(In the present)
Two and a half years after we went out on our first date, two and a half bloody years, that’s how long it’s taken me to get her to come out again. I didn’t leave much of a first impression for sure but here she is beside me in my car and we are out driving on the highway.
She’s playing songs from her phone through the car radio. I like that she’s comfortable, playing around with the music system, shaking her head to the music. She likes the windows down and so they are down (okay, so I’m acutely aware that I have to keep her happy!).
It’s crazy that she’s come this far. I mean wow… we are here on the highway far from the city and it’s well past midnight. This is a dream! And how did I manage this feat? Simple, dear reader, you need to be a writer.
See all those years ago I got my first date because of a small piece I’d written about her. It was funny and she loved it. After many years I put two and two together and realized if I wanted another chance I’d have to write something about her again.
But this one is a full story and the main protagonist is based on her or how I’d imagine her in maybe say 5 or 6 centuries ago. I told her that I’d written this great piece with her in mind and she was naturally curious (don’t we all love attention?). I made one condition; I wanted her to read this piece in the place where I’d first gotten my inspiration. And that’s the place where we are off to on the highway.
I took the car as far as it would go up the hill then parked. From here we climbed a few steps to the temple. But the place I had in mind was slightly above the temple and I guided her there by my cell phone light.
(In the story)
Zamindar Tapovan Lal was riding his horse with his son Mohana riding beside him and a small band of body guards behind. The entourage was making its way to the enemy encampment just outside the city walls. They were surrounded on all four sides and were issued an ultimatum to be present immediately. They had no option but to oblige.
Mohana observed that his father’s face was forlorn. He was no doubt worried for the family- himself, his wife, Mohana and Mohana’s two sisters. It was tradition for victors to destroy the first family of any land they conquered.
A large tent had been put up at the centre of the camp and they were guided to it. They were signalled to enter the camp alone and they did so. At the centre of the tent was placed a simple iron chair and there was a young man sitting on it. He was dark and wore plain armour. He was very simple looking but the eyes shone with intelligence. The only thing that gave him any grandeur was the armed sentries on either side of him. A wizened old man stood behind the chair whispering in to his ears.
He motioned to them to come forward. He looked at them with his piercing eyes. The old man behind began to speak. He declared that ‘The Maheshas’- father & son, were now the rulers of their lands. He demanded that they declare their loyalty to the new royals and kneel in submission. Tapovan Lal bowed his head and indicated to his son to follow suit. They kneeled before their new lord. Mohana was seething inside at the humiliation.
They rose and the young prince nodded his pleasure at their acquiescence. The old man looked at the Zamindar directly and said that it was rumoured that Birjapur was the jewel in the Shakriya kingdom. The Zamindar bowed respectfully.
“The people of these lands seem to have high regard for your administrative skills. They believe you to be fair and just. The lands have never suffered famine in your time. In fact the people have been very productive and, as a result, become very wealthy.”- said the young prince looking straight at Tapovan Lal.
“I did what was my duty.”- Tapovan replied.
The young prince smiled. He turned back and whispered in to the old man’s ear. He then turned towards Tapovan and his son.
“I speak as a representative of my father- King Ananda Mahesha. I, Vikaraman Mahesha, now declare the lands of Birjapur to belong to the Kingdom of Vijaya.” He paused for a bit before he resumed.
“You had ordered your armies against us. That would make you our enemy. However, my father is both wise and just. Tapovan Lal, we would like you to continue to administer the lands of Birjapur as Zamindar, only now for the King of Vijaya, to whom it belongs.”
Tapovan Lal was dumbfounded. He looked around at his son who looked equally bewildered. He quickly gathered his wits and indicated to his son to kneel with him.
He got up, bowed his head and spoke.
“I have no words to thank you my Prince for your graciousness.”
The Prince smiled in acknowledgment.
“It is well deserved. We have certain conditions though. Your armies will be dismantled. We will be taking all your officers and half your men as prisoners back to Vijaya. The remaining will not be permitted to carry any arms or organize themselves in whatsoever way. Any transgression will be met with immediate death penalty. The Poohar regiment will remain stationed here in Vijaya and will help you in enforcing the laws of the new King.”
Mohana could feel his jaws clench. There would be no real power or authority with the Zamindar family. They would have to obey every word of their new masters.
