Drum beaters drove the tiger to an island in the middle of the river. Thick jungle, impassable to elephants, covered the entire island which was about one mile long and a quarter mile wide.

“We should station our elephants around the island and kill the beast when it swims out,” said Minister Mitra Doshi.

Crown Prince Uttara Kumara was impatient; unwilling to wait for days, perhaps weeks, to starve out the tiger. The alternative was to venture into the island on foot; a dangerous proposition.

“We could go on horseback; use the stream,” said the crown prince. Scouts had discovered a stream that meandered across the long, narrow island.

“It’s a very narrow brook, my prince. Horses cannot manoeuvre or even turn around.” The scouts reported that the jungle closed tight along the stream and fallen branches criss-crossed the waterway.

Kumara ordered his mahout. The royal elephant knelt, and an attendant ran forward with a ladder. The prince climbed down from his howdah and mounted his horse, a mare.

“My Virani is braver than most men,” said Kumara. He patted his mare. “Remain on your elephant if you’re afraid, minister.”

The crown prince nudged Virani with his heels and entered the river. His scouts and bodyguards followed on foot. The men waded into the water, picked their way over the gravel strewn riverbed, and disappeared into the jungled island.

The jungle closed in and the undergrowth brushed against the prince’s thighs. He bent low to avoid the overhanging branches. The gravelled stream further stunted the hunting party’s progress. Thick humidity hung in the air and smothered the men. Breeze did not penetrate the jungle, and the men grew wet with perspiration.

“Listen!” said a scout. But silence had overtaken the small party; they did not hear even the chitter of insects.

“What is it?” There was a hint of a tremor in Kumara’s voice.

“The beast stalks,” said the scout.

The men stopped. Bows and arrows were useless in such tight quarters. They held their spears at the ready. The line of men looked like a prickly caterpillar, with the prince leading them on his mare. Human eyes peered into the undergrowth; tried to look past the packed leaves and branches; tried to discern the slightest hint of movement.

Baleful yellow eyes watched them. A snarl. A flash of yellow and black.

***

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