Shadows Galore

I am not sure if there is a difference between a website and a blog. Initially I though there existed some distinction. But I have increasingly begun to feel there is no clear black and white demarcation and there are lot of them that occupy the space between a pure commercial website and a personal blog. Most of the blogs I have reviewed so far were more like personal blogs. Shadows Galore I feel comes closer to a commercial website. I was very impressed by its professional design and content management. So I shall review the blog from two angles: one as a professional website and other of Puru, the main blog author as a writer.

As a professional website, the blog has lot of content. It covers a whole gamut of places in India and abroad. It is well organized and rich in content from multiple guest authors. The general appearance is quite attractive and the posts are all well formatted and the posts have a good balance between text and photos. The navigation is excellent and site is well maintained with good interaction with readers. However as a professional site, I feel the blog lacks clear focus. In my opinion it should narrow down its focus and try to be a one stop shop for information on travel to any destination in the world. The other sections such as memoirs, reviews seem to be diluting the focus. Too many topics also create too many items to navigate, making it a bit confusing. On the topic of navigation, it would also be nice to have a search functionality to search by specific key words and also for navigation by type of places like hill stations, jungles, trekking etc.

In terms of the blog name, it is an intriguing name and attracts attention but does not clearly convey to a new visitor what the blog is all about. Also it would be nice to have a catch phrase for the blog, some kind of one liner to go with the title.

Now to talk about Puru’s writing style, most of the posts are well written and cover all the necessary information. The language is good and it is quite easy to read. The photos are brilliant and stand out as the strongest point. An area that can be considered for development is to add a bit more of an artistic touch to the writings. The current writings tend to be more factual and at times are like reviews of places. Whereas this makes the write-ups extremely useful, it does not make the writings an interesting read for a reader who is not looking for travel information on a specific place. So if the blogger wishes to make his travelogues interesting to the general reader, it needs some artistry. It could be poetry, some kind of philosophy, humor or weaving the travel events with local myths and telling it like a story. Different travelogues writers have tried different things. I would recommend that the blogger read authors like William Dalrymple, Gerald Durrell, R L Stevenson etc., explore the possibilities and try out what works best for him.

Overall I feel the site is a great place to find interesting experiences on different places. I especially recommend the site for the range of coverage and the excellent presentation of posts. It’s a testimonial of my high regard for the blog that I have chosen to write a guest post for the blog and shall probably consider doing so in future as well. Please find below a sample of Puru’s writings from Shadow Galore.

In Defense of Rama

So one more Dasara comes and goes. Somehow Dasara and Diwali both have been associated with God Rama. In my childhood however I was taught by mother that both were associated with the mother Goddess. Navaratri to honor the victory of Goddess Durga over a demon. Diwali to honor the Earth Goddess for killing her own son when he turned evil. I don’t know how Ram got associated with both these festivals. I associate Rama more with Rama Navami. But anyways, somehow the association seems to have happened. Based on this association, this Dasara I observed a popular trend of Rama bashing on social networks. Ram has been favorite God during my childhood days. So I thought I should present his defense against the allegations being hurled at him.

First let us set the ground rules. Our epics clearly state that Rama was not aware of his divinity. So he should be treated as a human with human failings and the analysis should be only from the point of view of a person occupying the office of king. The second aspect to be kept in mind is the laws and social conventions of the time. I have my own theory of why such laws and conventions were natural steps in the evolution from the jungle ape to the current civilized urban man or woman. But I will keep that for another post. Also note I am referring to social conventions and laws in the same breath. This is because there was no detailed constitution and Indian Penal Code at that time. So laws and social conventions were kind of mutable. Given the conditions at that time, I would like to analyze whether Rama did the best he could have or not.

The two main accusations against Rama were his treatment of Sita and his use of deceit to defeat Vali. Both these instances involve questionable behavior on the part of Rama. But I want to plead that it was unavoidable. They were what one calls a situation of an ethical dilemma. Ethical dilemma is defined as a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another. When everything is in black and white and the right choice is obvious, one needs no leaders. True leaders are needed in order to make an optimal choice between the devil and the deep sea. That is why one often finds a question about handling of ethical dilemmas in interviews for corporate leadership roles as well. Here I would like to present the choices Rama faced and how the decision he made was the best possible in my opinion.

First consider the case of Vali. The situation is this: Injustice had been done to Sugreeva the brother of Vali and Rama has promised to help him seek justice. After giving the promise, Rama discovers that Vali is aided by magic that makes him invincible in direct combat. So Rama is presented with three choices:-

a. Go back on his promise to Sugreeva and let the injustice remain.

b. Fight Vali in direct combat and be defeated and killed.

c. Defeat and kill Vali by deceit violating the laws of fair combat.

Promises were highly valued at that time and it was considered a grave sin to break a promise. Also it was against the code of a warrior to not fight against injustice. So the first choice was not an option. The second option was impractical and suicidal. It would just have served to maintain Rama’s honor but would have served none. Sugreeva would still have not got justice, Sita would continue to languish in Ravana’s captivity and the kingdom would have lost a prospective king. So there remained only the third option of breaking the laws of fair combat, the least of the three evils.

Now let us consider the more important accusation of injustice to Sita. At that time, the sacredness of marriage as an institution had to be upheld and the onus fell on the woman to do so by maintaining her chastity. So any unchaste act by a woman was frowned upon and considered to undermine the institution of marriage. This might be considered unfair in the current context. But let us accept that was how it was in the time of Rama. It was clearly not Rama who established this convention. So here Rama is faced with a situation where circumstantial evidence suggests Sita has been unchaste. As an individual he might have been willing to trust in her character or even willing to accept her even if she had indeed been violated. But as a king in the role of judge, he had to keep personal feelings aside and go objectively by evidence at hand. In the role of king as the role model for society, he had to lead the way in adherence to the law and social conventions.

