Mudraseni did not know how far they had travelled. It had been years since she had seen her home. She remembered her village in moments like dreams, the red earth, the blue water and then, when she tried to remember the details, it was all gone. She had been away too long.
She had grown tall and lissome, her youth budding as she learnt new ways of being. Her growing body was always balanced, as she learnt when she walked the tightrope like a natural the very first time. She was fearless, and could climb the tallest tree, sliding down the rope tied to the top with more grace than anybody else in the jungle. She learnt to be silent, to be still. In the middle of the nightly story telling session when the old wheezing priest asked for her, she knew she had learnt to disappear.
She was the only student there, so they were all her teachers. She learnt to fence with the wind – silently and swiftly. She learnt to slice, to be fearless at the sights and smells of raw destruction. The elegance was in the act, and she knew there would be rewards each time. Tomorrow she was going back to Beshabo. To learn how the instruments of the body and the instruments of the forge could be as one. She had learnt to be silent, now she would learn to talk.
Beshabo lived many mountains away. But their steeds were swift, their loads light. They knew the herbs that would cure tiredness, and the fruits that would sustain them. They travelled in twos – girl in training does not need a large escort. She was already wilier than the normal hunters. A creeper in her hands was deadlier than a lasso, and she could make grass the last bed the hunter would ever see. So she went, with one other, to Beshabo.
Beshabo welcomed them with a bowl of soup, warm and enriching. And langorous. It thickened her tongue, the words were stuck. They would never be so again, because she would learn to be true to her quick nature. She learnt to speak with eyes, with smiles and with wiles. She learnt to speak with anger, the snake hissing to enrage. Dulcet tones to entice, low to lay the ground. Her words were as a mattress, one could not help but sink into them. She strung them together in enchanted ways, the enchantment driving people to know not what they did, or why they did it. Later, they would not remember how they landed up where they were. But she knew, for she sent them there.
Her tongue was her sword, the sword her tongue. Both flashed and were never seen. Both left a faint memory of a swish, but one could never be sure. They were sharp and sure, and never left a mark. The cut was fine and deep, and blood oozed only when she was long gone.
Beshabo had taught her well. She was now the mistress of the honeyed sword. The mithi chhuri.
For those who liked the first Mudraseni: mudraseni