Vikram and the Vampire

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Every day as Vikram sat upon the judgment-seat, trying causes and punishing offenses, he narrowly observed the speech, the gestures, and the countenances of the various criminals and litigants and their witnesses. For there can be nothing thoroughly and entirely bad unless a woman is at the bottom of it; and, knowing this, Raja Vikram made certain notable hits under the most improbable circumstances, which had almost given him a reputation for omniscience.

But this is easily explained: a man intent upon squaring the circle will see squares in circles wherever he looks, and sometimes he will find them. In disputed cases of money claims, the king adhered strictly to established practice, and consulted persons learned in the law. He seldom decided a cause on his own judgment, and he showed great temper and patience in bearing with rough language from irritated plaintiffs and defendants, from the infirm, and from old men beyond eighty.

Every morning he ordered the box to be opened before him, and listened to all the placets at full length. Even in this simple process he displayed abundant cautiousness. For, having forgotten what little of the humanities he had mastered in his youth, he would hand the paper to a secretary whose business it was to read it out before him; after which operation the man of letters was sent into an inner room, and the petition was placed in the hands of a second scribe.

Once it so happened by the bungling of the deceitful kayasths clerks that an important difference was found to occur in the same sheet. So upon strict inquiry one secretary lost his ears and the other his right hand. After this petitions were rarely if ever falsified. The Raja Vikram also lost no time in attacking the cities and towns and villages of his enemies, but the people rose to a man against him, and hewing his army to pieces with their weapons, vanquished him.

Vikram and the Vampire

This took place so often that he despaired of bringing all the earth under the shadow of his umbrella. At length on one occasion when near a village he listened to a conversation of the inhabitants. A woman having baked some cakes was giving them to her child, who leaving the edges would eat only the middle.

Vikram also in his ambition, without subduing the frontiers before attacking the towns, invades the heart of the country and lays it waste. On that account, both the townspeople and others rising, close upon him from the frontiers to the centre, and destroy his army. That is his folly. He strengthened his army and resumed his attack on the provinces and cities, beginning with the frontiers, reducing the outer towns and stationing troops in the intervals. Thus he proceeded regularly with his invasions. After a respite, adopting the same system and marshalling huge armies, he reduced in regular course each kingdom and province till he became monarch of the whole world.

It so happened that one day as Vikram the Brave sat upon the judgment-seat, a young merchant, by name Mal Deo, who had lately arrived at Ujjayani with loaded camels and elephants, and with the reputation of immense wealth, entered the palace court. Presently, after a quarter of an hour, he arose and went away. The young merchant, however, continued every day to court the honour of an interview, each time presenting a similar gift. By chance one morning Raja Vikram went, attended by his ministers, to see his stables. At this time the young merchant also arrived there, and in the usual manner placed a fruit in the royal hand.

As the king was thoughtfully tossing it in the air, it accidentally fell from his fingers to the ground.

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Then the monkey, who was tethered amongst the horses to draw calamities from their heads, [34] snatched it up and tore it to pieces. Whereupon a ruby of such size and water came forth that the king and his ministers, beholding its brilliancy, gave vent to expressions of wonder. Raja Vikram beholding such treasures was excessively pleased. Virtue is a noble quality to possess here below—so tell justly what is the value of each of these gems. Hear, O great king!

If I were to say that the value of each was ten million millions of suvarnas gold pieces , even then thou couldst not understand its real worth. In fact, each ruby would buy one of the seven regions into which the earth is divided. The king on hearing this was delighted, although his suspicions were not satisfied; and, having bestowed a robe of honour upon the lapidary, dismissed him. Privately I will disclose to thee my wishes. This is the way of the world; when an affair comes to six ears, it does not remain secret; if a matter is confided to four ears it may escape further hearing; and if to two ears even Brahma the Creator does not know it; how then can any rumour of it come to man?

I am about to perform spells, incantations and magical rites on the banks of the river Godavari, in a large smashana, a cemetery where bodies are burned. By this means the Eight Powers of Nature will all become mine. This thing I ask of you as alms, that you and the young prince Dharma Dhwaj will pass one night with me, doing my bidding. By you remaining near me my incantations will be successful. The valiant Vikram, on the other hand, retired into an inner apartment, to consult his own judgment about an adventure with which, for fear of ridicule, he was unwilling to acquaint even the most trustworthy of his ministers.

As the short twilight fell gloomily on earth, the warrior king accompanied by his son, with turband-ends tied under their chins, and with trusty blades tucked under their arms ready for foes, human, bestial, or devilish, slipped out unseen through the palace wicket, and took the road leading to the cemetery on the river bank. Dark and drear was the night.

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Urged by the furious blast of the lingering winter-rains, masses of bistre-coloured cloud, like the forms of unwieldy beasts, rolled heavily over the firmament plain. A heavy storm was impending; big drops fell in showers from the forest trees as they groaned under the blast, and beneath the gloomy avenue the clayey ground gleamed ghastly white. As the Raja and his son advanced, a faint ray of light, like the line of pure gold streaking the dark surface of the touchstone, caught their eyes, and directed their footsteps towards the cemetery. When Vikram came upon the open space on the riverbank where corpses were burned, he hesitated for a moment to tread its impure ground.

