A Prophecy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain
The sequel to "Blood and Song."

Submitted: July 21, 2016

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Submitted: July 21, 2016

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A Prophecy of Chaos

Copyright © 2016 A. J. Chaudhury

All rights reserved

Billaram could not sleep that night. Those large teary eyes kept flashing inside his mind. Bisor had cried and Bisor had begged but Billaram trusted old Nirul, the priest’s, words more than Bisor’s lowly mouth. But yes, kicking Bisor out of the village had Been Billaram’s decision.

Sor, Sor,” Bisor cried for the hundredth time in front of his mind’s eye. “She was my mother!”

Nirul pointed his fat finger at the madman, his glare threatening to burn Bisor.

“Do not lie. You have buried that knife into your mother’s heart. I have talked with the Devtas.”

Furious at the blame, Bisor spat at Nirul. Nirul, with all dignity, wiped the bog of phlegm from his cheek. He turned at Billaram.

“It’s your decision to make,” Nirul said to him, his features convulsing. He pushed his way through the crowd and marched away to his room.

Billaram knew talking with the Devtas was no easy task, even for Nirul. And the priest would have never done so were Kamini not Billaram’s sister.

“Bisor,” Billaram said and for once the noisy crowd fell silent. He swallowed as Bisor stared at him, his bald pate making him recall that day when he had first seen him as an infant cradled by Kamini. Billaram gulped.

“You are banished from this village, Bisor. Never return here.”And the wild crowd kicked him out of the village gate. It was a sheer miracle they didn’t kill him.

No lying on his bed Billaram wondered if he had taken the right decision. He imagined Kamini volley hot words at him. She would have never wanted Bisor to be punished for anything, even if it were her own murder. Kamini loved Bisor endlessly. So much, she had burnt down a village for his cause so many years back.

But Billaram knew Bisor had been lucky. Day after tomorrow Billaram’s son would be made the chieftain. Mozun hated Bisor and even Billaram had never been pleased by his mad antics. Were the crime committed two days from now, Mozun would have ordered Bisor killed. He wouldn’t have bothered sending him to the king either. And, after a priest had spoken, there was little chance even the king would have spared the madman.

All the same, that Bisor had killed his mother was a hard fact to swallow. Billaram believed every word of the priest but…

Billaram sat up, the bed creaking. His wife grumbled in her sleep. He drank some water from the pitcher beside his bed. The unsettling feeling inside him remained.

No, he needed to bring Bisor back. The Devtas must have said one thing and Nirul must have understood another. Yes, that was the case. Billaram snatched his sword hanging on the wall and went out.

As Billaram made toward the village gate, he imagined Kamini’s voice in his ears.

“Bring him back, idiot,” she abided him, “bring back my son.” The night was cool and Billaram would have liked being out if he stopped imagining Kamini at the threshold of every hut he passed. He had always feared his elder sister and now his heart kept jumping with fright at her thought.

When Billaram reached a spot from where the village gate could be seen, he stopped in his tracks. A fire was burning just near it. Why, he himself had given orders to some of the villagers to stay guard during the night!

Making a quick decision, Billaram strode to where the guards were.

“Staying guard, eh?” he said when he reached them.

“As ordered,” one answered with a yawn.

“Go home and sleep.”

“Really?” All of them suddenly were less sleepy. “Go home?”

“As you heard. I’ll stay guard,” Billaram said. “It’s my village after all.”

“You alone?”

Billaram frowned.

“You think I can’t?”

He watched as the guards left. Once he was certain the houses blocked him from their view, he sneaked into the unwelcoming forest. There was ghostly presence about it, but the thought of poor Bisor weeping in the dark gave him strength to continue with the search.

“B- Bisor,” he said, not loud but in a normal tone. He knew Bisor was somewhere near. Bisor had nowhere to go.

No reply.

He called again, more kindly; his voice a stark contrast to the callous tone with which he had banished the madman during the day. “I know you can hear me, Bisor. Please come back. I am sorry.”

Billaram heaved a sigh. Bisor wasn’t going to reveal himself easily. It was his nature.

