Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - IV

For Part I, For Part II, For Part III

Part IV Continued

Their swords clashed. Shravanti felt her entire body tremble at the impact. As they sparred, she became painfully aware that mere hacking away at firewood or practicing with a young student did not prepare you to meet a battle-hardened bandit. Most of her energy went only to keep her body straight. She was also ashamed to realise that the bandit was toying with her, the leer on his face suggesting the fanciful thoughts that flitted through his mind, and that he could make short work of her if he so desired. Any fancy footwork and agility won her a slash, but the bandit seldom drove home his advantage.

"We die but once. Better to die fighting than live with the shame of giving up," her father would advice his wards at the end of their training. These words rang in her ears and she decided to die trying. That determination spurred her to think of some way of defeating the man. Their swords locked, and he pushed her down, forcing her to go on one knee. He stepped closer and his bad breath and sneer made her wince. In one swift motion, she broke the deadlock, making him stumble. She twisted and turned, landing behind him. She plucked the knife from the folds of her dress and stabbed him in the back.

The unexpected move disarmed the man who staggered and fell face forward. As he made to turn, Shravanti drove her sword down this middle of his back with all her might. He fell back dead, his face frozen in shock. The effort drained her and she fell on her knees trembling.

Gautama was still surrounded by the three men and the battle intensified on seeing this sudden development - the men wanted to avenge their companion's death, Gautama felt reenergised on seeing his untrained daughter score a decisive victory. He ducked at a crucial moment, letting his foes clash with each other. As they converged at the centre, he drove his sword up, catching one of them in the stomach. The other two staggered, in shock as well as because of the impact of the dead man falling.

The battle became even more grim. Gautama, though valiant, was more tired because of handling three adversaries at the same time, whereas the two men provided each other good back up.

Revathi fretted. She was pleasantly surprised to see Shravanti kill a man, but her joy was short-lived as she Revathi noticed two more men stealthily inch towards the still self-absorbed Shravanti. .

"Go," she tried commanding and pleading with Vikrama.

"My sword is with her!" Vikrama pointed out.

Frustrated, she quietly rushed towards the cart, pulled out a staff and a sword. She threw the sword in Vikrama's direction and, swinging the staff clumsily, ran forward and hit the two men on their heads.

The damage was insignificant, but the surprise caused them to gasp. The warning was enough for Shravanti, who sprang up, pulled the sword and the knife out of  the dead man's body and turned to face the new aggressors.

One of the men caught the staff and held Revathi at bay, shaking her like a rag doll. Vikrama, bereft of all excuses, entered the fight and tried to distract the man while Shravanti readied herself for the second fight.

As the man's and her swords clashed, a third intervened. "Your mother," Ajaya said as he kept her aggressor engaged.

Shravanti saw a man held his mother in a firm grip with one hand, and fended off Vikrama with ease. She ran on shaky legs and attacked mercilessly from behind, aiming for his exposed back.

She next turned to the man her father was fighting. Since Vikrama headed towards Gautama, she joined Ajaya and the two were able overpower the bandit, disarm and kill him.

Gautama too, relieved to get reinforcement, even if it was only Vikrama, managed to blindside his adversary and kill him.

The bandits lay dead, but the victors remained silent.

Shravanti looked at her father and tried to smile, but the effort cost her too much and her world went black.

To be continued

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