Short Story: Forest and Pride

In Fiction by Abhinav KaiserLeave a Comment

Dhairya could not sleep. He had spent the entire day with his generals putting together plans, scrapping the weak ones and sculpting the final ones until he was fully satisfied. The piece of land he was fighting for was a morsel in a sumptuous seven course meal. But the land meant everything to him. He laid claim on it as a child picking up a bright red toy from a shelf full of play things.  

He became addicted to the smell of the magnolia trees that stretched across the wooded forest, and the clear water flowing in a rivulet in the midst of the forest gave him a high. Although he was superhumanly busy micromanaging the kingdom, spending time with his five wives and the countless other women who visited his chambers through the sneaky doors, he still longed to have the land that was not his and never was. He claimed the land like a lion’s roar that could be heard at a distance, and the news of it spread like wildfire through his vassal and neighboring kingdoms. His advisors were not pressed into action before the claim, and he did not heed the advice when it was offered. It had become an issue of prestige now. When Dhairya claims something, and then backs out, it was like a lion licking its wounds and turning its bum on the aggressor. He would never do that. Not in this lifetime or in any of his lifetimes.  

He was Dhairya, the proud king of Karuda, the biggest kingdom in Bharatavarsha. The land he claimed was called the Datkadu, a land that belonged to the Banjala kingdom. King Amartya of Banjala was not his foe to start with, Dhairya had fairly good relations with him. While returning from his visit from the Banjala capital, he had rested in Datkadu. He spent a couple of nights, enjoying the fragrances, the symphony of the resident birds and the background noise of the water flowing through. He was reluctant to leave this place but businesses in his kingdom could not stop for long. His visit to Banjala as a guest of honor in the bi-annual gladiatorial fights had kept him away from the affairs of the kingdom for eleven days, plus the additional two nights in Datkadu. He could not stay away any more. The worm in his mind started its work as he took the journey back home. His youngest wife Vanya who accompanied him had a gleam in her eyes in the forest and a spring in her body as they spent the night making love in his customary plush tent. 

Dhairya loved his youngest wife because she was young, her skin tight with a waist slim. He knew that he loved her now and a few years from now, she would grow older, weary and he would be bored. And somebody will take her place. But it was not the same with Datkadu. It had this intoxicating nature bearing from its beauty, novelty and the evergreen feeling. He did not mind losing his mindfulness, be himself as he wanted to be in complete freedom and being one with the trees that grew tall and covered stretched a natural shade from the sun. Even in summer, he did not sweat under Datkadu’s wings. To him, it was caring, caring for him alone, and with tender hands, offering only what felt good to him. In Datkadu, he loved everything. It was a heaven on earth that he alone was meant to enjoy. 

A formal request to exchange Datkadu with a fertile piece of land from Karuda kingdom, much larger than the forest was meted out with insults to his ministers who made a formal request. Amartya had laughed at the suggestion and had questioned whether Dhairya was of sound mind. The tipping point was the counter proposal to get Dhairya’s youngest queen along with the fertile lands. Amartya knew very well that such an exchange would never happen. Pride was at stake and a queen, no matter how many there were, had a special place in the kingdom. And not something that was bartered. 

As time passed, the memories of Datkadu faded but his pride had taken a beating. His people spoke of his failure and his spies informed him of this news going viral in rival and allied kingdoms. His advisors speculated that some of his allies and vassals could change their loyalties given this development. The weaker kingdoms always went with the center of power and did not possess an ounce of loyalty to the one they bent their knee. Dhairya, the once highly respected emperor who was presumed to be the god who ruled was fading into the ashes. He knew how this would end. Kingdoms would conspire, get together and combine their forces to relinquish his hold over the other kingdoms and if things were to go extremely wretchedly, his dynasty could be wiped out. It was no longer a matter of love for the place, it was a matter of stamping his authority, a matter of pride and a matter of teaching those who disobeyed the god who ruled. 

