Part Ten: The Family Reunion
W HEN Sri Suvarna and Sin Samudr heard of the peril that threatened Phra Abhai Mani, they at once took leave of the ruler of Ratana and lost no time in embarking on their long journey back to Paleuk.
For the first few days, the voyage was calm and serene, without any untoward incident. Then, one evening, their ship reached a large island just as a storm was arising. Deeming it wise to seek shelter, as well as to replenish the store of water, Sri Suvarna gave orders to heave to and drop anchor in a secluded bay. A landing party was sent ashore to bring back supplies of fresh water.
As the men were returning to the beach with pails and barrels, a ferocious lion of immense size sprang upon them from the thick undergrowth. The sailors scattered in all directions. Those who retained some presence of mind fired their muskets at the beast, but this only served to enrage it the more. With a resounding roar of anger, the monster pounced on the men who happened to be nearest, and then chased the rest into the sea. The latter swam for dear life, as well they might, for, strange to relate, the lion plunged in after them and followed at their heels right to the ship's side.
Hearing the commotion, Sin Samudr stepped out on to the deck and saw what was happening. Without a moment's hesitation, he leapt into the sea and engaged the beast with his bare hands. A tremendous tussle followed, and the trial of strength ended with the boy ensconced on the lion's back.
The amphibious monster was not yet beaten, however. With an angry howl, it bounced Sin Samudr into the air. But the resourceful youngster evaded its gaping jaw and clutched its tail, using this as a lever to regain the saddle. The lion, finding this diminutive human more than a match for its own strength, made a bee line for the shore, with Sin Samudr still astride its back, and roared for help. In an instant, the beach was crowded with snarling lions.
Undaunted, Sin Samudr dived into the sea and came up with an armful of small fishes. These he calmly scattered among the beast, which began to devour them greedily. Meanwhile, the fearless son of Phra Abhai Mani walked in their midst and stroked each by the mane. By the time he came up to his former adversary, even this fierce monster was completely appeased. There and then, Sin Samudr decided to take it along with him as his future steed.
The boy thereupon led the lion, now tame as a kitten, back to the ship, where they were greeted with wonder and astonishment, and not a little trepidation on the part of those who had occasion to know its ferocity. Approaching his uncle, Sin Samudr said: "I want to have this lion as my steed. It is invulnerable, is as strong in the sea as on land, and feeds on fish. It will make an incomparable companion." Sri Suvarna agreed with his nephew, and so a new recruit was added to the brave company.
The remainder of the voyage was uneventful. However, as the ship drew near to Paleuk, the sky reddened. Full of foreboding, Sri Suvarna urged more speed and hastened into the city. They were welcomed by Suvarnamali who, pale and distraught, told them of repeated attacks by the allies of Laweng and of Phra Abhai Mani's strange obsession for the bewitched portrait of the Princess of the Western Isle.
The unhappy Queen then took Sri Suvarna and Sin Samudr into the royal apartment, where Phra Abhai Mani, now emaciated and bedridden, lay ever contemplating the likeness of Laweng, the amorous hero saw them coming, but instead of expressing delight, flew into a towering rage and, accusing them of spying on him, shouted to his handmaidens to chase them away.
When Sri Suvarna saw that his brother was not in his right mind, he felt as though stabbed to the heart. Drawing near, he knelt down beside the royal couch and spoke in the gentlest manner.
"My dear brother," he began, "I have long been out of your sight. Now I am returned, bringing your beloved son with me. 0, why do you greet us in this fashion? Have you forgotten your own kith and kin? Why do you persist thus in making love to a mere picture? Oh, what misfortune has brought you to this pass? Even though you and I were cruelly separated when still young, yet we lived to see each other's face again. But this time you have changed, and look strangely on me."
Sin Samudr took the cue and, bowing low at his father's feet, exclaimed with tears in his eyes: "My father, beat or kill me if you will, but I must tell you that I do not like this picture. It is because you have it near you that you behave so strangely. I am going to take it and burn it."
Suiting action to the word, the boy snatched the portrait away from his father's hand. Quick as lightning, Phra Abhai Mani snatched it back again. Then pointing his finger at Sin Samudr in uncontrolled fury, he cried: "How dare you touch her!" Seizing a pillow, the crazed King struck at his brother, and his son, until they both ran out of the room.
