The Black Robber
Centuries ago, a king with three sons ruled the ancient kingdom of Vidarbha. When his wife died, the King married again, and the second queen had a son. As the years went by, the queen be- came more and more embittered by the thought that her three stepsons had prior claim to the throne, so there was little possibility of her son ever becoming the monarch.
One evening the queen confided her troubles to her old nurse, who had a reputation for dabbling in the murky depths of witchcraft.
“To your Majesty, nothing is impossible,” advised the old nurse. “With a little imagination, you can see that your son succeeds to the throne.”
“How can that be possible whilst my stepsons are alive?” asked the queen.
“Listen carefully,” confided the old nurse. “Let your son invite his half-brothers to a game of dice, and I will provide your son with a set of magic dice so he cannot lose.”
“But what will the stakes be?” queried the queen.
“That is simple,” laughed the nurse. “The losers must carry out any wish of the winner. So your son can command them to fetch him the three magic horses owned by King Somadav, and like everyone else who has tried, they will most certainly be caught and executed.”
The queen thought this was a beautiful scheme, and. no time was lost in arranging the game of dice. Thanks to the magic, The three princes meet the Black Robber dice, the queen’s son wins easily, and the three princely brothers are promptly commanded to steal the magic horses belonging to King Somadav.
The three princes were aghast at such a formidable task, be- cause it was well known throughout the entire land that King Somadav showed no mercy to anyone who even touched his horses. Without a word of protest, the three princes agreed to this mad scheme and rode off early one morning to Somadav’s kingdom.
As they neared their destination, they suddenly found their road barred by a solitary horseman dressed from head to foot in Black.
“Halt,” he commanded. “Who are you? And where are you going?”
“We are princes of Vidarbha,” replied one of the princes, spurring his horse forward. “And if you must know, we plan to steal King Somadav’s magic horses.”
The man in black burst out laughing. “I admire your audacity, although, like you, it may be short-lived. I am the notorious black robber, and for the fun of it, I will at least help you to get into King Somaday’s stables.”
Late that night, the three princes and the black robber scaled the palace walls. The black rubber, who seemed to know his way around, led them silently to the stables. Making sure that no guards were in sight, they opened the stable doors, but as they slipped inside, the horses neighed loudly, and be- fore they could find a place to hide, they were roughly over- powered by grooms and the guard and unceremoniously thrown into a dungeon.
The following morning the four heavily guarded prisoners were taken into a large cavernous chamber, and standing along the far wall, were four great cauldrons with fires beneath. From the acrid smell, these huge pots contained boiling oil.
Then into the chamber strode the King, obviously in no forgiving mood. Glancing. At the prisoners, he suddenly stopped and peered at the black robber.
“So, we have caught you at last,” he exclaimed. “But who are your three accomplices?”
“These three young men are. My companions,” replied the black robber. “And they are princes of Vidarbha.”
“Princes, or no princes, for daring to steal my horses, the penalty is death,” roared the King, and pointing to the black robber, he went on. “Do these princes realise how close to death they are?”
“Your Majesty,” returned the black robber. “These princes are no nearer to death than I was some time ago. Yet here I am, still alive.”
“Not for long, you villain,” laughed the King. “But tell me how you escaped death, and if your story pleases me, I will let the youngest prince go free.”
And so the black robber told his story: Once three beautiful princesses with a curse put on them turned into horrible witches at night.
Now, these three witches put a curse on me and made me turn to rob for a living. But one night, I resolved to find out more about the witches, and when I searched through the forest, I discovered them in a cave, sitting around a huge cauldron cooking their food. I took up a large boulder and threw it at the pot. The boiler burst into hundreds of pieces, splattering boiling food everywhere.
I ran for my life, but the witches could run faster, and in the end, I had to take refuge in a tall tree. But the witches were not to be done out of their prey, the first witch. Turned one of the other witches into a giant axe, the other into a ferocious hound and started to chop down the tree. After only two strokes, the tree began to topple, and I realised that death was near. Just then, a cock began to crow, and the three witches turned back into princesses and walked away, hand in hand, chattering gaily to each other.
“That certainly was a narrow escape,” said the King. “So I will free the youngest prince, but now the other two are closer to death than you have ever been.”
“Not so, Your Majesty,” said the black robber. “A short time ago, I was closer to death than they are.”
“Well, let us hear this story,” said the King. “And providing it sounds good, I will free one of the other princes.”
This is the story the black robber recounted-
Last month I stole two fat cows from a farmstead, and driving them home through a deep wood, I suddenly felt tired, so I tied the two cows to trees and laid down to rest.
I had hardly closed my eyes when thirteen tigers came on the scene. Their leader was a huge fellow who promptly leapt on one of the cows and killed it. After eating some animals, he left the rest to the other tigers to enjoy and attacked the second cow.
