One of the gods must have heard my plea. For hard ground under the mud gave the wheels traction. I sighed with relief as the carriage crested the slope.

‘Hop on, Kabi. Quick!’

I jumped. Pari caught my arm and hauled me onto the floorboard. The chargers kept labouring into the forest. and Paary did not rein them. Sensing the immediate danger had passed, the horses slowed.

Convinced that the enemy had yielded the chase, Pari leaned back on tight reins and brought the horses to a welcomed stop. Jumping down, he unshackled the team and set to work. I helped him to pull some branches and creepers to hide the carriage. Then, we led the horses, including the injured mare, in a slow walk.

We did not talk; each wrapped in our thoughts of all that which had happened since we met the Cholans earlier in the day.

Was this ambuscade a chance of fortune, an unlucky encounter with the brigands or was it an assassination attempt on Pari? I threw a questioning look. Pari read my mind.

‘Let’s find safety first,’ he said.

Taking advantage of the peculiarities of the land and exploiting every bit of cover, Pari hid us and our team of horses. He was not only a statesman but also an accomplished hunter. A warrior. He read the terrain, deciphered jungle sounds and spotted dangers hidden in the mulch.

Before nightfall, we came across a patrol. They were searching for their king. Pari’s first question to them was typical.

‘What of the Royal Guard? How are they?’

‘All fifty accounted for, my king,’ said the captain, and he hesitated before adding, ‘and all gained warrior deaths.’

‘All fifty?’ said Pari.

‘They slew the captain and his cohort before coming after you, my king.’

Pari went silent, and I spoke in his stead. ‘Who are these villains?’

‘Kalavars, Guru Kabilar.’

A dread seized my being. These dwellers of the arid lands ran goats and cattle but also had a predilection to brigandry.

‘The Kalavars carted off their dead,’ said the captain. ‘But we found one body among the thorn brushes. Our physicians are examining the cadaver. Sir Jaga-Puthirar awaits your leisure.’

We returned to Pari’s fortress capital, Piran Malai, and met the royal physician. Jaga-Puthirar’s parlour opened into a silent passage leading to the mortuary. Though a Brahmin, in the interests of science, he dabbled with the dead. He ate with his assistants, people of the castes who prepared corpses for cremations, dug graves, and did such abhorrent but necessary tasks for the dead and the living.

As Royal Chronicler of the Parambu throne, I accompanied Pari on all his official duties. As a trusted friend and confidante, I shared many of his quiet moments too.

We went to the mortuary. Pari harboured no qualms about associating with the lower castes who toiled in that morbid sanctum. He liked them. But as king he maintained a discreet distance and did not fraternise with the lower castes for fear of offending his custom and tradition bound courtiers.

Foremost among these nobles was Prime Minister Chitragandan. A tall elegant man, he had mastered all sixty-four branches of knowledge and was a repository of ancient practices and canons; and a ready well spring of advice. He was also an accomplished administrator and steadfast in his loyalty to the throne.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued Friday 23 August 2019

14 comments

  1. Thank you for taking us back in time in this fast moving narrative.

    Your caste reference drew some interesting commentary. I had been led to believe that the rigidity of the system was accentuated by the British rule and their insistence on a population survey which included caste. The Brits, of course, had their own class hierarchy which was almost as rigid although thankfully, it didn’t include untouchables.

    The word ambuscade is new to me. I looked it up to peruse the similarity to the word ambush – very subtle!

    Cheerio, keep ’em rolling!

    1. Dear Jane,

      Glad that you’re enjoying the ride back into ancient South Indian history.

      Caste and religion presented powerful fault lines. And you’re right, the colonialists indulged in divide-and-rule that arguably led to the final partition of India in 1947.

      It is interesting you mentioned ‘British rule’ as I’m mulling whether to upload blog posts (for Wednesdays) regarding colonial rule in India.

      Re ambuscade and other uncommon words: I try to use words that ‘sound old’ to add to the tone and texture of the times. Hopefully, it adds to the reader’s investment in the story and the characters.

      Thank you for your presence and encouragement.

      Cheers!
      Eric

    1. Thank you, Ben

      The author is prolific.

      I thought the book was part of a historical series. Unfortunately, I’m not into sci-fi. Sorry to have put you through the trouble. My bad.

      – Eric

    1. Hello Jane dear,

      I take this as positive as I know that is how you meant it 🙂

      An author has to be careful not to let the author’s voice enter the narrative. If you spot any, please let me know. The author has to take care that the reader hears only the character’s voice.

      All good wishes,
      Eric

      1. Ahhh, I see, and maybe this was one of those moments where I needed to say more, not less. You are right Eric, as I didn’t mean ‘your’ voice was coming over stronger than your character’s voice. As you are writing in the first person, I can see why my comment may have been interpreted in that way. Not by you, because you know me. I meant that in this story that you are crafting, your talents as a writer are evident, your creativity is strong. I feel you are flowing in the telling of this story, mirroring the pace of the story. There is a passion coming through, that I can feel. I hope that explains what I mean in a clearer way….and yes, it’s very positively meant. Hugs xXx <3

  2. There are the high and mighty kings and there are the down to earth ones. You made Paary the peoples’ king and that’s what a good leader should be, though sometime it can turn against him. Then there are leaders who pretend to associate with the people to win votes.

    I like how the story is developing. Keep it coming, Eric.

    1. Hello Windy dear,

      Yes, a people’s king is good but it is a fine line that divides a popular ruler from a populist ruler. We witness this even today.

      Thank you for following and commenting. Writing can be lonely and such interactions keep me going 🙂

      L & H
      Eric

  3. You have obviously immersed yourself in reading about these times Eric. It’s a good read! Very unusual for a Brahman to touch dead bodies. That requires serious cleansing and rituals. 🙂

    1. Hello Ian,

      Caste was imported to south India from the Aryan north. It took several centuries to assimilate into the animistic and paganistic cultures of the south(*). And several more centuries to reach a level of intolerance – driven by the holier-than-thou syndrome that traps adherents of many sects.

      (*) You probably spotted hints of this culture in Song of the Ankle Rings.

      During the late BCE/early CE era – the setting for the Vel Paary story – people in the south were quite tolerant, I reckon. It became worse with passing centuries.

      If a pathologist of the 14-20th century fraternized with the untouchables, he will probably be beaten out of the country or worse. And yes, what you say is true – even in tolerant communities, it would entail a period of isolation and serious cleansing rituals.

      Peace,
      Eric

  4. I am enjoying reading this story. And can I say I think you write well. The other series of books I am currently reading has clever plotting and well depicted, believable characters but he has a number of clichéd tics which your work is refreshingly free from. 🙂

    1. Hello Ben,

      Thank you for following and commenting. Much welcome this.

      Glad that you noticed the absence of clichés. I make it a point to avoid them unless it is to depict a character trait of a person – a technique which I avoid, to begin with. But I did resort to it in my flash fiction > Creative Idioms – Flash fiction script

      I’ll be interested to know the title of the book/series you are reading.

      Cheers!
      Eric

I like to hear your thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!
%d bloggers like this: