Jangal Mahal 1: Agargodhi
Jangal Mahal 1: Agargodhi14 mins 353 14 mins 353
The jungle of Vidarikandh was still quiet after the Kharshan but the insects were already coming out. It had only been a slight drizzle but was enough to make the ground soggy. The rider had sheltered under a Banana corm just before it closed the fronds. Although the space was little cramped for his chestnut mare it had saved them from the acid-rain of the Kharshan. The shelter had been more for the comfort of the horse as the rider's clothes and Gamcha had protected him from more severe Kharshans. The thick skin of the horse would protect her from Kharshan but the rider had a long road ahead through thick forests and hence was being careful with the horse.
After the corm bloomed open the rider had mounted and ridden ahead. The forest trail, if it could be called so, curved upwards around a bough of Oaks. The mare suddenly stopped at the top of the incline with flared nostrils. Something had spooked her but the rider had not yet seen any signs of a predator large enough to alarm a horse in these jungles. Although Sabres, Rhybers and Ajgars were common to these parts but they rarely ventured outside the deeper forests. The Gudhras did forage in this part but he had not seen any circling overhead and they rarely attacked during the daytime. Anyhow the larger animals never came out so soon after a fall, unlike the insects whose carapaces provided extra protection from the acid-rain.
He loosened his Talwar in its sheath for a quick-draw. He suspected an ambush as the decline ahead was blocked by a roughly hewn bough still green with leaves and branches. The trampled foliage behind indicating that it had been recently pulled on to the path. He patted the horse to calm her down and tapped the back of her front thighs with his legs. This caused a reflex action and a singular claw came out from between her hoofs. This was not only used as weapons by the horses but also provided extra grip while running. He kept on stroking the neck of the beast but clutched his legs tightly around her torso. He turned the mare slightly right towards the oak boughs as the other side of the path was grass and low foliage for a few meters gradually rising to become loosely packed trees. It won't offer any cover for someone rushing him, although the trees were a good spot for archers and ballistae. Though he had not seen any. This meant there were actually none or they were well hidden to spot. He would worry about them if and when they showed up.
"Do you really want to do this?" His voice was loud but devoid of anger and directed towards the fallen trunk.
"Why do you think we took all the trouble to cut a tree and block your road?" A gruff reply came back from behind the fallen tree.
"Maybe your children had nothing better to do and decided to play at brigands. Run back to your mama and maybe nobody would die." He chuckled.
"We will see who starts running. Soon". Another voice rasped from the oak boughs.
"But there are just two of you and I am on a horse." He smiled and raised his hand with the index finger pointing out in the universal sign of a question.
"Hah," laughed another voice from behind the tree and said, "there are 4 of us here and two more………
"Shut up, Tikam." Yelled the first voice and followed it up with a thud which was replied by an Oww. Tikam had just been smacked on the head.
"Not very smart, the lot of you." He smirked.
There was a grunt of effort in reply from the oak boughs. He instinctively raised his hand towards the sound at the same time tugging the leather knot on his palm, which caused the metal braces on his fore-arm to flare open in a triangular shield with the base towards his arm. Something thwacked the shield and fell down before getting caught in the mare's wool-coat. It was a throwing knife made of bone. It was surprisingly light but had been thrown with considerable force denting his bracer-shield.
"Who threw that, without my orders? Asked the first voice from behind the fallen tree.
"Not me Vasaee. It was Kendi". Someone else answered from the oak trees.
The knife had given the rider a clue about his attackers and he decided to test his theory. "I say again, let me go in peace and I swear by Agardham that I won't make coats out of you".
This got the expected reaction and a cacophony of snarls, grunts, and curses drowned out the jungle.
"Wait!" shouted the first voice.
"He swears by our god's name, he mocks us and threatens to make coats out of us. You still want to wait for Vasaee", came the reply from the oaks followed by the master of the voice. It was an Agargodhi, just as the rider had thought. And there were few greater insults in their culture then threatening to make coats of them. He carried a bone-sword with serrated edges and was dressed from the waist down in green colored smock with necklaces and bands of birch wood.
"Stop Kendi" someone shouted. But Kendi roared in reply and charged the rider. He lifted his bone-sword in an overhand cut meant to cleave the rider and horse in two. The rider blocked his move with his sword which had seemingly jumped out of the scabbard into his hand of its own accords. Kendi roared again and swatted the horse with his tail. The blow was not strong enough to push the horseback but was painful enough that the mare reared up on her front legs. The rider attacked Kendi in a downward slide. Kendi realized it was a weak blow and stopped it with his forearm. His thick scaled hide easily stopping the sword. But what Kendi had not realized was that this was just a ruse for the real attack. The rider pulled on the mare reins and she turned a little in mid-air. This was enough as her descending claws opened up two jagged lines of flesh on Kendi. From the shoulder to the hips. There was a surprised look in his eyes before they closed forever.
