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It was unusually silent, as the night lost itself in the darkness of the diurnal movements of the earth, when it turned its one of its sides away from the light of the sun, meaning its inhabitants to wash away the cares that sunlight bestowed on them, only to enable them with the vigour to face them in the light that would follow the darkness. The earth, in all its piety, and ingenuous affection towards those it sheltered, covered itself in the night to relieve them of their worries in slumber, to let sleep smoothen the ravelled sleeve of care that loomed up, in their lives, and became an indispensable part of it. Night, in all its goodness, meant people to drown their ache, their agony, in all the drowsy comfort that its embrace offered.

But for some, night holds itself differently. Their own lives, and the events in it, changed the meanings of the simplest of the simple things, usually meant for relief in the natural course of their occurrence. They seek solace in the din and chaos of the day, whose activity kept their strain of thought detracted from venturing into wanton corners, that the stillness of the night brought up.

Yet, night continues providing its solace to her in the bleakest possible ways. For she falls within that bracket of the miniscule of beings who hide their apprehensions in the light of the day, masking them in the chores people usually mean to carry out as compulsions for existence. They are compulsions for her existence as well, only, they serve to cloak her anxiety, and relieve her of her premonitions of a future that lay ahead, the prospect that lay after the distance of the forthcoming years had been breached by time in its course. For her, the night's relief came when she watched her children drift into the innocent slumber that was meant to be offered by the night. Their slumber, warded off the nightmares those premonitions brought up in her.

Those thoughts, to say, had become a habit, for her, and her children, and those chores of daytime, were her solace, and sleep, to her, came in the form of a mere necessity that the human life needs to consummate the cycle of a day in its entirety. Sleep did not provide her with peace, instead, it just took the nightmares away from an induced slumber.

And, tonight that very habitual necessity had become an elusive bird, evading her because her children were not with her, filling the space between her husband and her.

There was a gnawing emptiness between them, an emptiness that seemed like vacuum, sucking whatever little light the flickering lamp in their chamber could provide.

Her husband had probably fallen asleep, and by now, her children, too would have been enfolded in slumber, in their grand-aunt's chamber, lulled by the fascinating dreamworld her stories would create.

Hence, hers was the only request, sleep deigned to heed.

Very softly, she stole out of bed, and headed towards the palace balcony.

***



She watched the night set in, settling herself comfortably like a queen in her grandest luxury. Even in the most disturbed of her thoughts, she could not help but admire the grandeur of the night. The moon, was only another night away from attaining the pinnacle of its form, and hence, like a would-be bride, hid itself in the pearl-white of the clouds, while it blushed as the soft breeze, delicately fanned it in its sporadic spurt. She reclined on the porch, watching the moon sport in the embrace of the playful clouds.

She was lost in the comfort of the night, when she felt a tanned finger caress her beautiful, vermillion decorated fingers.

"You need to stop yourself from thinking aloud, my love." came his deep, grave voice, while she felt his camphor-scented breath caress her cheek.

How? she wondered, How does he always know what I think?

Truly, in their relationship of nine years, she had been perceptive to most of his thoughts, but, they were the thoughts of the person she knew, (rather, the person who had acquaintanced himself with her). Suyodhan was within the realm of her comprehension, but somehow, the man everyone knew, the man everyone detested, Duryodhan, was unreadable, incomprehensible, unpredictable even. And ironically, the Suyodhan, she knew, came out only in front of the people he was the closest to, thus shutting out the roaring, scheming, villain, of the Crown Prince of Hastinapur, to their eyes. Most of the time, Suyodhan, walked out in the deplorable masquerade that Duryodhan offered. And yet, in nine years of being his spouse, she could never really understand, what comfort that masquerade provisioned him with.

"Such a beautiful night, isn't it?" he asked her, while continuing to caress her fingers. She breathed deeply, in a manner of replying him.

"And yet, there is something that inhibits the night from gaining its beauty to the fullest," he said, making a question mark appear on her divinely beauteous countenance.

She turned her face a little, "I fail to understand, Arya. What do you imply?" she inquired.

He smiled, her favourite, twisted smile, which somehow, gave him an intensely godly appearance, and said, "I've always associated such nights with a certain sort of ethereal melody, which emanates from the lips of the beauty standing in my arms."

She smiled a little, Truly, how circumstances change, she mused.

Initially, (and, what now seemed like an eternity ago) the simplest form of keeping herself occupied, came in the form of an involuntary hum of her favourite song. Sometimes, when, he would be away in court, she used to occupy herself with the lute, and practise, or with the canvas, and pour her heart out in colours, that her fingers framed in various ways and means to suit their pursuit, or, the needle, commanded her attention, and bade her weave diverse patterns on various shades of linen, cotton, silk, and every fabric possible. At times, varied leather bound treatises, and works by the court poets, stocked in the palace library, brought her the desired solace in her husband's absence. Sometimes, she used to make something that was specially meant for him. It could be a handkerchief, or, a new sort of embroidery on his favourite drape, or, a painting that she thought would please him, or, some added decoration to their chamber, about which she had always been very particular. And, he accepted them all, and lauded, and showered her with all the praise, affection, and warmth, that those beautiful things were wrought with, just like the girl who created them, and infused her cheerfulness in them.

