The Land Of The Crocodile | Part 2
(Naravahana of Kundalini invaded the Marala Isle without warning. Mandara-deva, King of Marala, was abducted away by his spies. But the spies paid for their treachery-they died by a thunderbolt. Then the King and his four men fought valiantly against some enemy horsemen, some of whom died, and the rest fled back to the fort already in their possession. The fight was over.)
The men watched the King eagerly, anxious to know his next plan. He turned to the sea and then to the fort, and then he heaved a long sigh. His future depended upon what he decided to do now.
“I think,” he said at last, “That we should leave this land as soon as possible. The Kundalini horse riders are bound to inform their leaders about us. Then a strong contingent will be sent after us. But these canoes are too frail to cross the seas and reach unknown isles. Our future is not bright, one way or the other. I suppose the four of you intend to leave with me?” he asked.
“Sire,” they said with one voice, “we have been with you always. We cannot leave you in this hour of trial.”
Their loyalty touched Mandara-deva. He said:
“Do not think, for a moment, that I suspect your loyalty. I am a bachelor. Now that I have been dethroned, I am an entirely free man. I can spend the rest of my life trying to avenge myself upon this scoundrel Naravahana, who attacked us without warning. One day, I will get him. But you you have your families, kith and kin-“
“We have no such ties, sire,” they said. “We are as free as you are.”
The King looked at them with affection and said, “Well, let’s be going. Delay is dangerous. Let us get into these boats.”
The two canoes were secured by ropes tied to pegs driven into the beach’s sand. The soldiers untied them and got into them. The King got into one of the canoes with two of the men while the other two men got into the second canoe.
Then they rowed across the breakers and into the sea with the help of paddles. The rain had lessened a bit. There was no lightning or thundering in the sky. The moon was shining as if to relieve the darkness of the night and show the King and his men the way.
But they had no destination. Nothing else mattered to them so long as they kept themselves beyond Naravahana’s reach. The men kept paddling ceaselessly, and the boats went farther and farther into the sea. How long they would be on the sea and where they would touch land were problems they were not bothered about now.
They must have spent four or five hours on the sea when they saw the light in the distance. They could see the streak of its reflection on the water. Mandara-Deva wondered who would be on the ocean now, so far away from the shore, so soon after such a heavy storm. They could not be fishing boats, but they certainly could be Naravahana’s ships coming after them!
Troubled by this fearful doubt, Mandara-deva stood up in the boat. The lights were coming nearer and nearer. On close observation, Mandara-deva could make out two boats which were not very large.
“It looks as though we are in for another fight on the sea, this time,” he said. “If they are not our boats carrying some more of our evacuees, they are sure to be those of Kundalini. We don’t have a single bow and arrow between us?” he asked.
“Sire, we have nothing except our swords,” one of the men replied. “When the Minister told us to go to your aid, we came away in haste.”
“That does not matter,” said the King. “We can protect ourselves without sharp swords so long as Mother Marali takes care of us! If we die, we must; it matters very little whether our bodies are eaten up by the sea fish or the soil’s worms! It is all the same thing!”
The men were made bold by this speech of the King. The boats were now quite near. Their lights revealed their outlines quite clearly. The men saw a tall man stand up in one of the boats and raise his bow. The moon did not show the details of his features, but his figure was undoubtedly tall.
“Lie down!” the King shouted. “They are well armed! I suspected as much. We cannot deal with them until they approach us near enough to us. Beware of the arrows until then.”
Mandara-deva had hardly finished before an arrow whistled down and struck the canoe. Mandara-deva and the men jumped into the boat and bent their heads down to avoid being hit.
Though they could not see the approaching boats, they could hear the men talk in the ships and the sound of the oars beating the water. It was evident that the enemy was approaching very swiftly. Mandara-deva and his men had to lie low till the enemy came near enough to be engaged with the sword. And then victory would go to those who showed the better courage and who had the better luck!
