Vikram Betal Stories - The Strange Judgement

 The Strange Judgement

The vampire went on: When the Kingdom of Karnika was ruled by King Divyendu, a bandit became a menace. Ugrashil was the bandit's name. He made the hills in the interior of the forest his citadel. He raised a gang and trained each member of it in riding, fencing, and stick play almost to perfection. The gang not only stripped those who passed by the forest but also raided the houses of the wealthy in distant villages. Most swiftly they escaped into the forest with their booty. Several times the king sent his sepoys to flush out the bandits, but in that difficult region, the sepoys were no match for the bandits. Once the bandits had entered their hideout in the hills, the sepoys were helpless. Ugrashil and his followers always put on loose masks on their faces when they were out for plunder. That is why nobody ever saw their faces. When they roamed about normally in towns or villages, nobody suspected their nature. Ugrashil's wife always grumbled against his way of life. "Let's go over to some village and live as poor people. We will be without any fear or anxiety. What satisfaction can be there in living as criminals, though with a lot of money?" she often told her husband. "It is not possible for me to change over to any different lifestyle, not in this life!" replied Ugrashil. A son was born to Ugrashil after a long time. This resulted in a great change in Ugrashil's conduct. He was reluctant to go out for plunders. When he saw a child in any household, he passed some time in caressing it and never touched any ornament the child or its mother wore. His two deputies told him, "Master! Is it right for a bandit to have such weaknesses? You are losing your alertness!" Ugrashil nodded and smiled.

He neither quarreled with them nor changed his conduct. One day Ugrashil's spies brought news that a party of wealthy merchants was to pass by a road that was not far from the forest. Ugrashil and his gang got ready to launch an attack on the party. They went to the border of the forest and waited. Their spies climbed the tallest trees and kept a watch on the road. Ugrashil sat leaning against a tree. He dozed off for a moment. He dreamt a fearful dream. The chief of the king's police force spotted him and hurled a spear at him. It pierced his back. His wife saw it, shrieked, and tried to reach him in a hurry. But the rock on which they stood slipped and they fell down into a gorge. Ugrashil gave out a cry and his thin sleep ended. "What happened, Master?" asked his deputies. "Nothing," replied Ugrashil. Just then his spies on the treetop sent the signal to tell him that it was time for the gang to attack the pilgrims. "Let's gallop forth," proposed the deputies. "No!" said Ugrashil. He felt that his dream indicated danger. He decided to call off the proposed attack.

"What do you mean, Master?" asked the surprised deputies. "We must return to our homes!" was Ugrashil's command. The gang had to obey their chief's order. But it was clear that they were unhappy. On their return journey, they received another shock from Ugrashil. He told them, "I am thinking of surrendering myself to the king. You are welcome to follow me if you so please!" "But won't that mean our being punished?" the deputies asked in surprise. "Yes, but that will free us from all anxiety. What is more, I am very much concerned about my son's future. I don't want him to grow up in a forest, in the shadow of fear. If an encounter takes place with the king's sepoys, my wife's and my son's lives too will be in danger. I want to avoid this," explained Ugrashil. His two deputies looked at each other but said nothing. Back in the hills, Ugrashil announced his decision to all the members of the gang. They stood speechless. That night Ugrashil could not sleep. He saw his two deputies talking under a rock. He went closer to them and heard what they were saying. "Once the chief surrenders to the king, the sepoys will find out our hideout. That will be our end," said one. "Right. We must see to it that neither the chief nor his wife has any chance to meet the king!" said the other. Ugrashil had no difficulty in understanding what was in their minds. They planned to kill him and his wife. In the process, they were not likely to spare the child either.

He woke up his wife. Hurriedly they slipped out of the forest along with their child. They walked the whole night. Ugrashil knew a shortcut out of the forest which nobody else knew. In the morning they reached a village. Ugrashil hired a carriage and proceeded to the town. It was evening when they reached the town which was the capital of Karnika. They took on rent a room in an inn. At night Ugrashil told his wife, "I must meet the king in privacy and surrender to him. Let him punish me, but you will be safe." His wife wept and said, "Is it necessary to surrender to the king? Is it not enough to change the mode of your living? Why should we not just live quietly?" "How can we? I have no money with which to buy any land or begin any trade. Besides, today or tomorrow the king will come to know who I am. If I declare myself and am sent to jail, according to the law of this land you and the child will be given shelter in the king's charity home," said Ugrashil. Without waiting to know his wife's reaction, he set out into the dark. With ease, he climbed the king's palace. The guards could not see him. He knew when the king retires to bed. He wanted to meet him just before that. He managed to reach the entrance into the royal bedroom. Before he had crossed into the room, he stumbled upon a lampstand. The sound alerted the king's bodyguards. At once they pounced on him. "My lord, all I wanted was to talk to you privately," he said looking at the king. "Disarm him," commanded the king.

The bodyguards thoroughly searched Ugrashil's person. But no arm was found. The king asked the bodyguards to leave the intruder alone with him. Ugrashil told the king all about his change of heart and prayed to him to give shelter to his wife and son. He was prepared for any punishment. The king brought out a bag from the next room. "Go and begin a new life." The grateful Ugrashil understood that the bag contained money. He touched the king's feet. The king called his bodyguards and asked them to escort Ugrashil to his inn. The vampire paused for a moment and then demanded of King Vikram in a challenging tone, "O King, how did the King Divyendu know for certain that Ugrashil had not been there to kill him? Knowing him to be the dreaded criminal how did he let him go free? Why did he provide him with money? What could be his plan for the members of Ugrashil's gang? Answer me, O King, if you can. Should you keep mum despite your knowledge of the answer, your head would roll off your neck." 

Answered King Vikram forthwith: "King Divyendu at first ascertained that the intruder carried no arm. Had Ugrashil wanted to murder the king, he could not have entered the palace without any arm! Then, why should he confess to be the dreaded Ugrashil when nobody had ever seen his face? This convinced the king that Ugrashil had really had a change of heart. A conscientious ruler should not only punish a criminal but also be keen to reform him. The king felt that Ugrashil ought to be given a chance to lead a normal life. So far as Ugrashil's gang is concerned, the king must have thought that its members might feel inspired to surrender when they learn that Ugrashil has been pardoned. If they don't surrender, the king can suppress them because their strength lay in their leader and the leader had deserted them. So, we see that King Divyendu acted wisely." No sooner had the king concluded his answer than the vampire, along with the corpse, gave him the slip.