Novel excerpt: The golden lotus and the silver tigers

Excerpt from A Thousand Perfect Things

This title has been released in trade paper. E-book formats available on August 27.

Check out some excerpts from my new novel! I’ve chosen scenes to minimize spoilers while still giving a flavor of the story. Each week I’ll post an excerpt on this blog, then add it to the Excerpts page. This is the third excerpt. You’ll also find this on the Excerpts page, along with previous excerpts.

EXCERPT #3

The Golden Lotus and the Silver Tigers

 

In the land of Bharata (an altered India) Mahindra, a renunciate and holy man, must convince the Rana of Nanpura to endorse his enterprise to drive the colonials (the Anglics) out of their land. It entails a complicated strategem of bringing Tori Harding to Bharata.

 

            “Ah, babaji, you know how it pains me to deny you.”

The Rana of Nanpura stood in his royal quarters as his servant, standing on a drum, wound his turban.

Mahindra bowed in a show of submission. In his heart, though, desire raged. For the first time in many years Mahindra wanted something. It was an intimate, startling thing, one that would not lie still.

Even dressed in simple attire for his hunt today, Prince Uttam looked every inch a ruler. He was a big man, broad-chested, with a manly belly filling out the achkan that extended to his knees. In contrast, Mahindra had but half of his prince’s weight, as befitted a sadhu who had long ago tasted his last jellabies. Though the two men had been raised together in the palace and had been friends from boyhood, their paths had always been different: Uttam raised to rule, and Mahindra, the son of a chamberlain, destined to study.

Escorted by more servants, they walked to the courtyard where the hunting party awaited. Mahindra murmured, “My prince, does not this flower portend the favor of the gods?”

They must be careful not to mention within the servants’ hearing which flower, lest rumors take hold that the holy golden lotus had been sighted. Religious fervor over the lotus would fit well into Mahindra’s plans, but not yet. Of course, Uttam had been told of the holy flower’s likely tangible existence. But now his first reaction of amazement had cooled to doubt and perhaps fear.

Mahindra went on, “The flower can be our banner. The princes throughout the land–even the lowly villagers–will stir once they have this proof of their nobility.”

Uttam frowned. “Must we have a flower to be noble?”

“For a great nation, a symbol is needed.”

“Ah. Your high enterprise.” Uttam cut an ironic look at his friend. “Which you propose to make my enterprise: a Bharata under one rana, without Anglic soldiers. Without, too, Anglic mechanicals from which we prosper.” Uttam had affection for the trains, clocks, masted ships and the steam shovels of his copper mines.

Mahindra ventured, “We prosper. But our sons abandon their parents’ ways. They play cricket and are strangers to our temples and our gods. The Anglic teachers are a hidden army, opening the gates to the minds of our children.” The rana allowed no Anglic schools at Kathore, though the school rooms spread through the province like a pox. In cities like Chidiwal and Poondras and across the land, young men rushed to assume Anglic ways, shaming their ancestors and mocked, Mahindra knew, by the very men whom they wished to emulate.

Uttam said, “You yourself went to Anglic teachers, babaji. Now you scorn them?”

Mahindra raised his hand in acknowledgment. “I was young.” In those days he had thought he would prosper by knowing the foreigners’ language, the foreigners’ ways. He had loved all things Anglic, to his shame.

Uttam cut a glance at him. “My friend, are you hounded by the things that the Anglics took from you? Is it for Nanpura or yourself that we must challenge the Anglic lion?”

“Never for myself, Highness.” His narrow life held no room for such bloated things as revenge.

“Forgive me babaji, but a raja must weigh all.”

“My prince, it is time for our great enterprise. If the gods bless us with the flower of legend. One word from you, and we shall pursue it.”

They had come to the palace quadrangle where the rana’s hunting party was gathered. Uttam stepped into the heavy sun, looking up to the balcony where, behind the fretted screen, his wife Kavya had come to watch her husband depart. He smiled at her, pleased that she had arisen from her couch. Ah, Mahindra thought, the poor ranee. Her sons were disappointments, but one of her daughters was the delight of her heart. She saw this daughter every day though a thousand miles separated them. Her sadhus conjured a fire dream, so that from her couch Kavya could gain the presence of her child. Sometimes it seemed to Mahindra that the whole of Bharata lay half-dreaming like Kavya.

It was time to awake.

The rana turned to the hunting party: the elephants rocking in their pickets, his guards armed with Anglic rifles, standing by their swift ostrich mounts. Upon seeing the prince, the great elephant Iravatha raised his trunk and then laid it upon the ground, in a gesture very like a bow. Uttam smiled at his favorite, one of the largest elephants of Nanpura, with magnificent ears which could meet when brought together across his face. Uttam strode out to Iravatha.

“My prince,” Mahindra murmured. “You have not said.”

Placing his hand on Iravatha’s trunk, Uttam gazed into Mahindra’s eyes. “I say. Only bring me the flower, babaji.”

Mahindra bowed deeply. So it would be war. At last they would gut the Anglic lion. His heart soared. “Highness. May your glory never end.”

The rana grunted in response. “May it not. But I would be happy for a fat boar.”

Then, as Mahindra had arranged, Sahaj appeared through the side gate, come to bid his father a profitable hunt. He wore an embroidered coat and silk trousers, looking more the rana than the father did. Mahindra had been clear with Sahaj that he was not to have the tigers, but here they were, padding softly at his side.

Seeing the tigers, Iravatha trumpeted and shied. The elephant thrust back down the knee which he had raised to let Uttam climb.

Uttam scowled. “Look, my foolish son gives me a bad beginning.” Sahaj noted that his entrance had not been received favorably, and held back.

As the mahout calmed Iravatha, Mahindra murmured, “My prince, surely here is a young man who needs a worthy duty.” Sahaj would be the one to lead the army, for Mahindra feared Uttam’s fighting days were past.

“Duty,” spat Uttam. “To spread his seed and multiply his bastards.” Iravatha offered his knee once more and the rana climbed up to the howdah.

Mahindra looked up at him. “Highness, since Sahaj is the heir you prayed for, keep him closer to your side. Show the people that he has your favor. When the time comes, Sahaj will be a sword in your hand.”

Uttam looked back at his son and this time nodded to a slight degree, bringing a smile of gratitude in return.

“Take him with you on the hunt, Highness. Let the people see him with you.”

“No. My son wants the hunt to be easy. He would let his tigers stalk the boar.” Uttam touched the side of Iravatha’s face with his stick, and they moved forward, followed by three more elephants and a dozen fierce hunters on their birds.

Sahaj joined the sadhu in the courtyard. The tigers strained at their leashes, watching Mahindra with ebony eyes. Black stripes slashed their silver fur.

“You said he wanted to see me, but he did not,” Sahaj muttered, resentful that his greeting had nearly been snubbed. The yuvraj prince just missed being handsome, with a too-round face and heavy eyelids.

“I did not say he wanted to see you, my son, but that he needed to.” Mahindra almost put his hand on Sahaj’s arm, but one of the tigers lifted her ears in full alert.

Sahaj scratched the head of the nearest cat. “He is afraid of my tigers.”

“No, Iravatha is afraid of them. Do not confuse your father with his elephant.”

Uttam was still a great leader. He had just proven that, giving permission for their noble mission to proceed.

            I say. Only bring me the flower.

            Soon.

 

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