In the city of Vardhamana in India there lived a powerful king named Vira-Bhuja. He had many wives, and each of them had several sons. Of all his wives this king loved best the one named Gunavara, and of all his sons her youngest-born, called Sringabhuja, was his favourite. Gunavara was Good, and her son Sringabhuja was like his mother in many ways. He was also very clever, while his brothers were quite unlike him. They wanted to have everything their own way, and they were jealous of their father's love for him. They would band together to try and hurt him, but also quarrelled among themselves.
It was much the same with the king's wives. They hated Gunavara because their husband loved her the most, and they constantly came to him with stories they had made up of the wicked things she had done. They told the king that Gunavara did not really love him but cared more for someone else. The most bitter of the co-wives was the Ayasolekha, who was cunning enough to know what sort of tale the king was likely to believe. In turn the king he longed to find out the truth in the matter. So he made up a story and told her he had some sad news for her which he had heard from his chief astrologer. Gunavara did not doubt that what her husband was about to tell her was true, and she listened eagerly.
Vira-Bhuja went on to say that the astrologer had told him that a terrible misfortune threatened him and his kingdom and the only way to prevent it was to shut Gunavara up in prison for the rest of her life. The poor queen knew she had done nothing wrong, and could not understand how putting her in prison could help anybody. Yet she did not resist, and did not even ask Vira-Bhuja to let her see Sringabhuja again. She just bowed her beautiful head and said: "Be it to me as my husband wills. If he wishes my death, I am ready to lay down my life."
This submission made the king feel even more unhappy than before. He longed to take his wife in his arms and tell her he would never let her go; and perhaps if she had looked at him then, he would have seen all her love for him in her eyes, but she remained perfectly still with bowed head, waiting to hear what her fate was to be. Then the thought entered Vira-Bhuja's mind: "She is afraid to look at me: what Ayasolekha said was true."
So the king summoned his guards and ordered them to take his wife to a strong prison and leave her there. She went quietly with them, only turning once to look lovingly at her husband as she was led away. Vira-Bhuja returned to his own castle and had not been there very long when he got a message from Ayasolekha, begging him to give her an interview, for she had something interesting to tell him. The king agreed at once, thinking to himself, "perhaps she has found out that what she told me about my dear Gunavara is not true."
But his wicked co-wife told him she had discovered a plot against his life. The son of Gunavara and some of the chief men of the kingdom, she said, had agreed together to kill him, so that Sringabhuja might reign in his stead. She and some of the other wives had overheard conversations between them, she said.
Vira-Bhuja could not believe this, but anyway he had Sringabhuja carefully watched. Then something happened which led him to fear that after all his dear son was not true to him. The king had a wonderful arrow set with precious jewels. It had been given to him by a wizard, and had the power of hitting without fail whatever it was aimed at from however great a distance. The very day he had meant to visit his ill-treated wife, he missed this arrow from the place in which he kept it concealed. This distressed him very much; and after seeking it in vain, he summoned all those who were employed in the castle to his presence, and asked if any of them knew anything about the arrow. He promised that he would forgive anyone who helped him to get it back, even if it were the thief himself; but added that if the arrow was not found in three days he had means to make the culprits confess.
What had happened was that Ayasolekha, who had told the wicked story about Gunavara, knew where the king kept the arrow, had taken it to her private rooms, and told the other wives and their sons how to get their brother into disgrace, "You know," she said to them, "how much better your father loves Sringabhuja than he does any of you. When be dies, he will leave the kingdom and all his money to him. Now I will help you to prevent this by getting rid of Sringabhuja.
Have a great shooting match, in which your brother will be delighted to take part, for he is very proud of his skill with the bow and arrow. On the day of the match, I will send for him and give him the jewelled arrow belonging to your father to shoot with, telling him the king had said I might lend it to him. Your father will then think he stole it and order him to be sent away."
