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Prince Bajrang's first hunt was tomorrow. He, his father, and several of the king's subjects would venture into the lush surrounding jungle to hunt the large wild boars that roamed. His handmade spear tipped in a large, glimmering arrowhead stood erect in the corner of his chambers.
His training in the designated courtyard had gone fairly smoothly over the months, and yet the prince knew there was a very big difference between sparring another human and actually applying the skills to bring down a vicious beast. His nerves were electric and on edge; he truly felt unprepared.
The fear of bringing shame to the great Rajasthan throne grew more fresh and raw with each passing moment.
“Greetings, my son.” Came the voice of his father, the king, reverberating from the arched doorway.
Bajrang turned to provide a solemn nod of acknowledgment to his revered successor, before once again averting his stare back upon the expanse of the kingdom he was expected to one day govern.
The king was a demanding, but wise ruler. Though Bajrang grandly attempted to hide his anxiety, it emanated from his aural imminence quite plainly.
“You are nervous about the hunt tomorrow.” His father stated with a calm stoicism. “There is no need to hide such a fact from me.”
Bajrang inhaled and released a sigh of apprehension, nodding once more to affirm his father's uncanny perception.
The king's visage remained stony, and yet his eyes began to glisten in machination.
“Come with me to my study, dear Bajrang. I have something to show you.”
The prince rose and left with the king, feeling duly curious as he walked beside his father through several tall palace corridors and into the ruler's luxurious study.
“Do you see that painting by my favorite mahogany bookshelf?” The king asked, gesturing to it with his hand. Bajrang nodded once again, still silent, still voiceless. He respected his father very much, and preferred to listen intently whenever he had anything to say.
The painting was framed in silver, portrayed upon a hand stretched canvas and very expressionistic. It consisted of men in pursuit of boar midst the wild, untamed brush. Bajrang had seen it many times before, but it was the first time he had taken a pregnant moment to truly study its simplistic, yet fascinating composition.
“Before each hunt I have ever endeavored, I look at this painting, and I consider the joy they take in the plight of being at the mercy of the jungle. It is not an easy task, bringing down a full grown boar. But see how they relish the experience.”
The king descended to his knees and faced his son, skilled gnarled hands grasping the boy's shoulders firmly, with a sense of conviction.
“You have trained long and hard for this, my son. I understand your fear, but I pray you do not let it poison you.”
In a characteristic briskness, the king made his leave and exited the study, leaving Bajrang to contemplate his words.
That night, the prince's sleep was fretful. India's intoxicating heat only spurred his perspiration, forehead drenched in sweat as he tossed and turned.
In his dreams he found himself immersed within the jungle which he feared ever so. The sky was draped in blood curdling hues, and his body prickled with the sensation that he was not alone. Clenched in his white knuckled hand was his arrowhead spear.
He came to a thicket, surrounded by tall fragrant lemongrass. A lurking rumble sounded through the brush. Bajrang froze, and knew whatever stalked him from the other side would surely devour him.
The grasses parted, and revealed the regal, frightening face of a gargantuan Bengal tiger, the carnal brute embedded in many of his childhood stories. He braced himself for the barrage of tooth and claw, but the beast did not lunge. Instead, its tail curled and twitched, human-like interest flickering within its vivid orange eyes. And then, it even spoke.
“You reek of fright, boy.” Came its deceptively soothing tenor. “I would flee from such a divine weapon if it were not held by such a coward.”
The prince blinked in surprise, but replied with an atypical initiative. “My fear is very much justified. I am merely human, and you, the great king of the forest whose talons could easily bleed me dry.”
The tiger seemed pleased with his eloquent response, and did not speak again for some time as he emerged further, then coiled his exotic, muscular bodice in a resting position, still gazing at the prince, hungrily focused.
“Tell me, young male, what do you smell?”
Bajrang inhaled deeply through his nostrils. “Lemongrass. Its aroma is strong.”
“Try again. Can you see nothing else with those inferior senses of yours?”
Again, the boy inhaled. “...I...I can also smell urine, and feces. Perhaps caked mud from a nearby bog.”
“Good, good!” The tiger exclaimed. “What do you believe carries such a stench?”
Bajrang's eyes widened in realization. “Boar. Large ones, too.”
The tiger rose, swiveling elegant hips and positioning himself to venture deeper into the jungle. “Show me where they are hiding.” He said, goading Bajrang to lead the way. The prince complied.
The tiger followed close behind him, its seething breath so moist against the boy's skin. At any moment it could easily ensnare him, and end his life in single strike.
But the further they ventured, the tiger made no such move, and Bajrang zeroed in on his own senses, noting the rising strength of the boar stench. He glanced at the ground, and pointed to the broken twigs and trampled grass.
The tiger nodded in approval, but said nothing. They were getting closer.
Somehow, Bajrang instinctively knew to cease his movements. They were just beyond a large, winding tree up ahead. Any further and they would startle the small pack.
“Ready your spear.” Whispered the tiger in cruel satisfaction. “I will encircle them, and drive the lead male into your trap.” It then vanished seamlessly into the tall grasses.
The prince's heartbeat began pounding blood into his ears as the adrenaline commenced. He poised himself into a resolute stance, positioning his spear with both arms now flexed in preparation. His eyes fixated ahead of him, and he heard the ferocious roar of the tiger in the distance and the alarmed squeal of the disturbed game.
Hoofed steps thundered against the ground, becoming louder with each excruciating second. When it emerged from the coppice it moved like lightning. There was no time to think, no time to continue dwelling upon his fear. Bajrang propelled his lean body toward the billowing male boar, using every ounce of strength to thrust, and plunge the spear into its neck.
It were as though a mass of sheer rock had careened into him, its momentum anything but trifling. The spear seared through its pelt and into its jugular, but the more the boar continued to run, the deeper he willed the sharpened arrowhead into the beast's flesh. Soon the boar succumbed, its massive body falling to the side, dislodging the spear and dying as a slew of its blood rushed from the gaping wound.
Bajrang looked upon the scene, breathing heavily, in awe of his accomplishment. The tiger once again made his appearance, the white fur surrounding his formidable mouth now stained in dark crimson.
“Your father was right about you.” Said the tiger almost flippantly, grooming his monolithic paws. “You are not the type of human who is petrified with fear.”
Bajrang awoke, his sheets askew and limbs splayed across his futon mattress. It was mere seconds until he regained full consciousness, noticing that it was not yet sunrise, and also the absence of any anxiety he possessed the previous day.