an excerpt from 3
MY sword is always close by, even in sleep. It is a habit I have acquired from my third brother-in-law, the Majapahit emperor, over the course of the numerous military campaigns on which I have accompanied him. It endures even in his absence, for I continue to live in my brother’s household, serving the emperor only when he calls on me to do so.
Together, and for many years now, we — the emperor and I — have weathered the storms of Barus to conquer the untamed eastern shores of Suvarna that Cina had no interest in. We have established Majapahit authority over Sunda; we have slowly, patiently, staked claim over the hundreds of islands that fill the Seven Seas. From the unexpected perils posed by ignoble fish, spike-nosed, poisonous and tentacled, to dangers on land — volcano, ash, mud, and men too — he and I have more by instinct than by intent cheated death innumerable times, each instance making him and thus me, a little wiser, a lot older and much less impetuous. He has taught me to see conquest not as an end but a means, a way of living, of leaving behind legend and not just legacy. He has also taught me not to sleep too soundly or without a weapon in easy reach, a fact that neither the man standing over me, nor the one who has sent him, is aware of.
The man raises his dagger, a dull gleam in the dark. I move swiftly, the slither of metal against metal the only warning that I have drawn my sword before it slits his throat. He falls to the ground without a struggle. I consider his prone form for a short while as I weigh my options. Finally, I leave him as he is and step out of the room.
An attendant stands by the doorway, his eyes closed in well-habituated upright sleep. I shake him, not gently. He wakes up with a start. Before he can mutter apologies or excuses, I tell him, ‘Go, find my grandfather, Bring him here at once.’ The attendant scurries off. I return to my room and light a single wick lamp. By its glow I see blood pooling out from under the dead man. I identify him as one of our own, it bothers me no more than when I have killed an enemy soldier.
‘What…?’ My grandfather exclaims as he comes in. To my surprise, my father is with him. They look at the dead man and then at each other.
Ever since the night my father and I spoke about the Majapahit emperor’s proposal and Chandra’s intended refusal, he has not addressed a direct word to me, neither by day nor under the cover of night. He does not make an exception now, and tells my grandfather, ‘I suppose it was to be expected. We have long outstayed our welcome.’
© Ethos Books
by Krishna Udayasankar
from 3 (2015)
published by Ethos Books