Varga's Ruse

chapter 12 from 'Gift'

 

 

Chapter 12

Varga's Ruse

"I am victory, I am adventure,

and I am the good quality

in all superior men."

-Sri Gitopanishad

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Satram revealed his plan for Raj and Vikar to find the Rishi, and for Varga to go and retrieve the crystal ... and as he spoke, a knavish groan creaked from Varga's throat, and He sighed in a low whisper, "Very well ... it is for the cause of Dharma."

Varga wondered how he got included in this whole adventure. He thought back on that day in the forest ... yes ... it was the cryptic voice within, and he remembered, he acted on the mysterious voice deep within.

"It is surely the wish of the Supreme Isvara," he murmured to himself. "We are puppets in his hands, and he causes us to dance as he wishes."

The next morning, Varga performed daily rituals and chanted mantras in the stillness of the early morning hours, awaiting the rising sun. He entered the temple and received a garland from the Deity, and gazed upon that brilliant form with shining eyes.

At sunrise, he watched the fiery globe emerge ... and he murmured the Gayatri, and the golden rays chased away the fleeing shadows. He meditated on the light of the radiant sun ... only a tiny fraction of the Brahmajyoti effulgence ... it had once again banished the night's darkness.

He began his journey with several men, and some pack mules. Sri Satram employed his mystic vision to show Varga the location of the gem, which lay within the lair of a tribe of dacoits. It was a few days journey through a rugged land.

His band journeyed through a mountain pass along trails steep and treacherous. At the end of the second day, they made camp in a moonlit cove of trees. In a short time, one of their trackers spotted the Dacoit's camp, about six miles away.

In the dead of night, Varga and a few men stealthily crept through some brush to the crest of a low hill and surveyed the camp from a distance. The night darkened as a large cloud veiled the moon, and Varga and his men crept to the edge of camp. They found a sentry who was carelessly falling asleep on his watch. This band of dacoits wore some strange traditional robes with hoods concealing the face.

Varga dexterously circled the unwary man and he detected that the sentry was snoring in a drunken stupor. He quickly bound, gagged, and disrobed him. Varga donned the man's robe, and instructed his men to wait for further signal, as he skulked into their camp, incognito.

The camp was a ram-shakle tangle of tents and run down huts. There were two well built buildings in the center of camp. The large one appeared to be a tavern and the small one appeared to be a temple.

He milled about, looking for possible clues or leads, and then entered the tavern, his face well concealed by the draping hood.

It was a raucous tavern, the atmosphere was filled with loud noises and peels of laughter. The mayhem was occasionally accented by sudden brawls, and bursting bottles, flashing fists, cursing, and flying chairs. This only charged the enthusiasm and mirth of the belligerent crowd.

Varga leaned against the bar and ordered with a muffled voice. He ease-dropped on a nearby conversation. A grotesque ruffian was boasting loudly, slurring and gesturing like a stinking drunk, his tongue unrestrained, bragging about the capture of a man and some gem of mysterious powers.

There was a sudden crash against the bar and Varga turned to see a big bully taunting a smaller man. Nothing ruffles Varga's feathers more than the ignoble deeds of a bully. Intolerant of such acts, Varga stepped between the cowering man and the thug.

This enraged the brute so, that he swung at Varga with all his might. Being nimble and quick, Varga eluded his fist and doubled him over with a right to the midsection.

The thug looked up for a brief moment, only to stare with eyes wide open, in total disbelief. His gaze was put to rest, as Varga belted him up and over the bar, and he slid the full length down the polished wooden top, bowling over everyone's drink.

This caused a large uproar, followed by intense glares, as everyone turned to stare and grumble. The smaller man quickly bade Varga to follow him outside. The crowd was too drunk to meddle, and turned back to their boisterous activities as Varga and his mate exited discreetly.

They repaired to a secluded spot, and the man said, "My name is Sugosh ... thank you for saving my skin. I liked the way you knocked him across that bar ... why, nobody else would dare interfere. I see you are a stranger, please tell me who you are and how I may repay you." Varga then introduced himself, and inquired of his story.

