The Land Of The Crocodile | Part 9
(When Naravahana declared himself King of Kundalini and Samarsen lay mortally wounded on the battlefield, Siva-Dutt had to flee for his life. This he did by availing himself of the secret passage which ran from inside the fort to the hollow of a tree in the forest. But when Siva-Dutt and his men emerged out of the course, Naravahana’s men were already there, and a fight between the parties ensued.)
“Ah, Siva-Dutt,” Mandara- deva said, “I must say that luck did not abandon you altogether. It was almost impossible to face such difficulties and dangers and yet come out alive!”
“I agree with you,” Siva-Dutt replied, smiling. “I was not prepared to confront the enemy in such a large number at the other end of the secret passage. But, as you say, luck was still with me, and I managed to kill with my sword the leader of the enemy contingent. At once, the rest lost hearts and fell easy prey to our arms. But I did not notice at the time that all the enemies were not killed, and a couple of them were. Sneaked away into the bushes. I knew of this only later.
“The horse which had fallen over his rider was not dead yet, and the man underneath was severely bruised because of the horse’s death struggle. I ordered my men to pull him from beneath the horse. I gave him some water to drink and tried to restore him, for I had a purpose with this, man. He could tell me about Samarsen’s condition, and I had no other way of knowing about it.
“After drinking the water, the man appeared to feel slightly better, and I began to question him about Samarsen. More than anything else, I was anxious to know whether Samarsen was still alive.
“At this question, the man groaned, lifted his sad eyes to me, and said, ‘Samarsen died about four hours back. Naravahana is now King of this isle!’
“Is it true,’ I asked the man who appeared to be sinking again, ‘that Samarsen was wounded in the battle?”
“Yes…. the man whispered, and then his head fell sideways, and he was dead.
“I was stunned. I tried to realize that Samarsen was no more and found my heart feeling eerie. The greatest of all warriors, he died a hero’s death, and I prayed for peace unto his soul.
“Now, my immediate duty was to take stock of my position and decide the next step. With the blessings of Mother Kundalini, I emerged out of the tunnel without much loss. I lost only six of my men in the fight. If I did not seek the forest’s safety, Naravahana might send another contingent of soldiers after me.
“I spoke to my men and told them that the island was no longer safe for us. We might manage to hold on to it for a short time, but finally, we were bound to quit it. The men agreed with me. They knew that, since Samarsen was no more, not a single sword would rise against Naravahana for the time being.
“We gave our dead a common burial and made for the thickest part of the forest. We walked on for some four miles and came to a tribal village. Soon we were surrounded by a crowd of tribes- men and their children. We must have presented a strange spectacle to them with our fighting dress and swords.
“Who is the Chief of your village?’ I asked them. ‘I have to talk to him!’ After four or five minutes, an old man approached us, asking, ‘Who are you? What brought you to our place?’
“These persons are thirsty,” I told him, indicating my men. ‘They have not had anything to eat since yesterday. Can you do anything for them?’
“The Chief looked at the other tribesmen, and at once, each one offered to stand host to one of us. Each one of us went with his host to his dwelling. The Chief turned to me and smiled. You be my guest!’ he said. I was surprised at the hospitality of these uncivilized creatures.
“I accompanied my host to his dwelling, where I was served an excellent dinner within half an hour. My host kept searching me with his sharp eyes, but he did not utter a word until I finished eating.
“We belong to a hill tribe,’ he began. The stretching jungle is our storehouse. We never submitted to an outsider’s rule, neither we nor our ancestors!’
“I nodded my head and said nothing. I could not guess even faintly what the man was leading up to.
“We are, of course, aware of the changes, he went on in his serious manner, that have been occurring in the country. We get news occasionally. There were occasions when some of you put ideas into the silly heads of our young fellows and tried to enlist them for your ends. But, I can say I have successfully curbed such tendencies in our youth. And now, gentlemen, I find you come to our parts dressed militarily. I would like to know what brings you here.’
“Now I knew what the old man was driving at. The only way of assuaging he feared was to tell him the truth in all its details, and without hesitation, I proceeded to do so.
“I told him of Samarsen, of my first meeting with him on the Isle of Sorcery, of the changes that occurred in Kundalini, and lastly, of the treacherous role played by Naravahana. Without being too elaborate, I tried to put things clearly before the Chief.
“He continued to search me with his sharp eyes as he said, ‘So you are the enemies of those who are now the masters of the country?”
“Precisely,’ I replied.
“The Chief bent his head down in deep thought. After a while, he looked up and said, ‘Perhaps you intend to camp here and attack your enemy as and when you find an opportunity?’
“No,’ I replied, ‘we have no such intention.’
“This assurance of mine seemed to please the Chief mightily. He beamed happily, approached me, took both of my hands in his, and said, Pardon me if I annoyed you with my questions. If you want to leave the island, I can assist you. I ask for only one thing: don’t disturb the peaceful tenure of our simple life. If you stay here and attempt to fight your enemy, our life is bound to become miserable!’
“That night, I called together all my men and told them how matters stood. My men, too, felt that we should do our best not to let Naravahana know that we were here and also that we should leave the island at the earliest opportunity. That was our decision, for that night, things took a different turn, and our decision was of no avail.
“That night, we slept under the trees. The tribe members lighted fires near us to keep off the jungle’s wild beasts, and they slept around the fires. Around midnight, we awoke hearing the beating of drums at a distance and saw that a distant part of the forest was ablaze.
“In a moment, the whole village was awake. The Chief got busy arming the young fellows and getting them to stand guard in a circle around the town. He ordered some people to take torches and go to the city from which the noise of the drums was coming.
“What do you make of all this?’ I asked the Chief.
“It may be any of several things,’ he said, clicking his tongue. Perhaps a band of elephants have charged on a village, or another round of tribe members might have attacked us to deprive us of what little wealth we have. Only I fail to understand that!’ He pointed with his finger at the blaze in the distance.
“Suddenly, a thought flashed in my mind: did Naravahana attack the tribal villages because of us? My silent question was soon answered when four or five tribesmen arrived where we were, shouting; Soldiers are attacking our villages and destroying everything they can lay their hands upon! Some of them are setting fire to the forest!’
“Never did such a thing happen!’ the Chief exclaimed. ‘What do they want anyway?’
“Before anyone answered his question, two tribal youths brought a soldier whose hands were securely tied behind him. He was one of Naravahana’s soldiers. The young fellows kept poking their captive in the back as they reported to the Chief, This man can give us information. He says that all this forest belongs to his Chief, Subahu!”
“The Chief looked at me and then turned to the captive, saying, ‘Is this true? Can you tell me who has gifted away our forest to your Chief Subahu?’
“King Naravahana has made a gift of the forest to our commander for his services in the war,’ the captive replied. ‘From today, all the birds, beasts and beings that live here are his property. We were sent to take possession of the properties!’ the captive concluded.”