A Soft Hand
Once upon a time, a long time ago, the Bodhisattva was born as Prince Brahmadatta, heir to the kingdom of Benares. When he grew up he was sent to school at Takhasila, where he studied with a world-renowned teacher.
In time, Brahmadatta became king, and being good and wise, the land prospered. There were two children in the palace, a lovely daughter and a nephew who was a little older than the princess. The two were inseparable and went hand in hand everywhere.
One day, as the king watched the children playing, he thought, "When I die, my nephew will be king and my daughter will be his queen."
Years passed and when the princess and her cousin grew up, the king changed his mind and announced to his court: "I will find a wife for my nephew and my daughter will marry another king's son so I may increase my relations and expand the kingdom." The courtiers agreed. So the king found a house away from the palace and forbade his nephew to see his daughter. But the two were already in love with each other and separating them only fanned the flames in their hearts. It was not long before the nephew's longing for the princess led to desperate thoughts and a daring plan. "How shall I get the princess away from the palace?" he wondered. Then a plan formed itself in his mind.
Knowing that the princess's maidservant went to market every morning to buy fresh fruit and sweets for her mistress, the prince waited there for her. He gave her a pretty red ruby.
" What is this for?" she asked.
"You can help me get the princess out of the palace." said the prince. "I will talk to the princess and let you know." promised the maid servant most willingly.
The girl went to the princess and said, " Let me comb your hair." She sat the princess on a low stool, and sat herself on a higher one. She put the princess's head in her lap and began running her fingers through her hair. Then she scratched the princess's scalp with the prince's comb. The princess divined from the scratching that her nurse had been with the prince, and asked her if it were true.
" Yes, I've been with him."
" What did he tell you?"
" He wants me to help him get you out of the palace."
" If he is wise he will know how," said the princess and she recited a puzzle poem to send to the prince:
The softest hand in all the land
An elephant to make a stand
A black rain cloud by dark of night
These three will aid the princess's flight.
The nurse learned the poem by heart and went to the prince. She repeated it word for word and the prince understood what he had to do. He found a page boy with a soft hand, and prepared him. He paid the state elephant keeper to lend him the best trained elephant that could be quiet and stand still in one place. Then, one fast day of the dark fortnight, just after the middle watch, rain fell from a thick black cloud.
" The time has come," thought the prince.
The prince and the soft-handed page mounted the elephant and set out for the palace. At the palace he fastened the elephant and stood before the princess's window.
Now, the king never let his daughter out of his sight and let her rest nowhere but upon a little bed, in his presence. This day she thought to herself,
"Today, the prince will come." and lay down without going to sleep. In a while she said, "Father, I wish to bathe in the rain."
"Come along, my dear daughter," said the king and holding her hands, he led her to the window and lifted her up. He placed her into the lotus shaped balcony outside. Still holding her by one hand, as she bathed herself, the king waited. The princess held out a hand to the prince. He removed the bangles from her arm and fastened them on the arm of the pageboy. The he lifted the lad, and placed him on the lotus balcony beside the princess. She took his hand, and placed it in her fathers He took it and let go his daughter's hand. Then she removed the ornaments from her other arm and fastened them on the other hand of the lad, then slipped away with the prince. The king thought the lad was his own daughter; and when the bathing was over, he put him to sleep in the royal bedchamber. The king shut and sealed the door, set the guard and went away.
When daylight came, he opened the door, and there he saw this lad, the page boy.
" What's this!" cried he. " Where's my daughter?" The poor page told how the princess had escaped with the prince. The king was sad.
" Not even if one goes along holding hands is one able to guard a woman. And he uttered a poem:
Though soft of speech, like rivers hard to fill
Insatiable as a sandy beach, nothing satisfies their will
Down down they sink,
And disappear as quick as a blink.
From women, if he knew what they are
A wise man will flee afar
Whomever they serve for gold or desire
They burn him up like fuel in the fire.
After saying this, the king relented, thinking, "I must support my brother's son.” and sent an emissary to bring them back home. The king had them married and with great ceremony and honor, he made the prince his viceroy. And when the king died the nephew became king and they lived happily ever after.