The doors had been closed for long. But with the progress of the night, angry howls could be heard. Far away, in the forests, something evil was lurking, waiting to enter the fort of Chiru. Even the villagers dwelling nearby could feel a shiver running down their backbones. Was the prophesy coming true? Only time could tell, if dark forces could be put to an end, and it was upto the four who would face it …….
Life within the fort Chiru
Raja Chandrasena was seated beside his mother Mtarani Ahalya, and his sister Princess Durgavati. Rani Yasodha, wife of Raja Chandrasena was sitting behind on the upper balcony . A veil covered her eyes. The Raj Purohit and chief advisor Krishnadevaraya, looked after the proceedings with calmness . The celebrations following the day of marriage of Raja Chandrasena and Rani Yasodha was conscientious.
The fort doors were to remain open tonight as the subjects were allowed to remain on the outer boundary of the royal courtyard, to partake of the festivities. Garlands of marigold, jasmine and fruit baskets; occasional spouts of perfumed water, fountains with emerald and rubies set in ornamental designs, added to the charm of the night. Mashals or torches along the inner walls were followed by the line of infantry on both sides of the courtyard. The musicians from far off land were brought and asked to play their instruments. The tabla, tanpura and sarod added to the magical quality of the evening.
However, while the progress of the festivities were moving with diligence, an intruder was making heist at the royal stables. The thief had been caught and Krishnadevaraya excused himself from the Raja to meet the culprit. The man was a commoner, probably a farmer facing bad harvest. But why had he chosen the royal stables and why on a day like this?
The festivities were over, but krishnadevaraya remained unseen. The Rajmata wished everyone well and according to the family tradition, Raja Chandrasena presented Rani Yashodha with a beautiful mangtika, a family heirloom.
In the Raja’s Palace..
Raja Chandrasena was perturbed. The news was unsettling. A foreigner , a woman , had visited the land .. The woman had a hold over the farmer, by some means. As the farmer got caught red-handed, he seemed to come out of his trance like state and was shuddering with fright. The farmer found it hard to recollect how he had made his way to the royal stable and the purpose of his visit. All he could remember was that he was tending his cows, when one of the cows went astray. It was later found decapitated with some brute force and it had been half eaten. As he was turning to meet the other farmers, he met this woman, hard to describe, as she was very foreign and mysterious. Beyond this, the man couldnot remember anything.
Matarani Ahalya found the incident ominous and the Raj Purohit could not veer from the same opinion. He sat down with his astrological calculations and when he met the Raja, his face was ashen. He had consulted the past parchments available in the Raja’s library.
An emergency baithak was called within the library itself and utmost secrecy was maintained.
“ The mangal dosha is heavy Raja. The sun is in the seventh house of both of your horoscopes. This means, it is time you will not be having a blissful life. This will continue and till the time passes you will have to maintain distance from each other. You also happen to be the tenth in line of the Maharajas. After Matarani, you will be attaining full powers. But, before that you will have to pass through a life and death situation. I have been consulting the manuscripts of your ancestors in the library. It is foretold”.
“Rani Yashodha is bhagya laxmi O Rajan. Yesterday, a cow, the symbol of fertility and opulence was killed under mysterious circumstances. At the same time, a theft was prevented. The incidents point at malefic forces at play, which can jeopardize the land and her rulers”.
“You can’t be nearer to truth, Pundit! I agree with you!” Matarani spoke. “ I too remember the foreteller. But I was caught in disbelief!”
“ What can be done? I need to protect all. “
Raja Chandrasena had beads of sweat appearing on his forehead. His robust disposition was in contrast to the fear of impending danger, that was to befall his kingdom.
“ O Rajan, restrict the movements of Rani Yashodha till the time comes. According to the prophesy, it is she along with the closest few who will be capable of changing the situation and saving all from the impending doom. According to my best beliefs, give her free reign in the north east section of your palace. Let her keep only the most trusted near her. Donot let her be seen by any other. “
The kingdom sees anomalies of different kinds… adrishyam!