And then, to the surprise of the King and men who were crouching in the canoes, there were loud shouts of “Hail Samarsen!” from the approaching ships. Even as Mandara-deva was wondering at this unexpected slogan, one of the boats ran violently into his canoe and nearly sank it.
Mandara-deva stood up with his sword drawn. The sea echoed his shout, “Hail Marali!” The next instant, his sword flashed towards one of the enemies. He uttered a shrill cry and fell into the sea. Seeing this, Mandara-deva’s men roared like lions and jumped onto the boat.
But the next moment, they heard a shout, “Stop! Stop! we are no enemies!” They stood still while Mandara-deva raised his sword and demanded, “Who are you? Are you not the fighters of Naravahana of Kundalini?”
“We are from Kundalini,” a tall person replied. “But Nara-vahana is our deadliest enemy! If you are from Marala, we are truly friends, and you may put down your swords!”
Mandara-deva hesitated for a moment, wondering whether this was a ruse to fool him, but he thrust his doubts aside and said, “Who is your leader? Let me know his name!”
“They call me Siva-Dutt,” the tall man answered. “These are my men!”
“I am thrilled to meet you, Siva-Dutt!” Mandara-deva said with enthusiasm. “Some twenty years back, when I was a lad of ten, I heard about you and the famous Samarsen, the great Commander-in-Chief of Kundalini. I heard the marvellous tales of your exploits in some strange islands. Now, at last, I have the honour of meeting you, the comrade of the great commander, in person. This is indeed a happy day in my life!”
“And who are you?” Siva-Dutt asked. “Not the King of Marala, surely?”
“Yes, indeed,” Mandara-deva replied. “At any rate, I was the King of Marala until a few hours ago. Now I am just Mandara-deva. My crown is now in Naravahana’s possession!”
While they were talking, both the boats of Siva-Dutt came up along either side of Mandara- deva’s canoe. Siva-Dutt got up from his craft and came over to Mandara-deva’s canoe. He intended to talk with Mandara-deva. So the latter made room for him on his seat.
“Indeed, one cannot be a King without his kingdom,” Siva-Dutt said, sitting down by the other’s side. “So I shall call you just Mandara-deva. Where are you bound now? May I know of your destination?”
Mandara-deva sighed and then smiled. “I do not know my destination,” he said. “I am at present busy fleeing from Naravahana. These four men are my soldiers.”
“That is fine! It makes us comrades in distress!” Siva-Dutt said. “For both of us are identically situated. I to flee from the same devil!”
“O, King! Look at those things!” one of Siva-dutt’s men exclaimed suddenly. “See how many of those lights there are. I am afraid they are all ships coming in pursuit of us. How I wish it were something else!”
Siva-Dutt and Mandara-deva looked in the direction of the light. The soldier was entirely right. There was a chain of lights visible on the horizon. As the ships moved up and down on the water, the lights looked like glowworms in the dark.
“Let us make for the open sea,” Siva-Dutt said. “It is the only possible way of escape. With luck, we may reach some isle or another. If not- well, there is nothing to be done about it. We must, at all costs, avoid falling into Naravahana’s hands!”
Mandara-deva nodded his head in complete agreement.
The four boats went briskly forward with the help of oars.
Sure enough, it was Nara-Vahana’s fleet which they had sighted. The caravan must have noticed the lights on Siva-dutt’s boats. He ordered them to be put out at once.
Now there was less risk. The lour boats kept enough distance between them to avoid colliding with one another.
Mandara-deva looked at the setting moon and the shining stars. Then he turned to Siva-Dutt, and said, “O Siva-Dutt, it hurts me to learn that you, who were next to that great Commander Samarsen, had to leave your native land. How did it happen at all? I would like to know all about it.”
“It was that traitor Nara-vahana and his lawlessness that brought about all the tragedy, Siva-Dutt replied after a moment’s reflection. “Of course, Samarsen, too, was partly to blame. Let me tell you what happened exactly as it happened!”