Disclaimer: I don't own Jungle Book, Disney would have me hunted down like a dog if I said I did.
The jungle, the dark primeval jungle is older than man, they say. The roots twist themselves into the heart of the earth, more massive than a freight-train; and it is said that the animals there have learnt to speak. Of course this is just legend, told by the natives to the sahibs; but every once in a while a child will go missing and return… changed.
His name was Ramuh, only nine years, and he had been gathering twigs for his mother's fire when he had disappeared. In the usual protocol, the ablest men were dispatched in a search party. They separated in pairs of three or four, except the youngest. The oldest child to have come back from the jungle alive. He hunts alone, without fear, without clothing, brown as a nut. He is the only young man in the village not to have taken a wife, and he prefers sleeping outside, most nights.
He bounds along the trail, familiar to him even after all these years, wishing for Gray Brother to join him as he had in his youth. But he has not been back to this part of the jungle, where he grew up, in years. His father, his mother, the priest have all forbade it. Usually it was not enough for all three of them to tell him no, he was precocious to a fault, but on this he had obeyed.
He skirted the roots of a large banyan, heading towards his first hunch. They say a great worm hundreds of hundreds of years old lives in these hills, sunning itself on a rock, waiting for children to walk into his great jaws. Kaa certainly has grown older, he thinks as he rounds a small Datura bush, and fatter as well. The massive python sunning itself in a dead tree is easily as big around as the missing child. It is asleep, judging by the gentle inward-outward movement of its sides. If one was gifted with exceptional hearing, they might have heard a faint snoring.
He ignored all of this and tapped the great python on the side. He took an unusually long amount of time to wake up, perhaps another sign of age. After various stretches and innocent yawns, he finally scanned around to see his waker. After spotting the boy, he remained still for a moment before his smile grew wide
"Well well." He intoned. "The man cub. Although, you don't sseem to me to be much of a cub anymore."
"I've been away for a while."
"True." A wistful look crossed his face. "I ssupose you're a little too big to eat now. Shame, I remember when you were ssmall enough to sswallow. Now, I'm afraid you're a bit too big." He gave a raspy chuckle that still sent shivers up Mowgli's spine.
"I came back for a reason."
"Oh, really? And I ssuppose a nice visit is completely out of the quesstion."
"You tried to kill me."
"Oh, pshaw. You ssay that like I'm the only one who has!"
"I'm looking for a child."
"Oh." The snake eyed him slyly. "And you immediately thought of me? How consssiderate."
"I thought you might know something. Scratch that, I know you know something."
"Really." His tongue flickered out. "Tell me, in all the time you've been gone, did you think about uss here? Did you think we would just forget you, go on with our… businesss?"
He eyed the snake warily. "I had thought that…yes, I did."
He gave a hissing snicker. "Sso like a you, sso ssself centered. You haven't really changed. But then again-" his eyes flickered over to an injured coil, "Not everybody iss capable of change."
Mowgli followed Kaa's eyes. "Who did that to you?"
Another laughing hiss. "Really now, what'ss the concern? You live where you should now, and everything iss in its place. It's the law of the jungle."
"You're nearly split in two and all you can say is 'law of the jungle'?"
"Sssometimes" his eyes were dark, and did not look at him, "we must face responsibility for something we have done. And that's that."
"What did you do?"
His eyes focused mirthlessly on the boy's face. "You didn't really think I could get away with letting you esscape, did you?"
His eyes widened as he finally made the connection. "You mean, he–"
"Yess, mancub. He wasn't particularly pleased that I let you live instead of turning you over, but I managed to waylay him before he could make it fatal."
"I made a deal." The python stretched languidly once more. "By the by, what was this boy like, the one you sseek, hmm? Was he an adventurouss young cub like you, or jussst a lost little lamb?"
"He was–" his eyes narrowed. "I never said it was a boy."
"You didn't have to. Girlss have more ssensse."
Mowgli raised his spear. "You're playing games with me again. Tell me or I'll–"
"It'ss funny how alike you two are, but never seem to realize it. He ssaid nearly the sssame thing when I–" he stopped and looked at Mowgli slyly.
"But I musst be boring you, pray, tell me where the others are ssearching?"
"Why on earth should you know?"
He slipped a loose coil on the boy's shoulders that weighed a ton. "Perhapss I can help." And he let out a slithery chuckle.
"No, thanks." He gave it a good shove. "I've had enough of your 'help' to last me a lifetime."
"My, we do want to look important in front of the others, don't we? It's all about reputation with you two, I sswear. Are you doing this so that she ssees?"
He rounded on the snake. "What?"
"Your little girlfriend. The one who fetches water, and her ssari sslipss jusst a little bit off her shoulder–"
Mowgli held up his spear. "Have you been watching her?!"
"No…but you have. If I had ssuch an infatuation, I would do better to hide it. You're sso desperate, you make me ill."
He grit his teeth. "Tell me one thing now, or I'll finish what Shere Khan started. Where–is–that–child?!" He banged the butt of his spear on the ground for emphasis.
All sarcasm had fled, the snake gazed coldly at him. "You're very cocky. I wonder what gives man that undesserved ssensse of accomplishment, makes him feel like he is the most dangerouss animal. I wonder…"
"That's it." Mowgli sighed. "I'm leaving. This was obviously just a waste of time." He hefted his spear.
He turned back. "I'm listening."
The snake paused in thought. "Have you ever heard the tale 'killed by a tiger'?"
Mowgli, greatly confused, shook his head.
"Of course you haven't. It goes something like this: A man sits in his house while his wife gives birth, waiting to see lord Brahma and ask him what fate he wrote on his newborn son's forehead. The god comes and the father asks him; and Brahma shakes his head: 'sad news, sad news'."
"'It is your son's destiny to be killed by a tiger before he reaches his wedding day'. The man falls to his knees, begging the god to change it; but Brahma only writes fate, he cannot intervene. So the boy spends his whole life being watched very closely."
"One day, his older brother is out cutting wood, and he comes upon a glade. Upon spotting a striped mankiller, he quickly hides in a tree. But the tiger, intent on his muttering, takes no notice. The curious brother bends down to hear, and is shocked to hear the tiger repeating 'I must kill the boy cursed by Brahma, I must kill the boy cursed by Brahma' over and over again."
"The elder brother runs to tell his father, who sets up a hunting party. They find the luckless beast and kill it, and the father buries it in the glade."
"Now, years later, the boy's wedding is being prepared. The boy's brothers, thinking it a treat, take him to the glade and dig up the bones for him to see."
"'Is that the beast that would kill me?' the boy laughs, and kicks the tiger's skull. His foot lands squarely in the tiger's jaws. His foot begins to bleed profusely, and despite all they do to staunch it, he bleeds to death."
The snake peered at him. "Heard anything like that?"
Mowgli sneered at him. "A lovely bedtime story."
"Impudent as always." The snake sighed affectionately. "That's all. You may go now."
Mowgli began to walk.
"However, I wouldn't look behind myself, if I were you."
Author's note: ha HA, I am the monarch of the dangling ending, as well as the sovereign ruler of groove. The tale he tells is an old Hindi fairy tale, though there's one like it in every culture. I always wondered whether the tiger truly believed him, or simply was so arrogant he thought the snake wouldn't cross him. Maybe it's just me. This is my first Disney fic, and maybe my last. I don't know yet.