The duel that was supposed to take place at the break of dawn had to be postponed. Her servants had come to wake her up, taken one look at the nude Aryan in her bed, and fled. By the time she had gotten ready the entire palace had been buzzing.
“It is one thing for you to be rumored to have an Aryan lover, another to see him in the flesh!” Her minister shrieked.
“Rumors? Here I thought I had done everything to make the rumors truth.” Devsena replied. Varundev had, by this point, been dressed and eating fruit that had been thoroughly tested. He passed a cut apple to Devsena, who ate it without second thought, ignoring the wince of her minister as she did so.
“People…people do not believe in change so easily, Your Majesty.”
“They have no choice in this matter.” Devsena softened her manner, registering that her minister was distraught. “What I am doing is for the better Minister, I promise you that. We will go through some pains but the rewards will be well worth it. The empire that will rise will be the greatest the world has ever seen, far beyond imagination.”
“I know that it seems a pipe dream.” Varundev added, noticing the now skeptical expression on the woman’s face. “But speaking as someone who has lived only on hope his entire life, Devsena’s plan has many merits and is practical.”
“So far she has only shared her plans with you.” The minister relied quietly. “Forgive me, Your Majesty, but this man will not tell you the truth. He wants his people to settle here.”
“Varundev has told me nothing but the truth since we met, including his desire to establish Aryavrat.” Devsena countered. “Minister, if nothing else, as your Queen I ask for your loyalty in this. My family, my bloodline has never let the Dravid Rajya down. I will not be the first Queen to do so.”
“I believe that you believe that, Your Majesty.” The minister bowed “However, your subject Queens are asking for an audience. The duel has to be postponed until their concerns are met.”
“Very well.” Devsena sighed. “I suppose it is better to deal with this now, rather than later.”
“I wonder why you think this is a debate.” Devsena’s patience had finally run out. Ayurvadhan was surprised it lasted this long, but suspected it had something to do with the Aryan that had been standing by her side, periodically placing a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. Unfortunately that same action had resulted in further ire from the subject queens.
“I am Queen. Your Queen. You are my subjects. My bloodline established the Dravid Rajya. And you stand before me today and say I cannot choose my own husband? Choosing our spouses is the basic right of any woman in our Kingdom and that right cannot be denied to anyone.”
“You are not just anyone.” The Queen of Siyal retorted, frustration creasing her features. “As you have said, you are Queen of all Dravids. A Queen cannot marry a foreigner and make him her Chief Husband.”
“Only husband.” Was Devsena’s reply.
The Queen of Siyal took a breath, but the Queen of Pad spoke first.
“Whatever the case may be Queen of Queen’s, the matter remains. This man, this Aryan cannot be our King.”
“And why not? Because you say so?” Devsena’s voice cooled, eyes narrowing in a glare that had the assembled queen trembling.
“Would you prefer we fight the Aryans off our shores?” Devsena purred, moving from her throne towards her subject queens. “When was the last time any of you fought?” She continued, going from Queen to queen. Varundev stood in place, eyes following her intently, ready of any sign of danger. Ayurvadhan approved of his vigilance.
“When was the last time you actually killed a man, instead of shouting at your army from atop an elephant, far far away from the fighting?” Devsena murmured in the Queen of Siyal’s ear. “The last time you cut a man crying for his mother? His wife? His children?” The Queen shuddered. Devsena turned to the Queen of Pad.
“When was the last time you felt the hot spray of blood on your face as you pulled your sword out of a man? When?!” The other queen bowed her head.
Devsena walked back to the throne, Varundev taking her hand. She leaned into his warmth.
“I have seen all that I have described, O’ Queens. I have seen men trying to put their guts back as they went on their knees. I have seen men trying to attach their arms back, crawling without limbs while being stabbed.”
“Nothing good comes for our people if we start a war. There is no goodness, no glory, no honor, no wisdom. War is pain. Futility. Horror.”
