Iron Clad Soldiers
by AKJ UK

Iron-clad soldiers were dragging me away....

Startled, I woke up. I was sweating and breathing heavily.

Then I remembered where I was. With relief I said out aloud, "It was just a dream."

Immediately my maid came and asked me if I needed something. I looked lovingly at her. She was more than just a maid; she really was my best friend. She had known me for over twenty years now.

Quite alarmed at the sweat on my face, she said, "What is wrong, my queen?"

I murmured, "Just a bad dream."

She started, "You shouldn't have eaten that spicy food. That cook needs some sense..."

Best friend or not, I was in no mood for her gossip. I interrupted, "That will be all."

She gave a short bow and with a feigned hurt look, left.

I calmed myself. The dream had been so real!

I silently tiptoed into my little prince's chamber. He was sleeping quite peacefully. I went close and softly kissed his cheek. He stirred and dreamily looked at me and mumbled, "Ma."

I kissed him again. He looked a lot older than seven years. He looked up and asked, "When is papa coming home?"

Trying to sound confident, I said, "Soon, my child, soon."

"But Vazeer had promised he would be here by last month."

Vazeer was the chief minister and it was no secret that he was the one who was really running the kingdom.

"Go to sleep, my son. Your father will be here soon."

He smiled at me and went back to sleep.

I returned to my bed and silently prayed for my king's well being. He was a gentle man and had brought peace to the area after decades of bloodshed. But a few months ago, a small rebellion had broken out in the southern province and it was decided to send soldiers there to break it.

The king too wanted to go. I had begged him to not to go, but Vazeer had advised that the king's place was with his soldiers. I had given up. After all, it was only a small battle. To re-assure me, Vazeer had sent all but a third of our soldiers with the king.

But now I was quite worried. The king hadn't written for weeks and just this morning in the court, a messenger had come and asked me to send the remaining soldiers to the battlefront. I asked him why the king had not written; he replied that the king was busy. But he re-assured me that the battle was almost over.

I didn't want to send all the soldiers but Vazeer had said that it was absolutely needed. Once again, I trusted him and did what he said. Only fifty soldiers remained behind.

I was about to go back to sleep when I heard a knock on my door. I was surprised and asked who it was. Vazeer answered.

He opened the door. He had never been to my chambers before. I knew there must be something urgent.

"What is it?" I asked.

He was a man in his fifties. His beard was grey but his mind was the sharpest in the kingdom.

He replied, "Nothing, my woman."

I was shocked to hear his reply; all my subjects referred to me as "queen".

I raised my voice, "What do you want?"

Without replying, he came and sat on the king's favorite chair.

"You," he said.

"WHAT?"

He laughed. "You are now my queen."

I had enough of him. He probably had too much wine in his blood.

I called out, "Guards."

The guards didn't come. I shouted out again, "Guards!"

Still no one came.

Vazeer softly said, "Guards." Immediately, two of my guards came and bowed to him.

A cold chill went up my back.

Vazeer said, "My dear, I am afraid, there has been a little change. The king is dead and has been dead for a month now."

I screamed out, "You are lying!"

I ran to the window and shouted to the sentry. "Come here at once!"

They looked at me without moving. Vazeer laughed again.

"Please understand your position now. You no longer can command."

I looked at him. I clearly understood why he had insisted that the king go to war. It had been his plan to have the king killed.

He softly said, "Guards, behead the prince now."

My body shook with fear. "NO," I screamed, "Please no!"

The guards started going to the prince's chamber. I ran up to them and tried to hold them back. One of them roughly pushed me away. I fell down and with a loud thud, the back of my head hit the wall...

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Screaming, I woke up. Instinctively, my hand went to the back of my head. Surprisingly, there was no blood there.

The gang member sleeping next to me angrily slapped me for disturbing him. The slap brought me back to reality. A sigh partly of regret and partly of relief escaped my mouth. I wasn't a royal queen, rather just a street thief. I lay down again and thinking how real the dream had been, dozed off.

That night our gang busted open a jewelry shop. Unluckily for us, the police was in the area. Before we realized it, they were upon us.

I ran as fast I could. I was at an advantage because it was night time and I knew the streets. After all, I was born and raised on them.....

My mother had died at my birth. Of course, nobody knew who my father was; it is hard to keep track at a brothel. Why my mother had chosen to give me birth is a mystery which I still haven't solved.

My mother's friends had more or less brought me up; my real friends, though, had been the streets and the gang I had joined when I was nine years old.

I was now twenty two and was a wanted man in many places. It was a matter of pride for me to see my picture at police stations. It always gave me an unexplainable exhilaration to walk by a police station and look at my picture.

To date, I had never seen the inside of a jail. My friends told me I was lucky, but I told them that it wasn't luck, but skills that kept me free.

But today I wasn't feeling so sure about my skills. I had had too much to smoke the previous night and I was feeling quite disoriented.

My foot slipped on the pavement. I fell down and hit my arm heavily against the gutter.

I was still recovering when a police officer came and grabbed me by my neck. There was no hope now. I would be badly beaten and would see the inside of a jail for months or even years.

I cursed him.

The police officer was breathing heavily. After a few minutes, he made me stand up and strip off my clothes; right there on the street! I protested; he gave me a slap and said, "Do as you are told, sewer rat."

I spat at him.

I felt his baton hit the right side of my skull...

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I woke up with a cold sweat. Instinctively, my hand went to the right side of my head. Surprisingly, there was no scar there. Then I remembered who I was.

