The Guardsman and the Merchant girl.
By Sushrut Tewari
©Sushrut Tewari 2019
Any copy of this text without the permission of the owner is illegal and wrong. All rights reserved. The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of the book.
The wind was blowing through his long hair, while he stood still at the top of the singular tower.
‘Pawan’ they would call it in his local language. The sun was setting at the most beautiful spot surrounding the ‘Manojavaya Valley’ a place where the tower was situated. He was the guardsman of this tower, and this was his home.
Like every day he would stand at the top, and see the sunset beyond the horizon as the tinge changed from yellow to saffron and slowly the sky would grow dark.
The dusk would give way to night, and the night would give way to dawn. All this cycle would repeat itself, days would come and go, yet nothing would change for the man of the tower. He would come up every day, and go down every night.
“I should be going down now,” the guardsman said, “Must keep a check on the idol”
‘Murti!’ his father would say ‘idol’ in their local tongue when he was alive. Being proud of the lineage of warriors, he would never mix the old ‘pure’ words with the new and ‘vulgar’.
He stepped on the stairs as his axe dangled along his back, being attached to his ‘Angvastram’ over his jute vest. He passed a mirror to take a look at himself. His vest was looking more like a deer skin due to a good deal of dirt that was sticking out to the fibres of his vest.
His indigo coloured ‘Dhoti’ wasn’t very dirty, at least not as much as his vest. He was still unable to recall when was the last time he cleaned his garments.
Passing through the staircase, his eyes wandered over the portraits of his ancestors on the wall, proud and robust. Sworn to die for their duty at their hour of calling. Once they were many, and now their legions had crumbled to dust.
He was the last one of them.
He had no luxury of family or friends, no wealth, and yet he was the so called the master of the tower. He had known this ancient structure throughout his life. Being born here, trained here, taught here, and he was sure that he would die here too.
The way of staircase led him to the pantry and granary floor where most of his food was present. He opened the big clunky wooden door with a mighty heave to check if everything was in order for the winter season.
Rice, wheat, barley and eggs. Along with the aroma of honey touched his senses before being washed away by a gush of wind which was brought in as he opened the room. He had so much of quantity that he knew half of it will rot away during the winter season.
He had more risk of dying by eating rotten food than to die of hunger.
“Yup, I am surely going to die here” he said to himself as he made a mental checklist of all the items available.
With a sigh he closed the door thinking that he must now charge the pilgrims more to pass the route with coins rather than food supplies. His name would be tainted but at least he would survive.
Taking out a flaming torch in his hand, he stepped out of the tower to see the beauty of his surroundings. His tower was built on crossroads where the paths met. Not a soul was in sight and the forest covered the entire area. Trees of veritable nature grew along the sideways and their canopy covered the bushes and shrubs at the low level.
Along with enjoying the beauty, he had to make sure that no one was trespassing without his permission. He had news that the traders, pilgrims and travellers were being harassed by the bandits of the woods, and he was the only one who could put a stop to this menace.
Once done with the checking, he looked at the sky, showing its last tinge of red colour before the sun would finally set and night would fall on the entire place. He needed to make sure that the ‘Murti’ was safe from bandits and rogues.
Morning would never pose a problem, the villages surrounding the tower were many a distance away, but the essence of the lineage this young guardsman shared with his ancestors would always be respected and feared by the local villagers, making up stories to scare any would be thief that the castle was haunted.
Adventurers with fancy would come from time to time, seeking for a thrill, and all it took to dispose them off would be a single look of the guard, who by his sheer size would tower over the adventuring boys and would resemble like an ancient monster who has come back from life.
And the moment they would see the shining blade of his axe, would the moment when they scamper away with their tales between their legs. They later would brag and make stories about back in the village to impress young women of their heroic deed.
“I should allow at least someone sometimes” he said while walking back, once the thought of women entering the tower came “After all they just want to spend some time with thrill in their hearts.”
He looked down in a puddle of water to see his own reflection. His hair was dangling till his neck, completely unkept, his beard which had started to grow just a year ago was now big enough to cover his face, which looked gruff with years of fighting.
“On the other hand,” he said coming back to his senses, “It would make more sense for them to run away just by looking at my face than to see my axe.” He tried to sarcastic but his voice had an essence of sadness. He had seen over seven thousand sunsets in his life, but by his identity he looked a decade older.
He gazed towards the tower, a mighty and ancient cylindrical structure. It was three storeys high and twenty meters in breadth at the widest section. Each floor had a specific purpose, while the walls carried the portraits of the warriors of the past.
Third floor was the tower’s attic, which would lead to the top. The second floor had the granary and kitchen, where the food and utensils were kept, while the first floor was the armoury.
The ground floor had the rooms to sleep, central fireplace and a prayer room which was the most important. This was the legacy his ancestors left for him. Towers were the strongest structures of them all, and could resist the beatings of every kind of weather and could shrug off the attacks from catapults.
Centuries ago there were thousands if not millions of these towers scattered all across the land, from deserts till coastal regions, from hilltops to islands. And today, only one remains.
Over five millennia ago, group of over twenty warriors pledged their lives to protect their faith, their people and their family. When their land was being ravaged by monsters, they joined their forces to cleanse their lands from such evil and built the towers as their strongholds.
When they were successful, the people of the lands gave them respect, admiration, and a lot of gold. The gold was melted into idols of their goddess and distributed throughout the lands to be kept in the towers for safekeeping and as a sign of trust between the people and the warriors.
The towers had a treasure that was more important than the lives of those who defended it. And that treasure was the golden idol. More than just a material symbol, the idol represented the titular goddess of the warriors ‘Mahamata’ or the Great Mother.
