(This is a direct continuation from the last novella part…the beginning of Brahmarajan’s end)
“If it’s any consolation to you, I’ve given up believing in everything I once believed in,” interrupted Vikrama. Good. What comfort could religion truly bring? Could the tolling of bells and chanting of tongue-twisting hymns really help you in a life-or-death situation? “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m starting to like you, boy.”
“Likewise,” answered Vikrama, who was busily wrapping himself up in his great cloak. “But don’t expect anything else of me, Chola.”
And they began to chat away, the two of them. Brahmarajan opened out as quickly as a good book, jabbering about this fight and that fight. Vikrama just smiled at him. This made the Chola soldier uneasy, as if his companion was eluding details on purpose. He let this suspicion drift off as well as he drifted off to sleep, happy that someone cared enough to just be there.
Late evening, and the rains had begun again.
An eagle owl sent its terrifying cry piercing through the darkness.
Brahmarajan woke up with a start.
Something was pressed against his side, and everything was suddenly darkened. He felt blinded, not that his eyes were very good to begin with anyway. Claustrophobia swept over him as he sweated in fear. This was it.
However, the thing that was pressed against him, was just Vikrama. He tried to speak, but the boy’s hand was firmly placed on his mouth. The hand was slender, but very strong, and the boy’s legs were straddling the width of Brahmarajan’s body. The knife itself was held against the ex-commander’s neck. He looked up at Vikrama, but the boy’s eyes seemed to tell him to stay down as he pressed closer to the man. He seemed alert, eyes moving wildly.
Slowly, Vikrama crawled outside and lay on the floor of the ambalama. There were some women and a big, middle-aged man walking past. Just normal people, traders perhaps. Or a noble and his harem-or his slaves. The boy was as quiet as he could be, watching them pass by. Brahmarajan himself had gotten out of his cover, and was lying next to the boy on the floor.
“They can’t see us, and anyway, the two of us together would be suspicious. I wouldn’t want that to happen.”
That was queer. However, someone else had arrived as well. This meant that as usual, Brahmarajan had no time to think of the situation. The footsteps of what seemed like a patrol.
They were talking in that coarse, rough manner that some soldiers talk in. One of them had sat down…if only they didn’t notice the horse. Of course, she didn’t know what her human was up to, so she was startled by their appearance. She neighed aloud, and reared up, attempting to break loose of her bonds. The soldiers were startled as well.
“Those devils shouldn’t be here, should they?” one asked in a gruff voice. “Perhaps, Sena, perhaps he’s taken the enemy elsewhere. I don’t know.”
Then another spoke, “You set him up to the task. That boy will come through. He always has managed to. I mean, it’s perfect. We need him now, but he’s just a means in the end. Let our unit pay him what he originally had. He might not have been a noble with eighty thousand gold coins, but flash the same amount he lost, and he’ll do more missions for us until this campaign is over for good.”
“Do you think it will ever end?”
“Not as long as India keeps its mouth shut.”
“Just think,” said the one called Sena, the leader of the patrol apparently, “when the foreigners come to their senses at last, we can all live in peace. Or, else….let me think…I once spoke to a priest in the temple near my village. He told me that he was tired of all the business of war in this country. I mean, how much more damage can one place sustain? Think, if some random fellow from heaven knows where, doesn’t show up, then the invaders will continue ruling us! It’s that thing, that false feeling of ‘this is my land’, ‘I am a man of this country,’ that made Vijayabahu start the Chola wars.”
“Are you saying,” said another, “that the next so-and-so who races out of Rohana might be a…bad king…?”
“Now, that is actually…do you realize you’re completely off topic and going circles round about, eh, Sena?”
This man seemed to be the joker of the lot, but one who didn’t find him funny, just groaned, “Gamini, please…shut up.”
“What if not all are alike? What if the next one will really be the worst thing for this country? Think,” continued Sena, “think about the fact that some foreigners-and in fact, most-are not cruel plunderers. I’m married to a South Indian, and she’s the kindest wife anyone could dream of. If Rajaraja was a good man, if Rajendra and whoever’s being defeated by our king, are good men, why should we rise up against them? Why?”
Brahmarajan thought hard.
The ambitions of Rajaraja and Rajendra, the greatest father-son duo in the Empire, had brought him here to Lanka, and they’d brought him only suffering. And now, he guessed that they were also talking about Vikrama as well. This boy was an orphan, but his intelligence was what made them take him. They’d hired him to try and rat out escapees from the Chola army. That bit was clear. What kind of man was the Lankan general? The king?
He looked into Vikrama’s large, dark eyes.
He couldn’t believe it. “Well,” explained the boy quietly, “I was paid to shut up. I mean, if the public knew of any of your soldiers running around, there’d be general panic and unrest. That’s why the army needs this unit to hunt you down. I’m the one who was supposed to kill you…or let some soldier take you instead.”
The commander was shocked. The two of them had shared the ambalama. He’d admitted to Vikrama everything he’d done. His scars, his battles, his indecisions and victories, all poured out to this young child. Was this the lowly dark side of the Sinhalese army? Then again, he’d ordered plenty of assassinations too; plenty of underhand missions had been carried out swiftly on his orders.
“Look,” he whispered pleadingly, “I’ll take you wherever I go. You needn’t live like this, you’re just a child. Vikram….please, come with me. Together, we can also prove that Sinhalese and Cholas can live together as one…you heard the soldier outside….please spare me, do not sin…”
He shook his head as he drew his knife and laid it against Brahmarajan’s chest. The warrior jerked rapidly and flung the boy onto the ground. The great noise alerted the soldiers outside. Two rushed in with their swords drawn, and suddenly Brahmarajan’s dagger clanged sharply against one of their blades. He swung expertly, dodging and striking in the dark, using merely his ears to determine the position of the enemy. He couldn’t go on for very long, though. He had to end this, and get out. Maybe kill that damned child if he could, just to satisfy himself.
So, he slashed a number of times.
The dagger went severely chopping and slicing through the Lankan warrior’s hand. He screamed in pain, clutching it as his opponent hacked away in order to escape quickly.
Then the other attacker was whacked in the skull with an iron bar that was lying on the floor of the ambalama. Who’d left it there, he didn’t care, but it took a good number of strikes to cave the Sinhalese warrior’s head in nicely.
“VIKRAMA!!! Quickly, let’s get out of….”
Stabbed…in the back…and quite literally.
“Well done, boy,” said Sena, patting Vikrama on the shoulder. Brahmarajan lay there, fallen, with a rusty, cruel-looking knife protruding out of his back. It’d been driven in with plenty of force. The boy had then fallen upon him, whacking away with the iron bar, finally smashing the warrior’s skull when he was defenseless. The other soldiers themselves had stolen the horse, and had been carving up the man as well. Vikrama’s eyes were surprisingly good in low light, it seemed. He’d completed his task.
“It just…makes my skin crawl,” he told Sena, wrapping his arms around himself, “and I know, I know that you’ll say that there’s one less enemy alien in Lanka, but just…he felt so close to me. I don’t know, I feel bad about killing him.” Sena and the other soldiers looked at the horribly butchered body of Brahmarajan lying there.
Sena sighed. “We don’t like this any more than you do. Nobody does. As long as overreaching, overambitious politicians rule us, we won’t be freed from war. Eternal peace only comes in death. At least war helps us to achieve that, if nothing else. It’s unpleasant business. But we’re only human. For now.”
And with that, Sena touched Vikrama’s head before leaving.
The young boy just took one long, hard look at his temporary companion.
He didn’t cry. This was, after all, his job, and he’d done it.