Since no earthly evidence could be produced to say with certainty that through the entire one year, Ravana had not had an opportunity to violate Sita’s chastity, the divine test of the fire was invoked. But to a common man, who did not have direct interaction with God on a day today basis, imagine how this would have seemed. How does it seem to us when our politicians talk of taking the test of truth at a temple when accused of corruption? Wouldn't it seem like the ruler is resorting to some charlatanry to veil his chicanery. That is what Rama discovered from the conversation between the washer man and his wife. He found that the citizens were not entirely convinced by the test of fire and felt Rama was just using powers as king to protect his loved ones.

So now Rama had two choices:-

a. Set a precedent of the king misusing his powers to flout law and let the rule of law be undermined.

b. Let injustice be done to himself and his dear one

So clearly given the choice, Rama chose to put the interests of the state above his own. Clearly it is mentioned throughout Ramayana, how separation from Sita deeply hurt him. But still he chose to take this painful decision in the greater interest of the state. As a sensitive human with human emotions, he just could not bear to break this terrible news of his tough choice to his beloved. So he had Lakshmana lead her away to a jungle hamlet secretly.

So in my opinion what Rama represents is the ideal of putting one’s duty towards the society at large above personal interests. Rama is Plato’s ideal of the philosopher king, a person who reluctantly takes upon himself the painful duty of king. Kingship is not supposed to be something to be enjoyed. It is a sacrifice a person makes of his personal interests for the greater good of the society. All the rich accommodation, clothes and honor he receives are just frills of the job to lighten his heavy burden. This is probably difficult to understand in the current age where every little position of power is seen as a means to self-aggrandizement.

Hallowed be thy Name

Some of us bloggers have got together and started a joint initiative to improve our story writing skills. The way it works is like this. Each time we have a panel of 3 judges who give the group an exercise that focuses on certain aspects of story telling. The rest of us attempt the exercise. The judges share their feedback and select the top 3 who take over as judges for the next episode.

As the initiators of the idea, I and Suresh who blogs at Life is Like This officiated as judges for the first exercise. Sandeep Nair, Deepa Duraiswamy and Indolent Insomniac who blog respectively at SandySpeak, Deepa's kaleidoscope and Semi Coherent Ramblings and Such emerged as winners and are judges for second edition. Sandeep Nair has given us a basic plot which we have to flesh out with details and narrate in our own distinct styles. This will be judged and critiqued by the three of them.

My entry for this round - Hallowed be thy Name. Do click the link to check out my entry. It is quite different from my usual style and quite out of my comfort zone.This is the link to the basic plot given by Sandy.

Anyone wishing to be part of this group can request to join this facebook community. Please note your request will only be approved if you are known to any of the members or I find you genuine based on blog and FB profile. 

Hogwarts Origins Chapter 5: Litany of the Holy Knight

You are unarmed now. Yield now, fall at my feet and beg for your life. I may yet let you live. For the Decantae are merciful to their dogs.

A holy knight I am. And a knight’s honor I shall hold to my last breath.

The sword whizzed through the air and came to strike him. In that single moment the sword was about to strike him, it seemed as if something opened a dyke gate within his mind. Within that fraction of a second, it seemed as if a sudden surge of resistance had built up against the sword that came to strike him. “Expelliarmus,” he cried as he released the entire power built up with his mind.

The wooden sword was snatched violently from his adversary’s hand and he was thrown back forcefully ten feet back. Gawain himself was too shocked at what had happened. As he slowly gained composure, he walked up to his adversary, a twelve year old boy and tried to help him up.

Stay away from me, you demon spawn.” The boy on the ground had fear in his eyes and his voice was filled with hatred.

I am sorry, Gaelen. I don’t know how it happened. I did not mean to hurt you.” There was genuine regret in the smaller boy’s green eyes. But Gaelen just backed away as Gawain came near him. He got himself off the ground and ran as if possessed.

Gawain was bewildered at the turn of events. What had he done that his best friend now feared and hated him so much. He felt guilty and scared that he had done something terribly wrong. He trudged home sadly and threw himself into his bed. But he did not get sleep. He wondered why his friend called him demon spawn. He had heard the term before. His father had used them once in reference to Merlin’s wizards. Now was Gawain one of them? How could he be demon spawn being his father’s son. His father was one of the greatest of the knights of God. There was no match for him in bravery and devotion to God. Being the son of such an illustrious father, how could he be demon spawn?

His thoughts went to his mother. He had never seen her. He had been told that she had died during childbirth. His father never spoke about her. Nobody in the hold ever mentioned her. He wondered if she was one of the wizards. Is that why no one spoke of her? Now was he also one of them? Would his father hate him now?

He could not bear the thought of his father hating him. His father was his hero. How he wished he could grow up and become like his father! He wanted his father to be proud of him one day. And now it seemed that, far from being proud  his father might be ashamed of him and disown him. He had decided. He would not tell his father anything. He had never hidden anything from his father before. He felt very bad about deceiving his father. But his friend’s reaction had scared him. What would his father do if he came to know what he was! He could not bear to think of life despised by his father. He had no other go. He had to keep the terrible secret within his head.

As he lay pondering on his bed, he could hear heavy footsteps. It was his father. He had learnt to recognize his father’s footsteps.

