(Once more, this time during a power cut)
All thoughts of politics and war threw themselves out into the mud of the swamp as Rudran’s eyes bore into the steel body of his sword. He grunted in pain as he continued his trek. His hands instinctively reached for overhanging branches and vines as his incisors gnashed in anger, leg muscles screaming in protest at having to move. His heart beat with every thudding step in the muck and tangled weeds.
He had moved a fair distance along the shore, when he finally saw a small sandbank between two rocky outcrops. The sun’s face hid as he tilted his head upwards. The cooler, more bearable part of the afternoon was coming over the world.
The waterway was no more a mere canal.
It had the depth and width of a large river, and he knew that he was somewhere around a very famous settlement.
Mahinyangana as the locals called it.
The monotone drone of the cicadas and the raucous cries of avian fishermen stung his ears. “Let’s cover our bases,” he gasped, “I’m injured. Plus the people of this country are on slightly better terms with a Pandyan from Madurai than with someone on the Chola side. At least I speak…Tamil…a little Pali and Sanskrit…Sinhala, bits and pieces of it at least…” He stopped himself, still hard in thought. That last language was a noble tongue, spoken by a select few only. “As long as I find some nobles I should be fine. A few uneducated villagers would be too suspicious of me and my cover would be blown. But of course, what’s to stop even another kshatriya from buying my story? I’ll have to come up with something…”
The details poured out of him as meticulously as the details of a hard siege.
Rudran crouched as he ran his fore and index fingers across his fingers to relieve a passing headache. A nerve in his forehead spasmed and he fought to swallow back the vomit rising in his throat. Dizziness attempted to grip his senses once more but gritting his teeth, he snarled, “Not this time! No weaknesses!”
His fist closed even tighter around the hilt of his sword.
The chorus of shouts-probably from young people in the area-was too clear now to be simply dismissed as an auditory illusion.
The rock formation on the left bank sloped downwards away from the river, cutting into the thick forest. Jayampati panted as he picked up his heels and arrived at the spot, laughing delightedly at the prospect of a swim. His thick hair was slick with sweat as he paused by an old tree stump to catch his breath. His fingers brushed through his curls as he tried to crack a smile.
“Don’t you dare leave me here! Or any of us for that matter!”
The cry teetered on the edge between annoyance and amusement as his companions came closer.
“You’ll have to catch me first!” He stood up, deftly wiping the river of perspiration on his brow as he took off again. His eyes literally sparkled devilishly as he arrived at the knotted, gnarly roots of the ancient banyan that spread its branches over the rock-face.
At the top, he whacked his dagger firmly into the trunk of the massive tree.
Sitting down, he peered down at the sandbank. The water beyond it was deep enough, and this was a wide channel, after all. After all, he was born and bred here, on the outskirts of the ancient city of Mahiyangana. The canal had intersected with a branch of the great River Mahavaluka here, but jumping in from his perch of forty feet would be suicide.
Yet his heart knew that this victory was required. The egrets were no more than minute specks of white against the verdant crowns of the trees on the further side of the tributary. There was no way he could inspect his reflection, of course-this was no puddle but the largest river in Lanka. Jayampati sat cross-legged, seeming to the world, as he breathed in and out like a mockery of a mendicant sage. Unintentional of course.
The white thread around his wrist told of his faith. Yet the little amulet whose head rested against his upper arm was too precious to lose. Working away at the knot, he loosened it and hung it from the hilt of his dagger.
His young head was filled with a rushing mass of thoughts as he gazed down at his feet.
That was the cause of all that pain. A little bit of mimosa had stabbed him nicely in the little toe. Harmless, to be sure, but a nuisance.
“What a damn bother.”
But he bit his lower lip, his face darkening instantaneously.
“Who am I to be thinking about nuisances and trifle grievances when I don’t even know if you are all alive?”
A small rivulet of blood dripped from his lip to the cleft of his smooth shaven chin.
Just like half his family not being home to help his mother and he in their daily work.
A huge estate was not going to look after itself, plus his relatives…what if…”No, the Upagupta family won’t try taking over anything. I hope. Oh by the gods, this damned war isn’t going to end itself just like that, is it? Pandu, Abhaya, Themiya…I need all of you back alive, my brothers.” He felt a tear tracing its way down his cheek. “I need all of you back with father. Your own families want you back so badly. Abhaya”-he laughed, left hand briefly covering his full feminine lips-I have to say, Sundari misses you so much, and so do your boys…I can’t take their place if you die. None of us can. They want their father so much. Same goes to you Pandu. Khema loves you dearly, even if she doesn’t show it often…”
He stood up, leaning back against the banyan.
Three sunbeams tore through the ashy barrier of clouds as Jayampati’s thoughts too darkened. Surya’s life-giving power had no hold over the loving youth of a country torn apart by alien invaders.
Jayampati merely paced up and down restlessly, still in waiting, but no longer happy.
“Where are you Jayampati?” The shouts continued to ring from the forest. The boy’s mind felt heavier than it had been earlier.
That other problem gnawed at him as his muscles tensed.