From the Galpoghor Series:
The Story of the Koonch-Baran Kanya
Translated by Kabir Chowdhury
The son of the King, the son of the King's Prime Minister, the son of the King's treasurer, and the son of the King's Police Chief were intimate friends. They roamed together, played together, and gaily idled away all their days, paying little attention to their studies. This made their mothers angry, and one day at mealtime they served their sons ashes from the oven instead of rice and other eatables. The four friends were terribly hurt by such treatment. They decided to leave their homes and go away to some other distant land.
Next morning they secured four horses from the stable and rode away to their unknown destination.
On and on they went, and at last when they reached a dense forest when it was well past mid-day. The four friends were awfully hungry by then.
Suddenly the King's son saw the head of a stag lying before them. He said. "Look, there is a stag's head lying before us. Let us cook this and then we can all have a nice meal." The Prime Minister's son said, "In order to cook it we need fire and cooking oil and spices. We'll need rice too for our meal." They talked the matter over and it was decided that the royal Prince would go and make arrangements for fire, the Prime Minster's son would prepare the stag's head, the Treasurers son would go for rice, and the Police Chief's son would obtain the spices and the cooking oil.
So they left, looking for fire and rice and spices; only the Prime Minister's son stayed behind in the forest. He took out his sword from the scabbard and struck at the stag's head, when, in the twinkling of an eye, a witch jumped out of that head, devoured the Prime Minister's son as well as his horse, and again turned herself into a stag's head.
After some time the son of the Police Chief returned to the scene and saw that there were no sign of the Prime Minster's son anywhere. He also found that the stag's head lay in front of him as before. He thought that he should get it ready without delay, so that they could quickly cook it as soon as all necessary ingredients were collected. Accordingly he took out his sword and struck at the stag's head when he met the same ghastly fate as his friend's. The same thing happened to the Treasurer's son. But while the witch was engaged in devouring him, the royal Prince saw it from a distance. At once he turned his horse around and tried to gallop away as fast as he could. But the witch had seen him too. She ran after him with incredible speed and quickly gained upon the Prince. When the latter saw that there was no way of escape, he addressed the 'Bel' tree he saw standing before him thus, "O tree, if thou art a tree of truth, then please split into two and let me take shelter inside you." The tree at once split into two and the Prince stepped inside it, when the two halves again joined together. The witch came running, and in her fury devoured the royal Prince's horse in one gulp. Then she changed herself into a beautiful damsel in distress, sat under that 'Bel' tree and started to shed sorrowful tears.
After a while a King, out a-hunting, happened to pass by that tree. He saw the weeping young lady and wanted to know the cause of her misery. The young lady said, "I am an orphan, Sir. An ogre, cruel and fierce beyond words, has devoured all my near and dear ones. Only a brother had somehow managed to escape, but he is now a prisoner inside this tree. 'Do take pity on me and have this tree felled, and I shall never forget your kindness," The King listened to the beautiful girl patiently and said, "I shall have this tree felled and cut open. But, look, my dear girl, you can't stay in such a desolate place all by yourself. Come with me and I shall marry you and make you my queen."
The witch, disguised as the beautiful young girl, readily agreed to the King's proposal. Our royal Prince, however, followed this conversation from inside the tree with great anxiety. He softly asked a 'Bel' fruit hanging from a branch of the tree to open up so that he could enter it and thus save his life. The fruit opened up and the Prince hid himself inside its crust when its two halves again joined together and became its old rounded self. Then the fruit gently loosened itself from the tree and fell into the tank below and quickly went down into the water. Now a huge 'boal' fish lay there in the water with his big mouth agape. The fruit fell right into his mouth and he promptly swallowed it even before he knew what he was doing.
Next day the King's men came and felled the 'Bel' tree and took it away to the palace, but the witch-queen was disturbed to find no Prince inside it.