Gawain! Gawain! Where are you my boy? See what I have got for you!

Every day he would run joyfully to welcome his father and open his rucksack and rummage it to see what gifts his father had got for him. Every day his father did surprise him with gifts for he was the apple of his father’s eye. Some days it would be sweets. On other days it would be toys. On still other days it would be books. Today somehow Gawain’s heart was too heavy to rush out to welcome his father. But he still got up from his bed and slowly walked towards his father. He did not want his father to be suspicious. But being a child, he was not very good at hiding his emotions.

So the moment Sir Percivale saw his son’s forlorn face and listless gait, he guessed something was wrong. He immediately picked up Gawain in his arms. “What is bothering my little knight? Tell your pa.

Gawain had a lot to tell and also a lot of questions to ask. Especially about this mother! But he was scared and words just did not come out. Sir Percivale sat him on his lap and spoke to him for a while. That seemed to calm the boy a little. He then gave the boy his gift, a cleverly crafted wooden doll of a wizard holding a crystal ball. But to his surprise the boy did not at all seem happy with the gift. He just backed away as if it was a venomous snake. Though he loved his son more than his life, he was a warrior not a nurse maid. Beyond a point he had no patience for the small kid’s tantrums. So he gently carried him to his bed room, tucked him into bed, gently ruffled his red hair, blew out the candles and retired to his own room.

The next morning he had to be at the abbey. Cardinal Erasatz had asked him to be there early. It was not a surprise as he had been working closely with the cardinal and had been secretly helping him raise an army of loyal knights to defend the kingdom against the forces of the dark. But the surprising thing was he had asked him to bring Gawain along. He wondered what he wanted with Gawain. He somehow did not like it. There was a nagging feeling at the back of his mind that something was not right. He always relied on his gut feelings and he had almost always been right. This was one time he wished he were wrong.

One thing about small children is that sleep just erases all worries of the previous night and they get up the next morning bright and shining. The next morning Sir Percivale to his relief found him to be old Gawain, a vivacious child with no care in life chattering away to his father from nineteen to a dozen. Of course the boy still had a little bit of worry at the back of his mind but now that he was well refreshed and in his father’s inspiring presence, he felt secure. Looking into his father’s eyes, he could fathom the depth of his father’s love for him and he knew his father would not abandon him under any circumstances. With his father by his side, he did not fear even if the whole world stood against him.

So he hopped gaily alongside his father as they walked to the stable. He loved riding alongside his father. His father had promised him his own horse for his eleventh birthday. He was very excited and he was already imagining himself striding the length and breadth of the country side on his horse.

Cardinal Erasatz was waiting for them at the abbey. Bishop Benford sat next to him. They seemed to be deeply involved in some theological discussion. The abbey was otherwise empty. Only on Sundays at these times, it would be thronged by those of the faith. Both the holy men ceased their dialogue as they heard the sound of footsteps.

Welcome, Godric. Good to see you. And is this your son, Gawain?” The cardinal bent down and pinched the little boy’s cheek with a smile. But there was something about the cardinal the boy did not like and he withdrew from the cardinal and clung tightly to his father’s legs.

Sir Percivale bowed before the cardinal. “I come before you as per your bidding, your holiness. And I have here with me my son, Gawain, the oasis in the parched desert of his father’s heart. I have brought him as you have ordered. I wait for your next command.

You’re the church’s truest defender of faith, my son. The staunchest of heart and steadiest of faith! We know you will never fail us. But today I have for you a challenge greater than any you have ever faced.

Then he turned to the little boy. “Your father’s training you well to be a holy knight?

The little boy nodded his head.

Your father’s taught you the litany of the holy Knight?

The boy again nodded his head.

Can you recite for us?

The boy started shyly and his voice grew in confidence as the words filled him with spirit.

I am the knight of the holy order 
Staunchest of heart and truest of faith 
My heart is not my own but my family’s 
My life I shall give in their defense 
My body is not my own but my king’s 
My family and I shall our lives 
Lay down at the king’s bidding 
My soul is not my own but God’s 
Glory of the Lord is my life’s mission 
Body, heart or soul, family, land or king 
Means naught to me if serve God not 
For the work of God and his church 
Is my sole mission on this Earth 

The cardinal turned to Sir Percivale, “You have taught your son well, Godric. You must be proud of him. But are they empty words or do they mean something?

Sir Percivale looked offended at such a question but did not say anything. He wondered where the cardinal was driving at.

I don’t question your faith, Godric . But there are times when our faith is sorely tested. As it shall be presently! For God asks of you what he asked of the great prophet Abraham.

Sir Percivale gave a blank look. He was a warrior not a scholar. Evidently he did not understand the allusion.

The cardinal explained, “My brave knight, God asked Abraham the prophet from ancient times to sacrifice his dear son Isaac at his alter. The great Abraham without slightest hesitation offered his son unto God. Today God asks the same of you. Will you give God your son? 

Sir Percivale could not believe what he was hearing. He had been asked to decapitate his son with his own hands! “But his holiness, what wrong has my son done? Not my son, please. Spare him. Ask anything else of me and I shall gladly oblige. Ask me to run myself over with the sword and I shall gladly do so. But let my son live.

I understand how tough this is for you, son. But you can't give your life. God has other plans for you. It is your son whose fate it is to be sacrificed. And would you question God’s reasons. Isn’t the fact that God wants it so, good enough reason? Do you think I would even dream of asking of you something so terrible unless it was absolutely essential to protect the kingdom and maintain the glory of God?

