This is a retelling of a Persian folktale called, The Story Of The Grateful Corpse from “Persian Tales”, by David Lockhart Robertson Lorimer, E. O. Lorimer. Folklorists use the the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system which places this type of story as one of the Grateful Dead tales which is type 505. In the past in some countries it was a custom that people who died in debt could not be given a proper burial unless their creditors were paid. It was believed that without a proper burial the soul of the deceased would not be able to rest or enter heaven.
The Son of Malik ut Tujjar
Malik ut Tujjar was the Chief of the Merchants in the city of Chin. One day he called his son to him and told him it was time he learnt how to make his own way in the world. He gave him a bag of money and told him to go down to the bazaar and buy merchandise he could sell on for a profit and so become a merchant and trader. So his son went down to the bazaar hoping to pick up bargains he could make money on. However when he came to the bazaar he was shocked and appalled at what he saw. Hung up at a crossroad was the corpse of a man and people were beating it with sticks.
“Why are you beating this dead man? What terrible crime has he done to deserve this?” he asked.
One man stepped up to him and said, This man died without paying the money he owed us and we are beating him so that people who pass by will give us money, no matter how little, towards paying back the debt. We will continue beating him until we have collected enough money to pay off all the money he owed us. When we have collected enough to cover his debt we will bury him, but not until then.”
The young man said, “Well if it is only a matter of paying off his debt that will make you stop beating him then I will gladly pay it.” With that he gave them the money and they stopped beating him and took him down and gave him a proper burial. Then the young man returned to his father who gave him another bag of money to buy merchandise with.
This time he went down to the bazaar and brought lots of merchandise and hired men who loaded it upon camels and donkeys ready to go out in the world and trade. He joined a passing caravan to travel with but a little way along the road a thought came to him, “I wonder if these are the kind of men who would help me if I needed it, or just pass me by if something untoward happened? I will put them to a test.”
So he went to one of his fellow travelers and asked him if he could borrow a jug. The man obliged and the young man went off the road pretending he was going looking for water. What he really wanted to see was whether the caravan would stop and wait for him so he dawdled along pretending to look for water. Then he looked to see if the caravan was waiting, or if someone was coming back to look for him.
“As I thought” said the young man to himself, “if something bad happened to me they would not help and probably would not even notice. I won’t go with these I will return to the city and seek out more reliable traveling companions.”
Returning to the city he waited until the next day and joined up with another caravan. Again he decided he would test them in the same way he had tested the first and again they proved untrustworthy and he decided to remain behind.
A third time he again applied the same test to the caravan but this time his traveling companions missed him and returned to look for him making sure he was alright. Thinking he could trust them he joined them on their journey.
The caravan traveled on until evening and found a good place where they decided to set up camp for the night. As they were all sat around the campfire waiting for their evening meal to cook they saw out of the setting sun a fair and valiant youth crossing the desert towards them.
The Valiant Youth
He strode boldly up to them and sat down knee to knee beside the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “With great respect, it looks like you are a merchant and I wonder if you are in need of a servant. If so, may I put myself forward for the position? ”
The son of Malik ut Tujjar looked at him in astonishment and after a few seconds of thought said, “Yes, a servant would be useful and you can be my servant if you like, but tell me, what work you can do?”
It so happened that because they were traveling through the wild desert lands infested with thieves and bandits the members of the caravan had agreed between them that every night they would share the sentry duty between them. The Valiant Youth looked at the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “I can guard the caravan every night. I give you my solemn promise that I shall bring the caravan safely through the dangers of the wild desert to its final destination. If you agree to take on my services you must promise you will say nothing and you must not interfere in what I do, but act as if it was you that were my servant.”
The son of Malik ut Tujjar asked the other the members of the caravan if they minded if he take on the Youth as a servant who would act as their night sentry. All readily agreed and the son of Malik ut Tujjar made the Valiant Youth his servant. The Valiant Youth started his guard duty that night and the caravan remained safe throughout the night. The next day the caravan moved on and travelled through the wild desert for several days. Each night the Valiant Youth would guard the travellers and they were all kept safe and sound.
