‘I serve the throne,’ said Prime Minister Chitragandan. He meant that in a literal sense. The prime minister had served the previous king, Pari’s father, and the prince regent, Pari’s uncle, and now he served Pari.

Chitragandan always wore a white wraparound held up by a silver waist belt. An elaborate diamond studded silver necklace and a garland of lotus and jasmine hid his bare body and faded muscles. His white attire complemented his silver hair and beard. He looked like a sage. He did not relish visiting the morgue for he deemed the place unclean; a place that drew wandering demons of the undead; and spirits of the nether worlds. But as Pari had summoned him, the poor fellow swallowed his misgivings and visited the graveyard clan. That was the man, he would do anything for the throne but his loyalty did not stop him from voicing his opinion in matters of state.

The smell of pungent herbs and scented-joss smoke filled the passageway and reached us long before we stood before the door leading into the cheerless chamber. We entered the cold stone walled room in the mortuary. Even in the day, the small windows high on the wall let in little light and kept the place in perpetual gloom. A shaft of dull light sliced from one window to the floor. Dust and lint danced in the light.

The slain brigand, drained of body fluids and grown smaller than the well-built people of his clan, lay naked on the stone slab. The man had suffered a horrendous gash to his throat, inflicted by a sword that had robbed him of his life. Oils and herbal plants had arrested decomposition but faint whiffs of putrefaction reached my nose. Or perhaps I imagined it.

‘He is not a Kalavar, my king,’ said sagacious Jaga-Puthirar. His waist cloth a cotton fabric, the skeletal man also had a thin shawl, cut from the same cloth, thrown over one bony shoulder. It was the only piece of attire that distinguished him from his rough assistants. He said,

‘See this. The balls of his feet are round, as one used to wearing footwear. He is a soldier.’

The royal physician was right. The peoples of the desert regions, and most labouring classes even in the towns, went about in their bare feet. Over the years their soles flattened, spread and formed a thick fleshy skirt that fringed the feet.

‘The markings look Kalavar,’ said Pari. He referred to the tattoos on the man’s torso, arms, and face. ‘His left ear is missing. An old wound.’

‘Yes, and the stitches are the work of one trained in surgery. This is no desert remedy. And he has disguised himself to look Kallan,’ said Jaga-Puthirar. He gestured to an assistant who fetched a lighted oil lamp. The royal physician held the wavering light a hand’s width above the body. He pointed as he spoke.

‘The pictograms are Kallan. The ink, dyed in rock dust. Not herbal based. But the tattoos are fresh, only a few months old. From his teeth and muscle compactness, this man is about thirty-five years of age.’

‘If not Kalavar, could he be one of us, a Velir?’ said Prime Minister Chitragandan.

‘It is possible,’ said the man of medicine.

Is he Cholan?’ I said. The room went silent. I had spoken the unmentionable; the dreaded thought in Pari’s and the prime minister’s mind.

‘I cannot say with conviction, Guru Kabilar,’ said the royal physician. ‘This man could be a Velir or a Cholan, but he is no Kallan.’

‘Thank you, Sir Jaga-Puthirar. Whether Velir or Cholan, the truth regarding the man’s identity will remain a state secret. The perpetrators wish for us to suspect the Kalavars, and your report to the Council shall state that the ambushers were Kalavar.’

‘As you wish, my king,’ said the royal physician.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued Monday 26 August 2019

7 comments

  1. I love the detail and of course the story is about places I’m familiar with and have travelled through. No doubt changed over time but very much a part of the world I know so you have my attention and interest. Having read the classics and tried to visualize them in my mind I find your expression parallels what I’ve read in those classics. Your writing is getting better and better and attention to detail is superb. Thank you Eric for entertaining us so well.

    1. Thank you, Ian

      For your ever presence and words of encouragement.

      Someone once told me to write a million words before publishing my first book. That’s how long it’ll take to find your “voice” and get into the “groove” – or so, he claimed. Perhaps he was right.

      At the risk of coming across as boastful, yes, my writing is improving. Glad that you noticed. To hear you mention my writing in the same sentence that contains the word “classics” is a morale boost.

      Thank you and all good wishes,
      Eric

  2. Your narrative needed some mystery to keep drawing the reader in. This chapter does this even though I’m not sure why Cholan is so feared. I probably missed this in one of the earlier chapters.

    Your description of the dead body is well done and a good way to give us historical facts, I even wanted to know more about this man, Your description made him appealing! Could there be a twin brother? Now I”m teasing!

    Jane

    1. Hello Jane,

      As amateur authors we have to be careful about “info dumping”. A real turn-off for most readers.

      I’ve read several self-published books, and even some trade published ones, where the authors are guilty of info dumping. Research eats up plenty of time and this drives some authors to dump, as otherwise they reckon their time “wasted”. Having said that, we can insert the information. The questions are – how and when.

      Very often the information I glean merely gives me the texture of the time, and no more.

      Twin brother? Well, we’ll never know I’m afraid 🙂

      Cheers!
      Eric

  3. Looks good. It’s impressive how detailed it is. I never get them in sequence, tho. I’m not such a regular blogger of late. We’ve discussed the serialization issues before. Cheers!

    1. Thank you, Stephen,

      For your visit and encouragement.

      I’ve been in and out of blogging too. So, no worries 🙂

      Yes, serialization has its challenges.

      Cheers!
      Eric

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