Devsena knew there was no point in lying to Hahuma. Since meeting Varundev the urge to do so had started happening all the time.
And yet, was that not justice? Apparently Hahuma had been lying to her for a long time. Even her father had participated. Was it not just then, that Devsena keep some secrets?
No. Devsena decided. She was not a hypocrite. Soon she would reveal all she knew to Hahuma. Her path was set. All that was left was executing the actions.
“I know how much your heart aches on hearing of Dayalini’s betrayal, Devsena.” Hahuma’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“Was it a shock to you Hahuma?” Devsena’s caustic reply silenced the room. “Or did you know all along and choose to keep in the dark so I would act better as bait?”
“Devsena!” Her father snapped, but quietened as Hahuma raised a hand.
“No Ayurvadhan. She is right to be upset.”
“I have a right to be more than upset Hahuma. You knew my aunt was unhappy with being regent. All those accidents when I was a child…were they even accidents?”
“Some were.” Was the calm response. “You were a very exuberant child. But it appears that others were deliberate machinations of your aunt.”
“And yet, when you began to uncover this you told me nothing. Even you, Appa.” Here, Devsena turned to her father, who averted his eyes. “Even when you warned me of those who would wish me harm, you never told me who. You both left me uninformed and ignorant.”
“It does not matter…” Hahuma started.
“It does!” Devsena snapped back. “It does matter. Because it shows that in your eyes I am still a child. How can I be a child and Bhavi Rani? How can I be a child but be entrusted to make decisions for the Dravid Rajya? Or was that you thought that a malleable rule would be easier to mani…”
“Devsena!” Ayurvadhan snapped. “Hahuma has always loved you and looked after you! Apologize at once.”
“I have no doubt Hahuma loves me.” Devsena replied coldly. “Just as she loved my mother.”
For the first time, Hahuma’s façade cracked. “What do you mean by mentitoning your mother Devsena?”
“You loved her Hahuma. You loved her until she refused to take your advise. Is it not true?”
Ayurvadhan’s brows burrowed, his expression reflecting his puzzlement. “Devsena, what are you talking about.”
“You aren’t the only one Mahishi Devi speaks to Hahuma.”
My falling in love with this Aryan is only by the blessing of Mahishi Devi
“No.” Hahuma gasped, eyes boring into Devsena’s. “How did you know?!”
Devsena closed her eyes, heart shattering at the confirmation of what her mother had told her. Was that all she was to Hahuma? The mirror for all her dreams? And if the mirror broke what then? Hahuma cared more for fanciful Dravid pride and traditions, far more than she did the people who upheld those traditions. Far more than she did for the people who were suffocated under those traditions.
I am the future of the Dravid Rajya.I am above the law. I make the law.
I am the future. Hahuma is the past.
I must seize my future with all my might.
Devsena lifted her face proudly. “My mother sends her greetings Hahuma. She gives me her and Mahishi Devi’s blessings for the path I will embark upon.”
“Your mother…path…Mahishi Devi? Devsena I don’t understand.” Her father’s voice is confused, and he makes his way towards her. Devsena halts him with an outstretched hand.
“Like my mother before me, I too am in love with an Aryan.”
Hahuma shook her head in denial, getting up and faltering as Devsena mercilessly continued.
“And unlike my mother, I will not die so readily Hahuma. I will not fall upon my sword at your command.” She ignored her faltering father, who had sunk to his knees. Her eyes remained locked with Hahuma’s.
“Unlike my mother.” Devsena finished softly. “I will make my Aryan my husband. Varundev will be my King.:
“It was one thing when I thought she was just toying with you.” Agnimitra said. “But it appears that the matter is more serious than that. I confess I am surprised Varundev. I did not think these Dravids were capable of such attachment.”
“Come now Varundev. I’m not Angdev, blind in my prejudices. But you do know that Dravid Queen’s have the right to take four husbands don’t you? Who is to say you will be the only one in her heart? In her bed?”
“Please do not speak of her in such a way.” Varundev’s voice was restrained, but Agnimitra could hear the fury boiling beneath. “You know nothing of Devsena.”
“And you do?”
“I know the beat of her heart as I know the beat of my own.”
“And yet the establishment of Aryavrat remains your primary goal?”
“Yes. I made that promise to my father, to Veer Kayast, to myself. Devsena understands the sanctity of promises made Purohit.”
“So long as you remember that, I have no issues with this…whatever this is between you and the Dravid Queen.”
“Thank you for your support.” Varundev inclined his head.
Agnimitra shook his in return. “Don’t thank me yet Varundev. I am only one of many- and your fellow Sabhsad’s will not be as easy to convince.”
“It will not be a royal death sentence.” Devsena fought to keep the dismissive tone. It was hard. This was her aunt, who despite everything, had had a hand in raising her and shaping her into the woman she was today. Had it all been a lie?
Looking back at her past, what could Devsena see as a genuine interaction with anyone but her father? Her aunt had been trying to kill her and Hahuma had been lying to her about her mother. All her memories had been tainted. Devsena felt unmoored. But she was a Queen, and wailing was not a luxury she could afford herself. Furthermore, Devsena consoled herself, Varundev was there. Varundev who had broken all the rules of his clan and come and confessed to her. Vaundev who did not have her power, but had the nobility and courage to stand up for his love. And he was like and unlike her. And Varundev understood her, in a way no one, not even her father did.
For how purely good Varundev was, there was a violence in his blood, the same need to fight that pumped through Devsena’s vein. That need, that desire, that kept her alive, day after day.
Varundev, who deserved her wholehearted effort to bring them together in this life.
Devsena did not have his patience. She would rather come together in this life and be with him, than bank on the hope that in their next life they would be one. To make that dream come true, Devsena could not let herself be lost in despair.
“Your Majesty?” Her minister’s voice shook her out of her thoughts.
“Yes, as I was saying,” Devsena continued, “I will not give my aunt a royal death. She is a traitor and will receive a traitor’s death. And if any of her supporters have any arguments, then may find me. And duel me for the right to change my decision.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The minister made to move away, but Devsena’s voice halted her.
“As for Thangam.” The Queen’s voice was thoughtful. “For her sentence, I decree that she will duel to the death. There is a warrior who is waiting for her.”
“It is so strange to have you here in my arms.” Varundev told Devsena as they lay by the side of the lake, under a tree, shadows dappling over their skin. “It feels like a dream.”
Devsena stretched, delighted in the shift in Varundev’s body as he accommodated her. “Do I feel like a dream?”
“Like no other dream I have ever had.” He replied seriously. “If you are a dream, then let me dream again and again, anew and anew.”
“So strange,” She mused, titling to look up at him, “You profess to be a roughspun warrior, but speak more beautifully than any poet I’ve met.”
“What can I say?” Varundev smiled down at her. “You inspire me.”
“As you inspire me.” Devsena sat up, pulling his hands around her waist.
“I have a gift for you.” She whispered, laying back in the circle of his arms.
“There is nothing you could give me that could surpass this.” Varundev murmured into her ear, delighting at the slight shiver he felt.
“Listen to what I say and then decide.” Devsena finally pulled away fully, turning to face him. Varundev arched a brow, sitting forward and waiting for her to speak.
Devsena took a breath and started. “You know that we have recently rooted out some traitors in our government, my aunt among them. What you do not know is that second in command was also implicated. Her name is Thangam.”
“I remember.” Varundev muttered, “Is she the one…”
“That tortured and killed your father? Yes, I believe so. Though of course, Abrook will have to verify that it is her before we move forward.”
Devsena laid a hand on his. “I promised you that you would have an opportunity did I not? This is the opportunity. Varundev I want you to duel Thangam. And I want you to win.”
He grabbed her hands. “I want to. But Devsena…” He bowed over their linked hands. “How will you justify an Aryan being a duelist.”
“It won’t be an Aryan Sabhasad in the ring.” She whispered to him, bridging the gap between them until her breath washed over his lips.
“It will be a Dravidian King.”
And with that solemn vow, she sealed their lips together.
“Its all happening too fast. “ Shivum grumbled. He and Abrook was resting after their spar. Varundev had left, and it was evident to all where he had gone. The stony looks on the ministers and guards of the Dravid encampment had laid truth to where their Queen had gone.
Honestly, didn’t these two idiots understand the meaning of discretion? Subtlety? Restraint?
Oh no, they were in love. Nevermind all that.
Abrook contemplated braining his head on the post. It would be easier than dealing with everything that was going on.
“Our reinforcments will be here in a few days. The Dravid reinforments are also on their way. What are we going to do when both armies get here? Our armies will need supplies. If we don’t attack where will we get the supplies from?” Shivum’s frustration was evident in his tone.
“You talk as if we haven’t been discussing these things. Our armies will fight that is all.”
“Don’t be obtuse Abrook. Even Agnimitra knows that Varundev will not survive a fight with Devsena. If she doesn’t kill him, he’ll kill himself the moment she dies. And then where will we be?”
“Down one Sabhasad while the Dravid rajya will be lost without its Queen.” Abrook countered mildly.
“Not true.” Shivum argued. “They will have their king. And we will have a demoralized army, in addition to a rabid Dravid force looking for revenge. Say what you want but Varundev is loved like few Sabhasad’s before him. The entire army adores him. Even when he sneaks away to go met Devsena, not one of our soldiers will hear one word against him.”
“What do you want me to say Shivum?” Abrook’s voice was weary. “I know all this. It’s a tangle and I’m not sure how to deal with it. I don’t even think Varundev knows.”
“We have to change the way we look at the problem. We think that the Dravid’s must be destroyed for our civilization to flourish. Why? Why should we not assimilate?”
“Give up our culture and identiy?”
Shivum waved away the objection. “The minute we settle we will be doing that. Going from nomads to farmers? How can we not change? The primary goal is survival is it not? Far easier to survive by integrating with an existing population than starting from scratch.”
“You assume the Dravids will be fine with this arrangement.” Abrook pointed out. “When throughout time they have pushed us away.”
“This Queen is different.” Shivum insisted. “She loves Varundev. And her people love her. I’m not saying there won’t be issues, but…”
“Look,” Abrook interrupted, motioning to the forest, from which Devsena and Varundev had emerged.
“Well,” Abrook signed as the two walked towards the Aryan encamplement. The Dravids across the river started moving, coming into the encampment to greet their queen. “At least everything is out in the open now.”
“Don’t be a grumpy old man Abrook.” Shivum noted, walking towards the lovers. “It’s a time for change now.”
“Oh shut up you brat.” Abrook grumbled.
“She cannot do this.” Hahuma ignored how her voice shook. In front of her Ayurvadhan stood still, though the ministers behind him fidgeted nervously.
“She is Queen, Hahuma.” He answered, tone even. “You will find that she can do…many things.”
“The Aryans have ever been our enemies. Their eyes have always been on our lands.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps we believe it because it is what you say.” Ayurvadhan’s voice was cold. He had withdrawn from her council when Devsena had exposed the truth of her mother’s death. Now, he was one of her chief detractors. “After all Hahuma, so long as there is an Aryan threat, the throne of the Dravid’s will always listen to you. Always obey you.”
“Please Your Majesty.” The head priestess stepped forward. “You cannot speak so to Hahuma.”
“My wife is dead.” The old grief flared in Ayurvadhan’s voice. “And under her counsel my daughter would have died as well, Priestess. I do not contest that Hahuma is loyal to the Dravid Rajya. I only say that she will have it never change. What was four hundred years ago cannot be what is now. Hahuma and her views are in the past. Devsena is the furture.”
“And if the future foretells calamity?”
“Devsena too has spoken with Mahishi Devi, Hahuma. I will support my daughter. And when the truth comes out- that you killed Rani Chamundi, then all of the Dravid Rajya will support her too.”
“And what can you do Hahuma?” Devsena’s voice rang out into the chamber. All scrambled and bowed as the Queen walked in. Gasps echoed across the chamber as an Aryan followed. He was tall and handsome, and walked behind Devsena with all the assurgency of a King. He was the one Hahuma had been dreaming of.
“You.” She spit out. “You are the reason for the end of the Dravid Rajya!”
“It is not the end Hahuma.” Devsena smiled, stopping in front of the old woman. “It is merely the beginning of a new kingdom. A new dynasty. One that will be strong as Dravid Rajya, with deep roots. One that will be as swift as the Aryan kingdom, ever able to blow away its enemies. It is a new beginning Hahuma.”
“Devsena, I beg you.” The old woman pleaded. “End this insanity and kill him where he stands!”
“No Hahuma.” Devsena’s voice was resolute. “In another life I would have done as you said. But it is not this life. I will marry Varundev Hahuma. I will integrate the Aryans into our kingdom. And I am not my mother. I will not fall to my death on your say so.”
“And what will you do if she does?” Ayurvadhan’s voice echoed through the chamber. “Devsena has no heirs Hahuma. Dayalini is scheduled for execution- no Dravid will follow a convicted traitor. And without Devsena the Dravid kingdoms will fall to pieces and destroy each other with their squabbles. You have lost.”
“Devi.” The Aryan’s voice was soft, but for all that it impacted Hahuma like a lightning strike. “I promise you my intent is not malicious. I have always been truthful with Devsena. My first promise has been to my ansectors to establish Aryavrat it is true. But since meeting Devsena…since realizing she was my soulmate….I am hers Devi.”
“That does not mean you will not kill her to get what you want.” Hahuma replied coldly.
“And he would die in the next moment.” Devsena’s reply was equally cold. “Hahuma I have engineered circumstances so that neither of us perish, and the Dravid Rajya becomes something greater than itself. I have fulfilled Mahishi Devi’s expectations of me. It is time for you to do the same.”
“You will dictate to me how to serve Mahishi Devi?”
“I think you have served her well all your long life Hahuma. But it is time to rest. When you cannot untwine your views from Mahishi Devi’s….it is time to rest.”
“And who will advise the Dravid Rajya?”
“It is time for us to walk on our own two feet.” Devsena replied confidently. Taking Varundev’s fingers in hers she continued. “Mahishi Devi will guide us Hahuma. We only have to listen.”
“I refuse to be party to this.” Hahuma’s voice was final. “I will seal myself in this cave and when the Dravid Rajya needs me I will awaken. When you come to your senses in your next life Devsena, I will be there. But I will not see you destroy the Dravid Rajya in this life.”
Devsena nodded, eyes thoughtful. Varundev tightened his hold on her hand. “I understand Hahuma. I wish you all luck in your journey. For everything you have done for me….Thank you.”
“Tommorow you will duel Thangam.” She informed him. The attendants had been dismissed and it was just the two of them in her rooms now. Varundev had heard the whispers of the attendants, just as he had heard the whispers of his soldiers and fellow Sabhasad’s. Right now, with Devsena beautiful and glowing in front of him, none of those whispers mattered.
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to avenge my father.” He swallowed. “The opportunity to establish Aryavrat. I know I do not deserve you but…”
“Hush.” She laid a finger on his lips. “I decide what I deserve or not and I choose you. My warrior. My lover…”
“Everything I am. Everything I will be. All is yours.” He took her into his arms.
Devsena tugged him to the bed, pushing him down. Varundev exhaled as she straddled him, smiling like a playful nymph.
“Put your secrets in me.” Devsena whispered against his lips. “They will never be let out.”
“I will speak of all to you.”
“And I will speak all my secrets. All my dreams. All my hopes. Until the words burn into you the way your words burned into me.”
Exhaling Devsena lowered herself. Varundev met her halfway.
And only the stars witnessed the union that followed.