Act Of Fate

Once there was a king called Suresh in the region of the Vindhya mountains. One night the King and his Minister rode out of the capital in disguise. As they passed a cottage, they were aware of a woman groaning with the pangs of childbirth. A Brahman stood outside the house observing the stars. “O God,” he said, “let my wife deliver now, this moment!” But the woman inside was still groaning. After a few minutes, the Brahman said, “O God, let not my wife deliver now. Let her delay a while.”

The King and Minister stopped their horses at a distance and went on observing the queer prayers of the Brahman, who now begged for the delivery and postponement. This went on until the woman inside at last delivered. The Brahman ceased to pray and made to go inside. Then the King and the Minister rode forth and accosted the Brahman.

“O Brahman,” said the King, “Who are you? How is it that you prayed alternately for the delivery and against it?”

“The Brahman replied, “I come from the South. I am an expert astrologer. I wanted my wife to deliver a son who would come into the world. I have calculated the best time for delivery to the last second and prayed to God that my wife should deliver only at the most auspicious moment so that the baby should have a great future.”

“Well,” the King asked, “did your wife deliver at an auspicious moment?”

“Yes, sir!” the Brahman replied. “She has delivered a male child at the most desirable moment. The boy is bound to marry the daughter of the King of the realm in which he is born. He is also destined to rule that realm and annexe several neighbouring kingdoms. That is what the stars indicate, and I do not worry about him.” So saying, he went into the cottage.

In utter amazement, the King and the Minister exchanged glances.

“I will not have it !” the King said in anger. “This poor man’s son shall not marry my daughter and succeed me.”

“Sire,” the Minister replied, “Your fear is needless. You have no daughter. Do not mind what this mad Brahman said.”

“Can we do anything,” the King asked, “if this same mad Brahman turns out to be correct in the end? No, get me that infant by stealth. I shall do the needful.”

The Minister had no escape. He got down from his horse and stealthily entered the cottage. Two women attended to the mother while the newborn infant was swathed in clothes and placed on a pial. The Minister snatched up the bundle unnoticed and returned it to the King. They rode for a while when the King drew his sword, pierced the infant in his stomach, and ordered the Minister to throw it away down the cliff.

The Minister took pity upon the unfortunate and innocent babe. He placed the babe on a footpath and returned to the King. The two of them rode back to the capital.

When they reached the capital, the Archaka of a nearby temple came along the footpath accompanied by several Pujaris. They were going to have the morning dip in the river. They saw a bundle of clothes on the ground. When they picked it up, they saw the bleeding infant. The Archana took the infant home. He was an expert in herbal treatment. He dressed the wound of the babe, who was fortunately still alive.

In a few days, the wound healed. The Archana was childless, and the foundling became his foster son. He named the boy Deva-Dutta, which means the gift of the gods.

Sometime later, the King had a daughter by his Queen. The King named her Chandra-vati. He was glad that he had killed the Brahman’s son because, if he had not done so, he would have grown up and married his daughter, Chandra-vati, and become King.

But the boy the King took to be dead grew up in the Archaka’s house, gaining strength and beauty daily. He played in the temple compound all the time.

Fifteen years he has elapsed. The Archana had to make petitions about the temple properties, and he started for the Palace day. Deva-Dutta one insisted upon accompanying his father, for he wished to see the King’s palace.

Entering the palace grounds, the two saw the King walking in the garden. The Archaka talked to the King while the boy waited for some distance away. The King heard the petition of the Archaka and gave him his reply. Then he noticed the boy and asked the Archaka, “Who is this nice-looking young man?”

“Sire, he is my son,” the Archaka replied. “I have to adopt him.” Then he described how he found him as a wounded infant, treated him and brought him up. The King now knew that the infant he thought to be dead was alive and standing before him. There was a scar on his stomach. He thought this was good neither to him nor his daughter. He must be killed again!

“I must say,” the King said to the Archaka, “that you are simply letting this boy go to waste, keeping him in that temple. Send him to me, and I shall make something of him.”

