Submitted the re-worked short story, MIDNIGHT COURT Friday night. Now I am at work on the second in the serial, HUNTER, MY HUNTRESS.
Here is what I came up with this afternoon:
Patience growing short in the afternoon heat, Dara’s favorite leopard yowled and spat at her handler, ready to hunt.
Dara grinned, ready as well. The beaters had started the day before, working through the night, driving all the wild game resident in several square kos toward where the hunting party lay in wait. The prince welcomed the prospect of release from the tension being around Aurangzeb always seemed to provoke in him.
Seeking distraction, he again took up the gun he’d had as a wedding gift from Father last year, the inlaid piece monstrous heavy yet reassuring in its solidity. He sighted down the nearly two gaz of barrel, arms immediately trembling from the weight of iron, ivory inlay, and mahogany.
“Here,” he grunted.
Body slaves overseen by his Atishbaz gunsmith, Talawat, hurriedly set up the iron tripod needed to support the hunting piece while he struggled to hold position.
“Ready, Shehzadi,” Talawat said.
Trying to keep the weight under control, Dara slowly lowered the gun into place. Talawat slotted the pin allowing the gun to stand upright and ready to action into place, easing the awkward weight from Dara’s arms.
Rubbing the ache from his muscles, hoofbeats drew Dara’s attention. He looked down the gradual slope to the watering holes that marked the two sides of the shooting zone for the hunt. The beaters were working toward that spot in a steadily shrinking circle. About one hundred gaz of grassy clearing lay between the slowly-drying watering holes, with about half that much distance between grandfather’s tent and the open space.
One of Asaf Khan’s men emerged from the wood line at a gallop, crossing the zone and pounding up to the camp. In a fine display of horsemanship, the sowar swung down from his mount to land lightly a few paces in front of Dara’s grandfather.
Asaf Khan, standing in the shade of his tent, stepped forward and listened as the young trooper made his report, “At least a hundred head of blackbuck and red antelope, a small herd of nilgai, Wazir. Tiger spoor was also found, but no one has laid eyes on it, yet. Should not be long, now, before the first of the beasts make an appearance.”
Gray beard dancing, the still-powerfully-built Wazir smiled, called out as he waved dismissal to his man: “A tiger would make a worthy prize for one of my grandsons!”
“Perhaps for Dara, grandfather. He has yet to take one.” Aurangzeb drawled from inside the tent.
Dara watched Asaf’s smile dim before he turned and answered, “One tiger could never be enough for the sons of Emperors.”
“I did not say it was, grandfather.” Aurangzeb said, striding from the tent and into the sun.
“I will kill it, grandfather!” Shah Shuja, crowed, raising his bow. Born between Aurangzeb and Dara, Shuja seemed always afire with desire to please his elders. At eighteen he was a man grown, however, and larger than Dara by a head. Of course, that head was rarely full of things other than those he might hunt, fuck, or ride.
Asaf turned to face his eldest grandson, “And you, Dara?”
“I will take what it pleases God to place before me.”
“Pious words,” Asaf said, nodding approval.
Behind grandfather’s back, Aurangzeb shook his head and commanded his horse be brought up.
“Where are you going?” Asaf asked, edges of his beard curling down as he frowned.
“I will take the animals my brothers miss.” Aurangzeb’s lips curled in a smile, “that way I am sure to have a good day hunting.”
Doing his best to ignore the insult, Dara gestured at his leopards, “Brother, that is why I have brought my cats, to run down escaping game.”
Aurangzeb shrugged, took up a lance. “Then I will race them, and beat them, to the kill.”
Asaf stepped toward Aurangzeb, “I would advise caution, Brave One, if there is a tiger in among them, it will easily overtake a horseman. They can only be hunted safely from elephant howdah.”
Aurangzeb shrugged again, put spurs to his tall horse and sped off to the left of the firing line, a trail of attendants and guards in tow.
“Here they come!” one of grandfather’s cronies cried.