The brothers did just what Ayasolekha advised. When the day came, all of them pretended to try and hit the target; but none of them really wished to succeed, because they thought that when Sringabhuja's turn came, he would win the match with the jewelled arrow. Then the king would condemn him to imprisonment for life.
But just as Sringabhuja was about to shoot at the target, a big crane flew on to the ground between him and it, so that it was impossible for him to take proper aim. The brothers, seeing the bird and anxious to shoot it for themselves, all began to clamour that they should be allowed to shoot again. Nobody made any objection, and Sringabhuja stood aside, with the jewelled arrow in the bow, waiting to see what they would do, but feeling sure that he would be the one to kill the bird. Brother after brother tried, but the great creature still remained untouched when a travelling monk stepped forward and cried aloud:
"That is no bird, but a wizard who has taken that form to deceive you. If he is not killed before he takes his own form again, he will bring misery and ruin on this town and the surrounding country."
When everyone heard what the travelling monk said, there was great excitement and terror. But the beggar checked them, saying:
"Where is your youngest brother Sringabhuja? He alone will be able to save your homes, your wives and your children from destruction,"
Then Sringabhuja came forward; and let the jewelled arrrow fly straight for the bird. It wounded but did not kill the crane, which flew off with the arrow sticking in its breast, the blood dripping from it in its flight, which became gradually slower and slower. At the sight of the bird going off with the precious jewelled arrow, the king was filled with rage and sent orders that Sringabhuja should be brought before him at once. But his youngest son had already started to pursue the bird, guided by the blood-drops on the ground.
Meanwhile Sringabhuja travelled on and on in the track of the drops of blood, till he came to the outskirts of a fine forest. Many beaten paths in it led to a great city. He sat down to rest at the foot of a wide-spreading tree, and was gazing up at the towers and pinnacles of the town, rising far upwards towards the sky, when he had a feeling that he was no longer alone. He was right: for, coming slowly along one of the paths, was a lovely young girl, singing softly to herself in a beautiful voice. Her eyes were like those of a young doe, and her features were perfect in their form and expression, reminding Sringabhuja of his mother, whom he was beginning to fear he would never see again.
When the young girl was quite close to him, he startled her by saying, "Can you tell me what is the name of this city?"
"Of course, I can," she replied, "for I live in it. It is called Dhuma-Pura, and it belongs to my father. He is a wizard that and does not welcome strangers. Now, dotell me who you are and where you come from."
Then Sringabhuja told the maiden all about himself, and why he was wandering so far from home. The girl, Rupa-Sikha, listened attentively; and when he came to the shooting of the crane, and how he had followed the bleeding bird in the hope of getting back his father's jewelled arrow, she began to tremble.
"Alas, alas!" she said. "That was my father. He can take on any form he chooses. He returned home but yesterday, and I drew the arrow from his wound and dressed the hurt myself. He gave me the jewelled arrow to keep, and I would like to keep it. As for you, the sooner you get out of here the better; for my father never forgives, and he is so powerful that you would have no chance of escape if he knew you were here."
Hearing this, Sr became very sad, for he already loved the fair maiden beside him, and was resolved to make her his wife. She understood how he felt, for she felt for him too, and did not take long to decide what to do under those altered circumstances. She said to the prince, "I will give you back your golden arrow, and you must make all possible haste out of our country before my father discovers you are here."
"No! No!" cried the prince. "Now that I have seen you, I can never leave you. Can you not learn to love me and be my wife?" Then he looked into her face so lovingly that she could not resist him. She bent towards him, and the next moment they were clasped in each other's arms.
Rupa-Sikha was the first to remember her father, and drawing herself away from Sringa, she said to him:
"Listen, and I will tell you what we must do. My father is a wizard, but I am his daughter, and I inherit some of his powers. If only you will promise to do exactly as I tell you, I think I may be able to save you, and perhaps even become your wife.