Back in her own chamber Suvarnamali told her astonished brother-in-law and her adopted son, "The astrologers say that he will be saved, and that by an unknown offspring. Now, there has arrived in this city a young boy who calls himself Sud Sakorn and who claims to be the son of Phra Abhai Mani. Indeed, in saving the city at a critical moment, he has shown valour worthy of the name. But where he comes from and of what womb, he will not say."
Sri Suvarna remained mystified, but Sin Samudr thought long and then said: "When we were living on the magic island, my father kept company with a mermaid who once bore him on her back to safety. In requitement of her love, he gave her a signet ring and a bejewelled pin. If this Sud Sakorn be indeed her son, he would surely wear these tokens of parental affection. I will find out whether he has them."
Sri Suvarna was in agreement with his nephew's reasoning and proposal. "If he is really your half-brother," he told him, "you may bring the boy to us."
Sin Samudr mounted the royal chariot and proceeded to the pavilion where Sud Sakorn was lodged. From afar, he saw the stripling whose face was the graven image of the mermaid. As he came closer, he saw his father's signet ring on the other's finger, which removed all doubt. Sud Sakorn, on his part, recognised his elder from the description given him by the old hermit. So the two brothers, acting simultaneously, rushed to embrace each other, with tears of joy flowing down their tender cheeks.
Fraternal greetings and exchanges over, Sin Samudr and Sud Sakorn set to discussing the sorry plight of their father. The older told the younger how Phra Abhai Mani was enraptured with the portrait of a bewitching female who sought to destroy him.
Sud Sakorn seemed scarcely perturbed. "Do not worry," he said, with the air of one accustomed to dealing with such problems. "Even if the woman is a witch, I can counter her charms. The learned hermit, my foster father, gave me this magic stick. With it I have quelled ghosts and devils. What female witch would dare stand up to me?"
Sin Samudr held up his hand in admiration. "Is that really true, dear brother? Then let us go together and destroy this witch. My mother and our uncle will be pleased."
So the two young brothers went arm in arm to the palace, where they were warmly received by Sri Suvarna and Suvarnamali. The latter were delighted to hear that Sud Sakorn knew how to exorcise the malign spirit that was in the picture, and asked if he required any assistance.
"No," replied the boy, confidently. "Just give me the portrait, and I will beat it with my stick."
Suvarnamali told Sin Samudr to go to his father's chamber and try to obtain possession of the article. Sin Samudr went willingly and stealthily entered Phra Abhai Mani's room. He saw his father asleep on the couch, the guilty object beside him. Quietly, he crept up and successfully removed it, without disturbing the troubled sleeper, and quickly brought it in triumph to his brother.
Sud Sakorn placed the portrait on the floor. Then he uttered a prayer and an incantation. That done, he picked up the magic stick and, lifting it, brought it down on the portrait with a swift, sharp blow. A shrill scream rent the air, and it appeared to come from the parchment. Sud Sakorn struck again and again, until the parchment shrivelled up and suddenly vanished.
All four hurried into Phra Abhai Mani's chamber. The King was still asleep, but gave a deep sigh of relief. Suvarnamali approached the royal couch and bathed his face with water of fresh jasmine and roses. At that moment a great cry of joy echoed through the palace; the courtiers and guards had heard of Sud Sakorn's victory over the evil spirit. Phra Abhai Mani woke up with a start. He slowly lifted himself upon the couch as the recollection of a bad dream passed away from him. He looked round and saw his consort, his brother, his son, and a younger boy seated beside him. His eyes rested on this boy, and gradually he observed in his features a resemblance to the mermaid he had long ago forsaken. The King called the boy to him and tenderly placed his arm round the young shoulders, saying, "My son, my lost son of your poor mermaid mother!"
Phra Abhai Mani's family was at last reunited. Thus strengthened, they would together give battle to the enemy hosts arrayed against them. It was not long before the King regained his vigour and presided over a council of war. It was decided to dispose the command in this wise : the vanguard would be under Sri Suvarna, the right wing under Sin Samudr, the left wing under Sud Sakorn, the rearguard under the three Brahmin warriors. The main body of the army, under the personal command of Phra Abhai Mani, would be in the centre.
Therefore, when the concerted attack launched by the allies of Lanka finally came, the forces of Paleuk were fully prepared. On the day of battle, a mighty army was assembled outside the palace. At the auspicious hour selected by the astrologers, the gongs of victory were sounded, and the soldiers raised a shout that thundered to the heavens. To the accompaniment of trumpets and conches, Sri Suvarna ascended his chariot. To that of drums, Sin Samudr mounted his ferocious lion and Sud Sakorn his swift dragon steed. The three Brahmins were astride horses of sturdy build. Finally, Phra Abhai Mani took his place on the golden chariot of state, amid shouts and blowings of trumpets and conches and the beating of drums. The entire army, with its full panoply of war and colourful banners, moved forward into the field.
