‘Raja, please help us.’ The elderly couple fell at the feet of King Vikrama Varma.
‘Please get up and tell me about your troubles.’ The King said in a gentle voice.
‘Someone has killed our son, Sire!‘ The old woman wept, ‘Our only son.’
‘Sire, our son, Desingu, worked as a sentry in your city security,’ the old man said, ‘His duty was to stand guard outside the southern entry gate of the Kingdom.’
‘It was only his first week on the job, Sire. He was very excited to go to work. But everything changed after the first two days.’
The King nodded in understanding.
‘His Captain changed his shift on the third day. Desingu was moved to the night shift as one of the regular guards had fallen ill. That’s when things started to go wrong for my son.’
The King was intrigued, and so was the entire court.
The old man continued, ‘After his first night shift, Desingu came home looking shaken. He kept mumbling something incoherently. I thought that he was tired as he has never been awake past midnight before and didn’t pay much attention to it. But my boy was totally out of his wits after the second night.’
‘What happened on the second night?’
‘He said that he was chased by a giant bird with red eyes, Sire!‘
The occupants of the court started laughing at the statement. The King had a slight smile on his lips but one look at his Chief Minister’s ashen face and he knew that the old man was not rambling.
‘Giant bird? Where did he see it?’
‘He said that the bird came out of the pipal tree outside the graveyard and started to chase him…’
‘Was he alone?’
‘Yes, My King! The guards walk separate beats in the neighbouring streets once every hour,’ the Chief Minister butted in.
‘Desingu was terrified because of the episode and he raised a huge fuss with his captain the next morning. The captain was not impressed and called my son a coward…he put him on solitary duty for the next ten days. Now, my son is dead and we have no one to take care of us.’
‘How did he die?’
‘I don’t know, Sire! He was found lying dead on the very road he claimed that he saw a giant bird. His skin had lost all its colour and he had the look of utmost terror frozen on his face…The Captain of the Guards once again called my son a coward, this time to my face…’
The King raised his hand and the old man shut up and bowed in obeisance. He looked at the royal treasurer and nodded once. He called the old couple forward and said, ‘Your son was not a coward. He served his King and died while on duty. I will not forget that. You will be taken care by the throne until your last days. Now, go mourn your son in peace.’
The couple thanked the King profusely and left the court. King Vikrama Varma proceeded to hear other petitions until late in the evening. Throughout the day he kept glancing at his Chief Minister who continued to look glum. Once the court duties were done, King Vikrama stood up and beckoned his Chief Minister.
‘Walk with me.’
‘Yes, your majesty!’ The man was silent as they walked through the corridors of the palace.
‘What’s on your mind, mantri? Silence doesn’t suit you.’
‘The case of the dead guard bothers me, Sire. It bothers me greatly.’
‘I’ll show you tonight, Sire. Please join me in the royal crypts tonight. I have some arrangements to make before our meeting.’
With that mysterious proclamation, the Chief Minister left leaving behind a very confused Vikrama.
Few Hours Later…
King Vikrama Varma pulled the silk robe around him as he walked into the royal crypts. The cavernous place had the bronze figurines of the deceased members of the royal family. In addition to the hundreds of the bronze figurines, the crypts had another occupant – the body of King Vikrama’s younger brother, Prince Aditya Varma, who had died due to a sudden bout of illness. The queen mother was heart-broken on her youngest son’s death and had requested Vikrama to bury Prince Aditya in the crypts, instead of the usual procedure of burning the corpse.
King Vikrama stood silently next to the pedestal and ran his finger over his dead brother’s face. He sighed in misery as he contemplated the vagaries of life.
‘Sire, Please move away.’ Vikrama was startled by his Chief Minister’s voice. He turned around to see the man walk into the crypts followed by an aged man. The second man clearly looked like a learned scholar.
‘What is it now, mantri?’
‘Sire, I come bearing grave news. Our kingdom has an unwanted visitor.’
‘Yes, your majesty! What the dead guard Desingu saw was no bird, but a very evil entity which has made its way into this world and our kingdom.’
‘What are you blabbering about?’
‘A Ratha Katteri, Sire! A creature with an unquenchable bloodlust. That’s what chased Desingu.’
King Vikrama looked stunned, ‘Aren’t these just old wive’s tales?’
‘Unfortunately, no! I spent the last few hours checking and rechecking various details pertaining to this strange case. Let me prove it to you.’ The Chief Minister clapped his hands and four men walked briskly carrying a padai made of the leaves of a coconut tree. On it was placed a dead body.
‘This is the body of the dead guard Desingu, Sire!’ The Chief Minister said, ‘I took the liberty of commandeering the corpse before they cremated it.’
‘Please note,’ The Chief Minister said and produced a sharp knife from his hip-holster. ‘Look at the corpse, Sire! The dead man was just twenty years old and according to his Captain and rest of the guards in his squad, he was extremely healthy. He’s been dead for little over twenty hours but the body looks like that of an old man who was completely malnourished.’
The King nodded. Desingu looked like all the life forces had been sucked out of him. His ashen skin was stretched taut over his bony frame. The Chief Minister used his knife to make a sharp cut on Desingu’s thigh.
‘No blood!’ He exclaimed and then used his fingers to dig deeper into the flesh. ‘Look at this, your majesty. All flesh and no blood at all. Now look at this.’ He pointed to a strange mark on Desingu’s chest. ‘It’s teeth marks, Sire! The Ratha Katteri had sucked all the blood right from the man’s heart.’
King Vikrama felt sick to his stomach. ‘What do we do?’
‘This is a very delicate subject for me to broach, my king! I know what needs to be done, but I don’t know how to get it done.’
‘Our Kingdom is not safe with such a monstrous entity around. Do whatever that needs to be done.’
‘Sire! In order to get rid of the Ratha Katteri, you need to disappoint your mother.’
‘Your brother, Aditya Varma is the Ratha Katteri!’
King Vikrama roared, ‘How dare you!’
‘I’m sorry, your majesty. But what the minister says is the truth.’ The old scholar spoke for the first time. ‘I’m the father of your royal astrologer and I had the pleasure of serving your father. I have gone through the horoscope of your brother and there is no doubt – he is the Ratha Katteri.’
‘Prince Aditya had chevvai dosham, my king. He was born under the mal-influence of Mars. Anyone who has chevvai dosham and dies unnaturally will be reincarnated as a blood-sucking Ratha Katteri. The only solution is to burn his corpse.’
‘How can I believe in your words?’
The Chief Minister passed his knife to King Vikrama. Sighing, the King took the knife and used the tip to make a small incision on his brother’s left index finger. Fresh blood started oozing from the cut. With a stunned expression, King Vikrama made a much bigger cut on his brother’s chest and threw the knife away as a stream of blood started gushing out. Somewhere an unearthly howl emanated and made its way into the crypts.
King Vikrama wiped away his tears and said, ‘Take the body outside the kingdom and burn it.’
Note: The legend of Ratha Katteris, a blood sucking vampiric entity, is famous in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This story is inspired by Tamil author Puthumaipithan’s short story ‘Chevvai Dosham.’
Raja – King
Chevvai Dosham – A person born under the influence of Mars is said to have Chevvai Dosham. Also known as Khuja Dosham or Manglik Dosha.
Padai – A stretcher made of coconut leaves weaved across two bamboo poles used for carrying the dead
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