I am the youngest of a large family. I will go and tell him that a great and mighty prince has come to our land to ask for an interview with him. Then I will tell him that I have seen you, fallen in love with you, and want to marry you. He will then want to see you, even if he refuses to let me be your wife. If you really love me, you will find the way to win his consent; but keep out of his sight till I have prepared the way for you. Come with me now, and I will show you a hiding-place."
Rupa-Sikha then led the prince far away into the depths of the forest, and showed him a large tree. The wide-spreading branches touched the ground, completely hiding the trunk. There was an opening in the foliage, large enough for a man to pass through. Steps cut in the inside of the trunk led down to a wide space underground; and there the wizard's daughter told her sweetheart to wait till she came badk. "Before I go," she said, "I will tell you my own password, which will save you from death if you should be discovered. It is LOTUS FLOWER; and everyone you say it to, will understand that you are under my protection."
When Rupa-Sikha reached the castle she found her father in a bad mood. When she had dressed the wound very carefully, she prepared a dainty meal for her father with her own hands, waiting on him herself while he ate it. All this pleased him, and he was in quite an amiable mood when she said to him:
"Now I must tell you that I too have had an adventure. As I was gathering herbs in the forest, I met a man I had never seen before, a tall handsome young fellow looking like a prince, who told me he was seeking the castle of a great wizard he had heard of. Who could that wizard have been but you, father?" She added, "He entreated me to ask you to grant him an interview."
Agni-Sikha listened to all this, but he guessed at once that Rupa-Sikha had not told him the whole truth. In a loud voice asked her:
"And what did my daughter answer?"
Then Rupa-Sikha knew that her secret had been discovered. And rising to her full height, she answered proudly, "I told him I would seek you and ask you to receive him. For I have seen the only man I will ever marry; and if you forbid me to do so, I will take my own life, for I cannot live without him."
"Send for the man at once," cried the wizard.
"I cannot send," replied Rupa-Sikha, "for none knows where I have left him; nor will I fetch him till you promise that no evil shall befall him."
At first Agni-Sikha laughed aloud and declared that he would do no such thing. But his daughter was as obstinate as he was; and finding that he could not get his own way unless he yielded to her, he said crossly:
"He shall keep his fine head on his shoulders, and leave the castle alive; but that is all I will say."
"That is not enough," said Rupa-Sikha. "Say after me, Not a hair of his head shall be harmed, and I will treat him as an honoured guest."
At last the wizard promised, thinking to himself that he would find some way of getting rid of Sringabhuja if he did not fancy him for a son-in-law. The words she wanted to hear were hardly out of her father's mouth before Rupa-Sikha sped away, as if on the wings of the wind, full of hope that all would be well. She found her sweetheart anxiously awaiting her, and quickly explained how matters stood. "You had better say nothing about me to my father at first," she said; "but only talk about him and all you have heard of him. If only you could get him to like you and want to keep you with him, it would help us very much. Then you could pretend that you must go back to your own land; and rather than allow you to do so, he will be anxious for us to be married and to live here with him."
Sringabhuja loved Rupa-Sikha so much that he was ready to obey her in all. So he at once went with her to the castle. On every side he saw signs of the strength and power of the wizard. Each gate was guarded by tall soldiers in shining armour. They saluted Rupa-Sikha but scowled fiercely at him. He knew full well that if he had tried to pass alone, they would have prevented him from getting into the castle. At last the two came to the great hall, where the great wizard was walking to and fro, angry at being kept waiting.
The moment he set eyes on the prince he knew he was the man who had shot the jewelled arrow at him when he had taken the form of a crane, and he decided to take revenge. He was too cunning to let Sringabhuja guess that he knew him, and pretended to be very glad to see him. He even went so far as to say that he had long wished to find a prince worthy to wed his youngest and favourite daughter. "You," he added, "seem to me the very man, young, handsome and quite able to give my darling daughter all she needs."
