The Boy whom his Parents, the King, and the Giant
conspired to Kill.
Why did he laugh at the moment of death?
Then the king went to the sissoo tree, put the goblin on his shoulder as before, and started in silence. And the goblin on his shoulder saw that he was silent and said: "O King, why are you so obstinate? Go home. Spend the night in rest. You ought not to take me to that rascally monk. But if you insist, then I will tell you another story. Listen."
There is a city called Brilliant-peak. There lived a glorious king named Moon, who delighted the eyes of his subjects. Wise men said that he was brave, generous, and the very home of beauty. But in spite of all his wealth, he was very sad at heart. For he found no wife worthy of him.
One day this king went with soldiers on horseback into a great wood, to hunt there and forget his sorrow. There he split open many boars with his arrows as the sun splits the black darkness, and made fierce lions into cushions for his arrows, and slew mountainous monsters with his terrible darts.
As he hunted, he spurred his horse and beat him terribly. And the horse was so hurt by the spur and the whip that he could not tell rough from smooth. He dashed off quicker than the wind, and in a moment carried the king into another forest a hundred miles away.
There the king lost his way, and as he wandered about wearily, he saw a great lake. He stopped there, unsaddled his horse, let him bathe and drink, and found him some grass in the shade of the trees. Then he bathed and drank himself, and when he had rested, he looked all about him.
And he saw a hermit's daughter of marvellous beauty under an ashoka tree with another girl. She had no ornaments but flowers. She was charming even in a dress of bark. She was particularly attractive because of her thick masses of hair arranged in a girlish way.
And the king fell in love with her and thought: "Who is she? Is she a goddess come to bathe in these waters? Or Gauri, separated from her husband Shiva, leading a hard life to win him again? Or the lovely moon, taking a human form, and trying to be attractive in the daytime? I will go to her and find out."
So he drew near to her. And when she saw him coming, she was astonished at his beauty and dropped her hands, which had been weaving a garland of flowers. And she thought: "Who can he be in this forest? Some fairy perhaps. Blessed are my eyes this day."
So she rose, modestly looking another way, and started to go away, though her limbs failed her. Then the king approached and said: "Beautiful maiden, I have come a long distance, and you never saw me before. I ask only to look at you, and you should welcome me. Is this hermit manners, to run away?"
Then her clever friend made the king sit down and treated him as an honoured guest. And the king respectfully asked her: "My good girl, what happy family does your friend adorn? What are the syllables of her name, which must be a delight to the ear? Or why at her age does she torture a body as delicate as a flower with a hermit's life in a lonely wood?"
And the friend answered: "Your Majesty, she is the daughter of the hermit Kanva and the heavenly nymph Menaka. She grew up here in the hermitage, and her name is Lotus-bloom. With her father's permission she came here to the lake to bathe. And her father's hermitage is not far from here."
Then the king was delighted. He mounted his horse and rode to the hermitage of holy Kanva, to ask for the girl. And he entered the hermitage in modest garb, leaving his horse outside. Then he was surrounded by hermits with hoary crowns and bark garments like the trees, and saw the sage Kanva radiant and cool like the moon. And he drew near and fell at his feet.
And the wise hermit greeted him and let him rest, then said: "My son Moon, I will tell you something to your advantage. Listen. I know what fear of death there is in mortal creatures. Why then do you uselessly kill the wild beasts? Warriors were made by the Creator to protect the timid. Therefore protect your subjects in righteousness, and root out evil. As Happiness flees before you, strive to overtake her with all your means, elephants and horses and things. Enjoy your kingship. Be generous. Become glorious. Abandon this vice of hunting, this sport of Death. For slayer and slain are equally deceived. Why spend your time in such an evil pursuit?"
The sensible king was pleased and said: "Holy sir, I am instructed. And great is my gratitude for this instruction. From now on I hunt no more. Let the wild animals live without fear."
Then the hermit said: "I am pleased with your protection of the animals. Choose any boon you will."
Then the quick-witted king said: "Holy sir, if you are kindly disposed, give me your daughter Lotus-bloom."
So the hermit gave him his daughter, the child of the nymph, who then came up after her bath. So they were married, and the king wore cheerful garments, and Lotus-bloom was adorned by the hermits' wives. And the weeping hermits accompanied them in procession to the edge of the hermitage. Then the king took his wife Lotus-bloom, mounted his horse, and started for his city.
At last the sun, seeing the king tired with his long journeying, sank wearily behind the western mountain. And fawn-eyed night appeared, clad in the garment of darkness, like a woman going to meet her lover. And the king saw an ashvattha tree on the shore of a pond in a spot covered with grass and twigs, and he decided to spend the night there.
So he dismounted, fed and watered his horse, brought water from the pond, and rested with his beloved. And they passed the night there.
In the morning he arose, performed his devotions, and prepared to set out with his wife to rejoin his soldiers. Then, like a cloud black as soot with tawny lightning-hair, there appeared a great giant. He wore a chaplet of human entrails, a cord of human hair, he was chewing the head of a man, and drinking blood from a skull.
The giant laughed aloud, spit fire in his wrath, and showed his dreadful fangs. And he scolded the king and said: "Scoundrel! I am a giant named Flame-face. This tree is my home; even the gods do not dare to trespass here. But you and your wife have trespassed and enjoyed yourselves. Now swallow your own impudence, you rascal! You are lovesick, so I will split open your heart and eat it, and I will drink your blood."