I lay there petrified because I knew my turn would be next. Gathering my courage, I dashed to the nearest tree with all the tigers at my heels. But I managed to climb out of harm’s way.
The angry tigers started to claw the tree trunk, ripping the bark and the wood to shreds. Soon the tree began to creak and sway. Then hurtling through the forest came twelve roaring lionesses, led by a massive lion. Soon there was a tremendous battle royal, and in the end, only the lion was left alive.
There stood the lion, covered in blood, glaring at me, when suddenly my tree gave an agonising screech and crashed to the ground, killing the lion in its fall. So once again, I narrowly escaped death.
“Bravo!” exclaimed the King. “That was a miraculous escape, so the second prince is reprieved. That leaves us with just one prince on the verge of death.”
“But,” the robber sighed, “I can recall when I was much closer to death than this prince.”
“What, another story?” roared the King. “Let us hear it, and maybe if it sounds true, I will let this other prince go free.”
At one time, the robber said, I was so successful in my livelihood, I decided to engage an assistant, who had a reputation of being a first-class thief. We agreed to rob a ferocious giant living in a high mountain cave for our first job together.
When we reached the giant’s hide-out, we found that the entrance was a hole in the ground, with a sheer drop of about one hundred feet to the cave floor. Luckily we had brought a coil of strong rope with us. Lowering the yarn, I asked my assistant to go down and collect the booty. He seemed scared, so I went.
The cave was full of treasure, and I quickly collected a bag of gold pieces, which I tied to the end of the rope, and shouted to my assistant to haul it up. He did this, but when I called for the string to be lowered so I could climb out, my assistant just laughed at me and made off with the gold and the yarn.
There I was in the cave, with no means of escape, entirely at the mercy of the giant when he returned. After hours of waiting, full of unquieting thoughts about my impending doom, a rope was lowered, and the giant came down. What a hideous monster he was. Fully thirty feet tall.
I stood in the cave’s shadows, and when the giant’s back was turned, I carefully edged my way to the rope and quickly climbed up to freedom. But the giant noticed me out of the corner of his eye and was soon in hot pursuit.
I climbed that rope like a monkey, but the giant could climb faster with enormous reach. The giant grabbed me; I was nearing the top, gasping from exertion. I was so frightened I let go of the rope and fell on the giant, and the force of my fall caused him to lose his hold on the rope, and we both crashed into the cave. The giant landed with a crash like thunder, and every bone in his body was broken. Luckily I landed on top of him, and his vast body acted like a cushion, so I got to my feet unhurt.
“After hearing such a story, I shall have to let the other prince go free,” said the King, stroking his beard. “Now that only leaves you, so you are closer to death than ever.”
“Not so, Your Majesty,” said the robber. “I can certainly recall when I was closer to death than now.”
“This had better be good,” said the King. “If you hope to save your miserable hide.”
Many years ago, recounted the robber, I was wandering through the forest when I came upon an older woman with a small child in her lap. The older woman had tears streaming down her face, and I noticed she was holding a knife.
She told a tragic story when I asked her what the matter was. It appeared that three brothers giants kidnapped the older woman, a nurse, and the child from some palace. The giants ordered the woman to kill and cook the child for dinner. I told the woman not to worry, as I would soon find a young pig, which she could cook, and the giants would not know the difference.
I caught a piglet, which the older woman cooked, and we hid the child in some bushes close to the hut. When the giants returned to the house and sat down to their dinner, I hid in the kitchen, wracking my brains as to how to rid the world of these beasts.
To my dismay, one of the giants suddenly walked into the kitchen and grabbed me before I could hide. He threw me across his shoulder, but I managed to draw my dagger and stabbed him repeatedly in the back.
One of the other giants hearing the noise, came rushing into the kitchen, but I was hiding behind the door, and before he could turn, my dagger ended his useless life.
The third giant came roaring into the kitchen, brandishing a big club, and when he saw the bodies of his brothers, he let out a terrible oath and threw the club at me. I jumped to one side, and as the giant bent to pick up his club, I jumped on his back and stabbed him through the heart.
“It is true! It is true!” shouted the King, jumping out of his chair and embracing the black robber. “I was that child. My parents searched everywhere for you. Now I have found you.”
King Somadev’s joy knew no bounds. He wanted to heap gifts on the black robber and the princes. Afterwards, it was agreed that the black robber would stay in the King’s service, and the King bade the princes take his magic horses, but he added with a sly grin, “Have no fear. They will never stay with strangers and soon come galloping back home.”
When the princes returned home with the magic horses, their stepmother hid her chagrin at their safe return with constant chatter about what a great man her son would be with his magical horses, undoubtedly more famous than any king.
Alas, when her son went to lead the horses to the stables, they reared up on their hind legs, sending the son headlong and galloped off back to King Somadav’s stables.
After that, the queen seemed to lose interest in her son ever acquiring the throne, so the three princes were left in peace.