The prince could hardly believe his ears, but Rupa-Sikha at once guessed that her father was up to something evil, and looked earnestly at Sringabhuja in the hope of making him understand. But the prince was so overjoyed at the thought that she was to be his wife that he noticed nothing. So when Agni-Sikha added, "I only make one condition: you must promise that you will never disobey my commands, but do whatever I tell you without a moment's hesitation," Sringabhuja, without waiting to think, said at once, "Only give me your daughter and I will serve you in any way you wish."
"That's settled then!" cried the wizard, and he clapped his hands together. In a moment a number of attendants appeared, and their master ordered them to lead the prince to the best apartments in the castle, to prepare a bath for him, and do everything he asked them.
As Sringabhuja followed the servants, Rupa-Sikha managed to whisper to him, "Beware! await a message from me!" When he had bathed and was arraying himself in fresh garments provided by his host, a messenger arrived with a sealed letter which he respectfully handed to the prince. Sringabhuja guessed at once who it came from; and anxious to read it alone, dismissed the attendants.
"My beloved," said the letter from Rupa-Sikha. "My father is plotting against you. I have ten sisters all exactly like me, all wearing dresses and necklaces which are exact copies of each other, so that few can tell me from the others, Soon you will be sent for to the great Hall and we shall all be together there. My father will bid you choose your bride from among us; and if you make a mistake all will be over for us. But I will wear my necklace on my head instead of round my neck, and thus will you know your own true love. And remember to obey no future command without hearing from me, for only I can outwit my terrible father,"
Everything happened exactly as Rupa-Sikha described, and without a moment's hesitation Sringabhuja picked out the right sister; and the wizard, though inwardly enraged, cried:
"You are the son-in-law for me! The wedding shall take place tomorrow!"
When Sringabhuja heard what Agni-Sikha said, he was full of joy; but Rupa-Sikha knew that her father did not mean a word of it. She waited quietly beside her lover till the wizard bade all the sisters but herself leave the hall. Then the wizard said:
"Before the ceremony there is just one little thing you must do for me. Go outside the town, and near the most westerly tower you will find a team of oxen and a plough awaiting you. Close to them is a pile of three hundred bushels of sesame seed. This you must sow today if you will be a bridegroom tomorrow."
Sringabhuja was dismayed at the task, but Rupa-Sikha whispered to him, "Don't fear, for I will help you." Sadly the prince left the castle alone to seek the field, and the guards, who knew he was the accepted sweetheart of their favourite mistress, let him pass unhindered. There, near the western tower were the oxen, the plough and a great pile of seed. Never before had poor Sringabhuja had to work for himself, but his great love for Rupa-Sikha made him want to do his best. He was about to begin to guide the oxen across the field, when the scene was suddenly changed. Instead of an unploughed tract of land covered with weeds was a field with rows and rows of regular furrows. The piles of seed were gone, and flocks of birds were gathering in the hope of securing some of it as it lay in the furrows.
Sringabhuja was staring in amazement when he saw his lovely Rupa-Sikha coming towards him. "I am my father's daughter, and not in vain," she smiled. "I too know a trick or two. But the danger is not over yet. Go back to the castle and tell Agni-Sikha that his wishes are fulfilled."
The wizard got angry when he heard that the field was ploughed and the seed sown. He knew that some magic had been at work, and suspected that Rupa-Sikha was the cause of it. Without a moment's hesitation he said to the prince: "As soon as you left for the field I decided not to have that seed sown. Go back at once, and pile it up where it was before."
This time Sringabhuja was more confident in the power and will of his promised bride. So back he went to the field, and there he found the whole vast space covered with millions and millions of ants, busily collecting the seed and piling it up against the wall of the town. Again Rupa-Sikha came to cheer him and again she warned him that their trials were not yet over. She feared, she said, that her father might prove stronger than herself; for he had many allies at neighbouring courts ready to help him. "Whatever else he orders you to do, you must see me before you leave the castle. I will send my faithful messenger to appoint a meeting in some secret place."
