The King looked at his bride. They were alone in the room. The storm had not abated. Night had fallen and the lit lamps inside the room bathed the entire room in a golden glow.
The queen was sitting on the bed, facing away from him. Her hands were nervously twisting the edge of the sheet. She sat rigid and immobile, as she had sat the entire journey.
“Devi,” he spoke.
She rose and turned to face him, her face pale, but her voice was steady as she spoke.
He walked towards her. She paled further, but did not retreat. Their eyes remained locked on to the other’s. He raised a hand to caress her cheek.
“So soft,” he whispered, his breath hitching.
She did not move, but her body lost some of its rigidity as she trembled slightly. He bent down and his lips touched her cheek, moving to her lips. She trembled as she kissed him back, her arms reaching up to clutch his shoulders. His hands moved over her body and he was kissing her hair, her neck, her shoulders. His breath was almost a pant now.
Suddenly, she was free and he was striding away from her.
“Swami?” her voice held bewilderment and confusion.
He stopped at the door and turned. “I’m sorry,” he said. His face was white, almost bloodless. “I… I am not able to… I’m sorry,”
She sat down, her hands clenched into fists. Her breath was heavy and fast. Her mind replayed the scene again, but she still could not make any sense of it. Not able? She knew what that meant. She had known before, and yet, she had hoped that the one who told her was wrong.
The window flew open and a wet Vidura stepped into the room, closing the window.
“Had a feeling you could do with some company tonight,” he said.
She sprang to her feet. “Get out! Or I’ll scream.”
“You could. But then, you would need to explain why you, a new bride is spending her wedding night alone.”
“We’re not in the palace yet.”
“Do you think that would stop any red-blooded male?”
“He has better control than you think.”
“You know, I do admire your loyalty to him. You’ve been married for how long exactly?”
“Get out,” she said, her voice icy cold.
“Oh I shall leave. But you know, someday I will be your only option. So why not now?”
“Get out,” she said through gritted teeth.
He opened the window. “It’s not as if you’re a virgin, so there’s no need to play the innocent with me,” he said before he disappeared.
She ran to close the window and stood with her back against it, biting her lips so hard to prevent herself from screaming. Was her past to be a stone round her neck forever? Was she never to be free of it? She should never have paid those men up front. She should have asked them to come to her once the job was done and then she should have cut out their tongues to ensure her secret was safe.
She straightened. She would not weaken. That man would not defeat her. He might be privy to her secret, but he was only the Prime Minister and she was the queen. The King would be hers. In a way, his being impotent was a blessing. He would have no other wives or concubines who could take her away from her. She would do everything in her power to ensure that he would be under her thumb. And then, let the Pradhanamantrin beware!
She started blowing out the lamps one by one, aware of a faint feeling of irritation. It was the job of the maids, but the room was too small for the maids to be there. She wrinkled her nose in distaste as she climbed on to the bed. The cot was too narrow. But the Sthapathi and his people had placed a most comfortable bed and sheets. And though they had burned fragrant incense in every room, Kunti still felt that the room stank.
She pushed all that to the back of her mind. This was only a temporary stop. Tomorrow, she would be in Hastinapura, in the palace. And she was a queen now, no longer a princess. She fell asleep with a smile on her lips.