(My second novella is undergoing so much work, and I haven’t even touched it for a long time, what with a painting on the drawing board and everything else piling up, including school in a few days. So, here, regrettably, is another few scenes from the first novella. This scene occurs between the second and third scenes)
(Brahmarajan and his troops were surprised by the Sinhalese attackers, and Sivapalan and Kush are in the middle of a heated argument, although they’ve escaped the siege of their fort, narrowly though)
Behind him the noise escalated. It was not just the cold rain slashing past both him and his jet-black horse, but the thunder of heavy footsteps and loud, hoarse voices screaming orders all around. Orders to capture, or kill him. This semiarid scrubland terrain only got rains during the monsoons, but when it came, it came down in torrents. Soon, the stabilized sand dunes would become mudslides and the poor horse would be unable to continue for very long. In fact, the whole expedition had now become a total mess. The Sinhalese soldiers were now more powerful than they ever had been, using old strategies from heaven knew where. Even the guerrilla forces and strike corps could do nothing about them and their sudden attacks.
It helped to know the terrain. In fact, that was exactly how the army had been getting around during the whole Lanka campaign. And now, the tables had been turned. He was being hunted down like a common animal.
Suddenly lightning lit up the sky. One of the Lankan soldiers yelled as his horse reared up in fright. The others were impatient, however, and drove on to capture their victim.
The area had now become more thickly vegetated, turning into a thorny scrub jungle. The acacia and other drought-resistant plants made this a difficult area for a large group of pursuers to navigate, so the retreating warrior could at least heave a sigh of relief. His mount was a rather small, light mare built for speed, and so he could cover more ground in this hellhole than the heavily armed soldiers after him. Brahmarajan in fact, thought a bit about his attackers a little. They were obviously from the heavy cavalry division, straight from the capital of the region itself. He could tell by their leather helmets and the immensely long swords they held out as they rode.
“Get out, away from me!” screamed Sivapalan as he whacked Kush in the face once more.
The younger boy spat at him in a rage, and as Sivapalan attempted to go for his throat once more, Kush grabbed his fist and twisted it.
The youngster’s face was contorted in the most hideous snarl he’d ever seen, and he tried his best to get out of Kush’s iron grasp. But he was, after all, a very powerful, athletic boy who didn’t like to abide by any of the norms that he lived with. The two of them had been at each other’s throats for very long now. Suddenly, Sivapalan felt Kush’s foot slipping in the wet mud and he fell down on his stomach. He spun around, and flipped the Sinhalese lad over, pinning him by his wrists and bearing his weight down onto his torso with his as he stared into the younger boy’s eyes. “Oh, and you accursed Aryans had this whole thing planned? By whom? Kassapa? Tell me it isn’t true, tell me it’s not true what that messenger said, you damned woman!”
His face was beginning to show signs of wear and tear as he drew away from Kush. Sivapalan now straightened himself out fully, but at the last second, he gripped his friend’s neck with his right hand.
“Which is less than what you really deserve! So all this time that we were friends, that I knew your father, that my father knew him, knew everyone that you love and trust…you wanted to kill us all? Was that it? We were your friends! I found you in a ditch with drunkards around you, Kush. They killed your little brother, they spilled his blood that day, and I let you have the shelter of my home! Is this how you repay me? Is this how….how your brother repays me? Repays my parents for cleaning his sores? For patching up his injuries? For everything that we do for that man?”
“Leave Kassapa out of this!!”
The two of them were now getting soaked by the steadily increasing rain as a small part of a young palu tree cracked under the weight of the accumulated water. It fell with a splash.
Kush pursed his lips tighter. He could feel that, thankfully, Sivapalan’s hand was now looser around him. “Barbarian,” he swore in silence, “but still, did you think that your father would escape a Lankan cavalry charge so easily? And really, when it was led by Vikramabahu, brother of your Emperor’s chief enemy? Really, Sivapalan? Can you be that foolish?” He saw that his friend was clutching his own head, gasping and sighing as his eyes widened in horror. Sivapalan was looking at all the men he’d just slain. All their bodies. The blood was running freely and mixing with the ever-increasing pools of muddy water in the trenches of their footsteps.
A flash of lightning streaked across the sky once, lighting up Kush’s face and body as kilt soaked it up, making it cling firmly to him. He sensed Sivapalan’s gaze resting on his body and face, but he quickly shook himself out and was brought back to his senses.
“Yes?” Kush snapped. “Will you kill me like you killed them? Like you killed Kassapa and dumped his body in the backwaters of the river back home? What’s your next option, oh esteemed son of a commander?”
Sivapalan shifted his weight, and stood up. He was feeling quite cold now, for the rain was close to his skin, beating against him as he looked at one of the corpses. That young martial artist had been wasting his time. All that was necessary to kill him had been a simple sword at the neck, and he’d bled out of his carotid artery. Sivapalan walked over to him and pulled the man’s sash off. It contained a small dagger. Small as in, a surgical knife and in there was a scalpel and a small pouch of medicine.
He smelled it.
An Ayurvedic concoction.
Kush had now sat up, hugging his knees against the cold. “Now what?” He couldn’t read Sivapalan’s face. It was a mask, set in stone, like it would be for a very long time to come. Sivapalan just sighed, but then quickly pulled Kush up onto his feet by the collar of his jacket.
“Now?” he hissed. “Now I go after my father is what. Come with me if you like. I’m not yet done with you, Kush.”
“Why? You won’t kill me like you killed them?”
Sivapalan gave him a dark look, and walked forward, ignoring the boy’s complaints as the two of them trudged through the wet scrub.
A few hours later, the rains started to ease.
Now, at least, visibility had increased and the region didn’t seem too treacherous.
Brahmarajan dismounted and guided his horse along as he walked solemnly away into the wilderness. He knew that there were plenty of villages around, hermitages, even, but what kindness could he hope for from them?
He was, after all, an invader. A wretched being that would be recognized as nothing more than an alien, a monster to be killed or handed over to the king. And the king wouldn’t take kindly the presence of an enemy warrior. But even then, all Brahmarajan would have to do would be to rot in the dungeons or just be tortured painfully to death. In fact, maybe the Chola Empire and the Lankan Kingdom didn’t seem too different at all.
Maybe their differences were just on the surface.
As he kept musing over these matters, Brahmarajan kept taking off his trappings, anything that might identify him as a possible enemy. His necklaces, wonderful jeweled strap armor, even his beautiful sword, all cast away. His horse’s richly embellished and perfectly cut, well-shaped bridle had been replaced with a rough one made of low quality leather.
“It probably hurts you,” he often told her lovingly, but she couldn’t understand, of course. This was his sole companion now, and they had to face a massive plain full of wild animals. He told her, “We’re together in this, you and I.” Putting his hands together, he told a silent prayer, whispering the name of some god-although he knew it to be futile-and rode on. The rain, which had been on the verge of stopping completely, was now rekindled.
The race against the rain had become a race for survival, almost. Brahmarajan shivered, and he had to keep himself from wrapping his arms around his bare torso at all costs. If he fell off his horse, he’d be in the mud, blinded by the driving rain with, most probably, a sprained ankle. Or worse, maybe death if some predator managed to find him.
This thought made him shudder even more. He broke his horse into a gallop, and they moved through a mud-filled stream which had once been barely a trickle in the drying earth. There seemed to be nowhere safe to take shelter for the time being, nowhere to plan his next move.
Or was there?