What Might Have Been

He held her close. So close he could feel the hammering of her heart like his own. She sighed in his arms. They stayed like that, and then she broke free of the circle of his arms and looked into his eyes.

“What was I supposed to do?” She asked, her voice full of bitterness. “You swore yourself to celibacy. And my father wanted to marry me off! What could I have accomplished by waiting? Would you have changed your mind?”

He said nothing, her words were just, he knew.

He looked at her. Amba looked forlorn. He had carried her off alongwith her sisters, ostensibly for his brother, yet, he acknowledged to himself that he would have killed Vichitravirya before he let him touch this woman.

The Princesses of Kasi were traditionally married to the Princes of Hastinapura. Thus it was that he and Amba were betrothed to one another when he had been crowned Yuvaraja. Their betrothal was known only to them and to their fathers, for Santanu had wanted to announce it on the day Devavrata would be crowned King.

But fate had decreed otherwise, tempting Santanu by throwing Satyavati across his path. And the face of Amba had not intruded in Devavrata’s mind when he took that terrible oath, relinquishing the Kingdom and forswearing the company of women forever.

But her thoughts had come to him as he rode back to his father. His heart had bled as he sent the secret missive to Kasi informing her father of his oath.

And he had succeeded in forgetting her. Or so he had thought. Till the day he heard that the King of Kasi was holding his daughters’ swayamvara.

He had never meant to abduct her. He meant to carry away her sisters by force, but to leave her to choose her husband. But he had seen the expression on her face when she saw him. And he would have to have been more than a man to have left her there.

He had been stunned when she announced that she had chosen someone for her husband in her heart. Though he was relieved she would not be marrying his brother, he had to know who his rival was. And so he had cornered her in the garden, demanding to know who had won her heart.

Her look had been answer enough and he had taken her in his arms, holding her close.

She shook her head sadly. “Why did you have to carry me away?”

He looked at her. She had put aside all the finery she had worn for the Swayamvara. Yet, she looked even more lovely than he had ever seen her. There was a droop to her shoulders.

She stood there, head bowed and lifted a hand to dash away a tear. She raised her head and looked at him, tears glistening on her lashes.

“I shall go to my grandfather,” said she. “He’s a hermit. I shall adopt the life of a hermit. I should have done this then. But I was a child.” She paused. “I am a woman now. And this is the only decision that will free us both.”

She was right, he knew. She had been a child when her father and his had betrothed them. And she had not yet entered womanhood when he relinquished her. But he had been a man. And he had dreamed of the day she would grow up and be his. And his heart had bled for his dreams.

And now, he knew, he had wronged her again.

She looked at him and her heart melted for him. She had never known what it meant to love. She was too young at the time of her betrothal and its annulment.

But she had heard tales of him. And though she knew he would never be hers, she had sought out story tellers to listen to his tales. She had fallen in love with him and when she saw that he had come to the Swayamvara, she had allowed herself to hope and worse, she had allowed her hope to show.

Which had led to this situation. And now, she had to find a way out. For him. She could not be the reason for his torment. She did not care for herself. Life without him was meaningless to her. And the thought of another man abhorrent. She would adopt Sanyasa so they could both have peace.

“No,” said he, his voice sounding strange.

She looked at him in surprise.

He took her face between his hands, looking into her eyes.

“I am not going to lose you now,” said he.

She gazed into his eyes, not trusting herself to speak, for the joy that coursed through her was greater than anything she had ever felt.

He bent down and kissed her. His mouth was warm and his kiss seared her like a flame that found its way to her very soul.

She put her arms around him, kissing him back.

After what seemed like an eternity, he lifted his head and looked at her. Her head lay against his arm, her face was delicately flushed, her hair dishevelled.

With infinite tenderness, he tucked in a strand of stray hair behind her ear.

“What of your oath?” She asked half heartedly.

“I don’t care,” said he.

She placed a hand on his cheek. “I can’t bear to have you maligned for breaking your oath.”

He placed his hand over hers, turning his head to kiss her palm. “We won’t be here to listen to them.” He paused. “We will go away tonight, to my uncle’s kingdom. He has no heirs and he had once asked my father to send me to him. I stayed thinking Hastinapura needs me. But not any more. We will go to him. It is far in the mountains. The Kings of Aryavarta would not disturb us. The politics of the plains will not affect us.”

She snuggled close to him. “Sounds like a dream.”

“It’s going to come true for us,” he promised.

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