A Celebration of Women Writers

"How Raja Rasâlu Swung the Seventy Fair Maidens, Daughters of the King." by Flora Annie Steel (1847-1929)
From: Tales of the Punjab (1894) by Flora Annie Steel. London & New York: Macmillan and Co., 1894.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

HOW RAJA RASÂLU SWUNG THE SEVENTY FAIR MAIDENS, DAUGHTERS OF THE KING

NOW, as Raja Rasâlu, tender-hearted and strong, journeyed along to play chaupur with the King, he came to a burning forest, and a voice rose from the fire saying, 'O traveller, for God's sake save me from the fire!'

Then the Prince turned towards the burning forest, and, lo! the voice was the voice of a tiny cricket. Nevertheless, Rasâlu, tender-hearted and strong, snatched it from the fire and set it at liberty. Then the little creature, full of gratitude, pulled out one of its feelers, and giving it to its preserver, said, 'Keep this, and should you ever be in trouble, put it into the fire, and instantly I will come to your aid.'

The Prince smiled, saying, 'What help could you give me ?' Nevertheless, he kept the hair and went on his way.

Now, when he reached the city of King Sarkap, seventy maidens, daughters of the King, came out to meet him–seventy fair maidens, merry and careless, full of smiles and laughter; but one, the youngest of them all, when she saw the gallant young Prince riding on Bhaunr Irâqi, going gaily to his doom, was filled with pity, and called to him, saying–

'Fair Prince, on the charger so gray,
    Turn thee back! turn thee back!
Or lower thy lance for the fray;
Thy head will be forfeit to-day!
Dost love life? then, stranger, I pray,
    Turn thee back! turn thee back!'

But he, smiling at the maiden, answered lightly–

'Fair maiden, I come from afar,
Sworn conqueror in love and in war!
King Sarkap my coming will rue,
His head in four pieces I'll hew;
Then forth as a bridegroom I'll ride,
With you, little maid, as my bride!'

Now when Rasâlu replied so gallantly, the maiden looked in his face, and seeing how fair he was, and how brave and strong, she straightway fell in love with him, and would gladly have followed him through the world.

But the other sixty-nine maidens, being jealous, laughed scornfully at her, saying, 'Not so fast, O gallant warrior! If you would marry our sister you must first do our bidding, for you will be our younger brother.'

'Fair sisters!' quoth Rasâlu gaily, 'give me my task and I will perform it.'

So the sixty-nine maidens mixed a hundredweight of millet seed with a hundredweight of sand, and giving it to Rasâlu, bade him separate the seed from the sand.

Then he bethought him of the cricket, and drawing the feeler from his pocket, thrust it into the fire. And immediately there was a whirring noise in the air, and a great flight of crickets alighted beside him, and among them the cricket whose life he had saved.

Then Rasâlu said, 'Separate the millet seed from the sand.'

'Is that all?' quoth the cricket; 'had I known how small a job you wanted me to do, I would not have assembled so many of my brethren.'

With that the flight of crickets set to work, and in one night they separated the seed from the sand.

Now when the sixty-nine fair maidens, daughters of the King, saw that Rasâlu had performed his task, they set him another, bidding him swing them all, one by one, in their swings, until they were tired.

Whereupon he laughed, saying, 'There are seventy of you, counting my little bride yonder, and I am not going to spend my life in swinging girls; yet, by the time I have given each of you a swing, the first will be wanting another! No! if you want to swing, get in, all seventy of you, into one swing, and then I will see what I can compass.'

So the seventy maidens, merry and careless, full of smiles and laughter, climbed into the one swing, and Raja Rasâlu, standing in his shining armour, fastened the ropes to his mighty bow, and drew it up to its fullest bent. Then he let go, and like an arrow the swing shot into the air, with its burden of seventy fair maidens, merry and careless, full of smiles and laughter.

But as it swung back again, Rasâlu, standing there in his shining armour, drew his sharp sword and severed the ropes. Then the seventy fair maidens fell to the ground headlong; and some were bruised and some broken, but the only one who escaped unhurt was the maiden who loved Rasâlu, for she fell out last, on the top of the others, and so came to no harm.

After this, Rasâlu strode on fifteen paces, till he came to the seventy drums, that every one who came to play chaupur with the King had to beat in turn; and he beat them so loudly that he broke them all. Then he came to the seventy gongs, all in a row, and he hammered them so hard that they cracked to pieces.

Seeing this, the youngest Princess, who was the only one who could run, fled to her father the King in a great fright, saying–

'A mighty Prince, Sarkap! making havoc, rides along,
He swung us, seventy maidens fair, and threw us out headlong;
He broke the drums you placed there and the gongs too in his pride,
Sure, he will kill thee, father mine, and take me for his bride!'

But King Sarkap replied scornfully–

'Silly maiden, thy words make a lot
  Of a very small matter;
For fear of my valour, I wot,
  His armour will clatter.
As soon as I've eaten my bread
I'll go forth and cut off his head!'

Notwithstanding these brave and boastful words, he was in reality very much afraid, having heard of Rasâlu's renown. And learning that he was stopping at the house of an old woman in the city, till the hour for playing chaupur arrived, Sarkap sent slaves to him with trays of sweetmeats and fruit, as to an honoured guest. But the food was poisoned.

Now when the slaves brought the trays to Raja Rasâlu, he rose up haughtily, saying, 'Go, tell your master I have nought to do with him in friendship. I am his sworn enemy, and I eat not of his salt!'

So saying, he threw the sweetmeats to Raja Sarkap's dog, which had followed the slaves, and lo! the dog died.

Then Rasâlu was very wroth, and said bitterly, 'Go back to Sarkap, slaves! and tell him that Rasâlu deems it no act of bravery to kill even an enemy by treachery.'

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Molly Tamarkin.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom