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Part Eight : Princess of the Western Isle

 --->Part Eight : Princess of the Western Isle

A FTER their marriage, Phra Abhai Mani and Suvarnamali lived happily together. Naturally, the former never ceased to have a roving eye for the attractive ladies of the court, but his amorous advances towards them were unfailingly curbed by the jealousy of his consort. Indeed, such good care did she take of him that she soon found herself with child. In due course, she was delivered of two baby daughters-twins.

In the meanwhile, Sri Suvarna had taken his daughter Arun Rasmi and his nephew Sin Samudr to see their long-neglected grandparents in the distant city of Ratana. The aged ruler and his queen were so overjoyed to meet their younger son again, and to have two strapping grandchildren with them, that they would not let them return but made them stay to delight their waning days. Instead, Sanon, who had accompanied the party, was sent to report to Phra Abhai Mani and convey a message from his parents.

While all was peaceful and happy at both Ratana and Paleuk, great preparations were afoot at Lanka. Usren, still smarting from the wounds of defeat, was determined to settle accounts with Phra Abhai Mani once and for all. He raised a great army and prepared a vast fleet of ships for the invasion of Paleuk. When everything was ready, he embarked and set sail. His father, although well-advanced in years, decided to join his son on the expedition. He left his daughter Laweng, now a beautiful young lady of sixteen, to the tender care of nurses and councillors.

Now, one of the men who had accompanied Phra Abhai Mani from the magic island happened to be in Lanka at the time. He was therefore able to send an urgent report to his master in advance of Usren's fleet. Phra Abhai Mani was not a little disturbed, for Paleuk was not prepared against aggression, as its people were peace-loving and not warlike. So he took counsel of Valee, who had become his trusted adviser in all manner of things. She advised him that, as the few troops available were not likely to be able to withstand a frontal attack, they should resort to strategy and cunning. When the invasion began, Phra Abhai Mani's men were to make as if they were forced to retreat. Thus they would lure the enemy into the unknown recesses of the interior. When that was accomplished, another force would attack the enemy from the rear.

Accordingly, when Usren's fleet appeared in the Bay of Paleuk, all necessary plans had been laid. On board his ship, Usren marvelled that the arrival of such an imposing armada should cause so little stir among the inhabitants. So he fired a cannon as a warning. This at least did produce some effect. A few small boats riding at anchor along the coast tried to run the gauntlet of his ships and sail up the river. One of them was caught and the men were sent to him for questioning.

From them, he learned the extraordinary news that Phra Abhai Mani had wind of his coming, and so had evacuated the whole population inland. Phra Abhai Mani himself was fleeing in a boat up the river. As if to confirm their statement, flames and smoke rose from among the buildings in the city, and a few ships could be seen making their way upstream in haste.

After a hurried consultation, Usren and his father decided to divide their force. Usren was to take some ships up the river in pursuit of Phra Abhai Mani. His father and the main body of the army would encamp outside the walls of the abandoned city. In conformity with this decision, Usren at once gave chase to Phra Abhai Mani's ships which were slipping away upstream. His father ordered the rest of his ships to beach so that the soldiers might disembark.

By nightfall, the major part of the Lanka fleet had been beached in an orderly row. The soldiers had set up camp, and, meeting with no opposition, had relaxed their vigilance and given themselves over to feasting and merry-making.

This was a grievous error on their part. The city of Paleuk was far from being empty. Behind its walls, men and women were plotting their destruction. While Usren's men were off their guard, a party of townsfolk led by Suvarnamali herself, once more disguised as a man, crept through the wall and silently stole to the beach. There, under cover of darkness, they set fire to the row of ships. As the timber and sails were caught by the flames, there was one big blaze all along the line. Taking this as their signal, the main body of those who had concealed themselves in the city made a sortie, and, uttering terrible cries, threw themselves upon the invaders.

Usren's men did not have a chance. Filled with consternation at the sight of their burning ships, and thrown into confusion by the unexpected sortie, their enforced retreat became an utter rout. As many as could, they made their way to the few ships that were still afloat. Usren's aged father, unable to run away quickly enough by himself, was placed on the shoulders of a burly and dusky warrior. Valee, who was leading the sortie, caught sight of them and let fly three of her arrows, which found their mark but failed to inflict mortal injuries. The old man, wounded but still conscious, and his faithful mount, succeeded in reaching one of the ships, which straightway put out to sea.

Meanwhile, Usren's squadron had sailed far from the scene. When Phra Abhai Mani thought that the chase had lasted long enough, he turned and attacked the enemy from both front and rear. Usren, fearing that his retreat might be cut off, decided to retire and fall back on the main strength of his invasion fleet. So it came about in this strange battle that the pursuer became the pursued.

Coming downstream at full speed, Usren's ships reached the mouth of the river and confidently sailed in close to the shore where the main body of his army had been encamped. The reception they received was not quite what they expected. Cannons roared, cannon balls hurtled through the air and landed on the ships. The stern of Usren's own vessel was entirely shot away, so that the ship began to sink. All on board with the exception of Usren started jumping overboard to save themselves.

Phra Abhai Mani's ship came alongside. A party boarded the sinking vessel and brought up the unconscious form of Usren. Seeing his erstwhile rescuer and rival in such a plight, Phra Abhai Mani's eyes filled with tears and he went to embrace the prostrate prince.

The battle was ended. The remnants of the Lanka fleet had fled. So Phra Abhai Mani ordered a cannon to be fired as a signal for the cessation of operations. The warriors and citizens of Paleuk returned joyfully to their city.

Usren was carried to a royal chamber in the palace and placed on a couch. Doctors were summoned to tend his wounds sustained in combat. When he regained consciousness, his eyes first alighted on Phra Abhai Mani. This filled him with shame and grief, and he no longer had any desire to live. He felt about him for his sword with which to kill himself, but it had been removed while he was being carried into the palace. Its loss plunged him into despair.

Phra Abhai Mani understood his intention and state of mind, and thus addressed him with soothing words:

"Be not sad, 0 my brother, for we are as relatives to one another. From the very beginning, we were good friends and loved each other. Then we quarrelled over a woman and fought. It is customary in battle to fight hard in order to gain the victory, as I have done over you. But I have brought you here only to have a talk with you, so that you may abate your anger and we may resume friendly and loving intercourse to the end of our days. Your men and your ships, such as have survived the hostilities, shall be returned to you. Let our two peoples live in peace and happiness from henceforth. What say you, my brother?"

Usren was not susceptible to these overtures of good will. He assumed a defiant attitude and said: "I know well that you are full of tricks. But remember that I came here to destroy you. I did not think that I should be defeated. But since this has come to pass, do not expect me to make friends with my enemy. I am a man and a warrior, I am not

afraid to die and therefore will bow to no one. Kill or quarter me, if you wish. I will be reborn to plague you."

Phra Abhai Mani generously overlooked this passionate outburst and continued to plead with him. "I have too much compassion for you and cannot let you die. Now, I beg of you, tell me what I can do to appease your wrath. If it is humanly possible I will do it."

Usren replied: "If I had taken the city, I would have had you and Suvarnamali bound together, flayed alive and then rubbed with salt. After that I would have cut off your heads and interchanged them. Only that would have satisfied me."

On hearing this, Phra Abhai Mani turned his head away in horror. This was not a wish that could be granted. Then he said gently to Usren:

"You are still filled with thoughts of vengeance. But I will let you go freely without hurt or hindrance. You once did me a service and now I repay it with this. If later you should want to make war again, it shall be as you wish. But while you are recovering from your wounds, consider yourself as my guest; live, bathe and eat as you are accustomed to do."

Valee could not endorse her master's policy of appeasement. According to accepted rules and practices, victorious monarchs did not set free those enemies who had sought their destruction. "Our King is overly generous," she thought to herself, "he thinks that he will win gratitude. He underestimates the tiger's cub. But what can be done? He will not listen to me. The queen is of the same mind, because her father was friend of Usren's father. There is only I myself who can complete the task. The wise say that if you beat a snake and only break its back, it will return to do you harm; a crocodile that escapes into the water finds new strength; a caged tiger that regains the jungle is deadly. In the same way, if you spare the life of a captured enemy, he will only cause you greater trouble again in the future."