"I was captured by this band of rogues at when they raided my small village years ago," Sugosh said. "The King's army arrived in time to capture many of the dacoits, but many got away, with me included as their slave. And so, I've been waiting for my chance to escape, please take me with you."

"Sure Sugosh, I'll get you out of here, no problem, but first you might help me with my task at hand. I am looking for a wonderful crystal gem, said to be in the hands of these rogues."

"Oh yes," answered Sugosh, "I can help you with that. Over on the eastern side of camp, there's a guarded cabin. Within is a prisoner by the name Megadut, and the gem. It seems they caught the hapless fool outside the Shrine of Mahadeva. He was boasting of his possession of some powerful gem."

Varga and Sugosh set their sights upon that cabin and circled around back through the woods. Varga had to step over several drunks who were passed out and sleeping in the bushes.

Varga thought what a zest they have for this rot gut brew, how they guzzle it down!

They stealthily made their way to the rear of the cabin. In concealment they heard a conversation of the Guards.

"When is the journey to crater lake to be?" said the first.

The second replied, "Kergold said we will depart tomorrow at dawn, one day before the eve of the full moon. You know how the Kraken is fond of human offerings on a full moon night!" They both cackled loudly, anticipating the fun to be had.

Varga then devised a plan. Sugosh lured one of the guards around to the back with promises of strong drink. The guard scratched his head and weighed the pros and consequences of drinking on the job. He quickly discarded the cons and advanced to Sugosh with a grin. Varga stepped out from behind a tree ... as the guard started to gasp in surprise, Varga promptly knocked him unconscious. He then went to the front and commanded the other guard to open the door. The guard glanced at the gleaming dagger protruding from Varga's robe and complied to the order without a peep. They went inside and Varga gagged and tied up the guard.

Megadut squealed in excitement upon presuming his escape, but his smile turned to a frown as Varga ignored him and instead forced open the box holding the gem.

Megadut beckoned him and pleaded for his release in a submissive voice, "Please take me with you and I will vow my loyalty and service to you ... oh great sir!"

At that time, Sugosh submitted this advice to Varga, "Be wary of this base person, oh Varga! See how he pleads with feigned submission! Policy is the true substance of dynasties, and thus one should not accept the fake submission of a rogue, this is clearly seen in the story of the snake and the frog." Sugosh then related the following story:

Once there was a clever snake who was lazy and unable to catch frogs easily and so he remained motionless upon a riverbank. The King of the frogs was curious and asked the snake, from a safe distance, why he was sitting so still, and why he didn't eat frogs as of old.

The snake replied, "Once I was at chase of some frog, and by mistake I did bite the finger of a Brahmin's son by mistake, and he died, and so the Brahmin cursed me to be a bearer of frogs, instead of an eater of frogs, and so here I am, and I cannot eat you, no, I can only carry you on my back."

And as the King heard this, he became desirous of being carried and so he came out of the water with his minister frogs and they all mounted upon the snake's back for a ride. After the snake had gained their confidence, he feigned exhaustion and said, "I cannot go a step further without any food, unless you give me food, how can a servant serve without subsistence?"

At this, the King frog said, "alright, I suppose you can eat a few of my followers." And so the snake ate all the frog followers, and the King tolerated it because of blind pride at being carried about on his back.

"And so," said Sugosh, "we should not give into false submission or a calamity may befall us for such indiscretion."

Varga replied, "Oh Sugosh, you give noble advise, and yet I feel compelled to take him in. I remember how Laksmana advised Lord Rama not to accept the brother of Ravana, Vibishana, into his camp. Laksmana said that he was a brother of the enemy and one should never trust an enemy. But Lord Rama said that he never refused anyone who came to him in surrender, and so I shall adopt the same policy, even though I may live to regret it."

