The Comet | Part 9

SAMARSEN was greatly in- intrigued by what Four-eyes was telling him. It was extraordinary that Goddess Chandika should ask for a temple of silver and gold instead of mortar and stone. For it was no joke to build a temple of silver and gold.

“Four-eyes,” said Samarsen, “I cannot for a moment understand why Chandika asked her devotee, Sakteya, for such an impossible thing.”

Four-eyes laughed and said, “Samarsen, you are not aware of the implications of the Sakti cult. Only those who thirst for unlimited joys of the world and power over other human beings take to Sakti worship. Before the Goddess endows her votaries with the necessary powers, she severely tests their courage and confidence and their deep devotion to Her. She put our King, Sakteya, to a tough test.”

“Could he procure all that silver and gold?” Samarsen asked.

“That is what I am going to tell you. That ship with all its wealth and the mermaid keeping watch over it are parts of that story. He did make a tremendous attempt, but it all ended there.” Four-Eyes pointed at the ship in the sea.

Four-eyes laughed softly and said, “The rivalry between One-eye and me is also linked up with this story. As I told you, Sakteya took upon himself an almost impossible task. He wanted all the gold and silver in the world, and he had to get it by looting other countries, even as you did.

“So Sakteya began scouring the country for youth to fill his army. He got hold of bold and sturdy young fellows to join him. He went to the village, gathered all the children, arranged competitions in sword-play, wrestling and lathi games, and selected those who came out victorious.

“I was a youth of twenty at the time. One-eye was about the same age, and we also came from the same village.

“Our quarrel started much earlier, though, when we were mere kids. It has grown with time until today. It is the sole cause for this island remaining unfit for human beings to live in. By the way, One-eye was not always one-eyed. My creature, the owl, brought on him this condition.

“Well, as I was saying, One-eye and myself were born in the same village. We were neighbours too, which was enough cause for rivalry. Most of the time, we behaved like enemies rather than friends.

“At the age of six, we were engaged to herd the goats of our village elder. We took the goats to the forest every day for grazing. Being very young, we were not allowed to hunt in the woods. Only grown-ups and sturdy people were permitted such games.

“One day, we drove the goats into the forest as usual. You must know the forest was by no means a safe place. Lions, tigers and other wild animals infested it. But it was the best grazing ground, and we could not avoid it.

“Several goatherds sat together under a tree in the forest while the goats went on grazing. Suddenly the kid of a deer came running towards the goats and began to bleat. It had missed its mother and was searching for her amongst the goats.

“The moment I set eyes on the lovely thing, I had a great desire to possess and massage it. I jumped up and ran to it. But One-eye, too, saw it and ran after me, saying, ‘I saw it first!’

“But I was the first to catch the deer-kid. I put a rope around its neck and pulled it after me. Then One-eye attacked me. I got wild. He was always like that, wanting what others had. And I hated him for it. In my anger, I took a stone and hit him on the head. One-Eye uttered a shriek and fell.

“In the meantime, the kid began to run away with the rope. I ran after it into the thick jungle, and at last, I caught it. But I was tired and somehow managed to hang on to the kid who kept on struggling to escape.

“At this juncture, I heard a lion roar nearby, and my heart was chilled. I climbed up the nearest tree leaving the deer kid below. I shouldn’t have left the kid below. It sensed danger and began to bleat helplessly, not knowing where to hide. The foolish thing was only attracting the lion. Even as I feared, the lion did come there.

“Up in the branches, I was free from danger. The kid was surely doomed. Still, I could not see the vicious lion attack my kid, and I threw a dry branch at it. Thus I invited trouble upon myself. I was more brave than wise. I did not realise how this foolishness of mine was going to change my whole life. The lion lifted its head and saw me with cold, ferocious eyes.

The lion tried to leap at me as soon as he finished with the kid. For more safety, I climbed further up into the branches. He failed to get at me, and the lion sat under the tree, waiting for me till dark.

“That night, I didn’t have a wink of sleep. The following day I found the lion gone, but I did not dare to climb down the tree. The beast might be hiding somewhere. I thought I could hear it growling.

“At about noon, I heard the beating of drums. It was the villagers coming in search of me. I had not the slightest doubt about it. The other goatherds must have informed them that I was still in the forest.

“The drums were now quite near. I could climb down the tree and dash the villagers, but I was still wary of the lion. I waited.

“I saw forty or fifty with spears, daggers and shields, beating the drums and shouting like hell. They were now within fifty yards of the tree, and my joy knew no bounds. And then the lion jumped amidst them.

“I did not misjudge the lion’s cunning. It was hiding in the bushes nearby. But the villagers, too, were prepared for such a contingency; not one of them moved when the lion jumped amidst them. One non-disabled young man guarded himself with his shield when the lion tried to hit him, while another caught it firmly by the tail. The lion snarled and turned back upon him when the first young man. Stabbed the lion in the neck with his lance. Then the man holding the lion by its tail stabbed its back with his dagger. I was indeed very proud of my people. They were so brave and so clever!

“Soon, the lion was pierced through and through by several villagers and succumbed and fell. Now, at last, I was free. I shouted joy and began to come down from the tree.

“What happened next was the most amazing thing in the world. No one in his senses could have believed it. When I shouted for joy, all the villagers looked up at me for the first time. Instead of welcoming me joyfully, they stood there staring at me as though they had never known me. This One-eye who was beating a drum shouted, ‘Ghost! Ghost!’ And those brave people who fought a fierce lion without flinching in the least shouted, ‘Ghost’ and took to their heels!”

“How could so many people mistake you for a ghost? What was the reason for their behaviour?” Samarsen asked Four- eyes in surprise.

Four-eyes knit his brows, nodded his head and said, “That was the doing of One-eye. You can imagine what a vicious fellow he was, even as a lad from this alone. He had told the villagers that he had seen me killed by the lion. He convinced the entire village that I had become a ghost. And I led the life of a ghost for the next ten years, haunting the forests, without one living soul to claim me as his own.”

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