VIKRAM once again went back to the tree, took down the corpse, threw it across his shoulder, and began to walk to the burial-ground, when the Bethal of the corpse said, “O King, I am not surprised that you go through this hardship for someone else when I think of Mani-mantha who attended night and day upon Pradeep, his mortal enemy. Let me tell you his unusual story.” And he narrated the following tale:
There was a one-time constant war between Anga and Videha, and the two kingdoms were perpetual enemies. At the end of one of those cruel wars, Videha was defeated and went under the rule of the King of Anga, who made it his tributary state and crowned his own Commander-in-Chief Mani-mantha as its King. The ex-King of Videha went into exile with his entire family.
The Commander-in-Chief of Videha had died a warrior’s death, and his son Pradeep ran away to the hills in the middle of the desert, which was on the outskirts of Videha. A band of young fighters, who similarly took shelter in the mountains after the defeat in battle, elected Pradeep, their leader, and they swore that they would do everything in their power to free their country from alien domination.
But they had very little in their power. They could not hope to defeat Mani-mantha in battle, seeing that they were only fifteen in number and they had only their swords to fight with. How could they face the battlefield Mani-mantha who had well-equipped armies and arms of every description?
“We cannot sit back because we are few in number and lack arms,” Pradeep told his friends. “If we cannot fight fair, we must fight foul! All is fair in war! Destroying our enemy is our sacred duty!”
So the youths began to attack and plunder the caravans between Anga and Videha. Plundering was the only possible method by which they could sustain themselves.
On nights they sneak inside the capital of Videha and murder such persons as were considered Mani-mantha’s men. In a single night, they killed two of Mani-mantha’s sons.
Mani-mantha had ignored Pradeep and his band for some time, thinking they would come to their senses and realize what they were doing was obnoxious. But when they killed his sons, his ire was roused.
He sent for one of his lieutenants and said, “I want you to take a contingent of soldiers and destroy the band of outlaws that operate from the hills. I particularly want you to take Pradeep alive. You can destroy the rest of them like mad dogs.”
The lieutenant took a hundred soldiers with him and marched to the hills where Pradeep and his band of young men were taking refuge. Moving strategically, the lieutenant located and encircled the hideout of the young patriots.
“This is our last fight!” Pradeep urged his followers. “Fight desperately, and do not surrender at any cost!” The youths followed his command to the last letter. Each of them fought like ten, and by the last of them lay dead, Mani-mantha’s lieutenant had lost half of his men.
Now Pradeep alone remained alive. The lieutenant found it no joke to catch him live. Always a good fighter, he was now desperate. The lieutenant could, at last, disable him by hitting him on the head from behind. He was taken to Mani-Mantha in an unconscious state. Though he was not dead, his condition was precarious. The King’s physician gave very little hope of his survival.
“He should not die!” Mani-Martha exclaimed. “He must live! Do your utmost to bring him out of the jaws of death.”
The physician stayed by the patient night and day and treated him. For a week, Pradeep was utterly unconscious; for another three weeks, he became conscious only for brief spells.
It was only at the end of the month that the physician gave an assurance that Pradeep was out of danger. During the whole month, neither the physician nor Mani-mantha left the patient’s bedside even for a minute.
Mani-mantha’s joy knew no bounds when he was assured that Pradeep would live and become well again. Pradeep, too was amazed when, on opening his eyes at last, he saw Mani-mantha’s face. “Is it you?” he asked in astonishment.
“Yes, my boy,” Mani-mantha replied. “You have nothing to fear. I shall give anything to restore you to your normal condition.”
Mani-mantha lived up to his word. He was always by the patient’s side, nursed him, and looked after his needs like a devoted mother. He fed him with his hand. Pradeep’s recovery was more due to the anxious nursing of Mani-mantha than to the treatment.
Pradeep had to learn to walk all over again. Mani-mantha took him by the shoulder and made him walk in the garden step by step. Presently Pradeep can walk without assistance. One day, Mani-mantha asked him, “Can you jump, my boy?” Pradeep tried to but could not jump.
Three months passed. Mani-Mantha asked Pradeep, “Can you jump, my boy?”
“I can!” said Pradeep. He ran some distance and made a good jump.
“That is fine!” said Mani-Mantha with immense satisfaction. “Stay here till I come back.” Pradeep stood there wondering what Mani-mantha intended to do.
Soon Mani-mantha returned with a couple of swords.
“What are these for?” Pradeep asked.
“We are going to fight a duel!” Mani-mantha replied. His eyes flashed fire.
“A duel?” Pradeep asked as though he could not believe his ears. “What for!”
“You are my mortal enemy,” Mani-mantha said. “You have murdered two of my sons fully. I propose to kill you in a fair fight! I was afraid I wouldn’t get a chance to do so, but I have it now!”
He thrust one of the swords at Pradeep, but Pradeep did not take it. He stood with his head bent as in shame.
“Take the sword!” Mani-Mantha said. “Until now, you fought only the coward’s way. At least die like a brave man. You cannot escape fighting me!”
Mani-mantha forced the sword upon Pradeep, but Pradeep stood like one who had lost his head. Even when Mani-mantha attacked him, he raised the sword in his hand involuntarily to ward off the blow. He fought Mani-mantha all the time, only in self-defence.
And yet, in a short time, Pradeep’s sword pierced Mani-Mantha to his heart. At once, Pradeep threw his sword away, covered his face, and wept like a child who had lost his father.
Mani-mantha’s death roused the people of Videha. They revolted against their rulers, drove them away from the land, and elected Pradeep as their King. Pradeep paid his debt of gratitude to Mani-mantha by giving away vast estates to Mani-Mantha’s progeny.
Having finished the tale, Bethal said, “O King, I have a doubt. Of the two, who was the nobler and the more courageous? Mani-mantha saved the life of his deadly enemy to defeat him in a fair fight, or Pradeep, who killed Mani-Mantha’s sons like a murderer but hesitated to fight Mani-Mantha in a fair duel? Your head shall split if you know the answer and still refuse to speak.”
“There is no scope for any doubt here,” Vikram replied. “Pradeep is undoubtedly the more courageous of the two. If he indulged in an unjust war, it was only out of his love for his country, and that too when he had no way of carrying out a fair fight. The last struggle proved that he was a much better swordsman than Mani-mantha. Whatever nobility Mani-mantha exhibited was feigned and unreal. He spared Pradeep’s life, hoping to kill him easily in a duel. He also wanted to cut a noble figure with the people of Videha. It never occurred to Mani-mantha that Pradeep could be a brave youth. Pradeep had a similar disillusionment when he found out that Mani-Mantha’s nobility of heart was not real but assumed. Thus I conclude that Pradeep was a much better person than Mani-Mantha in every respect.”
The King’s silence was broken, and Bethal disappeared with the corpse and returned to the tree.