Post by on Feb 26, 2009 23:09:30 GMT -5
People tell a story about a king who had seven wives but no children. When he married the first woman, he thought she would bear him a son. When she didn't, he married a second with the same hope. When she too turned out to be barren, he married a third, then a fourth, and then the others. But no son and heir was born to make his heart glad and to sit on the throne after him.
Overwhelmed by grief, he was walking in a neighboring wood one day when he saw a woman of supernatural beauty.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I'm very miserable," he said. "I have seven wives but no son and heir to call my own. I came to this wood today hoping to meet some holy man who might bless me with a son."
"And you expect to find such a person here in these lonely woods?" she asked, laughing. "Only I live here. But I can help you. What will you give me if I give you what you wish?"
"Give me a son and you can have half my country."
"I don't want your gold or your country. I want you. Marry me, and you shall have a son. and heir."
The king agreed, took the beautiful woman to his palace, and married her that very week.
Very soon after that, all the other wives of the king became pregnant. However, the king's joy did not last long. The beautiful woman whom he had married was really an ogress. She had appeared before the king as a lovely woman only to deceive him and work mischief in his palace. Every night, when the entire royal household was fast asleep, she would rise and go to the stables and pens, and there she would eat an elephant, a horse or two, some sheep, or a camel. Once her hunger for raw meat and thirst for blood were satisfied, she would return to her room and behave as if nothing had happened. At first the king's servants were afraid to tell him they were missing some animals. But when the toll increased and more and more animals were taken every night, they had to go to him. He gave strict orders to protect the palace grounds and appointed guards everywhere. But the animals continued to disappear, and nobody knew how.
One night, the king was pacing in his room, not knowing what to do. His eighth and most beautiful wife said, "What will you give me if I discover the thief?"
"Anything. Everything," said the king.
"Very well, then. You rest now, and I'll show you the real culprits in the morning."
The king was soon fast asleep, and the wicked queen left the bedchamber and went straight to the sheep pens. She killed a sheep, filled an earthen pot with its blood, returned to the palace, went to the bedrooms of the other seven wives of the king, and stained their mouths and clothes with the blood she had brought. Then she went and lay down in the royal bedroom where the king was still sleeping. At dawn, she woke him up and said to him, "You won't believe this, but your other wives, all seven of them, are the true culprits. They eat live animals. They are not human beings; they are all ogresses. Beware of them. You too are in danger. Go now and see if what I say is not true."
The king did so, and when he saw the bloodstained mouths and clothes of his queens, he feared for his life and flew into a rage. He ordered that their eyes be put out at once and that they be thrown down a big dry well outside the city and left there to starve to death. And it was done.
The very next week, one of them gave birth to a son. The starving queens, nearly dead of hunger, couldn't help eating the newborn child for food. When another queen had a son, he too was eaten. As each of the other queens gave birth to a son, that child was devoured in turn. The seventh wife, who was the last to give birth, did not eat her portions of the other wives' children, but kept them till her own son was born. When he was born, she begged them not to kill him but take the portions she had saved. So this child alone was spared.
The baby grew and became a strong and beautiful boy. When he was six years old, the seven women thought they should show him a bit of the outer world. But how? The well was deep, and its sides were perpendicular. At last one of them thought of a way. They stood on each other's heads, and the one who stood on the top of all took the boy with her and put him on the bank at the well's mouth. The little fellow ran here and there and finally to the palace nearby, entered the kitchen, and begged for some food. He got a lot of scraps. He ate some of the food and brought the rest to his mother and the king's other wives.
This continued for some time. He grew bigger and taller. One morning the cook asked him to stay and prepare the dishes for the king. The cook's mother had just died and he had to go and arrange for the cremation of the body. The clever boy promised to do his best, and the cook left. That day the king was particularly pleased with the dishes. Everything was rightly cooked, nicely seasoned, and beautifully served. In the evening the cook returned. The king sent for him and complimented him on the excellent food he had prepared that day and asked him to cook like that every day. The cook was an honest man and confessed that he had been absent most of the day because his mother had died. He told the king that he had hired a boy to do the cooking that day. When he heard this, the king was surprised and commanded the cook to employ the boy regularly in the kitchen. From then on, there was a great difference in the king's meals and the service, and His Majesty was more and more pleased with the boy and sent him many presents. The boy took them and all the food he could carry to his mother and the king's other wives.
On the way to the well each day, he had to pass a fakir, who always blessed him and asked for alms and always received something. Some years had passed this way, and the boy had grown up to be a handsome young man, when one day by chance the wicked queen saw him. She was struck by his good looks. She asked him who he was and where he came from. The boy didn't know whom he was talking to and so told her everything about himself and his mother and the other queens in the well. And from that moment on, the wicked woman began to plot against his life. She pretended to be sick and called in a doctor. She bribed him to tell the king that she was mortally ill and that nothing but the milk of a tigress would cure her.
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