So Valee thought of ways and means of bringing Usren to book. Finally, an idea occurred to her which she considered would suit her

purpose. She dressed up again in man's clothing and put in her belt a handsome dagger with a bejewelled hilt. Thus attired, she went to the royal apartments and sought audience of Phra Abhai Mani. There, in the presence of Usren, she told him how she herself had shot ~hree arrows into the body of the aged ruler of Lanka. Although the latter succeeded in escaping, it was her firm conviction that the old man could not survive three nights at the most. It would therefore be opportune to follow the fleeing enemy to their city.

But Phra Abhai Mani would not entertain the suggestion. "I do not wish it," he said, "I am sorry for brother Usren. What is the use of going on with the fighting?"

Usren heard what Valee had said and was filled with the most morbid and gloomy thoughts. It was not enough that he had been ignominiously defeated in battle; his father was mortally wounded and dying, and now this misshapened wench was allowed to come and gloat over the fact. It was more than he could endure. His temper rose, but as he was already weak with wounds, his strength waned and eventually failed him. Convulsions seized his sorely-tried body and life slowly ebbed away.

Valee had her wish. Usren was dead and could never harm Paleuk again. But she had reckoned without the consequences. Usren dead caused her greater anguish than Usren living. His ghost roamed the palace seeking revenge. Shrill cries would pierce the stillness of the night, calling for vengeance on the mocking woman. One evening, the ghost caught up with her and gave her the fright of her life. It chased her through the chambers of the palace, inflicting on her blow after blow. Valee succeeded in escaping to her room, but she never recovered from the shock. Terror-stricken, she became prey to terrible fits and fevers. In spite of the care and attention lavished on her by Phra Abhai Mani and Suvarnamali in person, she failed to rally and, having taken leave of her master and mistress, with the ghost of Usren mocking her from afar, ended her mortal life.

Phra Abhai Mani and Suvarnamali were prostrate with grief. They had lost a faithful counsellor and loyal friend whose real worth they had not fully recognised while she lived. Phra Abhai Mani had not always taken her advice while Suvarnamali had actually been jealous of her. So they begged her pardon and prayed that she might be born again, this time more beautiful than she had been in her existence which had just ended. They ordered elaborate funeral ceremonies for her, bestowing upon her the rank of a queen's sister.

As for the body of Usren, Phra Abhai Mani commanded that it be placed in a golden urn suited to his princely rank. The urn was then taken on board a ship, escorted by Usren's own followers who had been taken prisoner with him. The ship was then permitted to set sail for Lanka.

Usren's father reached Lanka after a long and painful voyage. Efforts to cure his wounds were of no avail, and he sank into deep despondency. The arrival of the ship which carried the golden urn containing Usren's body plunged him even further into immeasurable grief. "This is the end of my hopes!" he cried. "I have no other male issue. Who shall rule this country after me? I have but one child left, but she cannot rule, and will only live to drink tears. God has truly deserted me!" Finally, overcome with sorrow and weakened through wounds, the old man passed away.

As soon as the news of the king's death spread through the palace, a wail of despair arose on all sides. The courtiers and the warriors joined in the general lamentation, "What shall we do now that both the sovereign and the prince have gone?" they cried. "It is as if both the sun and moon disappeared from the sky, as if the sky itself and earth and sea had melted away, leaving nothing but chaos." As the news spread, panic seized the populace. "0, light that lightened our darkness, now that you are extinguished, there will be confusion and despair on all sides!" All night long, the city echoed with outcries of utter grief that resembled sounds made by the waves of an angry sea.

The following morning, there was a meeting of nobles and elders to decide what was to be done. It was unanimously agreed to raise the princess Laweng to the throne of her ancestors, in default of a male heir.

For her part, Laweng fell into a swoon on hearing that both her father and her brother were dead. However, under the expert care of her nurses, who administered the right restoratives, she soon recovered sufficiently to go and pay her last respects to the royal remains. She bowed at the feet of her father, and sobbed. "0 my dearest parent, you have left your daughter all alone and gone to heaven with her brother. To whom shall she look now for guidance? It is a most difficult situation for a woman. The more I think of it, the more readily flow my tears and the colder grows my heart. When mother died, I still had you. But now you are gone, it is as if a light had gone out of my life. I have no one left to lean on, so I pray that you take me with you. I will ask to be born again with you. I am not afraid to die. I will kill myself to follow you."