Seeing Kendi fall, another Agargodhi rushed out from the oak trees. Hefting his bone and wood mallet he jumped straight at the rider. The flex of his powerful leg and tail muscles propelling him over the horse. The rider did not move until the last second, then blocked his mallet by his bracer-shield and with the same motion helped him over his head to the ground below. The Agargodhi landed on his mallet hand and with a sickening crunch both the mallet and his hand broke. The Agargodhi got up on his knees and wailed like an animal in pain. His broken hand clutched in the other hand.
Two more Agargodhis stood up from behind the fallen tree. Tikam and Vasaee. The mare clawed at the ground in fear and anger but the rider was calm. They raised their swords and climbed over the fallen trunk. Tikam beckoned the rider with a finger of his clawed hand. The rider bent low on the horse and shook his head and sighed, "How stupid are you". Then he charged them. Vasaee swung his mace but the rider blocked it with his sword. Tikam had never seen a horse charge and stood transfixed. The mare knocked him and jumped over the fallen tree. The rider turned around and charged at the lone standing Agargodhi.
Suddenly, the mare neighed in pain and her legs buckled down. She lost her balance and fell down but not before the rider had jumped clear. The rider saw that a short and barbed arrow was lodged in her flank. The charge had saved the rider. By the time the arrow reached him, he had already moved and the horse had become the unwilling target.
The rider fell down and his sword was jerked a few steps back. He jacked himself up from the ground and pulled out his belt. Vasaee noted with some trepidation that it was not a belt at all but an Urumi. Only the most skilled of warriors could handle the whip-like blade of Urumi. The rider started swinging the Urumi in an above-head circle. Another arrow came from the trees but instead of moving to cover the rider waited. At the last second, he swiped the Urumi down cutting the arrow in two and then started running towards the trees.
Again and again, arrows were shot and the rider repeated his macabre dance of cutting down the arrows and sprinting forward. Vasaee was surprised to see his skill. The rider was clearly going for the archer who was hidden on the top branch of a tree. There was no way he could spin an Urumi while climbing a tree. He would be shot and would fall down where Vasaee would be waiting. But the rider had no intention of climbing the tree. He did not need to climb the tree. His feet left the ground and he started running on air. He ran upwards as if on sloping ground and not air. This flummoxed the archer and he stopped midway-an arrow still strung on his bow. Too late he realized his peril as the rider was on him by then. Standing 6 meters high, on nothing but air, the rider pulled the archer from his perch. The archer fell down like a ripe Syeb and did not move.
Vasaee eyed the rider dangling in the air with justified trepidation. The rider had taken out 4 of his mates and had not a scratch to show for it. He had heard of beings who could walk on air. Most of them were wizards, demons or other magical beings and most of them were not good fighters. The rider had not shown any magical powers as of yet but he was still standing on the air. He had none of the haughtiness of a wizard. Vasaee was pretty sure what he was and it was not a good thing.
They both stood still eyeing each other. The rider noticed that Vasaee was wearing some kind of armor but Agargodhis usually did not wear any armor or clothes for that matter. He pinched his eyes and suddenly the world rushed in as if he was looking through a telescope. Vasaee was not wearing armor, he was wearing another Agargodhi. He had skinned the thick hide of another larger Agargodhi and was wearing it as an armor. His hands, tail, torso, and head were covered by this hide-armor. This made Vasaee a Vagar. Vagar was the title given to brave Agargodhi warriors who had bested other famous warriors in single combat. These duels usually ended in death and the winner skinned the looser as a part of the ritual. Such duels were common-place in the fractured matriarchal tribal society of Agargodhi. When any matter came to blows, the Matars ordered the Vagars to fight to decide the outcome. The rider had not ever heard of any Vagar backing down from a fight and that meant he would have to kill one more Agargodhi. The rider released his focus and the world snapped back in place.
"Come on down and let's get it over with….Vikrut".
"Vikrut ehh…..The rider raised an eyebrow.
"Not all of us are stupid…. Kirmi". Smirked Vasaee.
"Ahhh…..there you are. Can't expect civility from an Agargodhi." The rider replied mincing his words.
"You fight well, Kirmi, but unfortunately your hide won't make a good armor".
"But yours will, Lizard".
