The Three Helpers
Long ago, two princes decided to travel far afield in search of adventure. The elder of the two, Raja, was inclined to be bad-tempered, whilst the younger of the two, Shyam, was forever good-natured.
During their travels, they rested one day beside a lake in a valley festooned with wildflowers. Shyam was quite happy to sit and admire the graceful white swans gliding majestically across the lake. Not so his brother, who picked up his bow and took aim at the nearest swan.
Shyam quickly knocked up his brother’s arm; “How can you wantonly kill such beautiful birds?”
“What do I care about swans,” Raja snorted, throwing his bow down in anger.
Later, riding through a forest, they came to a giant anthill. Shyam was amused at the busy line of tireless ants going to and fro. Not so Raja, who started to kick holes into the anthill.
“Stop,” Shyam shouted, pull- ing his brother back. “Why do you want to destroy ants?”
“You are becoming tiresome,” replied Raja angrily and mounting his horse, he rode on, not troubled to wait for his brother.
Things came to a head on the following day when Raja took delight in catching and killing honey bees. When Shyam told him to stop being foolish, Raja completely lost his temper and galloped off, saying he had no wish for his brother’s company anymore.
Poor Shyam was downcast, but he resolved to follow his brother, who he knew would soon get over his bout of temper. He had no longer mounted his horse when he heard his name being called. Look- ing around, he was surprised to see a swan, a bee and an ant standing behind his horse.
“Kind sir, we three are grateful for your kindness to birds and insects,” said the swan. “Now, if you need help, just think of us, and we will be at your side.”
Shyam thanked his newly found friends and rode on, hoping to catch up with his brother before darkness descended.
Shyam rode through the forests for two days without seeing any trace of his brother. On the following day, he came to a desolate-looking palace. In front of the court was an ornamental lake, and on the bank were three dead trees grouped, and in the little shade they gave sat a grey-bearded older man.
Shyam decided to call the palace to hope for news of his brother. As he went to the palace gate, a feeble voice behind him cried, “Do not go near the palace! It is under a curse. Be on your way; otherwise, you will come to grief.”
Turning around, Shyam saw that it was the older man who was speaking.
“Tell me, what is this curse you speak of?” Shyam asked.
“It is a sad tale,” the old man replied. “A king had twin daughters and a younger son. The twins were so much alike that it was impossible to tell them apart. But they were gay and happy children.”
“Then one day,” continued the old man, a so-called magician came to this very spot, and he was of such queer appearance that the children, in their usual high spirits, laughed at him and gave him three tasks to perform. The young prince took a casket, locked it and threw the key into the lake, and told the magician to make it reappear. Princess Vasu broke her string of pearls, scattered them over the grass, and told the magician to find and rest them. And then princess Madhu dared the magician to say which of the three was the firstborn.”
Shyam could see tears on the older man’s cheeks as he continued his story. “The magician was an evil man. He turned the prince and the princesses into these three dead trees. The King implored the magician to be merciful, but he promised that if someone performed the tasks the children had set him, they would regain their human form. But whoever tried and failed would also be turned into a dead tree. Only two days ago, a prince came here and tried unsuccessfully to perform the three tasks; now he is that dead tree you see over there.”
Listening to the older man’s story, Shyam realised that the older man was the King and that the prince, who two days ago had been turned into a dead tree, must be his brother.
Turning to the old man, Shyam said, “It certainly is a sad story, but do not worry anymore because I will perform these tasks and bring the princesses and the prince back to life.”
Closing his eyes, Shyam thought of the white swan, and when he opened his eyes, the swan stood before him.
Shyam told the swan about the key thrown into the lake. And without much ado, off went the swan, and within minutes, the swan came waddling ashore with the key firmly clutched in its beak.
Having unlocked the casket, Shyam next thought of the ant, and when the ant appeared and heard the story of the pearl necklace, it seemed as though all the ants in the kingdom were searching for the pearls.
Eventually, every single pearl was discovered, and the older man, the King, sat and restrung the pearls.
Now Shyam thought of the honey bee, and when it appeared, and Shyam explained that he had to decide which was the oldest tree, the bee flew into the air and, after circling the three trees, landed on the one in the centre.
Immediately, the three trees disappeared, and the two princesses and the prince stood in their place. And over yonder, the other dead tree had vanished; instead, there was Shyam’s brother, Raja, standing there.
After embracing his three children, the King was overjoyed and begged Shyam and his brother to stay and enjoy his hospitality.
The brothers, already bewitched by the princesses, readily agreed, and very soon afterwards, Prince Shyam married Princess Vasu, and Prince Raja married Princess Madhu.