouds covered the sky and poured down rain in streams day and night, so that the highway was quite deserted. Only Hero was at his post as usual by the palace gate. And when the sun set and dreadful darkness was spread abroad and the rain fell in sheets, the king wished to test Hero's behaviour. So at night he climbed to the palace roof and cried: "Who is there at the gate?" And Hero answered: "I am here." And the king thought: "How steadfast this man Hero is, and how devoted to me! I must surely give him a greater post." And he descended from the roof and entered the palace and went to bed.
The next night it rained again in sheets and the world was wrapped in the darkness of death. And again the king thought to test his behaviour, and climbing to the roof he called out toward the palace gate: "Who is there?" And when Hero said: "I am here, your Majesty," the king was greatly astonished.
Just then he heard at a distance a sweet-voiced woman crying. And he thought: "Who is this who laments so piteously, as if in deep despair? In my kingdom there is no violence, no poor man and none distressed. Who can she be?" And being merciful, he called to Hero, who stood below: "Listen, Hero. A woman is weeping at some distance. Go and learn why she weeps and who she is." And Hero said "Certainly," arranged his dagger, took his sword in his hand, and started. He did not even think of the pelting hail, the flashing lightning, or the rain and darkness. And when the king saw him setting out alone in a night like that, he was filled with pity and curiosity, and descending from the palace roof, took his sword and followed all alone, without being seen.
As Hero traced the sound of crying, he came to a beautiful lake outside the city, and there he saw a woman in the midst of the water, lamenting in these words: "Alas for you, brave and merciful and generous! How shall I live without you?"
And Hero was amazed, and timidly asked her: "Who are you, and why do you weep?" And she replied: "O Hero, I am the Goddess of the Earth, and now my lord, this virtuous King Shudraka, is going to die in three days. How shall I find another such master? So I am distracted with grief, and I lament."
When Hero heard this, he was frightened and said: "Goddess, is there any remedy for this, any way in which the king might be saved?" And the goddess answered: "There is just one remedy, my son, and it is in your hands." And Hero said: "Goddess, tell me quickly, that I may adopt it at once. What good would life be to us otherwise?"
Then the goddess said: "My son, there is no other man devoted to his master as you are: so you may learn how to save him. There is a temple to the Dreadful Goddess built by that king near his palace. If you sacrifice your son to her at once, then the king will not die. He will live another hundred years. If you do it this very night, then the blessing will come, not otherwise."
And Hero, the hero, replied: "Then I will go, Goddess, and do it this moment." And the Goddess of the Earth said: "Good fortune go with you," and she vanished. And the king, who had followed secretly, heard it all. So he still followed to find out how Hero would behave.
But Hero went straight home, woke his wife Virtue, and told her all that the Goddess of the Earth had said. And his wife said: "My dear, if so much depends on it, wake the boy and tell him." Then Hero woke the little boy, told him all, and said: "My boy, if you are sacrificed to the Dreadful Goddess, our king will live. If not, he will die in three days."
And the boy was true to his name. Without fear and without hesitation he said: "My dear father, I am a lucky boy if the king lives at the cost of my life. Besides, that would pay for the food we have eaten. Why then delay? Take me quickly and sacrifice me to the goddess. May the king's evil fate be averted by my death!" And Hero was delighted and congratulated him, saying: "Well said! You are indeed my son."
So Hero's wife Virtue and his daughter Heroic went through the night with Hero and Trusty to the temple of the Dreadful Goddess. The king too followed them, disguised and unnoticed. Then the father took Trusty from his shoulder in the presence of the goddess. And Trusty worshipped the goddess, and bravely saluted her, and said: "O Goddess, by the sacrifice of my head may the king live another hundred years and rule a thornless kingdom."
And as he prayed, Hero cut off his head and offered it to the Dreadful Goddess, saying: "May the king live at the cost of my son's life!" Then a voice cried from heaven: "O Hero, who else is devoted to his master as you are? You have given life and royal power to the king at the cost of your only son, and such a son." All this the king himself saw and heard.
Then Hero's daughter Heroic kissed the lips of her dead brother, and was blinded with sorrow, and her heart broke, and she died.
Then Hero's wife Virtue said: "My dear, we have done our duty by the king. And you see how my daughter died of grief. So now I say: What good is life to me without my children? I was a fool before. I should have given my own head to save the king. So now permit me to burn myself at once."