In stray but disturbing incidents, animals were getting butchered. Even dogs and cats were not being spared. Unknown fevers, were visiting households. Hallucinations were being reported. Quite recently, one of the gupt char was killed in the most demonic way, his entrails had been strewn and head crushed. It seemed evil was lurking close, and waiting to give vent to utmost anger!
Meeting with Evil One….
One day…at the courtyard…
The sky was heavy with dark clouds and shamiyana had been erected. The Raja and Matarani was was listening to the complaints of the subjects, when the announcement was made of the advent of a soothsayer.
Dressed in black gown and an assemblage of beads around her longer than usual neck; appeared a woman of dusky complexion with a reddish tinge. She carried a bag made from animal skin. She had an odour, pungent and repulsive. Even after trying his best to avoid her eyes, the Raja was feeling hypnotized. The eyes were evil, cold and big. When she smiled, her teeth appeared larger than usual. The Matarani felt unwell, even if she had been having good health.
“Hear me speak Raja ! I am the ONE you seek , even in your nightmares!” She didnot open her mouth to speak, but the Raja heard her. He felt as if he has been glued to his throne. It was the dusky lady who approached his throne, and pulled him up. The Matarani understood the evil incarnate and tried to hide her true feelings, as she knew any outburst could result in harm to her son.
The following days saw the lessening of deaths of animals reported, but within the walls of Chiru fort, things were turning uglier day by day. The royal priest found it difficult to approach the Raja. The new soothsayer had earned such confidence in the Raja, that he was not even consulted. With each day, the Raja seemed to distance himself from his daily routine. He began to consult the dusky lady in all matters of the administration. He laughed and hallucinated like a madman. His wife found it difficult to approach him, and found solace in Matarani.
When she tried to go close to the Raja’s apartment, howls could be heard from inside, and shreiks of her husband. The royal kitchen dishes underwent changes with the recent change of preference of food of the Raja. The food was cooked by the mysterious lady herself for the Raja. The dwar rakshaks reported that the Raja was turning skin and bone slowly, in place of the robust physique that he had. He seemed to limp after the mysterious lady, and seemed to be unable to comprehend the time of day, season or the surroundings.
At times, in the middle of the night, the Raja appeared in front of his wife, sleepwalking but uttering incoherent words. At times, he spoke of her “mangtika”, “the silver one”, and said “save me!”, before disappearing from where he came.
She knew, she was worth the whole kingdom and more to her Raja, but why did he talk about her silver mangtika? What could she do to save him and the rest of the royal household? What could she, a woman of just twenty do, to save her kingdom from falling to ruins? Totally unprepared, to face such dilemma, and the sudden absence of even the Raj Purohit, made her turn to he Raja’s library.
She began searching for the early chronicles on astrology. She read them again and again, as if to find out some remedies. Things were advancing at such a rate, that it was getting hard to comprehend, which sudden changes were going to throw the rule to complete abandonment, if any were at all alive by then!
The news began to make rounds in surrounding kingdoms of how the Raja of Chiru fort had turned nearly mad ,enslaved by a mysterious lady of unknown background. Yet, they too were afraid to approach Chiru, as news of the infantry getting killed or being sent to unknown were also getting circulated.
Within the walls of the palace, the dwar rakshaks could hear howls of wolf behind the closed doors of the new mistress. They could feel shivers running down their spines. At night the outside dwellers beyond the fort kept themselves indoors when the twilight approached. For strange sightings were getting circulated by word of mouth. Strange howls could be heard from within the palace. Serpents could be seen scaling the walls of the fort. Wolf could be seen leaping forward in the distance. But with the start of day, the visions or sightings seemed to evaporate in thin air.
Even Rani Yashoda in the middle of the night had been woken up only to find an apparition with hands extended carrying the lifeless body of Raja Chandrasena. She had fainted shortly after! Something had to be done, but quickly, for time was running fast!
The river that flowed outside on the steppes away from the fort often turned red with the blood of unknown, unreported beings. Howling could be heard in the middle of the night from the distant forest cover. One night there was thunder and lightning. The royal flag that remained hoisted on the fort got singed by lightning.
