When the Well-and-wise-walking Khan found that he had again missed the end and object of his labour, he proceeded yet again to the cool grove, and having in the same manner as heretofore taken captive the Siddhî-kür, bore him along to present to his Master and Teacher Nâgârg'una.
But by the way the Siddhî-kür asked him to tell a tale, and when he would not speak craved the token that he willed he should tell one, which when the Prince had given he told this tale, saying,--
FIVE TO ONE.
LONG ages ago there lived among the subjects of a great kingdom six youths who were all boon companions. One was a smith's son, and one was a wood-carver's son; one was a painter's son, and one was a doctor's son; one was an accountant's son, and one was a rich man's son, who had no trade or profession, but plenty of money.
These six determined on taking a journey to find the opportunity of establishing themselves in life; so they all six set out together, having taken leave of their friends, and the rich man's son providing the cost.
When they had journeyed on a long way together without any thing particular befalling them, as they were beginning to weary of carrying on the same sort of life day by day, they came to a place where the waters of six streams met, flowing thither from various directions, and they said, "All these days we have journeyed together, and none of us have met with the opportunity of settling or making a living. Let us now each go forth alone, each one following back the course of one of these rivers to its source, and see what befalls us then." So each planted a tree at the head of the stream he chose, and they agreed that all should meet again at the same spot, and if any failed to appear, and his tree had withered away, it should be taken as a token that evil had befallen him, and that then his companions should follow his river, and search for him and deliver him.
Having come to this agreement, each one went his way.
The rich man's son followed the wanderings of his stream without falling in with any one till he had reached the very source of the river-head; here was a meadow skirting a forest, and on the border of the forest a dwelling. Towards this dwelling the youth directed his steps. There lived here an ancient man along with his ancient wife, who when they saw the youth opening the gate cried out to him,--
"Young man! wherefore comest thou hither, and whence comest thou?"
"I come from a far country," answered the youth, "and I am journeying to find the occasion of settling myself in life; and thus journeying, my steps have brought me hither."
When the ancient man and his wife saw that he was a comely youth and well-spoken, they said, "If this is indeed so, it is well that thy steps have brought thee hither, for we have here a beautiful daughter, charming in form and delightful in conversation; take her and become our son."
As they said these words the daughter appeared on the threshold of the dwelling, and when the youth saw her he said within himself, "This is no common child of earth, but one of the daughters of the heavenly gods (1). What better can befall me than that I should marry her and live here the rest of my days in her company?"
The maiden, too, said to him, "It is well, O youth, that thy steps have brought thee hither." Thus they began conversing together, and the youth established himself on the spot and lived with his wife in peace and happiness.
This dwelling, however, was within the dominions of a mighty Khan. One day, as his minions were disporting themselves in the river, they found a ring all set with curious jewels, in cunning workmanship, which the rich youth's wife had dropped while bathing, and the stream had carried it along to where the Khan's minions were. As the ring was wonderful to behold, they brought it to the Khan.
The eyes of the Khan, who was a man of understanding, no sooner lighted on the ring than he turned and said to his attendants,--
"Somewhere on the borders of this stream, and higher up its course, lives a most beautiful woman, more beautiful than all the wives of the Khan; go fetch her and bring her to me."
The Khan's attendants set out on their mission, and visited all the dwellers on the banks of the stream, but they found no woman exceeding in beauty all the wives of the Khan till they came to the wife of the rich youth. When they saw her, they had no doubt it must be she that the Khan had meant. Saying, therefore, "The Khan hath sent for thee," they carried her off to the palace; but the rich youth followed mourning, as near as he could approach.
When the Khan saw her, he said, "This is of a truth no child of earth; she must be the daughter of the heavenly gods. Beside of her all my other wives are but as dogs and swine," and he took her and placed her far above them all. But she only wept, and could think of nothing but the rich youth. When the Khan saw how she wept and thought only of the rich youth, he said to his courtiers, "Rid me of this fellow." And so, to please the Khan, they treacherously invited him to a lone place on the bank of the river, as if to join in some game; but when they had got him there they thrust him into a hole in the ground, and then rolled a piece of rock on the top of it, and so put him to death.
In the meantime, the day came round on which the six companions had agreed to come together at the spot where the six streams met; and there the five others arrived in due course, but the rich youth came not; and when they looked at the tree he had planted by the side of his stream, behold, it had withered away. In accordance with their promise, therefore, they all set out to follow the course of his stream and to search him out. But when they had wandered on a long way and found no trace of him, the accountant's son sat down to reckon, and by his reckoning he discovered that he must have gone so far into such a kingdom, and that he must lie buried under a rock. Following the course of his reckoning, the five soon came upon the spot where the rich youth lay buried under the rock. But when they saw how big the rock was, they said, "Who shall suffice to remove the rock and uncover the body of our companion?"
"That will I!" cried the smith's son, and, taking his hammer, he broke the rock in pieces and brought to light the body of the rich youth. When his companions saw him they were filled with compassion and cried aloud, "Who shall give back to us our friend, the companion of our youth?"
"That will I!" cried the doctor's son, and he mixed a potion which, when he had given it to the corpse to drink, gave him power to rise up as if no harm had ever befallen him.
