Kraal had chosen his time to perfection.
It was the beginning of the boisterous nine-day festival of Navratri, celebrated to mark the return of the bringer of life, the sun's journey back to the north. The festival was considered as the killer of the cold and was seen as a new lease to the life of people. No other time could symbolize his actions better.
The city of Angavani was blissfully asleep. Festivals had their own magic on the commoners. People enjoyed to their heart's abandon, sleeping peacefully, away from their daily schedule and stresses. Only the port and the palace guards were on duty and awake.
But as is always the case, some guards were not so duty conscious.
Some 20 guards had gathered in the Barracks of the Ajinkya palace on the pretext of discussing strategies and routine for the night but mainly to soak up the heat from the fire before going back to guarding the palace. The winter had been very harsh this year and they deserved the break, or so they thought.
The mighty Ajinkya Palace, literally the palace that couldn't be won, stood proudly on a small hilltop on the banks of the serene Suddhi river. Along the south of the palace were the Royal Baghs, or the Royal Gardens. Overlooking these gardens was the wing of the palace that General Aswath called home. Nobody except him and the Emperor along with their harems resided in the Ajinkya Palace. The beautiful views of the palace suited the nobility perfectly but made the lives of the guards a living hell. They had no cover from the shrill and chilly winds of the brutal winter. So, naturally, they enjoyed the breaks they took in the Barracks.
Two Guards lay on the palace rooftop facing the garden. Their breathing steady and even. They wouldn't remember anything from the previous night. Actually there was nothing to remember from their perspective. An odorless gas had floated in the air, nudging them into sleep. Waking up the next morning, they would be guiltily aware of dozing off in the night. They wouldn't accept this in front of any investigator obviously. The punishment of sleeping in duty was death, wasn't it?
Kraal reached this rooftop not so long after. He immediately rolled to the slumped bodies on the ground, checked their breathing with the help of his index finger, and concluded them to be unconscious. The ever so careful Kraal.
Kraal was no crass assassin. A bludgeoned death can be done by anyone, but Kraal was an artist. One only hired Kraal when one wanted a shadow. He was insignificant in the surroundings and this was his main strength. He would come ahead from the background, albeit for a little while, and then return. No traces left behind. No clues for some detective with a savvy mind. Just a body. And the right body. Always the right one. No loose ends. No “wrong” body. This made Kraal the number one choice.
And Kraal was creating a masterpiece this time. This was no ordinary job after all. He had been looking for an opportunity like this. For ages, he thought. He remembered the day as if it was yesterday. The day that shaped him to be what he was today. And he had the General to thank it all. He still remembered the commanding figure on top of a beautiful Black stallion, holding a sword in one hand and a torch in the other. He almost flinched at the thought. But he regained his composure.
Not today. Of all the days, not today.
He fixed the end of his rope on a sturdy pillar, checking its strength twice before tying the rope around his waist and jumping down. He stopped his free fall with a controlled jerk, staring at the window directly in front of him.
He jumped inside the room, untied his rope, and let out a sigh of relief. The major work had been done. Now it was smooth sailing. He observed the General, sleeping without a care of the world, in front of him, carefully. His sleek lithe body lay on the bed with arms and leg flopped out. How he would generally sleep. His angavastram had been folded and kept on the side of the bed. His ornaments were placed in a box on the table beside him. How it normally should've been.
An ayurvedic tonic, developed by Kraal himself was administered in Aswath's body through his nose. The tonic paralyzed the muscles of the body within seconds of being injected, leaving no trace after. The heart is a muscle, so is the diaphragm. Both of these stop to work, leading to asphyxiation of the body and eventually death.
Kraal looked at his prey with pure hatred. Shame that he couldn't see him suffer. He had wanted to make Aswath suffer the way he made Kraal suffer in his childhood. But his instructions were crystal clear. A swift, painless death.
The assassination had been carried out. Now Kraal was setting the scene.
He grabbed a manuscript of the famous Dohas', couplets which had a deep meaning and guided one to lead his life in a proper way. It was well known that Aswath was a man of principles and enjoyed reading Dohas'. Kraal then placed the manuscript on the side of the bed near the chest of the corpse. The General had fallen asleep while reading.
Next, he filled the wine goblet half and kept it on the table beside the bed. General was enjoying wine and reading after a hectic day. Nothing more natural.
He picked up the glass lamp and lit the wick. Alas, General's reading lamp.
He placed a bowlful of an Ayurvedic paste on the bedside cabinet. He dipped a wooden tong in the paste, opened Aswath’s mouth and spread it evenly inside, taking care to include the back of his throat. A doctor would recognize this paste as a home remedy for stomach ache and gas.
General had a bad stomach. Stomach trouble would surely have been common. And he was also known to have enough Ayurvedic knowledge for home remedies for minor diseases and afflictions.
He noticed that window was open and the night was quite windy. He retraced his steps and pulled the covering sheet up to Aswath’s neck. Aswath had covered himself up. He was feeling cold. Kraal touched the sheet and the angavastram. And cast a careful glance around the room. Everything was as it should be.
Aswath had, it would be deduced, confused the beginnings of a heart attack for a stomach and gas problem. A regrettably common mistake. He had had some medicine for it. The medicine had relieved his discomfort. Somewhat. He had then picked up a book to read and poured himself some wine. He then began to feel the chill, early signs of a heart attack. He used the sheet to cover himself up but then the heart attack struck with its full ferocity.
Smiling to himself, he gave himself a pat on his back. For this had been no way task. And he had pulled it off superbly. No one could have enough evidence possible to claim foul play here. As he turned to leave the route he came in, a realization set upon him. He cursed himself for almost being an utter fool.
He walked back to the General's body and noticed his hands. They were unnaturally stiff already, probably due to medications. He, after facing a stiff resistance opened the General's fist and placed his palm on his heart, making it look like Aswath died clutching his heart.
Satisfied with his work, Kraal scanned the room once again. Perfect.
He kissed the fingertips in appreciation of his artistry. His work here was done.
A simple heart attack had felled the one which at one point of his time couldn’t be touched by 100 soldiers at once.
Kraal turned and briskly walked up to the window, leaped up and grabbed the parapet of the roof. Using the momentum, he somersaulted and landed on his feet above the parapet. Soon he was on the rooftop.
Kraal was the invisible man. The dark, non-transferable polish that he had rubbed all over his skin, along with his black dhoti, ensured that he went unseen in the night.
The maestro sighed with satisfaction. He could hear the sounds of the night. The chirping crickets. The crackling fire from the guard room. The rustling winds. The soft snores of the guards asleep on the roof, everything was as it should be. Nothing was amiss.
He ran in the direction of the royal garden. Without any hesitation. Building up speed. As he neared the edge of the roof, he leaped like a cat and glided above the ground. His outstretched arms caught an overhanging branch of a tree. He swung onto the branch, balanced his way to the tree trunk, and smoothly slid to the ground.
He began running. Soft feet. Silent breaths. No unnecessary sound.
Kraal, the shadow, disappeared into the darkness. Lost to the light. Again.
With the fall of the General
Goes the kingdom
An era about to end
A new sun already visible on the horizon.
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