Category Archives: conflict


(I continue this…then comes trouble.)

The warrior who came into view was a slightly older man than Harihar, with a luxuriant beard. Handsome, calm and strong, he controlled his horse effectively with his lean fingers and shapely feet. “Oh Kesari, please don’t frighten me like that! What are you doing here though?”
Kesari smiled, his teeth looking like pearls in the torchlight of his four companions. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” he replied calmly. “But I was on patrol duty tonight”-as Harihar turned he too followed, close on his friend’s trail-“why did you go for a row to the mainland in this weather? And with no moon out? Sinhalese guerrillas are common around here, you know. Why”-
“I needed to clear my head. I was…distracted. Thinking about home. About my fiancée.”
He halted briefly and his horse stood close to where the waves cooled its hooves. It whinnied in pleasure, and tried to wander further in. but Harihar strongly ordered it back out.
“Rukmini is lucky to have a boyfriend like you. I wish you would have a love marriage, you know. You’re a man with a great deal of passion, my friend. But still, she is lucky. Although why did you let that boy go? Weren’t you going to take him in? That was rather unusual of you, Harihar.”
“I have my reasons,” he replied gravely. “Not everyone saw that child the way I saw him.”
“And how did you see him?” He halted his horse, pulling sharply on the reins. Harihar too stopped. A moment of silence passed between the two men, but it was broken by a large wave crashing against a nearby rock.
“I always thought that he would…be part of a family that loved him. A family that could give him comfort and love every day. Rukmini would understand, she’s just like me when it comes to these accursed caste issues. But not the rest. We Brahmans are a strange race, you know. I think it’s foolish that we always think of these little issues.”
He spurred his horse forward.
“Sometimes,” he continued, “you just have to let go of it all. After all, we are all made equal by our mortality.”
With a slow nod if his head, Kesari galloped on towards the harbor. Harihar merely sighed, his heart still bearing the image of the exotic youth, walking like a loyal dog, blindly, by his side for the whole of that painful week.
He pulled out a small scrap of parchment from his sash, and tried to discern the writing on it. The moon’s ghostly light suddenly shone on the piece of paper and he saw, in perfect Tamil:
Yodha Wewa.
Beside the old reservoir. If you ever need someone to talk to, there I am, brother.
He held it against his chest, heart beating in joy. “Thank you, Lord, for this chance. I can still do some good in my lifetime.”
Sri Lanka, Chola conquest
1029 A.D. -Year of the Buddha, 1573
“I must get home,” Rudran prayed as he looked deep into the eyes of the ivory statue in the little Hindu shrine he found on the side of the road.
The paint slathered across the broken-down altar was starting to peel as smoke from his incense sticks and lamps wafted through that tiny space. He wondered if Vishnu was being suffocated inside. It was early morning, and he had decided to take a walk along the worn cart track leading away from the Buddharaja estate. The dawn chorus of birds and cicadas attacked his ears, but he felt calmer as he prayed.
“I can’t live here like a damned refugee. I have a home, I have a father who loves me dearly and wants me back.”
Tears welled up in his eyes as another offering of crimson ashoka flowers passed into the shelter of the altar for the god to watch over. “Lord Vishnu, Preserver, Lord of the Thousand Names! Him whose three places that are filled with sweetness, imperishable, joy as it may list them: Who verily alone upholds the threefold, the earth, the heaven, and all living creatures. I need to get back to Madurai safely, to live as I please. I want to live away from all this war, this strife and this cruelty. My world has been torn apart. My city is no longer my own. But this is place is worse!”
A slight gust of wind blew in his direction.
He looked up at the sky, where pastel shades of pink and faded baby blue mingled and swirled in an eternal dance.
The great whitewashed hulk of the Mahiyangana dagoba loomed up ahead, all eighty cubits of the ancient monument, its spire glowing even though no sunlight was available. He sighed loudly as he gazed up at the old Buddhist temple and down again at the little roadside altar where his god lived.
He wiped away his tears. “No matter what we call you, Lord, you’re just one and the same, aren’t you?” A small group of bhikkus walked slowly past as he stood in prayer and respect. One of them looked curiously at him, but diverted his attention back towards the cart track, probably looking out for the large ants that could at any moment, attack his bare feet.
A deathlike silence passed over Rudran’s world as the titanic form of a moving cloud enveloped the sky, adding a grey tint to once-vibrant colors. He knew that it would quickly start raining. Even the priests who passed him had umbrellas, after all.
Rudran walked down the road, hoping not to run into anyone else. His thoughts were directed to his hometown of kovils and perfect streets, to his own house in the inner city where a bearded old man, slightly fat and with a wrinkly forehead, waited for his return. An old man who wept and prayed for his only son’s return, hoping that his wishes and prayers would be answered at last by a knock on the front door…the man who would fling his now-aged and weakened arms out and embrace his pride and joy.
Those two square hands would surely be callused, lines and rough, but would never work in the forges again.
Leaves rustled softly in the wind as they blew out of Rudran’s path. His pace turned into a jog, his blood pumping with each movement of his pectoral and abdominal muscles. The short change of speed energized him, and he pulled up his dhoti to ease his movements. But with his dreams of Madurai, glowing in the sunlight, the nightmare began again.
Ravenous jaws, scaly and powerful, were around him as the huge form of the water beast grew clearer to him.
He was once again drowning in that red ocean of blood and forgotten dreams, gasping for air as he struggled to the surface. The makara was closing in as he tried to fight his fear of the deep, a childhood memory rushing through his mind once more. His soft twelve-year-old body had, at the time, been falling deeper as he tried to struggle against the cruel, still waters of the reservoir. Powerful, invisible hands had been pulling him inside, deeper into the maw of the terrible beast.
Something large had been moving purposefully past the flurry of bubbles that drifted upwards from his mouth and nose.
The water was dark, but he could still, by some miracle, see the deep black outline circling around him.
He tried to scream, but he could not and by rights, should not. He felt the water growing colder as the dark shape of the makara-his young mind was convinced that it was the fabled monster-grew nearer…
Rudran’s nerves snapped and he felt disoriented.
The ghosts of the past were hungry for his blood, and their whispers grew louder as his pace increased.
He began looking around him wildly, feeling the air as a chill descended upon his soul. His sight became less clear as he broke into a run, teeth gritted.
He halted suddenly, almost colliding with a man in a creaky old bullock cart, carrying a delivery of timber. The cart driver yelled in surprise, and the ox drawing it bellowed as well, tossing his head and brandishing fearsome horns. “Look out, you stupid Tamil!” snapped the carter, hitting his ox to calm it down again.
He muttered, “Damned fools these days! You never look where you’re going, do you?” He hawked and spat viciously at the soldier. But this skinny little man meant him no real harm, so he merely wiped the spittle off and rushed away.
“Forgive me!” Rudran shouted in reply, half out of breath as the rain started to fall. Within just forty minutes he was drenched to the skin, dhoti firmly resting against his thighs and organ. Yet he saw the house and the estate as he rushed up the road. Those beautiful groves of coconut and jak trees in the vicinity filled his heart with an as-yet unknown rush of warmth and happiness as he leaned against the trunk of one of them, panting and wet.
Rudran spotted the familiar figure of Vishaka, battling the rain with an umbrella as she stood by the door.
He cursed silently as the wind blew the end of her sari, allowing him to see her slim, perfect body. It was a thin, near- transparent drape, and the skin of her long legs glowed in his eyes, lighting up the grey world.
“Madurai is my home. You, you…” His teeth ground against each other as he angrily forced himself to turn away from her. “You will never be mine. I don’t care how you feel about me, but I will never love you, you infidel whore. You have a husband who loves you. I know, because I’ve seen him, wasting away to nothing in that prison in Manthotam. He still prays for you and your sons to be well and happy for as long as you both shall live. I’ve heard his voice too, he…I know he loves you dearly!”



(Image is of Sivaganga Tank)

His smile grew much more terrifying. It was the smile of a madman, wide-eyed and bloodthirsty, and this made everyone, even his own comrades, uneasy.
Anuruddha was sweating, trying to prevent himself from shivering in fear of Narasimha’s predatory glance.
“You don’t know anything about me, Tamil! I could kill you with my bare hands if I was out there! I’d…I’d let you suffer in Hell for this, you bastard!” he roared. “I…I will have my vengeance. My sons are probably out there right now, and they’re somewhere, planning your demise. Yours and that of every other Tamil pollutant in this nation. All your deaths shall be sealed. The Buddharaja clan will not be dead until all of us are buried. We have been in the service of our kings for centuries, and will do so till until this world is consumed by flame and flood!”
“The army doesn’t suit you, Anuruddha Buddharaja. Go on, be a poet. I’ll let you out in that”-
Balaram cut in.
 “This is inhuman! Narasimha, this is torture! I”-the army commander looked bitterly at him-“it’s not caning or whipping, alright, but this is still torture! You’re pushing this prisoner too much. In the end you’re the one who’ll regret your actions.”
Lakshman, the harbormaster, and Harihar stood grimly, nodding their heads in silence. The jailer appeared as well, and saluted the four officers in the traditional way. Anuruddha lay down on his straw mattress, and looked hard at the sacred, dirty-white thread around his wrist.
He heard the buzz of whispers, still thanking himself that his Tamil was perfect; he understood every word they said, but something in his made him wish that he did not.
Once the four officers had left, all he did through the day was weep.

The night had so far been moonless, but for a few minutes, when it did show itself from its cloudy hideout, Harihar’s blood grew cold. He was still watching his little longboat, which stood against the rocks, bobbing gently in the waves. As he paced nervously, he kept his sword sheathed. However, the lack of a breastplate made him feel exposed and fearful. Every sound caused him to look around wildly. Yet all he saw in the distance was the harbor, the masts of the ships looking like dark, ripe stalks in a tossing field of deep blackish-blue. His ears strained, in the manner of an owl alert for prey.
The chorus of the waves grew louder, and he feared that poor young Yasa would be dashed on the rocks near the shore. Yet he heard nothing from the boy, and saw not a trace of him either. His pace quickened as he looked out at the islands from whence he’d come. The mainland offered some security, so he hoped, but he still felt empty and helpless within.
Harihar’s eyes rested on the coarse cloak he’d given Yasa ten days ago when the lieutenant freed him from the dungeon. The boy had worn it every time he went around the fort with the other menservants, cooking and cleaning like the other males of his kind.
He also spotted the dirty torn sarong there as well, lying in the same heap as the black cloak…
Angrily, he shook his head, squeezing out tears as he tried to dispel the image of the Rodi boy when he and the jailer freed him. Harihar’s heart had pounded in fear when he glanced at Yasa waking up, and stepping out of the cell. Yasa was like a creature from a purer, cleaner world than any made by the great Lord Brahma.
He was too young to be here, to rot away for the rest of his life in some damned prison. But what next? Where would Yasa go? Did he know the way to his family? Did he even have a family at all? Harihar had seen many people, and had seen their eyes. There was still a flame in some of them, even those living in the most wretched conditions, he knew. He looked at the sarong and cloak and thought of the boy, naked and free, flashing through the sea like a happy fish. Was bringing him to the Lankan mainland even the best course of action?
Harihar gritted his teeth angrily.
Why had that soft young devil been haunting his mind, even now, when they were about to separate?
The children of Ratnavalli were the most beautiful people in the known world, and he was now in the iron clutches of this casteless wretch.
He tried to imagine the boy appearing from the sea, glowing with water as he tied on his sarong and draped his cloak across his slender shoulders. Dreams of sharing his home with the young man, watching him bask in riches, feel sensations he had never felt before. To be able to guide an innocent young boy into manhood, and the strength and confidence that came with it. To call him ‘brother’ and stand at his side through thick and thin…
The jeering neighbors telling him that he was a polluter…
That he could not marry his beautiful Brahman lover now…his lovely young Rukmini’s shape was drifting further away as the people of Urayur spat on Yasa. A fat man with a big beard, his priestly profession evidenced by the long cord across his shoulder, shielded his weeping daughter from the foolish man who had called a casteless little rat his brother.
He would no longer be the handsome Brahman boy who went to war and returned after a great conquest…no longer the warrior who would marry the beautiful girl of his dreams. Thoughts of her oval face, her long hair and petite figure danced through his mind, just as lightly and quickly as she had when she showed off her skills to him.
He smelled steaming plates of rice and curries being laid out on a table before him, smiling as he grew fat and happy on them.
Visions of her slender body, nude and perfect before him as the two young people enveloped together on her velvet-soft bed, grew more vivid…but Yasa was screaming out, his voice cutting harshly through the night…calling his brother, the only other person he could trust in the whole world…
“Stay…out…of my nightmares! Accursed little bastard, get away!” Harihar screamed, unsheathing his sword in a trice, thereby spooking a pair of seagulls roosting on the rocks. He stormed back to his boat, pushing it away with all his strength. His strong back and stomach helped his arms as he rowed out of the shallow water between the small archipelago and the mainland as he gasped and cursed. The rain suddenly increased, but thankfully it stayed pretty much a drizzle.
There would be no bringing him back.
Harihar wept as he saw the fortress of Manthotam grow closer. He flung himself on his horse’s rain-soaked back, mounting the animal after removing it from its tether. The patient animal neighed softly as it felt its master’s strong legs straddle its middle. Harihar quickly spurred it on.
“The last week proved to me that you’re an accursed outcaste,” he snarled. “I don’t know what I saw in your eyes…you’re an outcaste for a reason, Yasa…I’m sorry.” He wiped a tear away from his eye as he thought about the boy’s solemn stare, the dark eyes boring into the warrior’s hardened soul. “I might ruin my life if I take you in. I have someone who understands me and loves me for what I truly am…but her family isn’t so understanding, it never was. Neither is mine. My dear Rukmini promised me that she would wait until I got back. Your father will be pleased with me now my dear. We will have a perfect life together when I come back next month.” His tears were wiped away by the passing wind, but he was suddenly startled by another dark shape which cut out into his path from the line of screwpine and coconut trees.



