Sunday, February 21, 2010

Things fall apart: The story of a conquest -- Part 2

Read Part 1. You'll find the preamble there as well.

For names of people, I use two letters; and there are only four characters in the story – three kings or princes, HC, AH, HS, and the captain of the invading warrior army, FP. For names of cities, I use a single letter; and there are three cities, C, Q and M. These abbreviations, too, could provide clues about the place and empire whose fall I am alluding to.


Coincidentally, about a hundred and fifty of the famed warriors – the half men half beasts the kingdom had heard rumors about – were sailing along the coast at the same time, their progress parallel to AH’s victorious advance inland along the mountain range. The warriors were unaware of happenings in the kingdom but they soon made landfall and made their way up the mountains to a small provincial town called M, where AH’s victorious army, consisting of a hundred thousand men, was resting and partying boisterously at the outskirts.

M lay halfway between the northern city Q and the capital C. The main square had buildings on each side and a vast plain stretched from the square. Here, the warriors met the following day with AH and his army.

It was a surreal encounter that would, even centuries later, elicit utter disbelief.

AH had no idea that these curious looking visitors – completely unlike anything he or his people had ever seen – had downed an empire to the north. And that there were out to do something similar now. But AH couldn’t be blamed: however majestic and odd the much feared men looked, they were few in number and hard to take seriously.

Most of them had thick hair growing on their faces; it covered their cheeks, chins; the same shock of hair, sometimes smooth, sometimes messy, often drooped to their chests. They were dressed in some kind of hard metal that covered much of their faces and bodies. They held a long, gleaming rod in their hands. But, strikingly, each of them was in union with a beast that was six feet tall and had a long and powerful snout. The animals looked spectacular but benign. Each warrior’s torso was positioned at the back of his beast, straddling it. This gave them the advantage of height: they towered over AH’s foot soldiers, who held clubs and maces.

Only AH who was carried in a high, caparisoned litter looked down on the warrior army.

The meeting at the square of CM was supposed to be one in which AH sized up these strange visitors. The previous day the captain of the visitors, FP, had met peacefully with AH at the outskirts where the army was camped, and AH had promised to come to the square the next day.

He did come, but late and at an inexorable pace with his massive army. Like his father, AH was a proud man and held ferocious authority over his subjects. He led a lavish lifestyle; everything that he used was revered and retained by his servants. The bones of the meat that he ate were kept with care; as were clothes of his that were soiled. When he expectorated, the spit was not allowed to touch the ground, but a woman collected it in her hand. It was understandable that AH, well aware of the feelings of submissiveness he generated among his people – he was the son of the great, divine king HC after all – should treat the new entrants to his lands with disdain.

At the meeting in the square, one of the warriors was dressed in attire noticeably different from others. He started speaking passionately. He clasped in his hand an item that seemed to be made from two metal pieces: the shorter piece, two inches long, intersected near one end of the much longer piece. It meant nothing to AH, but in the coming years, this pattern of two intersecting straight lines would become commonplace in the kingdom.

In his other hand, the oddly attired man held that looked like a rectangular box, which he gave to AH. But it did not "contain" anything. The cover opened to one side revealing a cluster of rustling, thin and creased pads, one laid over another, and with strange symbols on them. A wonderful aroma wafted from these pads. It was beautiful as works of art are, but the symbols made no sense to AH and yet, the interpreter, who was translating, repeatedly pointed to the box, and kept mumbling about “submitting”.

It all sounded like nonsense to AH. Irritated, he threw the ‘box” from the perch of his litter.

And all hell broke loose.

(final part to come...)

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