Spotting a millipede crawling on the ground, a picture of the curled millipede he had found in the centre of his bed the other day flashed in his thoughts. The omen’s ill powers had been proved by Kamini’s murder.

Billaram went further into the woods, calling Bisor. He did not want to lose sight of the village gate but at some point he found its view totally blocked by trees. He kept his torch high and held tight onto his sword, wary of all the evil that could sneak up to him in the dark. An hour passed. Then two.

Billaram tired of the searching, for the first time in his life acknowledging the fact that he was aging. He should have brought some younger men along, perhaps should have asked the guards to accompany him instead of sending them home. Then three hours passed.

The torch would burn up in a few minutes. He looked about his surroundings and he gave up.

“Bisor… Do return,” he said remorsefully. He would come and search tomorrow too, but for now Billaram had to go. He had kept his way in mind and headed back to the village gate in speed, wanting to get away from the ominous woods as fast as possible.

Finally, there stood the village gate, not twenty meters ahead. Billaram heard a sound from above and looked up. From the feeble light of his torch he saw Bisor sitting on the branch of a tree, a big stone in his lap.

With a snarl of contempt, Bisor jumped down, hitting Billaram with the stone. Billaram’s word spun as he fell. Through blurry eyes he saw Bisor one last time, raising the stone to strike again.

***

Only a short while after Cheng and Sor entered the gate of the village they believed to be Bhiji, that some men carrying choppers came running to them from the fields. Cheng cursed himself for having dressed in his robes and not in the attire of this country. Each man’s dark sullen eyes gleamed with hostility as they approached.

“What business do you have here?” they barked at the two of them. Cheng hoped Sor would answer, but the odd hairless man instead inched closer to Cheng like a child, not opening his mouth. Such a useless man, Cheng thought.

Cheng clasped his hands in a formal Nomoskar, which was the gesture for friendly greeting in the region.

“Can meet chief I?” he said. A linguist and a fast learner, he had been long enough in the land to understand the tongue and speak it, albeit in a broken way.

“Why?” one of the four men asked. “Who are you? Where do you come from?”

“I Cheng… Come from far away; I traveler.” Cheng quickly fished out a gold coin, one from his own land so far away, bearing the print of his king. Making a bow, he offered it to the men. “Friendship token, please accept.” The men took it.

Friendship accepted. Gold always helps.

“You want to meet the chief of our village?” the men asked him.

“Yes… Brother,” Cheng added and made a small smile. The men did not smile back but they were less hostile now. They discussed amongst themselves and agreed to take him.

“But who’s this with you?” they asked, pointing at Sor.

Sor, Sor,” the short statured Sor said, clutching Cheng’s arm, who wanted to jerk him away. “I am his companion.”

 

The chieftain was a tall well built man. His house was just a little bigger than the other houses in the village. There was always a small frown of suspicion on his face whenever he spoke to Cheng and his welcome of the two of them was somewhere between not-so-warm and cold.

“What do you want?” he asked them after they had drunk the water offered.

“Oh, forgot,” Cheng said, getting up from the low stool that was called a pira in the region. “One moment.” He produced three gold coins from his pocket and offered them to the chieftain, making a bow. “A gift.”

The chieftain took them and gestured Cheng to sit. He examined the coins.

“Your king?” he asked Cheng, tapping the face on one of the coins with his thumb.

“Yes,” Cheng said with a nod. The chieftain passed the coins to his wife, who was standing nearby, and turned to them.

“Okay,” he said, “what can I offer to you in return?”

“I travelled... many days,” Cheng said, “I want rest. Can stay here I three days?”

“Three days?” the chieftain asked.

“Yes.”

The chieftain looked at Sor who hadn’t spoken a word until then. Cheng had met Sor in the forest. Sor had acted oddly before asking Cheng water. Cheng had thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a local along with him since Sor appeared more or less harmless. Now Cheng regretted that decision, he would have been better off along.

Sor flinched, his eyes darting nervously from Cheng to the chieftain.

“Who is this with you?” the chieftain asked Cheng. “And what happened to his eyebrows and head?”

Cheng had earlier asked the same question to Sor and the latter had replied it was a tradition of their tribe to shave their head and eyebrows.

“I met some days back him,” Cheng replied. “Sys it’s tradition to shave eyebrows.”

The chieftain laughed, relaxing his frown for the first time. Cheng had suspected the validity of Sor’s words, now he was certain Sor had lied.

“Tradition to shave eyebrows?” the chieftain chuckled. “Where are you from, my man?”

Sor clutched his legs tight, bringing them closer to his body. A small man, he looked even smaller now.

“The hills,” Sor said in a tiny voice, looking down.

“The hills?” the chieftain said, the remnants of his laugh still on his face. “They have some strange customs… but I have never known any of the hill tribes shave their eyebrows! Anyway, it’s your hair and eyebrows, do your wish! As for staying im my village, I’ll allow you that. You can stay in my house for three days. One thing I want to ask you, is there any reason why you travelled so far from your land?” the chieftain asked Cheng.

There were two reasons for that. His king wanted to know more about the kingdoms in the south, their people, culture and power.

Secondly, there was nothing left for Cheng back home. A boulder from atop the hill had crushed their house at the foot during an earthquake, killing all his family. Cheng had been only happiest when the king had asked him to travel far and wide.

“My king wants to know more about the world,” Cheng said, “so he sent me.”

“Interesting,” the chieftain said. Cheng recalled the heavily wrinkled face of his emperor. He wondered if he was still alive. He hadn’t been well during the time of Cheng’s departure. Maybe his sons were squabbling for power over his throne after his death.

“Uh,” said Sor, rather abruptly. “Sor, Sor. I am hungry. Can you give me food?”

“Are you too?” the chieftain asked Cheng. For as long as he could remember, all Cheng had been eating was fruits and dried meat, that took an eternity to chew. Sor’s words had sparked his craving for good food and his sudden hunger knew no bounds.

 

That dusk, after some tea, the chieftain took Cheng and Sor out to show them his village. It was a typical village in Pragjotisha, like the many Cheng had been to during the cycle. All the same, it felt good to be amidst people after almost a week of wandering the jungles. There were children running around playing catch, pheasants returning from the fields, women bringing full pitchers from the stream that flowed on the outskirts of the village.

Their walk brought them to a temple not far from the fields. It was surrounded by a tall stone wall and five men carrying choppers stood guard at the gate. Cheng could see the idol of a god inside the temple and couldn’t help but wonder the reason for the guards. Usually, temples in the region weren’t so guarded.

“Why guards?” Cheng asked the chieftain. The latter made an uneasy smile that looked more like a grimace, like he was regretting bringing Cheng and Sor in this direction.

“Ah… Simply… There is someone you might like to meet,” the chieftain changed the topic abruptly.

“Who?” Cheng said.

“A poet… If you have been in this region for long you might have heard of him. His name is Mahendra.”

“I have.” The poet’s name had fallen into Cheng’s ears more than once before. He had known Mahendra was from east Pragjotisha, though exactly which village he hadn’t known. Mahendra’s fame rested on the fact that quite a number of his poems had come to life. He wrote about ominous comets, bad harvests and village fights much before they occurred in real.

Mahendra’s hut was located toward the centre of the village, not far from the chieftain’s. It was much smaller but there was a mystical aura about it and Cheng wondered if he would be told of future misfortunes.

The chieftain knocked on the bamboo door.

“Mahendra! I have got visitors for you.”

A pretty woman with sharp features opened the door. Mahendra’s wife.

“Oh, brother,” she said. Then her eyes fell on Cheng and Sor and she half hid behind the door in her shyness.

“Who are they, brother?” she asked the chieftain.

“Visitors to the village. I want them to meet Mahendra.”

The wife welcomed them in. She was a young woman and Cheng thought Mahendra was in his youth too, but the poet turned out to be a grey haired old man, sitting on a pira, the lines of age on his face countless. He immediately got up on seeing the chieftain.

“Brother Ganesh!” he called the chieftain by his name, rather loudly. “Narida, bring some piras.”

Narida, his young wife, brought the piras and they sat down on them.

