The legendary king Vikramāditya (Vikrama) promises a vamachari (a tantric sorcerer) that he will capture a vetala (or Baital), a celestial spirit Pishacha, celestial spirit analogous to a vampire in Western literature who hangs upside-down from a tree and inhabits and animates dead bodies.
King Vikrama faces many difficulties in bringing the vetala to the tantric. Each time Vikram tries to capture the vetala, it tells a story that ends with a riddle. If Vikrama cannot answer the question correctly, the vampire consents to remain in captivity. If the king knows the answer but still keeps quiet, then his head shall burst into thousand pieces. And if King Vikrama answers the question correctly, the vampire would escape and return to his tree.
As king put the vetala in it on his shoulder, and started off in silence. And as he walked along, the vetala said: “O King, to amuse the journey, I will tell you a story. Listen.”
There is a city called Benares where Shiva lives. It is loved by pious people like the soil of Mount Kailasa. The river of heaven shines there like a pearl necklace. And in the city lived a king called Valour who burned up all his enemies by his valour, as a fire burns a forest. He had a son named Thunderbolt who broke the pride of the love-god by his beauty and the pride of men by his bravery. This prince had a clever friend, the son of a counsellor.
One day the prince was enjoying himself with his friend hunting, and went a long distance. And so he came to a great forest. There he saw a beautiful lake, and being tired, he drank from it with his friend the counsellor’s son, washed his hands and feet, and sat down under a tree on the bank.
And then he saw a beautiful maiden who had come there with her servants to bathe. She seemed to fill the lake with the stream of her beauty, and seemed to make lilies grow there with her eyes, and seemed to shame the lotuses with a face more lovely than the moon. She captured the prince’s heart the moment that he saw her. And the prince took her eyes captive.
The girl had a strange feeling when she saw him, but was too modest to say a word. So she gave a hint of the feeling in her heart. She put a lotus on her ear, laid a lily on her head after she had made the edge look like a row of teeth, and placed her hand on her heart. But the prince did not understand her signs, only the clever counsellor’s son understood them all.
A moment later the girl went away, led by her servants. She went home and sat on the sofa and stayed there. But her thoughts were with the prince.
The prince went slowly back to his city, and was terribly lonely without her, and grew thinner every day. Then his friend the son of the counsellor took him aside and told him that she was not hard to find. But he had lost all courage and said: “My friend, I don’t know her name, nor her home, nor her family. How can I find her? Why do you vainly try to comfort me?”
Then the counsellor’s son said: “Did you not see all that she hinted with her signs? When she put the lotus on her ear, she meant that she lived in the kingdom of a king named Ear-lotus. And when she made the row of teeth, she meant that she was the daughter of a man named Bite there. And when she laid the lily on her head, she meant that her name was Lily. And when she placed her hand on her heart, she meant that she loved you. And there is a king named Ear-lotus in the Kalinga country. There is a very rich man there whom the king likes. His real name is Battler, but they call him Bite. He has a pearl of a girl whom he loves more than his life, and her name is Lily. This is true, because people told me. So I understood her signs about her country and the other things.” When the counsellor’s son had said this, the prince was delighted to find him so clever, and pleased because he knew what to do.
Then he formed a plan with the counsellor’s son, and started for the lake again, pretending that he was going to hunt, but really to find the girl that he loved. On the way he rode like the wind away from his soldiers, and started for the Kalinga country with the counsellor’s son.
When they reached the city of King Ear-lotus, they looked about and found the house of the man called Bite, and they went to a house near by to live with an old woman. And the counsellor’s son said to the old woman: “Old woman, do you know anybody named Bite in this city?”
Then the old woman answered him respectfully: “My son, I know him well. I was his nurse. And I am a servant of his daughter Lily. But I do not go there now because my dress is stolen. My naughty son is a gambler and steals my clothes.”
Then the counsellor’s son was pleased and satisfied her with his own cloak and other presents. And he said: “Mother, you must do very secretly what we tell you. Go to Bite’s daughter Lily, and tell her that the prince whom she saw on the bank of the lake is here, and sent you with a love-message to her.”
The old woman was pleased with the gifts and went to Lily at once. And when she got a chance, she said: “My child, the prince and the counsellor’s son have come to take you. Tell me what to do now.” But the girl scolded her and struck her cheeks with both hands smeared with camphor.