And so the three tried to escape through the back way. They made their way secretly through the woods, with the moon light shimmering about the tree boughs. They were upon the outer limits of the woods and ill fortune fell, as Megadut stumbled over a sleeping drunk in the bushes, and stepped on his head so hard that the stinking lush screamed out in bloody murder. This alarmed a nearby sentry, who alerted his comrades with a loud whistle, and droves of soldiers came from all directions and surrounded them. The odds outweighed Varga as the dacoits were in numbers and were armed with swords and spears.

Being trapped, just as the immortal soul is trapped within the material body, Varga gave a good fight, but they were outnumbered. He opted for discretion instead of valor, on account of the former being the better part of the latter ... and he decided to surrender.

They were put into jail, and the dacoits grinned and slapped each other's backs and shook each other's grimy hands vigorously, after spitting on them as a token of victory.

As they sat in the cell, Sugosh exclaimed, "What irony fate has wrought! Our escape is foiled by a drunken sot, passed out and sleeping on the ground!"

Varga nodded in sad confirmation and said, "Aye, the devil's brew has waylayed many a man's dream."

At the crack of dawn, the chief priest of the dacoits came in. His name was Kergold. He had beady sunken eyes that peered out from hollow sockets, hidden under a shaggy bush of black eyebrows, as black as a demon's aura. They appeared to be eyes that delighted in the suffering of others. A meticulously manicured black beard outlined his cruel thin smile, which glowered underneath a crooked hook nose. He wore an elaborate crimson robe, studded with jewels.

He took an immediate dislike to Varga, as Varga did to him. Kergold introduced himself as the high priest of the Dacoits. He said with an eruption of cruel laughter, "So you tried to sneak away with the jewel? Well, I am glad you were foolhardy enough to try, for now we have three human sacrifices instead of one, ha, ha, ha."

He arrogantly told Varga how they would all be fed to the Kraken monster on the night of the full moon.

Later that morning, they began their journey on the road. Varga and the other two men were chained together and had to walk under heavy guard. Kergold was constantly prattling and goading Varga with graphic details of how the Kraken likes to dismember his victims before eating them.

They all stopped to rest in a grove of trees, and being unobserved, a small bird flew up to Varga's shoulder and whispered something into his ear. Varga was marvelled by this bird who appeared out of nowhere and who spoke in pleasing tones. The bird related how Varga's loyal men were waiting ahead on the path, ready to ambush the band of dacoits and rescue him. Varga thought for a while, then smiling, he shook his head. He decided that he couldn't pass up such an opportunity for fun.

He decided to decline their offer, and execute the plan that appeared suddenly in his mind.

An idea came to Varga's mind like a gift from heaven, and it was as clever as a Koel bird, who saves his leisure time to sing his expert musical compositions, while his chicks are unwittingly reared by other birds.

Besides, he thought, we wouldn't want any blood to spill ... especially our own.

Varga told the bird, with a whisper, to return and give this message to his men, "When the time is right, I will give a signal, our secret code, just stay close and wait for this signal. Please tell them that I have everything under control. I will return from the hands of these knaves, just as the soul returns to this world into another body, life after life."

The bird chirped in agreement and then flew away. He returned to the men and relayed the message. They were troubled to hear such a plan that seemed foolhardy. They thought they had a better chance with a surprise ambush.

The bird then said, "When in the face of danger, the wise man will abandon fear and rashness and he will make a positive plan, please hear this story of the Lion and the Rabbit." The thrush then related this story:

Once in a forest there lived a Lion who terrorized all the creatures of the forest. He killed the animals at will and kept them always in fear.

They called a meeting to resolve what to do, and made a proposal to offer one animal daily to the Lion to appease him, so that he not kill more than the one offering. They gave this plan to him, and he so agreed. Thereupon, he ate his offering every day and did not strike fear into the hearts of the animals.

All was going as planned, but one day it happened to be the turn of a certain rabbit. With a melancholy face, the rabbit turned and started for the Lion. Along the way he began to think to himself, "Why should I give in to death so easily? The brave are not bewildered in times of danger, and so I shall devise a plan!"

So thinking, he arrived late before the Lion, who was very angry and chastised him for being tardy. "How dare you come late and keep me hungry!" roared the Lion.

The rabbit replied, "I left on time, but was detained by another Lion."

Upon hearing this, the Lion's eyes became red with anger and he whisked his tail and roared, "Who is the Lion who dares to come into my territory? He shall pay for this intrusion with his dear life! Show me where he lies!"

The rabbit said, "Come, you shall see." The wise rabbit led the Lion to a distant well and said, "he lives in this well, see for yourself."

The Lion, beside himself in rage, looked down into that well and roared. He saw his reflection in the water, and thinking it was another Lion, and hearing the echo of his own roar, he charged into the well to attack, and thus drowned himself.

"Thus, you can see," said the thrush, "that Varga is he who is truly brave, and he will surely devise a wise plan for his escape, please do not worry," The men were pleased with this story and the wisdom of the bird.

Meanwhile Varga and his captors entered into deep caverns and tunnels, and dark and narrow passageways that burrowed into the bowels of a great mountain. Soon they came out into a great spacious cavern in the middle of the mountain.

In the middle of the cavern was a large lake, and looking up, the mountain walls appeared like a funnel with a small opening at the top, revealing a patch of blue sky. Evidently they were in the remains of an extinct volcano. A large temple was there on the eastern shore of the lake.

Varga witnessed the ornate carvings on the walls of the temple, as he was told of the deity of Maha-Bairavia who resided within. They marched down and filed into the temple to gaze at his countenance. The deity appeared fierce as he stood with a chopper in one hand and a decapitated head in the other. The dangling head, held by a knot of hair, was being nipped at by a dancing mongrel dog. After a brief session with the deity, they stepped outside and marched up to the sacrificial arena.

Kergold pointed out the monster Kraken, who was beyond a wall of rock and surrounded by the lake. The monster was seen to be very large. He walked in an upright position and sometimes jumped about upon huge hind legs. He had a long powerful tail that whipped about as he gnashed his large jaws, which dripped with saliva from it's rows of sharp teeth. Indeed, he resembled the Tyrannosaurus Rex of yore. His red eyes blazed like fire and flashed and rolled about, searching for a victim to gorge upon. Kergold's men took Varga and his cohorts up to the sacrificial stakes near the wall of rock and tied them up.

Megadut was sniveling and squealing for mercy, which gave Kergold much pleasure. Kergold explained how the rock wall was parted by a series of ropes and pulleys, and it would open at the appointed time.

"The Kraken especially is fond of human flesh on a full moon night, and so you will have many hours to think about it," said Kergold, and he laughed sadistically, increasing Megadut's suffering all the more.

Varga figured that they would have to wait until the moon reached the sky's midheaven, so that it would shine down through the opening hole above them, down onto the sacrificial arena, thus appeasing the sadistic idea of having a full moon feast for the Kraken.

Kergold also wanted to watch his victims suffer while the awaited their fate. Sugosh just stood silently, looking down, and Varga maintained a slight smile that drove Kergold furious underneath.

Kergold turned to leave, but Varga bade him to wait a moment. Kergold stopped and turned in his tracks, eager to hear Varga's plea for mercy. Instead, Varga gave him a tantalizing bit of information. He described in detail how the Shyama gem, around Kergold's neck, was empowered to change colors mysteriously. Kergold looked down to see what Varga meant.

One of his guards confirmed, "Yes, your excellency, I did notice the stone changing in color and hue, during the end of our journey."

Kergold shrugged, "So what of it Varga, do you expect me to postpone your execution for colors? Ha!"

"I suppose you've never heard about the gem's powers?" said Varga, baiting his prey. Kergold's eyes widened.

"Yes," said Varga, "just as the gem changes colors with each different bearer, it also has various powers, such as the ability to produce gold, to give special benedictions such as power and wealth to those who know the right incantations..." his voice trailed off in a beguiling tone.

Kergold's bulging eyes betrayed that he was indeed, ready to be reeled in.

