The man was laughing hysterically. In the pitch darkness of the dungeon, the warrior could not make out the appearance of the man. He raised his torch high but he could only see ropes trapping the man hoisting him up to a greasy wall, his flailing hands, and his bloodshot red eyes. He continued laughing hysterically, his voice echoing in the dungeons. The warrior pulled out an arrow from his quiver and landed it into his chest. The man withered, and the laughter ceased.
The man’s body tore apart, and a flood of light engulfed him. The warrior covered his eyes until the intense light died down, and an inviting but sombre room was visible across the wall. The warrior entered, his life on his toes. His heartbeats quickened and sweat formed over his brow. The silence was eerie.
The room had a fireplace in the centre, two cushioned chairs placed on each side, facing the fireplace. The walls were decorated with hunter trophies. So many hyenas, the warrior lost count. A man was sitting in the left chair, in front of the fireplace. He clumsily held a glass of wine, sipping occasionally.
The familiarity of the voice lured him, more than the warmth of the fireplace. He occupied the other chair.
“We have met before.” The man spoke.
The man cast a glance towards him, then turned to his wine. “She’s fire. She might burn you.”
“I am not here to let go.”
The man pointed to the door at the end of the room. It stood out oddly due to its fluorescent colour, opposed to the rather dark ambience of the room. The warrior got up from the chair and opened the door.
A garden laden with green carpet of grass lay before him. He walked a few paces but stopped in his tracks. The smell, he thought. He had felt this fragrance before. And now that he realized, the fragrance was all that he could feel standing in the garden. Running in all directions, right upto the horizon, were myriads of shrubs with blooming white flowers. Jasmine, the warrior thought. It smelt of jasmine. Every pore of his body filled with ecstasy at the thought of the jasmine flower, placed artfully in her wet, oily hair. How it danced with her flowing hair!
In the distance he saw a gardener stand erect, against the sun. The warrior could see his beaming smile. His build eerily resembled the man in the previous room. He raised one hand parallel to the ground and flicked over the palm with the other.
Hundreds of butterflies rose from his palm and flew through the garden. Flapping their colourful wings, they glided over the breeze. Riding the gusts of wind, they soared high only to come down low. An exhilarating sight to watch. They reminded him of the women in their village. How they danced together in the morning on their way to the river. They reminded him of her. Her hips swaying with every footstep, her dangling ponytail moving in rhythm.
He followed the butterflies like a madman - feeling that they would take him to her abode. Was she bathing in the river, across the horizon? He followed those creatures running like the runner he was. But whenever they were inches out of his grip, he would find himself being miles away from their swarm. Putting in all his energy in his legs, he ran like his life depended upon it. Perhaps it did.
He trampled the jasmines as he ran, thorns in the shrubs pierced his feet. But his eyes were fixed on the swarm of butterflies. His legs were burning with pain, but he refused to slow down. He was very near now. He put out his hand, wanting to clutch one in his hands. The trailing one had yellow wings dotted with black circles. He clasped the butterfly as it fluttered in his grip.
Suddenly, the ground below him broke apart. The wet soil teared up, and he fell down a deep hole until getting hit by the ground.
His face was wounded with pebbles cutting hard. He turned around on his back. A clan of hyenas stood around him in a circle. They snarled as he tried to get up. The biggest one, with fangs as long as his fingers, stood closest to him. As the warrior sat up cautiously, the hyena brought its face closer to the warrior. Its deep red eyes shone in the darkness of the night.
The warrior was itching to grab the knife that hung at his back. But any sudden movement and the clan might charge. He slowly inched his right hand towards his back. The hyena’s eyes followed with a glare of anger. Move any more and I will rip you apart, they said. The warrior’s hand stayed rooted to its place. The hyena moved closer, licking the warrior’s face. He shut his eyes, preparing for his fate.
A gust of cool breeze made way through the silence of the woods. The trees swayed, and the warrior heard a whooshing sound, very close to his body. He slowly opened his eyes. The knife had pierced the hyena in the middle of its brow. It lay by its side, blood gushing over its lifeless face. The other hyenas howled together and ran away in different directions, losing themselves in the entangled paths of the jungle.
The warrior got on his knees. The knife had been thrown from behind. A man appeared from behind the trees - his rescuer. Dressed in a dark cloak, he only exposed his arms. His hands, the warrior felt, had an uncanny resemblance to that of the gardener. The rescuer removed the knife and started to walk in the opposite direction.
The warrior followed. “Thank you for saving my life.”
The rescuer continued walking, cutting down dead branches that came in their way.
“Have we met before?” He asked, trying to keep up the pace.
“No.” The rescuer replied.
They walked on for a long time, trampling thorns and flowers all the way. At last, they reached a small stream. A wooden cottage stood by its banks. A dilapidated boat was anchored near the cottage. The rescuer walked towards the boat and pulled it in the stream. He rowed along, as the moonlight shone on the surface of water, ever so slightly disturbed by the ripples.
The warrior entered the wooden cottage. It smelt of mushy soil and frying vegetables. It’s frail walls were made up of bamboo. In the center of the hut was built a temporary bed, made with straws and hide. It reminded him of home. He sat on the edge of the bed, folding his legs. Sweat began forming on his bare back. He undid the quiver and let it lay on the ground. The heat was getting to him. His eyes scanned the room. An earthen pot stood in the corner of the room, standing erect on some bricks. He filled the pail lying on the floor and gulped down the water.
The water froze his sensations, his thirst was satisfied. But his heat wasn’t. Lying on the bed, he kept staring at the ceiling. A hole had broken off, giving a peek to the sky. Birds flew in flocks away from the sun, perhaps towards the rivers. They flapped their wings in a dreary rhythm. Their mundane flying against the scorching sun pained his eyes. He wanted to fall asleep, more than he wanted to get up. But that was not a choice. A quick nap was too luxurious.
The fragrance snapped him from his thoughts. It was weaker than the pots, and the mud and the bamboo. But he recognized it in an instant. Like a true kingfisher, he picked the smell. The door opened, and the jasmine fragrance lingered with her in the cottage. She stood at the door, pouting.
The warrior couldn’t believe his eyes. The moment was here. His wildest dreams. She walked up to him and her splendid beauty filled his senses. He caressed her face as she undid everything that covered him. Pulling himself closer, breath by breath, he reached to her lips, only to be pushed down.
“Not so easy,” she said in her usual, frail voice. Pulling a bunch of ropes from behind her back, she asked, “How about this?”
He smiled and lay down, closing his eyes. It was a moment more beautiful than his entire life. He wasn’t going to refuse it. As the ropes tightened around his limbs, he shut his eyes and surrendered himself to the beast of his desires.
His eyes opened to pitch darkness. There was no scorching sun, only the ghostly dungeons. He felt stones brush up against his back every time he moved. He was pinned against a wall, hooks and ropes around his body. He withered to let go but only ended up bruising himself. There was no voice in his throat, no life in his breaths.
From a far right corner entered a figure holding a burning torch. The figure approached, a quiver hanging by his back. The warrior focused on his face and laughed. By the time the figure was close and the torch was held high, the warrior was in hysterics. The figure pulled out an arrow and shot at the warrior's chest. The warrior laughed until his last breath.