The old woman was hurt by this treatment, and came home weeping, and said to the two men: “My sons, see how she left the marks of her fingers on my face.”
And the prince was hopeless and sad, but the very clever counsellor’s son took him aside and said: “My friend, do not be sad. She was only keeping the secret when she scolded the old woman, and put ten fingers white with camphor on her face. She meant that you must wait before seeing her, for the next ten nights are bright with moonlight.”
So the counsellor’s son comforted the prince, took a little gold ornament and sold it in the market, and bought a great dinner for the old woman. So they two took dinner with the old woman. They did this for ten days, and then the counsellor’s son sent her to Lily again, to find out something more.
And the old woman was eager for dainty food and drink. So to please him she went to Lily’s house, and then came back and said: “My children, I went there and stayed with her for some time without speaking. But she spoke herself of my naughtiness in mentioning you, and struck me again on the chest with three fingers stained red. So I came back in disgrace.”
Then the counsellor’s son whispered to the prince: “Don’t be alarmed, my friend. When she left the marks of three red fingers on the old woman’s heart, she meant to say very cleverly that there were three dangerous days coming.” So the counsellor’s son comforted the prince.
And when three days were gone, he sent the old woman to Lily again. And this time she went and was very respectfully entertained, and treated to wine and other things the whole day. But when she was ready to go back in the evening, a terrible shouting was heard outside. They heard people running and crying: “Oh, oh! A mad elephant has escaped from his stable and is running around and stamping on people.”
Then Lily said to the old woman: “Mother, you must not go through the street now where the elephant is. I will put you in a swing and let you down with ropes through this great window into the garden. Then you can climb into a tree and jump on the wall, and go home by way of another tree.” So she had her servants let the old woman down from the window into the garden by a rope-swing. And the old woman went home and told the prince and the counsellor’s son all about it.
Then the counsellor’s son said to the prince: “My friend, your wishes are fulfilled. She has been clever enough to show you the road. So you must follow that same road this very evening to the room of your darling.”
So the prince went to the garden with the counsellor’s son by the road that the old woman had shown them. And there he saw the rope-swing hanging down, and servants above keeping an eye on the road. And when he got into the swing, the servants at the window pulled at the rope and he came to his darling. And when he had gone in, the counsellor’s son went back to the old woman’s house.
But the prince saw Lily, and her face was beautiful like the full moon, and the moonlight of her beauty shone forth, like the night when the moon shines in secret because of the dark. And when she saw him, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. So he married her and stayed hidden with her for some days.
One day he said to his wife: “My dear, my friend the counsellor’s son came with me, and he is staying all alone at the old woman’s house. I must go and see him, then I will come back.”
But Lily was shrewd and said: “My dear, I must ask you something. Did you understand the signs I made, or was it the counsellor’s son?” And the prince said to her: “My dear, I did not understand them all, but my friend has wonderful wisdom. He understood everything and told me.” Then the sweet girl thought, and said: “My dear, you did wrong not to tell me before. Your friend is a real brother to me. I ought to have sent him some nuts and other nice things at the very first.”
Then she let him go, and he went to his friend by night by the same road, and told all that his wife had said. But the counsellor’s son said: “That is foolish,” and did not think much of it. So they spent the night talking.
Then when the time for the twilight sacrifice came, a friend of Lily’s came there with cooked rice and nuts in her hand. She came and asked the counsellor’s son about his health and gave him the present. And she cleverly tried to keep the prince from eating. “Your wife is expecting you to dinner,” she said, and a moment later she went away.
Then the counsellor’s son said to the prince: “Look, your Majesty. I will show you something curious.” So he took a little of the cooked rice and gave it to a dog that was there. And the moment he ate it, the dog died. And the prince asked the counsellor’s son what this strange thing could mean.
And he replied: “Your Majesty, she knew that I was clever because I understood her signs, and she wanted to kill me out of love for you. For she thought the prince would not be all her own while I was alive, but would leave her for my sake and go back to his own city. So she sent me poisoned food to eat. But you must not be angry with her. I will think up some scheme.”