So saying, she pulled a trident from the sleeve of her dress and lifted it in the air. All at once, her nurses uttered a piercing shriek and wrested it away from her. Laweng made strenuous efforts to retrieve it, but was prevented from doing so by the raised voices of the courtiers, who implored her to live and rule their leaderless land, and to avenge the deaths of her father and brother.

Laweng, her young and beautiful face stained with marks of sorrow, replied to the assembled courtiers. ''Ruling a country is a man's work. I am only a woman, and others might not accept me as their leader. So let all of you choose some man to be your leader."

The courtiers would not however accept her proposal. "There is no other who can rule this country but you," they told her. "It is true that you are a woman, but you are the sole remaining descendant of the kings of Lanka. If any city of the kingdom dares to oppose you, we shall all volunteer in your service to destroy it. Besides, you will be safe, because your royal father has left with you the magic signet of Rahu, which will protect you from all dangers. You must live and rule in order to avenge the deaths of your father and brother."

Laweng made up her mind to meet her destiny. She therefore answered them thus: "I thank you all for what you have said and promised, and wish that you will help me in waging war against our enemy, so that we may wipe away our shame. I shall keep the magic signet of Rahu by iny side. As I lack experience in the affairs of state. I hope that you who are skilled will guide me. But, first of all, let us perform funeral obsequies for the dead."

The funeral ceremonies for the dead ruler and his son Usren accordingly took place in the manner prescribed by the customs of the country.

When that had been done, Laweng was invited to take her place on the throne in the council chamber, where all bowed before her and greeted her as the new ruler of Lanka.

Seated on the royal throne of Lanka, holding the diamond- studded signet of Rahu in one hand and the other hand grasping the hilt of her sword with its scabbard of flaming design, Laweng thus addressed her noblemen: "We thank you all and hope that you will continue to help us rule the country. We are only sixteen years of age and a girl besides, therefore we lack the qualities of a warrior. But so incensed are we at the infamous insults heaped upon us by Paleuk that we must go to war even if it means our death. Advise us what to do in order that we may conquer the people of Paleuk."

The nobles of Lanka, however, were unable to offer any constructive advice. They had only learned the rudiments of warfare, since superior problems of military strategy had always been left to the King. So they told her, "That is for Your Highness to decide and command. Whether an army wins or loses a battle depends entirely upon the commander in whom the supreme power is vested. But Your Highness might consult the Patriarch, who is the fount of wisdom and who knows all things, even the arts of war. If Your Highness is in doubt, the Patriarch will always give counsel."

Laweng promptly sent for the Holy Father. She received him with great ceremony, setting before him wine, tea and tobacco. Having done this, she told him what had recently come to pass. "I implore you to help me," she begged. "Please tell me what to do."

The Patriarch laughed at her fears. "Such is the mysterious hand of fate!" he exclaimed. "Paleuk knows how to defend itself against warriors. But this land is now ruled by a woman, and Paleuk will not know how to deal with a woman. A woman will conquer where men have perished. You must use your woman's wiles; that is more effective than any signet of Rahu. If you follow my advice, no one will dare lift a finger against you!"

Laweng was certain of the priest's wisdom, but could not grasp his meaning; and so she answered: "I am still young and inexperienced. Please tell me how I can use my woman's wiles."

The Patriarch laughed again, and mystified her further by speaking in riddles. "Wiles mean work, work means wiles and therefore wiles and work go together. You have nothing to fear so long as you remember this."

He then rose and returned to his cell, ignoring Laweng's request for an explanation.

Laweng tried hard to think over what the priest had said, but could make nothing out of it, as she had never exercised any wiles. Without saying another word, she retired to her bedchamber.

From that day onwards, Laweng was never allowed to forget that she had a score to settle with Paleuk. At council meetings, her nobles kept on reminding her how the hated enemy had slain her father and brother. Her ears tingled as though they were constantly pricked with stinging nettles. Whenever she retired to bed, it was always with a heavy heart full of sighs. She tossed on her couch as she thought of the Patriarch's words. Unable to sleep, she even forbade officers of the watch to strike the gongs which denoted the passing of the hours.

Her nurses were perturbed at her restless condition. They counselled her to call on the Patriarch, who alone could enlighten her. So Laweng decided to go and visit the holy man.

