Jayampati stood up, his hair battling the slight gust of wind which breathed a cooling breath over the waterway. He bit his lip hard, swallowing back his tears, when a familiar hand gave his a gentle push. He had to smile now.
“Saliya…” he breathed, “and what in heaven’s name do you think you’re doing? We were waiting for you. See?” The other boy pointed at the river.
“Devaka and Dashrath are already here, but Mahinda won’t be coming. His father took he and his brother out on a supply expedition. They went to Magama, if I’m not mistaken. For the soldiers, a convoy of carts with rice and meat and things. All the merchants are doing it. Are you feeling alright?” Saliya looked into Jayampati’s eyes. The latter’s lids seemed to the former like rocks made of flesh that tried desperately to dam the gap between eyes and cheeks.

“I can’t stop thinking of my family! What if one of them is next? What will my mother say? My brothers have families of their own too!”

Saliya tried to understand his friend’s pain. He slipped his hand into Jayampati’s own and tried to squeeze it, but no words could come out for a while. What could he tell the son of a soldier, a true kshatriya, born and bred for a mortal life of honor and glory? For, wasn’t it someone extremely wise who’d said, “Durlabham hi sadaa sukham” or something of that nature.
Prince Rama really was a wise man.
A legend, true, but a wise one.
Happiness was truly impermanent as he had said that day thousands of years ago. Plus, you live in a world where the two alternate. Sailya quietly attempted to digest the meaning behind the legendary kshatriya’s words. Perhaps this one, his friend, himself born to a warrior, would understand? But all Jayampati did was grunt, “I’m not a fool, not at all. I know what’s going on. It’s not like I’ve never seen sorrow wherever I went, so stop quoting dusty old myths to me. I had to deal with this war for so long, but still I mean, my father would never forgive himself if even one of my brothers died. And my mother wouldn’t forgive herself knowing that she had allowed them to enlist. Saliya, you can’t pretend to be something you’re not!”

“Pretend? What…”

“Pretend to live like a god!” cut in Jayampati. “I mean, isn’t that why all those old stories were written? They were moral stories, true, but you can’t always live by their words. Frankly I’m past caring, I”-he flung his arms up in exasperation, but then looked at his friend’s face-“I’m sorry I shouted. I think we all should be allowed to feel pain. Yes, you…you’re right, I guess…I…I’m confused.”

Dashrath, the large boy with short hair shouted, “Is anything wrong?”
His companion looked up at the two boys on the rock for a minute.
“Come on in, the water’s nice and cool. Besides, a good swim will take your mind off any troubles you have, won’t it?” he continued loudly, with Devaka doing his best to cut in.
“Alright.” The answer from the rock was curt, but not so rude that it was off-putting. There were, after all, far worse ways to spend an afternoon. His three friends had their eyes trained on him as he walked down the rock. His facial muscles twitched as he tried to form a ghost of a smile, but the wind chill was starting to bite their naked torsos. Especially the two who’d been in the river.
Jayampati himself was nervous.
The other three boys looked at him in admiration as he smiled shyly at them.
His face was that of a young god, with his full lips, soft as lotus petals and expressive eyes, brown irises looking around almost with uncertainty. In their eyes was the reflection of a broad-shouldered boy, just short of eighteen, with the big chest and powerful back of a warrior, perhaps a young practitioner of malla yuddha, fresh out of his first five years of training. Not that his muscles were greatly defined, but nonetheless he was fit and strong as an ox, the mounds of his chest clearly visible, rising above his flat stomach.
His forearms had long veins running across their surface. He always carried himself erect as a pillar, sandy skin glowing as he rose from the water. Long hair, silky and black as a dancer’s, framed his round, well-formed face.

All five feet eight inches of him were magnificent.

The much taller Saliya looked down at himself, hand running down his stomach, and then at Jayampati. His eyes stared hungrily at his friend’s powerful arms and then at his own as he pursed his lips.


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