Abhaya opened her eyes in the morning and wondered for a moment where she was. It was some time before her memory caught up with her. She felt some other presence in the room and turned.
“How do you feel now?” Mauri asked as she helped another woman to a newly made bed. The woman looked to have crossed twenty. Her face stained with tears and hands bearing fresh welts of a rope that might have bound her. “These beasts brought her bound all the way! May the third eye of Mahadava open up on them!” Abhaya cursed as she noted the pain on the face of the other maiden.
“Who is she?”
“She is also a princess like you. Oh I did not ask your name too!. She is Sunanda. “
“Abhaya.” Abhaya spoke out her name, disinterested at giving any sort of introduction for her present state would only be a shame to her family. Sunanda considered her with a polite but forced smile. Fresh tears sprung out of her eyes. Abhaya looked at her with a silent acknowledgement of the pain.
“Are you both hungry?” Mauri asked.
“Suppose so.” Abhaya answered instinctively and regretting for doing that. But she now felt the hunger. Mauri smiled, satisfied. “That medication is so effective. And you are also strong willed. I shall get some food you would like to eat.”
“Don’t even bother. I just want to die!” Sunanda’s broken voice sounded among sobs. But Mauri had already left.
Abhaya looked at the weeping princess. “Your Highness. Do not despair.” She wondered what to say next. She herself knew there was not much of a hope. Shaking her head, Abhaya managed to smile. “Where are you from?”
“I am from Anagha.” Abhaya started the conversation and saw that Sunanda did not know about her province. “It lies to the west of Avanthi.”
Sunanda nodded, smiling lightly through her tears. “You were brought here from there?”
“No, I was on my way to Indraprastha and had halted at Vrindavan. This happened unexpectedly.” Abhaya recalled the recent nightmarish past.
“These demons abducted me when during my stay at Varanasi. Did you say Vrindavan?”
Abhaya nodded, noting the sudden interest Sunanda showed. On further prodding, she narrated more of her tale.
“By Sri Rama! You’ve had quite an adventure! But why are we brought here, princess?”
“Princess, don’t you know about vAmAchAris? They.. they follow the path of indulgence as opposed to our path of abstinence to please the Mother of universe. We are mostly brought, for Mahadeva forbid, their activity of Maithuna” Abhaya summarized, her tongue slightly turning bitter at the very mention.
“That does it! PrayOpavEsha is the only way out!” Sunanda remarked.
“That is rather easy, but why can’t we retain some hope? We shall try negotiating our release!” Abhaya knew she was desparately holding on to optimism that was not practical.
Mauri returned with bowls of steaming content that looked like porridge. Sunanda was sullen and refused to eat. Abhaya signed to her to eat. “Mauri, we want to meet the King of this place. We highly disapprove of the abduction and we demand that we be returned to out families.”
“You are all wrongly educated, the people of plains. They believe in meaningless rituals. Once you get to know our ways, you would realize that you were lucky to be here.” Mauri asserted. “The King is not here right now. He is visiting Shonita. He might return only after the spring. But then, you need that time to get trained.”
“Trained! By Sri Rama, you dare to expect us to be trained by you primitive tramps?”
“Princess..” Abhaya tried to restrain Sunanda. She turned to Mauri, “Who is going to ‘train’ us, Mauri?”
“Oh you don’t have to worry. We have enough practitioners! You both need to be rested enough. But by Kamakhiya, why are you so rebellious? We are only trying to show you the better way of reaching Mother.”
“Thank you for the trouble. We shall decide what is good for us! We are KshatrANis of Noble birth and not uneducated and innocent Nagas to fall prey to your empty words.” Abhaya spoke with her usual sarcasm showing in her words as it showed when in anger.
“Recover from your sickness, you would get your answers in due time.” Mauri replied annoyed. Placing the bowls of porridge on the floor she left in a huff, closing the door.
“Prisoners! By Sri Rama, the RudrAvatar Hanuman is going to burn this city as he burnt Lanka! All my curses be upon these beasts!”
“I am in a rage too! But we need to do something more than praying and cursing!” Abhaya spoke thoughtfully as she picked up the bowl and handed it over to Sunanda.
“Princess, in less than three months, my cousin Sathya’s swayamvara is to be held at Koshala! She would miss me.”
“Wish she would put a condition to marry the one who can rescue you!” Abhaya tried to cheer her up.
“Sathya is in love with Krishna Vaasudeva of DwAraka.”
The bowl almost fell out of Abhaya’s hands. “Is she?”
“She has been mad about him ever since she heard about him through some wandering singers. The day we heard he masterminded the killing of that JarAsandha at Magadha, her joy knew no bounds. You would laugh at the test she prescribed for the Swayamvara. It ensures that only he can participate and win!”
Abhaya smiled and sighed, only hearing the words but not dwelling upon them. “Is so much of a coincidence possible?” She turned to Sunanda with a smile. “He would”
The next few days passed seeming like aeons. As Abhaya and Sunanda recovered from the illness that inflicted them due to the long travel, Mauri led them to another room which had a bath with flowing water channelized from some spring in the mountains.
“Don’t get too much wet! The fever might come back. “
Not bothering to listen, Sunanda went in as Abhaya waited in the corridor. Mauri pointed to a majestic dome seen at a distance. “That is the temple of the Mother. Do offer your prayers of gratitude for curing you of the fever.”
“Tell me about your King and this place more?” Abhaya prodded.
“Lord Bhauma is the King here. He is a great devotee of Mother! Mother KAmAkhiya appeared in his dream and by her orders, we want to make the women of this world realize the Mother in them.”
“And I look like a fool to believe that the Mother KAmAkhiya ordered to capture, drug and abduct women from the plains.”
“You don’t believe me. Do you? Alright just wait and meet Vasumathi.” Mauri began to lose her temper. “You see for yourself, the women who have taken to vAmAchAra as you people from the plains call so. When you speak to them and see how our ways have empowered them, you shall realize.”