The Land Of The Crocodile | Part 4

[The armies of Kundalini stormed the Marala Isle and conquered it. King Mandara-deva of Marala made good his escape, accompanied by four soldiers. As they were rowing on the sea without a destination, they came upon Siva-Dutt of Kundalini, who appeared to be in the same plight as Mandara-deva; Siva-Dutt began to tell Mandaradea what had happened in Kundalini before Naravahana became King.]

WHAT Siva-Dutt said surprised Mandara-deva. Samirsen was such an experienced and brave person that it was unbelievable that he committed political blunders. To enrich his motherland. Samarsen had voyaged to strange islands, had undergone unimaginable hardships, and brought back untold wealth. Was it possible that this wealth had brought misery to Kundalini instead of prosperity?

“Siva-Dutt,” Mandara-deva said, “I was under the notion that the ship of wealth which Samarsen had brought from the Island of Sorcery brought prosperity to your people!”

Siva-Dutt laughed sardonically. Alas, Mandara-deva!” he said. “That wealth brought us anarchy only. Let me tell you what happened. When we reached Kundalini with that ship of wealth, we had a rousing reception from King Chitra-sen as well as from the populace of the island. There were celebrations all over the land for thirty days. Chitra-sen abolished all taxes on the people. He doubled and trebled the salaries of his officials!”

“That must have brought about all-around happiness!” Mandara-deva exclaimed.

“Well, let me tell you all about it!” Siva-Dutt said. “See- ing that his coffers overflowed with silver and gold, the King lost all interest in administrative affairs, and Samarsen thought that he had brought enough wealth to keep the people contented and happy for a long time.

“With their enlarged incomes, the King’s officials began to buy up happiness and luxury. The evil spread to the villages, too. The ordinary people were free of all taxes; they did not need to toil on the land or elsewhere. Cultivators cultivated enough land for the needs of their own families and allowed the rest of the land to fallow. There was a keen shortage of foodstuffs.

“The want was felt most in the cities. The rich people of the cities went into the country and began offering enormous food prices. The cultivators had so much money that they raised the prices of foodstuff.

“Slowly, anarchy raised its ugly head. People in the cities could not afford to buy food at the current prices. They joined together into bands and raided the villages during the night.

“For a countermeasure, the villagers raised the price of corn on a par with that of gold. Then they, too, formed into armed bands to protect themselves from the raiders.

“The King who was, so to say, in the seventh heaven of delight, knew nothing about these developments. Let me confess that Samarsen and I were equally ignorant. We lost contact with the state of affairs in the land. The more the wealth flowed out of the treasury, the more the need for people for money. The most acute shortage of money was felt because of the rise in food prices, which was more than a thousandfold.

“And the entertainments which King Chitra-sen devised for the diversion of his people! Now I feel ashamed when I think of them. But, all the same, people thronged by the hundreds and thousands to witness those entertainments. Let me describe them to you.

“Lions were caught in the jungle and were brought into an arena. Whoever entered the arena armed only with a sword and killed the lion was awarded gold which weighed as much as the dead lion. Greed prompted several daring men to enter the arena. Some of the unfortunate fellows got killed by the lions, but those who killed the lions took away vast quantities of gold.

“Gradually, these public entertainments became very cruel and utterly brutal. There were fights between elephants, lions and elephants, and so on. I tried to point out to Samarsen that these entertainments were becoming quite undignified. But he did not heed my words. An ordinary soldier called Narava- bana who had shared Samarsen’s adventures on the Isle of Sorcery, became Samarsen’s new confidant in my place.

“We don’t lack in wealth,’ Samarsen told me. Let our people learn to be tough and brave. There is nothing wrong with it. Our King is getting old. Why should he not get some entertainment out of these games?’

“While the King and his Court wasted their energy on these stupid games, bad things were happening in the rest of the land. Kingships sprang up like mushrooms everywhere. Whoever could dominate the local population became a lord, the local boss. And there, they gathered small forces and began fighting their neighbours to extend their influence. Neither King Chitra-sen nor his courtiers had any contact whatsoever with the people. They were blissfully ignorant of what was happening all over the land. I was the only one who guessed at a fraction of the trouble brewing, but none would heed my warnings. They were all deaf to them.

“Virtually all trade and cultivation came to a standstill. Desperados were scouring and ravaging the towns and the villages, in large bands, without anyone to hinder them. Soon the King’s rule was limited to the area of his palace. Beyond the fort walls, he was not thought of. The country seethed with princes, kings and monarchs!

“One day, the King witnessed the games when a messenger brought h m a letter. The King took it and Fanded it to Samarsen by his side, asking him to see what it was about. Samarsen read it and turned pale; his face was like chalk.

“Your Highness,’ he said to the King, I beg you to stop these games now and proceed to the palace. I wish to discuss some urgent political affairs with you!’ King Chitra- sen looked at Samarsen and me with displeasure, but he got up. I thought of leaving the King and Samarsen alone, so I began to bid the King goodbye when Samarsen stopped me and said that I should go with them.

“Well, the three of us went to the King’s private chamber. There Samarsen showed us the letter and said: We have been quite blind all these days. Without our knowledge, there are several kings and monarchs on this island. They have sent us this request. They say they want to dethrone the King, who is both cruel and incompetent! They ask us to deliver the fort into their hands and surrender.”

“At long last, King Chitra-sen appeared to come out of his drugged dreams. He gave a start, opened his eyes wide and shook himself, and said, ‘Why, Samarsen? This thing has gone too far, indeed! Let us teach these devils a good lesson so that the rest of them will benefit from it! Round up the ringleaders and chop off their heads, my dear Samarsen !’

“So be it, my lord!’ Samarsen said with a bow and added, “I shall be seeing you again!’ Then he walked out of the chamber. I accompanied him without saying anything. After walking for a while, Samarsen suddenly halted and said, Siva-Dutt, what do you think of all this?’

“I was unable to reply to this abrupt question. Moreover, I knew very little except that the country was in anarchy, and some upstarts had gathered forces around them and indulged in feuds. It surprised me that some of these upstarts should become so strong as to challenge the King himself. If I knew little about the country’s state, Samarsen knew even less about it, and I did not doubt that.

“I am afraid,’ I said at last, ‘that the enemy must be strong. If they had doubted their strength, they would have stormed the capital. Seeing that they did not do it, I conclude….. Figure it out for yourself!’

“Samarsen was immersed in thought for a couple of minutes before he nodded and said, ‘There is something in what you say, Siva-Dutt. But we do have a trained army and able military leaders. I think we can make short work of these upstarts in no time!’

“I knew to whom Samarsen referred when he said, ‘able military leaders.’ They were the handful of soldiers with him in his adventures on the Isle of Sorcery, particularly, Naravahana.

“In that case,’ I said, ‘the sooner we wipe out these rebels, the better. Call forth the army. There is nothing impossible for us with you as our commander.

“Samarsen looked at me in surprise. Surely,’ he said, ‘this petty affair does not call for your command or mine? Nara-vahana is a reliable and brave fellow. I want to entrust this campaign to him.’

“I had already heard a good deal about Naravahana, and what I had heard did not prove that he was reliable. But I could not convey my misgivings to Samarsen. And yet I could not see Naravahana put in charge of this campaign.”

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