folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 763
selected and edited by
D. L. Ashliman
This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana about a self-willed Brother. Said the Master to that Brother, "This is not the first time, Brother, that you have been self-willed; you were of just the same disposition in bygone times also; and therefore it was that, as you would not follow the advice of the wise and good, you came to be cut in two by a sharp sword and were flung on the highway; and you were the sole cause why a thousand men met their end." And so saying, he told this story of the past.Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there was a brahmin in a village who knew the charm called Vedabbha. Now this charm, so they say, was precious beyond all price. For, if at a certain conjunction of the planets the charm was repeated and the gaze bent upwards to the skies, straightway from the heavens there rained the Seven Things of Price: gold, silver, pearl, coral, catseye, ruby, and diamond.
In those days the Bodhisatta was a pupil of this brahmin; and one day his master left the village on some business or other, and came with the Bodhisatta to the country of Ceti.
In a forest by the way dwelt five hundred robbers—known as "the Despatchers"—who made the way impassable. And these caught the Bodhisatta and the Vedabbha-brahmin. (Why, you ask, were they called the Despatchers?—Well, the story goes that of every two prisoners they made they used to despatch one to fetch the ransom; and that's why they were called the Despatchers. If they captured a father and a son, they told the father to go for the ransom to free his son; if they caught a mother and her daughter, they sent the mother for the money; if they caught two brothers, they let the elder go; and so too, if they caught a teacher and his pupil, it was the pupil they set free. In this case, therefore, they kept the Vedabbha-brahmin, and sent the Bodhisatta for the ransom.)
And the Bodhisatta said with a bow to his master, "In a day or two I shall surely come back; have no fear; only fail not to do as I shall say. Today will come to pass the conjunction of the planets which brings about the rain of the Things of Price. Take heed lest, yielding to this mishap, you repeat the charm and call down the precious shower. For, if you do, calamity will certainly befall both you and this band of robbers."
With this warning to his master, the Bodhisatta went his way in quest of the ransom.
At sunset the robbers bound the brahmin and laid him by the heels. Just at this moment the full moon rose over the eastern horizon, and the brahmin, studying the heavens, knew that the great conjunction was taking place.
"Why," thought he, "should I suffer this misery? By repeating the charm I will call down the precious rain, pay the robbers the ransom, and go free."
So he called out to the robbers, "Friends, why do you take me a prisoner?"
"To get a ransom, reverend sir," said they.
"Well, if that is all you want," said the brahmin, "make haste and untie me; have my head bathed, and new clothes put on me; and let me be perfumed and decked with flowers. Then leave me to myself."
The robbers did as he bade them. And the brahmin, marking the conjunction of the planets, repeated his charm with eyes uplifted to the heavens. Forthwith the Things of Price poured down from the skies! The robbers picked them all up, wrapping their booty into bundles with their cloaks. Then with their brethren they marched away; and the brahmin followed in the rear.
But, as luck would have it, the party was captured by a second band of five hundred robbers!
"Why do you seize us?" said the first to the second band.
"For booty," was the answer.
"If booty is what you want, seize on that brahmin, who by simply gazing up at the skies brought down riches as rain. It was he who gave us all that we have got."
So the second band of robbers let the first band go, aud seized on the brahmin, crying, "Give us riches too!"
"It would give me great pleasure," said the brahmin; "but it will be a year before the requisite conjunction of the planets takes place again. If you will only be so good as to wait till then, I will invoke the precious shower for you."
"Rascally brahmin!" cried the angry robbers, "you made the other band rich off-hand, but want us to wait a whole year!"
And they cut him in two with a sharp sword, and flung his body in the middle of the road. Then hurrying after the first band of robbers, they killed every man of them too in hand-to-hand fight, and seized the booty. Next, they divided into two companies and fought among themselves, company against company, till two hundred and fifty men were slain. And so they went on killing one another, till only two were left alive. Thus did those thousand men come to destruction.
Now, when the two survivors had managed to carry off the treasure they hid it in the jungle near a village; and one of them sat there, sword in hand, to guard it, whilst the other went into the village to get rice and have it cooked for supper.
"Covetousness is the root of ruin!" mused he that stopped by the treasure. "When my mate comes back, he'll want half of this. Suppose I kill him the moment he gets back."