“You will continue to ensure that the same royalty that was paid to the Shakriya kingdom is now paid to us. Additionally you are now responsible for re-stocking the army’s grains and weapons which have been depleted. You will ensure that no harm comes to any man in our army. You will also ensure that the King, his representatives and all his countrymen are treated with utmost respect and courtesy in all Birjapur.”
Tapovan bowed his head in affirmation and his son followed suit.
“You can continue to administer the lands from your palace. You can continue to use your old administrative staff. You will prepare a fortnightly report in a format prescribed by our Pramukh,” he pointed towards the old man, “that will detail the administrative as well as economic criteria that we will monitor. You will also notify and seek approval from the Pramukh in advance for any visitors you invite to your palace or for any movement you or your family seek to undertake outside of your palace.”
Tapovan nodded in the direction of the Pramukh.
“Oh and one last thing, failure to comply with any of these conditions will mean death for you and your family.”
Tapovan Lal looked ashen. The warning was straight as an arrow. He bowed his head and Mohana also did the same swallowing the humiliation of having to hear his family being warned.
(In the present)
“Okay, so my family just lost the war?”- She enquired with mocked incredulity.
“Not ‘just’ lost. This happened like five centuries ago.”- I replied tongue- in- cheek. “And see they didn’t really lose. They’ve got a good deal from the prince don’t you think so?”- I followed trying to give her some perspective.
“Ah ha, I see. Why don’t you like my brother?”
“Oh come on. It’s just a story.”
“But still. Clearly he’s going to be up to something.”
“Really, is it that obvious?”- I replied worried that my plot points were unravelling quicker than I thought it would.
“Yeah, I mean I could make out.”
“Okay.”- I replied with a heavy tone.
She laughed a little when she heard my tone. Then she turned her face to one side and looked at me with piercing eyes and asked- “Who’s the prince?”
“It could be anyone.”- I replied, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Will you please continue reading?”- I pleaded.
(In the story)
Her life was turned upside down. She couldn’t leave the palace as and when she liked thanks to the rules of the new rulers. She hated the new king and his prince. Everything was suddenly so stifling. She could feel the stress her entire family was going through. She looked out her window and the full moon had lit up the little temple above the hill. She knew what she had to do.
In the darkness of night she tiptoed out of the palace and managed to slip by the guards. She was careful to dress like a commoner lest she be noticed. She wrapped her head in a stole and covered herself in a cloak. It was cold and a slight shiver ran down her spine. Her fingers felt the blade under the cloak and it gave her a warm confidence.
She reached the top of the hill and took off her cloak. It was chill but it was wonderful to bask in the freedom and moonlight. There was a light breeze and the temple compound setting made her think of spirits, adventure and romance, lifting her soul and placing her in a sort of trance. She almost felt like dancing.
“What’s a pretty girl like you doing here at this time?”
Almost in reflex she drew out her sword and turned towards the voice. It was a young dark man in shabby clothes. He was a little taken aback when he saw the dagger and he jerked back reflexively.
There was a moment of silence while both of them were judging each other. Finally he spoke.
“If you’re a thief then you’ve got nothing to fear. I’m in hiding too.”
She had to stifle her laugh but she quickly gathered herself and played coy. She held the blade straight at him. He spoke again.
“Look, either you lunge at me and get it done with or say something. This is getting awkward.”
She admired the man’s bravery. She put her blade a little lower and spoke.
“What are you doing here?”
“I told you, I’m in hiding.”
“Hiding? From whom?”
“Why are you hiding from them?”
“I’m a thief.”
She looked him up and down after he said this. He did look the part of a vagabond but there was no telling his profession.
“What did you steal?”
“Many things. All sorts of things.”
“And you came here to hide?”
“Yes. This place is as safe as it can get.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you are mocking me?”
“Look I’ll show you my stash of loot. It’s right there.” He pointed out to a rock just behind her.
She thought for a moment then she nodded and indicated that he move to the rock. She had her sword pointed at him as he moved around her.
He turned his back away from her, bent down and then suddenly he picked up some dirt and flung it in her general direction. She was blinded momentarily when he sprung on her. He had her by her wrists so she wasn’t free to swing. She tried to kick him but he was too quick. They both lost balance and fell down. The sword fell some distance from them and they were wrestling on the ground.
She kicked him in the chest and the he lost grip of her momentarily. He recovered quickly enough to grab her by the ankles. She tried desperately to reach the sword but his grip was firm and pulling her away from it. Finally in one firm pull he brought her back and expertly somersaulted his way to the blade. He picked it up and pointed it at her.