Varundev grasped her hand as Devsena shuddered. She leaned into him for a brief moment. He held and faced the assembly.
“I have traveled with my clan my entire life.” Varundev started. “I have fought battles, skirmishes. I had let my men to victory after victory. And I have heard the screams of the dying. I have held enemy soldiers and my own as they passed away in my arms.”
“None of them,” He continued “said that it was an honor to die, a pleasure to go from this world. Those men I held, enemy and friend alike, they died wailing for their mothers. They died howling, crying for one more glimpse of their loved one’s faces. They died screaming, my lords and ladies. They died screaming about how they wanted to live.”
The assembly was so silent you could hear a pin drop. The subject Queen’s faces were ashen. Ayuravadhan’s closed his eyes, not surprised to feel the tears spill over. The agony in Varundev’s voice…it was something he had been familiar with.
As a warrior you were told of the glory of war. But those glorious warriors didn’t tell you what it felt like to sit in a mudpit and see your friends die slowly around you. They didn’t tell you what it was like to hold your childhood friend as he screamed for his mother because most of his bottom half was gone.
Chamundi had saved him in more than one way when she had chosen him as a husband. He had loved her most for her steadfast refusal to go to war at the first opportunity. His heart had shattered when Dayalini had forced war again and again upon the Dravid Rajya.
Perhaps under Devsena it would be different. Would that not be worth marrying an Aryan?
Ayuravadhan opened his eyes to see his daughter and her lover face the still silent assembly.
“If a war comes we will fight, and we will fight for our homeland, for our people. For their safety, their happiness, and their comfort. That is our role as Queens.” Devsena said.
“But nothing is worth starting a war.”
Silence reined in the chamber. Ayurvadhan nodded. His daughter had grown up. Varundev stood tall now, and spoke.
“I promise you, O’Queens, that I will ensure that no Aryan takes from you unfairly, goes against you unjustly, and will work hard to integrate our people. Our two civilizations will flourish like never before.”
“Fair words from a false friend.” The Queen of Pad replied, but the vitriol had seeped away from her tone.
Varundev restrained Devsena, and answered firmly. “Then let me prove my words true.”
“Varundev will prove himself by executing a traitor.” Devsena announced. “He will fight and kill Thangam tomorrow. Will that be proof enough of his loyalty?”
The Queens looked at each other and nodded slowly.
“It will be a start.”
“Did you ever believe that it would come to this?” Shivum asked, shifting in his seat in excitement. Abrook sighed, looking at him in exasperation. By his side Agnimitra and Angdev sat, pretending not to listen.
“I didn’t think that Varundev and the Queen of Dravid’s would fall in love and Varundev would have to prove himself in a duel to the death no.” Abrook grumbled. He paused, then added thoughtfully. “If I had thought about it, I would say that I would have anticipated a duel to the death between Varundev and Devsena, not Varundev and Thamgam.”
“We should be grateful that it is the only blood being shed.” Agnimitra said quietly, eyes focused on the Dravid procession making its way down. “Our warriors will live another day.”
“I don’t think the transition will be easy.” Angdev commented. His grumbling had died down when it became clear where the lay of the land was, but he was far from the only one discontent.
“People dying in rebellions are fewer than people dying in wars.” Abrook told me, standing with the rest as Devsena descended. “Be happy we have men and not corpses to deal with. Or have you forgotten how many men we had to burn after the first battle?”
Devsena took her place, and even to Abrook’s jaded eyes her beauty was undeniable. However, she looked cool and remote, more like a statue to be admired than a living, breathing, woman. Then again, Abrook admitted to himself, that could be his bias talking. Varundev certainly didn’t think of her as a statue. And the way she had acted clearly showed that she had strong feelings underneath that controlled exterior.
In truth, the mingling was going far better than Abrook had expected. Of course, there were dissidents and they were loud, but there were pockets of Dravids and Aryans associating, and socializing well. The women liked the strong men, and the men liked the competent women. Even the Dravid men liked the soft docility of the Aryan woman who had accompanied the main army. And trade had started booming, with black market good and deals already underway.
“Remind me to talk to the Dravid Trade Minister about a treaty after the duel ends.” Abrook whispered to Shivum. “We need to reap the profits soon.”
Below, the duel started.
Its conclusion was certain.
Killing his father’s murderer had quenched the thirst of vengeance Varundev hadn’t even realized had been aflame. Panting slightly, he flicked the blood of the sword. His opponent had fought well, but Thangam was no Devsena. It had taken effort but he had killed her.
Lifting his head, Varundev smiled at the cheers ringing around the arena. The Aryans were cheering him on, of course, but surprisingly the Dravidians were also clapping. He supposed that killing a traitor who would have responsible for a civil war would go some way to endear him to the common people.
The nobility would likely hate him forever.
His eyes caught Devsena’s and his raised his sword towards him in a salute. The crowd roared in response. Devsena smiled back.
No matter. All was right with his world.
“Your marriage rituals are far too sparse for such a grand personage.” The head priestess gritted.
“Our marriage rituals are fine for a nomadic tribe.” Kamdev replied with clenched teeth.
“And yours are far too elaborate. Who needs three days of cleansing?!” Angdev added.
“Leave me out of this.” Abrook told the head priestess as she looked at him. “I’m far too busy trying to keep them separated before the wedding. And may I say that keeping those two away from each other is far harder than planning this insanity.”
“Have some shame!” The Head Priestess bellowed. “Lowly you may be, but you should at least be able to defend our Queen’s virtue!”
“I think both she and Varundev have no virtue left.” Shivum mumbled, walking past, yawing. He had been staying up late the past few weeks trying to waylay Varundev when he left to meet Devsena. He had been unsuccessful each time.
“At least be fully aware of your own Queen’s shameful activities!” Angdev exploded. “She has dragged Varundev into her den of iniquity!”
“He doesn’t need to be dragged.” Abrook mumbled. “Believe me, he is not being dragged. He’s running into that den of iniquity.”
“Do you think they realize that the Queen and Lord Varundev are no longer in the palace?” A servant girl whispered to Shivum. He gulped, and then walked away, tugging her along speedily.
“Let’s not tell them shall we?”
“I wish they would end the stupidity and let us wed already.” Devsena grumbled, cuddling against Varundev’s side. They were both soaked from a swim in the lake- and other activities in the lake as well.
She felt the rumble as Varundev chuckled.
“It is hard enough for them to accept that you are marrying an Aryan. A little fuss is expected.”
“You are far too lenient. Don’t think that your friend hasn’t told me about the two assassination attempts on you Varundev.” Devsena replied, pulling herself up. Varundev sighed, pulling her down again.
“I will never win the respect of your nobles if I don’t show them I am good enough to be by your side. This includes defeating the assassins that they send after me. If they don’t taper off after the wedding, then you may interfere.”
“Because then it will be an attack on the Dravid throne.” Devsena concluded, looking at him shrewdly. “You have been speaking to my father.”
“He has been very helpful in showing me how to conduct myself.” Varundev admitted. “And he has been teaching me about the Dravidian court.”
“Abrook has been the same.” Devsana replied. “He has been very helpful. Even your guru Agnimitra has been helpful.”
“Be careful of him.” Varundev cautioned. “Agnimitra is one of the people that wish to retain our traditions, not mingle. He is trying to influence you.”
“I thought something was strange when he kept talking about Indra.” Devsena mused playfully. “But you need not worry. Once we are married, you will be my shield.”
“And your sword.”
“We will protect each other.”
“Until my last breath.” He whispered against her lips, hands moving down further. “And after that as well.”
“Not even death will part us.” Devsena said back, and those were the last words exchanged for a while.
After many arguments and squabbling, and a memorable duel between Angdev and the Minister for Finance, the wedding finally arrived. Never had the Dravid Rajya seen such opulence and splendor. Even Devsena’s coronation paled in comparison. All the Dravid subject queens had attended, and each Kingdom was represented in the celebration. Devsena was able to introduce Varundev to all aspects of culture and arts in her Kingdom during the celebrations. The Aryans too were a enthusiastic part of the occasion. Horse riding was a major feature of the festivity, though of course, Devsena and Varundev eclipsed all other participants. Even Abrook had a chance to shine during the dancing.
But no one outshone the bride and groom. Devsena was effulgent, her happiness making her glow. Varundev was her match in every way. All at the wedding agreed that while watching a Dravid and an Aryan get married was the strangest thing they had ever witnessed, no one could argue that the bride and groom were not perfectly matched.
Devsena tilted her head back, pressing a kiss to Varundev’s mouth, giggling softly at the scandalized gasps.
“You would think they would learn.” She whispered. Varundev chuckled in response, sweeping her into his arms.
“You will always be a surprise.”
“Even to you?”
Devsena grinned, laughing as Varundev lifted her in his arms. The Aryans and Dravids arrayed around them cheered and threw flowers as the newly wed couple went down the stairs.
“I will always be with you.” She whispered as they both climbed their horses, getting ready to race out.
“In this life and the next and the next.” He promised.
Laughing, they both raced out, two kingdoms celebrating them.
200 years later.
Hahuma, my ancestors have said that in times of turmoil, in the gravest of times we must turn to you. I ask you please, wake up and aid us in our time of need.
Hahuma’s eyes opened as Devsena’s plaintive voice echoed throughout the chamber. She smiled slowly. Hahuma knew that one day Devsena would have called her- she wondered if it was in the first life or another life. Only one way to find out…open the door.
Opening the door did not take a long time. Hahuma wondered again how long it had been again.
“Take me to the Queen.” She said to the soldiers waiting outside.
Going through the old streets of the Dravid Rajya, Hahuma marveled at the changes. Obviously the Aryans had settled well before they sowed their true treacherous roots. Integration was evident all around her. Here and there were temples to Mahishi Devi and the Aryans gods. She could also see new temples for new gods that the two clans had begun worshipping together. Hahuma wondered when the relationships had broken down. Recently she assumed, as Devsena had called her only a little while ago.
“How many years has it been?” Hahuma asked the soldier besides her palanquin.
“It has been almost 200 years.” The soldier replied, ducking his head at her hiss.
“So long…it took 200 years for the Aryans to betray us?”
“The Aryans…? Devi Hahuma…”
“Do not use that Aryan address to me!”
‘Apologies. I will keep my mouth shut until we reach the Palace.”
“Hahuma.” Queen Sambhavija bowed before the venerated woman. “We are very grateful that you listened to my daughters pleas.”
“Where is Devsena? Is she not yet Queen?”
“We are waiting for the marriage ceremony only Hahuma.” Silambhan, Sambhavija’s husband chimed in. Hahuma noted that the man was standing as if he was equal to his wife. How deep had the Aryan rot set in?!
“Marriage ceremony? Who is she…”
“Hahuma.” Devsena’s voice preceded her coming in. Hahuma noted that this incarnation of Devsena was very similar to the previous incarnation she was acquainted with. The only differences lay in manner. This Devsena seemed…more carefree. Dutiful, yet, Hahuma could tell, but without the heavy burden of duty that had so vexed the previous Devsena.
Devsena bowed before her, smiling. Hahuma smiled back. Devsena, no matter what incarnation, charmed her.
“We are so grateful for your assistance Hahuma. We will need your clairvoyance for the upcoming war. Jaldev and I are confident we can win but if we have your visions we can minimize the cas…”
“Who is Jaldev?” Hahuma interrupted the torrent of words.
Devsena blushed as another girl entered the room. She was younger than Devsena, and very vivacious and cheerful.
“Jaldev is Didi’s fiancée.” She said, bowing before Hahuma. “I am Mekhla, Devi Hahuma. I am Didi’s younger sister, the second daughter of King Silambhan and Queen Sambhaviya. Our brother Mani is at the front, with the scouting parties.”
“Fiancée?” Hahuma echoed. “I am glad you have glad you have decided to form ties with another kingdom to counter the Aryan threat.”
“Aryan threat?” Devsena repeated, stunned, and then to Hahuma’s horror, a man looking the same as Varundev walked in. Devsena turned to him, discarding Hahuma immediately and he hurried towards her, taking her into his arms before turning to Hahuma and bowing.
“No.” Hahuma breathed. “How are you here?”
“I am the Princess’s fiancée, Devi.” The man replied. Hahuma did not miss how Devsena kept a hand on him protectively. “My name is…”
“Jaldev, actually.” The man corrected. “Though yes, the priests and priestesses did tell both Devsena and I that were the reincarnations of Maharani Devsena and Varundev.”
“As if we couldn’t tell thanks to the status.” Meklha snorted. “The minute these two saw each other they were completely in love. Poor Mahisha. He had to endure so many beatings before he gave up!”
Hahuma staggered. Silambhan and Sambhvija hurried to support her. She waved them away.
“The Aryans are not the enemy?”
Devsena and Jaldev glanced at each other. “There aren’t really two clans any more.” Devsena said firmly. “Of course there are some groups that have traits but our people have been fully integrated. Jaldev is the son of one of our councilors.”
“A practice derived from the Aryan sabhasads. The first Devsena and Varundev integrated them into the government of the Dravid Rajya.”
“Then who is the enemy?” Hahuma asked, finally sitting down. Devsena and Varundev knelt before her.
“The mountain clans.” Jaldev answered. “They have been harassing us on and off for the past 200 years. But they have now amassed an army. We are confidence we can win, but the casualties will be far too numerous. We must work to minimize the damage to our people.”
“And so you called me.” Hahuma bowed her head. “Tell me, when I went to sleep, were there any problems?”
“Of course.” Devsena said. “Queen Devsena and King Varundev had to fight numerous duels throughout their lifetime. Their children had to put down many rebellions. And of course the religious arguments…but the clans did integrate. There are fights here and there, people who trump hatred here and there but overall…”
“You are an integrated Kingdom.” Hahuma said wearily.
“Yes.” Jaldev said firmly, hand holding Devsena’s firmly. Hahuma’s eyes fell onto the intertwined pair, and she remembered their first incarnations. Even those two had been unable to keep their eyes off each other.
I miscalculated Hahuma thought. I thought the Dravid Rajya needed to be triumphant above all. I didn’t realize that that did not always mean subjugation.
Mahishi Devi was right to speak to Devsena.
I was wrong.
“I am so glad that Hahuma decided to help.” Devsena told Jaldev, sitting beside him.
“Yes, the 200 year old nap seems to have helped.” Her fiancée replied cheerfully. Devsena hit him playfully.
“Don’t joke! I am so relieved. Bhai can also come back without any problems now.”
“Yes, your brother.” Jaldev grumbled. “Along with his very handsy best friend.”
“Don’t sulk.” Devsena chided. “You know Mahisha is no threat to you.”
“Strutting peacock.” Jaldev grumbled.
“Hush.” Devsena soothed, pressing a kiss to Jaldev’s mouth. Jaldev deepened the kiss, both tumbling onto the bed.
“I’m yours. I have been yours. I will be yours.”
“And I am yours.”
Devsena grinned as Jaldev pressed her into the bed. Hahuma had agreed to help them. Her brother was returning. Her people would be saved.
The world was bright.
And most importantly, Devsena knew, at the end of the day, where her and Jaldev’s hearts lay. There was no higher calling than each other.
“Our love has no ending.” She whispered against his lips and he moved above her.
“Only an aarambh.”