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Ogress Queen

An Indian (Kashmiri) Tale

People tell a story about a king who had seven wives but no children. When he married the first woman, he thought she would bear him a son. When she didn’t, he married a second with the same hope. When she too turned out to be barren, he married a third, then a fourth, and then the others. But no son and heir was born to make his heart glad and to sit on the throne after him.
Overwhelmed by grief, he was walking in a neighboring wood one day when he saw a woman of supernatural beauty.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I’m very miserable,” he said. “I have seven wives but no son and heir to call my own. I came to this wood today hoping to meet some holy man who might bless me with a son.”
“And you expect to find such a person here in these lonely woods?” she asked, laughing. “Only I live here. But I can help you. What will you give me if I give you what you wish?”

“Give me a son and you can have half my country.”
“I don’t want your gold or your country. I want you. Marry me, and you shall have a son. and heir.”
The king agreed, took the beautiful woman to his palace, and married her that very week.
Very soon after that, all the other wives of the king became pregnant. However, the king’s joy did not last long. The beautiful woman whom he had married was really an ogress. She had appeared before the king as a lovely woman only to deceive him and work mischief in his palace. Every night, when the entire royal household was fast asleep, she would rise and go to the stables and pens, and there she would eat an elephant, a horse or two, some sheep, or a camel. Once her hunger for raw meat and thirst for blood were satisfied, she would return to her room and behave as if nothing had happened. At first the king’s servants were afraid to tell him they were missing some animals. But when the toll increased and more and more animals were taken every night, they had to go to him. He gave strict orders to protect the palace grounds and appointed guards everywhere. But the animals continued to disappear, and nobody knew how.
One night, the king was pacing in his room, not knowing what to do. His eighth and most beautiful wife said, “What will you give me if I discover the thief?”
“Anything. Everything,” said the king.
“Very well, then. You rest now, and I’ll show you the real culprits in the morning.”
The king was soon fast asleep, and the wicked queen left the bedchamber and went straight to the sheep pens. She killed a sheep, filled an earthen pot with its blood, returned to the palace, went to the bedrooms of the other seven wives of the king, and stained their mouths and clothes with the blood she had brought. Then she went and lay down in the royal bedroom where the king was still sleeping. At dawn, she woke him up and said to him, “You won’t believe this, but your other wives, all seven of them, are the true culprits. They eat live animals. They are not human beings; they are all ogresses. Beware of them. You too are in danger. Go now and see if what I say is not true.”
The king did so, and when he saw the bloodstained mouths and clothes of his queens, he feared for his life and flew into a rage. He ordered that their eyes be put out at once and that they be thrown down a big dry well outside the city and left there to starve to death. And it was done.
The very next week, one of them gave birth to a son. The starving queens, nearly dead of hunger, couldn’t help eating the newborn child for food. When another queen had a son, he too was eaten. As each of the other queens gave birth to a son, that child was devoured in turn. The seventh wife, who was the last to give birth, did not eat her portions of the other wives’ children, but kept them till her own son was born. When he was born, she begged them not to kill him but take the portions she had saved. So this child alone was spared.
The baby grew and became a strong and beautiful boy. When he was six years old, the seven women thought they should show him a bit of the outer world. But how? The well was deep, and its sides were perpendicular. At last one of them thought of a way. They stood on each other’s heads, and the one who stood on the top of all took the boy with her and put him on the bank at the well’s mouth. The little fellow ran here and there and finally to the palace nearby, entered the kitchen, and begged for some food. He got a lot of scraps. He ate some of the food and brought the rest to his mother and the king’s other wives.
This continued for some time. He grew bigger and taller. One morning the cook asked him to stay and prepare the dishes for the king. The cook’s mother had just died and he had to go and arrange for the cremation of the body. The clever boy promised to do his best, and the cook left. That day the king was particularly pleased with the dishes. Everything was rightly cooked, nicely seasoned, and beautifully served. In the evening the cook returned. The king sent for him and complimented him on the excellent food he had prepared that day and asked him to cook like that every day. The cook was an honest man and confessed that he had been absent most of the day because his mother had died. He told the king that he had hired a boy to do the cooking that day. When he heard this, the king was surprised and commanded the cook to employ the boy regularly in the kitchen. From then on, there was a great difference in the king’s meals and the service, and His Majesty was more and more pleased with the boy and sent him many presents. The boy took them and all the food he could carry to his mother and the king’s other wives.