“I have brought you some visitors,” the chieftain said. Cheng noticed that old Mahendra looked intently at the chieftain’s mouth as he spoke and he suspected Mahendra was deaf at least partially if not fully.

Mahendra turned at Cheng.

“A foreigner?” he said in his loud voice, as if he wasn’t sure the others heard him. “Where are you from?”

“I am from Yancheng,” Cheng replied. “I traveler.”

“Never heard of Yancheng,” said Mahendra. He coughed, his chest whizzing. “Is it far away?”

“Very far.”

“You walked all the way?”

“No,” said Cheng, “on foot, horse and boat.”

Mahendra nodded.

The chieftain smiled.

“Can you write a poem for him, brother Mahendra?”

Mahendra mused,

“Hmmm… I can,” a shadow passed over his aged face, “but I don’t know if he would like it.”

“I will,” Cheng said, though he was not sure.

Mahendra made a small smile.

“It depends… come closer.”

Cheng drew his pira closer to Mahendra. The latter placed his hand over Cheng’s head and closed his eyes.

After a moment he removed his hand and told his wife to bring his writing materials. His wife shortly brought him a quill, a little pot containing ink, some parchment sheets and a pira on which to write upon.

Mahendra dipped the quill in the ink and began writing. His first word was slow, but the rest came quickly. He wrote three lines.

“What it say?” Cheng asked, who couldn’t read the script.

The chieftain turned the parchment toward himself and read,

The young star flies out of the sky,

But no tears flow from the eye.

Without a try, I do not cry.”

Mahendra’s wife gave a sudden gasp, looking at the four men with a dead white tinge in her face.

“Those were the first words that came to my head,” Mahesh said calmly after shaking his head at his wife in a disapproving manner. But then, Cheng looked at the chieftain and his expressions too were becoming shocked by the moment.

“Brother Mahendra,” he said, half-gaping, “do you… do you mean?”

“Mean what?” Mahendra asked curiously with a frown.

“The… the,” the chieftain turned sharply at Cheng.

“So that’s why you have come?”

“Uh, what?” said Cheng, taken by the change in atmosphere of the room.

“It can’t be,” said Mahendra, eyes fixed on lips.

“But it can,” said the chieftain.

“Uh, what are you talking about?” Cheng said uneasily.

“We… we have a gem,” said the chieftain, “one of untold beauty in the temple. Look, you are my guest, but I can’t trust you.”

“I not come to steal it,” said Cheng, firm. So that’s why there were guards in the temple. He was a traveler, one who marveled at the beauty of different lands. Gold and gem did not stupefy him, like they did a thief.

“I go tomorrow morning if you don’t believe.”

“No, it’s not like I am accusing you,” the chieftain began but Mahendra intervened.

“Brother Ganesh, why don’t you just double the security outside the temple for some days?”

The chieftain scratched his chin and nodded.

“I guess that can be done,” he said.

 

That night Cheng’s stomach was full as he lay on the bed provided. The chieftain had fed them well, his wife being a great cook. His wife had served them meat, fish, pickles and whatnot. All the same, Cheng’s mood wasn’t so much at rest. If the poet’s prophecy came true and if the star really meant the gem, and if it was stolen many fingers of the village would point at him. After that, even if he wasn’t found to be in possession of the gem, he didn’t know what fate awaited him.

Sor snored on another bed nearby. A strange man, Cheng hoped to get rid of him in the near future. He had told little about himself to Cheng and he believed the small man was a homeless wanderer, maybe thrown out of his village for some reason. Then a new thought pricked Cheng’s brain. Could Sor be a thief, who intended to steal the gem? He had met him only two days back. Sor had had chances of killing Cheng and stealing his gold, but he hadn’t so far. Maybe he was after the bigger game.

Sor, Sor,” Sor said all of a sudden in his sleep, making Cheng’s heat leap. Sor sniffled. “Mother!” he moaned.

“Hey, Sor,” Cheng said, but the latter did not answer and kept sniffling, making funny sounds with his nose. At some point he ceased doing so and returned to snoring. It wasn’t the first time though in the two days that Sor had acted queer. He laughed at odd moments, made peculiar faces occasionally for no reason and talked with himself.