The commander stood up from his stool, clapping his hands loudly and slowly when he heard the voices of his associates.
“I guess my secret’s out, eh Balaram? Lakshman…” He stared viciously at the latter, the old harbormaster. “I’ll be taking a leave of absence in about two weeks, by which time I expect to have this young lion nicely tamed, and kneeling at my feet. Anuruddha, my dear friend”-he looked at the prisoner again-“I want to know what fires you up all the time. Because I’ve seen plenty of men break down under my stare. Yet you still remain rather stubborn. What is it that makes you so powerful?”  
He grinned at the prisoner, but received a gob of saliva in the face, in return.
“Well, I think I deserved that, now didn’t I?” he smiled sarcastically, beckoning his three colleagues closer. His hand gripped one of the bars of the cell, veins appearing across his fore and upper arms as his muscles tensed.
The prisoner was shrouded in darkness as he lay on his bed of straw. He’d left his bedpan directly below a crevice in the ceiling to catch any straw raindrops that were falling inside. Balaram was the only one who joined Narasimha, and he saw the man behind the bars. The Lankan prisoner’s body was stocky, with powerful limbs, and he was rather tall, a good hand taller than his captors when he stood up. How this human behemoth allowed himself to be captured, Balaram hadn’t a clue. Granted, he did not have much in the way of actual muscle definition, certainly nothing impressive despite his imposing bulk.
Yet he shuddered at the thought of having to fight such a massive beast.
Those huge hands and brawny arms were frightening to behold, as was the scar running across his cheek.
It began somewhere below his eye and snaked down his broad, square-chinned face, finally ending at his lower jaw. Narasimha gingerly slipped his fingers beneath Anuruddha’s chin, nonchalantly stroking the rough, matted beard.
“No time to shave, then? There’s a razor in the corner over there”-he pointed to a cruel-looking blade resting in a small crevice against the wall-“so why didn’t you? Want to look tougher, do you?” He toyed with the curly hairs of the prisoner’s beard. “Do you? Do you now?”
Anuruddha’s breaths were short and tense, and his eyes were dark with bloodlust and a primal longing for vengeance. Greasy hair, long and curly, stuck to his back, and the stale odor of sweat was overpowering. “My faith preaches very wise words to me,” he replied defiantly, his belly pulsing with each breath. His clenched fists relaxed and they hung down at his sides. Anuruddha nodded knowingly.
“Your taunts won’t hurt me. You Tamils don’t belong in this country; this is the land of the Sinhalese and us alone! Our monarchs have been pious Buddhists, Sinhalese Buddhists for millennia, and you can’t change that”-he pointed at the Chola officers-“with your invasions. Nobody can! Just you wait and see. Everything is impermanent, and we will strive on with diligence while your mandalam crumble with the march of time.” He sat down cross-legged in the center of his cell, eyes burning with the same flame as when he was captured.
Narasimha gazed straight into those blazing eyes as he remembered the huge man racing across the battlefields of the Vanni, rallying his troops, screaming orders at them from atop his elephant.
‘Maha Hastirajya Nalagiri’, he had called the magnificent tusker.
A pitched battle as Nalagiri charged from the forests adjoining the Vanni’s rolling scrub and grasslands, roaring with all his might, his trumpet only matched by his master blowing his conch shell to summon his troops.
Narasimha saw the Lankan elephants plowing through the great field of chariots, crushing the necks of horses with a mere swish of his trunks. Kalki had been shifting his weight beneath his rider, unnerved by the charge of the titanic, near-black pachyderm. The Lankan brigade was starting to mow down the Chola forces; charioteers allowed their masters to fire volleys of arrows at one another as the forest grew clearer. Guerrillas ambushed men passing through thick vegetation, and infantry divisions were thrown into chaos thanks to the powerful duo. Another man was speared on Nalagiri’s left tusk and sent flying, blood and entrails streaking through the air.
“Kalki my brother, we’re going to do something foolish,” he had whispered quietly to his sturdy steed. “When I give the signal”-he was carrying his bow at the time, and he put an arrow against it-“we charge.” He lined his arms up as the elephant grew dangerously close, the ground reverberating with his thudding feet. The black stallion neighed nervously, and started to get skittish, but Narasimha dug his heels into his mount’s sides and shouted.
Kalki’s blood boiled within him, his huge heart pumping rapidly as Narasimha put him into a gallop, rushing straight for the thundering elephant. Anuruddha intercepted him, but his mahout had not brought his master’s arrows. Narasimha’s eyes were excellent. He fired his arrow at the right time, catching the mahout in the throat while controlling Kalki with merely his feet and his words. Anuruddha was jerked about in Nalagiri’s howdah, and he couldn’t control the mighty beast.
The elephant was startled by the horse’s sudden maneuvers, and reared up, his trumpet having turned into a bloodcurdling scream.
Anuruddha had lost control and come tumbling down, right off his mount, and Kandula was left to wreak general havoc. It had been a dangerous time for both sides. Narasimha remembered how much he had smiled in pleasure when the huge creature had been restrained and finally captured thanks to his own elephant brigade; just another prisoner of war to be executed or used in service of the Chola Empire.

