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 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.
(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.
“Smells just like home.” Govind moved quickly along the paths crisscrossing the area of tightly packed slums and finally arrived beside a small street that partitioned the slum housing complex into two. The scent of the tanneries was like nectar to the noses of the crows and bluebottles which hovered around eagerly. The latter buzzed greedily around the sweaty, naked backs and chests of the tanners who held their breath as they continued their task. They were joined by an ever-growing fleet of slighter, nimbler houseflies which, with eagerness just as great, buzzed in to soak up the stinking soup of perspiration that flowed down the men’s bronze skin, like peasants living off an emperor’s land, Govind thought as he passed.
The last house on the left of the street was no more that a tumbledown shack-a queer sight in the otherwise very well-built city of Thanjavur. Govind saw the mangy dog that had been coming and going out of this area, hoping for even the smallest scraps from the people here.
He couldn’t help smiling at the wretched little creature’s bulging eyes, staring at his soul from its skeletal face. It tottered as it walked out of his way and he let the scent of burning wood fill his nostrils as he walked inside. A tall man, Govind had to bend a bit as he stepped in, only to see the filthy, fly-covered heap of rotting humanity that lay sprawled out on the sooty dirt floor.
A moan came out from behind the pile.
The head that stuck out from it was a Spirit of Death in the body of an ever-smiling and half-man skeletal jester. His single ninety-eight-year old left eye regarded the young man bleakly; the other was dun white with cataracts. The hole in the ceiling made a shaft of sunlight peer inside, washing over the ancient being.
Govind, who was on the right side of that room, was caught in darkness and shadow.
A few minutes of quietness passed between the men. The own sound of the young servant’s heartbeat terrified him in this unnaturally cold and sweaty room from which rose the mixed staleness of sweat and age-old human waste.
“Child,” he started, trembling, “when them damned….damned….gods told me I could live a century I never asked for eternal youth! Why did I not? Don’t they all say that a life of a hundred and twenty is a full life? Them…them…bast….bastardsss….” He hissed as he pronounced the words, sharp as a serpent. “Your mother….why is she leaving me to die? Ten damn children with me, my boy, except for yourself and why the hell is she leaving me? And…and why does your accursed face show itself to me? Begone, vision! Begone!”
He cackled and coughed dryly, writhing under his sheets. “Shivan…,” his jaws clenched tightly as he spoke the accursed name. But then a new growl of resilience and stubbornness found itself into his throat and he continued. “Leave my mother out of it! You…you raped her, don’t forget that. This is justice, Shivan, no more. You think that you can do anything because you claim to be so wise. All I want to do is…I…I don’t even know why I am here anymore.”
“When these….these people are asking for Shivan Aruldas Chelvanayagam, they think, oh an old man, a man who has a century’s wisdom!! Damn their souls to the seven hells! Damn them, damn them all! When you are asking those other people…those….those big city people like your whore, those people they don’t, don’t know! They think you are the madman,” the withered old monster told him, “and I told you, you have…have.,…your, your place in this world. Your pretty little whore doesn’t think so, oh no no!! Neither does the other whore, the other…Minakshi! Daughter of Gautam and Shoba Devapala, damned foreign woman! Doesn’t know how our Tamil names are! How the hell does she name her son? His first name is a second name in this city, stupid stupid foreign bitch…cannot speak our language clearly, stupid whore, works in the bloody big temple….stupid….”
“You know I am right, child. This rich whore…this…woman named Ishwari, this…this whore, this one….her mother was a demon and sinner, stupid boy.” He ran out of breath. Govind wondered why this horrid old thing was left to even suffer on earth. Why was he not yet dead? What perverted gods held the strings of his life for a few more minutes without cutting them? Turning his back on the living corpse Govind continued, “Ishwari is a good person! Don’t ever talk about her that way! All you people are the damn same! At least she doesn’t think I was born from the feet of God. I’m a man to her, and I….I love her for that, Shivan. Besides, I never came to talk to a decayed worm like you! I want to see my mother.” “Yes, that stupid cow who’s leaving me to rot away in my clothes!” Shivan hawked loudly, spitting a gob of phlegm at the ground.”Go to her! Suck on her nipples for a few more years, young bastard! Go, go! You think she feels anything for you? These…these womenfolk…! Ha, to latch their talons onto an innocent young Chandala man like you, just some pariah dog….”
“I am not….” How could he tell Shivan what he wasn’t when that was how he’d been born? Born with the mark that the cruel person known as God had given him. A species. Chandala.