Along with his warrior chiefs and spy masters, he had formed a candestine plan. Before the sun broke through the skies, he would have his men surround the territories around Datkadu and claim it by force. The plan was executed to perfection and Datkadu was his for the taking. 

Amartya had not considered the option that Dhairya would be the aggressor for taking over lands that were rightfully not his. He sent his senior ministers to Dhairya to reconsider the ascension but he would have none of it. Dhairya sent a verbal response instead – “even if you give me all your queens for getting Datkadu back, you will not have it.” Amartya had expected this response, well, not exactly on the same lines which brought his queens into the picture. He knew that this was the point of no return. Just as Dhairya could not live with not having Datkadu, Amartya could not stay quiet now. Datkadu was at the periphery of the Banjala-Karuda boundary, and it was never a sanctuary for him or his family. He could have relinquished it but his lack of foresight has now left with one option alone – war. 

Dhairya could not sleep. As the first rays of the sun hit his eyelids, he rolled off his bed and prayed that before the sun vanishes again, he would have staved off from this situation. The Banjala armies had assembled beyond the mountains and their armies were no match for his. He called for his warrior chiefs to assemble and within a few minutes they were in his tent. They reported their readiness. The animals were well fed and so were the soldiers. The catapults were well lubricated and the oiled balls that are flung from the catapults were all in place. There were no major concerns and it seemed that all the planets and stars were lining up pretty well. The defensive formation was to be rehearsed one last time before lining up for the final assault. 

After the warrior chiefs went on their business, Dhairya sat on the floor in front of an idol of a goddess that his forefathers worshipped and prayed with all his spiritual focus. The background noise of soldiers getting ready did not even once draw his mind away. When the time was due, a team of assistants walked in and started to dress him up. Today he wore three layers of shields and a number of weapons, mostly knives, were hidden in various pockets of his suit. He had chosen a newly casted sword for this war and its handle was etched in the design of flowers and trees giving the context for this outing. 

He boarded his horse Nandi, a white stallion which served him for a number of years now and it still had the fight for at least another day he thought. As he rode Nandi towards the battlefield along with his entourage of warrior chiefs, he was welcomed by the war cries of his soldiers who numbered in several thousands. The formation was ready, and for now it was made up of warrior chiefs, strategists and Dhairya making up the first row. They would eventually move back for the foot soldiers to set up a wall made of their long shields. Behind them stood archers and then the cavalry with long swordsmen. The elephant mounted warriors came next and they were the deadliest of the lot. An elephant carried at least three bowmen who swiftly brought down the enemy and an elephant to go down required several deep cuts. These bowmen doubled up as swordsmen if the animal was to go down. Elephants were found only in this part of Bharatavarsha, so none of the other kingdoms could match the elephants. And there were hundreds of elephants that were lined up today. 

In the very end, stood the towering catapults which could be seen from several kilometers. They could fling firing balls a good distance and was capable of damaging the opposition even before the first swing of a sword. 

As Dhairya admired his army which was the biggest and the most deadliest in Bharatavarsha, he heard the earth shake as the Banjala army started to appear in the distance. Their army too appeared humongous but was no match to the Karuda army. They too had a number of catapults and a good number of warriors on horses, who could wield both the arrow and a sword. He knew that they were getting help from their foreign neighbors from across the Himalayas with new weapons called as canons. He saw it for the first time as they rolled in, but they were far too few in number. 

Dhairya took a deep breath and addressed his army, “we are Karuda, the greatest kingdom in Bharatavarsha.” As he raised his sword, the soldiers cheered and chants of Dhairya began. He continued as he ambled on Nandi from one side to another. “This day will be remembered as the day we won our freedom. The freedom is not from our captors but from ourselves. For too long, we have this hidden strength that we have not exhibited, and today let it come out in your style.” They cheered again with the swords clanging against the shields. 

“Dhairya means brave. Today is the day when all of you should say I am Dhairya.” More cheers and more clanging and Dhairya could hear similar noises coming from the other camp. Amartya must be addressing them, he thought. 