Gawain was shocked beyond words when he heard the priest’s request. He knew the reason though. Word must have reached the cardinal about him being a demon spawn. But he was touched by his father’s concern for him. He did not want his father to hear why he had to be killed. He would rather die loved by his father than live despised by his father. So he spoke up,

Father, who are we to go against God’s wishes? We are knights dedicated to the service of the almighty. I don’t want to see my father derelict in his duties. Do what you must, father.

Once again Gawain started reciting the litany of the holy knight.

I am the knight of the holy order
Staunchest of heart and truest of faith
My heart is not my own but my family’s
My life I shall give in their defense

Sir Percivale also added his voice to his son’s voice. Father and son recited in unison.

My body is not my own but my king’s 
Me and my family shall our lives 
Lay down at the king’s bidding

Tears streamed down Sir Percivale’s green eyes as they continued on

My soul is not my own but God’s 
Glory of the Lord is my life’s mission 
Body, heart or soul, family, land or king 
Means naught to me if serve God not 
For the work of God and his church 
Is my sole mission on this Earth 

The last word was followed by a flash as the sword stuck and then there was pin drop silence. Gawain’s head rolled on the floor. A few drops of blood had splattered on Lord Percivale’s face pale with anguish. It had got over in a matter of seconds. It had been a clean cut, the head severed from the body in a single stroke. Such was the strength of his strike. The death had been painless. The sword sparkled in all its glory. The blood had not stained it. But Sir Percivale was in no condition to notice his sword. He felt as if a part of his soul had been wrenched away from him.

Finally Cardinal Erasatz broke the silence. “You have done well son. You have proved your devotion to the cause of God. We need men like you to defeat the dark forces that besiege us. Go forth now and strike fear of God into the hearts of our enemies.

Now the cardinal and the bishop were alone. Bishop Benford’s eyes had tears in them. “Was this necessary, your excellency?

Do you think I relish needless killing of innocents. But we are opposed by strong forces and we need strength to oppose strength. A strong sacrifice and blood of an innocent have the greatest power in this world. The sword of Godric has been enriched by both now. It has made the sword both invincible and incorruptible, the ultimate weapon of the warrior of the light. Our victory is now almost certain. And as far as the boy is concerned, he has gained for himself a place in the Kingdom of Heaven by sacrificing his life"

Something about the whole thing struck a wrong chord with the bishop. But he knew better than to argue with his superior on theological matters.

Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

Picture Credit: Jan H Anderson

The Greatest Story Ever told

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 32; the thirty-second edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is 'An Untold Story'

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Post Story Note

So that was the greatest story ever told. I hope you enjoyed it. I thought I would add a small note giving some background information about this story. These days internet and other technologies are changing the entire face of the storytelling landscape. I recently read a book where the ending was kept dynamic and readers could log into a web site and choose an ending of their choice. So I decided to take things to a different level and make an adaptive story - a story that adapts itself to the intelligence and emotional level of the reader. I have designed a special widget and added to my blog which will probe your mind and assess your intellectual and emotional capabilities and accordingly adapt the story based on your capabilities.

This is not something all together new. The idea has been thought of by many people people and also implemented in small ways. J K Rowling in her famous Harry Potter series mentions this room of requirements that can adapt itself as per the need of the user. Competitive exams such as GRE, GMAT present examples of more skeletal implementations of the idea where the computerizes adaptive testing customizes questions to the intelligence level of the test taker.

One small drawback with this technology is that there is a minimum level of aptitude required to comprehend the story. If the widget assesses your mind to be below the required thresholds, the story shall remain untold as far as you are concerned. But you need not have to worry for even if you had been told the story, you would not have comprehended.

I do look forward to all your feedback after reading my story. It will be fascinating to see how the story has presented itself to each one of you. If I don't see your comments here or don't see you voting for my story,  I can understand. After all not everyone is equally gifted.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Introduced By: BLOGGER NAME, Participation Count: 18

A Game of Fools

Bernard Shaw is known for his saying “Cricket is a game played by eleven fools and watched by eleven thousand fools”. When I call myself “The Fool”, obviously I would be one of the eleven fools or eleven thousand fools. Wouldn’t I? If you were to see me hold the bat, you can be sure I wouldn’t be one of the eleven fools even in my wildest dreams. So one of the eleven thousand at least I had to be, right? I started off about where it all began right at the beginning like Oliver Twist – the cricket cards and stuff. If you are collecting cards having pictures of cricket players on the front and their statistics on the back, isn’t it conceivable that you will take interest in the actual players themselves and their statistics? That is exactly how it happened with me.

Continuing from where I left off in Cricket and Me: My Tryst with India's National Passion , I take the tale of  my romance with cricket to its logical end at the cricket blog of one of my closest friends on Blog-o-sphere DS. Check it out here

Shashi's Poems

There is the story of this scholar well versed in 15 languages. He appeared in King Krishna Deva Raya’s court and challenged the court to determine his mother tongue. His command and scholarship in each and every language was so good that there was no way one could determine which was his mother tongue. But Tenali Rama devised a method to determine the language. He secretly entered the scholar’s bed chambers when he was sleeping and sprinkled some water on him. The scholar got up with a shock and yelled at Tenali Rama in one of the languages. Tenali Rama had his answer for that was the scholar’s mother tongue. The take away from this story is that our deepest emotions come out in our mother tongue.

ShahshikeKavita is the second blog I am reviewing that has been written in the blogger’s mother tongue. The other blog I reviewed was more a scholarly blog and less about feelings. This blog on the other hand is all about feelings for it is a poetry blog. So it is all the more significant that it is written in the poet’s native tongue which is Hindi in this case. I discovered a really fascinating earthly charm in Sashi’s poetry that I have  found in no other poet on Blog-o-sphere. His poetry is completely free of any frills and fancies. His plain words just reach straight to the reader’s heart. As an Indian, I feel his poetry relates closely to the Indian ethos which makes it even more interesting to Indian readers. This blog would anyway be out of bounds to non-Indians due to the language barrier.

Shashi seems to be an angry young man, right out of the 70s struggling to come to terms with the hypocrisies of a world that is becoming increasingly complex by the day and at the same time rebelling against redundant relics from our collapsing past that many of us still firmly hold on to. Perusing through few of his poems will bring to light this dichotomy. It is a very genuine emotion that most of us share to some extent. India is a country that has not been allowed to gradually evolve at its own pace. Instead foreign conquests have forced too many new ideas too fast. Shashi presents an excellent picture of the confused Indian struggling to adapt to this world in constant flux.

So much for the content, which in my opinion is just perfect as it is. In terms of title, I think he could have gone for a title that kind of reflects the nature of his poetry rather than just ‘Shashi’s Poems’ . The tag line is very touching and thought provoking. However one would expect a tagline to be more crisp and catchy. The overall theme is simple and spartan going well with the nature of his poetry. One area that had scope for improvement is the management of widgets. There are too many widgets and a thorough re-evaluation is needed to weed out the unnecessary ones. The feedjit Live Traffic Feed is one that immediately comes to my mind for removal. Also all widgets are placed on just one side bar, making it very long. So we see a very long right side bar with lot of empty space to the left. Empty space is not too aesthetically appealing. So I would suggest having sidebars both to the left and right, divide widgets equally on both sides, remove unnecessary widgets and move non award badges to the bottom panel to give a more compact feel to the blog.

In terms of navigation, labels have been utilized well, there is a popular post widget and there is poem factory link that gives the links to poems by topic in addition to the date wise archives. That’s quite good but I am partial to the poem factory kind of navigation and my suggestion would be to make that more prominent by using static pages and tabs. In terms of interaction, it is quite good and I have nothing to add.

Overall I would say this is a blog any Indian can relate to and I recommend every person who has even the slightest understanding of Hindi to go ahead and take the plunge into the world of Shashi’s Poetry. Find below a selected sample suggested for the new reader by Shashi. Do read and relish them and I am sure you will come back to Shashi’s blog for more

Hogwarts Origins Chapter 4: A Knight in Shining Armor

The sun was slowly disappearing beyond the distant hills yonder. Around ten peasants sat at the courtyard of a little hamlet forming a circle. A young man sat in their midst and addressed them.

It had been days since I had undertaken an adventure. I decided I had enough of leisure in the comfort of my home. So I strapped my mighty Excalibur to my belt, mounted my trusty steed and set out. They say adventure comes seeking he who seeks adventure and so it was with me. I had not ridden a few miles, when I happened to look up skywards. What do I see but a dragon!  A fierce one, indeed! Larger than any reported to date. It was making away with a fair maiden. The fairest I had seen. My heart just went out to her. How could a valiant knight like me see a damsel in distress and do nothing about it?  I decided to give the dragon the chase. The dragon must have seen me coming in its pursuit for it began to pick up speed. The vile creature must have realized who it was up against. When you know you stand no chance in a fight, flight is the best option. One must credit dragons with at least that much intelligence.”

He paused to see the effect of his statement. None was forthcoming. These country clods probably found it tough to comprehend heroism. He continued on.

 “But then I was not the one to let the beast make away with a beauty so easily. I also spurred up my steed to keep pace. I was soon at its lair. The cowardly dragon was now cornered like a rat inside its hole as I advanced towards it through the only entrance to its cave.  As I entered the cave some strange creepers sprang up from nowhere and began to coil around me. Soon I was completely entangled by the creepers. With me tied up secure, the dragon finally took courage to come and face me. It let out a ball of fire at me. But I think in spite being tied up, I must have inspired so much fear that even at such a short range, in  its nervousness,  it missed me. Then I summoned all my strength and snapped free from the creepers that entangled me. I leapt in front of the dragon brandishing my sword. The shock must have been too much for it. It stood frozen to the spot for a while. Then the princess emerged. I was enchanted by her beauty. The dragon made good the distraction to evade me and escape into the recesses of the cave. My mission was accomplished. I had rescued the maiden. In spite of my fearful appearance, I am soft at heart. I did not want to torment the poor frightened creature any further. So I set out on my journey back to deliver the lady back safely at her home. “

A slight incredulousness had crept into the otherwise impassive look on the peasants’ face. It seemed like they were finding it tough to reconcile idea of fearfulness of appearance with this youth dressed in clothes like a dandy, baby face and neatly combed golden hair. He clearly did not seem to have read their reaction or if he had read chose to ignore and prodded on with his narrative.

 “But the return journey proved to be as arduous as the battle with the dragon if not more. Within moments of emerging from the dragon’s lair, we were attacked by a werewolf. I now had not only my own safety to think of but I had in my care a flower of the glade. So in such circumstances, I considered discretion the best part of valor and decided to avoid conflict. But my exit route was blocked by a huge shape changing troll in the form of a tree.  Taking advantage of my preoccupation with the werewolf, the tree got through my guard and dealt me a massive blow.  Before I could recover from the blow, I was faced with a third foe: a Minotaur! I realized I could not avoid conflict anymore and decided to literally take the bull by its horns. The bull headed monster tried to run but I held on firm till it finally yielded. Seeing me deal sternly with one monster was enough to scare the other two monsters into submission.”    