"But, I suppose that we must get on with the execution ... we wouldn't want to deprive the monster of his full moon blood and flesh ... now would we?" said Varga with an amused smile.

Kergold quickly shot back, "Oh, fie on the full moon, that monster can wait ... I mean, Uh, you know I am a reasonable man ... perhaps we can work out a deal," his nervous grin exposed his ugly, greedy teeth.

Varga said, "I knew you was a man of great intelligence. We can bargain a stay of execution ... yes, it's good that we can work out a deal."

Just then Kergold's right hand man said, "My master, I do smell something crooked in the air. Do not fall into this deal so easily. Don't you see that this man comes to steal, and then he bargains for time with his crooked flattery! Only a fool, after seeing fault, will be changed by false flattery!"

Kergold replied, "Curb your tongue, knave ... we are the ones with weapons and he is the one with tied hands, remember? So what do I have to fear? Besides, even a thief can be tolerated if he works to one's advantage. Think of the story of the maiden and her old ugly husband. She was young and beautiful, and her husband was distressed because he was old and withered and could not win her affections ... even though he was rich and offered her many fine garments, jewels and comforts. Once, in the middle of night, a thief came into their house to steal, and entered their bedroom. Out of great fear, the maiden suddenly embraced her old husband and held him tight. At that moment, the house guards arrived, ready to kill the thief. The husband was so delighted with his wife's embrace that he immediately offered the thief great rewards of gold and silver and told his guards to escort the thief to the door. And so you can see that even a thief can sometimes be beneficial."

Varga was pleased with this story and said, "Yes, your excellency ... your words are a welcome guest in my ear. In a very short time, you will be very wealthy indeed." Varga was grinning ear to ear as they were promptly untied from the stakes.

Varga laid out his conditions. "First we must have a sumptuous feast in the hall, then we shall climb to the highest plateau at the top of the crater. There we will make the preparations for a Maha ritualistic tantric summoning, to climax at the midnight full moon, at the exact auspicious moment."

Kergold was in the net. He started shouting orders for the preparations.

That evening, they had a large feast. Varga avoided the meat dishes and still there was plenty. He laid out the plans for the midnight tantric ritual, which included several caskets of wine to be carried to the summit. This greatly irritated Kergold, but ushered in a storehouse of delight for his men.

It was a steep climb up a staircase, spiraling around the interior of the crater. Some men were beating drums in a ritualistic rhythm. The staircase emerged out through the top of the mountain, through the crater opening, out onto an open plateau. Above was the clear night sky, with the full moon shining brightly.

Kergold's men were tired from carrying the caskets of wine, and were happy to unload them from their shoulders. They were enlivened to gaze at the sky full of stars and the moon shining bright in the middle of the sky, like a king surrounded by his ministers and subjects. The drums continued to beat with a hypnotic rhythm.

Varga instructed Kergold to order all but two of his men to go down past the edge of the plateau. He said that the ritual was very sensitive and required the precise number of six men, and they must be alone and everything should be secretive. Varga and his friends remained with their hands and feet tied, and Kergold and the two guards comprised the remaining three.

They all sat in a circle around a fire. Varga chanted some hymns for a long time. He then addressed Kergold thus, "Please observe the gem around your neck. It is shining with a pale yellow. We must pass it around from man to man to see who is the auspicious bearer for this ritual. Oh, just see, the moon will be transiting the constellation of Krittika and will reach it's zenith in the midnight sky in one hour. That will be our moment of power."

Kergold then reluctantly passes the gem to one of his guards. Varga chanted again for a period and then stopped.

He said, "Now the wine is consecrated by the presiding spirits and now it must be consumed, so as to appease the spirits, otherwise their wrath will consume us. Now distribute these casks of wine!"

"But to whom?" demanded Kergold, greatly annoyed.

Varga retorted, "Quickly summon your men at the steps, they must distribute the wine before midnight, or all is lost!"

Kergold immediately summoned his men. They took the casks, keeping one for the few guards who remained at the top of the stairs, and the rest was taken down to men at the temple below. They were instructed to make sure all the wine was consumed immediately. Never had orders from Kergold resulted in such revelry and enthusiasm.

Varga continued to chant various incantations for half an hour, making sure the wine was all consumed, and Kergold was becoming weary.

"Keep passing the Gem around from man to man," insisted Varga. "Ah-ha, just see! How it turns a golden amber! (It was hung on the neck of Sugosh). Now is the auspicious time for deep meditation! We must close our eyes in deep meditation. Our moment of power is soon to come!"

Kergold shot him a irritated glance, but Varga retorted, "Come now Kergold, now don't spoil it at the moment of your triumph! Please! Close your eyes and meditate! Now!"

Kergold flicked his hand in resignation and ordered his men to close their eyes, as he did himself ... reluctantly, that is.

Meanwhile, Varga had worked the knots off his hands. He removed the hidden knife from his boot and cut the ropes from his feet. He then reached over and cut Sugosh's hands free, all the while chanting.

Sugosh freed Megadut, and then they tip-toed to the backs of the meditating Kergold and his two guards, and then a scuffle ensued.

Varga easily held up Kergold by his neck with such a grip that Kergold, with bulging wide eyes, opened his jaws wide to scream, but only a low "gha gha" emerged from his throat. Varga then gagged and bound Kergold from the ropes that were cut from his feet.

Meanwhile, Sugosh and one guard was rolling about on the ground in a fierce struggle, while Megadut was somewhat losing. The guard overpowered him and sat astride his chest ... pushing his head into the sacrificial fire. Megadut could only kick his legs wildly and squeal like a pig.

Varga jumped to his rescue and picked the guard up like a doll, and bound and gagged him. Sugosh had also subdued his man, and the three heros changed robes with the prior captors while the moon reached it's zenith.

Kergold's eyes bulged and glared with a fury that matched the glow of the full moon.

The guards at the top of the stairs were drunk and asleep. Varga and company passed by them and went down the stairs, their heads were concealed by the hoods of their new robes. Three prisoners, roped and bound, trailed behind. As they glided down the winding stairs, Varga sounded a loud call. Thereafter, the small bird winged it's way swiftly to Varga's shoulder. Varga whispered instructions into the bird's ear, and it flew off at once.

Upon reaching the bottom, Varga saw that the rest of the guards were sufficiently drunk from the caskets of wine and hardly a one of them noticed Varga as they all had fallen off into a delirious snooze. It appeared that they had just had a drunken brawl, with smashed chairs and tables lying all about. Not a protest was made as Varga led his prisoners to the sacrificial arena.

They tied up the three prisoners and Varga loosened the gag on Kergold just slightly. Kergold's eyes radiated like the anger of Rudra at the time of devastation. Outside the wall, Varga woke up several men and ordered them to open the gates, to let the Kraken in for the sacrifice. He then went to meet the rest of his men who were waiting for them at the mouth of the escape tunnel.

Meanwhile the delirious soldiers started to turn the pulleys that opened the stone gates. The Kraken stirred and turned toward the gates. He started to bellow and snort with delight in gleeful anticipation of a scrumptious feast. Kergold's eyes were wide with fear at this point.

Then Varga whispered some more words to the little bird and he flew off at once to the sacrificial arena. The thrush unloosened the rest of Kergold's gag, and Kergold immediately started screaming, "You fools! You idiots! It's me! It's me! You imbeciles! Close the gates now! Quick! Stop them before they escape!! Quick! They are getting away!" His voice was then gasping in fury and embarrassment.

A few drunken solders stumbled in pursuit up the steps, but Varga pushed them down like small children and his men laughed in glee. As they escaped up through the winding stairs, they could still hear the screaming of Kergold ... his curses reverberating and echoing through the tunnels.

 

Gunga Express     Jayananda Prabhu    Intelligencer

Other Gift pages -  Jewel   -   Chap 1  -  Nrsimhadeva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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