The Use of Magic Language

Edited by Rachel Harriette Busk

Long ages ago there lived in Western India a King who had a very clever son. In order to make the best advantage of his understanding, and to fit him in every way to become an accomplished sovereign, the King sent him into the Diamond-kingdom1, that he might be thoroughly instructed in all kinds of knowledge. He was accompanied in his journey by the son of the king’s chief minister, who was also to share his studies, but who was as dull as he was intelligent. On their arrival in the Diamond-kingdom, they gave each of them the sum with which they had been provided by their parents to two Lamas to conduct their education, and spent twelve years with them.

At the end of the twelve years the minister’s son proposed to the king’s son that they should now return home, and as the Lamas allowed that the king’s son had made such progress in the five kinds of knowledge that there was nothing more he could learn, he agreed to the proposal, and they set out on their homeward way.

All went well at first; but one day passed, and then another, and yet another, that they came to no source of water, and being parched nigh unto death with thirst, the minister’s son would have laid him down to die. As he stood hesitating about going on, a crow passed and made his cry of “ikerek.” The prince now encouraged his companion, saying, “Come but a little way farther, and we shall find water.”

“Nay, you deceive me not like an infant of days,” answered the minister’s son. “How shall we find water? Have we not laboured over the journey these three days, and found none; neither shall we find it now? Why should we add to this death of thirst the pangs of useless fatigue also?”

But the king’s son said again, “Nay, but of a certainty we shall now find it.”

And when he asked, “How knowest thou this of a certainty?” he replied, “I heard yon crow cry as he passed, ‘Go forward five hundred paces in a southerly direction, and you will come to a source of pure, bright fresh water.’”

The king’s son spoke with so much certainty that he had not strength to resist him; and so they went on five hundred paces farther in a southerly direction, and then they indeed came upon a pure, bright spring of water, where they sat down, and drank, and refreshed themselves.

As they sat there, the minister’s son was moved with jealousy, for, thought he within himself, in every art this prince has exceeded me, and when we return to our own country, all shall see how superior he is to me in every kind of attainment. Then he said aloud to the king’s son,—

“If we keep along this road, which leads over the level plain, where we can be seen ever so far off, may be robbers will see us, and, coming upon us, will slay us. Shall we not rather take the path which leads over the mountain, where the trees will hide us, and pass the night under cover of the wood?” And this he said in order to lead the prince into the forest, that he might slay him there unperceived. But the prince, who had no evil suspicion, willingly agreed to his words, and they took the path of the mountain. When they had well entered the thick wood, the minister’s son fell upon the prince from behind, and slew him. The prince in dying said nothing but the one word, “Abaraschika.”

As soon as he had well hidden the body, the minister’s son continued on his way.

As he came near the city, the King went out to greet him, accompanied by all his ministers, and followed by much people; but when he found that his son was not there, he fell into great anxiety, and eagerly inquired after him. “Thy son,” answered the minister’s son, “died on the journey.”

At these words, the King burst into an agony of grief, crying, “Alas, my son! mine only son! Without thee, what shall all my royal power and state, what shall all my hundred cities, profit me?” Amid these bitter cries he made his way back to the palace. As he dwelt on his grief, the thought came to him, “Shall not my son when dying at least have left some word expressive of his last thoughts and wishes?” Then he sent and inquired this thing of his companion, to which, the minister’s son made answer, “Thy son was overtaken with a quick and sudden malady, and as he breathed out his life, he had only time to utter the single word, Abaraschika.”

Hearing this the King was fully persuaded the word must have some deep and hidden meaning; but as he was unable to think it out, he summoned all the seers, soothsayers, magicians, and astrologers3 of his kingdom, and inquired of them what this same word Abaraschika could mean. There was not, however, one of them all that could help him to the meaning. Then said the King, “The last word that my son uttered, even mine only son, this is dear to me. There is no doubt that it is a word in which by all the arts that he had studied and acquired he knew how to express much, though he had not time to utter many words. Ye, therefore, who are also learned in cunning arts ought to be able to tell the interpretation of the same, but if not, then of what use are ye? It were better that ye were dead from off the face of the earth. Wherefore, I give you the space of seven days to search in all your writings and to exercise all your arts, and if at the end of seven days ye are none of you able to tell me the interpretation, then shall I deliver you over to death.”

With that he commanded that they should be all secured in an exceeding high fortress for the space of seven days, and well watched that they might not escape.

The seven days passed away, and not one of them was at all nearer telling the interpretation of Abaraschika than on the first day. “Of a certainty we shall all be put to death to-morrow,” was repeated all through the place, and some cried to the devas and some sat still and wept, speaking only of the relations and friends they would leave behind.

Meantime, a student of an inferior sort, who waited on the others and learned between whiles, had contrived to escape, not being under such strict guard as his more important brethren. At night-time he took shelter under a leafy tree. As he lay there a bird and its young ones came to roost on the boughs above him. One of the young ones instead of going to sleep went on complaining through the night, “I’m so hungry! I’m so hungry!” At last the old bird began to console it, saying, “Cry not, my son; for to-morrow there will be plenty of food.”

“And why should there be more food to-morrow than to-day?” asked the young bird.

“Because to-morrow,” answered the mother, “the Khan has made preparations to put a thousand men to death. That will be a feast indeed!”

“And why should he put so many men to death?” persisted the young bird.

“Because,” interposed the father, “though they are all wise men, not one of them can tell him such a simple thing as the meaning of the word Abaraschika.”

“What does it mean, then?” inquired the young bird.

“The meaning of the word is this: ‘This, my bosom friend, hath enticed me into a thick grove, and there, wounding me with a sharp knife, hath taken away my life, and is even now preparing to cut off my head.’” This the old bird told to his young.

The young student, however, hearing these words waited to hear no more, but set off at his best speed towards the tower where all his companions were confined. About daybreak he reached the gates, and made his way in all haste in to them. In the midst of their weeping and lamenting over the morning which they reckoned that of their day of death, he cried out,—

“Weep no more! I have discovered the meaning of the word.”

Just then the Khan’s guard came to conduct them to the Khan for examination preparatory to their being given over to execution. Here the young student declared to the Khan the meaning of the word Abaraschika. Having heard which the Khan dismissed them all with rich presents, but privately bid them declare to no man the meaning of the word. Then he sent for the minister’s son, and without giving him any hint of his intention, bid him go before him and show him where lay the bones of his son, which when he had seen and built a tomb over them, he ordered the minister and his son both to be put to death.