Cheng sighed. He had met different kinds of people in his travels. Sor wasn’t the first oddity and he wouldn’t be the last. At least Cheng hoped so.

 

The following morning Cheng was woken up by loud banging on the front door.

“Brother Ganesh! Open the door!” It sounded like the poet, Mahendra.

Cheng heard the chieftain jump from his bed in the other room and hurry to the front door.

“What is the matter, brother?” he asked the old man.

“My wife! Something has taken her! ... There is blood all over the floor and a window is broken!”

Cheng got up from his own bed.

“Is there problem?” he said aloud.

“Yeah, come with us, Cheng,” the chieftain said.

The old poet was trembling when Cheng went out to the front door.

“Something has taken my wife!” he told Cheng, his face pale.

“It’s all right,” the chieftain tried to reassure, “it’s all right. We’ll go and check your house. No, you stay here… Mira, bring brother Mahendra some water! ... Now you go inside. Let’s go, Cheng.”

They rushed to Mahendra’s house which was only a stone’s throw away. Entering it, they sway the dried blood on the mud floor, as if something had dragged the wife’s bleeding body around. The blood led to a broken window, which too had stains of blood on the sides. There was some blood outside too, but not a lot of it, and it didn’t lead to anywhere. It was almost like the something had flown away with Mahendra’s wife.

“Tiger?” Cheng said. “Leopard?”

“I don’t know,” the chieftain said, his eyes scanning for drag marks on the lawn outside through the window, “brother Mahendra is partially deaf, but his wife would have screamed and he should have heard something. This is strange, there is no blood mark on the lawn.”

“He didn’t call neighbor,” said Cheng, noticing no one was coming out of the houses nearby to check out the happening.

“Brother Mahendra is most friendly with me in the village,” said the chieftain. “The first thought to pass his mind after seeing this was to come to me… But I don’t understand this… I hope a beast has done this, if not, it can only be the doing of a spirit.”

Cheng and the chieftain called the people from the neighboring houses, and they in turn called others. After sometime quite a crowd had gathered in front of Mahendra’s house, consisting of men, women and a curious child or two.

“Did you hear any scream?” the chieftain asked the man who lived in the hut closest to Mahendra’s house.

“Not a sound,” the sallow faced man answered.

“That was because you were snoring,” the man’s wife stepped forward from the crowd.

“I did hear some sounds like… like something moving around, yes. Probably just past midnight.”

“It’s a spirit!” a young but frail woman came, carrying her boy. “My son saw it!”

“He did?” the chieftain asked, and both Cheng and he looked at the little boy, not more than four cycles old, saliva drooling from his mouth.

“Yes. He woke up in the middle of the night screaming! He was shivering with fright like he had a bad fever. He said he saw dark shadows in his dream!”

“Oh,” the chieftain observed with less interest. “It definitely can be a spirit then. Anyway, I think we should search in the woods around the village. It can be a leopard too,” he said to the men surrounding him.

Many of the men volunteered to join the search and soon the chieftain was giving orders on who was to search which parts of the village, the fields and the woods. Cheng agreed to join the search too, but excused himself for a moment to his room. The more he thought about the blood all over Mahendra’s house, the more his stomach felt queer. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen blood in his life. He would always remember the ghastly sight of his family— blood, bodies and all back home; and today’s event reminded him more so of that.

Mahendra was sitting on a pira inside the chieftain’s home, his face glimmering white.

“I shouldn’t have married her,” he said to the chieftain’s wife with guilty air, who sat on a pira opposite him, staring fixedly. “She would have been younger than my daughter if I had one.”

The chieftain’s wife looked up when Cheng entered.

“What will they do now?” she asked.

“They will search,” Cheng answered, “forest, fields and all… Can I have water?”

“Wait,” the wife said. She went to the kitchen and brought him water in a small pitcher. He drank it wholeheartedly.

“Thank you,” he said, returning the pitcher. Then Cheng remembered Sor.

“Is he sleeping?” he asked the wife.

“Who— oh, the short man with you? But he went out after you and my husband went.”

