KHATA

Sehwag Tales - Chapter 13


To start from the first chapter : https://theverandahclub.com/article/sehwag-tales-chapter-1-853

Dalpati's team of eleven returned a meagre nine. But the villagers, consumed by relief and the return of their stolen cattle, remained blissfully unaware of the missing soldiers. They showered the animals with a reverence bordering on gratitude, their cheers echoing "Hail Commander Dalpati! Hail King Kattiyankar!" as they approached to express their thanks.

Dalpati, however, was in no mood for celebration. The sting of defeat, a bitter pill to swallow for a commander of King Kattiyankar's elite guard, gnawed at him. Technically, it wasn't a loss. Yet, letting those young upstarts from a remote village escape his attack felt like a failure. More importantly, Achanandhi couldn't be captured, and Sehwag... Sehwag couldn't even be seen. A prickle of unease wormed its way into Dalpati's gut. Could there be a connection between Achanandhi's disappearance and Sehwag's sudden absence last night? The possibility gnawed at him. Was their escape a well-orchestrated plan, or a stroke of sheer luck? Dalpati vowed to find out. He had a feeling this was just the beginning.

Dalpati's voice crackled with barely contained fury as he barked orders. "Varaga!"

Varaga, ever the efficient second-in-command, materialized at his side, a silent acknowledgement of the order. "Gather a search team, scour the entire forest. I want that scum and his friends. Dead or alive. They couldn't have gone far. Leave at once. Take Lieutenant Giri with you. He was with me last night and can identify some of them."

"Looking for something, Commander Dalpati?" A voice, laced with mockery, sliced through the air from behind the garrison.

Before Dalpati could respond, Varaga's reflexes turned deadly. With a blur of motion, his sword sang through the air, pinning a figure against the wall. Rajappa, his bravado crumbling, found himself staring down the sharp edge of the blade mere inches from his throat. He raised his hands in submission, belatedly realizing he had chosen his words poorly.

"Of course your swords are sharp," Rajappa stammered, his voice laced with a nervous tremor. "No doubt with that..."

Dalpati's gaze narrowed. While recognizing Rajappa as likely a villager with hidden motives, a flicker of hope sparked in his eyes. Evil can identify evil, his thoughts grimmered. He decided to play along, for now.

Rajappa, regaining his composure with a theatrical cough, puffed out his chest, despite the tremor in his voice. "I am no one of importance, Commander. Just a simple village lad with some... valuable information. But trust me, you stand to gain more than you lose by listening to this 'delinquent.'"

Dalpati raised a hand, silencing Varaga's instinctive move to strike. His gaze remained fixed on Rajappa. "Speak," he commanded, his voice a low growl.

Rajappa's voice, laced with a hidden bitterness, held a hint of a personal vendetta. "The forest is his domain, Commander. He knows every hidden path, every secret stream. Your soldiers, with their fancy swords and snorting horses, will be lost before they even begin."

Dalpati stroked his chin, a frown etching lines on his face. The idea of relying on a village ruffian was distasteful, but Rajappa's words held a grudging truth.

“What do you gain from this?”, asked Varaga. Varaga mirrored his commander's skepticism, his hand hovering near his sword hilt.

"Money, liquor, a chance to see Sehwag brought low,” Rajappa listed his desires, a glint in his eye that sent a shiver down Varaga's spine. Was this newfound 'ally' as eager to capture Sehwag, or did he harbor his own agenda?

Dalpati, boomed with laughter and clapped Rajappa on the back. “A worthy addition to the team! Treat him well, soldier. Let him have whatever his heart desires”, he ordered one of his soldiers.

Rajappa with a grim on his face continued to walk with the soldier asking, “What kind of liquor does your master drink…?” their voices faded as they left the scene leaving behind an unsettling silence and the lingering question: who exactly was Rajappa, and what did he truly want?

Dalpati leaned closer to Varaga, his voice dropping to a low murmur. “Once he's served his purpose... we don't keep loose ends.” Varaga nodded grimly, the implication hanging heavy in the air.

******

Kandhukkadan pushed through the throng, his heart hammering a frantic rhythm against his ribs. Relief washed over him – no sight of his sons bound and helpless. Yet, a new wave of worry crashed upon him. Where were they?

The scene before him was a chaotic tapestry of reclaimed cattle and frayed tempers. Villagers jostled each other, their voices rising in a cacophony of accusations and desperate pleas. Every recovered cow became the center of a fresh ownership dispute.

Govindai, a lone figure huddled in the corner, clutched her calf tightly, tears streaming down her face. A low, mournful cry escaped her lips. Kandhukkadan and Seedut exchanged a wary glance, a silent understanding passing between them. Govindai's grief ran deeper than a lost animal. There was a story etched on her face, a story they were better off not knowing at that moment.

Desperation gnawed at Govindai's heart. Padhumuk's secret message, hidden on the calf's collar, confirmed her worst fears. It spoke of safety, a coded message meant only for her, but the lack of his presence screamed danger. He wouldn't leave without a fight, wouldn't abandon her like this. The port, their secret rendezvous, became a beacon of hope, a desperate gamble. “If you are reading this parchment, it means I haven’t brought the cattle myself. Worry not dear! Believe that I will be safe. Meet me by night at the place near the port, where we always meet. Miss you”

A knot of dread tightened in Govindai's stomach as a group of men from Dalpati's garrison swaggered towards her, their faces etched with malice. Had they somehow discovered Padhumuk's message?

Before Govindai could make a decision, the men from the garrison loomed before her, their expressions unreadable. Would they reveal her secret message? Or was there something far more sinister at play?

Govindai's mind raced. The parchment, clutched tight behind her back, was a beacon of fear and hope. Fear of its discovery, hope for Padhumuk's safety. Panic threatened to paralyze her, but a surge of defiance ignited within.

Kandhukkadan and Seedut, alerted by Govindai's stumble, whipped their heads around. They saw the soldiers closing on her, a predator eyeing its prey. Without hesitation, they charged forward.

The soldiers lunged, their hands grasping for the hidden parchment. Govindai yelped, twisting away in a desperate attempt to shield it with her body. The parchment fluttered free, snatched by the wind, spiraling down towards the dusty ground. The soldiers did not seem to be caring for the parchment. They had other ideas.

A brutal hand clamped around Govindai's wrist. "Looks like we found ourselves a prize," one of them sneered, dragging her towards the ominous silhouette of a distant closed chariot. "Aren't you the payment for retrieving the cattle? The price belonged to the Kingdom." Kandhukkadan and Seedut reached the scene just as Govindai's scream pierced the air. Would they be able to stop the soldiers in time? What awaited Govindai in the chariot?

TO BE CONTINUED

Vigneshwaran, Senior Correspondent of TheVerandahClub.com is both a skilled digital content writer and marketer by profession, as well as an avid independent writer driven by his passion. His literary talents extend to crafting beautiful poems and captivating short stories including the Sehwag Tales series. In addition to these creative pursuits, he has also authored a book titled "Halahala," which can be found on Wattpad.

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