(Picture by Catherine Adams - image obtained via The Novelette)
“Why did I let her talk me into this ?” wondered Sudeep, as he lugged his heavy backpack uphill. “Lively Goa and its lovely beaches, cool Munnar and its beautiful hills, pristine Kerala and its backwaters” he sighed …. but no, “Asha had to insist on this ruin” he mused.
“We’re going on our honeymoon, Asha. Not on an architectural expedition”, he’d argued in vain six months back . “Why can’t we go someplace human ?”
“Because we are different” reasoned Asha, her lovely eyes twinkling with amusement and laughter.
“Where’s your sense of adventure, Sudeep ?”
“If we’re caught staying there, we could be in trouble.” argued Sudeep, totally stressed at the idea of spending time amongst those spooky ruins.
“It’s our honeymoon, Sudeep” said Asha, the merriment in her voice evident. “The more clandestine our destination, the better” said Asha, winking.
They’d argued for days and he’d finally given in. And here they were, heading towards the ruins.
The old magazine had been lying on the table, in the dentists’ waiting room. She was utterly fascinated by the picture of the old palace, now a deserted ruin, on the cover page. She’d read the article over and over again. Something about those ruins set her senses tingling. Her nerves felt alight, her senses heightened.
Asha, breathless with excitement, had marched on ahead and was now gesturing wildly. Every bit of her body language spoke volumes of the thrill and anticipation, her eagerness to get to the ancient palace. Sudeep watched her, breathless and pale with exhaustion. “Quite a honeymoon this is going to be” he groaned. “Come on, slowpoke.” shouted Asha, from the top of the hillock.
The rooms did not have any doors. The rampages of time had left their mark on the ancient palace. The stone walls bore testimony to the greatness that had once been its hallmark. The now dusty and dirty copper lamps fixed along the walls, were objects of art. The whole palace seemed to have a life of its own. The place was in shambles, yet there was an odd beauty to it. The ruins seemed to speak of the magnificence, the splendor of the palace during its good days. Days when powerful kings had ruled and the entire kingdom had been prosperous.
“I never knew canned pasta was this good” remarked Asha, looking smug and satisfied at having accomplished the task of honeymooning amidst the ruins. Sudeep, exhausted from the strenuous climb up the hill, was snoring softly. A full stomach and the warmth of the afternoon sun had lulled him into a siesta. “I’m going to explore this place” remarked Asha, to no one in particular. For, when Sudeep slept, nothing in the world known to humans could rouse him from his slumber. Nimble footed and spry, Asha made her way from room to room, feeling that familiar excitement growing in her.
The palace was filled with people. They had all come to see the famous danseuse perform. The anticipation increased with every passing minute. The king and his courtiers had arrived in the hall. The excitement was palpable. The music began, the lights dimmed and the danseuse enthralled the audience.
“ Asha. Ashaaaa”, the voice seemed to be coming through a tunnel – distorted and slurred. Asha felt drops of water on her face and sat up startled – only to find Sudeep’s worried face staring at her. “What happened, darling ? I woke up only to find you missing. I tried calling out a few times and when there was no reply, I came looking for you.”
“I don’t know, Sudeep. I must have been really tired and I probably fell asleep here” said Asha, who was equally perplexed. She had completely lost track of time. She had started exploring the rooms in the afternoon and now … a look at the sky outside confirmed that it was indeed dark. “Where had time gone ?” wondered Asha. “Did I sleep for that long ? When did I fall asleep ?”
He crept into her mansion. She could feel his presence. It was almost as if she could hear the curtains whisper her name, the way he did. She could smell him, she knew he would come – like he did, everyday. He would visit her to claim what he said was rightfully his – her love. His sheer presence was intoxicating, that nimble mix of power and passion, of strength and tenderness. She knew he was in her house ….. she knew he would come upstairs …… in just a matter of minutes …. the wait seemed interminable …..
They lay in each others’ arms – sweating and sated. The sleeping bags were all crumpled and their clothes lay scattered all over the place. “This sure is turning out to be a swell honeymoon” thought Sudeep. “I’ve never seen Asha in the throes of such passion. It is almost as if this place is doing something to her.” he thought, with a smile. They slept, locked in an embrace, the dust and grime of the ancient ruins, all but forgotten for the moment.
“Hey look what I found” shouted Asha, her voice animated, pregnant with enthusiasm. “There’s a cellar here. There was this little door and it had a ring on it. I pulled it open and look what I found. A real cellar !!! Wait till we get back and I tell my friends all about this” exclaimed Asha, evidently thrilled at what she’d discovered.
“There’s still some stuff in here, Sudeep. Take a look, sleepyhead !!!” There indeed was a lot of stuff in the cellar. Ancient brass boxes, stone sculptures from an era bygone, palm leaves which carried on them a language hitherto unseen. This place is an archeologist’s dream” thought Sudeep, as he sifted through the stuff in the cellar. His mind was already working at a furious pace. “If I can get some of these things out of here and back home …. they would be worth a fortune”.