But, one night had changed everything. It just took one night, to rob the naivety off the softness of the ingenuous girl who cared for him in a thousand ways. One night, thieved away, her gaiety, that comforted him, when he needed it the most. One night ravaged her innocence, and transformed it into fear, and perpetual fear, at that. A phantom foreboding of a horror that future had in store for them, never ceased to abandon her. That night, made her realise that the demon in her beloved, was certainly more potent that was fathomable. Potent, and unpredictable, making him all the more venomous. And, now, that venom, which had spewed out of loathe and acrimony, was set to corrode, an entire clan.

And yet, he stayed indifferent to what future had in store for them all.

Divertissements soothe the mind when in comfort, she thought, they deign to comfort turbulent souls.

Suyodhan softly tugged at her by her waist, her back still facing him, while he let the lustrous strands of her nightly locks feel his face.

"Love," he whispered, feeling her navel underneath the silk of her sari, his fingers sending surreptitious tremors on her skin, "You are so unimaginably beautiful." he whispered whilst he kissed her bare shoulder left uncovered by her sari.

Bhanumati, was transfixed, at this sudden advance of her husband, who was pressing the tenderest of the tender kisses on the nape of her slender neck. A part of her wanted him to continue, while, another wanted to break free of his arms, and run away to the innocent comfort offered by her children. Her mind tore itself into two, diametrically opposite trains of thought, tearing her own self from within, while Suyodhan softly turned her delicate form to face him.

"I love you so much, beautiful!" he whispered, feeling the delicately beautiful lines which formed her face, before caressing the soft, pink rose petals of her lips, with his tanned ones.

A corner in the core of her heart drummed violently. She had not been this close to him physically, in the past five years, that she had stayed away from him. True, they had reconciled their differences, yet, such intimacies were not an occurrence, especially, after what had happened on that doomed night. This was the very reason, she shielded herself from him, behind her children. Still, she found, a part of her, reciprocating to the kiss, with an ardour, equalling his.

NO!, something within her said, STOP! RIGHT NOW!, while she felt his fingers feel the contours of her slim waist.

Suddenly, she felt his hand, stroke the delicate strings of her breastcloth, as if trying to feel the knots therein.

Nirvastra, the voice inside her resounded with absolute clarity,Remember, what he tried to do to a woman?!

Her instinct jolted to life, while she tore herself from his lips, with a violent jerk. She pushed him away, while he was weaker in his response, since this reaction from her was utterly unexpected.

She freed herself from his arms, and breathing heavily, bearing a bewildered look on her face, turned away from him, while starting to walk in a manner befitting the gait of one, seeking to be protected from an assault.

His breath heaved as well, while he realised, her state. He followed her.

"Bhanu!" he called, earnestly, "Bhanu, please, stay! Please, love! Do not run away from me! Please!"

She did not turn. She wished the corridor to Mata Parashvi's chamber would be shorter. It seemed enormous, considering the circumstance she was in. She could distinctly hear his footsteps intermingling with hers, with a speed faster than hers.

He demanded the wife of his cousins, his own kins, in a pledge she thought, He reduced the dignity of a woman to be captivated in the vile pieces of dice, seeking her to be rendered naked before a court full of men.

There can be no apology that warrants forgiveness to such an act, no explanation justified enough to corroborate such an occurrence.

She felt his fingers, catch hers, in an apologetically strong grip. Before she could recover from the intensity of his touch, she found herself, imprisoned between the pillar, and his tanned chest.

She fidgeted in his entrapment, while she felt a tremor from him as well.

"I'm sorry, love!" he said, bewildered, "Did I hurt you?!" he huffed.

He was breathing too close to her, and his breath, his heartbeats, his warmth, were all too captivating for her to let go, yet, a part of her wanted him to release her. Meanwhile, the breeze blew around them, sending a tremulous ruffle along her light robes, causing her navel to peep out of her sari, like a curious child attempting to overhear a secret conversation.

Suyodhan, looked on, surveying her beautiful, trembling form in his arms. That sight of hers, dressed in a light, plain attire, freed of the heavy finery, with a plain, silver chain as the only ornament on her neck, made her appear, more pristine than ever. He was enamoured by her, and his tenderness increased everytime he cast a glance at her. He sensed the turbulence in her, and that only made his craving for her increase with every passing second. He wanted her to let go of the worries that she held, he wanted her to release the trepidations of the future, and he wished to be her outlet for those turbulent thoughts.

"Are you still scared of me, Bhanu?" he whispered in her ear, before kissing it lightly.

Bhanumati, trembled again, "No, I'm not scared of the man I love,-" she said, trying to keep her voice as steady as she could, causing Suyodhan to eye her with a different gait, "-It is the Crown Prince, within my beloved, that scares me."

Suyodhan smiled, "The Crown Prince, doesn't have horns sprouting on his head, my love. And he,-" he closed in further, "-happens to be hopelessly in love with you."

She breathed, again, letting her breath fan his face. She wanted to wane her stiffness by letting herself to his fervent endeavours of love. She felt his eyes rest on her navel, and his fingers enter the coverage of her sari on her perfect, flat, midriff, sending her skin to stand up in fine, little, irregularities which he fondled.

He whispered, "Can you forget the Crown Prince, tonight?"

Bhanumati's heart pounded into her mouth. The part of her which wanted to deny him, was imploring her to make any sort of excuse which would get her out of this situation, while another, was desperately asking her to relent. She breathed, her blood reflecting its crimson in her cheeks, her nerves demonstrating themselves in the increasing warmth of her skin, which he was caressing. She closed her eyes, to let his grave voice pour into her.

"Don't worry, love." he whispered, "The children are not getting up anytime soon. Mata Parashvi must have told them enough stories to last a night."

