Fandoms: Crossover: Jungle Books & "In the Rukh" from Many Inventions Rudyard Kipling/"Foreign Skins" from Tamastara, Tanith Lee
Pairing: Mowgli/David Finlay ("Darvinda")
Disclaimer: None of mine – the Kipling characters belong to his heirs and graces; and David Finlay to Tanith Lee. I make no money from my efforts in their shared universe.
* * * *
The sound was unbelievable, irreproducible, unrepeatable.
The man, though well-versed within the limits of his knowledge, was unsure whether it emanated from a human or animal throat. Therefore, although alone in a lush, dangerous world not his own, he nonetheless stepped from the trail to investigate. After all – if he lost himself, he had a full two days to find himself again before he was missed. He did, however, take the precaution of drawing his pistol.
The scene that met his gaze was not immediately threatening, though sufficiently strange to keep him out of sight when he found the sound-source in a clear place along the banks of the Waingunga
Unlike many of his compatriots, this man had never feared snakes. They seemed to him a necessary and often beautiful part of creation; and he did not therefore murder them without cause. However, in the case of the huge rock-python whose coils filled the glade, no action was required. It was clearly dead, all thirty feet of it settling into dullness as each vivid scale leached its living colour.
The other occupant of the space was poised upright, sending his wildly inhuman mourning to the sky. It seemed his whole self – soul, body and spirit – had become the cries he made. Dark eyes wide and lost, black hair loose and abandoned around his naked shoulders, he seemed to the watcher's startled gaze to be no-one other than Krishna Himself.
In the face of such hard grief the man found no words in his own tongue, which was simply not constructed to carry a fitting response. However, there were older words that he had heard (oh, how long ago?) and as that long-buried memory lit within him, he spoke them.
"'But even an immortal has a soul which cannot die!'"
"Assuredly so," replied the godling, withdrawing, unsurprised, from his keening, "All things leave, only to return; and I - I did but give him the Death-Song as is fitting! Farewell Kaa, my brother!"
He made comely obeisance to the corpse, before stepping clear and once more lifting his astounding countenance to the sun.
"We be of one blood, thou and I!" he cried, the words drawn upwards in a long raptor's shriek.
**Whooo calls?** an answer seemed to drop like a spear cast from heaven.
"Mowgli the Frog. Kaa Bane of the Bandar-log is dead! Do thou feed upon his valour, oh thou Undertaker of souls!"
**It will be my honour! I go call my people!** the man heard in the kite's answering scream.
"Chil and his brethren will feast well, and others also. It were well ye be not by at this gathering," said Mowgli; and added one ineffable dagger-twist in perfect Hindi – "Sahib!"
The man laughed; and the wild presence grinned back, sculpted lips parting to reveal teeth as fine as almond-kernels.
"I am … " the man, who thought he had known himself intimately for all his twenty-five years, glimpsed another identity, maybe from a hidden time, "My Name is Dar … David."
And there David Finlay stopped. His memories took him no further back than his eighth year, when he had suddenly and inexplicably acquired a joyous facility in all the local languages; and his father had as suddenly ceased beating him.
"Daoud. King and Prophet, in the books of the Once-born."
"But … it is in my mind that … "
"Thou art neither Mussulman, nor of the People of the Cross? I know – who have abided long with both these Peoples. Thou bearest the mark of the Twice-born, fast on thy brow, for those who can See."
"It is true," admitted Finlay a trifle hesitantly (wondering how he came to be debating personal theology under such strange circumstances), "That I have felt always a … kinship with peoples of many kinds; and beasts also. However … "
"But thou art clearly a White Man of the white men, with thy hair of sunlight and eyes blue as the stones on a king's ankus."
"There is," responded Finlay, forgetting for a moment that he was newly appointed District Commissioner of a province to the north, "No shame in being born as one is born."
"Assuredly not! And withal, a Warrior in thy soul. And most comely. Sahib!"
David felt the delicate touch of the blade once more in the other man's speech.
"And thou?" he asked, duly stung, "Who art thou, with thy face of an angel, hair of a maiden and the strength of the Rukh itself in thy bearing?"