“Yes,” Narasimha added smilingly. He wrung his hands as he looked at Anuruddha’s pitiful position, languishing in his cell. “Clearly, everything is impermanent. How long has it been since we imprisoned you, dear veteran? Three weeks? Two weeks? Well, if you were an important general, we’d have put you to death the minute we caught you. So count your blessings for as long as you can. The only reason you’re alive is because I allowed it. We can only hope your monster is fine…”


The house had been pretty much a hellhole for a while. Sweaty, half-nude workmen rushed around the place as they labored daily, their sinewy strong hands flying as they hammered at the nails of the mandapa. The sound of saws eating away at wood had never pleased her either, and her head was filled with it when she passed the house’s alms-hall. Looking in their direction would surely throw them off and distract the poor, simple bastards.
Perhaps these men had mastered concentration in a way that she never would.
For a minute, Vishaka stood still, feeling the softness of her supple arms and the silk kasisalushe’d decided to wear as part of her day’s attire. Her nostrils were confused by the stink of sweat and the sweet aroma of her own perfume, neither scent being particularly inviting to her when mixed together.
One laborer smiled broadly at her as she passed him on the corridor facing the courtyard.
That dark-skinned man’s gnarled hands and skinny stomach would never belong in a noblewoman’s home, but here they were! Men like him had built her house, but here he was, hands together in salute to her.
This simple man hadn’t the time to look at his cowlick in the mirror, to oil and comb out his hair! He hadn’t the time to see to his fingernails, but they still met.
“Oh, what am I thinking about?” She shook herself out of her reverie in a split second after he had passed. “He just wants to live and he wants to be reborn as someone with privileged. Maybe the next time we meet, good sir,” she told herself with a smile, leaning against a pillar. Its capital needed a thorough brushing. Already cobwebs were trapping bits of dust, and she could swear that she saw a tiny brown gecko; the little reptile had been scrounging about, ambushing flies like some miniature cat pouncing on rats.
How monstrous she seemed to this tiny beast. Its shining ebony eyes reflected a titanic monster, tan-skinned, with a black patch of something on its head, from another world as it ran-almost slithered-across the shiny surface of the pillar. The new sunlight was just filtering through, into the courtyard, and invisible waves of heat drew themselves up from the soil. Strange shadows flung themselves onto the floor around her as she passed.
His Lordship Surya was always the best artist. She smiled in acknowledgement of the solar king as she let her fingertips graze through the ethereal rays. A little shower of dust was raised into the air with every light footstep, and they rained down to the tiles once more after their short second of levitation. Vishaka’s smile lasted for about as long too, but she locked her lips afterwards. Her expression wavered between shades of uncertainty and certainty as she leaned heavily against another pillar.
The end of her long plait hung down like the head of a giant artist’s brush. Her fingers toyed absently with the individual hairs for a while, after which she let go with a sigh.
Pity her celestial artist wouldn’t be able to color a pleasanter shade over this scene.
Her expression darkened slightly.
She always told herself that she was unshakeable, but the conversation with her guest had been enough to drive Vishaka straight to the kitchen. She still had no clue as to what made her take shelter. It was small, and always slightly smoky. Today, it was bathed in what seemed to be a moderate grey fog. Quickly, her hands rushed up to her face to guard her nose and mouth from the fumes. Yet the fumes rose from the great pots of mixed vegetables on the stoves.
One of the maids constantly restocked the firewood at the heart of each hearth. When one of them opened another pot, the delicious aroma of ghee filled the room, inviting Vishaka to take a whiff. Yet her hands did nothing that allowed her to commit the olfactory sin. She did, however, find the courage to reach for the window just above the stove.
“You know I like to air the place a bit, don’t you now? Do you want to suffocate in here?” she demanded, feigning crossness.
One or two of the servants nodded at her and rushed about the kitchen.
“Pardon me, my lady.”
It was old Ran Ethana. “Oh, dear,” Vishaka attempted a smile at the maid, “I think you might be overdoing it a bit in here! We can’t have the priests eating burned or overcooked food. Also,”
“If I may say so, my lady, it’ll be a worse sin if we serve it to them under-cooked.” She had to laugh at the small, pinched sixty-year old face that grinned rather strangely at her. Ran Ethana’s eyes always sparkled so mischievously and yet were washed over with a slight tint of innocence and energy, all in one. Vishaka always sighed softly to herself in secret, “I wish I had half the ability to live as long as you.” Yet that dastardly old thing always happened to hobble over with that infectious smile and reply, as always, unabashedly:
“You were named after one of our Lord Buddha’s most pious female disciples. If she could live to a hundred and twenty, so can you, madam. So can you.” At this she would always laugh at the old maid’s sweet stupidity.  
“By the way, how many have you invited?”

“I don’t like making a show of things, Ran Ethana. Just five, not fifty. I’m doing it…for him. It’s what he wanted; it’s what I promised him before he left for the war,” she answered softly with a sigh, fighting a few tears that tried to escape the grasp of her eyes. Vishaka bit her lip immediately. The other servants had heard it, and she flounced out of the kitchen. 