She felt her fingers on his waist, tracing their way to his back, as her arms began to wrap him up in a responsive cuddle to his embrace. The niggling of denial had somehow subdued, into, a distant faraway call, drowned by the sound of his breath, in harmony with hers.

She looked into his dark, smouldering, eyes, which had a galaxy of idiosyncrasies hidden in them. The charisma of the man she had fallen in love with, the tenderness of the father of their children, the love of a son towards his parents, the benign aura of an able ruler, and, the raucousness of the Crown Prince, the vitriol, he fostered towards those he had been unfair to, the characteristically embittered Duryodhan, all coexisted within the same carnal encasement, her husband.

"Why?" she whispered, "Why?"

"The future has never been kind enough to show itself to us, before she has desired, my love." he said, kissing her forehead. "She does her will, she always has."

She lowered her eyes, to feel him about her.

Yes, she thought, I love him!

She did. Of course she did. More than the one she believed to be their rescuer. She revered him, more than she had ever revered Kanha, who she was devoted to.

But did that suffice? her train of thought started to detract itself into apprehension, yet again.

Love purges the dross of desire, she thought, Her love, certainly could not make him renounce his desire for the throne. It had not stopped him from conducting the benighted Dice Game. It was certainly inferior to the vile ministrations of his conniving uncle.

IT HAD NOT RESTRAINED HIM FROM---

She shuddered, again, while she felt him kiss her cheek.

These were the very lips, that had pronounced the order to strip a woman of her robes, in a court full of men.

This was the very voice, which had asked her to sit on his thigh.

This is the exact same person, who was to start an egregious war due to his vile ambition.

She stiffened, again. He was now kissing her jaw, while he felt her colden.

"Love, please?" he imploringly whispered, earnestness echoing in every syllable.

"The future holds the consequences of what I've done." he said. "I'm not scared, not in the very least."

And you don't repent either, do you? she thought to herself.

"I do NOT repent." he retorted, answering her thoughts. "And I WILL NOT JUSTIFY MY DEEDS TO BE DHARMA, either!" he said.

She sighed, bitterly.

"I'm ready to face whatever consequence future has in store for me." he looked into her eyes, "And I want you to know that!" he said.

"But it scares me!" she released a pearl drop of a tear from her beautiful, dove-like eyes. "I'm scared of war! I'm scared of losing my children, my brothers, my loved ones! I'm scared of the scars the war will leave on all of us, irrespective of whether we stand to be victorious or not! And I'm scared of-"

She stopped, abruptly. He felt her anxiety sink in.

"What else are you scared of, Bhanu?" he asked, pursing her chin in his fingers.

She breathed again, more intensely.

"Love, open up to me." he requested.

"I'm scared of losing-" she breathed heavily, -"YOU!"

Suyodhan's earnestness incremented to infinite levels. He did matter for her, and that meant the world to him, more than anything else. He wished he could ease her troubles, he wished to relieve her of the inquietude that had corroded into the carefree, effervescent, babyish girl, he so dearly loved. Somewhere down those six years, the babyish girl, the ingenuous, naive, child of his wife, lost herself, in the intricate mesh time had woven out of circumstance. Yet, she was the flame that kept the warmth in him, alive, as much as she could. But, there were some things that had been so deeply ingrained in him, that he, himself could not weed them out, and all she could do for him was to soften them only to make them more bearable. But they were a part of him now, and hence could not be evicted. This was exactly what she had to comprehend. She loved him with everything in him, yet she was scared of the man who had convened the Dice-Game, and she hated him for that, but if he could not help his hatred for his cousins, it was definitely, not within her power to extinguish the inferno of that spite. It had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the intensity, or purity of her love for him.

He heard a sob near his chest. She was whispering something close to his heart.

"T-T-That-" she stammered in midst of her sobs, "is the worst of my fears."

Suyodhan caressed her hair in consolation, "I'm not going anywhere, my baby bird. Not for a very long time."

"I'm not meant to exist without you," she sobbed, "I can brave any adversity, withstand any calamity possible to incur to mankind, but only with you at my side."

"And so can I." he answered her, "With you beside me."

She tightened her cuddle to an embrace while she kept sobbing, and he continued to stroke her hair. He was seemingly reminded of something, when she felt him smile.

"What are you smiling at?" her innocent, angelic eyes, widened. The situation in which they were was nothing of the kind to warrant a smile.

"This reminds me of a blunderous baby girl,-" he smiled, "Who I'd met nine years ago."

Blunderous? Baby girl?, she thought.

"Don't you remember a certain little princess, crying her eyes out when her attendant had told her about her swayamvar?" he lovingly asked her.

***




Her tearful eyes gleamed. It seemed ages ago, since that had happened. She was about to turn sixteen, when her father had arranged her swayamvar. She had not known anything till her attendant had let it slip, after which, she had taken the entire palace of Pragjyotisha by storm, by refusing to eat, renouncing her lessons, and throwing rampant tantrums till she had been allowed to see her father in court. The court proceedings had been briefly terminated, with the king, relenting to his daughter's whim. Suyodhan had been in Pragjyotisha for a certain political alignment with Bhagadatta, and it was their discussion which had been stalled because of her fit of pique. He had been requested to wait till the Princess had been calmed by her father. He had been in a state of dazed discontent with the king who had been known to be one of the fiercest in his battles. Nevertheless, a girl's temper tantrums could throw such a fearsome king to yielding, and that too, to an extent of keeping the Crown Prince of Hastinapur waiting. To keep an Imperial Guest waiting was a profanity, specially when the guest was the heir to the most powerful seat of royalty in the land of Aryavarta. Suyodhan had somehow, kept his anger from rising, since, Bhagadatta, held his own stature of respect when it came to being a king, and, a fearless warrior, and it was because of this stature that he had agreed to wait for the king to comply with his fatherly duties of consoling his immature daughter.

