The boy listened hard as he made another slash in midair. His leap was perfect as his sword clattered against the wooden post. He proceeded to attack, feinting and dodging as if fighting a living opponent. His little round shield was up in an instant, and he used its boss to attack his wooden enemy. One blow to the nose with such an object was enough to break the cartilage, and then came a quick slice to the neck.
Around the courtyard, the buzz of servants and workmen became clearer to him as he stood still, belly pulsing with each gasp. Each shake of his head revealed another new drop of sweat as he squatted, kilt stuck obscenely to his strong thighs. Jayampati swung his sword in his hand as he panted, taking a quick gulp of water out of a small container made from a hollowed-out gourd. The refreshing liquid spilled itself across his body too, cooling him from the harsh rays of the sun.
Yet the water was soon to be superfluous.
In the skies above him, a celestial battle was raging. Surya’s life-giving rays were swamped now by the cloudy curtains drawn up by Indra, King of Storms. The low rumble of his chariots streaking across the sky was audible from afar.
The surge of energy invigorated Jayampati, adding new strength to his arms. He took his stance, and then leaped once more, powering his powerful body forwards. His sword came crashing down on absolutely nothing. But pride swelled in his heart at his victory against the invisible enemy.
The voice was familiar, rather deep and rough, maybe slightly tired too.
“Get the hell out, Tamil,” groaned Jayampati bitterly. “I’m not interested in anything you have to say, so get out. Get out of my home Rudran. You aren’t welcome here.” Rudran bit his lip in anger, staring at the boy as he picked up the sword and shield lying on the ground. He adjusted the latter and slashed the former through the air.
“You mother thinks we should be friends.”
Jayampati snorted derisively, “Like that’ll happen”-he turned around and was taken aback-“but…what’s the meaning of this? Trying to kill me, are you?” At that, Rudran raised his hands in protest.
“I saw you practicing,” he replied, “and I think that you’re either a coward or a complete damned fool. You have no live opponents to fight you and you take your anger out on that.” He gestured to the post.
“Yes Jayampati. I don’t think that that vein in your neck means happiness or elation, that’s for sure. You’re gripping your weapons tightly. Relax your hands, but keep them firm at the same time. You trust in your shield. I like that. Most fighters believe the power to slash is more important than the power to block. But you, you are courageous, though still inexperienced. A little arrogant, I presume?” He stood casually, testing his sword out, swinging it about with a smirk plastered across his face. “Come on now. Show me what you’ve got.”
Rudran took up his stance.
Jayampati angrily attacked him, but Rudran’s shield flew to his defense in seconds. The boy’s sword hacked away at the rounded shield. Jayampati grunted at the effort, but every time he attacked another part of his opponent’s body, that annoying shield appeared to defend its wielder. Jayampati paused a minute, and then began to pant. He took a run-up and leaped, bringing his sword crashing down on Rudran’s shield.
The Tamil soldier, however, crouched down, rooting himself in.
“Well?” snapped Jayampati. “Attack, you coward!”
“Are you really going to tell your enemy to attack you in a real fight? Because I’ve been holding back for all this time, and I don’t feel as tired as you do. First rule of this fight, don’t push me, or any other opponent whose strength is unknown, to actually launch his attacks. Second rule”-he smartly held the tip of his sword under Jayampati’s chin-“exploit your enemy’s weakness. Third rule will come up later.”He turned back, waving nonchalantly at the Lankan fighter.
Jayampati squatted on the ground, dumbstruck. His arm was rather sore from holding his shield, so he put it down, although his sword stayed with him. He stayed there for a while, and then demanded, “My weakness? What’s my weakness?”
He did not reply, instead standing there, swinging his sword.
“Tell me! I order you to tell me, now!”
His anger was rising within him, and with a roar, rushed toward Rudran, only to have his weapon knocked out of his hand with a narrow cut across the palm. He held back his cry, but his sword clattered onto the ground. He winced for a minute or so, but by the time he picked it up he found the point of Rudran’s weapon pressed lightly against his neck.
“Third rule of battle strategy: Never let your guard down. Plus, since you so politely asked, your greatest weakness is that short fuse. Your temper gives you slightly less concentration and makes you downright sloppy. The best thing to do is control it. Or else channel it and augment your own abilities in a fight. You need to put your mind and heart into your strike, not just your muscle power.”
“But how did you”-
“What, know that you put your shield down? I concentrated on your next move. Everything else was merely shut off. You could call it a trance, meditation, whatever you wish to call it. But I listened. And I planned my next attack accordingly. It’s all in your head, Jayampati. Like chess, only this is physical. So next time you’re stuck in a big fight”-he sheathed the sword and turned to leave-“think of me and react before you get your blood spilled. I’m going to get some breakfast. Goodbye.”