The king was frightened when he saw that the giant was invincible, and his wife was trembling, so he said respectfully: "I trespassed ignorantly. Forgive me. I am your guest, seeking protection in your hermitage. And I will give you a human sacrifice, so that you will be satisfied. Be merciful then and forget your anger."
Then the giant forgot his anger, and thought: "Very well. Why not?" And he said: "O King, I want a noble, intelligent Brahman boy seven years old, who shall give himself up of his own accord for your sake. And when he is killed, his mother must hold his hands tightly to the ground, and his father must hold his feet, and you must cut off his head with your own sword. If you do this within seven days, then I will forgive the insult you have offered me. If not, I will kill you and all your people."
And the king was so frightened that he consented. Then the giant disappeared.
Then King Moon mounted his horse with his wife Lotus-bloom and rode away sad at heart, seeking for his soldiers. And he thought: "Alas! I was bewildered by hunting and by love, and I find myself ruined. Where can I find such a sacrifice for the giant? Well, I will go to my own city now, and see what happens."
So he continued his search, and found his soldiers and his city Brilliant-peak. There his subjects were delighted because he had found a wife worthy of him, and they made a great feast. But it was a day of despondency and dreadful agony for the king.
On the next day he told his counsellors the whole story. And one counsellor named Wise said: "Your Majesty, do not despair. I will find a victim for the sacrifice. The world is a strange place."
Thus the counsellor comforted the king, and made a statue of a boy out of gold. And he sent the statue about the land, with constant beating of drums and this proclamation: "We want a noble Brahman boy seven years old who will offer himself as a sacrifice to a giant with the permission of his parents. And when he is killed, his mother must hold his hands, and his father must hold his feet. And as a reward, the king will give his parents a hundred villages and this statue of gold and gems."
Now there was a Brahman boy on a farm, who was only seven years old, but wonderfully brave. He was of great beauty, and even in childhood he was always thinking about others. He said to the heralds: "Gentlemen, I will give you my body. Wait a moment. I will hurry back after telling my parents."
So they told the boy to go. And he went into the house, bowed before his parents, and said: "Mother! Father! I am going to give this wretched body of mine in order to win lasting happiness. Pray permit me. And I will take the king's gift, this statue of myself made of gold and gems, and give it to you together with the hundred villages. Thus I will pay my debt to you, and do some real good. And you will never be poor again, and will have plenty more sons."
But his parents immediately said: "Son, what are you saying? Have you the rheumatism? Or are you possessed by a devil? If not, why do you talk nonsense? Who would sacrifice his child for money? And what child would give his body?"
But the boy said: "I am not mad. Listen. My words are full of sense. The body is the seat of unnameable impurities, it is loathsome and full of pain. It perishes in no long time at best. If some good can be done with the worthless thing, that is a great advantage in this weary life, so wise men say. And what good is there except helping others? If anyone can serve his parents so easily, then how lightly should the body be esteemed!"
Thus the boy, with his bold words and his firm purpose, persuaded his grieving parents. And he went and got from the king's men the golden statue and the hundred villages, and gave them to his parents.
So the boy with his parents followed the king's men to the city Brilliant-peak. And the king looked upon the brave boy as a magic jewel for his own preservation, and rejoiced greatly. He adorned the boy with garlands and perfumes, put him on an elephant, and took him with his parents to the home of the giant.
There the priest traced a magic circle beside the tree, and reverently lit the holy fire. Then the horrible giant Flame-face appeared, mumbling words of his own. He staggered, for he was drunk with blood, and snorted and yawned. His eyes flashed fire and his shadow made the whole world dark.
And the king said respectfully: "Great being, here is the human sacrifice you asked for, and this is the seventh day since I promised it. Be merciful. Accept this sacrifice."
And the giant licked his chops, and looked the boy over, who was to be the sacrifice. Then the noble boy thought: "I have done some good with this body of mine. May I never rest in heaven or in eternal salvation, but may I have many lives in which to do some good with my body." And the air was filled with the chariots of gods who rained down flowers.
Then the boy was laid before the giant. His mother held his hands, and his father held his feet. When the king drew his sword and was ready to strike, the boy laughed so heartily that all of them, even the giant, forgot what they were doing, looked at the boy's face, and bowed low before him.
When the goblin had told this strange story, he asked the king: "O King, why did the boy laugh at the moment of death? I have a great curiosity about this point. If you know and will not tell, then your head will fly into a hundred pieces."
And the king said: "Listen. I will tell you why the boy laughed. When danger comes to any weak creature, he cries for life to his mother and father. If they are not there, he begs protection from the king, whom heaven made his protector. Failing the king, he cries to a god. Some one of these should be his protector. But in the case of this boy everything was contrary. His parents held his hands and feet because they wanted money. And the king was ready to kill him with his own hand, to save his own life. And the giant, who is a kind of a god, had come there especially to eat him. So the boy thought: They are ridiculously fooled about their bodies, which are fragile, worthless, the seat of pain and suffering. The bodies of the greatest gods perish. And such creatures as these imagine that their bodies will endure!' So when he saw their strange madness, and felt that his own wishes were fulfilled, the Brahman boy laughed in astonishment and delight."
Then the goblin slipped from the king's shoulder and went back to his home. And the king followed with determination. The heart of a good man is like the heart of the ocean. It cannot be shaken.