He bowed before the group of peasants as if he had just given a performance.

“And here I stand before you badly bruised but with not a scratch allowed to be afflicted upon the person of the lovely angel Helena here.

 The lovely angel ‘Helena’ came out to serve ale to the gathered peasants as the knight finished his tale with a flourish. The only catch was that angel did not look even remotely like an angel, a princess, a fair maiden or any of the other descriptions he had used for her. The girl in question turned out to be regular country lass, homely in appearance, plump around the waist, and a plain round freckled face. She was dressed in a dirty working gown and an overall.  Even her name was not the fancy ‘Helena’ but plain old ‘Helga’.

But that was by no means the only aspect where there seemed an apparent disconnect between appearances and words.  The knight’s ‘loyal steed’ for instance looked more like a famished beast that seemed to be struggling hard to keep itself from dropping dead. An animal the butcher would find more useful than a knight! On a similar note, the ‘Excalibur’ looked like something the iron smith would find greater use for than a knight. Or possibly not! For in its rusted dilapidated condition, it’s utility as scrap metal was also doubtful.

The peasants however did not give any indications of having noticed these discrepancies.  They just sat quietly and sipped their ale.  For one Helga was a nice girl, good at heart and had done a good turn to each one of the villagers at one time or the other. She had supposedly been part of the adventures and she seemed to corroborate the knight’s account by her silence. If it was good enough for her, it was good enough for them as well as they were quite fond of her and trusted her.

The other point was that the peasants considered the gentry in general a bit loose in the head. The peasants never really understood their fancy ways, their fancy dressing and their fancy talk. What they understood was that theirs was the hand that held the whip. So it was better to agree to whatever a member of the gentry said and avoid a confrontation.

Helga smiled to herself as she thought about the events of the day the way she remembered them.  Most of what the knight had said had indeed been true. Knights were after all honor bound to tell the truth, weren't they? In some sense, yes! But then with respect to some of the details, some bardic license had been taken. Possibly it was a matter of perspective.

To start with, it was true that he had seen a dragon flying with her on its back. But the dragon in question was by no means fierce or deadly. Nor was it trying to abduct her.  In fact it was still almost a baby, a real darling. Helga had found the abandoned dragon egg a few years back. She had managed to get it hatched and had ever since been caring for the little dragon ‘Lizzie’. Lizzie had only recently learnt how to fly and was only too glad to proudly display her newly learnt skills to her best friend.  

The Devils Snare at the entrance to the dragon’s cave was indeed a genuine peril. It was a carnivorous creeper that grew in dark moist places like caves. It ensnared innocent victims into its coils and strangled them to death. Any struggle on the part of the victim only made things worse. The only way to destroy it was through exposure to heat and light, for both of which dragon fire was an excellent source. So Lizzie had to be called to the rescue. The ball of fire had been for destroying the creepers. So it was intentionally not aimed at the knight as no harm was intended to his person. The minute he was free, the crazy knight had foolishly waved his sword in front of Lizzie’s snout. Lizzie was allergic to the smell of rusted metal and Helga had feared it might trigger a sneezing fit? The poor knight would have been badly scalded.

Then there was the matter of the fox that had come to sniff at the bacon and cheese in the knight’s knapsack. He had startled the poor thing by jumping up so violently at its sight. She was not sure who was more frightened, the fox or the knight. In his fright, he had gone and run headlong into a whomping willow, a vicious tree species that hit out at anyone who was careless enough to venture within range of its branches. A nasty whack it had given him which had sent him flying. He had gone and landed right on top of a poor cow grazing nearby. The poor creature must have thought the sky had fallen on her back and she had run for her life. He had held on tightly to her horns for his dear life.  Finally when the tired cow came to a halt, she was in such a poor state of nerves. After the molestation at the hands of the knight it had taken Helga lot of effort to soothe her. Even then she suspected if the poor farmer who owned her would be never be able to get any milk out of her. Such a trauma this incident must have caused her! It would have scarred her for life!

She had found him in a real bad shape from his encounter with the Whomping Willow when they had reached home. She had cared for him and nursed his wounds. He had meantime told her all about himself. He was the second son of Lord Lockhart, an unimportant courtier in the court of King Arthur. No wonder he had been given lands in the outskirts close to the glades and the jungles. And being the second son, the knight, ‘Gilderoy’ or ‘Gilly’ as he was called at home would inherit neither title nor estate. Unless he took initiative he was doomed to live at the mercy of scraps from his father’s table and later his brother’s. He only had two sources of salvation; either take service under a knight as a squire, serve him and work his way up or go on a quest and perform feats of glory to build a reputation for himself. Hard work and patience were not among Gilly’s qualities. So for the second option it had to be.

She realized how much a successful quest meant to him. He desperately wanted to believe he was on his way to become a knight. She did not have the heart to disabuse his notions of what he had supposedly achieved that day. Why ruin his happiness? She had a soft corner for underdogs and routed strongly for them. She knew from experience how it felt to be an underdog for she had always been one.

The thought of being an underdog took her back in time to the days of her early childhood. She had then had a friend ‘Rowena’, who had been everything she was not: pretty, smart, witty, creative etc. How she had wished she could be like her friend. To make worse people always compared her with Rowena and she always came out unfavorably in every aspect in such comparisons. She hated the comparison and it had begun to strain her relations with Rowena.  The strain had kept building up and finally one fine day, unable to take it any longer, she had shouted at Rowena in a fit of rage, “As long as you are there, I would always appear bad. I wish you just disappear from my life for good.

