Finally... an opportunity to really boost my confidence!
Trust me, I'm NOT a coward... contrary to what most people insist. I'm sick and tired of all the snarky comments and hushed whispers. No, really.
What I lack is self-confidence. I'm caught in this vicious cycle of not believing enough in myself, and not practising my moves enough. It only leads to further deterioration.
My warfare techniques aren't all that bad, you know. I do a fairly decent job when I secretly practise my moves in my private chambers, but EVERYTHING gets badly jumbled up when there are people around. Devasena's meaningful smile only messes things up further.
And if that's not enough, my sister INSISTS that I must go out of my way to impress Devasena.
Take that. They want me to woo that scary girl.
The two strangers currently standing before me are my only hope. Perhaps training that handsome young man would prove to be a real confidence-booster for me.
And if I'm lucky, and the young man is not as idiotic as he looks (I secretly pray so!), my sister might stop pestering me about Devasena, and try to convert HIM into a worthy suitor.
But alas! Devasena isn't someone to fall for good looks alone, and this man needs to work really hard. I wish him luck there.
Tough life until then.
Time to get started with my new student.
Right. Where do we begin?
A mace, perhaps?
No way. He might look well-built, but let's face it-- the mace is QUITE heavy. I cannot risk shattering his confidence.
How about a spear, then?
Nope, it's too long. Manoeuvring it can be quite problematic for an utter newbie.
I need something of a manageable length and weight. Ah, yes... a sword sounds just fine. Here we go!
But wait, wouldn't it be a nice idea to first ask him what HE considers himself good at? He surely must excel in SOMETHING, right?
"Everything, My Lord," he replies with an easy confidence that I instantly fall in love with. "Count and cup with cowrie, hide and seek, lambs and tigers, drop the handkerchief..."
"What about hopscotch?" I cannot resist myself from cutting in.
"I did watch it from a distance, but the girls did not include me," he whines, instantly earning a cascade of giggles.
Ahem, we gotta concentrate now. I wish we had some privacy, grrrr....
"Look attentively at me. Watch. Observe carefully and you'll learn. See, hold it like this, lift it high... and then one swift blow on the trunk," I smile at the visibly terrified lad. "Here, try it."
He instantly obeys, but he is holding it the wrong way. No wonder it's the FLAT surface of the sword that's landing on the trunk.
Time for some hands-on training.
"Lift it above your head," I hold his hand while I instruct. "Like... this..."
There lies the trunk, neatly sliced into two.
Honestly I can't remember the last time I achieved such a feat. And NEVER have I managed to do something like this in front of an entire gallery of spectators!
Oh, boy... this adorable dork is my lucky mascot!
"What a blow, My Lord!" The older man accompanying my student gushes in delight.
"Did I just do it?" I can't help wondering aloud.
"Of course you did, My Lord! Who else did?" The old man nods his head ever so enthusiastically while I triumphantly place the sword on my shoulder... not without a satisfied smirk at an utterly astonished Devasena.
"The eyes of an eagle, the might of an elephant, the physique of a tiger, the speed of a panther, the grace of a lion," the old man is delirious now. "I see the entire jungle in you, My Lord!"
A funny one, this man, but I like him. I'll teach him to wield the sword too.
I must try to do it again.
If I have been able to do it once, and that too in the presence of an entire gallery full of spectators-- including that scary girl-- I see no reason why I should fail to do it in the comfort zone of my own room.
Come on, Kumara... look at the inspiring series of portraits for some much-needed motivation, think of your lucky mascot (oops, I forgot his name again), whisper a prayer and JUST DO IT!
Damn this stubborn sword... why does it refuse to listen to me now?
Save me, Lord Mukunda!
Mukunda, however, is clearly in one of His naughtier moods, I realise a moment later, with a messenger heralding the arrival of none other than DEVASENA.
Phew... what do I do with this sword now? I can't even find the scabbard, but there is no time to look for it... the sword must go underneath the maroon cushion for the time being.
(I can only hope it doesn't slice the bedsheet... fingers crossed.)
Wait, I must hide the log too... whatever will she say if she sees me with THIS! There, dear, time to tuck you behind the curtain.
My worst fears come true when I turn around and see the Yuvarani smiling mirthfully at me. I wonder how much she has seen already.
"Welcome, Devasena," I try my best to ignore my palpitations and carry off a convincing smile. "If you decide to meet me at this time of the night, I am sure there must be a special reason that brings you here."
"My dear Kumara, I was unable to witness your brave feat in the morning," she affectionately places her hand over mine, and before I even realise it, I am smiling like a hopeless kid who has been praised by his teacher for the very first time.
Alas, I have reacted too soon, for her subsequent words-- "Will you please demonstrate it once again for me?"-- are enough to send me into an uncontrolled bout of sweating.
"Well, how can I get a log of wood now?" I smile weakly, hoping against hope that she hasn't noticed my dilated pupils.
"It's over there," giggle two of her maids, rushing to the the curtain to fetch the carefully hidden log.
"Oh, yeah, I forgot it was hidden here! Thanks for finding it," I struggle to maintain an amicable smile. "Now if only I could find my sword..."
"There," smirks a third girl-- good heavens, Deva's maids are worse than the Yuvarani herself-- as she fishes out the sword.
All routes of escape are shut now. Ah, Kumara, you need to do it somehow.
"Shift a few steps backwards," Deva instructs her maids, and I mentally thank her for it. I am no Arjuna-- I would have perfectly seen Dronacharya and all my fellow students had I been asked to shoot into that bird's eye-- and the farther these cheeky girls shift from my field of vision, the easier it is for me to focus.
"STOP! STOP, MY LORD!" A voice comes to my rescue just before my sword proceeds to make an embarrassing landing.
It's the crazy old man, with my student behind him. I have no words to thank him for his timely entry... I am totally convinced that these two are indeed my lucky mascots.
"What do you think you are doing, My Lord?" The old man continues his dramatic monologue. "Are you not aware that a brave feat performed by a hero like you must not be repeated at night? It is considered an evil omen, My Lord!"
"Of course I knew.. it's just that I forgot," I hastily toss the sword into my pupil's hands... ah, yes, SHIVUDU--I remember the name now. "You reminded me at the right time."
Devasena-- a visibly furious Devasena-- is clearly swallowing none of this, and if looks could kill, the poor old man would have been reduced to ashes by now.
"We will go hunting tomorrow," she announces to me without much ado. "Wild boars are ruining our fields."
Oh no, I hate pigs... those dirty creatures!
"Not pigs, wild boars... they are giving our farmers a tough time," Deva repeats for emphasis. "We will be leaving early in the morning," she announces without giving me the slightest chance to protest. "Bring him too," she gestures at Shivudu.
"What are you SAYING, Your Highness? My nephew is an absolute good-for-nothing," screams the old man in agony while a very terrified Shivudu clutches his shoulder. "He is surely going to create a mess there!"
"We will never know his worth if we keep him confined to the kitchens, shall we?" The Yuvarani silences him in no time. "He must come too," she announces regally before marching off.
Ah, I do wish that the presence of this wonder boy leads to more miracles tomorrow. Who knows, if I am lucky, I might even end up slaying a couple of boars.
Perhaps I should thank Devasena for (inadvertently) making life easy for me... for a change, that is.