“The bitch holds you by a chain around your neck, you little fool! Rich folk, these Kshatriya, these Vaishya, these….these peoples do not give a damn! Look at me! What the hell do I need a bloody woman like that for? Put a damn brat in her belly and let her bleed and suffer like that mother of yours is making me suffer!” he screamed at the top of his voice. “The daughter of a sinful woman! Nobody knows who her father is, and who the hell could it be? This Ishwari, this…bloody….she plays with your feelings! You’re a toy in her hands just as the whole world is in the hands of the gods.”
(After that short hiatus, I’m finally back!)
Parashakti filled the room with a swirling, terrifying storm of blackness.
Yashodha had hidden herself under the covers, soundlessly sitting out the entrance of the horrifying spirit. The little girl’s mother also felt that the anger of all her lovers was coming back to haunt her too, their faces embroidered in twisted expressions across the fabric of the space which her mother dominated.Young men and women who wanted her heart so badly, but all she could give them was a single meaningless night of sex.
A few had hurt her cruelly, made her cry. Others, she had dominated with her iron fist.
The weight if the world was pushing poor Ishwari down. She’d heard of the execution of criminals, the imperial elephant being ordered to crush the worst offenders at times. Her mind clicked back to the sessions of stoning she’d heard of, the burning of offenders in great masses, the cruel tortures that every hell in her religion promised. “And all this in the city of the gods,” she hissed nastily, “and I don’t believe that a vile monster like you, could really exist here, where that damned temple looks down at everyone and into their minds. And we both worked there at some point.” Ishwari felt a strange smile crossing her face. “Irony,” she grunted in continuation.
“That’s the problem with having such convictions,” her mother nodded blankly in agreement, her demeanor now softened, “they rule your every action, or try to, at least. These gods that we worship are always perverted watchmen, aren’t they? Tradition is rubbish, daughter. Rubbish.”
Ishwari looked down at the floor unblinkingly, apparently spaced out. “Then maybe she and I are not that different. Neither of us was a stereotype…”
The shrill scream filled the room and she could hear even herself crying out as her earlier dim eyes grew brighter and brighter. Tears filled them no more’ she had wiped them away during her hit of realization, thankfully. That woman would never allow a daughter of hers to cry, that was for sure.
Yashodha’s little voice was filled with worry and concern. What had the child seen during that moment? Had she been just as terrified to see the true soul of her mother? She just lay there in a helpless heap, clutching her sheets and sari to her chest, mouth open as gasps of breath escaped her. Her eyes were still staring unblinkingly at the floor.
“Yes my darling?” The words barely escaped her, flowing past like a soft, terrified whisper. Her mind was racing around, trying to tell herself that the darkness was, for a moment at least, gone. She sat on the bed, still wearing the same mask on her face. The room was so black now that she was blinded, lost in the vortex of pitch darkness. The space between the door and the bed was a huge mouth in her feeble comprehension, something that would close upon her if she tried to escape. That door was indeed her only escape…
The light that filled the room scared her, and Ishwari backed into a corner, crying, “Keep away from me!” but saw, to her relief, the young manservant coming in.
“Govind….” And she crashed onto the bed.
“Mistress, I heard you scream,” he said gently. This poor man of twenty-five was solemn as he looked at her with a gentle glance. “Those damned roadside thugs make a pass at you on the way back home, eh? I’ll put those bastards into the ground, by Shiva!”
“Language, please, my daughter’s here,” she hissed in controlled anger, “but no….it wasn’t….that…” Her hand ran down to the nape of her sweaty neck. Noticing Govind’s eyes on her, she smiled shyly. This fellow with the constantly torn dhoti-which, he made sure, left much to the imagination- looked nice and pleasant enough for someone who had been taken off the streets not long ago. Ishwari smiled at him as he sat down beside her. Her hand instantly went up to touch his stubble-bearded cheek, but stopped herself instantly when Yashodha appeared and curled up in her lap.
But Govind’s feelings got the better of him. “Your husband won’t be back for a while now, mistress. You know how he always takes those long walks to meet his old comrades….” he began to kiss her neck delicately. “My daughter is here!” she chided gently with a little giggle.
“Never stopped you before,” he replied, trying to reach for her lips, “plus you know how I feel about you, don’t you?”
“How dare you, you rotten little man? You can never have me and you know that!” Ishwari laughed at him, pushing him away, and rising up off the bed with Yashodha yawning in her arms. “My real beloved is somewhere in this city, and she still rejects me. She doesn’t know that we were meant to be together, no matter what other people would say. Now get dressed and go to her like you always do, go on…”
Govind got up as well.
“Why else did I bring you in?”
(Hi there Internet! Now as you can imagine, we’ve been in a state of hiatus and inactivity, but we have by no means closed shop! As proof here is something to work with. Tell me if there are any continuity issues and I’ll fix them. )
“You’re impossible, I mean…most women would be quite okay with this! I don’t know Minakshi, you’re just not normal. Most men I know, some of them are of high status in this city, and they have more than one wife. They’ve had more lovers and mistresses, harems in fact. Are you telling me that it’s impossible?” He was stabbing her repeatedly with his questions as he pushed away the plate and rose from his seat.