Passing through a garden full of fragrant flowers, Laweng and her nurses and attendants climbed the steps leading to the great door of the church. Immediately, a gong sounded loudly three times, and the Patriarch came down to receive them. He invited the Princess to step inside and take a seat in his vestry. When she had done so, he asked her, "What brings you here, my child?"

Laweng answered, "Holy Father, I come to seek your aid, for which I would gladly tender you my life. Please tell me the meaning of your words, when you said that I should use my woman's wiles and that it would be more potent than even the signet of Rahu. Please explain the significance of this to me, so that I may understand and take steps accordingly to avenge the death of my dear father."

The priest gave a discreet cough, lowered his voice and spoke to her in a confidential tone. "My child, you must know that the signet of Rahu which graces this city has long been the object of envy of other lands. There is no prince living who would not dare all to become the possessor of it. Do you but proclaim that whoever undertakes to assist Lanka to defeat her enemies shall become her ruler, you will not lack champions to take up your cause. As for your woman's wiles, be you as wise as Mekhala. Order an artist to paint portraits of yourself, send them into all the neighbouring lands, and you will not lack suitors who will offer to fight unto death for love of you. Thus you will gain your ends without having to sacrifice your own people."

Having said this, he went to a cupboard and took out a number of maps. These he handed to Laweng and showed her the different countries which were near neighbours of Lanka and which might be prevailed upon to come to her aid in return for the chance of such a fair prize as Laweng. He also gave her the recipe for a love potion that could not fail to capture the hearts of men, provided the user studied it carefully and carried out the instructions. He told her that this potion was so efficacious that, should the most strong-minded of men but look upon her face or merely see her picture, he would almost die of love for her. At first, Laweng resented such a suggestion, but the cunning priest explained that no harm could befall her if she did not herself fall in love with any of her victims.

Armed with this knowledge and the maps. Laweng returned to her palace delighted and not a little excited. Once back in her own chamber, she fell immediately to studying the maps and the recipe. The ingredients of the potion were curious: they consisted of a compound of perfumes and a human eye taken from a covetous woman. The potion was duly prepared according to instructions. Laweng then gave orders for the hundred most beautiful maidens of the city to be brought to her and to be trained in the art of womanly wiles. Besides, she commanded that no fewer than three thousand women be taught the practice of archery, and a greater number of men be drilled in the science of war. When all this had been done to her satisfaction, she sent out ambassadors, each of whom was entrusted with a portrait of herself, to all points of the compass where powerful kingdoms were to be found.

In due course, one of them reached the land of the Tamils, a virile race that derived strength from eating meat instead of rice. The King of this country was called Laman. At the time when Laweng's ambassador arrived, Laman was mourning the loss of his dearly beloved wife who had predeceased him. As he kept on repeating, "I cannot find a new wife who is able to satisfy me half as much. Even though there are thousands of other women, none of them can match my late consort." But that was before Laweng came into his ken.

The night before the ambassador's arrival, Laman dreamt a strange dream. In this dream, a giant serpent fell from the sky and coiled itself round his palace, breathing flames and smoke until he himself was consumed by fire and burnt to ashes. When he awoke, he knew at once that the serpent signified a woman, and began wondering who it was that desired to be his queen. He consulted his astrologers, who at once confirmed his suspicion and declared that he would soon have a new consort.

So when Laweng's ambassador was announced, Laman readily assented to grant immediate audience. The ambassador handed him the letter and the portrait of his royal mistress. As soon as his eyes fell upon the picture, Laman was completely overcome with wonder and admiration. He gazed so long at it that he fell into a swoon. When he recovered, he made enquiries of the ambassador, whose replies filled him with the highest hopes.

"It is my good fortune," he exclaimed, smiling. "To think that this beautiful young virgin will be mine, and Lanka too!" He read the letter over and over again. He was so pleased that he all but leapt into the air for sheer joy. He laughed loud and long, and then turned to the ambassador. "Why does your Princess look for a husband in our land?" he asked. "As she must surely know, they consider us to be cruel barbarians. Pray tell me why she does not fear to seek an alliance with us?"

The wily ambassador, as well-primed as a gun, replied: "Your Highness, even the fiercest leopard does not harm its own. With you by her side, my royal mistress will no longer fear but be feared."