So he drew his sword and sat waiting for his comrade's return. Meanwhile, the other had equally reflected that the booty had to be halved, and thought to himself, "Suppose I poison the rice, and give it him to eat and so kill him, and have the whole of the treasure to myself."
Accordingly, when the rice was boiled, he first ate his own share, and then put poison in the rest, which he carried back with him to the jungle. But scarce had he set it down, when the other robber cut him in two with his sword, and hid the body away in a secluded spot. Then he ate the poisoned rice, and died then and there. Thus, by reason of the treasure, not only the brahmin but all the robbers came to destruction.
Howbeit, after a day or two the Bodhisatta came back with the ransom. Not finding his master where he had left him, but seeing treasure strewn all round about, his heart misgave him that, in spite of his advice, his master must have called down a shower of treasure from the skies, and that all must have perished in consequence; and he proceeded along the road. On his way he came to where his master's body lay cloven in twain upon the way.
"Alas!" he cried, "he is dead through not heeding my warning."
Then with gathered sticks he made a pyre and burnt his master's body, making an offering of wild flowers.
Further along the road, he came upon the five hundred "Despatchers," and further still upon the two hundred and fifty, and so on by degrees until at last he came to where lay only two corpses. Marking how of the thousand all but two had perished, and feeling sure that there must be two survivors, and that these could not refrain from strife, he pressed on to see where they had gone. So on he went till he found the path by which with the treasure they had turned into the jungle ; and there he found the heap of bundles of treasure, and one robber lying dead with his rice-bowl overturned at his side. Realising the whole story at a glance, the Bodhisatta set himself to search for the missing man, and at last found his body in the secret spot where it had been flung
"And thus," mused the Bodhisatta, "through not following my counsel my master in his self-will has been the means of destroying not himself only but a thousand others also. Truly, they that seek their own gain by mistaken and misguided means shall reap ruin, even as my master."
And he repeated this stanza:
Misguided effort leads to loss, not gain;Thus spake the Bodhisatta, and he went on to say, "And even as my master's misguided and misplaced effort in causing the rain of treasure to fall from heaven wrought both his own death and the destruction of others with him, even so shall every other man who by mistaken means seeks to compass his own advantage, utterly perish and involve others in his destruction."
Thieves killed Vedabbha and themselves were slain.
With these words did the Bodhisatta make the forest ring; and in this stanza did he preach the Truth, whilst the Tree-fairies shouted applause. The treasure he contrived to carry off to his own home, where he lived out his term of life in the exercise of almsgiving and other good works. And when his life closed, he departed to the heaven he had won.
So they sat down in the mosque and one of them arose and entered the city. When he came therein, his soul prompted him to play his fellows false and get the gold for himself alone. So he bought food and poisoned it; but, when he returned to his comrades, they fell upon him and slew him, so they might enjoy the gold without him. Then they ate of the [poisoned] food and died, and the gold abode cast down over against them.
Presently, Jesus, son of Mary (on whom be peace!) passed by and seeing this, besought God the Most High for tidings of their case; so He told him what had betided them, whereat great was his wonderment and he related to his disciples what he had seen.
At the first halting-place, they agreed to play him false and take his goods; but, at the same time, each purposed inwardly foul play to the other, saying in himself, "If I can cheat my comrade, it will be well for me and I shall have all to myself."
So each took food and putting therein poison, brought it to his fellow; and they both ate of the poisoned mess and died. Now they had been sitting talking with the merchant; so when they left him and were long absent from him, he sought for them and found them both dead; whereby he knew that they were sharpers, who had plotted to play him foul, but their treachery had recoiled upon themselves; so the merchant was preserved and took what they had.
In long past times a hunter wounded an elephant with a poisoned arrow. Perceiving that he had hit it, he followed after the arrow and killed the elephant. Five hundred robbers who had plundered a hill-town were led by an evil star to that spot, where they perceived the elephant. As it was just then a time of hunger with them, they said, "Now that we have found this meat, let two hundred and fifty of us cut the flesh off the elephant and roast it, while two hundred and fifty go to fetch water."