Vasaee snarled at the word of Lizard, it was equivalent to Kirmi in disrespect. The rider threw away the Urumi, as it would not be of much use in close combat and drew a bluish-silver double-edged straight dagger. Vasaee hefted his mace in both hands and then they rushed each other. Vaseee swung his mace left to right and the rider dodged back three times. The heavy mace with the added strength of the Agargodhi could not be parried with a dagger. Hence, the rider was dodging back towards where his sword had fallen. Vasaee had also realized the same. So, when the rider dodged back the fourth time. Vasaee followed up with his tail which smacked the rider on his torso. The rider stumbled and fell down. Vasaee moved forward meaning to crush his foes head like lemon. But, the mace struck earth as the rider rolled away from him. Agargodhis by virtue were strong and fast but the added weight of his armor and mace slowed Vasaee for a bit. This was enough time for the rider to grab his sword and jump straight up drawing his feet level with his waist. But he did not land, again somehow he had landed on thin air and was standing waist-high. From here, he jogged up as if going up an incline and stopped at a height away from Vasaee's reach.
Vasaee cursed him. "Come down and fight fair….Kirmi".
"I fight to win or at least to stay alive", smirked the rider. "This is your last chance to leave know and live". This was a futile hope as the rider knew a Vagar would never back down on his honor until he won or lost or was ordered to do the same by someone higher-up.
Vasaee's only response was a snarled spit in his direction. The rider ran down towards him the sword tip pointing down and away from his body and the dagger held straight up, close to his waist. Seeing a human-run on air was disorienting hence Vasaee concentrated on the weapons. The rider closed in on him and Vasaee moved his hands wide of the body, mace to block the sword and arm to stop the dagger. But the attack never came, the rider jumped and kneed Vasaee in the chest and rode him down. Vasaee fell down and did not even attempt to move. Although the ground was soft and his armored hide protected him from the worst of the fall. What had stopped him was the dagger tip inches above his eye and the word stuck in his thigh. The sword had penetrated his hide-armor and his thick skin and was about an inch deep in the muscle. Vasaee tried moving his arm but the tip shone closer to his eye but his tail was free and it rose like a snake.
"Stop your tail if you still want it attached to your body" advised someone from behind. "And try not to move, you won't be much of a warrior with only one eye. That dagger you are admiring so closely is called Kantak and the bluish hue speaks of its Dakhhan origin."
"If you would please release my Vagar", requested the speaker. The voice all soft but with an undercurrent of controlled anger.
The rider quickly glanced back and saw a group of Agargodhis approaching. Looking back he saw that Vasaee was looking down face contorted in pain…no shame, it was definitely shaming.
"There is no need for any more violence. Let us talk…..like civilized beings" there was a hint of laughter in the voice now.
"Your kind is not known for civilization" panted the rider. Keeping the knifepoint still, he pivoted around it to face the Agargodhis and realized that apart from 2 armed males the rest 4 were females.
"That may be but our word still rings true here in Vidarikandh, as it has been for the past many centuries. On the grain of my land, you won't be harmed". Replied the oldest one.
"But that oath is not yours' to give." Grinned the rider.
"A warrior and that to a smart one. How I wish there were more of these in Agargodhis" replied another female.
"But then what would be the point of having you…..Matar" asked the rider and then jutted out his chin and bowed from the waist. Straightening he pulled out his sword from Vasaee's thigh and was not gentle about it, but Vasaee hardly even grunted.
The Agargodhi returned the bow with a slight twist of her head.
"If you know that I am the Matar of this tribe then you know my word is the law.
"I accept, Matar" the rider bowed again.
"Up Vasaee. This was to be a simple loot and instead you have lost me one and 4 are injured.
"Yes, Matar" relied on Vasaee still looking at his feet.
"Although you were fighting a Vikrut; you still stay Vagar"? Asked the older Agargodhi to Matar. The Matar tilted her hand downwards indication her assent for the same.
"So, rider, would you like the hide of the one you have slain" The Matar pointed towards the body of Kendi.
The rider looked towards Vasaee who was looking towards him snorting in agitation.
"I thank you, Matar, for your generous offer, but I won't defile the body of a fallen warrior. May I request you to let your Vagar handle it?"
"So be it" accepted Matar and directed Vasaee towards the body.
This surprised Vasaee and he tilted his head towards the rider and bowed more formally to the Matar.
"I have one more request, Matar. My horse is dead but the loss of Kendi is greater, may I present the horse as a tribute and a token of my friendship."
The Matar looked over to Vasaee and he again bowed. The Matar seemed pleased. "Rider, I name you Agarbandhu and all the tribes shall know that you are a friend of the Vidari tribe of Vidarikhand. Would like to join us in a feast of your horse".
"I am honored by your gifts Matar but I have to be somewhere in a hurry".
"As you wish Agarbandhu. Call upon us the next time you are in Vidarikhand.
The rider turned towards Vasaee and touched his closed fist to his heart and head. It was a sign warrior used to show respect. The fist denoting strength, the heart denoting bravery and the mind denoting intelligence. Vasaee returned the salute and snarled, "I hope I never have to fight you again".
The rider laughed, "I hope, I never have to fight you fair".
He had gone only a few a paces when Vasaee hollered from behind.
"Rider what are you called".
"They call me Grandal, the ungrounded".