Agni-Sikha was not much surprised when the prince told him that his last order had been obeyed, and thought to himself, "I must get this tiresome fellow out of my domain, where that too clever child of mine will not be able to help him." "Well," he said, "you shall have the pleasure of inviting the wedding-guests. The first person to summon to the wedding is my brother Dhuma Sikha, who has taken up his abode in a deserted temple a few miles from here. Ride at once to that temple, rein up your steed opposite it, and cry, 'Dhuma Sikha, your brother Agni-Sikha has sent me here to invite you to my marriage with his daughter Rupa-Sikha tomorrow. Come at once!' Your message given, ride back to me; and I will tell you what further tasks you must perform before the happy morrow dawns."
When Sringabhuja left the castle, he did not know where to seek a horse to bear him on this new errand. But as he was nearing the gateway he had walked through a couple of times to sow the field with seed, a handsome boy approached him and said, "If my lord will follow me, I will tell him what to do." The voice sounded familiar; and when the guards were left far enough behind to be out of hearing, the boy looked up at Sringabhuja with a smile that revealed Rupa-Sikha herself. "Come with me," she said; and taking his hand, she led him to a tree. Beneath it stood a noble horse that whinnied to its mistress as she drew near.
"Ride this horse," said Rupa-Sikha. "He will obey you if you but whisper in his ear; and take earth, water, wood and fire with you, which I will give you. Go straight to the temple, and when you have called out your message, turn without a moment's delay, and ride for your life as swiftly as your steed will go, looking behind you all the time. No guidance will be necessary; for Marut - that is my horse's name - knows well what he has to do."
Then Rupa-Sikha gave Sringabhuja a bowl of earth, a jar of water, a bundle of thorns and a brazier full of burning charcoal, hanging them by strong thongs on the front of his saddle so that he could reach them easily. "My father," she told him, "has given my uncle instructions to kill you, and he will follow you on his swift steed. When you hear him behind you, fling earth in his path; if that does not stop him, pour out some of the water; and if he still perseveres, scatter the burning charcoal before him."
After the prince had got these instructions he soon found himself opposite the temple. As soon as Sringabhuja shouted out his message to Dhuma-Sikha, he came rushing forth from the gateway, mounted on a huge horse, which seemed to be belching flames from its nostrils as it bounded along. For one terrible moment Sringabhuja feared that he was lost; but Marut, putting forth all his strength, kept a little in advance of the enemy, giving the prince time to scatter earth behind him. At once a great mountain rose up, barring the road, and Sringabhuja felt that he was saved. He was mistaken: for, as he looked back, he saw Dhuma-Sikha coming over the top of the mountain. The next moment the wizard was close on him. So he emptied his bowl of water: and, behold, a huge river with great waves hid pursuer and pursued from each other. Even this did not stop the mighty horse of his pursuer. The horse swam rapidly across, the rider loudly shouting out orders to the prince to stop. When the prince heard the hoofs striking on the dry ground behind him again, he threw out the thorns, and a dense wood sprouted up. For a few moments the wood gave fresh hope of safety to Sringabhuja; but the wizard managed to get through it, though, even though his clothes were nearly torn off his back and his horse was bleeding from many wounds made by the sharp thorns. Sringabhuja too was getting weary, and remembered that he had only one more chance of checking his pursuer. He could almost feel the breath of the panting steed as it drew near; and with a loud cry to his beloved Rupa-Sikha, he threw the burning charcoal on the road. In an instant the grass by the wayside, the trees overshadowing it, and the magic wood which had sprung from the thorns, were alight, burning so fiercely that no living thing could approach them safely. The wicked wizard was beaten at last, and was soon himself fleeing away, as fast as he could, with the flames following after him as if they were eager to consume him.