“You heard me…” In his heart he felt like he was losing battle, something unlike what he had trained for. She now felt like a powerful shield, iron in frame with many firm leather covers stitched together, doubling and tripling the protection factor. No sword could pierce that, he knew. Quickly he turned to look at her darkened face.
Minakshi said nothing to Brahmarajan, instead sitting down with her fingers toying with a wooden spoon. “And here I thought I knew you. But I don’t care how many bigamist friends you have. I don’t car how many women these so-called lords and commanders keep in their houses, in fact I don’t care if the Emperor himself has hundreds of women in his house. You, Brahmarajan Narasimha, you married me, and you live under this roof, so you’d better start acting like a normal man because a normal man is supposed to be loyal to whoever he marries. Because…I’ve never been with anybody else except for you! It’s…it’s…harder for me…”
Her hand went close to her mouth and her voice felt choked.
He tried to look at her again.
“Never? Even as a young girl? Well, fine we live in a city with a deeply religious outlook and everything, but…it’s not like everyone prays to the gods and does pujas every waking minute of the door. Did you think that that was what Thanjavur was like when you were in the Punjab are up there?”-he raised his arm to indicate the north-“or did your….I don’t know, your…ancestors or something? Because that is not how it works for us! Look, religion doesn’t watch over us like an eye in the sky, alright? There are always exceptions to every rule, and”-
“Shut up! I don’t want to hear about this stupid philosophy, I’m, I’m tired of it!” Minakshi drew in some phlegm suddenly. “And why bring it up? It isn’t even our damn religions that matter. It’s the kind of person we make ourselves to be in front of our child! And he’s five! And you, you go out drinking, probably sleeping around”-
“What, did I strike a nerve there? Guess I’m not as stupid as you think! So this was it huh? Ishwari was right you know, and now I feel like such a fool for not listening to her,” she continued through gritted teeth, shaking her head as she did, “and, and I…” She choked again, angrily attacking her tears, not even looking at Brahmarajan’s back which was turned towards her. What was wrong with her? She was proud, proud being a woman and a strong rebel against even her own culture, against his culture. She was supposed to embrace and worship him-sure, lots of women did, but even more didn’t, that much she knew-but she knew that she had to have a word in between.
What now? Hands had reached out of the walls and caught her in their powerful, unbreakable net, so she thought.
“You…will…stay…” Minakshi could feel her own slender hands working on her sari, rhythmically unwinding it, the lengths of soft cloth falling off her in a heap. Putting on a giant stream of cloth was not the simplest thing in the world but she always enjoyed pulling it off. Now Minakshi didn’t feel as constricted as she always did. It was like there was a difference between the powerful, domineering south and the heavenly north that she never truly knew.
And now the gap was to be bridged.
A moan erupted from her in a cascade of passion as she held herself against him. Brahmarajan glanced back at Minakshi and saw, from the corner of his eye, her large, perfumed breasts and soft, firm belly open upon him, her navel and nipples gently brushing against his as she turned him around for an embrace.
She started to kiss the powerful form of his neck as she pushed deeper into him, letting him drown in her body and its heavenly aroma. “You will be with me Brahmarajan,” she murmured as she swayed her hips to an unheard beat, gently moving him onto the soft carpet.
“What are…no, no please,” he replied in anguish, trying to move but not touching her, although he couldn’t help but stroke her body slightly, fingertips struggling against temptation and yet screaming out for her now heated skin.
She looked stunned for a minute. “Why?”
“Because of her strength! She is a terrifying force, Minakshi, with a terrible god she chains within her walls. He gives unto her pain and pleasure all at once, partner and torturer all in one. A being against whom there is no defence. Minakshi, I’m trapped. But I can’t help it. If I were saw a tigress would I want to chain her? She is sensuous, fearsome graceful, a wild and dark dancer with blood on her nails and lips. But this tigress is also a witch….a force with the power to shake the heart and turn the minds of men unto her…I…I….”
Minakshi silenced him with a long,drawn-out kiss as she locked her arms and legs around his body. “Speak no more of this,” she crooned softly, “and let’s finish this in the bedroom. We can forget her completely.”
Anguish kept rising in him. “No Minakshi, no, no.”
She guided him slowly, allowing him to hold her body as they both lay down on the bed,
Minakshi lay down first, legs open in invitation to him as she pulled him onto her. For a few minutes she kissed him, then fumbled with his dhoti eagerly. Yet he brushed her hand away gently and sat down on the edge of the bed, head in his hands.