The stole which had covered her face had come off. It was the first time he got a complete look at her and he had to pause. Her hair came off and fell on to her shoulders in waves. She turned her taut face towards him leaving him mesmerized.
Her lovely dark doe eyes shone brilliantly contrasting the moonlight. A trickle of sweat flowed from her forehead on to her high cheekbones making him realize the almost perfect symmetry of her face. He looked at her soft lips and felt raw desire.
He shook himself from his reverie, looked at her and smiled. Then he spoke.
“So, where were we? Yes, what are you doing here?”
She didn’t like being fooled and the anger showed on her face. She spoke in rage and said- “Don’t you dare try anything with me. I will tear you to pieces before I let you near me. You fool.”
He looked at her quizzically.
“Who are you?”-he enquired, bewildered by her aggressiveness and the authoritative tone of voice in a very vulnerable position.
She caught his tone and realized she might have given away too much. She responded smartly by saying- “I’m an outlaw, just like you“.
He walked around her keeping his sword pointed at her. He reached out behind one of the temple pillars and picked up another sword. He then threw her sword back at her and spoke.
“Makes sense, you have some skills.”
They looked in to each other’s eyes. The breeze continued blowing across.
“I think you should leave now.”-he said.
“Maybe you should?”-she replied.
He smiled at that as he was enjoying this woman’s confidence in a very vulnerable position. He reached out behind the pillar again and pulled out a bag. From inside the bag he pulled out two oranges. He flung one at her and began to peel the other one.
She tried to play cool too. She peeled her orange. They both seated themselves on some rocks. They looked at each other a little uncomfortably. After some time he spoke.
“You know, we used to live on a hill. And my mother and I would go out in the night and sit out just like this and eat some fruit.”
“That’s nice. Where’s your mother now?”
“She passed away when I was nine.”
She looked at him. He could sense that she was uncomfortable.
“That’s okay. It happened a long time ago.”- He said to assuage her. “So, what brings you here?”- He followed.
“I just came here on an impulse.”- She replied.
“Really? But why here?”
“I just wanted to get away from it all. To be myself again. I saw this place from below and I knew I had to climb up.”
“But, it’s not safe for …”
“Fear is what’s so stifling.”- She interjected.
He smiled at that. He looked at her and nodded in acknowledgment.
“What brings you here?”- She enquired.
“Frankly, it’s the same, an impulse.”
“You mean this is not your regular hideout?”
“No. It’s my first time here.”
“That’s a strange coincidence.”
“Yes, it is.”
They looked at each other and gave each other a little smile.
“I sometimes get carried away by life. I like to find a spot, usually at some distance, stare in to the horizon and just be.”- He continued turning his face away.
“My God! A philosopher thief!”- She exclaimed.
He turned towards her and they both laughed.
“So tell me, what was the last thing you stole?”- She enquired.
“There’s an army camp just outside of the city. You know of it?”
“Yes!”- She replied.
“Well I didn’t have any good clothes with me. So I made my way in to the camp, walked around, found this cooking shed and the cooks were all asleep in it.”
“I quietly got in, found the place where they kept their spare clothes, stole a pair and that’s what you see on me.”
She looked at his clothes, then turned towards him, and said in a slightly derogatory tone.
“You stole clothes from a cook?”
“That’s not impressive at all.”
“I mean. Come on. You could have stolen it from an officer, a general or even the prince right? Look…”
She reached in to her pocket and picked out her own gold bangles.
“I stole these from a merchant’s house this morning. This is pure gold. This is what I would consider ‘loot’.”
He was hurt and looked at her intently for about ten seconds. Then he reached in to his pocket, removed a solid gold medallion and gave it to her.
She looked at it in wonderment and then turned to look at him.
“That’s the prince’s medallion.”
She was both surprised and in awe.
“How did you…”
“I’ve been working as a cleaner with the army for about a month now. I slowly managed to sneak in and pick this up.”
She looked up at him with new found respect. He put out his hand and she gave the medallion back. He slid it in to his pocket. He then spoke.
“I didn’t steal the prince’s clothes because, quite frankly, he doesn’t have very good taste.”
They both burst in to laughter.
(In the present)
“So this is me?”- She enquired in an excited tone.
“Maybe”- I replied trying to keep her curiosity piqued.
“Who’s this guy?”