Then those among them who had cut the flesh off the elephant and cooked it, said among themselves, "Honored sirs, now that we have accomplished such a task and collected so much stolen property, wherefore should we give away part of it to the others?" Let us eat as much of the meat as we please, and then poison the rest. The others will eat the poisoned meat and die, and then the stolen goods will be ours."
So after they had eaten their fill of the meat, they poisoned what remained over. Those who had gone to fetch water, likewise, when they had drunk as much water as they wanted, poisoned what was left. So when they came back, and those who had eaten the flesh drank the water, and those who had drunk the water ate the flesh, they all of them died.
Now there came to that spot a jackal, fettered by the ties of time, and it saw all those dead bodies. With a joy that sprang from greediness it thought, "As an extremely large amount of booty as accrued to me, I will take each part of it in its turn." So it seized the bow with its jaws, and began to gnaw at the knots of the bowstring. The string snapped, and the end of the bow struck the jackal in the roof of the mouth so hard, that it died. The jackal uttered this proverb: "It is good to accumulate, but not to accumulate immoderately. See how the jackal, infatuated by greed after the accumulated, was killed by the bow."
In Flanders there was a group of young folks who lived for gaming, eating, drinking, and merrymaking. They made these follies and excesses even worse with their wanton and blasphemous curses and oaths.
As my story begins, three of these riotous fellows were drinking in a tavern when from the street they heard the sound of a bell accompanying a coffin to its grave.
"Go and ask whose corpse is passing by," said one of them to a servant boy.
"I already know who it is," replied the boy. "He was an old friend of yours. Last night he was suddenly slain while seated dead drunk on his bench. The silent thief who struck him down is the one named Death, the same Death who has taken so many people in our country of late. Be on guard yourselves lest this adversary take you as well!"
"The boy is right," added the tavern keeper. "In a village only a mile from here Death has taken man, woman, child, and servant. He must be nearby. Take care, or he will do you harm!"
"Would meeting him be such a peril?" interjected one of the drinkers, then swore an oath on God's sacred bones that he would seek him out. "Listen, friends," he added, "We three have always been as one. Let each of us now hold up his hand and swear an oath of brotherhood. Together we will slay this traitor Death!"
And thus with a blasphemous curse, they swore to live and die for each other and together to seek out and challenge Death before the next nightfall. In a drunken rage they set forth toward the village of which the tavern keeper had spoken, swearing grisly oaths as they went.
They had not gone a half mile before they met a poor old man. He greeted them humbly, "God be with you, my lords."
The proudest of these unruly men replied, "Hey, old man, why are you still hanging onto life at your great age?"
The old man looked him in the face and said, "Because wherever I have wandered, no one will exchange his youth for my age. Thus I must keep my age for as long as it is God's will. Alas, not even Death wants my life."
At the sound of Death's name, one of the gamblers interrupted. "You mention that traitor Death, the one who is killing all our friends. Are you his spy? Are you one of his servants, sent to slay us young folks? Tell us where he is, or pay the price!"
"Well, sirs," he said, "If what you want is to find Death, just turn up this crooked path. I left him sitting under a tree in a grove. He'll still be there. You'll find him."
The three unruly men ran until they came to the tree, and there they found a pile of golden florins, well nigh onto eight bushels of them, they thought. The sight of all the bright and beautiful florins quickly caused them to abandon their search for Death, and their thoughts turned to how they might best protect their newly found treasure.
The worst of them spoke the first word, "Brothers," he said, "Fortune has given us this great treasure, but if we carry it home by light of day, people will call us thieves, and our own treasure will send us to the gallows. We must take it home by night, and then with utmost prudence and caution. Let us draw lots to see which one of us should run to town and secretly bring back bread and wine. The other two will stay here and guard the treasure. Then in the night we will carry the treasure to wherever we think is best."
The lot fell to the youngest, and he immediately departed for the town.
He had no sooner left when the one said to the other, "You are my sworn brother, and I will tell you what will profit you the most. You know our friend has gone. There is gold here aplenty, but our shares will be much greater if we divide it by two than if we divide it by three.
"That's true, said the other, "but what can we do?"
The first one answered, "The two of us are stronger than the one of him. You engage him in a playful wrestling game, and I will run my dagger through his back. Then you do the same thing with your dagger, and all this gold will be for you and me alone."