On the way to the well each day, he had to pass a fakir, who always blessed him and asked for alms and always received something. Some years had passed this way, and the boy had grown up to be a handsome young man, when one day by chance the wicked queen saw him. She was struck by his good looks. She asked him who he was and where he came from. The boy didn’t know whom he was talking to and so told her everything about himself and his mother and the other queens in the well. And from that moment on, the wicked woman began to plot against his life. She pretended to be sick and called in a doctor. She bribed him to tell the king that she was mortally ill and that nothing but the milk of a tigress would cure her.
“My love, what’s this I hear?” said the king when he went to see his wife. “The doctor says you’re very ill, and that you should drink the milk of a tigress. But how can we get it? Who will dare milk a tigress?”
“I think I know someone who is brave enough to milk a tigress—the lad who serves the cook in the palace kitchen. He is brave and faithful, and he’ll do anything you ask him to do, out of gratitude for all you’ve done for him.”
When the king asked the young man to go and get the milk of a tigress, he readily agreed. When he started out the next day, against all the women’s wails and protests, he met the fakir on the way. When the fakir heard of his dangerous errand, he said to the young man, “Don’t go. Who are you to take on such derring-do?” But the fellow was determined to win the king’s favor and he was also eager for adventure. The fakir finally said, “All right, then follow my advice and you’ll succeed. I’ll tell you where to go. When you meet the tigress, aim a small arrow at one of her teats. When the arrow strikes her, she will ask you why you shot at her. Then tell her that you didn’t mean to kill her, but only to make a bigger hole in her teats so that she could feed her cubs more quickly. Tell her that you pitied the cubs, who looked weak and sickly as if they needed more milk.” Then, with the fakir’s blessing, he went to the forest to look for the tigress.
The young man soon saw a tigress with cubs, aimed an arrow at one of the teats, and struck it. The tigress angrily asked him why he had attacked her. He replied as the fakir had told him to, and added that the queen was dangerously ill and needed the tigress’s milk for her cure. “The queen!” said the tigress. “Let her die! Don’t you know she is an ogress? Keep away from her. She’ll kill you and eat you.”
“I’m not afraid,” said the young man. “Her Majesty is not my enemy.”
“Very well, I’ll give you some of my milk, but beware of the queen. Look here,” said the tigress, taking him to an immense rock, “I’ll let a drop of my milk fall on this rock and you’ll see what happens.” As soon as she did so, the rock split into a thousand pieces! “You see the power of my milk. Yet if that queen were to drink the whole of my milk, it would not have the slightest effect on her. She is an ogress, I tell you. Go and see for yourself.”
The young man returned and gave the milk to the king, who took it to his wife. She drank all of it in one gulp and pretended to be cured. The king was very impressed with the young man and promoted him to a higher position. But the queen was determined to put an end to him and was still plotting. After some days, she pretended to be ill again, and told the king, “I’m getting ill again, but don’t worry about me. My grandfather lives in the same jungle as the tigress who gave the young man her milk. He has a special medicine that would cure me. Please ask the brave young man to go and get it for me. “
So the young man started out again, and when he passed the fakir, the fakir said to him, “Where are you going?” The young man told him.
“Don’t go,” said the fakir. “This man is an ogre and will certainly kill you.” But the young man was not to be talked out of it. “You must go? Then go, but listen to me first. When you see the ogre, call him Grandfather. He will ask you to scratch his back, which you must do—but do it very roughly.”
The young man promised, and went. The jungle was fearful and dense and he thought he would never reach the ogre’s house. At last he saw him, and cried out, “Grandfather, I’m your daughter’s son. My mother is ill and she says you have the right medicine for her. She has sent me for it.”
“All right,” said the ogre, “I’ll give it to you. But first come here and scratch my back. It’s itching terribly.” The ogre lied, for his back did not itch. He only wanted to see whether or not the young fellow was the true son of an ogress. When the young man dug his nails into the old ogre’s flesh and made as if he would scratch some of it off, the ogre asked him to stop, gave him the medicine, patted him, and sent him back. When the king gave the medicine to his wife, she was secretly full of rage. But the king was now more pleased with the young man than ever and gave him large gifts.