Laman took the portrait and kept it close to his breast. All day long and at night, he stared at it with longing, and refused to speak to any one. The only command he gave was to the effect that a whole fleet of ships be hastily prepared for a voyage to Lanka. For his desire was so swift that, as he kissed the painted lips of Laweng, he wished that he could fly through the air to her side.

When Laweng learned that Laman was really coming, she could not help feeling a sudden wave of fear. But she calmed herself with the thought that he could really do no harm to her. She ordered preparations to be made for the reception of the Tamil chief.

On the appointed day, when Laman was to make his entry into Lanka as her guest, Laweng took special care over her toilet. She bathed and perfumed herself lavishly, then put on a rich and brilliant costume studded with precious stones. Indeed, she looked like some female divinity descended from heaven, as she took her place on the ancestral throne in the great hall.

Outside, the sound of drums and gongs grew louder. The Tamils approached the palace along a beflagged street lined with inquisitive inhabitants of Lanka, and treading on white cloth that was laid on the ground like a carpet. Surrounded by a formidable-looking company, Laman entered the hall of the palace.

Laman was dumbfounded at the amazing beauty of Laweng. He could only stand still and smile. Meanwhile, his followers lost no time in getting acquainted with the ladies of the court. Here, the training the latter had received at the hands of their mistress proved invaluable. With smiles and coy looks, they completely captivated the hearts of Laman's men.

Laweng suppressed a shudder as she looked down at the muscular but ungainly person of her visitor. Yet she deemed it expedient to be polite. So she addressed the Tamil prince.

"Brother, receive my thanks for hurrying hither. My desire has now been fulfilled. I am able to look upon you as my champion."

Laman was still lost in wonder and admiration. But he pulled himself together and answered: "Sister, as soon as I heard of your plight, I hastened here to rid you of your enemies. I will set you up as an empress. Your foes shall bow down at your feet. If they do not, they shall feel the edge of my sword. Now, tell me where Paleuk is, and I will go to cut off the head of Phra Abhai Mani and bring it to you as a gift."

Laweng bestowed on him her sweetest smile. "You have come from afar, so you must be tired," she said, "Give your weary men some rest." Then she told him the whole history of the war with Paleuk, and how Phra Abhai Mani had inflicted defeat and death on her own father and brother as well as her countrymen. "If you are really as valiant as you appear to be," she continued, "you must help me to vanquish him. If you are successful, the throne of Lanka and the signet of Rahu are yours."

Having said this, Laweng called her attendants, who brought forth tables laden with rich food and set them before Laman. At the same time, the choicest maidens poured him cups of wine, while others played on musical instruments and sang songs.

Laman watched all with wonder and admiration as if he were a provincial simpleton come to town. He partook of the food and the wine with much relish. When the wine went to his head, he conceived a great passion for Laweng. He looked at her with sensual longing and promised himself that when she was his, he would embrace her and put her on his knee. Then he began to boast, and swore that he would make mincemeat of the citizens of Paleuk. "I am afraid of no one," he cried. "I will win a great victory and look after Lanka." His men, who by now were somewhat drunk like their master, shouted noisy approval and started to sing uncouth songs. Some seized hold of the girl attendants and kissed them. The sounds of merriment echoed and re-echoed throughout the palace and the city.

When it was evening, the party broke up and Laman's followers retired to their camp outside the palace. There they fell into a drunken torpor and slept soundly until early morning when they were summoned to roll call.

As for Laman himself, he spent the night in a pavilion which had been specially prepared for him. For a long time he could not sleep because his desire had been aroused. When he did fall asleep, it was to dream of Laweng. He dreamt that he already possessed her; he embraced his pillow and kissed it lovingly

The next morning, Laman summoned his officers to a council of war and told them to prepare for an expedition against Paleuk. "If we do not defeat Phra Abhai Mani, we will not return," he warned them. The officers received their orders and went off to inspect their troops and ships.

Laman wished to show the women of Lanka his manly qualities. So he bathed and perfumed himself, and put on fine raiment. Over all, he wore a quaintly-fashioned armour studded with diamonds. On his head was a cap of soft gold with a crest in the shape of swan's plumes. Then, with a bow in his hand, he left his pavilion, called some of his officers, and marched into the palace.

