The Land Of The Crocodile | Part 1

MANDARA-DEVA, King of Marala Island, was walking in his garden when he heard a great commotion in the direction of the fort gate. There was the crowd’s tumultuous noise and the guards’ sharp cries. Wondering what it could be, Mandara-deva proceeded towards the entrance.

He arrived at the gate and saw his Minister urging the people to be calm. Some guards saw the King coming and told the Minister about it. The Minister turned round and walked up to the King.

“What is all this?” the King asked the Minister.

“Sire, it is only a rumour for the time being,” the Minister replied, “though I am afraid there may be some truth in it. The fact is,” he added, looking towards the gate, “some fishermen have brought news that we are going to be attacked by Naravahana of Kundalini. We already know there has been a great revolt of the people in Kundalini and anarchy. It appears that Naravahana, an army chief, declared himself King. Having heard that Naravahana is marching on our people has us become panicky. I am advising them to be calm.”

King Mandara-deva nodded his head in approval.

“I am hoping to learn the truth before sunset,” the Minister said. “Our spies will be back soon. In any case, I have sent word to our Commander-in-Chief to take all precautions against an invasion.”

“Well,” Mandara-deva said, after some moments of thinking, “inform me of the facts as soon as you hear them. I shall be waiting for you.” Then he turned and walked back to the palace.

The Minister climbed onto one of the battlements on the top of the fort wall. From here, one could view the ocean for several miles. The Minister peered into the distance and saw a lone ship on the horizon. Every minute it was becoming more distinct. Undoubtedly it was the intelligence ship which the Minister was waiting for impatiently.

He looked up and saw the sky overcast with dark and fearsome clouds. He sighed, wondering where the cloud’s port ended in his beloved country.

As soon as he heard from the Minister, the Commander-in-Chief began to assemble an army. The Marala Island was very often subject to invasion from neighbouring island states. So every male citizen was taught soldiering by order of the King.

The Commander-in-Chief proceeded to the coast with a significant contingent of soldiers. The Navy was being made ready for battle with the enemy ships, should it become necessary. Signals were sent out through the blowing of conches and the beating of drums, ordering the marines to report themselves for duty.

The Minister, standing on the fort wall, could see all this activity. He felt pleased with the alertness of the Commander-in-Chief and his other officers. But his happiness was short-lived, for what he had mistaken for a dark cloud on the horizon now turned out to be a fleet. It was the enemy fleet which was fast overtaking the intelligence ship. Dark spurts of smoke appeared amidst the enemy fleet, and flaming arrows raced towards the intelligence ship.

Now the Minister knew that the news brought by the fishermen was entirely accurate. The Minister ground his teeth in rage. He could not understand this Naravahana of Kundalini who was making an invasion without either a warning or a request. The Minister had heard of only one person who had behaved in this fashion. That person was the Sorcerer Sakteya, who had plundered several islands some two centuries back without warning his victims. But then, he was not a king but a sorcerer, and his inconsiderate behaviour could be understood if not admired.

The Marala Navy must have sighted the enemy fleet, for the ships left the coast and began to go out to meet the enemy. The marines shouted fiercely as the vessel sailed forth at an incredible speed. The two fleets met for battle a couple of miles from the Marala shore.

In the meantime, the Marala soldiers began to come onto the fort walls to take their positions in defence of the fort in case the Navy failed to hold or beat back the enemy. The Minister called one of the soldiers and ordered him to go to the King and inform him about the situation.

When he turned towards the sea again, the naval fight was going on furiously. Both sides were fighting desperately. They were trying to set fire to the ships on the other side by throwing flame arrows. Some vessels caught fire, and their crew jumped into the waters to save themselves, while the enemy who got possession of these burning ships was trying to put out the fires they had caused.

As the Minister watched the course of the naval battle, he began to doubt whether his Navy would come out victorious. He was very anxious that the intelligence ship should arrive. With it, he would get reliable information regarding the affairs of Kundalini and the recent changes that had taken place there. He needed to know about Naravahana and the people over whom he now ruled.

The Minister heard somebody running and panting and turned back. The soldier he had sent to the King was returning as though he was being chased.

“What happened?” the Minister implored him. “Why have you raced back to me?”

“His Majesty is not to be found anywhere!” the soldier gasped.

“What do you mean?” the Minister demanded. “How can you say that?”

“Sir,” the soldier replied, “when I went to the palace, I found it in confusion. A few maids said they had heard the King cry for help from his chamber a few minutes before. Then the guards searched for him everywhere in the palace but found no trace. Two of his bodyguards are also missing.”

The Minister suspected treachery when he heard of the missing bodyguards. He thought this might be another manifestation of the strange morality that Naravahana, the new ruler of Kundalini, was putting into practice. But what was to be done now? The entire palace had already been searched. That meant that the King had already been taken beyond the fort. Yet, the King’s abductors could not have gone very far. Having argued it out thus, the Minister took a handful of soldiers with him and began to run along on the top of the fort walls, looking down below for the King. His quest was fruitful. In a particular place, the Minister saw three men going down a rope, one end of which was tied to a peg in the fort wall.

“There they are!” he shouted to the soldiers, ” His Majesty and his bodyguards!”

What was to be done now? He could cut down the rope which the three of them were descending. But, if he did so, the treacherous bodyguards and the King would fall and die. Nor could he stand there watching the rascals abduct his King.

A moat was very close to the fort wall; a narrow plank served as a bridge across the canal. Beyond the channel, the Minister saw three horses harnessed for riding. Soon the rascals would take the King over the plank and ride away with him. These bodyguards must have been the spies of Naravahana, sent for the express purpose of abducting the King.

The Minister looked towards the sea and found his intelligence ship near the shore. But he also saw that two of the Kundalini ships had almost reached the shore. The situation was getting more and more dangerous. He turned to the soldiers and said, “I want four of you to go to the rescue of His Majesty. Let no one know of this mishap. Hurry off!”

Four of the soldiers volunteered and hastened away to rescue the King. When the Minister looked down again, the two traitors led the King towards the horses on the other side of the moat. The King was walking in front, and the other two walked behind with their swords drawn. Soon they got the King upon one of the horses and made him ride ahead while they rode back. The Minister saw that they were making for the shore.

Presently the four soldiers forming the rescue party rode out of the East Gate and raced in the same direction in which the King had been taken. The traitors heard the sound of horses galloping, looked behind and found that they were being pursued. They touched the King in his back with the points of their swords and made him gallop his horse.

The Minister, who was still on the fort walls, saw everything. He looked once at the King who was being abducted and once at the shore, which the enemy fleet was now approaching, put his hands on his chest, saw the overcast sky and said, “O Mother Marali, what is in store for us!”

As if in answer to him, there was a loud peal of thunder and a dazzling flash of lightning which appeared to shake the entire island for a few moments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *