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Kings Ankus, The

Kaa, the Rock Python, had changed his skin for perhaps the two hundredth time since his birth. Skin changing make a snake moody and depressed, till the new skin begins to shine and look beautiful. Mowgli played with Kaa's old skin, and noted that it was perfect, even to the scales of the eyes.

That night, Kaa and Mowgli played a wrestling match, their regular evening game. Naturally, Kaa used only about one tenth of his enormous strength. The game always ended the same way, with a driving blow that knocked Mowgli over.

As they lay down to sleep, with Mowgli settled comfortably in Kaa's coils, Kaa talked about old times, of killing buffaloes and goats, of Shere Khan, and about an old decrepit cobra who hibernated in Cold Lairs. Mowgli owed his life to Kaa, because of a previous encounter at Cold Lairs involving the Bandarlog, the monkey people.

Kaa continued telling Mowgli about the White Cobra, called White Hood, and he was intrigued. He had not seen any burrows at Cold Lairs. Mowgli's appetite was whetted; he was so interested, he wanted to see the great White Hood, and other things Kaa spoke of. After a day or two of tracking, Kaa and Mowgli came at last to a gap in a stone wall. They crept through, and inside it was like a huge vault. Mowgli thought it was a safe lair until he heard a voice, the voice of White Hood, the huge White Cobra. He was the largest cobra Mowgli had ever seen, with his eyes as red as rubies.

White Hood asked many questions of Mowgli; who he was, where he came from, and what he was doing there. White Hood told Mowgli that he was the warden of the King's treasure, and that he taught death to all those who came to steal it.

For some reason, White Hood favoured Mowgli, and allowed him to see the treasures. There were countless gold pieces, gold and silver trinkets, candlesticks inlaid with emeralds, pearls, rubies, and jewelled swords, daggers and hunting knives.

The treasurers did not interest Mowgli much, although they were pleasing to the eye, but then he saw a piece which took his fancy, and he wanted to take it away to show his friends. It was an ankus, which he was told was made by men as a goad, used for training elephants. The ankus was a beautiful thing, shaped rather like a small boat hook, made of gold, ivory and jade, and set with emeralds, rubies and turquoises.

White Hood, however, would not allow Mowgli to remove the ankus from the hoard of treasures, but Mowgli was determined. A fight started, and eventually Mowgli pinned the cobra down with the hook of the ankus. Kaa wanted Mowgli to kill White Hood, but Mowgli could not bring himself to do so. As you know, the Jungle Law says one must not kill except for food to live. In any case, White Hood was all dried up, and they found he had no poison.

As they left the King's Treasure behind them, White Hood begged to be killed, because Mowgli had shamed him by taking the ankus, but Mowgli would not. The cobra called after them that the ankus meant death, as man killed only for idleness and pleasure. Mowgli did not know what he meant by this, so they left to find Bagheera, to show the ankus to him. Bagheera told Mowgli that in the old days, the ankus had been used in a very cruel way, and that many elephants such as Hathi had suffered from its use. By now, the ankus was becoming a burden to Mowgli, as it was very heavy, and he did not want to be associated with Hathi's blood, so he threw it away, and went off to prepare for sleep.

When he awoke, Mowgli decided to go and have a last look at the ankus, but when he arrived at the place where he had thrown it, discovered it was missing. Bagheera told him that a man had taken it, so they followed his tracks through the jungle, and soon came upon another set of tracks.

Mowgli continued tracking the prints they had been following, and Bagheera took the trail of the other man. Soon they found the body of the first man with an arrow in it, and realised that he had been killed for the ankus. The trail of the second man continued on, and after a while they found that he, too, had died, this time speared by a group of four men. The four sets of footprints went on further into the jungle, and when, after a while, they found yet another body, Mowgli was becoming very puzzled as to why such a thing as an elephant goad would be worth killing for.

Close to where the last body lay, they found a fire which had been allowed to almost go out, and around the fireplace, three bodies lay. This time however, there were no arrows or spears, and Mowgli wondered how they had died. Bagheera. with his keen sense of smell, said they had been poisoned by the dreaded thorn-apple, and realised that the last man to have been killed must have planned to do away with the other three by baking some of the poison in the bread, before being speared himself.

The ankus was lying near the bodies, and Mowgli picked it up, intending to return it to where the rest of the treasure was kept. He realised that what White Hood had said was true, the ankus meant Death, and he wanted no part of it.

Wasting no time, they set of for Cold Lairs, and when they arrived, Mowgli told White Hood, who was still feeling his shame, that the treasure was to be guarded more closely than ever. He suggested that the Old Father of Cobras go and get a young one of his people to take his place, because the ankus had killed many times in just one night, and must never be allowed out of the place again.