Drawn up against them were the eight armies of the enemy, each with the flags of their several nations. Each was led by generals of great fame who were determined to lead their men to victory.
Phra Abhai Mani watched the two sides deploying for battle. He knew that, by playing a few notes on his magic flute, he could still the advancing tides and thus achieve an easy triumph. But that would not be the heroic way of deciding the issue. Besides, he wished to see his sons win their spurs in combat of arms and gain immortal renown. So he sent a herald to the enemy bearing this challenge: by ancient laws of chivalry, in order to spare the lives of common soldiers, the commanders of opposing camps themselves engage in single combat; if the allies of Lanka dared to match their strength against the leading warriors of Paleuk, let them send their champions on to the field.
The enemy generals quickly accepted the challenge. One of them, a burly warrior in a black cloak who looked like an enormous tiger, armed with an axe and a lance, spurred his horse forward shouting defiance; "Come, whoever dares, and fight me according to the challenge!"
Sin Samudr at once went forward on his lion to meet the adversary, who tried to pierce him with the lance but, failing, used his axe. The boy was too quick for him, however, and wrested the axe from him. The general then feigned retreat, allowing the boy almost to catch up with him, and, suddenly turning, hurled an iron ball which hit Sin Samudr on the chest so that the latter, fell senseless from his mount. He was about to make mincemeat of the boy when Sud Sakorn rode up to challenge him. He turned quick as lightning and struck the brother with another iron ball and felled him also. It was now the turn of their uncle to come to the rescue. Swinging his club, Sri Suvarna eluded several successive missiles thrown at him, closed in and dealt the general a mortal blow.
Another of the enemy general rode forward to attack Sri Suvarna and, swinging a rope, caught the latter's club and sent it flying, at the same time bringing him down to the ground. Fortunately, by this time, Sin Samudr had recovered and now came to his uncle's aid. With a deft stroke of his axe, he quickly dispatched the second general. But he, in turn, was struck by a third general who wielded a sword of fire. Sri Suvarna rose and swung his club, but it was no match for the sword. It was left to Sud Sakorn, who had also recovered from the blow of the iron ball, to carry on the duel. With a well-calculated swing of his magic stick, he severed the head of the third general from the body.
The fourth enemy general came on to the field with a cauldron of flaming oil in each hand. These he hurled at the two young brothers and scorched them with fire. Then, emboldened, he galloped towards Phra Abhai Mani, calling out, "Hey, king! Be quick and surrender!" Sri Suvarna came up after him and successfully clubbed him to earth, but was forced to retire when the resourceful warrior threw flaming oil on his hand which held the club. At that instant, Sin Samudr shot an arrow which hit the general in the right eye and eliminated him from the fray.
As evening fell both sides retired for the night, to preserve strength for the morrow. Phra Abhai Mani hastened to receive his sons, who were so sorely burned by the flaming oil that they both fainted away. Brought into camp, physicians were summoned to attend them but they did not recover. As a last resort, the King asked the Brahmin Sanon to exercise his art. This the latter did, and soon enough the clouds
burst and rain fell in great abundance. The two youngsters were taken out and their burns bathed in the pure water, which washed away the corrosive oil. Sin Samudr and Sud Sakorn were thus restored to health.
Meanwhile, the steady downpour of rain continued and intensified as the night wore on. The enemy troops shivered and made attempts to light fires, but failed because the ground and the wood were damp. Finally, to add to their discomfort, a hailstorm flattened all the tents in their camps. Dawn found them cold, disheartened and desperate.
Phra Abhai Mani came to the conclusion that it would be kinder to the enemy and more expedient for all to make a quick end of the battle. He therefore ordered a general advance of his troops. Beating their gongs and shouting shrill battle cries, the men of Paleuk marched forward. The opposing armies, losing what courage they still possessed, turned and fled in panic. Phra Abhai Mani's forces chased them to the sea, where they embarked in utter confusion and sailed speedily back to their several lands.
Thus ended the invasion of Paleuk by the allies of Lanka. Phra Abhai Mani, his brother, his sons, his commanders and his men, returned in triumph to the city, where they were enthusiastically received by the joyful populace.