When they saw him all well again, and free to speak, they every one came round him, assailing him with manifold questions upon how he had fallen into this evil plight, and upon all that had happened to him since they parted. But when he had told them all his story from beginning to end, they all agreed his wife must have been a wonderful maiden indeed, and they cried out, "Who shall be able to restore his wife to our brother?"
"That will I!" cried the wood-carver's son. "And I!" cried the painter's son.
So the wood-carver's son set to work, and of the log of a tree he hewed out a Garuda-bird (2), and fashioned it with springs, so that when a man sat in it he could direct it this way or that whithersoever he listed to go; and the painter's son adorned it with every pleasant colour. Thus together they perfected a most beautiful bird.
The rich youth lost no time in placing himself inside the beautiful garuda-bird, and, touching the spring, flew straight away right over the royal palace.
The king was in the royal gardens, with all his court about him, and quickly espied the garuda-bird, and esteemed himself fortunate that the beautiful garuda-bird, the king of birds, the bearer of Vishnu, should have deigned to visit his residence; and because he reckoned no one else was worthy of the office, he appointed the most beautiful of his wives to go up and offer it food.
Accordingly, the wife of the rich youth herself went up on to the roof of the palace with food to the royal bird. But the rich youth, when he saw her approach, opened the door of the wooden garuda and showed himself to her. Nor did she know how to contain herself for delight when she found he was therein.
"Never had I dared hope that these eyes should light on thee again, joy of my heart!" she exclaimed. "How madest thou then the garuda-bird obedient to thy word to bring thee hither?"
But he, full only of the joy of finding her again, and that she still loved him as before, could only reply,--
"Though thou reignest now in a palace as the Khan's wife in splendour and wealth, if thine heart yet belongeth to me thine husband, come up into the garuda-bird, and we will fly away out of the power of the Khan for ever."
To which she made answer, "Truly, though I reign now in the palace as the Khan's wife in splendour and wealth, yet is my heart and my joy with thee alone, my husband. Of what have my thoughts been filled all through these days of absence, but of thee only, and for whom else do I live?"
With that she mounted into the wooden garuda-bird into the arms of her husband, and full of joy they flew away together.
But the Khan and his court, when they saw what had happened, were dismayed.
"Because I sent my most beautiful wife to carry food to the garuda-bird, behold she is taken from me," cried the Khan, and he threw himself on the ground as if he would have died of grief.
But the rich youth directed the flight of the wooden garuda-bird, so that it regained the place where his five companions awaited him.
"Have your affairs succeeded?" inquired they, as he descended.
"That they have abundantly," answered the rich youth.
While he spoke, his wife had also descended out of the wooden garuda-bird, whom when his five companions saw, they were all as madly smitten in love with her as the Khan himself had been, and they all began to reason with one another about it.
But the rich youth said, "True it is to you, my dear and faithful companions, I owe it that by means of what you have done for me, I have been delivered from the power of cruel death, and still more that there has been restored to me my wife, who is yet dearer far to me. For this, my gratitude will not be withheld; but what shall all this be to me if you now talk of tearing her from mine arms again?"
Upon which the accountant's son stood forward and said, "It is to me thou owest all. What could these have done for thee without the aid of my reckoning? They wandered hither and thither and found not the place of thy burial, until I had reckoned the thing, and told them whither to go. To me thou owest thy salvation, so give me thy wife for my guerdon."
But the smith's son stood forward and said, "It is to me thou owest all. What could all these have done for thee without the aid of mine arm? It was very well that they should come and find the spot where thou wert held bound by the rock; but all they could do was to stand gazing at it. Only the might of my arm shattered it. It is to me thou owest all, so give me thy wife for my guerdon."
Then the doctor's son stood forward and said, "It is to me thou owest all. What could all these have done without the aid of my knowledge? It was well that they should find thee, and deliver thee from under the rock; but what would it have availed had not my potion restored thee to life? It is to me thou owest all, so give me thy wife for my guerdon."
"Nay!" interposed the wood-carver's son, "nay, but it is to my craft thou owest all. The woman had never been rescued from the power of the Khan but by means of my wooden garuda-bird. Behold, are we six unarmed men able to have laid siege to the Khan's palace? And as no man is suffered to pass within its portal, never had she been reached, but by means of my bird. So it is I clearly who have most claim to her."
"Not so!" cried the painter's son. "It is to my art the whole is due. What would the garuda-bird have availed had I not painted it divinely? Unless adorned by my art never had the Khan sent his most beautiful wife to offer it food. To me is due the deliverance, and to me the prize, therefore."
Thus they all strove together; and as they could not agree which should have her, and she would go with none of them but only the rich youth, her husband, they all seized her to gain possession of her, till in the end she was torn in pieces.
"Then if each one had given her up to the other he would have been no worse off," cried the Prince. And as he let these words escape him, the Siddhî-kür replied, "Forgetting his health, the Well-and-wise-walking Khan hath opened his lips." And with the cry, "To escape out of this world is good!" he sped him through the air, swift out of sight.
Of the Adventures of the Well-and-wise-walking Khan the ninth chapter, of the story of Five to One.