The attackers came out of nowhere. There were twelve men in all, and Bhaskara frowned as he saw that their faces were covered with a dark strip of cloth which showed only their eyes. They were all dressed identically, angavastra, upavastra and daggers sheathed at their waists, and drawn swords in their right hand. Their left hands were empty, but Bhaskara had no doubt that they could draw their daggers with it just as easily or transfer their sword to it in the blink of an eye. Their bare torsos were covered with an inky pattern which he could not see clearly in the fast dimming light.
Bhaskara knew he was at a disadvantage since he was unarmed. His eyes swept the area just as the men closed in on him, their strides measured. The temple was deserted at this time in the evening. The sun had already gone down. They had chosen a good time for their attack. It disturbed him that someone should have followed him so closely as to know his times for visiting the temple. He never carried his weapons when he visited the temple and they certainly must have known it. He was still not used to having bodyguards and left them behind whenever he could.
On the positive side, the enchantment his mother placed on him ensured that their weapons could not damage him, but the enchantment did not make him imperious to pain, and the swords and daggers would cause enough pain.
The unknown assailants were very near to him.
“Who are you? What do you want?” He asked.
“We are your death!” one of them said even as he lunged at Bhaskara with his sword. Bhaskara caught the blade with one hand. He grimaced at the pain, but it was no less than he expected and he did not relax his grip. He clenched his other hand into a fist and slammed into the man’s jaw in the same instant. The man’s grip on the sword slackened and Bhaskara yanked it from his hand, transferring the hilt to his palm and taking a defensive stance. His attackers hung back a bit, since he was armed now. The owner of the sword snarled and lunged at him and Bhaskara slashed him across the chest.
With a shriek of pain, he went down. One of his fellows bent down and slit his throat with his dagger.
“We don’t want noises, here!” He said as he rose.
“Why are you after me?” Bhaskara asked. “Who sent you?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” another one jeered.
They attacked him together, with sword and dagger. Though they tried to spread out and surround him, Bhaskara shifted his stance, always keeping them in front of him, and attacking furiously at the same time as fending them off with everything he had. He didn’t want to kill them all; he wanted answers, and dead men provided none. That didn’t mean he didn’t have to kill anyone, and he stabbed one through the heart and grabbed his dagger to plunge it into the neck of another before yanking out his sword and facing the rest.
“Hey!” There was a shout and then an arrow pierced the heart of the man on the right flank.
“Run!” One man shrieked, and the rest of them fled from the arrows. Bhaskara thrust the sword into the ground and stood with his hand on it, breathing heavily.
“Are you all right?” Arnava was anxious as he came running towards his brother. His heart had nearly stopped when he saw Bhaskara being attacked, and he had fired his arrows almost on instinct, drawing his sword and dropping his bow even as the two arrows found their marks.
Bhaskara nodded, too winded to speak.
“Who were they? Why were they attacking you?” Arnava asked again. He was angry and frightened.
“I have no idea,” Bhaskara said as he straightened. He looked around him. There were five corpses there, including the first man and two had arrows sticking from their bodies.
“Thank you,” he said, giving Arnava a weak smile.
“Don’t thank me!” Arnava burst out. “I am sorry I didn’t get them all!”
Bhaskara bent down and ripped off the strip of cloth from one of the dead men’s faces. He frowned. The man was a total stranger.
“Do you know him?” Arnava asked.
Bhaskara shook his head. He was confused. “Do you?”
Arnava too shook his head. “What is that symbol on their bodies?”
Bhaskara frowned as he looked at it. It was drawn in dark ink and was hardly visible in the gathering dusk. “Why should anyone be after me?” He muttered, almost to himself, confused and shocked.
“Let’s go home,” Arnava spoke, pulling at his arm. “It’s getting dark. We shall send some of our guards here to remove the corpses and to examine them. There’s nothing more we can do here.”
They walked away from the temple, going down the hill at a fast pace, their eyes and other senses alert for any ambush.
“I’m glad you showed up when you did,” Bhaskara said.
“You were late getting back from the temple, and we’d both promised Sumitra to pose for his new painting.”
Bhaskara grimaced. “I should have known you would have an ulterior motive!”
Arnava gave a smile, but it was strained. The remnants of the nightmare he had last night still clung to him. The nightmare in which he’d watched Bhaskara being attacked by a group of people, and he’d been unable to help.