“When you get out there, show no mercy. Cut what you see. Rip their throats apart. Liberate their souls with blood.” The soldiers loved this gory part and stuck their tongues out and grunted. “Let us show these people what happens to those who mess with Karuda. Let us show our enemies how ruthless we are.” As Dhairya paused, the noise level went up. He calmly waved at them to silence them and continued, “today we take Datkadu, tomorrow we conquer the entire Banjala and the day after tomorrow, the entire Bharatavarsha will be ours.” They roared and roared until their throats ran dry, and Dhairya proudly looked on at his army, the army that he built and nourished. The spirit they embodied filled his heart with satisfaction and he, for the first time, felt like their father. How many of them would not go back to their homes tonight, he thought. Not everybody, that was a given, but how many? As his mind swung into the losses that he had to bear, his eyes filled with tears. He could see their hearts through, they loved him and would fight to the finish. He was going to sacrifice all these lives, for what? For Datkadu, he knew. He was snapped out of this thought by the war bugle from the Banjala army. 

His warrior chiefs asked his permission before they could blow theirs. Only when both the sides sounded their bugles would the war begin, this was the unwritten principle of the land. When Dhairya did not respond, they asked again. He came to his senses and turned around one last time to look at his children. He turned back around and pulled the reins and gripped his legs. Nandi started to move forward towards the Banjala army. His warrior chiefs were confused and they too followed after him. He signaled to them that they should stay put. 

Amartya started to scratch his helmet seeing Dhairya approach the midfield. This took him and all his army by surprise. He had sounded the bugle to start the fight but instead Dhairya had come on his own and Karuda’s bugle never sounded. Maybe it did, he was not sure as he was trying to come out of a daze to get out alive with honor left by the end of the day. 

His warrior chief said, “Sir, this may be a trick to confuse us.” Another one said, “maybe he is scared of our canons and wants to give up without a fight.” Amartya shushed them and without a word rode towards the mid field. His warrior chiefs did not follow him. 

The two kings were the only souls in the midst of plain lands with a sea of warriors standing behind at a fair distance. When they got to a talking distance, Dhairya said, “My army is huge and I have not brought everybody to the party. Your army too is fairly big.” 

Amartya retorted, “you rode here to intimidate me?” 

“No. Far from it. We have been in a number of wars and we know the cost of each one of them. There will a significant number of our soldiers who would not march back home.” 

Amartya was getting restless, “so?” 

“The losses are huge and the reason we are here today doesn’t justify losing all these people,” he said as he waved his hand towards his army. “Datkadu is a piece of land that I personally want and although it is inconsequential to you, you do not want to give it away. There is a lot at stake I understand. I too cannot go back on my stand because for me too, it reflects on my leadership.” 

“That is why we fight to see who lords over this inconsequential piece of land,” Amartya said in an angry tone. 

“Right. That is why we are here. For this land that means nothing to us, do we need to sacrifice the lives of our soldiers?” 

“We are not sacrificing. We are fighting for what is rightfully ours.” 

“True but at what cost?” 

“Everything. Just as you, this war underlines my authority.” 

Dhairya nodded his head in acceptance, “I know. I have a proposal that still brings out the same result without the loss of our soldiers.” 

“I am not letting you take Datkadu from Banjala,” Amartya was quick to pounce on the point. 

“No. I am not suggesting you do. This is between you and I, why should our armies fight? You and I, let’s fight it out and not involve them.” 

This time Amartya was not ready with an answer. He stayed silent while his brain cells started to work. “You should know that I am much more accomplished than you in sword fight.” 

“I do. You are a distinguished champion who won over the princess to eventually become the king of Banjala.” 

“You are almost my father’s age. I am a lot stronger than you man on man. Still you insist that we fight?” 

“Yes. I hate to see my soldiers die for me for a trivial cause.” 

“And you don’t mind dying for a trivial cause?” Amartya quipped. 

Dhairya smiled, “I may be old. I may be weaker than you. But I have a lot of experience as well. I have killed many a men a lot stronger than me. Refer to the books written on me in your library, you will know what I can do.” 