One clear and starry night as the Valiant Youth guarded the caravan while the others slept, across the desert against the night sky he saw a yellow flame shoot up high and flicker bright against the sky. Seizing his sword he crept stealthily towards the blaze. When he reached its source he saw that it was a bonfire and around it sat forty thieves all sat huddled together in a circle beside the fire eating from a big pot in the centre. Standing up he boldly stepped into the firelight and sat down knee to knee with them and also began to eat.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” they asked.
“No, who are you and what are you doing?” the Valiant Youth replied.
“We are thieves!” replied the thieves.
“Good, because I also am a thief,” he told them and then they all fell to chatting about all of the good people they had robbed and all of the splendid things they had stolen. Then the Valiant Youth jumped up and said, My friends, some evening we must all go out together and rob and steal.”
They all agreed it would be a good thing to do, but then they asked who it was they should rob and what they should steal from them.
The Royal Treasury the King’s Court
“We should break into the Royal Treasury and rob the King of all of his treasure now!” said the Valiant Youth. They all thought this was a wonderful idea and so they followed the him across the desert until they arrived at the city of the King and stood below the vast walls of his Treasury. Then the Valiant Youth said, “I am the youngest, the fittest and the strongest, I will climb the walls and pull you up one by one.”
To this they all gave their agreement and so he threw up a grappling hook with a rope attached to it and when it held firm he quickly scaled the walls. Then he threw the end of the rope down and a thief caught hold of it and he pulled him up. As soon as he was over the wall and out of sight of the others the Valiant Youth came up behind him and cut his head off. He did this time and time again until all of the thieves had been pulled up and had their heads cut off. Next he carried them all down one by one to the the King’s Treasury and arranged all forty of them in a semicircle with their chief seated on a chair in the center with his head upon his lap.
After this he found his way to the King’s court where a lion prowling around looking for a victim. Without hesitation he whipped out his sword and smote the lion killing it instantly. Then he draped the dead body of the beast across the front of the throne.
He went to find the king’s bedroom and found him sleeping soundly. Beside the sleeping king his servants had left food and water. First, he made a mark on one of the King’s legs, then he ate a small quantity of food and took a puff or two from his pipe. After these exploits he returned to the caravan returning safely back just before sunrise while his master and the others were asleep.
The Next Day
After the sun had risen and his fellow travelers had woken and had breakfast the caravan set off upon its way. Presently they came to a small fort situated in the middle of the road that was occupied by an elderly ogre, who would attack passersby from it. She would steal their goods and kill and eat anyone she laid her hands on and no one got past her alive. The caravan stopped at a safe distance to rest the night knowing they would be safe because the Valiant Youth would be on guard while they slept.
Looking out on the road from her for she saw the caravan approach and then saw the Valiant Youth and letting out a blood curdling cry rushed out intending to slay and eat him. The Valiant Youth was too quick for her and drawing his sword he whirled it around and cut her clean in two. Then he went into the fort and found it full of all sorts precious stones, jewelry of gold and silver, and many fine and expensive items that were beyond price. He also found that there were a number of men being kept prisoner which he set free and then locked the doors. Then he returned to where the caravan was camped before sunrise and finding his master and companions still asleep woke them up crying, “Awake! Awake! The sun has risen and morning is here!”
By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meanwhile back in the city, the King had awoken and saw that someone had been puffing on his pipe. Furthermore, someone had been eating his food and drinking his water. Going into his throne room he saw that someone had killed a lion and draped it over the front of his throne. Summoning his vizier he said, “Look at these strange things! Whatever has been going on while I have been asleep?”
The vizier replied, “Strange things indeed, but even stranger things have happened in the Treasury. We have found forty thieves all beheaded and arrayed around their dead leader!”
“It is good that forty thieves are dead but do not let news of these events escape. If anyone dares to tell anyone else I will have them cut into quarters alive!” the king told his vizier.
Then he made an important announcement saying, “Let it be known that the King will give his daughter in marriage to anyone who can tell him what took place last night in the King’s court and Treasury,” and added, “but let no one know of these events, or else …”
Men came from far and wide to tell the King all sorts of made up stories but the King and his vizier saw straight through them for the lies they were. After listening to many stories over many days the King said to his vizier, “What can we do? We have listened to so many liars telling false stories and we are no nearer knowing who it was who killed those forty thieves and slayed the lion.”
“It so happens that a strange merchant has arrived in the city recently. Could he know anything I wonder?” said his vizier.
