Dancing in the Air
The Raja's youngest hostage dances high above the ground along the stately walls of Junagarh Fort. From window lattice to red-stone column he leaps, now curling, rolling, bounding off a ledge; now hanging one-handed and still. No prison can hold him, the swordsmaster's son, except the ring of gold about his neck. Sunlight glints on its graven spells and symbols. Sunlight glints into diamonds his flecks of flying sweat. A drop, a catch, a serpent's arch; he flips into an alcove and dances around the red-stone elephant god.
The swordsmaster does not look up. He teaches the guardsmen – his captors, his foes – to strike in perfect time. Their dusty white courtyard gleams with steel and pride. The swordsmaster is banded with heavy gold, etched and scratched into dullness. And he is bandaged, his left hand missing one finger.
The guardsmen do not look up at the small and sun-reddened boy. They know his golden collar will bring him to ground, in time, as it did his father.
But his father is the swordsmaster, and though the swordsmaster is now but a man, he is yet a man of sharp and shining blades. Deep in the alcove, seen only by the elephant god, the dancing boy takes from his belt his father's final gift: a single claw of rainbowed, chiseled diamond. And he slices the collar from his neck.
When two half circles of sunlight fall tumbling to the ground, the swordsmaster looks up at last. Smiles. And cuts down one guard, then another, teaching them how little he taught them. He smiles still as they rally, as they fence him in with steel; laughs at the terror behind that steel, and glances up for one last sight: looping, liquid crimson coiling sinuous from the alcove; the flash of scales on spreading wings against the searing sky.