But seeing his son undismayed, he advanced boldly, trampling upon remnants of bones, and only covering his mouth with his turband-end. Presently, at the further extremity of the smashana, or burning ground, appeared a group. By the lurid flames that flared and flickered round the half-extinguished funeral pyres, with remnants of their dreadful loads, Raja Vikram and Dharma Dhwaj could note the several features of the ill-omened spot.

There was an outer circle of hideous bestial forms; tigers were roaring, and elephants were trumpeting; wolves, whose foul hairy coats blazed with sparks of bluish phosphoric light, were devouring the remnants of human bodies; foxes, jackals, and hyenas were disputing over their prey; whilst bears were chewing the livers of children. The space within was peopled by a multitude of fiends. There were the subtle bodies of men that had escaped their grosser frames prowling about the charnel ground, where their corpses had been reduced to ashes, or hovering in the air, waiting till the new bodies which they were to animate were made ready for their reception.

The spirits of those that had been foully slain wandered about with gashed limbs; and skeletons, whose mouldy bones were held together by bits of blackened sinew, followed them as the murderer does his victim. Malignant witches with shriveled skins, horrid eyes and distorted forms, crawled and crouched over the earth; whilst spectres and goblins now stood motionless, and tall as lofty palm trees; then, as if in fits, leaped, danced, and tumbled before their evocator.

In the midst of all, close to the fire which lit up his evil countenance, sat Shanta-Shil, the jogi, with the banner that denoted his calling and his magic staff planted in the ground behind him. He was clad in the ochre-coloured loin-wrap of his class; from his head streamed long tangled locks of hair like horsehair; his black body was striped with lines of chalk, and a girdle of thighbones encircled his waist.

His face was smeared with ashes from a funeral pyre, and his eyes, fixed as those of a statue, gleamed from this mask with an infernal light of hate. His cheeks were shaven, and he had not forgotten to draw the horizontal sectarian mark. But this was of blood; and Vikram, as he drew near saw that he was playing upon a human skull with two shank bones, making music for the horrid revelry.

The sight of a human being in the midst of these terrors raised his mettle; he determined to prove himself a hero, and feeling that the critical moment was now come, he hoped to rid himself and his house forever of the family curse that hovered over them. Besides, he felt assured that the hour for action had not yet sounded.

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These reflections having passed through his mind with the rapid course of a star that has lost its honours, [40] Vikram courteously saluted Shanta-Shil. About two kos [41] hence, in a southerly direction, there is another place where dead bodies are burned; and in that place is a mimosa tree, on which a body is hanging. Bring it to me immediately. The darkness of the night was frightful, the gloom deepened till it was hardly possible to walk. The clouds opened their fountains, raining so that you would say they could never rain again. Lightning blazed forth with more than the light of day, and the roar of the thunder caused the earth to shake.

Baleful gleams tipped the black cones of the trees and fitfully scampered like fireflies over the waste. Unclean goblins dogged the travellers and threw themselves upon the ground in their path and obstructed them in a thousand different ways. Huge snakes, whose mouths distilled blood and black venom, kept clinging around their legs in the roughest part of the road, till they were persuaded to loose their hold either by the sword or by reciting a spell. In fact, there were so many horrors and such a tumult and noise that even a brave man would have faltered, yet the king kept on his way.

At length having passed over, somehow or other, a very difficult road, the Raja arrived at the smashana, or burning place pointed out by the jogi.

Classic Hindu Tales of Adventure, Magic, and Romance

Suddenly he sighted the tree where from root to top every branch and leaf was in a blaze of crimson flame. Far from being terrified by this state of things the valiant Raja increased in boldness, seeing a prospect of an end to his adventure. Approaching the tree he felt that the fire did not burn him, and so he sat there for a while to observe the body, which hung, head downwards, from a branch a little above him.

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Its eyes, which were wide open, were of a greenish-brown, and never twinkled; its hair also was brown, [43] and brown was its face—three several shades which, notwithstanding, approached one another in an unpleasant way, as in an over-dried cocoa-nut. Its body was thin and ribbed like a skeleton or a bamboo framework, and as it held on to a bough, like a flying fox, [44] by the toe-tips, its drawn muscles stood out as if they were ropes of coin.

Blood it appeared to have none, or there would have been a decided determination of that curious juice to the head; and as the Raja handled its skin it felt icy cold and clammy as might a snake. Judging from these signs the brave king at once determined the creature to be a Baital—a Vampire. Immediately on falling it gnashed its teeth and began to utter a loud wailing cry like the screams of an infant in pain. Scarcely, however, had the words passed the royal lips, when the Vampire slipped through the fingers like a worm, and uttering a loud shout of laughter, rose in the air with its legs uppermost, and as before suspended itself by its toes to another bough.

And there it swung to and fro, moved by the violence of its cachinnation. Presently he directed Dharma Dhwaj not to lose an instant in laying hands upon the thing when it next might touch the ground, and then he again swarmed up the tree. Then, too, as before, the Vampire, laughing aloud, slipped through their fingers and returned to its dangling-place. Five mortal times did Raja Vikram repeat this profitless labour. But so far from losing heart, he quite entered into the spirit of the adventure. Indeed he would have continued climbing up that tree and taking that corpse under his arm—he found his sword useless—and bringing it down, and asking it who it was, and seeing it slip through his fingers, six times sixty times, or till the end of the fourth and present age, [45] had such extreme resolution been required.

However, it was not necessary. But hearken to my words, ere we set out upon the way.