(I’m gonna skip off a bit and get to a rather interesting section of the story which deals with what’s happening in Sri Lanka at the time! So bear with me till I find a way to fix up the lost time in between 😉 )
Rudran pushed past a small copse as he ran down the shallows of the narrow canal. Cursing, he swatted away a few tiny mosquitoes as he sliced at branches and bamboo stalks that lay in his path. The length of the waterway opened out before him. As he edged out of the shallows, a flock of terns shot into the air, dripping water off their streamer-like tails. On either side of him were tall jak trees, laden with their immense, knobbly fruits. Egrets poked about in the mud. A little cormorant dived for fish, leaping off its perch. the black avian arrow then returned with its prey in a few minutes. Rudran’s mind grasped hopelessly at the beauty of the wildlife around him as duckweed and water ferns swarmed around is legs. His wound still bled, but at least the pain was more bearable.
Last night he’d screamed in pain, so much so that some villagers-alarmed of course by his enemy regalia-mistook him for one of their local forest demons. He pursed his lips as he paused a minute. Rudran was gasping, his breath now coming in short spurts. Had he not cast off his armor, he’d be feeling even worse.
“I’m in enemy territory,” he told himself under his raspy breath, “I have no more emergency rations. At least I have this.”
He unsheathed his enormous sword. Its metal hilt, bound in leather, had the ornamental head of a snarling tiger at its end. The magnificent weapon reflected the strong sunlight off its blade, which struggled to shine; he had not been maintaining it that well over the past few days. The steel did not rust easily, but he still needed it to be good and strong.
Rudran’s arms grew stiffer and more sore as his veins rose against the surface of his bicep. Sword-fighter’s arms, immensely powerful but still capable of relaxing at his side with the greatest of ease. For an instant, he bent double, nearly falling face-down in the water. He merely retched, the sharp stab of pain attacking his skull once more.
With a sudden roar, he slashed his weapon in the air, rage penetrating his body. Rage at being a weakling in alien territory, and rage at having run. He was Rudran Sridharan Kannasamy, best infantryman in his regiment, never a commander but with the poise and power of a seasoned general. He looked at his weapon again.
Rudran remembered his father’s forge where he had hammered away at the half-molten steel as he breathed life into the heavy blade. His second home since his early teens, where he saw his hands turn into artist’s chisels for about four years. The dark air, rank with the scent of male sweat, muscular bodies blackened with grease, shining in the narrow blades of sunlight that sliced through the holes in the ceiling. The clangs of metal were ripe in his ears as he grimaced through the pain once more. The immense hulk of his father, broad-shouldered and hard-faced, filled his vision. With herculean strength, they lifted the melted metal and poured it into their special mold. His father had smiled that day, and so had he.
But the image burned away, gradually as solid blocks of iron being melted away, and leaking out of his memory.
Pictures of his actions with that sword and all other weapons he’d ever made, flashed through, trapping him in a tornado of blood and sweat, with the cries of horses and elephants stinging his ears.
The lives of his comrades flashed before his eyes as each was picked off by the Lankan soldiers. Grunting in agony, he squatted at the water’s edge, an old jak tree shading him from the sun. The mighty tiger known as the Chola Empire still stalked the face of Southeast Asia, snatching up more countries with its slavering jaws, transforming them into mandalam. But the lions of Lanka dared to challenge the once-mighty predator.
Tamilakkam too was in peril.
The Kingdom of Pandya was breaking away, slowly but surely, the Pandyan fish swimming away from the grasp of tiger’s wicked claws. He remembered the Pandya banner being flown from a large regiment of chariots; and wasn’t there a Kalinga insignia on that old elephant’s howdah yesterday? For the Pandyan troops to be here…what was going on in their city? What was Madurai like these days? What was the governor thinking, to allow renegades to slip away from under his nose?
These were still his people.
Their loyalties were divided between the two great cats of Asia.
He heaved a deep breath.
His heart sang for Tamilakkam, and his eyes leaked tears of pain at the memory of his Madurai. Her high walls beckoned him home once more. His young body, free of all cares, splashed through the Vagai River. But as a conquering hero, not as a tired, bleeding husk of a man. His lips trembled with his heart as he struggled to utter a prayer.