Exhausted with all he had been through, the young Sringabhuja prince was taken back to the castle by the faithful Marut, and there he found his dear Rupa-Sikha waiting for him. She told him that her father had promised her that if the prince came back, he would oppose her marriage no longer. "For," he said, "if he can escape your uncle, he must be more than mortal, and worthy even of my daughter."
"He does not in the least expect to see you again," added Rupa-Sikha; "and even if he allows us to marry, he will never cease to hate you; for I am quite sure he knows that you shot the jewelled arrow at him when he was in the form of a crane. If I ever am your wife, he will try to punish you through me. But have no fear: I shall know how to manage him. Fresh powers have been lately given to me by another uncle whose magic is stronger than that of any of my other relations."
When Sringabhuja had bathed, rested, and dressed up, he went with his sweetheart to the great hall to meet with Agni-Sikha. The wizard had not expected to see him again, so he could not contain his rage. He stamped about till he had quite exhausted himself. At last he shouted in a loud harsh voice: "You have not bid my brother to the wedding. Describe the temple in which Dhuma Sikha lives and how its owner looks like."
Then Sringabhuja gave such an exact account of the temple and the terrible man riding the noble steed, that the wizard was convinced against his will; and knowing that he must keep his, he gave his consent for the preparations for the marriage on the morrow to begin.
The marriage was celebrated the next day with very great pomp; and a beautiful suite of rooms was given to the bride and bridegroom. But in spite of this they did not feel safe and happy, for they knew that Agni-Sikha hated them. The prince soon began to feel home-sick and anxious to introduce his beautiful wife to his own people. He remembered that he had left his dear mother in prison, and reproached himself for having forgotten her for so long. So he said to Rupa-Sikha:
"Let us go, beloved, to my native city, Vardhamana. My heart yearns after my dear ones there, and I would love to introduce you to them."
"Darling," replied Rupa-Sikha, "I will go with you where you will, were it even to the ends of the earth. But my father would forbid us to leave the country and set spies to watch our every movement if you reveal our plans. We will steal away secretly, riding together on my faithful Marut and taking with us only what we can carry." "And my jewelled arrow," said the prince, "that I may give it back to my father and explain to him how I lost it. Then shall I be restored to his favour, and maybe he will forgive my mother also."
"Have no fear," answered Rupa-Sikha: "all will surely go well with us. Forget not that new powers have been given to me, and they will save us from my father and aid me to rescue my mother-in-law from her evil fate."
Before the dawn broke on next day, the two set forth unattended on Marut. When they thought they were safe from pursuit, they heard a loud rushing noise behind; and looking round, they saw the father of the bride close on them on his steed, with sword uplifted in his hand to strike. "Fear not," whispered Rupa-Sikha to her husband. "I will show you now what I can do." And waving her arms to and fro, as she muttered some strange words, she changed herself into an old woman and Sringabhuja into an old man, while Marut became a great pile of wood by the road-side.
When the angry father reached the spot, the bride and bridegroom were busily gathering sticks to add to the pile, seemingly too absorbed in their work to take any notice of the angry wizard, who shouted out to them:
"Have you seen a man and a woman pass along this way?"
The old woman straightened herself, and peering up into his face said:
"No; we are too busy over our work to notice anything else."
"And what are you doing in my wood?" asked Agni-Sikha.
"We are helping to collect the fuel for the pyre of the great wizard Agni-Sikha." answered Rupa-Sikha. "Don't you know that he died yesterday?"
What surprised Agni-Sikha and nearly took his breath away, was to be quietly told that he was dead. He quietly turned his horse round and rode slowly home again. This was just what his daughter wanted; and as soon as he was out of sight, she turned herself, her husband and Marut into their natural forms again, laughing merrily, as she did so, at the thought of the ease with which she had got rid of her father.
Once more the bride and bridegroom set forth on their way, and once more they soon heard Agni-Sikha coming after them. For when he got back to his castle, and the servants hastened out to take his horse, he guessed that a trick had been played on him. He did not even dismount, but just turned his horse's head round and galloped back again. "If ever," he thought to himself, "I catch those two young people, I'll make them wish they had obeyed me. Yes, they shall suffer for it. I won't be defied like this."