"The Sahib is most kind," came the reply in precisely articulated English, "To an ignorant savage."
"Ignorant thou art not. And savage only as the Master of the Rukh must rightwise be!"
Mowgli laughed softly beneath his breath.
"Well answered and recognised. Thou hast the tongue of Tabaqui the Flatterer!"
David was now attuned enough to recognise a non-compliment when uttered. He became suddenly impatient with this game of step and counter-step; and chose to let himself become affronted.
"Are we maidens that we dance thus? The Jackal ALSO lives to his purpose. And moreover – " he glared defiantly, "Is most excellently conformed!"
"Did I say aught else? True, Tabaqui is an Unfriend of the Free Peoples. But his speech is always of the smoothest; and he is most – dainty – in his person, though not in his eating."
"So! Thy 'Free Peoples' do not include ALL of Brahma's creation?"
"It is said – The Jackal may follow the tiger,
But Cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the wolf is a hunter -
Go forth and get food of thine own. We have no kinship with the eaters of carrion – even Chil the Kite to whom all people come in time."
"Thou art of the wolf-people, then?"
"I am of myself alone; Master of the Rukh. But my kin are of the Seoni pack."
"There was talk of One such as thee" said David slyly, "northwards of here. It was said That One was tamed by a Woman; and took the White Man's money and a pension."
"She died in the last rains; she and the babe. They burned and died in the wet. And I – I returned here to the Hunting I know best. The Pension –" Mowgli spat suddenly, "Was nothing to me! Sahib."
"Thy sorrow is my sorrow," said David formally, "It was ill-done of me to mock thy losses – though done in ignorance."
"Alas, that they were of the Once-born! But let the past bury its dead. And thou art surely too beautiful to coat thy words in a shame that is chance-earned. Let us leave this place to Chil. It is in my mind to follow thee for as long as it pleases us both. Where is thine abiding-place?"
"Uh … I came here to watch the wild … to observe the peoples of the Rukh," David's instinctive English turned hastily back to Hindi, "I have the dak bungalow for a little time. Thereafter, my place is in the North."
Mowgli hummed softly (mockingly, teasingly?) into the wild exuberance of the air –
" ….the glamour of thy footsteps in the North
Come back to me, Beloved, or I die …"
David stared at the wonder that was Mowgli's Rukh-hewn body, honed to perfection by feasting with panthers; and such a pang of longing shot through him that he thought for one moment he had been struck by a poisoned dart like that used by the Gond hunters.
He had known since adolescence that he was what the Simla social-set would call 'not the marrying kind'. It was perhaps the gods' small jest that he should carry this secret within the balanced excellence of his fine body and opened mind. If so, he did not begrudge them their laughter. At least his eyes were fully open in this matter; and not clogged with the motes and beams of covert sadism, like Corcoran's group at school. One could, he supposed, take the best from what one had been apportioned in this lifetime, and turn it to something of value.
But he was drawn to this child of the Rukh far beyond anything he had yet experienced. Part of him was explaining earnestly why it would be a form of sacrilege to bring Mowgli – yet again – within the blasted sphere of the White Man's ethos. But somewhere deep below his conqueror's persona, another ancient voice was speaking.
**'But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth …'**
David Finlay closed his eyes against the green ravishment of the Rukh; the all-present temptation of the other man's body.
**Darvinda!** he heard, **Of the Kashatriya. 'Remember me, lord, but once, when thou has found… found ….**
"Sahib? Daoud? Thy soul is truly in flight with Mang the bat! Wilt thou not answer thy …?"
"D … Darvinda! My Name is Darvinda!" he cried in that tongue which was older – and far more widespread – than Hindi, "She thus named me!"
"Ag .. Agnini …Nagaina … Nagini of the Naga - the serpent-folk!"
"Ssss … thou art of the Tribe of the Poison-people! Forgive me, Lord, that I knew thee not!"
"There can be no talk of 'Lord' or 'Sahib' between the Free Folk and the Poison People," replied David-Darvinda.
"Wouldst thou then have us meet as Prince to Prince?"
"I would – " said Darvinda, almost voiceless now, "Have us meet as man with man."