 Rowena had run away crying. As if her wish had come true, Rowena had just disappeared the following day and was never seen again. Different people had different theories regarding her disappearance. Some said she must have wandered off too far and fallen off the edge of the world which they believed existed just beyond the hills.  Some said she had run into a vampire. Others said she had been kidnapped by gypsies. 

But Helga could not help connecting Rowena’s disappearance to her wish and always felt guilty about it.
Whenever she thought about Rowena, it upset her entire day. Why spoil the day, she thought. She tried to move her thoughts to more pleasant things. Like Gilly! In addition to feeling pity for him as an underdog, she rather liked him. He was kind of cute in his own way. And she liked the way he referred to her as angel, princess, fair maiden etc. Even the boy who tended the pigs on the neighborhood farm had not given maker her a second look. And here was this handsome, educated man of noble descent calling her all these lovely names.  Even though she suspected it was not true, hearing someone say such things did her feel happy.

Her reverie was interrupted as Gilly came up behind her, “My fair maiden, we are having a dinner and ball at our castle this Saturday evening. I would like you to join and meet my family.

Her heart skipped a beat.

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Hogwarts Origins Chapter 3: A Prince's Passion

Mynakos was brimming with excitement. He had wonderful news for his prince. The Oracle’s prediction had gone wrong. She had been proved an impostor. At this very moment the guards would be putting her in chains and leading her to the prince for trial. But he wanted to be the first to give the good news. So he rushed on ahead. As was custom with princes to kill the messenger who brought bad news, it was also custom to reward the ones who brought good news handsomely.

When he reached the palace, he was stopped at the gates by the guards. “You can’t enter now. The prince is not in a mood to see anyone now. Come tomorrow.” But Mynakos had not come so far to go away empty handed. “I have very important news for the prince. If the prince comes to know later that you did not let me in to deliver my message, you all will be thrown under chariot wheels and crushed to death.” He sounded so earnest that they had no other go but to let him in.

The prince was prancing restlessly. He was a stout man in his early forties. He had begun to bald a bit in the front. A large crescent shaped scar ran the entire length of the left side of his face. Ugly though it was such battle scars were borne proudly as a mark of valor. He wore a pure white tunic. He had an extremely disturbed look on his face. This was how he had been the last two years from the time he had first seen her. She had come with a band of travelling gypsies. The moment he had seen her, he had been totally taken in by her dark flowing hair, heart shaped face and her bright doe eyes. Add to that the fair skin, sharp features and a long nose. She was simply irresistible. He had to have her. As the Lord of Macedonia, his word was law here. He had had her seized at once. The rest of the gypsies were only too happy to escape with their lives. He had then had his attendants get her ready for the night.

His reverie was interrupted by the arrival of the messenger. “Who let this rascal in? Guards!

Wait my lord! I have important news for you.

On hearing what the messenger had to say, his face lit up into a bright smile. He had him rewarded handsomely as expected and began to wait eagerly for the soldiers to bring in the Oracle

That cunning vixen had managed to evade him at the last minute. She had put on a grand show before the court. She had gone into a trance like state and started spouting strange verses. The court somehow ended up believing she was the next Oracle of Delphi. And the Oracle was one person even the prince could not touch. So sacred was she. So she had escaped off to the temple of Apollo. So far all her predictions had been coming true. But something had not seemed right about the whole thing. For one the Oracle had never been a foreigner before though there was no rule about it as such. Most earlier Oracles had confined themselves to predictions while this one had been making a name for herself making love charms, good luck charms and truth revealing potions. There were even rumors that she sold deadly poisons to assassins. But so far he had no concrete proof against her. Now finally his time had come. He would offer her a choice between the dungeons and his bed. He clapped his hands joyfully like a child at the thought. He was feeling so light and happy for the first time in the last two years.

He immediately convened his court and waited. He did not have long to wait. The soldiers arrived soon dragging a protesting woman. She looked exactly as she had 2 years back. In fact she was looking even more gorgeous as age was turning her into a full woman. “I have done no wrong. Let me go”, she protested. Her voice however somehow seemed to have changed for the worse. It sounded hoarse and her words kind of uncouth.

But he did not want to spoil his great moment of triumph with such trivialities. “Well! Well! Who have here? The prophetess of Delphi herself? Ha! I can’t believe it! And what is this I have been hearing? That you are an impostor? Tsch! Tsch! Too bad! Let us hear what you have to say for yourslef.

Please show mercy, my Lord. I am not the prophetess. I am just a humble servant.“

Come on, dearie! You insult my intelligence. I expected better from you. Guards I would like to continue the questioning in privacy. Bring her to my inner chambers.

He waited eagerly on the bed his attendants had specially prepared and decorated with flowers. The expensive fragrance they had sprinkled elevated seemed to elevate his mood. Finally his time had come. Soldiers left her with him and departed. As he neared her something strange began to happen. Her hair was becoming shorter and her face darker. She seemed to become a bit plumper and her face more rounded. What the hell! Within a few minutes a totally different woman stood in front of him. A dark ugly woman who looked every bit a serving woman!

The prince’s face flushed in anger. “What vile sorcery is this?

The servant cowered in fear. “Lord, please me merciful. I am just a serving woman in the household of the Oracle. I don’t know what my mistress intended. But she bid me dress up in her clothes and then gave me a goblet with some nasty drink and forced me to drink it. Then she left me in her chambers and set out on some  journey. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, your soldiers were upon the temple of Apollo. And without heeding to my protests, they dragged me to you.