Then the prince praised the counsellor’s son, and said: “You are truly the body of wisdom.” And then suddenly a great wailing of grief-stricken people was heard: “Alas! Alas! The king’s little son is dead.”
When he heard this, the counsellor’s son was delighted, and said: “Your Majesty, go to-night to Lily’s house, and make her drink wine until she loses her senses and seems to be dead. Then as she lies there, make a mark on her hip with a red-hot fork, steal her jewels, and come back the old way through the window. After that I will do the right thing.”
Then he made a three-pronged fork and gave it to the prince. And the prince took the crooked, cruel thing, hard as the weapon of Death, and went by night as before to Lily’s house. “A king,” he thought, “ought not to disregard the words of a high-minded counsellor.” So when he had stupefied her with wine, he branded her hip with the fork, stole her jewels, returned to his friend, and told him everything, showing him the jewels.
Then the counsellor’s son felt sure that his scheme was successful. He went to the cemetery in the morning, and disguised himself as a hermit, and the prince as his pupil. And he said: “Take this pearl necklace from among the jewels. Go and sell it in the market-place. And if the policemen arrest you, say this: ‘It was given to me to sell by my teacher.'”
So the prince went to the market-place and stood there offering the pearl necklace for sale, and he was arrested while doing it by the policemen. And as they were eager to find out about the theft of the jewels from Bite’s daughter, they took the prince at once to the chief of police. And when he saw that the culprit was dressed like a hermit, he asked him very gently: “Holy sir, where did you get this pearl necklace? It belongs to Bite’s daughter and was stolen.” Then the prince said to them: “Gentlemen, my teacher gave it to me to sell. You had better go and ask him.”
Then the chief of police went and asked him: “Holy sir, how did this pearl necklace come into your pupil’s hand?”
And the shrewd counsellor’s son whispered to him: “Sir, as I am a hermit, I wander about all the time in this region. And as I happened to be here in this cemetery, I saw a whole company of witches who came here at night. And one of the witches split open the heart of a king’s son, and offered it to her master. She was mad with wine, and screwed up her face most horribly. But when she impudently tried to snatch my rosary as I prayed, I became angry, and branded her on the hip with a three-pronged fork which I had made red-hot with a magic spell. And I took this pearl necklace from her neck. Then, as it was not a thing for a hermit, I sent it to be sold.”
When he heard this, the chief of police went and told the whole story to the king. And when the king heard and saw the evidence, he sent the old woman, who was reliable, to identify the pearl necklace. And he heard from her that Lily was branded on the hip.
Then he was convinced that she was really a witch and had devoured his son. So he went himself to the counsellor’s son, who was disguised as a hermit, and asked how Lily should be punished. And by his advice, she was banished from the city, though her parents wept. So she was banished naked to the forest and knew that the counsellor’s son had done it all, but she did not die.
And at nightfall the prince and the counsellor’s son put off their hermit disguise, mounted on horseback, and found her weeping. They put her on a horse and took her to their own country. And when they got there, the prince lived most happily with her.
But Bite thought that his daughter was eaten by wild beasts in the wood, and he died of grief. And his wife died with him.
When he had told this story, the goblin asked the king: “O King, who was to blame for the death of the parents: the prince, or the counsellor’s son, or Lily? You seem like a very wise man, so resolve my doubts on this point. If you know and do not tell me the truth, then your head will surely fly into a hundred pieces. And if you give a good answer, then I will jump from your shoulder and go back to the sissoo tree.”
Then King Triple-victory said to the goblin: “You are a master of magic. You surely know yourself, but I will tell you. It was not the fault of any of the three you mentioned. It was entirely the fault of King Ear-lotus.”
But the goblin said: “How could it be the king’s fault? The other three did it. Are the crows to blame when the geese eat up the rice?”
Then the king said: “But those three are not to blame. It was right for the counsellor’s son to do his master’s business. So he is not to blame. And Lily and the prince were madly in love and could not stop to think. They only looked after their own affairs. They are not to blame.
“But the king knew the law-books very well, and he had spies to find out the facts among the people. And he knew about the doings of rascals. So he acted without thinking. He is to blame.”
When the goblin heard this, he wanted to test the king’s constancy. So he went back by magic in a moment to the sissoo tree. And the king went back fearlessly to get him.