Ratnavati’s Choice

Once again, Vikram went back to the tree. He lowered the corpse, took it on his shoulder, and began to walk towards the burial ground in silence.

“O King,” said Bethal of the corpse. “You, who should be ordering others, do work at another’s bidding, and my heart melts for you. To lighten your burden, I will tell you a strange tale.” He began the following tale:

Ayodhya was once ruled by a king called Veer-Ketu. At one time during his reign, a series of mysterious thefts occurred in several parts of the city day by day.

One day the people went in a delegation to the King and said to him, “O King, save us from these mysterious thefts. We made all possible efforts to catch the thieves but failed utterly. What is more strange is that no one has been able to set eyes on the thieves though thefts have occurred every day.”

The King assured the people that he would look into the affair and do the needful. Then he called forth the best of his guards and told them to disguise themselves and scour the entire city all night for the thieves.

The guards tried their best but failed to catch anyone while the theft occurred. The guards were not able to set eyes on even a single thief.

Only a very uncommon thief could have escaped his guards, and the King decided to deal with the thieves himself. In the darkness of the night, the King put on a disguise and went into the streets. As he roamed the city, he saw a person moving in a queer manner and approached him.

This person saw the King and asked him, “Who are you?” “I’m a thief,” the King replied. “Then you are my comrade. Let’s go to my place. I shall treat you like a brother,” the other man said.

The King accompanied the thief to his house, which was built underground in a secret place. The thief showed the King into a room and went away, promising to return soon. A servant maid entered the room where the King sat and said to him, “Who are you, sir? You’ve come to this bandit’s private resort and can never leave it alive. Run away at once!”

On the advice of this good woman, the King escaped from the place, went back to his palace, took a detachment of armed guards, and returned to the site to arrest the thief. A fierce fight ensued between the robber and the King’s guards. However, the robber alone fought bravely and killed several guards before he was defeated by the King and caught prisoner.

The King took him bound hand and foot. He was tried in court. It was established in the trial that this man alone was the author of all the thefts that occurred over several days. All the stolen property was recovered from his residence. The King ordered that the thief should be impaled till death.

As the guards took the thief along the streets to carry out the punishment, Ratnavati, the daughter of a millionaire merchant, saw the prisoner and said to her father, “I want to marry him, father!”

Ratna-Dutt, the millionaire, was shocked to hear his daughter say so. For one thing, she was his only child. Then again, she was so beautiful that sons of multi-millionaires and even princes had sought her hand, and she had refused them all.

“Was it to marry this wretch that you rejected all the princes and rich boys, my daughter?” Ratna-Dutt said to his daughter sadly. “Forget him, my dear. They are taking that man for impaling. Soon he will be dead. How can you marry him?”

But Ratnavati refused to listen to him. The irony was that she had refused to listen to her father when he had advised her to accept one or other of the rich and noble suitors in the past.

“Let him be a thief, and let him be impaled. He is my husband. If you are anxious that I should be married, marry me to him. If it is beyond your capacity, I will gladly die with him. Change my mind. I can not!” the girl told her father.

These words were uttered with such determination that the merchant was utterly baffled. He ran to the King and said, “Your Majesty, permit me to buy the thief from you for a thousand million gold pieces. That is all I have.”

But the King was not willing to spare a man who robbed the city for so many days with such success. Having failed in his mission, Ratna-Dutt returned home with a heavy heart. He was surprised to find his daughter already in a bridal dress.

“The king would not give up the thief, my child,” he told her. “I promised to give him all I have, yet the King turned me down. The marriage cannot take place as you wish.”

“Well,” replied Ratnavati, “I have to burn with him on the pyre.”

Ratnavati got into a palanquin and started for the place of execution. Her parents and her relatives followed her in tears on her last journey. By the time they reached the site, the thief had already been impaled and was about to die.

Ratna-Dutt took his daughter to the dying thief and said to him, “Look, son. This is my daughter who has come determined to marry you.”

The thief took one look at the girl. He shed a few tears and then smiled. The next moment he was dead.

Ratnavati got the corpse removed to the burial ground. The funeral pyre was ready, and she mounted it with the corpse.

Kala-bhairav himself was amazed at the devotion of this rich and handsome girl to the man of her choice and her determination to be burnt alive with his corpse. He appeared before the girl and said to her, “Child, your devotion is exceptional. Let me grant you whatever you desire most.”

“Lord,” Ratnavati said, “I’m the only child of my parents. When I die, they will weep for me all their lives. Please grant them some sons so that they can forget me.”

Kala-bhairav smiled and said, “I grant your wish. But don’t you want something for yourself, child?”

“I’m dying with my husband. What more do I want?” Ratnavati replied.

Let me make you live with him,” said Kala-bhairav; the next moment, theif sat up as though he never died. The merchant took his daughter and the thief to his house and married them.

Bethal finished the story and said to Vikram, “O King, why did the thief shed tears first and later smile when he heard that Ratnavati desired to marry him when he was on the point of dying? Your head will be split if you know the answer and still do not reply.”

“The thief first shed tears of remorse,” Vikram replied, “because he was dying without repaying this unforeseen charity. Then he smiled at the idea of a rich and beautiful girl falling in love with him after rejecting all the princes and rich young men in the land.”

Since the King’s silence was broken, Bethal disappeared with the corpse and returned to the tree.

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