“I will speak to him. Bring him to me,” ordered the King. So the vizier, sent the Royal soldiers to bring the son of Malik ut Tujjar who did not want to go with them. However the Valiant Youth insisted that he should go reminding of the promised he had made to obey him and told him he would accompany him. They were taken before the King who was instantly struck by the Valiant Youth and said, “Well now young man, tell me all that you know and saw!”
The Valiant Youth’s Story
“Your Royal Highness, I myself saw nothing but my friend here” referring to his master, “told me all about it and know not if it is the truth or a falsehood.”
“Then tell me all that you do know,” commanded the King. The Valiant Youth told him the entire story of the killing of the lion and the forty thieves and finally said, “and what is more there is a mark that he made on one of your kegs.” This surprised the King who checked his legs and found it to be true and so believed the story.
“And what reward do you seek for the slaying of the forty thieves and the lion?” asked the king.
The Valiant Youth replied, “Your Royal Highness, I do not speak for myself but for my friend standing next to me, who heroically and single-handedly slayed the forty thieves and the lion and I say, such heroism deserves the highest reward. Therefore, I humbly suggest an appropriate reward would be the marriage of your daughter to this hero of heroes. As a wedding gift I suggest seven hundred camels and seven hundred mules fitted out with appropriate loading bags, saddlebags, ropes and handlers to take care of them.”
The King nodded thoughtfully and agreed and the son of Malik ut Tujjar married his daughter and received the the camels and mules with all the equipment and handlers to take care of them. Malik ut Tujjar, with his bride, set off back to his own country along the same road he had traveled down and the Valiant Youth accompanied them. When they arrived at the fort they collected together all of the treasures that had been left and loaded it upon the mules and camels and traveled onward back to the hometown of the son of Malik ut Tujjar.
A Test for the Son of Malik ut Tujjar
As they approached home the Valiant Youth said, “Son of Malik ut Tujjar, let us be honest, you would have none of all of these riches because it was I that slew the forty thieves and the lion and it all came from my deeds. Still, despite that I would be happy to divide it all in half between us, do you agree?”
Then the son of Malik ut Tujjar said, “What you say is true and I agree to your suggestion.”
So they divided all the treasure, all the camels, mules and handlers between them equally and fairly. The the Valiant Youth said, “All that is left is the King’s daughter, your wife and we cannot divide her. Therefore, I suggest that either you take all of the treasure and I will take the King’s daughter, or you will take the King’s daughter and I will take the treasure. What do you choose?”
The son of Malik ut Tujjar was not at all happy with this suggestion and the two began to argue. In the end the Valiant Youth toòk her and tied her to stakes in the ground and said, “The only fair way is to have half each and taking his sword swung it in the air as if to cut her in half.”
The son of Malik ut Tujjar wept in fear and horror as he watched him swing his sword but he never dealt the blow. Just as he was about to strike a black snake wriggled out of the mouth of the helpless princess and quickly slithered off into the desert.
The Valiant Youth lowered his sword and set her free and said, “Behold, she is now free! I had to do this to free her of the demon that possessed her. Now son of Malik ut Tujjar, she is all yours and so is the treasure along with all of the animals. May God go with you for now I must leave you.”
“Wait!” cried the son of Malik ut Tujjar, “Tell me, who you are?”
“I am the one whose corpse was hung and beaten at the crossroads in the bazaar whose debts you paid, allowing me to be given a proper burial,” replied the Valiant Youth and as he said this he slowly faded before the eyes of the son of Malik ut Tujjar and was gone.
Consequences of the Return of the Grateful Dead
There are strange consequences implied in tales of the Grateful Dead. The first is that people still living, such as creditors can influence and prevent the soul of the dead resting and entering heaven until their debts are paid. This provides a stark warning to those who borrow money to ensure their debts are paid as quickly as possible as we never know when death will call. There is also the idea that the creditor has a degree of ownership of the soul of the debtor and a degree of approval from God who surely has the last say who goes to heaven. Then there is the idea that a person can return and influence the lives of the living by rewarding someone who has paid off their debts. This often entails putting that person through a test or series of tests to determine their worthiness and highlights the strangeness of this situation and the consequences hidden within the stories of the Grateful Dead.
© 02/01/2019 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright January 2nd, 2019 zteve t evans