“Really?” Cheng said, surprise flickering up his cheeks. “He didn’t!”

Cheng couldn’t have missed the eyebrow-less person even if he had been amidst the crowd.

“But he did go out,” the chieftain’s wife said, “I thought he was with you.”

Cheng strode to his room, half not believing the wife. But Sor’s bed lay empty. Cheng opened his sac that he had left earlier. His clothes and the water skin were there, so he knew Sor hadn’t stolen them. But where were his gold coins? — Wait. Most of them were in the concealed pocket near his groin and just a few were in his other pockets. He sighed in relief. Still there was something wrong about the room… Cheng recalled keeping his carry sac at the foot of his bed. It was now near the pillow instead. Cheng realized Sor had messed with his sac after he had gone out with the chieftain but found nothing of value in it.

“The lowlife,” Cheng cursed in his mother tongue. “I’ll kill him next time I see him.” He had committed a big mistake in letting Sor accompany him.

Cheng dashed out of the house and joined the chieftain, who was about to set off to the woods with the others, while another team was leaving for the fields.

“I sorry,” Cheng said to the chieftain.

“Sorry for what?” the big man said, amazement in his convulsed face.

“Sor, the man with me. He left.”

“Left? Why?”

“I mistook him. He not good man, was searching my bag.”

“Not a good man—?” the chieftain was cut short when three men, armed with choppers came running to the scene. They were the guards at the temple.

“Hey Ganesh,” they said, sweat on their brows. “Mahendra’s wife was killed, we heard.”

“Yes, killed and taken. Beast or spirit we don’t know. We are going on a search… But you shouldn’t have come. You should have stayed at the temple, you know the rules.”

“We left Anil there. But didn’t you call us yourself?” the guard looked about the crowd, his furtive eyes searching something. “Where’s that little man? He was the one who told us so before rushing in this direction.”

Cheng felt like being struck with a rice grinding stick when he realized who the little man was.

“You mean man without eyebrow?” he asked the guard, rubbing his own brows.

“Exactly.”

Cheng glanced at the chieftain. His eyes were contracting and lightening until they were like two menacing blades pointed in Cheng’s way. He seized Cheng by the neck.

“You knew it, didn’t you?”

“Knew what?” Cheng grunted.

“You are here to steal our gem!”

“No!” Cheng said, frowning hard at the chieftain. “Sor bad man, didn’t I tell? You need go check temple.”

The chieftain let go of Cheng, his fury cooling.

“You guys go on,” he said to the men about to set off to the woods. “I’ll join you later… And if you come across this guy’s friend,” he patted Cheng rather forcefully, “don’t let him go.”

“Why?” they asked.

“Just do as I say.” The chieftain then turned to the guards. “Let’s go to the temple. And you,” he told Cheng, “come with us.”

The three guards, the chieftain and Cheng trotted off in the direction of the temple which was located at the far side of the village. Bhiji was a big village and yesterday’s leisurely stroll to the temple seemed to have taken less time than today’s heart drumming race.

Finally reaching the temple, they were greeted by a horrific sight. The guard, Anil, lay on the ground inside the temple premises, his listless eyes fixed at the idol of the god in the temple.

“Oh lord!” the chieftain cried. “He is dead!” They turned Anil over and found the cause of his death— a knife buried into his heart from the backside. Cheng could not help but remember the chieftain’s wife cutting the vegetables last night with the exact knife.

“Sor did it,” Cheng muttered, the dead guard’s body emanating an aura that felt like the winds from the icy mountains he had crossed in his travels. But the chieftain was barely listening.

“Check the gem!” he cried at the other guards, eyes red and moist. The three returned after a quick search, their temple and neck veins popping up with high emotion.

“It’s gone,” they said in a voice of fury and grief. “The bastard took it.”

 

“You must go,” the chieftain told Cheng later on that day. It was just after noon and standing on the doorstep, the sun shone bright on the big man’s worried features. “You must understand. I do not know if you are involved in anything that happened today, but you have been little less than an unlucky charm for our village. It’s for your own good. The villagers will begin raising fingers at you even if I don’t— some already have, and I don’t know what they will do to you. Go away and never return. Thank you and farewell.”