The wicked queen was now at her wits’ end to know what to do with such a lad. She wanted him out of the way but she didn’t want the king to know it. The fellow had escaped from the claws of a tigress and the clutches of her grandfather. How did he do it? What could she do to him? Finally she decided to send him to her grandmother, a terrible old ogress who lived in a house in the woods. “This time, he will not come back,” she said to herself, and said to the king, “I’ve a very valuable comb at my grandmother’s place. Could you send the young man to bring it to me? I’ll give him a letter to take to my grandmother.” The king agreed and the lad started out, passing the fakir’s place as usual. When he told him where he was going and showed him the queen’s letter, the fakir said, “Let me read it.”
When he had read it, he said, “You’re going there to be killed. This letter is an order for your death. Listen to this: The bearer is my enemy. I cannot rest as long as he is alive. Kill him as soon as this reaches you.”
The boy shook a little when he heard these terrible words, but he didn’t wish to break his promise to the king even if it cost him his life. So the fakir tore up the queen’s letter and wrote a new one which said, “This is my son. I want him to meet his great-grandmother. Take care of him and show him a good time.” The fakir then gave the new letter to him and said, “Call the woman Grandma, and don’t be afraid of her.”
The young man walked on and on till he reached the old ogress’ house. He called her Grandma and gave her the letter. The old hag read the letter and hugged and kissed him, and asked how her granddaughter and her royal husband were doing. She attended to him in all sorts of ways and gave him every valuable thing she could think of. Among other things, she gave him a bar of soap that became a huge mountain when it was thrown to the grounds a jar full of needles that became a hill bristling with thorns when thrown down, and a jar of water that became a wide lake when spilled on the ground She also showed him various secret things and explained their meaning: seven fine cocks, a spinning wheel, a pigeon, a starling, and a bottle of medicine.
“These seven cocks,” she said, “contain the lives of your seven uncles, who are in different parts of the world. No power can hurt them as long as these seven cocks are safe. That’s why I keep them here. The spinning wheel contains my life. If it’s broken, I’ll be broken and will die. Otherwise, I’ll live forever. The pigeon contains your grandfather’s life, and the starling your mother’s. As long as they live, nothing can harm your grandfather or your mother. And this medicine can give sight to the blind.”
The young man thanked the ogress for all the things she had given him and for all the things she had shown him. In the morning, when the ogress went to bathe in the river, he took the seven cocks and the pigeon and killed them, and dashed the spinning wheel to the ground and broke it to pieces. As he destroyed the birds and the spinning wheel, the ogress, the ogre, and their seven sons in different parts of the world perished, making horrible sounds. Then he put the starling in a cage, took it and the precious medicine for restoring sight to the blind, and started back for the king’s palace. His first stop was at the well, where he gave the eye medicine to his mother and the other women and restored their eyesight. They all clambered out of the well and went with him to the palace. He asked them to wait in one of the rooms while he went to the king and prepared him for their coming.
“O king,” he said, “I’ve many secrets to reveal. Please hear me. Your wife is a ogress, and has been plotting against my life because she knows I am the son of one of your wives. You remember the seven queens you threw into a well at her instigation? I am your son by the seventh queen. Your eighth queen, the ogress, is afraid you’ll discover one day soon who I am and that I’ll become heir to the throne. She wants me dead. I’ve just slain her father and mother and seven brothers, and now I’ll kill her. Her life is in this starling.” Saying this, he twisted the neck of the bird, and the wicked queen died on the spot with a broken neck. And when she died, her original, ghastly ogress form returned to her as she lay sprawled on the ground. “Now come with me,” he said to his father, and took him to his seven queens. “Here are your true wives. There were seven sons born to your house, but six of them died to satisfy the pangs of hunger in that well of death. Only I have survived.”
“Oh, what have I done!” cried the king. “I was deceived, I was blind, and I’ve done terrible things to my innocent wives.” And he wept bitterly.
He gave his kingdom into the hands of his only son, who governed it wisely. The young king also conquered the surrounding countries with the help of the magic bar of soap, the needles, and the water that the ogress had given him. The old king spent the rest of his days happily with his seven good wives.

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