"Ah!" Mowgli took a delicate breath inwards through the nostrils, half-lidding his eyes and seeming to sift the air like fine sand, "Thou wouldst … there is That in thee which fain wouldst meet as Lover to Beloved! Well – so it shall be! There is That in me which yearns also to thee. Come! There are places I know whither neither the Little People nor thy Poison Folk will venture. Wilt thou then go with me and be, in time, Beloved?"
"I will!" replied Darvinda.
Mowgli grasped his wrist in hardened palms and drew him away from the river into the hot green heart of the Rukh.
* * * *
Darvinda had wagered within himself that it would be a cave; but it was not. It was, precariously and thrillingly, high in the tree-canopy.
It was an imposition – a test – for him to ascend, hand over heavy hand, from the safety of the ground to the flexible ambiance of the Realm of the Bandar-log. He climbed slowly, insistently taking his own time, until he reached the blazing apex of the trees; where Fire and Air; dampness and growth, mixed into one single exhausting experience.
"The very Elements meld and become One here," he murmured, "Let us then, also become One within thy World and Mine."
"There is too much of thy talk, my Darvinda! Here is only the Rukh – and myself – spread before thee!"
Darvinda's breath hitched in his throat. Truly, the sight of Mowgli, laid before him, braced and supported between the tapering trunk and primary branch of a huge blossom-tree cushioned on a carpet of flowering creepers, surpassed all his most fantastical dreams for this lifetime. There was even a faint intimation of deja vue; of having been poised on this pinnacle before.
"Thou art somewhat over-encumbered, Beloved! It is surely my right, and my privilege, to behold thee unclothed beneath the sun."
Darvinda laughed softly at the notion of boots, shirt, britches and solar topee descending precipitately to the undergrowth of this green and golden realm.
"Since I burn already for thee, then let my flesh so burn in the Eye of the Day!" he conceded, removing all the strange and unnecessary encumbrances of Empire.
"Ah, my Beloved. Thou art altogether golden. The Rukh accepts thy presence and the completeness of thy soul's journey."
Darvinda – stripped to essential humanity before whatever part of the Infinite would recognise him here – found a homecoming in the softness of Mowgli's brown skin flush against his own, and the complementary hardness of the Rukh-honed sinew which grappled him close as one wolf-cub to another at its dam's teats.
There would be no talk of East or West here; only the pre-verbal heat of body on body as each took his mutual pleasure. The absolutes of the tree, the creeper, the ambient heat, would allow no other coupling but this equal and balanced feeding of each by the other.
It was as the mating of serpents. The wave-like undulation; the rise and fall of flexible sensation; and the final sunburst that touched (for a fleeting mortal moment) something so far back in Darvinda that he suspected the Timeless Infinite, until his inner eye perceived a face.
He greeted the ecstasy-induced vision with instant recognition **Agnini!** before he realised that it was, eye for eye, tooth for perfect whiteness of tooth, the exact image of Mowgli in female form.
**… a perfect and enduring love shall be thine …. Remember me, lord, but once when thou has found ….**
So now, sighing in the aftermath of bliss, he was permitted also a full and perfect remembrance …..
How he had – aged eight – rendered aid to a Naga in a dream of accelerated maturity. How she had needed a man's strength to defeat her unwanted suitor Rupanag. How he – Darvinda – had died in that contest, but yet prevailed and been reborn. And how -abstaining from the final temptation of her perfect form – he had gained the boon of a fulfilled love in the future.
In only one regard had she been mistaken **Remember me, lord, but once when thou has found her ..**. In that one respect neither he nor she had known what he would become. But - "thou wast, and shall be, brave!" she had told him, as a timorous cowed little boy. So now he knew equally, that Male and Female - Masculine and Feminine – were ALSO passing Masks worn by the soul many times as it travels the circles of time.
And so he addressed his newly-found Perfection in the tongue She had taught him; the tongue of all the Peoples of the Rukh.
"Thou art," he said, "My very lord this one lifetime. Whatever shall come to pass hereafter, there will be none but thee, oh Master of my soul!"
"Thou makest," came the sleepy responsive purr, "Altogether too many words, Beloved. Be still, snakeling, and bask in the heat!"