“Could be anyone.”
“Now I’m a little confused.”
“Good. That means I’ve not lost my writing skills.”
(In the story)
Every day she woke up she would look forward to the night. She would look forward to sneaking out from the palace and making her way to the temple on the hill and sharing fruit with the friendly thief.
There was a little cliff just slightly above the temple. They would sit there with their legs dangling over the ledge and talk for hours. She enjoyed these conversations. They would gaze out in to the horizon with the night sky enveloping them in a warm embrace. There was always a slight breeze blowing on the top and the touch of it on her skin made her feel alive.
She made up her life story from bits and pieces of here and there talks that she’d had with her maids. She was an orphan making her way in the big bad world. He had lost his mother at an early age and had to leave home because of poverty.
They then moved on to talking about distant places they’d been to and fabulous heists that they had managed to get away with. She was of course making things up. Every night she would sneak out something from her house, show it to him and make up a story of how she had acquired it with her wits.
He would also bring his loot and they would compare with each other. They would judge each other not only on the value of the loot but how they also managed to acquire it. She found that each night she had to take more and more things of value in order to keep up with him. She had to take her jewellery, her hand mirrors, silk dresses, and decorative knives and yet he somehow managed to match her every night.
They also talked about life and passions and dreams. He was intelligent and a great conversationalist. She loved hearing him talk and she loved being creative in her own stories.
Slowly she started noticing more and more about him. His appearance was coarse and rugged- a ‘man of the world’ types. His habits were neat but outwardly he lacked certain finesse. But he more than made up for it with his polite manners and his quite confidence.
The most striking thing about him was his eyes. They quite literally shone in the night. He had a little mole just below his right eye which she playfully called his beauty spot. He noticed her mole at the tip of her neck and he called it her ‘centre of attraction’. She felt both teased and excited by it. He had big ears and she would playfully call him ‘jumbo’ at times. He called her his “little doe” because of her eyes.
They shared jokes and would jab at each other once in a while. Their fingers touched every once in a while when they shared something with each other or while resting on their palms. She didn’t notice it at first but every night she was sitting closer and closer to him. He didn’t seem to notice it either. Or maybe he didn’t care, she didn’t know.
(In the present)
“Okay, so ‘this’ is the place which you’ve written about.”- She said. I nodded my head in acknowledgment.
“And this guy is you.”- she said confidently.
I pretended to be flabbergasted.
“Of course it is you. I see your mole.”
I tried to cover my mole with my right hand and pretended like I didn’t know what she was talking about.
“And you noticed my mole at the tip of my neck did you?”- She continued with a hint of tease in her tone.
Of course I had. But again I pretended like I didn’t know what she was talking about.
“And so we fall in love?”- She continued on teasingly.
“You fall in love with the guy in the story.”- I replied trying not to give too much away.
“Which is you.”- she replied trying to corner me.
“No! Will you just continue with the story?”
(In the story)
Tapovan Lal called his family to his chambers. Once they’d assembled he spoke.
“I’ve just received a letter from the Prince that he desires to visit us. He will be here tomorrow. Of course we will have to be at our best for his Majesty.”
The Zamindar’s stiff voice was lost on no one. Mohini understood her father’s predicament. She hoped and prayed that the Prince’s visit would be a smooth affair.
Her mother called her aside once the meeting with her father was over.
“Mohini, you need to be careful tomorrow.”
(In the story)
She had carefully covered her head with her pallu so that she didn’t reveal too much of herself to the Prince. She was proud of her pretty face but she understood her mother’s warning clearly. Her vision was also blocked but she’d prefer that to marriage with her family’s tormentor. When she was called to welcome the prince in the large hall her mother had to guide her inside as she could hardly see anything outside her own two feet.
She knew she was in front of him when her mother made the announcement.
“Your majesty, this is our daughter Mohini.”
(In the present)
“How totally bollywood”- she said and put her tongue out. But she laughed and I enjoyed it.
“And you are Mr. Prince Charming. I knew it all along.”
(In the story)
She knew she was never going to forget this night. She’d run up the hill to find him already waiting there for her. He was dressed as usual in his vagabond attire. They turned towards each other and smiled.
“I couldn’t imagine a simpler looking prince!”-she said in a slightly mocking tone.
“And I couldn’t imagine a shyer princess covering her face behind her pallu.”-he replied mocking her back.
She then ran towards him and playfully punched him in the stomach with her fists. He started laughing loudly while playfully trying to defend. She joined him in the laughter but she did manage in between to call him a few mean things like- “liar”, “fake”, “mean” and other adjectives. But it was all lost in the laughter.
She then stopped and caught his face in her hands. They’d looked in to each other’s eyes for what felt like an eternity. Her mind was in tumult. She didn’t know what to say or do. She let go off him, turned around and went and sat on the ledge.
She was looking out at the starry skies and the lands all the while trying to gather her thoughts and feelings. Her heart was beating hard. He came and sat right beside her. They sat there with their legs dangling over the cliff. Slowly he took her palm in his and held it.
(In the present)
I could see that she was totally absorbed by the story. She was at times smiling, rolling her eyes, had her tongue out, forehead twitched, the whole set of expressions as she was reading.
At times she would turn towards me, give me a look and shake her head and twitch her eyebrows in wonder or surprise or tease. I was sitting next to her. The breeze was blowing her hair in my face. She has such wonderful soft hair I could imagine rolling my face in it. God why do you give women so soft beautiful hair?
And her eyes man her eyes. Those lovely doe eyes. They are just something else. I could spend the entire night just looking at her eyes. Wow!
(In the story)
Mohana wanted to go hunting. He had his quiver prepared and picked up his bow. As he was stepping out of the palace one of the guards blocked his way. Mohana looked furiously at the guard and said in a thundering voice-
“Let me go you fool. How dare you block my way?”
“My lord, it is our instructions to not let anyone from the family outside without due approvals.”- said the guard respectfully.
Mohana’s face turned red with rage. He gripped the guard by his shirt and flung him away. The other guards quickly surrounded Mohana and pointed their spears at him.
The Pramukh was inside with Tapovan Lal when the commotions happened. They both quickly came outside to see what was going on. Tapovan Lal noticed Mohana surrounded by guards and immediately knew that his son had had one of his famous fits of anger.
“What is going on?”- Tapovan Lal enquired.
“These fools won’t let me go out hunting.”- Mohana replied in a furious tone.
The head body guard turned around towards the Pramukh and Tapovan Lal and asked for permission to speak. The Pramukh granted this.
“Sir, we have strict orders not to let anyone leave the palace without due approvals. We were only following instructions.”- He said.
“Lord Mohana, you were present when his highness Prince Vikraman gave strict instructions to your family. Why then are you trying to break the rules?”- said the Pramukh.
“I’m breaking no rules. I’m a Lord and a Lords go hunting. Do I have to seek permission for a simple hunting expedition?”- replied Mohana.
Tapovan Lal turned to the Pramukh and spoke in an almost pleading voice- “Forgive him Pramukh Ji. He’s young and doesn’t know what is appropriate.”
“Father, there’s no need to beg…”- Mohana tried to interject
“Shut Up!”- said Tapovan Lal looking straight at his son.
“I will have to report this to the Prince.”- said the Pramukh.
“Oh come on now Pramukh Ji. This is a small issue and can be resolved here itself.”- Tapovan Lal tried to plead.
The Pramukh paid no heed. He immediately called his runner boy and sent a note to the Prince. It was a tense two hours before they got the Prince’s reply. The Pramukh read it out aloud for everyone.
“His Highness orders that you apologize immediately to the guard whom you manhandled.”
Mohana was brought in front of the guard. He looked at his father who signalled with his eyes that he should comply. The heat of humiliation was washing over him. He grudgingly accepted his position and let out a mellow-“sorry” looking in the direction of the guard.
The Pramukh nodded his head in approval. He then spoke again and said- “His highness also orders that Lord Mohana’s bow be broken in to two.”
The head guard stepped up and pulled the bow from Mohana’s shoulders. He then lifted his knee and broke the bow by pushing it against his thigh.
Mohana looked distraught. It was his favorite bow. He had no time to even process the Prince’s second set of orders before the deed was done.
(In the story)
Their nightly sojourns continued for some time. She loved the romance and intimacy. She loved loving him and she longed to be his forever.
He wanted to ask for her hand right away but she told him to be patient. She knew what her family thought of the Maheshas and the recent episode with Mohana had only fuelled their hatred.
Somewhere she felt guilty of falling in love with Vikraman of all people. She knew there was no way her parents would approve of the union. She felt helpless and desperate.
(In the story)
It was well past midnight. She came back to the palace after meeting with Vikraman. She tiptoed her way across the halls. She reached her room and opened the door. She walked in and was careful to close the door quietly behind her. She turned around and was startled as she found her brother Mohana sitting on the couch next to her bedside.
The yellow light from the candle placed on the bedside table shone on his face. He sat there dressed in royal attire with a dagger hanging from his hips and a chillum in his hand. His eyes were bloodshot red. He had noticed her enter the room but didn’t flinch. He took a long drag from his chillum and let the smoke out. He then began to laugh, a wild drug induced evil laugh.
Even in normal times he was weird and difficult to read but his appearance and manner at this time sent shivers down her spine. She had her heart in her mouth.
He kept looking straight and laughing. There was a slight breeze outside and the curtains made a flapping sound as they swayed, making her more aware of the loneliness of her situation. Her mouth went dry because of fear. He, however, didn’t seem bothered by the uncomfortableness of the situation. That only added to her anxiousness.
After a while he broke from his laughter and said- “We know where you’ve been and who you’ve been meeting.” He spoke straight without even looking in her direction. She felt hysterical. She felt certain that she was going to be punished for her crime then and there.
He got up, arranged his turban and turned to look at her. His eyes shone like red rubies. There was anger and resentment in his manner.
(In the story)
Vikraman had just got back to his chambers. He placed his sword on the table and was taking off his clothes when he felt a slight breeze on his body. He looked around and he noticed the tent flap was open. It was strange because he remembered shutting it.
He took his candle and placed it on his bedside table. He then got in to bed and covered himself in his blanket. He was almost asleep when he heard a small sound.
He got up startled. He looked around his room and all was quiet. Still he had the intuitive feeling that something was amiss. He slowly lay back down in his bed and shut his eyes. He counted five in his head before opening them again when he saw a man dressed in black wielding a sword right above his head.
Vikraman slid from the bed just as the sword was coming down. He then pushed against the man and ran to his sword. The man lost balance momentarily but quickly regained it. He chased after Vikraman. He placed himself between Vikraman and the table and pointed the sword at the prince. He swung his hand to land a blow on the prince when Vikraman managed to place himself just behind one of the poles holding the tent up.
The man swung again at Vikraman but before he could land a blow he felt an arrow pierce his chest. He let out a bellow of pain as he looked at the end of the arrow jutting out from under him. He somehow tried to find reserve energy and swing again but another arrow landed in his shoulder. He dropped down bleeding profusely.
Vikraman looked around. One of his bodyguards was in the room and had shot the arrows. The other bodyguards soon filled out the room. The chief guard came to him and enquired if everything was all right. Vikraman was furious.
“How did this assassin get in to my tent?”- He growled.
(In the story)
It was morning and Mohini had spent a restless anxious night. She knew that Vikraman was in danger and wanted to somehow get word to him in time. She was worried that it was already too late.
She could hear the buzz of noises outside her room. Suddenly the low dim noises from the palace were broken by loud blowing horns. Mohini dashed out to her window to look outside. The Vijaya army was marching in formation. Right up front, dressed in battle armour and riding his horse, was Vikraman.
She felt a flood of relief the moment she saw him. She saw them enter the palace gates and then she quickly got dressed and went down to meet him.
She could sense the tension as she entered the main compound. Her father and brother stood isolated before Vikraman’s horse. The guards had encircled them. Vikraman’s body guards stood on either side of him. She found her mother and younger sister settled in one corner and quickly joined them. After a long while the Prince spoke.
“Tapovan Lal, you are hereby accused of hiring an assassin to murder me.”- Vikraman bellowed.
The whole palace went silent. Mohini could feel her veins go numb. She looked at her mother and sister and they looked equally desperate.
Tapovan Lal stood there in the centre of his courtyard staring at the young prince. He looked back toward his son Mohana and then again at the young prince.
“Your highness I deny these accusations.”- He said.
Vikraman stared at the Zamindar and then signalled for something to be brought forward. A pair of guards stepped forward holding a very badly injured man in chains between them. They placed him just to the side of Tapovan and Mohana. His face was swollen up badly.
“This is the man who tried to murder me last night. Prisoner, under whose orders did you try to kill me?”
The prisoner looked down and away. The prince looked at his chief body guard and nodded. The chief stepped up and held the man by his shoulder which was heavily bandaged. The man let out a loud moan. The chief then turned him around and kicked him in the chest. The man went flying in the air and fell on his back. He was screaming in agony. The chief showed no sympathy and lifted him again by the shoulder. Tears were flowing from the man’s face. The chief turned him around to face Vikraman.
Mohini was sad and repulsed by the violence. She could feel her sister hug her tightly in fear.
“Prisoner, I ask you again, under whose orders did you to try to kill me?”- bellowed Vikraman.
The prisoner looked towards the pair of Tapovan and Mohana and then turned towards Vikraman.
“Lord Mohana gave me the orders to kill you.”
Vikraman looked towards the father and son. Their faces had turned white in fear.
“Tapovan Lal, you’ve broken the rules which I’d set out for you. You and your son have committed treason. The punishment as mentioned earlier is death for your entire family.”
Mohini was shocked by what she just heard. Her sister clenched her tightly and her mother was leaning against her for support. She looked towards Vikraman trying to make eye contact with him but he didn’t look in her direction at all.
“However, I am going to spare your wife and daughters. You and your son will meet your end tonight when the moon enters the third quadrant.”
He then nodded to his chief who immediately ordered his men to chain Tapovan and Mohana. Mohini couldn’t believe what was happening. She disengaged from her sister’s grip and ran towards Vikraman while he was just turning around his horse. His guards blocked her path and so she screamed to get his attention.
He turned around and looked at her. They gazed in to each other’s eyes.
“Please Vikraman, for my sake, forgive them. They will do you no harm.”
Vikraman turned his face down.
“Please, they are my father and brother. If you love me, please forgive them.”
There was a silence at the revelation. Mohini could see the pain in Vikraman’s face. He tried to get a grip of himself. He turned to her and spoke.
“I have already spared the life of your mother, your sister and yourself. This is a crime against the crown. It cannot go unpunished.”
“Then kill me. Spare my father and brother.”- She replied.
“Mohini, you will…”
“You need justice don’t you? Take my life. Spare my father and brother.”
Vikraman looked at her in desperation. He then turned toward his chief and spoke.
“Please escort the ladies of the Zamindari inside the palace and meet me back with the prisoners in our camp.”
(In the story)
Vikraman walked away from the camp. He found a place in the open and lay on his back staring out in to the sky. He was experiencing conflicting emotions of anger, resentment and pain. He was in pain, a lot of pain.
He found himself thinking about his mother. He longed for the times when she held him close to her chest and would mouth words of love and console him.
His father had forgiven his uncle who had rebelled. Only his uncle repaid the mercy shown by rebelling again. His father and he were out hunting when the coup took place. His uncle took his mother prisoner and executed her that night.
From then on he had learnt from his father King Ananda to show no mercy. Mohini would never understand that this was the way of the world and required by ‘Raj Dharma’.
Mohini sat quietly in her room looking out the window. Her mother and sister were sobbing uncontrollably on one side.
She couldn’t believe the agony that Vikraman was putting her family through. She felt hurt and confused. She felt guilty and responsible for bringing this on her family. She looked out in to the horizon and let out a deep breath. Suddenly she felt her eyes well up and the tears came over-flowing.
It was time for the executions. Tapovan Lal and Mohana were brought to the make shift field in chains. Executioners stood on either side of them with sharpened blades.
Vikraman walked in and took in the whole scene. He then walked to the podium that had been raised for him. He climbed it up and looked at the father and son. The Pramukh was there waiting just below the podium.
The Zamindar looked towards the prince.
“You will not die today.”
There was shock and suddenly there were murmurs everywhere as everyone was trying to understand what the hell was going on. The Pramukh jumped on to the podium and spoke to the prince.
“Your majesty, what is going on?”
“I’m letting them go.”
“Your majesty, this is not right.”
“Pramukh, I’ve always listened to your wise counsel. You must allow me this transgression.”
“But your highness…”
“Chief, release the prisoners and have horses readied for them. I would like to personally escort them back to their palace.”
The chief nodded his acknowledgment and immediately set about ordering his men. Vikraman got down from the podium. The Pramukh held him by his hand.
“But why your majesty? Why are you doing this?”-The Pramukh enquired.
(In the story)
The palace gates opened and Tapovan Lal and Mohana rode in. Tapovan’s wife and younger daughter couldn’t believe their eyes. They rushed to greet their men.
The father and son got off their horses and the family got together for hugs and kisses. Tapovan’s wife was in tears. Tapovan lovingly wiped the tears and hugged his wife close.
Vikraman was observing the events unfold on horseback. He looked around seeking Mohini but he couldn’t find her.
“Where is Mohini?”- Tapovan Lal enquired.
His wife turned around and called out for Mohini. There was no response. A couple of maids ran up to Mohini’s chambers. They came back in a short while and reported that she was nowhere to be found.
“How can that be?”- enquired Tapovan Lal worryingly.
Vikraman called the guards in the palace.
“Have you seen the princess?”
“No your highness, no one’s left the palace since the morning.”
Vikraman and Tapovan Lal looked at each other. There was worry in each other’s faces. Suddenly Vikraman knew where he would find her.
He turned his horse and rode straight for the hill. He reached the foothills, left his horse there and made the rest of the climb on foot. He reached the temple and looked around for her. He couldn’t find her. He then made his way up to the ledge.
He reached the ledge but she was nowhere to be found. He found himself thinking about the worst. He went to the edge of the ledge and looked over. It was darkness. He couldn’t make anything out.
He looked out in to the dark night sky in desperation. He closed his eyes for a moment and he could see her smile as she said that she loved him. His breathing was heavy. He was overcome with worry. If she wasn’t here he had no idea where to go out and look for her.
He turned around and he heard a swishing sound. Suddenly he felt something pierce his heart. It was an arrow. He looked up from the direction in which it had been shot.
She stood there with a bow in her hand looking at him. Her eyes were cold. He looked at her and wanted to speak but the blood came rushing from his throat and didn’t allow him to. He put his hand out to signal to her but in his weakness all he was able to do was to point at her. She kept staring at him. His vision was getting hazy and he was finding it difficult to keep balance. His feet moved behind and before he realized it he fell from the ledge.
(In the present)
She had just finished the story. She took a deep breath and then looked out in to the horizon. I could sense the emotions flow through her. She was in deep thought.
I reached for my laptop and took out two oranges. I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around. She looked at me and then saw the orange in my hand. Then she smiled. This is my favourite smile of hers, the one in which she both smiles and bites her lower lip.
We both peeled our oranges and started eating them.
“You know I would have let you speak before I killed you.”- She said.
“Yeah right!”- I replied.
She jabbed me playfully in the gut with her elbow. We finished eating our oranges and I was about to throw away my peel when she picked it up from my hand and gave me a playful stern look. She then pulled out a tissue from her purse, rolled the peels in it and put it back in her purse. My princess doesn’t like to litter.
We then got up. She took the lead. But, instead of walking down she started roaming around the place.
“So these are the pillars you’d written about?”- She said pointing at the old ruins.
“And this is where we had our first fight?”- She said playfully.
We both laughed. I nodded my head.
“And that is the rock behind which you said you’d stashed your loot?”- She said pointing at a random rock.
I looked in the direction where she pointed and I nodded. She walked towards it. She turned around and playfully pretended to be wielding a sword. I played along. She made a thrust and I fell to the floor.
“Talk to me, talk to me this time before you die.”- She said in a completely outlandish tone.
I clutched my chest hard and said in a tone filled with pain- “Can we go for a movie and dinner date on Saturday night?”
She looked at me with her forehead twitched and put her hands on her hips.
“Oh and please don’t take my loot.”- I followed.
Her eyes brightened at that and she turned around and playfully made to the rock. She bent down and then her expression changed. Suddenly she jumped back almost startled.
I got up. She looked at me.
“What happened?”- I enquired.
She looked at me with a mix of curiosity and disbelief.
“You did that on purpose didn’t you?”- She said.
“Oh, so you have no idea what is written on that rock?”
“My God! You’re not just a writer, you’re an actor too!”
“What are you talking about?”
“This one really surprised me.”
I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. So I went over to the rock and looked. There was something written in an ancient language. I had no way of reading it.
“What language is this?”
“You don’t know?”- She said mockingly.
“I’m serious. I have no idea.”
She sensed the seriousness in my tone. Suddenly her manner became very different. She looked away holding her head and then looked at me again.
“You really don’t know?”- She repeated almost desperately.
“You know, now you’re really freaking me out. What is written there?”
“You don’t speak Kannada?”
“No, I don’t. You know that.”
She looked at me with an almost incredulous look on her face.
“It’s Kannada. Ancient Kannada.”
“And what is written?”
She looked up at me and said- “Mohini will forever love Vikraman.”