“OK. I accept it. Let us fight. You and me. The last one standing wins the war.” 

“Right. You let your chiefs know of the arrangement and I will do that as well. We will meet here this afternoon.” 

“Sounds reasonable to me.” Amartya hesitated and said, “If I die today, can you promise me one thing?” 

Dhairya squeezed his eyebrows and said, “Just a moment ago, you were talking about physical strength and age.” 

“I know but I need to be prepared for all possibilities.” 

“What is it that you seek?” 

“Without me my kingdom will be like a chicken without its neck. My son is too young to command the kingdom. There are people within my kingdom who will seize this opportunity to kill my family and take the kingdom for themselves.” 

Dhairya scratched his beard with his finger and said, “my spies did not report this information. What is it that you want me to do?” 

“You have often said that my second wife is like your sister. I want you to show it now. Protect my family, my son and my wives.” 

Dhairya exhaled and stayed silent for a beat, “Yes. Your wife is like my sister and she is a wonderful person. I would hate to see any harm come to her. I will take care of your family.” 

Amartya looked satisfied but his face expressed something else, “are you not going to ask for any favors in case the result went the other way.” 

“Oh yes. I should. Shouldn’t I?” Dhairya smiled and said, “just make it quick. I don’t like to suffer. I don’t like my armies looking at me in helplessness.” 

Amartya knew what Dhairya was asking for, he nodded and said, “All the possibilities are just too sad in the end.” 

“That’s how lording over a kingdom is. Take it from the man who has ruled for over forty years.” 

“Yes. It makes me feel that we do unreasonable things for the sake of perception, pride and ego.” 

“Leadership is mostly about perception than the plans, schemes and games we play,” Dhairya said with a straight face. 

“No. I am not going to give up what I have or seek to lord over my pride and perception. You can have Datkadu.” 

Dhairya was astounded at this suggestion and quizzed Amartya, “are you sure you know what you are talking about?” 

“Yes I do. I am going to fight my critics in a different way. War is not the answer for this. Datkadu does not mean anything to me. I had never visited the forest until you made the request to take over it.” 

Dhairya looked pleased, “as I offered earlier, I will give you my fertile lands that’s much larger than Datkadu.” Before Amartya could say another word, Dhairya continued with a stern face, “my Vanya is going to stay by my side.” And then he smiled. 

“I humbly apologize for the suggestion of bartering your wife for the forest. I was given wrong advice and I should have quashed it. And I don’t need your fertile. My kingdom is blessed with fertile lands and I don’t have enough hands to bear fruits from them.” 

“Very well Amartya, shall we get off our high stands and hug to fructify this deal and continue the friendship.” 

“I would love that.” 

In one swift move, Amartya and Dhairya got off their horses. 

Meanwhile, during the muted discussions between the kings, Dhairya’s warrior chiefs were busy guessing what could have been brewing. One of them said, “Maybe our king does not think today is a good day for a fight. He might be asking for a postponement.” The other shushed him, “no you silly. I have not seen Dhairya ask for a postponement anytime. He probably wants Amartya to surrender. Their army is slender and we can break its neck with ease.” 

When the kings got off their horses, there was panic amongst the ranks. Dhairya’s senior warrior chief shouted, “cavalry. Go. Go. Go. Go save you king.” The foot soldiers moved aside as the cavalry started to snake out towards their king. 

On the other side, Amartya’s warrior chiefs spotted the cavalry charging and ordered their horse mounted soldiers to start charging towards their king. 

Cavalries from both the sides started to converge on the kings. The dust from the horses’ hooves raised high into the air and blanketed the kings from view. The cavalry was desperate to get in the middle quickly, but they were limited on the speeds that horses would deliver. As they got closer, the grass beneath stopped the stem of dust and Dhairya and Amartya were in a bear hug patting each others’ backs and smiling. They pulled the reins to stop dead. One of the cavalry men bent down to whisper into the horses’ mouth, “we are not fighting today girl.” 

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