“Sudeep ….. breakfast” rang Asha’s voice. “Eat it while it is warm”. As Sudeep dug into his breakfast, he found Asha lost in thought. “Hey ! What’s up ? A penny for your thoughts ?” said Sudeep.
“Just day dreaming” said Asha. “Why don’t we go skinny dipping ?” asked Sudeep, his eyes gleaming with a lot more than just mischief. “You go on ahead and I’ll join you in a bit” said Asha. “What made me hold back ? I’ve never kept any secrets from Sudeep. Why now ? What was it that made me hide it from him ?” wondered Asha.
He was getting married the next week. His parents had mentioned this to him just yesterday. Now he was faced with the prospect of breaking the news to his paramour. He knew she would not take it well. He knew that he had promised to marry her and make her the queen of the land. He had made many promises, but never with the intent to keep them. He had lusted after her body and she’d given him her heart too. Women!,he thought, always complicate things. How could she even think that he would eventually marry her. He was the prince of the land, the king-to-be and she, a mere danseuse, a courtesan.
They explored the hills surrounding the ruins and found a small stream . Crystal clear water which tasted sweeter than any water they’d tasted in their life. Asha smiled as she sprinted and plunged into the water.
He will come tonight. He’s promised to marry me. I’ve got everything – talent, wealth, beauty and now, love too, she thought, as she floated on her back in the pool. She absent mindedly caressed the petals of the lilies which were in full bloom. The lilies seemed so full of life, happy and content – just like she was.
The water felt cool on her skin. She felt completely at peace with herself. Communing with nature had always been a passion with both of them and somehow, she felt complete. “Water is definitely my element” thought Asha, gazing up at the brilliant sun and the lush greenery around.
It was late evening by the time they got back to the ruins. After that swim in the stream, they’d walked around and discovered a whole lot of trees which had borne fruit. They’d gorged themselves on the fruit and Sudeep, the cynic, had even admitted that these were some of the best tasting fruit he’d eaten in his life. “Totally organic” he’d mused, “unlike all those tasteless GM crap that they sell in the supermarkets”.
She fed him the grapes lovingly – one plump grape after another, juicy and full of natural goodness. His head resting on her lap seemed so natural. She gazed at him with unabashed love as she ran her fingers gently through his thick mane. The heady combination of the potent wine and the rich food they’d consumed lulled them into a sense of complacency as he lazily pulled her into his arms. She offered no protest, for, this was how things were meant to be. Later, totally content, they’d drifted off into a deep slumber, in each others’ arms.
“Why am I feeling so depressed ?” wondered Asha, as Sudeep warmed up dinner. “Were those fruits poisonous?” she wondered “I’m not feeling so good”. “Yo Asha – dinner’s ready” called Sudeep. “Gee, those were hunger pangs” thought Asha, later. With dinner steadily making its way into her stomach, she felt better and was in much better spirits too. Sudeep lit a small bonfire to keep predators away. The night air definitely had a chill to it and a small shiver ran down Asha’s spine. She snuggled closer to Sudeep, comforted by the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. Her eyelids began to droop …..
She did not know what woke her. The sight that met her when her eyes flew open were that of the prince, standing over her with a dagger in his hand. She felt the cold metal as it sliced into her body but she felt no physical pain, for the pain raging inside her heart was far worse. “You thought I’d marry you ? You ?, he’d yelled. “Now you’re getting what you deserve” he said, with a malicious grin. Her thoughts were fading and so was her consciousness. She was not sad about losing her life like this ….. but the baby. She was carrying his baby and he’d ended its life too …. even before her baby had a chance to see daylight. Rage, unlike any she’d known, possessed her. As the life seeped out of her, she looked at the prince and thought to herself “I’ll get you. Even if it takes me several lifetimes, I shall have my revenge. My baby shall have its revenge.”
She awoke, feeling strangely light and alert. There was a voice inside her head which kept saying “It’s time. It’s time.” She was in the cellar and Asha had no idea how or when she’d got to the cellar in the middle of the night. “Once a royalty, always a royalty” streaked the thought across Asha’s numb mind. About a year back, she’d stumbled upon the fact that Sudeep was actually a descendent of royal lineage. His ancestors had once lived in these very ruins, they had ruled the land. It had tickled her pink then, but now it was stirring a deep hatred, a strong feeling of rage inside her. She picked up the dagger that she’d found in the cellar earlier in the morning. The voices inside her head kept up their incessant chant “It’s time. It’s time.”
Asha felt the cold comfort of the dagger and its blade in her hand as she made her way towards Sudeep. ………. “It’s time” said the voice in her head “and you shall have your revenge”. “It’s time. It’s time. It’s time.”
(This has been sent in to The Novelette as my entry for the short story competition. Click here to go over and vote.)