The king paid no attention to the terrible witch of night, clad in black darkness, with the funeral piles as flaming eyes. He bravely went through the dreadful cemetery to the sissoo tree, put the goblin on his shoulder, and started as before.
And as he walked along, the goblin said to him: “O King, I am very tired with these comings and goings, but you do not seem to be. So I will tell you my Great Puzzle. Listen.”
Long ago there was a king named Virtue in the southern country. He was the best of righteous men, and was born in a great family. His wife came from the Malwa country, and her name was Moonlight. And they had one daughter, whom they named Beauty.
When this daughter was grown up, the relatives conspired to wreck the kingdom and drive King Virtue out. But he escaped by night, took a great many jewels, and fled from his kingdom with his beautiful wife and his daughter. He started for his father-in-law’s house in Malwa, and came with his wife and daughter to the Vindhya forest. There they spent a weary night.
In the morning the blessèd sun arose in the east, stretching out his rays like hands to warn the king not to go into the forest where robbers lived. The king went on foot with his trembling daughter and his wife, and their feet were wounded by the thorny grass. So they came to a fortified village. It was like the city of Death; for there were no righteous people there, and it was filled with robber-men who killed and robbed other people.
As the king drew near with his fine garments and his gems, many robbers saw him from a distance, and ran out armed to rob him. When the king saw them coming, he said to his wife and daughter: “These are wild men. They must not touch you. Go into the thick woods.” So the queen with her daughter Beauty fled in fear into the middle of the forest.
But the brave king took his sword and shield and killed many of the wild men as they charged down, raining arrows on him. Then their leader gave an order, and all the robbers fell on the king at once, wounded every limb in his body, and killed him; for he was all alone. So the robbers took the jewels and went away.
Now the queen had hidden in a thicket, and had seen her husband killed. Then she fled a long distance in fear and came with her daughter into another thick wood. The rays of the midday sun were so fierce that travellers had to sit in the shade. So Queen Moonlight and Princess Beauty sat down under an ashoka tree near a lotus-pond in terrible weariness and fear and grief.
Now a gentleman named Fierce-lion who lived near came on horseback with his son into that wood to hunt. The son’s name was Strong-lion. And the father saw the footprints of the queen and the princess, and he said to his son: “My son, these footprints are clean-cut and ladylike. Let us follow them. And if we find two women, you shall marry one of them, whichever you choose.”
And the son Strong-lion said: “Father, the one who has the little feet in this line of footprints, seems to be the wife for me. The one with the bigger feet must be older. She is the wife for you.”
But Fierce-lion said: “My son, what do you mean? Your mother went to heaven before your eyes. When so good a wife is gone, how could I think of another?”
But his son said: “Not so, Father. A householder’s house is an empty place without a wife. Besides, you have surely heard what the poet says:
‘What fool would go into a house?
‘Tis a prisoner’s abode,
Unless a buxom wife is there,
Looking down the road.’
So, Father, I beg you on my life to marry the second one, whom I have chosen for you.”
Then Fierce-lion said “Very well,” and went on slowly with his son, following the footprints. And when he came to the pond, he saw Queen Moonlight, radiant with beauty and charm. And with his son he eagerly approached her. But when she saw him, she rose in terror, fearing that he was a robber.
But her sensible daughter said: “There is no reason to fear. These two men are not robbers. They are two well-dressed gentlemen, who probably came here to hunt.” Still the queen swung in doubt.
Then Fierce-lion dismounted and stood before her. And he said: “Beautiful lady, do not be frightened. We came here to hunt. Pluck up heart and tell me without fear who you are. Why have you come into this lonely wood? For your appearance is that of ladies who wear gems and sit on pleasant balconies. And why should feet fit to saunter in a court, press this thorny ground? It is a strange sight. For the wind-blown dust settles on your faces and robs them of beauty. It hurts us to see the fierce rays of the sun fall upon such figures. Tell us your story. For our hearts are sadly grieved to see you in such a plight. And we cannot see how you could live in a forest filled with wild beasts.”
Then the queen sighed, and between shame and grief she stammered out her story. And Fierce-lion saw that she had no husband to care for her. So he comforted her and soothed her with tender words, and took care of her and her daughter. His son helped the two ladies on horseback and led them to his own city, rich as the city of the god of wealth. And the queen seemed to be in another life. She was helpless and widowed and miserable. So she consented. What could she do, poor woman?
Then, because the queen had smaller feet, the son Strong-lion married Queen Moonlight. And Fierce-lion, the father, married her daughter, the princess Beauty, because of the bigness of her feet. Who would break a promise that had been made solemnly?
Thus, because of their inconsistent feet, the daughter became the wife of the father and the mother-in-law of her own mother. And the mother became the wife of the son and the daughter-in-law of her own daughter. And as time passed, sons and daughters were born to each pair.
When the goblin had told this story, he asked the king: “O King, when children were born to the father and daughter, and other children to the son and mother, what relation were those children to one another? If you know and do not tell, then remember the curse I spoke of before.”
When the king heard the goblin’s question, he turned the thing this way and that, but could not say a word. So he went on in silence. And when the goblin saw that he could not answer the question, he laughed in his heart and thought: “This king cannot give an answer to my Great Puzzle. So he just walks on in silence. And he cannot deceive me because of the power of the curse. Well, I am pleased with his wonderful character. So I will cheat that rogue of a monk, and give the magic power he is striving after to this king.”
So the goblin said aloud: “O King, you are weary with your comings and goings in this dreadful cemetery in the black night, yet you seem happy, and never hesitate at all. I am astonished and pleased at your perseverance. So now you may take the dead body and go ahead. I will leave the body. And I will tell you something that will do you good, and you must do it. The monk for whom you are carrying this body, is a rogue. He will call upon me and worship me, and he will try to kill you as a sacrifice. He will say: ‘Lie flat on the ground in an attitude of reverence.’ O King, you must say to that rascal: ‘I do not know this attitude of reverence. Show me first, and then I will do likewise.’ Then when he lies on the ground to show you the attitude of reverence, cut off his head with your sword. Then you will get the kingship over the fairies which he is trying to get. Otherwise, the monk will kill you and get the magic power. That is why I have delayed you so long. Now go ahead, and win magic power.”
So the goblin left the body on the king’s shoulder and went away. And the king reflected how the monk Patience was planning to hurt him. He took the body and joyfully went to the fig-tree.