38. A Minister's Word
A king had a fine minister who had the habit of saying, “That's good, very good. God did well.” He would say this in the best of times and in the worst of times.
The kingdom was attacked once by its neighbors, and so the king had to go to war. He fought well and won the war, but in the fray an enemy sword slashed at him and he lost his little finger. He felt a little sorry for himself and showed it to the minister, saying, “Look what happened. I lost my little finger in battle.”
The minister promptly replied, as usual, “Good, very good. God did very well.”
The king was furious at this insensitive reply and banished the minister as unfit to help him govern the country. The minister said, “Good, very good. God did well,” and accepted exile as if he were going home.
A few weeks later, the king went to the hills on a hunting trip. He pursued a deer deep into the woods, leaving his soldiers far behind. Night fell and it grew dark. So he tied his horse to a tree and slept in the fork of its big branches.
Now bandits lived in the forest of the foothills. They heard the neighing of a horse, came to the tree, found and captured the king in the branches. Shouting great hurrahs, they brought him down. All through that season they had been looking for a man of royal blood to sacrifice to their goddess, and as luck would have it, here was one who fell into their hands. They tied him up, covered him with flowers, and carried him to the temple. The king was alone among a whole host of them. When the day dawned, and the right hour came, the sacrificer raised his long sword to cut off his head and offer it to the Dark Goddess, Kali: a king's head, the rarest of offerings. In that breathless moment, the chief bandit cried out, “Stop, stop. This sacrifice is no good. Look, this man may be a king, but he is imperfect. He has lost his little finger. What we need is a man with all his limbs intact.”
The crowd was greatly disappointed. They carried him away in disgust and threw him near the hut of a sage in the woods, who happened to be no other than the banished minister himself. In the morning light, the king and the minister recognized each other. The king gratefully embraced him and said, “What you said was right, though I didn't see it then. My little finger saved me. It was good. God did well. But I've one question. Did God do well by you? You were unjustly banished and you had to suffer hardships in these woods.”
“That too was good, very good. God did well by me too. If I'd been your minister, I'd have been hunting with you. Those bandits would have let you go and sacrificed me instead. Remember, I happen to have all my limbs intact,” said the minister, wiggling his little finger.
[NKTT, but cf. Motif C 418.104.22.168, “Yes”—“No”—“Very Well” (IO). For another telling of this tale, see Narayan 1989:22–25.]