“It is very kind of you to say that,” the Archaka replied. “Keep him with you, by all means, sir.” Then he bade goodbye to the King and returned home alone.

The King could not decide how to get rid of this Deva-Dutta, who was like poison to him. When he first attempted to kill this boy, the Minister happened to be a witness. However, the King did not want anyone to know he would kill him this time. And he did not know how to do it.

While the King was worried about this problem, it so happened that he had to make a long journey. He took Deva-Dutta along with him. The trip lasted two weeks. On the way, several opportunities occurred when the King could push his mortal enemy down a cliff or into a river. But, as ill luck. He would have it, someone or other happened to be there each time, and he could do nothing.

At last, he thought of a new plan. He wrote a letter to his Minister, saying, “The boy who brings this letter is our deadliest enemy. Kill him secretly and cremate his corpse with the least possible delay.” He put his seal to the letter and gave it to Deva-Dutta and said. “Son, here is an urgent assignment for you. Return as fast as possible and give this letter to our Minister. It is essential.”

Deva-Dutta took the letter, mounted his horse and rode day and night. At last, he arrived at the palace one afternoon. The sun was scorching. The Minister, who had already had his midday meal, was having his siesta. It was not possible to see him for a few hours. The boy was tired after his long journey. So he entered the garden, lay in the cool shade of a pavilion and, at once, fell into a deep sleep.

Shortly afterwards, Princess Chandra-Vati entered the garden with two of her maids. They began to play and chase one another. Intending to hide from the others, the Princess ran between the trees and came to the pavilion. It was a good hiding place, and the Princess went in. Then she saw a strange youth sleeping soundly. She thought of waking him and finding out who he was, but he appeared dead tired. She saw a letter in his pocket and took it out. She took the liberty of opening the letter because she identified her father’s seal.

But when she read the letter’s contents, her heart seemed to stop. Why did her father instruct the Minister to kill this lovely young man? The boy did not know the contents or would not have carried it so far. She felt both pity and love for this youth.

The Princess went back to her maids. She instructed one of them to keep watch at the entrance while she showed the letter to the other maid after making her swear secrecy. They discussed the letter for a long time and decided to tear it up and substitute another.

Princess Chandra-vati went to her chamber and prepared the following letter:

“The boy who brings this letter is nearest and dearest to us. Marry Princess Chandra-vati to him with utmost speed. The marriage need not wait till I come back.”

Then she put the King’s seal upon it and returned to the pavilion. The youth was still sleeping. The Princess put the letter in his pocket and went out. Then the Princess and her maids began to run and shout with such enthusiasm that the youth’s sleep was disturbed. He woke up in confusion, saw that the sun was down, went to see the Minister and handed him the letter.

The Minister was shocked when he read it. “Young man,” he said to Deva-Dutta, “what did the King tell you when he gave you the letter?”

“He told me to deliver the letter to you, sir,” the boy replied.

“Do you know what the letter says?” the Minister asked him again. Deva-Dutta replied that he did not.

“You can go to the palace and stay there,” the Minister told him. “You will hear from me again.”

Then the Minister went to see the Princess and showed her the letter she had fabricated. Chandra-vati read it and pretended surprise. “How is it possible?” she asked. “How can I be married in my father’s absence?”

“I am quite helpless, Princess,” the Minister said. “I must obey the King.”

“In that case,” the Princess said, “do your duty. I can hardly prevent you.”

In a couple of days, preparations for the marriage of the Princess were complete, and the wedding took place amidst all splendour and glory. The absence of the King did nothing to spoil the function.

Having finished his work, the King commenced his journey home. On the way, he met a batch of Brahmans who had gifts on the occasion of the marriage of the Princess and learned about the wedding. He was shocked. He could not understand why and how the marriage took place. He knew the truth only after coming home.

“Where is my letter?” he asked the Minister.

When the Minister produced it, the King knew it was the fabrication of none but the Princess herself.

“But sire,” the Minister asked, puzzled, “why did you insist upon my performing this marriage in your absence?”

‘Ah, my friend, “the King replied, “it is all Fate!”

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