Laweng was giving audience to her court. As soon as she saw Laman, she invited him to take a seat by her side, and said in her gentle manner, "I am sorry for your sake, 0 my brother. You had everything you desired in your own land. Now that you come here, you enjoy nothing but hardships. But do not be grieved that I have not yet been of greater service to you." So saying, she handed him a garland of choicest flowers.

Laman was soothed by her sweet words. He took the garland and thanked her for it. Then he said in a boastful vein, "I will be your champion to the end, you need not doubt that, my sister. This evening I shall set sail with my army to wrest victory from the men of Paleuk. I do not fear dangers and hardships. I lay my life at your feet." When Laweng smiled in answer, he felt happy beyond words.

Laweng pretended to be sad at his impending departure. She sighed and then spoke haltingly. "I have been thinking it over and I fear that your troops alone will not be sufficient for your purpose. I will raise an army too to help you fight the enemy."

Laman, however, would not hear of it. "There is no need. I myself will undertake to do all. If there is any one who defies you, I will eliminate him utterly."

Laweng then ordered a ship to be fitted out to act as a pilot to Laman's fleet and also to bring back news to Lanka.

The time came for Laman to leave. Laweng invoked the heavenly powers to bestow blessings upon him, and added, "When the war is won, please return quickly and I shall be happy to see you again."

Laman was overcome with joy to hear her speak these words. He had no wish to leave her now, but must perforce carry out what he had promised. Sorrowfully he boarded his ship. All at once, there was a noise of drums, gongs and bells, and at the same time the sailors shouted a full-throated farewell. The wind was favourable, the sails unfurled and Laman's fleet was on its way to Paleuk.

As on a previous occasion, word had already been sent to Phra Abhai Mani well in advance of the sailing of the invasion fleet. Phra Abhai Mani therefore had time to call together his generals and officers to work out schemes of defence. They decided to adopt the old tactics that had previously stood them in good stead. The inhabitants of the city were again advised to withdraw into the interior of the country, taking their belongings and their cattle with them. Meanwhile, able-bodied men were employed in building huge iron cages, for Phra Abhai Mani wanted to capture alive the tall, bearded Tamils. Each soldier was given a length of chain with which to capture one of these giants, who were comparable to them in size as elephants are to mice.

Early one morning, the fleet of Laman sailed confidently into the Bay of Paleuk. From the bridge of his ship, Laman saw citizens of Paleuk scatter in confusion, each trying to get his cattle away inland as quickly as possible. Laman rashly concluded that he had taken them by surprise and that they would offer no opposition. So he ordered a landing to be made by a company of bowmen, who immediately advanced towards the city preceded by green and yellow banners. As they approached the city walls, however, they found the battlements strongly defended by men dressed in scarlet.

Laman decided against immediate attack, but instead ordered a herald to approach the principal fort and deliver a message, as follows:

"You men of Paleuk! My Lord Laman the Tamil, bold and ruthless, has come with his army to avenge the defeat of Lanka. If Phra Abhai Mani sets any value on the lives of his family and his countrymen, let him come forward and stand trial before my Lord Laman, who will spare all living in this city. If he is obdurate and resists, my Lord Laman will raze this city to the ground with fire and his sword will spare no one, not even the babies in their cradles. Tell your Lord that thus says Laman the Bold!"

This message was accordingly conveyed to Phra Abhai Manl.

Phra Abhai Mani was not in the least perturbed. He merely commanded his officers to wait until nightfall, when he would give the signal for action. As soon as they saw the victory flag being hoisted, all the men of Paleuk were to make a sortie from the city gates and proceed to tie up each of the enemy with their chains. Moreover, he impressed upon them the importance of filling their ears with wax. That done, Phra Abhai Mani dismissed his officers and made a tour of inspection round the battlements and ramparts, and observed the positions of the restless enemy outside the walls.

When night fell, Phra Abhai Mani took his place in the commander's pavilion on the battlements. He picked up his magic flute, performed the customary salutation to his teacher and then began to play a soul- stirring melody, which could not fail to entrance all hearers. His own men did not hear it, because they all had wax on their ears, so the music had no effect on them whatever. It had a devastating effect, however, on Laman and his followers. The breeze wafted the melodious sounds to where they were encamped. As soon as they heard the voice of the flute, they became enraptured and lay down to listen to it. It was not long before they were all fast asleep.