When things were deteriorating faster than expected the reappearence of Raj Purohit acted as a relief to Matarani Ahalya and Rani Yashoda. But Raja Chandrasena had collapsed to a comatose state.
Raj Purohit, Krishnadevaraya, had not returned alone. He had a foreigner from Egypt with him. Altogether, they called a meeting inside the Raja’s library in daytime.
It became evident from the meeting, that the evil they were fighting with was actually a werewolf. It somehow had found its way to this part of the country on a trade ship from Africa. Werewolf could be killed by silver bullets, cutting off or cracking open her head, then chopping her to pieces and burying underground covered preferably, with a silver embroidered cloth. Or, the pieces could be burnt in broad daylight, by moving away to a distance, for the smouldering ashes were harmful if inhaled. Later, the ashes could be thrown into the river or flowing water. The egyptian handed them each a silver bullet, some sharp knives, a revolver and asked them to carry swords as well. He asked each of them to be careful, as werewolves can move swiftly and can transform their shapes and visages at will.
They had to be killed after the break of dawn, before the sun set or an eclipse. “ Here, take this wolfsbane plant, which is dried. Crush it and mix with holy water, before spraying the mixture on yourselves. Keep a bunch under the Raja’s pillow. It will keep the werewolf at bay”. The egyptian was shown out through a secret door in the library.
Following night was a purnima. As the night fell, the usual howling could be heard. Raj Purohit, Krishnadevaraya approached Raja Chandrasena’s room from outside and placed the holy water near his bedside. He took a bunch of wolfsbane and placed it underneath the Raja’s gadda. The Raja murmering in his sleep, asked if it was Rani Yashoda, after that he fell into deep sleep.
Krishnadevaraya, Matarani Ahalya and Rani Yashoda, got ready by midnight, and advanced towards the werewolf’s thoroughfare, the door on the north. They were armed and ready.
Half an hour, after three in the early morning, they could hear scrapping sounds on the outer walls. From their hiding area they could see the werewolf. She had blood splattered on her front, claws and mouth. As she advanced towards her place, she paused as if she could hear something. Or was it the displeasing light smell of wolfsbane? No, that was not possible. Not in this part of the world. Who could imagine what she was?
She went in he room and washed herself. Then, she rested her exhausted frame on the bed. She fell asleep. This was the opportunity they were waiting for!
It was nearly four, and the eastern sky was rising up with the sun rays parting the clouds. The early birds were flying across the sky. The four circled the werewolf from all sides. Rani Yashoda aimed with the rifle with silver bullets and shot until the revolver was emptied. She now knew why the Raja was talking about silver mangtika. It was not the ornament but the silver metal that he was speaking of, and trying to hint at. As she shot, angry tears flowed down her cheeks.
They struck fast, with swords, lest she changes shape. The strikes were hard, uneven but sure in their attempt! She attempted to rise, but the silver bullets stopped her. There she lay, cut to pieces. Her head was cut off. Rani Yashodha, along with Matarani Ahalya sighed with relief. The deed was done. They slowly went to their rooms and cleaned themselves of the blood and stench. As for the Royal Priest, he opened the other door and summoned the guards. The monster cut to pieces made them shudder but thankful!
The pieces were carried to the river bank and consumed by raging flames. The ashes were thrown into the river. The sun shone bright. The people were relieved. They had lost their dear ones, acquaintances and some of their flock; but the battle was won. They called out Rani Yashoda’s name in reverence. Matarani Ahalya couldnot stop the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. As for Raja Chandrasena; weak from malnutrition and the werewolf’s fear, he had lost himself. Slowly, with the required care and love from his wife, he grew stronger. Soon after, they had a raj yajna to remove all remaining unholy effects. The flag was hoisted on the top of the fort, from where it fluttered happily. Rani Yashoda, took upon herself to raise an army of women infantry, who guarded her land. The neighbouring kingdoms grew friendly towards Chiru fort as they knew that the lion roared within its walls and sheep were protected.
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