He could hear multiple sobs of a girl, from the colossal corridors of the palace. He heard innumerable coaxes and requests of a daughter swearing eternal obedience to her father. Countless refusals for the propositions of a marital alliance with anyone fell on his ears. He could not help being amused at the Princess's naivety, and the contention to her not getting married to anyone, which was for the sole reason that none of her prospective grooms could ever be like, Kanha, or her father, or Shiva, for that matter. Even though, she had been praising Kanha, who happened to be one of the people he fostered a strong animosity for, yet, the young Princess's awe of him led him to be more amused than angry. Bhagadatta, had not been able to console her in any manner fathomable to his paternal capabilities, as his tender replies only came in the favour of how a maiden ought to get married because she was meant to be tied in alliance with another. Such attempted consolations were egregiously futile, since, the Princess's sobs became harder, and utterly uncontrollable, when she realised that all her attendant had spoken about not being able to see her parents, and her brother, forever, were true. She had, abruptly rushed out of the court, in a even harder fit of sobs, than what, she had entered with, and had bumped, straight, into Suyodhan's chest, with his heavy necklace hurting her delicate forehead.

All he could do, was catch a fleeting glimpse of a pair of celestial brown eyes, glittering as if they had spilled the pearls they had withheld therein. He caught a faint trace of the reddening at her forehead, and his nostrils had enraptured themselves in her lingering rose fragrance. Before he could take a proper glance at the countenance, the soft arm of which he had lightly held to prevent a fall, all he could hear was a hurried, profane, apology, and a swish of a light pink robe accompanied by a faint musical tinkling of anklets. He did not know what wrenched his heart, neither did he know, why he wanted her to remain like she had been, only quieter. He did not know, what possessed him to desire to be able to comfort her, he did not know why he desired to keep the vision of the run that she had broken into to remain like that. He failed to comprehend how he could notice her grace when she was at her clumsiest, and even then, while she ran, her feet could make the fall of the lightest feather sound noisy.

What forgotten feeling did she revive to life?

What buried tenderness had she resuscitated?

What?

And WHY?

And WHY DID SHE MAKE HIM WISH TO BE ABLE TO SEE HER AGAIN?

"Blunderous, spoilt, little girl!" he whispered to himself, amused, amazed, and besotted with her.

It had been a year since he had been this close to anyone as beautiful as the girl who had just collided with him. Almost a year had passed since such tenderness had crossed his heart.

But, then, he had been, spurned for another.

And that too, when he was about to be enjoined with her in sacred union, forever.

Since then, nothing ever aroused his affection for another girl.

Until now. Until he had laid his eyes on her. Until that, innocent softness had trenched his heart, until he had caught a glimpse of her.

And he had allowed that lingering softness to encroach his being. He could be a monster to the whole world, but for her, he wished to be the Prince in those tales their nurse used to narrate stories to Dushala about. He wished to be the man he wanted to be for the girl he had once loved, because now, love had knocked again, at a decrepit corner of his heart.

She was too precious to be allowed to any sort of harshness, however unintentionally. If she could beautify grief, she could infuse divinity into happiness. Those dove-like eyes had an inexplicable tenderness to them, a tenderness that had touched him, and had aroused an eternal craving for it. His parley with her father was not a very detailed one, since, the king himself was seemingly distracted because of his disgruntled daughter. Suyodhan found that he was, in fact, happy for the discussion to have been delayed for another day, since that meant, having a chance to see her again. Perchance, he could talk to her as well, if situation permitted, though, the possibilities for a conversation were really lean, since she was most likely to remain indoors, and even if she came out, she would either have her parents or her companions around, like he had seen his sister, before she had been wedded to the Saindhava.

But, he did not get to see her for the entire day thereafter. The faintest trace of her, came the next morning in the form of a melodious chant of a hymn that was meant to present one's regards to the Sun. The moment he had heard her voice wafting through his chamber, he knew, and had rushed out to catch a glimpse of her, a proper one at that.

And, he had seen her. Those brown gems of her eyes were closed in pious fervor, those vermilion-decorated fingers of hers had water percolating through them. The hymn that had mesmerized him were emanating from a pair of lips that were the most exquisite roses in the entire universe, whose hues were present in her cheeks. The soft dewy breeze, lovingly caressed the nightly tresses she had, while small drops of water in them broke away in sadness. Suyodhan could not look away from the beauty that had hypnotized him, yet, again. It had been a year since his rejection, and now, he was besotted with another maiden. To avert his eyes would be causing an affront to the sight he was bearing witness to. He knew he wanted to wake up to such mellifluousness for his entire life, and if destiny permitted, in his afterlife as well.

She walked away after her prayers, unbeknownst of the lingering sight that had been beholding her.

He would come back, the next month, he had his resolve affirmed, that he would.

And, he did, for her swayamvar. It was as if destiny had decided that she was for him, and no one else's. True, she had been grieved at the sudden separation from the people she had grown up with, the ones who had loved her, but, he would address every need of hers. Every want, every whim, every desire that she could ever think of, would be fulfilled at a moment's notice, before she could pronounce them in front of him. He gave her time, to orient herself to the new household she had set foot in. He allowed her to continue with her pre-marital pursuits, as she wanted. He wanted them to have a capacious relationship, with all the purity that was possible on his side to put in.