Now, a few days later, a fisherman caught that 'boal' fish in his net and brought the huge big fish home and gave it to his wife who immediately began to cut it into pieces. When the fisherwoman cut open the belly of the fish she was amazed to see a handsome Prince step out of it. The Prince told her all that had happened to him. They realized that the Prince's story was true and that the new queen of their land was surely a witch, for since her arrival in the country many strange happenings were being reported from different parts of the land. There was case of horses and cows and men missing, and no one could explain where they went and how.
After listening to the Prince's tale the fisherwoman advised him to go to their King and expose the witch-queen. He said, "Yes, I think I'll do that." But the Prince was faced with a problem. How would he make the King believe in the truth of his statement? He thought and thought about it. At last an idea occurred to him. He knew that the witches and giants and ogres had their life-springs not in their body but tucked away in the body of some bird or bumblebee. Surely this witch was no exception. Her life-spring, he was convinced, was hidden inside some bird or bee at her native home.
So the next day the Prince went to the capital of the country and saw the King. He told the latter that he belonged to Kokaf, the native land of the new queen. Then he added, "Sir, I am leaving for Kokaf today. If the queen would like to send any message to her home I should be glad to take it." The King went inside the palace to the queen's quarters and told her about it. Then the queen said, "I have a sister at home who is taking care of a pet bird of mine. Please ask this fellow to bring that bird with him when he returns here from Kokaf." The King conveyed this message to our Prince who immediately set out for Kokaf.
The Prince reached Kokaf in due course, and presenting himself at the witch queen's home asked her sister to give him the bird in question. The witch-sister said, "First let me make sure that you are truly my sister's messenger and no imposter. If you truly are what you say, then take these iron bears, chew them, and eat them up." The Prince, however, knew about the ways of the witches, and had cleverly carried in his pockets some real, ordinary beans. So he unhesitatingly took the iron beans from the witch, surreptitiously threw them away, and chewed the beans that he had brought himself and ate them up. The witch was completely duped. She went in, brought the bird along with her cage, and handed it over to the Prince, disguised as a weary traveler.
His mission successfully completed, the Prince quickly went to the capital of that other King, and showed him the pet bird of the queen. The King was very glad to see the queen's bird, but the Prince then told him that his queen was really a witch. This apparently wild statement, however, made the King terribly angry. He imperiously asked the insolent young man to prove what he said. The Prince said no word, but quietly took out the bird from its cage. At once the witch-queen began to rush out with blood-curdling shrieks from inside the palace in her own ugly shape. The Prince firmly held the bird by the neck with his left hand and with his right hand tore off one of its legs. At once the witch began to limp badly, but she continued to advance towards the Prince, her face contorted with pain and fury. The Prince then pressed hard the throat and neck of the bird. At once the witch fell down with a groan. The Prince said, "She-devil, I ask you to throw out my three friends at once, or else..." The Prince slightly released the pressure of his hand on the bird's neck, and out came the three friends of the Prince through the witch's mouth. But the witch too moved with astonishing speed even with her one leg and came rushing towards the Prince. All the members of the royal court cried out in terror. The King said in a hoarse voice, "Kill the bird quickly." No sooner was it said than it was done. The Prince squeezed hard the bird's throat and neck and killed it off. The witch too gave wild shriek and breathed her last.
The King heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the witch lying dead at his feet. He was so long wondering about the many sudden disappearances of cows, horses, and men from his land. Now he knew the cause. He was so delighted with the Prince that he turned to him and said, "Look, brave youngman, I have no son. If you have no objection, please stay here me and be my son." The Prince agreed. The King also provided his three friends with good positions.
Days rolled by. Soon it was time for the Prince to marry and start a family. One day the Prince took a 'Koonch' in his hand, the bright red tiny seed of a tree with a dark black dot on it, and said, "If I get a girl like this only then shall I get married. Her colour must be like this koonch and the colour of her hair like the dark black dot on it." The King, on hearing of this, asked the Prince's friend the Prime Minister's son to go and look for a suitable bride for his son as desired by him.
(To be Continued)
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