When Phra Abhai Mani perceived this he ordered the victory flag to be hoisted. The men of Paleuk thereupon gave a shout and sallied forth through the opening city gates. In a trice, they fell upon the unconscious Tamils and quickly fastened chains on their bodies. The prostrate forms were then dragged into the cages which had been specially prepared for them within the city.

As for Laman, he too was tied up with chains and then deferentially carried and ceremoniously deposited in a specially guarded cage.

After the operation had been successfully carried out, Phra Abhai Mani called together his officers and warned them to be on their guard, for the captured Tamils would behave like wild elephants in a kraal. It would be at least two days before they accustomed themselves to captivity. Having said this, the ruler of Paleuk re-entered his palace.

When the followers of Laman woke up from their deep slumber and found themselves tied hand and foot, they were enraged and uttered terrible oaths. A few even succeeded in breaking their chains and had to be bound again with great difficulty. Recalcitrant cases were treated with a heavy blow of the truncheon.

Laman was more distressed than any of his men to find himself in such a sorry plight. He said to himself, "It is my evil fate to fall asleep and thus be taken by my enemy. How can I fight and conquer him now? What a waste of effort in bringing my army all this distance in order to take revenge on behalf of a dear friend! What will become of Laweng now? Will she not wait in vain for my victorious return? It is not my destiny to make you mine, 0 Laweng! But even if I die, I shall still lay claim to you. If any other man attempts to possess you, my ghost will surely break his neck." In his rage, he defiantly called on his guards to kill him.

That night, Laman pined more than ever for Laweng. Fortunately, he had brought with him the portrait of her, which he kept hidden next to his heart. He now brought it out and caressed it. Tears rolled down his face as he thought of the romance he would never have. Overcome with sorrow, he began to treat the portrait as if it were yeally Laweng herself. He kissed it and embraced it and fondled it, until his cage echoed with wonder and astonishment.

Soon enough, curiosity overcame the guards. They approached the cage to find out what kind of a picture it was that Laman treated in such an affectionate manner. They were pleasantly surprised to see the portrait of what seemed to them the most beautiful woman in the world. When Laman saw what they were doing, he quickly put the portrait back into his jacket. It was now quickly chilly with a cool wind blowing and dew falling on his face. Feeling more miserable than ever before in his adventurous life, Laman tried to compose himself for sleep. But sleep eluded him until the early hours of the morning, when he dozed off out of sheer exhaustion. It was then that the guards seized their opportunity and took the portrait away from him. They bore it in triumph to Phra Abhai Mani.

Phra Abhai Mani had already risen and was giving his first audience of the day. The first thing he did was to ask how Laman had fared during the night. The guards told him all that had come to pass and handed over the portrait. Phra Abhai Mani took one look at it and was deeply moved. A subtle emotion stirred within him and he had to avert his gaze. "So this is the prize for which the foolish Tamil ventured his life!" he exclaimed. "Bring the captive Laman hither!" While the guards went to fetch their prisoner, Phra Abhai Mani once more admired the peerless beauty of Laweng and ruminated whether he himself would not take up arms to fight for her.

Laman was brought before him. The Tamil prince proved to be fearless and could not be prevailed upon to answer any of Phra Abhai Mani's questions. He was therefore taken back to his cage. Phra Abhai Mani then told his assembled officers what he had decided to do with him. He would not allow him to return to his own country. He therefore proposed to set him and his chief followers loose upon some distant island to which no ship ever sailed.

The commands of Phra Abhai Mani were fulfilled. Laman and a few of his officers were taken on board a ship, which sailed to a small, uninhabited isle in the middle of the ocean, where sustenance and springs of fresh water were to be found. There they were left to fend for themselves.

Laman did not long enjoy his new dominion, however. Discovering the loss of the cherished portrait, he fell into a deep and bitter grief which was inconsolable. Not long after his arrival on the island, he succumbed to that grief, and his ghostly spirit fled from his lifeless body and returned to Paleuk to take up abode in that very portrait of Laweng which had been his dearest possession.

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