And, she made her efforts as well. Initially she had been intimidated by this mighty Kuru Prince, who had a reputation of possessing the anger, and acrimony to the degree of being demonic. But, the husband she had married, was the exact opposite of the widely renowned nefarious Prince. Her husband doted on her, more than any husband she could ever have known. An administrator of the highest degree, a strategist of immense knowledge, a brother, whose brothers worshiped him to the highest degree of reverence, a friend possessing the pinnacle of loyalty, a son who cared for his elders, Bhanumati, knew she could not have asked for more. He had allowed her all the time and psychological space she would need to adjust herself to their relationship, before taking it a step ahead. And that step would be taken, whenever she would be ready. She had oriented herself to the Kurus, and had begun to care for them in the exact manner in which she had been caring for her family in Pragjyotisha. She loved his brothers, (most of whom were much older than her), like her own, and they fawned all their attention on her to fill the void Dushala had left after her wedding. She respected her elders, and listened to their ministrations of managing the family, and undertaking her responsibilities a daughter-in-law of the Kurus, and obeyed them accordingly. All the Kuru elders, adored the girl Suyodhan had been married to, since she was sweet, beautiful, knowledgeable, intelligent, effervescent, and had a distinct childishness, making her all the more likable, and befitting the race of the Kurus. She bonded well with Karna, as well, who went on to become one of her first friends, here, apart from Vrushali, his wife.

Yet, there was always a kink, and as hard as she might have tried, she could not evict that out of his life. And that was his Uncle, Shakuni, who always had an opinion for everything, desirable, and otherwise. She would try to keep him away from him, for as long as possible, since most of his popularly known nefariousness found its source from his ministrations. All, the Prince of Gandhara ever did, was to incite his wrath, to make it even more poisonous, and channel it towards the Pandavas. And as hard as her endeavors might have been, they were always futile, in front of the guile he possessed. She did not want to influence her husband against his Uncle, for he respected him the most, but, there were some influences that had to be distanced with, for the sake of everyone.

But, why could she not dissuade him from such undesirable company? That was a question she kept posing to herself, every now and then, whenever something untoward happened, whenever he turned vitriolic, and sought his help. Was her love not enough? Was what they had insufficient for them to be satiated? She knew, that with him she could live as a pauper, with all palatial luxuries of royalty, forsworn for an eternity, and beyond. But why did he want something he didn't have? Something that they were entitled to? Was kingship that vile to have reduced him to this? Everytime she would think that she had succeeded, in her earnest endeavours, she would stand wronged, and shockingly, at that.

The last nail, in that coffin had been struck when he had been humiliated during Yudhishthir's coronation at Indraprastha. It was on that night, that she had properly known, what people meant when they spoke of Duryodhan. She had been two months pregnant with the twins, when he had received the invitation to that event. Bhanumati, did not want him to go, because she knew that the farther he stayed away from their glorious exhibition of their ascent to power, the better it would be for him, and for the others. But, since, ill-luck, and disastrous advice, always have a greater affinity for attention than prudent persuasions, he went on to attend the ceremony. Finally, he had been humiliated, and she had taken that to be a foregone conclusion of innate resentment towards the hosts. All she had been worried about, was the extent to which it would go, and that, was much more than she could ever have imagined. He came back in a form she had never seen before. Shouting, screaming, destroying whatever came in his way, THAT, was the Duryodhan she had seen in three years of her life as the wedded wife of the Crown Prince of Hastinapur, who remained in active sight for nine whole days, when she rarely saw him during daytime. All she saw in those days, was a man swearing insults in drunken stupor, at graveyard hours at night, immune to the soft comfort she held for him in her unheeded consolations. He had been untouched by her softness, for nine days, before she finally commanded attention, for ill-health, due to her delicate condition. She had only caused Duryodhan, to remain inactive, moonlighting himself in Shakuni's company, while her Suyodhan, returned to her, repenting for his misdemeanour, towards her, especially, when she was expecting his child. Little did she know, that Duryodhan, had festered himself in her beloved into permanence, and now, he had his being set for vengeance. And then...

IT HAD FINALLY HAPPENED...

The Dice-Game they had convened, wherein even Karna, who usually opposed their flagitious schemes, had participated, venting all the bitterness he had held towards the Panchala Princess, by calling her to be a promiscuous woman, a whore, who shared her bed with five men, while her husband, in vicarious pleasure had ordered her to be disrobed. She had been at the end of the fourth month of pregnancy, when that had happened. After that, she had severed all ties with him for five whole years, in which, she had never stopped him from coming close to their children, since she could deprive them of their father's affection. But, their distances as husband and wife, still, remained, which had caused a gaping hole, in Suyodhan's existence, being bereft of the woman, who had loved him with all his conditions, and traits that would repel anyone else. It was this emptiness, that had reached her as well, and they had made up for their differences by way of soft consolations, and endearing ministrations, steeped in the grief of separation from one's beloved.

And tonight, he wanted to relive the nights that were steeped in love, and amour, while she was carefree, and they lost reminiscence of anything other than themselves, and those sweet nothings enveloped in an even delicately amorous passion, freeing themselves of whatever held them from liberation.