The legend has it that the first warrior to defend the people and their faith was a woman. She taught the people to fight, to protect and to defend during the time of need. Through her efforts she was immortalised and to this day here ballads are sung.
For the warrior class she became a goddess, someone who showed them their path in life. A path that was not only noble, but necessary. A path that was to purge evil from the society regardless of faith, gender or status, and to protect the innocent regardless of faith, gender or status.
The guardsman entered the tower, placing the torch back on its hold and locked the gate. Once the sun lies below the horizon and nights falls, he sets out traps for those who would be foolish enough to venture in his tower without his permission.
From nets to dropping tiles, everything was in order at each floor soon enough and the guardsman, as a final preparation cleaned is great axe with much adoration. This would be last line of defence against the rouges. He and his axe.
The axe always had a symbolic meaning in their society. He remembered his father talking about how the gods gifted the ‘Mahamata’ an axe made of a celestial material that no one could wield, and not even the gods themselves could destroy once created.
‘Mahastra’ was the name of the holy axe, or ‘The Ultimate Weapon’. The axe held by the guardsman was easily hundreds of years old, being passed down from generation to generation in an effort to conserve the lineage of the warriors.
They were taught the art of the axe since the moment they could stand. This was equivalent to their souls. They could never be without this weapon, forever being ready for war.
Once the axe was shining new, pleasing the guardsman of his efforts, he walked to the end room of the tower getting ready for the last duty of the day.
The door opened and lead him straight to a room where at the centre was the golden idol. Not being bigger than a foot, the idol was still exquisite. Each and every body part was in perfect ratio and the goddess was standing on a golden rock, with the great axe in her hands looking forward to her devotee.
This was both a sign that she was the all protective mother, who loves her children, and the wrathful goddess who will not let evil live where there are her devotees. The entire idol, from the goddess to the rock she was standing on with one leg above the stone and other below was not bigger than even a foot.
He lit up the mud-oil lamps and sat down with his legs crossed to pray.
“Give me strength, O mother, that I follow the path of righteousness, never to be weak in the face of evil and always to protect innocent no matter the price. O mother, give me strength to sacrifice my life when it comes to the choice knowing that I died for a higher purpose. Give me strength, ‘O’ great mother.”
He joined his hands to ask blessings from the spirits of warriors’ past. With his last duties of the day done, he unbuttoned his vest which made him a lot more comfortable, and walked over the wardrobe taking out a mattress with a blanket so that he could try to sleep with his belly empty. He had no choice but to do that in order to survive the winter.
“And what is the reason to survive anyway?” he bickered by himself because of the apparent lack of company near him, “It was written for me by the fates to die alone in this tower…”
He knew that it would not suit him to be so negative before sleep so instead of wasting his time he closed his eyes and waited to lie down in the arms of unconsciousness at the land of dreams.
A strange melody woke him from his sleep. He looked at the side window to notice that it still wasn’t morning and the peacocks never hoot in the middle of the night.
The melody surrounded the entire region and nearly mesmerised the guardsman. He was reminded of the heavenly ‘Apsaras’ who would sing and flute when they would find their love.
For a moment he decided to not carry his axe while he ventures out to see the source of the melody. ‘Nothing so beautiful could be dangerous.’ He thought, and then he realized that only a thing so mesmerizing could actually pose a threat. Coming out, he locked the idol room, wore his vest, and attached the axe to his ‘Angvastram’.
He walked across the circular tower hall and opened the main gate to see what was the source of such a beautiful melody.
The night was high and the chilling winds along with the moist grass beneath his shoes made surroundings even cooler. With his big axe dangling from his back by a hook, his curiosity led him deeper in the forest.
Over the hedges, and jumping over the pits of mud, scaling the trees to search for the origin of the music, he was completely enamoured by what he was listening.
It was simply because of his physical prowess that he could leap over the natural hurdles such as broken branches, fallen trees, climbing over boulder and rocks to find what he was looking for.
The closer he went, higher the melody would sound. The jungle was asleep peacefully and not even wild beasts would dare attack during the time of ethereal serenity and music.
Through the bushes he walked forward, the path leading him to see a woman. She stood leaning sideways a trunk of tree as moonlight blessed her with its presence. Resonating an aura of an angel with the melodious music that came out of her flute playing, the young woman made the entire surrounding beautiful.
She was wearing a green coloured dhoti, with a vest that covered her upper body part from her shoulders to her waist. The young woman looked fairer than normal because of the celestial moonlight that shined over her.
He wanted to talk to her but waited till she was done with her flute. Her face was hidden as her back was turned so she couldn’t see who was behind her and he couldn’t see what she looked like.
He slowly sat over the grass on his knees, as if begging to her to not stop with her music, to continue what she was doing as it made the entire place sound heavenly. The woman was young, he saw, as there was not even single strand of grey in her locks.
She continued to play the flute as the guardsman slowly came back to his senses, ‘What if she is a witch?’ he thought, ‘What if she led me all this way to kill me and steal the ‘Murti’?’ in retaliation he kept him fingers clenched over the handle of his axe, getting ready for a defensive manoeuvre whenever necessary.
The young woman calmly stopped her fingers over the keys, bringing in the music to a halt and turned back to face the man behind her.
Her eyes had a blue tinge, reminding him of her northern descent, particularly resembling the villagers of the northern mountains. By looks she wasn’t older than him, yet showed innocence he had never seen before in anyone. Her lips were creased because of playing but their beauty was still apparent.
It was in that moment he felt that he has found someone to worship other than the great mother, a goddess of his own.
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