I jolted up in my bed. That too had been a dream! I looked around. My wife lay by my side, snoring softly.

I touched my face. It was covered with sweat. I tried to calm down. I got out of the bed and drank a glass of water. I then looked at my children's peaceful faces. But my heart kept on beating wildly.

I was walking back to my bed when a paralyzing thought arose within me: "Am I dreaming?"

This thought shocked me so much that I sat down right there on the ground. I touched my arms and legs. They felt real enough. But so had the police officer's baton and the prince's face.

Dizzily, I walked back to my bed and tried to sleep. But I was too frightened to sleep.

In the morning, my wife and children were alarmed by my state. I no longer cared to say anything to them. Just the thought, "Am I dreaming?" kept eating away at my heart.

I didn't go to the farm that day. What was the use? It was not real, why did I need to do anything when I knew it would soon end.

That day, I spent many hours in front of the mirror looking closely at my face. I tried to see if it had any similarities with queen's and the thief's face. But none existed.

Everyone and everything told me I was not dreaming. But my eyes told a different story. I looked deeply into them and saw only sleep in them.

My wife and children were greatly troubled by my low spirits and tried to cheer me up by talking about the expansion of the farm which I had been passionately pursuing, but I couldn't help but laugh at them.

I looked closely into their eyes and I saw the nothing but sleep invading their eyes.

That day went slowly. I sat on the bed waiting for the dream to end. I no longer knew who I was. Was I the thief? Was I the queen? Was I the farmer?

That night, my wife held me closely and tried all her charms to bring back her farmer. But I was too frightened of the world and no matter how hard I tried, I could not open up my fears to her. That night too, I could not sleep at all.

Next morning, my wife suggested we go to the temple and visit the pundit.

I beamed at the thought. My family and I used to visit the temple on the full moon's night and I vaguely recalled the pundit saying that we were all living in a dream.

I could not wait to get to the temple. The pundit must know about my problem and would surely have a solution.

Next morning, my wife and I walked to the temple. She was pleased to see me happy again.

But my happiness was short lived: as soon as I saw the pundit, I knew something was wrong. One look into his eyes told me what it was. He was sleeping too! In fact, he seemed to be sleeping even more deeply than me!

Greatly depressed, both of us returned home.

This depression only got deeper by the day. My wife and children were visibly frightened of me and there was a heavy silence in the whole house. They talked in hushed voices and avoided me as much as possible.

I wanted to open up to them and tell that they needn't be frightened - this was a dream after all, but the truth was I too was deeply frightened. In fact, the lack of sleep and cleansiness had left such marks on my face that it frightened everybody!

I spent my days in bed or in front of the mirror. Even though my wife forced food into my mouth, I become weak and quite yellow. After five days, I was so weak that I had difficulty getting up from my bed.

Depression hung over me like never before. That night at sunset, I did something I had never done before; I prayed.

The pundit had said that all prayers are answered. Of course, I hadn't believed him then and I believed him even less now, but there was no other hope. So I knelt on the side of the bed and prayed,

"O Creator, please wake me up."

I was quite surprised to hear these words come out of my mouth. I surely hadn't planned to say them; they had just come quite spontaneously. I felt a little better and a little lighter.

My prayer was answered the next morning.

I was laying in my bed and I heard a man singing. He sang,

gurmukh jaag rahe din raati
sache kee liv gurmat jaati ||

manmukh sooea rahe se loote
gurmurkh sabat bhai hey || (m: 1, 1024)

"The Gurmukhs remain awake and aware, day and night.
Following the Guru's Teachings, they know the Love of the True Lord.

The self-willed manmukhs remain asleep, and are plundered. The Gurmukhs remain safe and sound, O Siblings of Destiny."

This song struck an arrow into my heart. I felt truth in these words.
I knew the creator of this song knew about my state. It seemed that the singer was singing directly to me.

I jumped out my bed and barefoot, ran to the man singing this song.

The man was a middle aged man. He looked like a farmer. I ran up to him. He stopped singing and looked at me. The first thing I did was look deeply into his eyes.

Yes! He was awake!

I hugged him and he hugged me back. His hug broke the depression within me and I started sobbing. Without a word, he stroked my back. Finally, my tears dried up and I looked into his eyes again. It would be wrong to say they were beautiful. They seemed so unnatural. I had never seen such eyes. They appeared not to blink.

I asked, "Am I dreaming?"

He replied, "Yes."

With my breath held short, I again asked, "Is there a way to wake up?"

Again he replied, "Yes."

"Please show me the way."

An indescribale light I had never seen before flooded his eyes. He sang,

soea rahe maya madh mate
jaagat bhagat simrat har rate || (m: 5, 388)

"The mortals are asleep, intoxicated with the wine of Maya. The devotees remain awake, imbued with the Lord's meditation."

I hadn't heard so much beauty before. His song was monsoon for me. I felt nourished and green again.

After that song, there was a short silence.

Then I humbly asked about him. His name was Sat Kartar Singh. He as a sikh of Guru Nanak and earned his living by farming.

I briefly told him about my state of affairs. And asked him how I could become a sikh too. He told me that he was a having a keertan at his house in a week's time and he would answer all my questions then.

He also told me start working again since working was a part of being a sikh.

I thanked him and went home and took a long nap. My wife and children thankfully hugged me and with laughter, my life started again.

I eagerly awaited the day of meeting with Sat Kartar Singh again....