And when she insisted, Hero said: "Do so. What happiness is there in a life of constant mourning for your children? And as for your giving your own life instead, do not grieve about that. If there had been any other way, I should of course have given my life. So wait a moment. I will build you a funeral pile out of these logs." So he built the pile and lighted it.
And Virtue fell at her husband's feet, then worshipped the Dreadful Goddess, and prayed: "O Goddess, may I have the same husband in another life, and may this same King Shudraka be saved at the cost of my son's life." And she died in the blazing fire.
Then Hero thought: "I have done my duty by the king, as the heavenly voice admitted. And I have paid for the king's food which I have eaten. So now why should I want to live alone? It is not right for a man like me to go on living at the expense of all the family which I ought to support. Why should I not please the goddess by sacrificing myself?"
So Hero first approached the goddess with a hymn of praise: "O Demon-slayer! Saviour! Devil-killer! Trident-holder! Joy of the wise! Protectress of the universe! Victory to thee, O best of mothers, whose feet the world adores! O fearless refuge of the pious! Kali of the dreadful ornaments! Honour and glory to thee, O kindly goddess! Be pleased to accept the sacrifice of my head in behalf of King Shudraka." Then he suddenly cut off his own head with his dagger.
King Shudraka beheld this from his hiding-place, and was filled with amazement and grief and admiration. And he thought: "I have never seen or heard the like of this. That good man and his family have done a hard thing for me. In this strange world who else is so brave as that, to give his son, his family, and his life for his king: If I should not make a full return for his kindness, my kingdom would mean nothing to me, and my life would be the life of a beast. If I lost my virtue, it would all be a disgrace to me."
But when he started to cut off his own head, there came a voice from heaven: "My son, do nothing rash. I am well pleased with your character. The Brahman Hero and his children and his wife shall come back to life." And when the voice ceased, Hero stood up alive and uninjured with his son and his daughter and his wife. Then the king hid himself again and looked on with eyes filled with tears of joy, and could not see enough of them.
Now Hero, like a man awaking from a dream, gazed at his son and his wife and his daughter, and was greatly perplexed. He spoke to each by name, and asked them how they had come to life after being reduced to ashes. "Is this a fancy of mine? Or a dream? Or an illusion? Or the favour of the goddess?" And his wife and children said to him: "By the favour of the goddess we are alive."
At last Hero believed it, and having worshipped the goddess, he went home happy with his children and his wife. And when he had seen his son and his wife and daughter safe at home, he went back that same night to the palace gate.
And King Shudraka saw all this and went back without being seen himself, and climbed to the roof, and called: "Who is there at the gate?" And Hero replied: "Your Majesty, I, Hero, am here. At your command I followed the woman who cried. She must have been a witch, for she vanished the moment I saw her and spoke to her."
When the king heard this, he was astonished beyond measure, for he had seen what really happened. And he thought: "Ah, the hearts of brave men are deep as the sea, if they do not boast after doing an unparalleled action." So the king descended from the roof, entered the palace, and passed the rest of the night there.
Then when the court was held in the morning, Hero came to see the king. And as he stood there, the delighted king told all his counsellors and the others the story of the night. And all were amazed and confounded at hearing of Hero's virtues, and they praised him, crying: "Well done! Well done!"
Then the king and Hero lived happily together, sharing the power equally.
When the goblin had told this story, he asked King Triple-victory: "O King, which of all these was the most worthy? If you know and will not tell, then the curse I told you of will be fulfilled."
And the king said to the goblin: "O magic creature, King Shudraka was the most noble of them all."
But the goblin said: "Why not Hero, the like of whom as a servant is not to be found in the whole world? Or why should not his wife receive the most praise, who did not waver when she saw her son killed like a beast before her eyes? Or why is not the boy Trusty the most worthy, who showed such wonderful manhood when only a little boy? Why do you say that King Shudraka was the best among them?"
Then the king answered the goblin: "Not Hero. He was a gentleman born, so it was his duty to save his king at the cost of life, wife and children. And his wife was a lady, a faithful wife who only did what was right in following her husband. And Trusty was their son, and like them. For the cloth is always like the threads. But the king has aright to use his subjects' lives to save his own. So when Shudraka gave his life for them, he proved himself the best of all."
When the goblin heard this, he jumped from the king's shoulder and went back to his home without being seen. And the king was not disturbed by this magic, but started back through the night to catch him.