NCE THERE LIVED a great Raja, whose name was Salabhan, and he had a Queen, by name Lona, who, though she wept and prayed at many a shrine, had never a child to gladden her eyes. After a long time, however, a son was promised to her.
Queen Lona returned to the palace, and when the time for the birth of the promised son drew nigh, she inquired of three Jogis who came begging to her gate, what the child's fate would be, and the youngest of them answered and said, "Oh, Queen! the child will be a boy, and he will live to be a great man. But for twelve years you must not look upon his face, for if either you or his father see it before the twelve years are past, you will surely die! This is what you must do; as soon as the child is born you must send him away to a cellar underneath the ground, and never let him see the light of day for twelve years. After they are over, he may come forth, bathe in the river, put on new clothes, and visit you. His name shall be Raja Rasalu, and he shall be known far and wide."
So, when a fair young Prince was in due time born into the world, his parents hid him away in an underground palace, with nurses, and servants, and everything else a King's son might desire. And with him they sent a young colt, born the same day, and sword, spear, and shield, against the day when Raja Rasalu should go forth into the world.
So there the child lived, playing with his colt, and talking to his parrot, while the nurses taught him all things needful for a King's son to know.
Young Rasalu lived on, far from the light of day, for eleven long years, growing tall and strong, yet contented to remain playing with his colt, and talking to his parrot; but when the twelfth year began, the lad's heart leapt up with desire for change, and he loved to listen to the sounds of life which came to him in his palace-prison from the outside world.
"I must go and see where the voices come from!" he said; and when his nurses told him he must not go for one year more, he only laughed aloud, saying, "Nay! I stay no longer here for any man!"
Then he saddled his Arab horse Bhaunr, put on his shining armour, and rode forth into the world; but mindful of what his nurses had oft told him, when he came to the river, he dismounted, and, going into the water, washed himself and his clothes.
Then, clean of raiment, fair of face, and brave of heart, he rode on his way until he reached his father's city. There he sat down to rest awhile by a well, where the women were drawing water in earthen pitchers. Now, as they passed him, their full pitchers poised upon their heads, the gay young Prince flung stones at the earthen vessels, and broke them all. Then the women, drenched with water, went weeping and wailing to the palace, complaining to the King that a mighty young Prince in shining armour, with a parrot on his wrist and a gallant steed beside him, sat by the well, and broke their pitchers.
Now, as soon as Rajah Salabhan heard this, he guessed at once that it was Prince Rasalu come forth before the time, and, mindful of the Jogis' words that he would die if he looked on his son's face before twelve years were past, he did not dare to send his guards to seize the offender and bring him to be judged. So he bade the women be comforted, and take pitchers of iron and brass, giving new ones from his treasury to those who did not possess any of their own.
But when Prince Rasalu saw the women returning to the well with pitchers of iron and brass, he laughed to himself, and drew his mighty bow till the sharp-pointed arrows pierced the metal vessels as though they had been clay.
Yet still the King did not send for him, so he mounted his steed and set off in the pride of his youth and strength to the palace. He strode into the audience hall, where his father sat trembling, and saluted him will all reverence; but Raja Salabhan, in fear of his life, turned his back hastily and said never a word in reply.
Then Prince Rasalu called scornfully to him across the hall:
"I came to greet thee, King, and not to harm thee!
What have I done that thou shouldst turn away?
Sceptre and empire have no power to charm me--
I go to seek a worthier prize than they!"
Then he strode away, full of bitterness and anger; but, as he passed under the palace windows, he heard his mother weeping, and the sound softened his heart, so that his wrath died down, and a great loneliness fell upon him, because he was spurned by both father and mother. So he cried sorrowfully,
"Oh heart crown'd with grief, hast thou nought
But tears for thy son?
Art mother of mine? Give one thought
To my life just begun!"
And Queen Lona answered through her tears:
"Yea! mother am I, though I weep,
So hold this word sure,--
Go, reign king of all men, but keep
Thy heart good and pure!"
So Raja Rasalu was comforted, and began to make ready for fortune. He took with him his horse Bhaunr and his parrot, both of whom had lived with him since he was born.
So they made a goodly company, and Queen Lona, when she saw them going, watched them from her window till she saw nothing but a cloud of dust on the horizon; then she bowed her head on her hands and wept, saying:
"Oh! son who ne'er gladdened mine eyes,
Let the cloud of thy going arise,
Dim the sunlight and darken the day;
For the mother whose son is away
Is as dust!"
Rasalu had started off to play chaupur with King Sarkap. And as he journeyed there came a fierce storm of thunder and lightning, so that he sought shelter, and found none save an old graveyard, where a headless corpse lay upon the ground. So lonesome was it that even the corpse seemed company, and Rasalu, sitting down beside it, said:
"There is no one here, nor far nor near,
Save this breathless corpse so cold and grim;
Would God he might come to life again,
'Twould be less lonely to talk to him."
And immediately the headless corpse arose and sat beside Raja Rasalu. And he, nothing astonished, said to it:
"The storm beats fierce and loud,
The clouds rise thick in the west;
What ails thy grave and shroud,
Oh corpse! that thou canst not rest?"
Then the headless corpse replied:
"On earth I was even as thou,
My turban awry like a king,
My head with the highest, I trow,
Having my fun and my fling,
Fighting my foes like a brave,
Living my life with a swing.
And, now I am dead,
Sins, heavy as lead,
Will give me no rest in my grave!"