A red moon raised a tide of blood against the rocky shore. It tore away at the edges of the cliffs and beaches from the great ports of Musuri and Arikamedu, all the way to the eastern reaches of the great kingdom of Kamboja. His mind raced through its paces as his lungs screamed for air. This crimson storm had engulfed his dear Madurai! Hopes and dreams swelled towards his arms, but he could not grasp them to defend them against the swirling current. Bubbles floated towards the surface as he struggled to breathe; grasping at his throat, he fought to get to the surface. He was no longer clad in armor, but his sword was still with him.
But it was not metal that made his body so heavy.
Something else was dragging him down.
But not to Madurai.
The mighty spires of a great city rose out of the swelling sea of red. The heavily carved and brightly painted stone towers of a mighty kovil were slowly pulling themselves out of the muck of the abyss. The recognizable form of the Rajendra Chola Madil, the titanic outer walls of the great capital of Gangaikonda, was fast approaching. They powered through like a battle cruiser slicing efficiently through the waves of the ocean, ready to disgorge its bloodthirsty warriors onto a new land.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram!
He had been there so many times! Now, in this accursed aquatic hell, it towered over Madurai as the demonic goliath Kumbhakaran had over Lord Shri Ram during the long- lost glory of the Treta Yuga, thousands of years ago when the gods still walked on Earth. His dear hometown shrunk away under the shadow of the all-consuming behemoth. He slashed at the figures adorning the huge kovil, but the steel could not cut through the stone monster.
Tears rose in Rudran’s eyes, and a thunder called Heartache rumbled in his chest.
His eyes turned into floodgates that spewed forth their contents as his head spun. He was dizzy to the point of vomiting as the images of blood and death spun around him. The arms of Madurai struggled to hold her citizens and he could hear her screaming in agony as she disappeared down the throat of the advancing giant.
From her tanks and wells, blood shot forth instead of water, polluting her streets as she blindly rushed into the gaping maw of the predator.
No words came to his throat and his grip on his sword was almost loosened.
“My lord Vishnu…I beg you…stop this nightmare! Release me from this suffering, please!” Even his prayer felt like the trembling stammer of an old beggar, dying finally of the plague that poisoned his blood.
The only other voice he heard, was one that hovered above him. It was deep, but did not sound cruel. It was merely a knowledgeable one, one that sounded truthful and powerful.
“My friend,” it told him, “you are more at home with us than in your own house. Don’t deceive yourself, my dear man. Please don’t. Come back with me, take my hand. We can become conquering heroes one day once this is finished.”
“We can go to the far east. To Sri Vijaya, where the greatest sailors and fighters once existed. We can be free to travel the world, my dear friend…”
“Why else did you join?”
Rudran struggled  and fought fiercely as he attempted to rise from the bed. He cast about wildly, clad in nothing more than his loincloth as he gasped out, bathed in a shower of cold sweat.
“Rudran! Sir, are you alright?”
“Show yourself!” he yelled, suddenly leaping off the bed.
“I heard you scream, Rudran. Are you alright?”
Rudran groaned as he saw the person at the door.  “Vishaka…”
He cussed under his breath on forgetting to lock the door. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I just got a bit startled, that’s all.”
“No, tell me.” She pushed him to speak, at which he groaned in anger. “Are you alright? Because this is the fourth night in a row. What’s going on?” He tried his best not to glance up at the kind, motherly face of Lankan beauty who tried to talk to him. But the light from her candle alighted in his eyes, as gently as a compassionate kiss. He could sense the air heating up as he tried to cover his near-nakedness with his sheet, the same heat pulsing through his own body as he attempted to avert his gaze.
He stared at the tiled floor.
A small crack had appeared on the ceramic surface of one of them, but all he could still see was her beautiful reflection within them. His heart wept silently. Yet her angelic warmth enveloped the room, as his ears strained to hear her gentle voice.
“Forget it Vishaka, please…and, look, I’m sorry if I sound rude. But my past is none of your business. If the gods want me to suffer”-he shot her a rather stern, but still haggard look-“let them! I’ve given up, and so should you.”
Another shout came from inside the house.
“Mother! Mother, what’s going on?”
She turned suddenly to see him at the door too.  He looked strangely exhausted, sweating just as Rudran had been. “What are you doing out of bed? Please go back to sleep, Jayampati. I can handle things here.”
“Oh, right,” the boy snorted, “the great soldier with night terrors. Look, why don’t you wake up already? It’s already the crack of dawn, plus you’ve just been leeching off us for the past week. If this was my own house, I’d”-

“He’s our guest!” chided his mother. “Rudran,” she continued, changing her tone. “I’ll be having some priests over tomorrow. Why don’t you talk to them about your nightmares? I’m sure they can help you. Anyway, I think it’d be good for you to talk to someone, and there’s nobody better than the bhikkus at the Mahiyangana Temple. You know, you could even talk to me if you want. I know what a soldier’s mind is like, I mean, I’m…married to one…” Her smile waned slowly as she blew out her candle. “Never mind. If you want to sleep in, it’s fine with me. Son, don’t make a fuss. You brought him here, so it’s our responsibility to see to him.” 


Jayampati stood at the head of the bed while the doctor and his assistants worked away at a herbal mix. Plants and leaves were massacred under the weight of a granite grindstone in the corner. The keen, skeletal hands of the doctor unwound the bandage that Rudran had slapped onto his head to stop the bleeding.
The boy tried his best to hold the contents of his stomach within him as the bloodied cloth was flung to the ground. The massive gash carved into the soldier’s head was deep enough to have killed almost any other man. He must have his gods on his sides, but still, blood and pus ran down his face in torrents, mixing with the stale sweat that ran down his as he groaned.

