The Queen and the Snakeman

In Delhi, stories originating from the fierce Hindu Goddess Chandi are still routinely passed from grandmother to daughter. This is one such tale.

A man known as the quiet man lived as one of a reclusive, primeval tribe of three hundred who made their homes in the lush trees that flourished in the basins of the Indus River. They were ruled over by a stern queen whose exotic granddaughter the quiet man secretly pined for.

Nighttime would bring powerful beasts who prowled for their prey, but when the sun rose the tribesmen could pilfer fruit and berries from the surrounding bushes. On rare occasions, some men managed to take fish from the river. Never the quiet man. Though thoughtful and handsome, he had no capacity for risk-taking and spent his days in solitude. For their courage, the brave men who left the safety of the brush to bring home what they could forage, would win the hearts of young virgins who’d bear them sturdy children.

One night a powerful monsoon swept through the hills and valleys. When the floodwaters rescinded, all fauna had been swept away with the exception of a gruesome half man half snake. It slithered between the tree trunks, blood red were its staring eyes, set deep in a craggy human head. Poison dripped from its fangs.

No one would confront the snakeman. When finally, the queen offered her ravishing granddaughter to he who killed the beast, the quiet man presented himself. Years of loneliness had taken its toll and the lure of the princess’ hand prompted him to accept the dangerous challenge.

Armed with nothing but a spear, he descended into battle. For hours, they wrestled until the quiet man’s heart seized from the poison pumping through his veins and the enemy lay dead at his feet. On the underside of the snakeman’s belly, a deep festering gash ran from his neck to his tail, probably picked up a few days earlier when caught in the fury of the tempest. Covered in puncture wounds from those razor like fangs, the quiet man collapsed to his knees, gazed at snakeman’s wounds and out at the storm-ravaged wilderness.

The truth dawned on him. That snakeman had slithered into the tribe’s valley on a quest to find refuge from the monsoon. His plight was their plight. That intimidating snarl on the snakeman’s head, his scowls at the sky, all of it masked a grim awareness that death had come for him. If left to his own devices he would simply have crawled away to die.

As the quiet man’s life drained away, he caught sight of the queen staring down at him from the treetops, a beaming smile on her face. His death, the snakeman’s death, both brought her great satisfaction. It’s extremely rare, but there exists a certain kind of woman for whom no ecstasy can match the thrill of ordering men into battle and watching them destroy each other.

They are the real snakes.


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