The Crafty Sage :
Vikramaditya, also known as Vikram, was an upright king. He had many claims to his fame. A well learned man, Vikram ruled his country ably well. His prime concerns were just two things - the welfare of his subjects and the kingdom. He never took any hasty decision. Above all, he was gifted with a unique quality of judging people and situations that had earned him a good name everywhere.
One day, a sage visited him. Vikram welcomed him. “O’ Great king, Vikram, I have heard a lot about your wisdom and courage. I wish you good luck. By the way, here is a special gift for you! It will fetch you and your kingdom, all the fortune!” he extended a fruit.
Vikram took it and handed it over to the treasurer. This was yet another fine quality of Vikram. Anything he got as a gift would be immediately given to the treasury. He never kept them for himself.
Since then, the sage visited daily and gave a fruit. It was stored in the treasury, as usual. One day when the treasurer opened the box, he was surprised to see all the fruits that had given by the sage had been turned into sparkling diamonds! Vikram saw them too.
When the sage came the next day, Vikram asked about it. The sage took him
separately and said, “I intend to conduct a special yajna. It’s for the overall welfare of every one! Today is Amavasya, I mean, the new moon night -
an auspicious day. Please meet me at the north end of the crematorium. There, I will tell you what it is all about!”
Vikram agreed. That night, he set off to the cremation ground. It was pitch dark everywhere. The cremation yard had no gate. Vikram marched into it, not caring that he was venturing it.
The night was pierced by the cry of an owl! As Vikram walked on, a ghost under a tree glared at him. It was a horrifying sight! Anyone would have died of heart attack at that sight. But that scary half-life failed to frighten him!
At last, he reached the north end. He saw the sage sitting before a small fire.
“Welcome, O’ king, Vikram. You are more courageous than I thought. Please listen carefully. To make this Yajna complete and appease Goddess Kali, I have to sacrifice someone - alive or dead. I don’t have the heart to kill
anyone. So, let me feed a corpse to this sacrificial fire. Please go to the southern end of this cremation ground. There is a Peepul tree at one corner. You can see a corpse hanging over there. Please fetch it to me. There ends your work. But, please understand one thing. The corpse is possessed by an evil spirit called Betal!” the sage said.
King Vikram pulled out his sword. He turned and headed towards south. On
the way, there were many ghosts. Some rollicked at him and some threatened him. But the undaunted Vikram threw a daring smile at them and proceeded!
At the far end, he saw the Peepul tree. And in the dim star light, he also saw a white corpse hanging upside down from one of the branches. He walked up to it, cut the branch and caught the betal! Then slinging it on his left shoulder, he went back to the sage.
But the betal over his shoulder began to speak. “O’ King, I know all about you and why and where you are taking me. Before I tell you about the crafty sage and his evil intention, let me keep you amused, because it is quite far away. I will tell you a short story that has a mind-blowing puzzle. After narrating it, you have to find its answer.”
“I know you are an unparalleled judge of people and events. So, I want you to answer it. But there are two conditions. If you open your mouth to speak, I will fly back. On the other hand, if you keep quiet, knowing the answer, your skull will burst into hundred pieces! That is it. Now let me tell you the story that has a fine twist in the end and a puzzle!”
Then the betal started telling a story...
The Crafty Sage
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