“He is in pain, but all we need to do is clean this wound and re-bandage it to stop the blood flow. He’ll have to stay here, son,” the doctor told Jayampati knowingly. “Under no circumstances must he be aroused before that.”
Rudran cut in. “No miracle cures, eh?” he grunted with a mix of sarcasm and derision. The doctor looked at him with a wry smile. “If you want to pray a little for your health, you’d better go to a temple. Those have hospitals too, just more high profile since the bhikkus run those. We’re just independent practitioners. But anyway, I don’t think even Shiva himself could extend his healing touch over something like that”-the doctor gestured to one of his apprentices to bring the mix-“so that’s why we’re here. I’m not a mere village doctor, you see. I don’t go about believing in demons and holding exorcisms and the like. Guess it’s just the skeptic in me.”
He folded up a clean cloth, slightly coated in a green mash of plants, and started to reach into the depths of the wound. Blood and grit came away, but Rudran still winced slightly. The doctor looked questioningly at him.
Seeing his concern, the soldier replied, “It’s alright, venerable sir. I have experience with the army doctors. Of course”-he gasped slightly-“one never really gets used to this. Surgery, now that, well…we fear the surgeon’s knife more than our enemy’s sword to be honest!”

“Which brings me into this conversation. Tell me, how exactly can we trust you, sir?” Jayampati leaned heavily against the wall facing the bed. “Because something’s been gnawing at me. You claim to be from Pandyadesha, in Tamilakkam. Of course, last I checked, you Pandyans were under the Chola yoke for a while now. Who are you, really? Because your story doesn’t convince me. Actually”-he scratched his head momentarily-“I never know whom to believe any more. the Angampadi Brigade itself is under the invader. This is enemy territory I’m living in. There are plenty of Chola offices and forts in the Mahiyangana region and its hinterland. Sinhalese and Tamils alike are under them. So far, you are Tamil, and that means-“
“My dear boy, may I kindly remind you not to stress the patient out? It doesn’t matter who he is. To me every man can become infirm, so that in itself, is an equalizer. Now please, join your companions, and leave my patient to me.”
Jayampati pursed his lips at the doctor’s words, but with a slight nod, he walked out. He distinctly heard the old man muttering something distinctly related to the Buddha-or some other sage-but decided to ignore it.
His friends sat outside on an old stone medicine trough. It was truly a wonderful piece of work, or had been, until it had been broken. This was probably something that dated back to Lanka’s golden age, but time had not been kind to it. The distinctly canoe-like granite object was weathered through centuries of heavy rain.

Saliya was first to intercept him.

“So what’s our next move?”

“Next move? What are you jabbering about?” grumbled Jayampati, kicking a small stone as he approached them.
“I mean, about our guest. What are you thinking Jayampati?”
“Well, my suspicion is that he could be almost anyone, but…what if his story checks out? What if he really is on our side?”
“Whoever he is,” cut in Devaka, “taking him to Mahiyangana would be our best move. We’re just a bunch of boys. What do you expect us to do? We hand him over to the governors, and we’ll be done. Maybe he can be sent off to Rohana to meet the king. Or to Rajarata. Either way, it isn’t our business.”
“We found him, so we are responsible for him. Nobody needs to know, alright? I don’t want us to be caught up in some political conspiracy,especially not at a time like this. Plus, think about his fate. If he’s our ally, the Cholas will just torture and kill the man. Same thing will happen if Rohana gets to hear about him. If not, well, then they get their man back.”

The other boys looked at him questioningly.

“Look, see, if he is indeed an enemy spy, we don’t know how much information he has. He’s too valuable to be lost, especially if he has something that’ll help the Chola forces take down Rohana! So we keep him close and keep our eyes on him. He’ll be at my house. He’s obviously too well built to pass off as a poor Tamil villager who got caught in the crossfire, and besides, since my father’s away, his whole no Tamils attitude won’t be a problem. Let him be who he claims to be. That way he’ll be more comfortable.”

“So we babysit this fool,” snorted Saliya. “Great.”

Jayampati nodded solemnly. Then he stiffened, and a vicious flame burned in his eyes.

“But the minute he tries something suspicious…we kill him. Or die trying.”


“Dashrath, Devaka, Saliya,” said Jayamptai as he immersed himself in again, “I know what you want to ask me, and the answer is no. There’s no way you’re joining the army just to be next to me. I don’t need personal bodyguards.”
A murmur passed among the boys. His three friends looked intently at him as his piercing eyes. He tried to turn away but theirs was an inescapable gaze. He looked at them as well; these boys were so different from one another. Saliya, tall, thin and dark-skinned, his slender neck topped with a longish face and well-formed cheekbones but always bearing a sad although beautiful smile. This was not a fighter who’d last that long against a powerful opponent. Then again, he was an expert when it came to horses.
Devaka, though shorter, was broad-shouldered and looked heavier. He was much more muscular; no doubt his own father’s lessons with yoga had toned him well. Being a noble, his father being a retired purohita no less, had plenty of advantages.
There was always plenty of money coming into their accounts and the money was put to good use by Devaka.

