(I still have a special place in my heart for my as-yet-unnamed first novella, so I couldn’t part ways with it for long. Here is the continuation, as Brahmarajan flees the carnage of the battlefield)
Beyond him, he saw a branch of the Gona Nadi, a river on the borders between the western principality of Dakkinadesha, and of Rajarata in the north. So he’d been traveling south anyway. It didn’t matter to him, as long as he didn’t run into the Lankan soldiers, who were probably hunkering down as well.
Looming up ahead, just a few hundred yards from the mire, was a rest house. An ambalama, the locals called it. A large, longhouse-like structure for pilgrims and weary travelers, but with hope, it’d be ideal for a fugitive Chola commander. The ambalama itself was simple, but spacious enough for quite a few soldiers to stay in for the night. This greatly bothered Brahmarajan. He searched the area, and found out that the floor was quite dry, if not dusty.
The roof was supported by wooden beams, and covered with strong tiles.
Gigantic webs betrayed the presence of wood spiders in the area. Most, however, were pretty much abandoned, and could be brushed away easily.
“It’s dark, but at least it’s alright,” he told his horse as she lay down. He tethered her to a pillar, and patted her nose. She whinnied a bit, but then put her head down as Brahmarajan settled down to fulfill more human needs. He’d brought a blanket with him and a few cloth bandages and herbs. He carefully inspected the great gash in his shoulder. Thankfully, the wound was not septic, or he’d have to run around in the rain looking for herbs.
He winced as he thought about it again and again.
“Looks like it’s just us now. I’ll bet you never even believed that your master would have to go through this sort of hell,” he told his horse once more, even though she’d fallen asleep a while ago.
Very soon, he was making himself comfortable as most pilgrims did on their long journeys to the many holy places on the island. Brahmarajan had stripped down to a very short kilt now, and he squatted down, wrapping the blanket tighter around his scarred, pock-marked body to keep himself warm.
“Damn, I haven’t a fire,” he grumbled as he stretched out his aching legs. How long had he ridden for? It was such a pity that horses gave you such terrible cramps if you rode them for very long. But he couldn’t blame her for being what she was.
He inspected the small package he’d brought with him, wrapped up in banana leaves.
His emergency rations.
A few handfuls of rice and a bit of fruit. Mango, half-dried. At least the latter was alright, but still, the normally pliable flesh felt so leathery that Brahmarajan’s consumption was half-hearted. He groaned as he moved on to the next piece, and tore up the next piece of fruit. And he spaced out for an instant. He stared out into the blackness, as he imagined the vicious Mahasona, that horrible devil of local myth, spying on him from the shadows. Its animalistic senses were fixed on him; its tusks were gleaming as its muscles bunched up for the attack…
Brahmarajan stared even longer at the towering monster that stretched its clawed hand to grab him, body black, its head that of a devilish boar with eyes of flame…
And he shrieked, flinging his food at the beast.
Gasping, Brahmarajan clutched a small statuette he’d brought with him. A small bronze of Skanda, with sightless eyes and-if you strained your eyes enough-a mocking smile.
“Where…I’m….oh no, I’m going mad now,” he moaned as he looked at the little figure. Sighing, Brahmarajan stretched out across the floor, trying his best to shield himself from the demons of the night.
The hours passed, and suddenly, the whirring of a mosquito stirred the sleeping Brahmarajan into action. He swatted it, but it buzzed off noisily. The roof itself had now started leaking. He groaned and cursed, getting up and moving to another corner to stretch out in. However, he suddenly stumbled, and thunder roared like an angry giant in the skies above him. A flash of lightning, and he spotted a figure wrapped in a cloak, standing at the opposite corner. It seemed like his worst fears had been confirmed. Old legends told of Lanka as an island of carnivorous demons-maybe they were worse than that half-beast, half-man terror, so what if…
But that was when the person threw away the heavy disguise. It was a tall, lean young boy with nothing more than a large knife as a survival tool. His sandy, tanned skin betrayed his origins as part native, part Yona-if there still were any of these Grecian groups around at the time. Brahmarajan seemed to think of himself as being much smaller than this new arrival, despite there being no difference in height between the two. Yet, this boy’s vicious eyes bored right into the warrior’s soul. And, despite being much more heavily muscled and broad, there was still that element of fear.
Thankfully, at least the invader had learned the native tongue.
“Who are you, and why did you come here?” Brahmarajan did his best to hide his own dagger. He wanted the stranger to believe that he was in control of the situation for a while. More lightning cut through the skies, and still the boy didn’t answer. He did, however, run his hands through his thick hair, and put his knife into a crude leather sheath. “Are you out here on your own? Do you want to come with me? Speak up, young traveler, come now!”
Sivapalan slipped and fell down a slippery slope of plant debris and rotting leaf litter. It seemed like the mud and water all ran off this, and into a small stream that cut through a little stretch of forest. Spitting out whatever had got into his mouth, he stood up, as Kush stepped lightly over to him. Now the boy was completely soaked to the skin, and sneezed violently as he folded his arms across his chest.
“Why do you care so much?” Kush asked as Sivapalan steadied himself again. “Why do you want to go to your father so badly? I mean, wasn’t it he who abandoned you?”
“Just shut up for a minute, Kush, just…I need a sign that this will end well, really I do.”
“What? Will the heavens send you Lord Avalokitesvara in person?”
The Chola looked at his friend crossly, but the latter just smiled. A cunning smile. Of course, Kush’s crafty look was so much more serpentine and vicious when his eyes were darkened by his mother’s party makeup. It made him seem…strangely attractive to most of the young girls the two of them knew, especially to all of Sivapalan’s cousins. And maybe to Sivapalan himself, but what of that now. The Chola warrior just looked at the ground. He blinked once to get the water out of his eyes. He did, however, see his friend crouching next to him as well.
In Kush’s lithe, elegant form, Sivapalan saw a crouching tiger, watching and waiting, claws ready for the kill. But Sivapalan quickly let reality seep into him. “Well, look, would you just not bring my father up right now?”
“Hmm…at least he’s quite sober in this wilderness.”
“You…he quit his drinking and womanizing after he left my mother!” snarled Sivapalan. “And how dare you”-he pointed his finger at his part Gandharan, part Sinhalese friend angrily, eyes blazing-“think you can talk about my family like that! He’s…after he beat my poor mother and little brother up”-
“-and Kassapa was more…tender with her as of recently.” Young Kush started pulling up his long kilt a bit, giving Sivapalan the full display of his smooth, slender right leg. “Well, go on, you fool. I’m interested to know, and also, don’t you try to deny that my brother had no choice and he was feeling upset. Don’t forget how your mother Minakshi let him come to her, and how she’d opened herself to him, and he poured out to her completely, all his vitality and energy…flowed like water, didn’t it?”
He broke off with a questioning stare.
“Why? Don’t believe me?” the boy continued, rubbing his leg down and pulling up his robe even further, just to give this silly Chola boy the full show.
The silly Chola grimaced at all that casual vulgarity, but managed a bitter, “Yes, yes, that too. He left us, and worked at what he did best. His true art, the art of war, of battle strategy and the history of war itself for as long as time had gone by. He studied the great works of old, of Chanakya, the Mahabharata, all for answers about the art of fighting. He worked his way through the ranks, Kush. At least he worked at what he thought was best for him, at what he had truly known to do. My brother would never understand what my father did. But I slowly began to. So, no matter how much I liked to blame him, I found myself…wanting to work at what I was best at too.”