“Come Surya. Sit down. Eat with me,” Indumati said with lifeless eyes. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Do not worry mother. I will be fine. We have the biggest army in the world,” Surya said trying to put on a big smile. Lines on his forehead told a totally different story.
“Stay in your camp. Do not scout around. Always have your sword with you.”
“I am not a kid, mother. I know all this. I have trained well. And our Senapati is a brave man. He is known to be invincible. The whole Kuru Dynasty respects him.”
“I am your mother, Surya. You cannot stop me from being scared. They have Keshav. A diplomat. A warrior. He can turn things around single-handed.” Indumati swallowed scratching the cow-dung layered floor with her toenail.
“I know all that, mother. But I cannot lose my morale now. I am part of the third wave of attack. I won’t be fighting until the sixth day.”
“Please stay safe. Stay away from Paarth and Keshav. And also Madhyam. They are destroyers.”
“I have to go now, mother.”
Surya got up. He wore a body armor made from a tortoise shell. He took his dagger and holstered it to the right side of his belt. He lifted his sword in both hands raised it to his forehead and prayed. He put it in the scabbard still chanting some mantras. He touched his mother’s feet and strode out of the house.
‘This might be our last meal together. He is up against the Gods. He is fighting against the Good. Keshav, please take care of my son.’ Indumati thought as she saw Surya disappear in the dark of the night.
Freyr kept walking and never looked back. His rifle itched his back with every step he took away from home. He lied to his mother. He was on the front lines. One of the men who took the first blow from the enemy.
‘Sure, I am part of the best army in the world. Yes, we have heavy artillery and our Fuhrer‘s confidence knows no bound. But, the brutality? Why?’ A flash of light made Freyr shift his unconscious gaze to the bus coming towards him. He waved at the bus and got in.
He was welcomed by a half hearted cheer. “Welcome Corporal,” said the person next to him with an enthusiasm of a soldier heading for war. Well! they were heading for one. And the eastern front. That was going to be hard. Freyr found a seat at the back of the bus where he could find some quiet time. The steady sound of the engine filled the bus as it started the journey towards the front. Freyr stared at grains of sand jump near his feet as the bus’s floor shook over potholes on the road.
“Bomb Practice!” Sharik sighed with a quick shake of his head. He saw the grains of sand jump as he felt the ground shake below his feet. The sound of a rocket propelled grenade boomed throughout of the serene tranquility of the Himalayas. Sharik was distracted by this as he was watching the beauty of the snow clad peaks. The pungent smell of gunpowder replaced the smell of apple pudding coming from a nearby hut. Sharik stood there with drooping shoulders; his upper lip tucked under the lower one.
“Let’s go, bhai”, his friend Shuja shouted with a quick wave; as he walked towards the sound.
Sharik’s eyes widened and he put up a big smile while Shuja was looking. As soon as he turned his face away, the spark in Sharik’s eyes went off like a light bulb. He stared into nowhere without blinking. He sensed his future staring him back like it was watching a dead person at his funeral. He felt huge resistance as he lifted his feet to join his friend. One more big boom made his entire body shake.
‘You take this thread, put it around, through here’, Sharik remembered his mother’s eyes follow the silky thread when she used to teach him the art of Pashmina. Weavers! They were magicians who handcrafted a quilt out of thin air. The sound of his mother humming a soothing soft tune still rang in his ears. A pleasant smile lit his face up. Bang!!
The loud bang of the agnidaunsh broke Surya out of these pristine memories. A chill ran down his spine as he shuddered. He saw Pitamah launching the agnidaunsh killing hundreds of enemy soldiers, at a distance. Paarth’s saarthi, Keshav, looked on holding the leash; trying to pacify the horses agitated by the sound of the explosion. Paarth was enemy’s best archer. Keshav, despite being the invinsible king, mentor, strategist in the entire Aryawart, had agreed to drive his chariot.
Keshav stared at Surya’s regiment. Surya was sure that from that distance it was impossible to recognize anyone’s face. Let alone that of a soldier in a regiment of three hundred. But… but somehow…. Surya sensed Keshav’s gaze. He thought Keshav was looking right at him. Right into his eyes. He had his omniscient, divine smile. Surya brought his shield in front and partially drove his sword out. His whitened face and wide eyes frightened his mates.
“What’s the matter Surya? Are you scared of Keshav?” Surya heard one of his mates say followed by a brief chuckle. The others in the regiment laughed.
Surya’s eyes had forgotten to blink.
“He is far. And he has no weapon. Put your gun back Corporal.” Fryr blinked as he heard his fellow soldier shout under a dense mustache.
“But…. he… he just smiled at me as if he knew what’s coming…. for him… and me…”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Corporal. He is just a prisoner.” He gave a hasty downward push to Freyr’s hand that lowered his gun.
His gaze broke. ‘I am the real prisoner. It all depends on what side of the fence is called constrained. I am bound by this endlessly high wall. Or have I bound myself? Is it my choice to get away?’
Freyr looked up and the person was no longer looking at him. He just sat there smiling; looking down. And then again, out of nowhere, he looked back again. Freyr faltered while taking a step back. The soldier behind him gave an ‘Oh, come on’ grunt.
Sharik borrowed some energy and stood up. Shuja lent his palms to force Sharik up. The person was thousands of steps away. His eyes were tied with a cruel black cloth. His mouth bled with disoriented teeth from the blows and punches he got from Sharik’s comrades. The blood dripped down his partially white beard down on his kameez. Sharik’s heart skipped a beat again as he saw the manifestation of crimson teeth in a bloody laugh. ‘Thank God his eyes were strapped.’
“He is smiling…. he is laughing… at me”
“What? Are you out of your mind, Bhai?” Shuja rolled his eyes. “We just captured him from the Swat valley.”
“He was trying to cross over to our side. Looks like a villager. He had no weapon. He just kept walking towards us. Strange.” Shuja said with a quick shrug of the shoulder.