Cheng nodded and walked away to the village gate, not glancing back once. Villagers he saw glared at him and all he could do was drag himself away from them. The entire village was searching for the gem and the body of Mahendra’s wife. They believed it was Sor who had murdered the wife. It made perfect sense— distract everyone with the wife and steal the gem. Anil had been the only one in the temple, the priest and nearby folks too having left for Mahendra’s house. But Cheng couldn’t fathom how Sor had managed to be so quiet while going out of the chieftain’s house at night that neither Cheng nor the hosts heard any of his movement.

Cheng marched on ahead. Away from the village, away from the tragedies. He wouldn’t stop at any village anymore but planned to reach the mighty river Tsangpo and travel southwards along it to the sea. After that, he would see.

That night Cheng slept atop a tree. He missed the soft bed of last night but he had leant to be comfortable on trees over the years and he slept soundly.

Cheng continued on his trek along the forest route the following morning. The forest was his companion and he felt at home in it. The chattering of the monkeys, the birds chirping, even howls by foxes were music. For anyone else the forest was no comfort zone, but for Cheng the animals were family, even if they were capable of tearing him apart.

 

It was on the third after he had left Bhiji that Cheng happened upon Sor. He was lying on the ground.

He was dead.

There was a cobra not three feet away from him. The bite marks were visible on Sor’s feet. Cheng gaped in awe, at the justice of Mother Nature, before his eyes caught a dazzling sparkle from underneath the great snake and his jaw dropped even further as he realized the snake was sitting on the gemstone.

Cheng looked around half hoping some villagers on the search would walk into the scene. But the possibility of that happening was very low. The villagers were unlikely to come this far into the forest. So what was he to do now? Get the gemstone somehow?

The cobra’s head was locked in his direction, its neck flared to form a hood in a display of threat. But what about Cheng’s lost dignity in the village? If only he could get the gemstone the villagers would be warm to him once again.

Should he chase the cobra away? What if it retaliated and bit him?

At the end the safest thing to do was just to wait for the cobra to go; of course it wouldn’t stay over the gemstone forever!

Cheng climbed a tree and sat atop it. The cobra continued to hiss in his direction. Cheng meanwhile looked at Sor. He seemed to be at peace and could have been sleeping. Cheng reckoned his death had occurred within the past hour. Cheng had thought earlier his fury would know no bounds if he laid eyes on Sor again. But now he pitied him. Sor’s lust for the gemstone had made him kill two innocent people, and this was the pathetic outcome he had achieved. Material wealth truly was more or less a curse, bearing no value in the life after death.

A long time passed. Cheng yawned, the wait draining him of patience, the snake stationary. Don’t you want to go after some squirrel? Aren’t you hungry? Cheng thought. The snake’s behavior was getting on his nerves. Even Sor looked paler now.

It was time he did something. Cheng couldn’t stay all day atop the tree and the stubborn snake might as well have taken a vow to spend sitting atop the gemstone.

Who knew, it valued the gemstone too!

Cheng broke off a small branch from the tree, the size of his arm. He removed the leaves and, taking aim, threw it at the snake. It landed just a foot short of the snake, but giving it a fright nonetheless. The snake hissed.

In an instant it slithered to the base of Cheng’s tree. Alarmed, Cheng rushed higher up the tree. He misjudged his footing and slipped.

Cheng fell head first to the ground.

A sharp pain followed in his neck. He knew no more.

The snake slithered away from Cheng’s dead body to the gemstone.

***

Bidita reached the part of the forest en route to Nilam’s village where Nilam had promised to meet her. And, sure enough, there was Nilam, uprooting an edible plant form the soil. He abruptly turned toward her and his grim face loosened into a cheery smile when he saw her.

She smiled back. Finally.

The hardships of the past three days and the pains she had taken to fake her death at Mahendra’s house using the blood of a goat melted away like the hailstones that had fallen three cycles back.

As Nilam ran to her and hugged her, Bidita kept smiling.

***

The end… for now.

Was the story interesting? I am sure there are many grammar errors in this story, plesae point them out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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