The moon was a pale crescent, casting little in the way of light into the hut. It stood apart from the others, almost at the edge of the clearing, and the windows had shades unlike the other huts. A beam of the moonlight still found its way into the hut, but not enough to illuminate the dark. But it made visible the outline of something in the bed. Two bodies, twined, moving in a rhythm older than time.
The woman nearly cried out, but the man’s mouth was on hers, swallowing her cry, and his own, as he climaxed, shuddering. He collapsed on top of her, and she lay still, not moving. Then she pushed him, and he moved, rolling to a side, and lay next to her. She tried to get up, but he stopped her.
“Stay a while,” his voice was hoarse, and low, and she stilled for a moment, and lay back. “You’ll need to leave before anyone sees you,” she said. Her voice was low, steady and calm.
“There’s some time left before that,” he said. “You’ll have some cleaning to do here.”
“The dasis will do it.” she said dismissively.
“The dasis,” he said slowly. “I see,” he paused, and then asked, almost as if it was wrung out of him. “Did you enjoy it?”
“No,” she said. “It was my duty. That was all.”
“You’re a hard woman,” he said. “But no matter how much you may deny it, I felt your body’s response.”
“I don’t deny my body responded,” she replied, her voice still calm. “But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.”
He rose, gathering his clothes in the darkness, cleaning himself with a piece of cloth, probably hers. “I better leave,” he said.
“Does it offend you?” she asked. “That I refuse to pretend?”
He shook his head, then seemed to remember that they were in the dark. “No,” he said. “I prefer honesty, especially from you. But… yes, it does offend me at some level that you could not put your animosity for me aside, even now. We may have to do this again, if-”
She drew a sharp breath, and he stopped. “Perhaps, you’re hoping for that,” there was a slight tremor in her voice. If he felt any gratification, he did not show it. He walked up to the bed, and sat down, carefully avoiding the wetness on it.
“Kunti,” he said. “Why did you agree to this if it is so abhorrent to you?”
“Because I need a son,” she answered. “And because you are my husband’s brother, and the rule of Niyoga-”
“The rule of Niyoga,” he said flatly. “I see. How did you convince my brother to do it? To agree to this?”
“I didn’t need to.” she said wearily. “It was his idea.” her tone made it very clear that had it been her idea, he would not have been her choice.
“So, you’re saying that Pandu decided that I should be the one to impregnate his wife?”
“Why do you find that so hard to believe?”
“Pandu and I don’t exactly see eye to eye in case you haven’t noticed.” He paused. “Besides, the queen Gandhari is already pregnant. Even if you conceive a son, he will not be King.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way,” she said. “It isn’t just my son, you know. It is our son.”
He rose and said. “So it is. I better be getting back to Hastinapura. If tonight hasn’t worked, don’t hesitate to send word. Because I thoroughly enjoyed tonight.”
He didn’t wait to hear her response, as he stepped out through the door, closing it behind him. He stood there for a moment, breathing in the night air, cold and crisp and heady with the scent of the forest. He looked at the hut where Pandu would no doubt be waiting. He shrugged. Let his wife go to him. He had to get to Hastinapura before the King or grand uncle start asking awkward questions. He walked to where his horse was tethered, alongside the cattle. It stood there, not asleep, just tossing its head irritatedly as if it wasn’t happy in the company it found itself in.
He mounted the horse, and rode slowly. It was very dark, and even a full moon would not have provided any but the faintest of lights. Tonight, it was like moving in the dark, and he hoped his horse had better night vision than him. He knew that in general horses were able to see better in the dark than humans, but with his luck, he could be having the only horse in the land with night-blindness. He let the horse negotiate the terrain and the dark, and once they were out of the forest, visibility was marginally better, and he directed the horse towards the city. The road to the city was not in very good condition, and he had to be careful till they reached the outskirts of the city where the roads were in better repair. He made a mental note to have the roads repaired. It might not be necessary for him to make such a trip again, but one never knew.
The road forked at one point and he took the overgrown path that led right to the river, next to the wall of the palace. There was a small gate there which was locked. He dismounted, took a key from a pouch on his waist and opened the lock, and led his horse inside. He locked the gate again, and led his horse to the royal stables which was very near to the wall. He slipped into the palace through another locked door and made his way to his room, taking a route through the many corridors which avoided any detection.
The morning sun falling on his face woke him the next morning. He rose, wondering if the night before had been a dream, but the clothes that he had removed last night was still where he left it. The sun was still in the eastern horizon when there was a knock on his door, and a herald entered.
“The Maharaja has requested your presence in his audience chamber, Pradhanamantrin Vidura,”
Vidura nodded and followed the herald. The night before might have been a dream as the normal every day life started again with its daily rote of meaningless chores.