Now the youngest, while walking toward the town, thought over and over again about the bright new florins. "If only I could have this treasure to myself," he said, "then I would be the happiest man alive!"
The Fiend, our Adversary, put into his heart the thought that he might buy poison and thus kill his two friends. And so, arriving in the town, he sought out an apothecary whom he asked for a poison to kill rats and also a polecat that was in his yard.
The apothecary answered, "Here is a mixture that will kill any creature, even if it were to eat an amount no larger than a kernel of grain."
Carrying this poison in a box, he ran to the next street where he borrowed three bottles. He poured poison into two of them, keeping the third one clean for his own drink. Then he filled all three bottles with wine and returned to his friends.
But why make a sermon of it? They killed him, just as they had planned, and when the deed was done, one of them said, "Now let us sit and drink and make merry. Afterward we will bury his body." And while still talking, he drank from the poisoned bottle, and his friend drank as well, and thus the two of them died.
Thus running, the hermit met with three great ruffians, who haunted that wild place (foresta), to rob whoever passed thereby. Nor were they ever aware this gold was there. Now seeing, as they lay hid, this man flee without a soul behind to chase him, they were somewhat afraid, but yet stopped him, to know what he was fleeing for, because at this they marveled much.
And he replied and said, "My brothers, I am fleeing from Death, who comes after me in chase."
They, seeing neither man nor beast that chased him, said, "Show us what is chasing thee, and lead us unto where it is."
Then said the hermit to them, "Come with me and I will show it to you"; beseeching them all the time not to go to it, for he himself was fleeing for that reason. And they, desiring to find it, to see what manner of thing it was, demanded of him nothing else.
The hermit seeing that he could do no more, and fearing them, led them to the cave, whence he had departed, and said to them, "Here is Death, which was chasing me"; and showed them the gold that was there; and they began to mightily congratulate themselves, and to have great fun together.
Then they dismissed that good man, and he went away about his own affairs; and they began to say one to the other, how simple a person that was.
These three ruffians remained all three together, to guard this wealth, and began to consider what they must do. Replied one and said, "Meseems that God has given us this so high fortune, that we should not depart from here until we carry away all this property."
And another said, "Let us not do so. Let one of us take somewhat thereof and go to the city and sell it, and buy bread and wine, and whatsoever we need; and in that let him do his best, so that we be furnished."
To this they all agree. The devil, who is crafty and bad enough to contrive to do whatever evil he can, put in this one's heart to go to the city for supplies. "When I am in the city," said he to himself, "I will eat and drink what I want, and then provide me with certain things whereof I have need at the present time; and then I will poison what I bring to my comrades, so that when the pair of them are dead I shall then be lord of all this property; and, as it seems to me, it is so much that I shall be the richest man of all this country for possessions."
And as it came into his thought, so he did. He took for himself as much victual as he needed, and then poisoned the rest, and so he brought it to those his companions. But while he went to the city, as we have said, if he thought and contrived ill, to slay his companions, that every thing should remain for him, they, on their part, thought no better of him than he of them, and said one to the other, "As soon as this our comrade shall return with the bread and the wine and the other things we need, we will kill him, and then eat as much as we desire, and then all this great wealth shall be between us two. And the less in number we are the more shall each of us have."
Now came he who had gone to the city to buy the things they needed. The moment his companions saw he had returned, they were upon him with lances and knives and killed him. When they had made a dead man of him, they ate of what he had brought; and so soon as they were satisfied both fell dead. And so died all three; for the one slew the other, as ye have heard, and had not the wealth.
And thus may the Lord God requite traitors; for they went seeking death, and in this manner they found it, and in a way which they deserved. And the sage wisely fled it, and the gold abode free as at first.
This place formerly belonged to the Holter borderland and was covered with woods for a great distance. At a later time the Kurrel took on a sinister reputation.
Many years ago three Jews are said to have committed a robbery there. Afterward they began quarreling with one another over the loot. One of them left to bring back food and drink, and during his absence the other two plotted to murder him. This they did, but when they partook of the food that he had brought back, they died of poisoning, for their murdered comrade had had the same plan.
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Revised March 19, 2013.