Tutors and gurus flocked his house.

There was no shortage of women either.

One could also see in Devaka’s sharp eyes and almost hawk-like gaze, the look of a predator, hungry for his enemy’s blood.  Not a proper fighter of any sort, but he would probably be the first to race onto the battlefield given the chance.

Jayampati had to admit, he saw himself in Dashrath’s eyes, quite broad and strong as opposed to being so well chiseled.
Yet the latter was taller, somewhere close to six feet in height, with predominantly short black hair. A short mustache framed his upper lip, and he had puffy eyelids, thus making him look older than his nineteen years. Perhaps it was due to being married off so young and hating his young wife. All Dahsrath did was smile at the flirtatious young thing, nothing more. He often wished that his accountants could keep his money well hidden from her claws. “I’ll probably end up wasting away in the army I guess,” he grunted, a small smile on his face. “I guess I’m a realist. But why do you need to go to war?”
“It’s…my way of knowing the suffering of my father and brothers, Dashrath.”
“Or is it because all you Buddharaja men became commanders at some point? At least some of you?” It struck a cord in Jayampati.
Dashrath continued, “You do want some sort of glory to be bestowed on you, don’t you Jayampati? I can see it in your eyes. Do what you will to deny it, but I’ve known you for ten years. Nothing”-he folded his arms across his big chest-“escapes me anymore.”
It was perfectly true that his family had served the royal House of Lambakanna for as long as he could remember. They were always soldiers after all, senapatis and adhikaras of the highest caliber. He had heard of how his great-grandfather had tried to incite rebellion after rebellion against the corrupt monarchs of his time. Anuradhapura had long since fallen, but Vikramabahu, ruler of Rohana, was the last of the great dynasty, a line over nine centuries old.

Maha Sri Buddharaja…Adhikari Buddharaja…Lankadhikara Buddharaja…titles.

But what of it?

They had all perished, prestigious though they were.

“Maybe I want to bring back our honor…” He bit his lip as he stared at Dashrath. “Adhikari Jivaka Buddharaja…”
“Your great-grandfather, yes…”
“…was he last to be a great commander. Granted, he didn’t live during the best of times but he was still something. The last great soldier left in the army. So you see, all of you, this is my job alone. I want to be with my family, so that I can do something about this war!” His smile turned into a terrifying grin as his eyes widened with a sudden thirst for blood. “I’ve cried enough! I’m done regretting. I will be the greatest commander this country has ever known! I”-his fist pounded the surface of the water-“will massacre a thousand men if I have to, if only I can grab hold of my rightful place at the top. Nobody will stand in my way. So no, I don’t require any of you by my side.”


Rudran groaned as he gazed out at the boys.

“You are indeed interesting, young man.”

He hoped that he was loud enough, but he had too much spit at the back of his throat. Loudly, his cleared it out as he edged towards them. He winced for a few minutes but did not look where he was going, and stubbed his toe against a submerged root. Finally, Rudran roared in pain, and this had the desired effect.
“Help me!” he shouted again, swishing his arms through the water. “Please, do a kindness to an injured man!” Rudran staggered out, and stood in the middle of the waterway. His shoulders sagged due to the effort, and he quivered slightly, sweat pouring down his body. Finally he was in the sights of the four boys. He had seen enough kshatriya men to know who they were. He panted hoarsely, “I thought I would get help, not dumb stares. Or do you not understand Tamil?”
The biggest boy, short-haired Dashrath, replied, “I do. There’s a hospital down the road to Mahiyangana. We can make it, but…Jayampati, come on! We’ll have to carry him. Hey”-he turned back to face his friend-“are you listening?” Rudran saw that the thoughtful young man was of medium height, fairer and shorter than the big Tamil fellow, but his eyes had a gleam of suspicion in them.

There was a fire in that Jayampati’s eyes, and it flickered with each glance at Rudran.

He had seen the fire in his own eyes sometimes.

Perhaps he had been right all along to keep his eyes on this one. His poise was calm despite his musculature. Not as dense as his own, but this wasn’t someone to be trifled with. Jayampati never seemed to take his eyes off Rudran, instead scanning the soldier’s body and face all the time.
Finally, he spoke.
“Alright. Devaka, go help out. I think…no…I need to talk to you, sir”-he pointed at Rudran-“once you’ve got your treatment.” He climbed out of the water, looking darkly at Rudran for an instant and then at his companions.

The two boys  Dashrath and Devaka supported their unlikely companion all the way to the roadside hospital.

It was, in reality, a spacious longhouse, just like the roadside inns, the ambalama as the locals called them. This hospital had enough room for about fifteen or sixteen people. Naturally, Rudran assumed, that the hospitals needed to be large enough to see to soldiers being treated for their injuries. He reclined on the bed and breathed deeply as the doctor flipped through a manuscript, names of herbs and treatments scrawled down hurriedly in the classic doctor’s handwriting.
A trio of sullen attendants brought out a tray of scalpels and surgical knives. Rudran shuddered slightly at the sight of the devices.