Once upon a time, there was a king. The king had three sons. One day, some people came to the king complaining about the increased robberies and thefts in the city. The king asked his sons to patrol the city streets every night and catch the culprit. The king’s sons built an outpost on the outskirts of the city and started staying there with their horses at night.

At the start of the night, the eldest prince went around the city. He couldn’t find anyone suspicious. Next, the second prince went for the patrol and came back empty-handed as well. He had also failed to nab the thief.

Around midnight, the third prince decided it was his turn. He spotted a beautiful woman near the gate of the king’s palace. The prince stopped her. The woman told him that she was the guardian deity of the palace and was leaving the palace as the king would be murdered that night.

Shocked, the prince requested her to stay. He promised to do everything in his power to save his father. After the guardian deity reluctantly went back in, the prince rushed to the king’s bedroom. The king seemed to be in deep sleep. The prince’s stepmother was in another bed. He noticed a huge cobra on her golden bedstead.

The prince made short work of the serpent, cutting it into two with his sword. Then, just to make sure that the snake was done for, he chopped its lifeless body into a hundred pieces. A drop of the snake’s blood fell on the prince’s stepmother’s body. Believing her to be dead, he tried to wipe the blood off her. He tied a piece of cloth around his tongue and licked the blood away. Unfortunately for the prince, the queen woke up just as he was licking the blood off her body. The embarrassed prince rushed out of the room and joined his brothers. The stepmother later told the king what had transpired while he was asleep.

In the morning, the king asked his eldest son’s opinion on what he would do if a person he trusted turned out to be disloyal.

‘Such a man’s head should be cut off at once. However, before doing that, it must be made sure that he had indeed acted unfaithfully,’ said the eldest son. The second son was of the same opinion. Both of them told the king a story each to elucidate this.

Unsatisfied with their answers and stories, the king then asked his youngest son the same. Aware of where this was going, the youngest son also decided to drive his point home through a story.

‘Long ago, a king had a Skua bird as pet. One day, the bird went to see its parents, who lived far away. After spending some time with them, the bird decided to fly back to the king. It wanted to gift the king a fruit from the Immortality Tree, so it plucked the fruit and continued its journey to the king’s palace. At night, the bird stopped to take rest on a tree in the woods. It stowed the fruit safely in a hole in the tree. However, the hole belonged to a snake, who dug its fangs into the fruit. Soon, the serpent’s poison spread inside the fruit. Unaware of this, the bird picked the fruit in the morning and made it back to the palace.’

‘Impressed by the look of the fruit, the king wanted to eat it at once. However, to check if it was indeed edible, one of the king’s courtiers threw a piece of the fruit at a crow. The crow died as soon as it ate the fruit. Shocked at this, the incensed king killed the Skua bird without giving it a chance to explain things. He then asked his servants to bury the fruit on the outskirts of the city. The fruit seeds sprouted and, over time, transformed into a tree that bore delicious fruit. The king ordered to put a fence around the tree to make sure no one ate the poisonous fruit.’

‘An old man and woman lived in the city. The couple lived on charity. Unable to put up with that lifestyle, they decided to commit suicide by eating a fruit from the tree. They plucked a couple of fruits from the tree while the guard was asleep. They ate the fruits and went to sleep, hoping they’d never get up again. However, something miraculous happened while they were asleep. The couple did not die. They rather became young and healthy. After hearing about this incident, the king realized that the Skua bird had actually wanted him to be immortal. The king lamented the sad fate of his beloved bird and realized what a grave sin he had committed by killing it without looking into the bird’s true intentions.’

Having finished his story, the third son then proceeded to tell the king what happened the other night. He also mentioned the guardian deity, the cobra, and its befitting end. He finally told the king that he was only trying to wipe the drop of blood off his stepmother.

Hearing this, the king felt relieved. Overcome by emotion, he embraced his youngest son. From that day onward, the father and son became closer than ever.

…now that you’re here

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Kalai Selvi, Folk Tale writer at Ameya

Kalai is passionate about reading and reinterpreting folk tales from all over the country. Write to her at kalai.muse@gmail.com to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from The Project Gutenberg.