And, she wished to be carefree as well, encased in his smooth strong arms, like there was nothing in the entire universe that could contain her like they could. She wanted to lose all her worries cuddled in his warm, chiselled chest, like she would be embedded therein eternally.

***


"Forget it, love!" he softly whispered in her ear, before kissing both her ears. She drowned all her cares, and her considerations, in his whispers. All she could, whisper, was-

"I love you!"

"And, I love you, more than anything I have ever loved! More than anyone I could have ever loved!" he whispered, while their eyes locked themselves in their each others' gaze.

Before she knew it, his lips, were on hers, again, captivating them in the most passionate of kisses possible, and, she reciprocated the fervor, with a softness that increased his passion. Her arms, had tightened themselves, in an involuntary embrace, spanning his back, to his neck, while, his arms had girdled her beautiful, slender waist, while he began kissing her jawline, punctuating his kisses, with the softest of caresses from his teeth. As it was, the stiff behaviour and the formal order one's apparel, fell into habitual casual demeanour at night, when they were loosened for comfort, notwithstanding, the consequent bareness of the skin. Her sari, which usually, remained attached to her breastcloth, to cover her midriff, and her waist, during daytime, had now, fallen into a careless linger at her waist, where his arms, had encircled her. Her waist was now, bare to the advances of his fingers. She felt his arms loosen around her, as his fingers, started trailing along her waist, and then up her spine, to feel her, unimpeded, without any silken barriers, inhibiting his touch. Her scarlet fingers pressed themselves hard, against his smooth, tanned, skin, to feel more of him, pressing himself against her, into a squeeze, that made her feel his chest throbbing against her breast, the throbs of his heart, muffled by the folds of her sari, and her breastcloth. She knew that she wanted to feel his chest, squeezing hard, into her breasts, his hard, erect nipples pressurising the soft flesh therein. She knew, she wanted to be freed of those covers of silk, and muslin, and lace, that kept, their raw impulses from engraving themselves into each other.

Her sari, slipped off her shoulder, by way of a bidding of his fingers, leaving her shapely shoulders, and her midriff, bare to his blazing sight, and his longing lips. He eyed her, soft-brown eyes, with a deep look, that spoke volumes of his craving for her. His breath heaved, as did hers, creating a dewy mingle of camphor, and rose, and sweat interspersed in each other.

"Love?" he whispered, pressing his forehead on hers, kissing the bridge of her nose. She sighed, tightening herself further around her, swooning in his chest, hiding herself therein.

He felt, her breath sear into his chest in an enamoured reply, urging him to be her comfort, for the night, demanding him for her outlet. He seized her in his arms, to carry her to their chamber, and rest her within those silken sheets, that would find themselves to be lucky to hold the heavenly beauty of her bare form.

She felt herself in a cradle of tanned arms, her senses incapacitated in the endearing whispers of love, drowning everything else into sweet oblivion. She felt her spine being nestled against a framework of encrusted rubies, supported by a hand that desperately wished to tear every bondage enclosing their bodies.

Lose yourself, something within her said, while she felt his lips, pressing frantic kisses, on the bare tops of her chest, while his fingers played at her waist. Her fingers, lost themselves in the dark wilderness of his hair, pulling him further into her, scarring the nape of his neck, with her nails. He vigorously tugged at her in response, leading her lips to part, issuing a soft, ecstatic moan, of pleasure, while, his lips fluttered on her neck, kissing every part therein, biting her by way of a signature. He had her semi-naked form tightly enclosed in his arms. Her body had been freed of her sari, which lay twined in rivers of red and blue, with his dhoti, trailing its way down their bed to the floor. She had his head held in a secure hold, by the enmeshed ringlets of his hair around her fingers. She felt her hunger rising within her, and, gradually, a ravenous impulse grabbed her, while she tore him from her midriff, where he had been kissing her. She lowered her beauteous face to come at the same level as his, feeling his voracious hunger in his erotic gaze. Her ravenously primal hunger stayed itself no longer, as she inverted her beautiful mouth into his tanned lips, locking them safely, in a flaming, amorous kiss. His lust unleashed itself, as he thrust his tongue in her mouth, wanting the very breath of the girl he so loved, while his fingers, frantically raged on in their pursuit of freeing her of the underskirt at her waist. Her hands had imprinted themselves all over his hardened frame, scribbling all her cares in passionate fervour, while he impressed his reassurances all over her, by releasing her of the entrapments of silk, and lace. She thoroughly kissed his chest, while, her underskirt took leave of her waist, baring her legs to him. All, of a sudden, while his fingers, strummed at the knots of her breastcloth, he whispered in her ear, "You've blossomed, beautiful. Gods would be jealous of me for possessing such beauty."

"I would repudiate Gods for you!" she breathed as she felt her back being fondled by his fingers, liberated of the silk strings, that had held her bosom in a firm enclosure, his chest being the only barrier, preventing that, now limp, strip of lace from slipping away. The only other shred of decency that clung to her modesty, was that fine, little lace tied to her groin, where his hands and now reached, feeling the gentle curves of her buttocks, nestled on his knees.