The prince was now seething with rage. That chit of a girl had once again outwitted the Lord of Macedonia. He pulled out a dagger from his robes and plunged it into the heart of the woman who stood pleading in front of him. Even then he was not satisfied. Imagining her to be the escaped Oracle, he continuously stabbed her. It was indeed a gory sight  that welcomed the guards when they came to the prince’s chambers. But they were kind of used to the prince’s rages and not entirely surprised.

Guards, that wicked witch has escaped. She still could not have gone far. Comb the entire country. Find her at any cost! Put the entire army on it. She has insulted the entire kingdom of Macedonia. We can’t let her get away.

Within the hour the entire Macedonian army was mobilized. Every house, every office, even temples were searched thoroughly. The descriptions of the prophetess were circulated throughout the country and a thousand drachmas was announced for any citizen who would give information leading to her capture. All the ways leading out of the cities were watched closely and every person passing by was examined closely. Any woman even loosely fitting the description was taken back to the palace for further questioning. The discipline and efficiency of the Macedonian army was in full display. It was only a matter of time before she would be captured.

The one weak area was the dock. One thing that had to be said in the favor of the besotted prince was that he was a good military strategist. He was quick to realize that the dock would be the easiest means to escape and he himself rode to the docks accompanied by his cavalry. He had built an excellent cavalry constituted of the finest horses exported from Arabia. Within hours they were at the dock.

All galleys and merchant ships were stopped and a thorough search began. On board one of the galleys stood two unimpressive foreigners – one a white man in his early forties in a shabby cloak with unkept hair and a gaunt expression on his face. The other a younger one was dark and looked like just anybody, someone you would not look back at a second time. The prince went up to the vessel and announced haughtily, “Soldiers begin the search.” He did not think it even necessary to ask permission from the master of the ship. He was the master of the Macedonian land and seas and every person on it was bound by his authority. As he issued the command his eyes met those of the older man.

The eyes stayed locked for a few minutes. The stranger’s eyes had power in them. No one dared look the prince straight in the eye like this. The prince could not help feeling a strange awe for this stranger though he could not clearly pin point why. Then the prince suddenly lowered his eye. This stranger was clearly making him uncomfortable. The soldiers were just beginning the search. The prince called out, “She is clearly not on this foreign boat. Let us waste no more time. Let us get going.” The soldiers jumped to obey their Lord.

As the prince departed, the stranger turned around casually and spoke out seemingly into the thin air, “You can come out now.” A pretty girl of frail frame emerged from behind the boxes. She tried not to show fear but her eyes betrayed her. The normally impassive Sadat let out a gasp. But her beauty that bewitched everyone seemed to have no effect whatsoever on Salazar. He just looked at her impassively as if she were some piece of unwanted cargo. “Ok. Your pursuers have left. You can get off my boat now.

She looked as if she could not believe what she had just heard. She had been wearing her heart on her sleeve when the prince had boarded the galley. She had been so certain she would be caught and against all probability she had been saved and now she was being flung back into the pit.

“Please, Sir. The minute I am on land, the prince will seize me and my fate would be worse than death. Please take me with you. Please rescue me.

Salzar gave a slight nod,”Hm. You have to come with us then I guess. Women always lead to trouble. I don’t at all like the idea of having a woman on board. But then can’t throw you to the dogs either, eh?

Then turning to the Sadat, he said, “Order the crew to cast off into the sea.” Within moments, the galley was into the sea and picking up speed. Hearing the sound of ripples in the sea, the prince turned around. He was furious to see a galley leaving the docks without his permission. It was the same galley which he had not searched properly. The girls must be on the ship. It seemed strange that he had not searched that galley. For a moment something had clouded his mind. The man must be some kind of a sorcerer. But it did not matter. They would not escape him.

Soldiers, attack that boat,” he screamed

The girl’s eyes froze with fear as she saw as she saw catapults and fire throwers line up along the shore getting ready to attack. No way would the galley make it. But death better than dishonor. But her only regret was these innocent men would die because of her. Salazar on the other hand stood calm and unperturbed. She could in fact even make out a slight curling at the end of his lips as if he was smiling to himself. He opened his mouth and said something. It was unintelligible to her and sounded strangely like the hissing of a snake.

Within moments chaos broke out on the docks. All manner of snakes emerged from nowhere: vipers, cobras, mambas and pythons. They attacked the soldiers furiously. The Macedonian army that had never faced such an onslaught before was thrown into total disarray. The soldiers’ legendary discipline took to wind and soldiers abandoned their posts and ran in every direction. The prince stood alone glowering furiously. This had been the worst day of his life. He had never been so thoroughly humiliated.

On the boat, the girl could no longer control her emotions and was doing a jig. She laughed merrily like she had never before in the past twelve years for she was now finally free. She ran up to Salazar and gave him a tight hug. He just shook her off and walked away. He clearly did not share the girl’s enthusiasm. Then on second thoughts he stopped in his track, turned around and spoke up, “Guess the crew would want to know what name to call you by.

I am Rowena, Sir. Would I also have honor of knowing the name of my kind and gracious benefactor?

Reserve all your adjectives. I am not kind, gracious or anything of that sort. We are dropping you off at the next port. Then you have to fend for yourself. Your energies would be better utilized thinking of how you will survive there,” he replied in a gruff voice and continued to walk to his cabin.

Click for other Chapters:  Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 4  Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

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For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces