“Send for the man immediately,” cried the magician, “and you shall hear my answer when he appears before me.”
“I cannot send,” replied Rupa-Sikha, “for none knows where I have left him; nor will I fetch him till you promise that no evil shall befall him.”
At first Agni-Sikha laughed aloud and declared that he would do no such thing. But his daughter was as obstinate as he was; and finding that he could not get his own way unless he yielded to her, he said crossly:
“He shall keep his fine head on his shoulders, and leave the palace alive; but that is all I will say.”
“But that is not enough,” said Rupa-Sikha. “Say after me, Not a hair of his head shall be harmed, and I will treat him as an honoured guest, or your eyes will never rest on him.”
At last the magician promised, thinking to himself that he would find some way of disposing of Sringa-Bhuja, if he did not fancy him for a son-in-law. The words she wanted to hear were hardly out of her father’s mouth before Rupa-Sikha sped away, as if on the wings of the wind, full of hope that all would be well. She found her lover anxiously awaiting her, and quickly explained how matters stood. “You had better say nothing about me to my father at first,” she said; “but only talk about him and all you have heard of him. If only you could get him to like you and want to keep you with him, it would help us very much. Then you could pretend that you must go back to your own land; and rather than allow you to do so, he will be anxious for us to be married and to live here with him.”
9. Do you think the advice Rupa-Sikha gave to Sringa-Bhuja was good?
10. Can you suggest anything else she might have done?
Sringa-Bhuja loved Rupa-Sikha so much that he was ready to obey her in whatever she asked. So he at once went with her to the palace. On every side he saw signs of the strength and power of the magician. Each gate was guarded by tall soldiers in shining armour, who saluted Rupa-Sikha but scowled fiercely at him. He knew full well that, if he had tried to pass alone, they would have prevented him from doing so. At last the two came to the great hall, where the magician was walking backwards and forwards, working himself into a rage at being kept waiting. Directly he looked at the prince, he knew him for the man who had shot the jewelled arrow at him when he had taken the form of a crane, and he determined that he would be revenged. He was too cunning to let Sringa-Bhuja guess that he knew him, and pretended to be very glad to see him. He even went so far as to say that he had long wished to find a prince worthy to wed his youngest and favourite daughter. “You,” he added, “seem to me the very man, young, handsome and—to judge from the richness of your dress and jewels—able to give my beloved one all she needs.”