"I know, princess." her lover replied, while she felt his hand, furtively slipping in to feel the unclothed flesh against his palm. She sensed his hand, stroking her groin, and then a soft caress on, perchance, the softest part of her beautiful body. She realised that her fingers were mimicking his movements around his loincloth as well, before, they liberated each other of all the inhibitions that possessed their ravelled selves. He gently laid her to rest, while he flung those fabric shreds away, to enjoin those that they were usually accompaniments to. He began kissing her, yet again, as his lips now traced every part of her delicate form, as she felt every single line, every single sinew, every single muscle of his mighty form impress itself on her fragile being, enticing every limb of hers to tangle itself with his muscular ones, in a mesh that was impossible to disengage. She returned every one of those kisses, causing the passion to impress itself upon her with invigorated fervour. Her breasts, were moist with his kisses, and were reddened with the marks of his teeth on them, as he craved for more, of her. The ardour refused to cease itself, as it escalated with every passing kiss, every small bite, and every amourous touch.

Their blood throbbed in their veins with a ferocity viable only by celestials in their moments of ecstasy, when he slid into her. Her blood pulsated in her, causing her nails to carve their engravings on his back, and her breasts to bury themselves in his chest. The tingling niggle of pain that she felt, led her lips to express her ecstasy in a loud groan of ceaseless satisfaction. His blood sang in his veins, as he reverently repeated his vows of loving her till the end of time. She felt a tear slide off her eyes, that were closed, while her toes, curled themselves, freeing her of all the inhibitions she ever fostered.

"Bhanu, my love," he whispered in her ear, after they had conjointly experienced the pinnacle of their pleasure, "You won't be getting rid of me for a very long time."

A sleepy caress of her soft nose, and a soft pressure of her shapely, moist, bosom against his chest accompanied with yet another fondle from her lovely fingers, told him, that she didn't want that riddance, for an eternity.

***





She was in a garden, which seemed, unusually familiar. She was running around with his dhoti wrapped around her like her sari, barely covering her breasts, and leaving her glistening back, uncovered. He was right behind her, with a silk bedspread, wrapped around his waist, following her, as she softly sprinted across the palace gardens, giggling.

Suddenly, she stopped, since, she didn't hear his footfalls mingling with hers. She turned around to search for the man with whom she had discovered the joys and ecstasies of new-found love, someone who she had revealed herself to, in her entirety.

She called out for him, but, all she received was-

SILENCE! COLD, HARD, SILENCE, BY WAY OF AN ANSWER TO THE RADIANCE THAT SHE EXUDED.

She ran around, bewildered, searching for her lover, screaming his name, calling out for him with all the strength that her delicate, alluring, frame could muster. Suddenly, the serenity of her surroundings started dissolving into obscurity, replacing itself was a horrendous darkness. The scent of the roses, that she so admired, that he identified to be synonymous with her, weaning itself into a disgusting stench, of---

CARRION FLESH.

Yet, she didn't give up her quest for her lover. Till---

She heard, a voice.

'Love for the vile, who desires ambition, when has such affection ever known joy?

Amour for one who considers naught but his vanity, when has such tenderness ever been relief?

He, who you have foolishly, bestowed your heart on, O unfortunate creature,

In his quest for that which isn't his,

Defies divinity! Vilifies love!

And, in poisonous rancour, does dissolve, all that he ever cared for!'

She heard a loud blood-curdling groan, while, the wind metamorphosed into a tempest, lashing against her lustrous back, whipping it, only for the injuries to be cured by the blood that flowed from the gash of the wound made on her.

He was in pain, he was in agony, he was alone, in a place which was out of her reach.

She ran amok, losing all sanity, looking for her estranged lover, while the voice spoke-

'Hear, O you, who stands to be the one deceived by destiny,

He lies broken, twisted, mangled, and empty,

Scorned by his ambition, his vile debt repaid by destiny.

He who begat a line to burn away in obscurity.

He, who you cherished in ingenuous affection,

He, whose deeds of good faith, stand steeped in oblivion,

He, poor fawn, was not yours to cure!'




Bhanumati, woke up, with a start. Her senses were still muddled by the vision, she just had, but, the aura around her was nothing like the nightmare that had surrounded her a while ago. Her eyes were yet to accustom themselves to the sight of their chamber, set aglow, by the faint rays of the early morning sun. Her ears were still, to calm themselves, from the prophecy she had just heard, and listen to the soft, cooing and whistling going on beside her. Her skin, which had been singed by the ravages of the thunder, was to cool itself to the soft ministrations of the silk that her lover for the night had covered her with, laced in the warmth of his arms, and his chest.

Her earlobes, began absorbing the soft noises around her.

"Oh look,-" Suyodhan cooed, "-Your mother is awake."

Bhanumati, rubbed her eyes, while, Suyodhan whistled a tune, which she knew to be their favourite love song. As she opened her eyes, she saw, a small dove, cooing on the casement sill.

"Look, who is here, love." he cooed, while, the bird perched itself on his fingers.

It was Lakshmana's baby dove, that had flown to their chamber in the morning. It was in the habit of snuggling into Bhanumati's fingers, while, Lakshmana squished into her bosom, every morning, with a whim of not getting up.

"Oh, my baby bird-," she cooed, while the dove affectionately caressed her finger with its beak, making a soft cooing noise. "-How did you know, that your mother needed you?" she asked stroking its delicate little body.

"She likes her mother's touch more than mine, it seems." Suyodhan smiled, while Bhanumati, adjusted, their silken bedspread to properly cover her bosom, while cuddling the bird. Suyodhan noticed her disturbance, while he cherished the tender beauty of the sight that he beheld. He sensed, that she had a nightmare. He softly caressed her long, flowing hair, and those wayward locks, that refused to behave unless he lovingly tucked them in their positions, while they reclined on their bedstead. She reached out for a small bowl, that Lakshmana insisted on keeping by their bed, so as not to cause inconvenience to her pet. The dove drank its fill, under the soft, loving comfort of Bhanumati's palms, while Suyodhan kept, watching them, intensely, musing on the familiarity the woman in his arms shared with the ingenuous creature she was showering her affection on.

"Last night was heavenly, love." he whispered before kissing her cheek.

Bhanumati turned her gaze from the dove to her lovestruck husband. The nightmare had not reached him. The presence of that alter-ego, however dormant, made him immune to such portentous instances. The passion of their last night had momentarily made her forget everything that was to come, to which he was utterly indifferent to.

"I was enchanted, like I am now," he said, "You were sleeping like a baby, cuddled up in my arms, whispering endearments, whenever sleep wavered. I was lucky to have held, and made love to the full moon itself, under the envious gaze of those clouds that stood watching, with a moon, that waxed and waned, cyclically. They know full well, that the moon in my arms, is free of blemishes, and, immune to whims of time." he lightly kissed her bare shoulder. She had adorned his being, sleeping in him, hidden, like a pearl within its shell.

"Why does everything have to return to normal?" she asked him. She wanted to keep her lover from the world, and detach that alter-ego of his from himself, cocoon him in her heart, no, her soul, for her heart fostered acrimony for the undesirable, and a ceaseless foreboding of the future, which defiled its purity, for the soul, just held hope, and left isolated of the heart, the soul could strengthen its optimism, she thought. And, last night, she had done just that, with her Suyodhan, held in her soul, ingrained therein, by an entrance through her corporeal being, like never before. It would only be a matter of minutes before, that alter-ego would return to drive him to the wanton path, that went to realise what she had seen in that nightmare.

"Because it has to. Doesn't Kanha say that as well. Regularity masking irregularity." he said. Meanwhile, the dove, nipped her finger to divert her attention back to itself.

"What is it, my dear?" Bhanumati cooed, again, leading Suyodhan to smile and continue with his tender caresses on her. She gently placed a smaller bowl near the dove, so that it could eat whatever Lakshmana had left therein for it.

"Aren't you a demanding little baby?" Suyodhan cooed as the dove made its characteristic soft noises, while eating.

The creature in front of them was so akin to what their relationship had been, before that cursed Game of Dice. Pure, delicate, and devoid of any sort of blemishes, and always, being attended to, with absolute purity of heart. After it had finished, it lightly flumped into their sheets, demanding an extra stroke, from each of them, before flying away.

"Don't I have your undivided attention, now, my dear?" he pulled her closer.

"When has my attention ever wavered elsewhere?" she answered, snuggling into him, trying to suppress the fearful premonitions that arose, because of that nightmare. It had wavered, just once, and then that event had happened.

He lovingly ran his fingers through her hair, before pursing her chin in his fingers, to lift her face, and plant yet another kiss on her lips.

They kissed, for a very long time, lost in its innocent fondness, like they used to when they had initially confessed their love for each other, when they used to wake up after torrid nights, cooling themselves in such affection.

"Can't you stay, with me, my love?" she asked him.

"Where can I leave? And how?" he answered.

She was asking him to be with her for the entire day, atleast for that day, to let that softness linger for sometime. Once that disgusting crown of the Crown Prince was back on his head, there would be an acute scarcity of such affection. All that would remain, was such harrowing nightmares, punctuated by furtive whispers that spoke of vengeance, and oaths that had to fulfilled, when the war would occur.

"Maybe,-" he said, assuming a gait of thinking hard, "-I could help the princess get ready, for her prayers. Maybe, I could serve as a replacement for her attendants?"

She smiled, while he continued, "Maybe I could spend the entire day with Lakshmana and her dove? Maybe I could begin carving out that infant-sized mace for Lakshman? Maybe, the four of us could, use a chariot ride, later in the evening?"

"And, the court?" she asked him.

"It can wait. The state of Hastinapur can do without the Crown Prince for a day. But, my princess, certainly needs me more." he said.

She hugged him close, before he lovingly handed out her sari to her, to wrap her petite form with it.

Those loving words, had temporarily, wiped her fears away from the slate of her mind. Sometimes, she would think of the extent to which her husband had been vilified, and if that was nearly as plausible, as it seemed. Yudhishthir's act of wagering his wife and brothers, was not questioned, because they deemed him to be a victim of foul play. But, there was always a possibility of him denying Duryodhan's advances, by way of exercising his discretion, or, refusing the invitation. She knew, that even when Duryodhan was rampantly active, he would never wager her or any of his brothers, for that matter. Yet, the decencies of villainy were always on the blind spot of the eyes of the multitude, while the villainies of the seemingly decent would always be heralded as victimisation to the convolutions of laws, and codes.

He had never dishonoured her, nor had he defaulted in his duties, yet, his existence, had been flawed, because of his innate spite that had fostered for a while too long.

Those flaws would always remain. No one would ever understand his side of the story. No one would ever consider his perspective, because, he had been audacious enough to play with fire.

"Strengthen us, Mahadev." she prayed, with him at her side, her prayers, a silent appeal, encased in the hymns that ensued from her lips, whose melody he held dear,"Strengthen us, so that we can withstand whatever you have in store for us."

"And," she added, in a trembling whisper, as an addition to her hymns, "May we never be separated."

Sometimes, even the most earnest prayers of the devout, fall on the Lord's deaf ears. The prayers, that were heeded to were chosen by destiny, and man's fate, triggered by his deeds, that would determine the eventual course of the results of those prayers.

She had a long time to wait for her answers.