This time Rupa-Sikha contented herself with making her husband and Marut invisible, while she changed herself into a letter-carrier, hurrying along the road as if not a moment was to be lost. She took no notice of her father till he reined up his steed and shouted to her:
"Have you seen a man and woman on horseback pass by?"
"No, indeed," she said: "I have a very important letter to deliver, and could think of nothing but making all the haste possible."
"And what is this important letter about?" asked Agni-Sikha. "Can you tell me that?"
"Oh, yes, I can tell you that," she said. "But where can you have been, not to have heard the terrible news about the ruler of this land?"
"You can't tell me anything I don't know about him," answered the wizard, "for he is my greatest friend."
"Then you know that he is dying from a wound he got in a battle with his enemies only yesterday. I am to take this letter to his brother Dhuma-Sikha, bidding him come to see him before the end."
Again Agni-Sikha wondered if he were dreaming, or if he were under some strange spell. He said nothing when he heard that he was wounded, and was about to turn back again when Rupa-Sikha said to him:
"As you are on horseback and can get to Dhuma-Sikha's temple quicker than I can, will you carry the message of his brother's approaching death to him for me, and bid him make all possible haste if he would see him alive?"
This was altogether too much for the wizard, who became sure that there was something very wrong about him. He thought he must be ill of fever, fancying he heard what he did not. He stared fixedly at his daughter, but he never guessed who it was.
"Do your own errands," he said at last; and slashing his poor innocent horse with his whip, he wheeled round and dashed home again as fast as he could. Again his servants ran out to receive him, and he gloomily dismounted, telling them to send his chief councillor to him in his private apartments. Shut up with him, he poured out all his troubles, and the councillor advised him to see his physician without any delay, for he felt sure that these strange fancies were caused by illness.
The doctor, when he came, was very much puzzled, but he looked as wise as he could, ordered perfect rest and all manner of disagreeable medicines. Agni-Sikha shut himself up for many days, and it was a long time before he got over the shock he had received, and then it was too late for him to take revende on the travelling couple.
Having got rid of Agni-Sikha, Rupa-Sikha and her husband were soon out of his reach and in the country of Sringabhuja's father. He had bitterly mourned his favourite son. When the news was brought to him that a husband and wife had entered his capital, he hastened to meet them, hoping that perhaps they could give him news of Sringabhuja. Then he recognised his dear son holding the jewelled arrow in his right hand, as he guided Marat with his left. The next moment he was in his father's arms, everything forgotten and forgiven.
Great was the rejoicing over Sringabhuja's return and hearty was the welcome given to his beautiful bride, who quickly won all hearts but those of the wicked wives and sons who had tried to harm her husband and his mother. They feared the anger of the king when he found out how they had deceived him, and they were right to fear. Sringabhuja's very first act was to plead for his mother to be set free. He would not tell any of his adventures, he said, till she could hear them too; and the king, full of remorse for the way he had treated her, went with him to the prison in which she had been shut up all this time. What was poor Gunavara's joy, when the two entered the place in which she had shed so many tears! She could not at first believe her eyes or ears, but soon she realised that her hardships were over. She could not be quite happy till her beloved husband said he knew she had never loved anyone but him. She had been accused falsely, she said, and she wanted the woman who had told a lie about her to be made to own the truth.
This was done in the presence of the whole court, and when judgment had been passed on Ayasolekha, the brothers of Sringabhuja were also brought before their father, who charged them with having deceived him. They too were condemned, and all the culprits were shut up in a prison for the rest of their lives.
Sringabhuja, though he was the youngest of all the princes, was proclaimed heir to the crown after his father's death. He often considered that but for the jewelled arrow he would never have met his beloved Rupa-Sikha.