7 - When shadows assert their presence

Arthini paced to and fro in her room, impatiently waiting for Vardhini’s arrival. She had set apart rooms for them, assigned servants to them, informed Priyashree that they would be hosting Pratihara’s royalty.

Priyashree had grimaced. Arthini knew that she inherently disliked her fast-talking, tell-it-as-it-is sister.

“What royals?” she had objected, “That sister of yours has not an iota of royalty in her. No grace, no dignity. No idea about diplomacy.”

“Nevertheless” Arthini had placated her, “She is visiting, and you may use this as an opportunity to solve the Vihara-Pratihara border problems. Work out diplomatic terms with Someshwar and put out a proclamation for peace.”

Priyashree hadn’t been happy about the situation, but the opportunity to make peace had quietened her.

Arthini was looking out of the windows of her room for the umpteenth time when there was a tap on her shoulder. She whirled around to see Punyaraj standing stoically behind her. Surprise turned to disdain when she viewed a sheaf of paper in his hands, most probably a translation he was working on.

“What do you want from me?”

“I heard you called you sister here” he said passively.

“Yes, she is my sister” Arthini sighed, “I can call her if I want to.”

“Sure…sure” Punyaraj stepped back, “but…you didn’t tell me.”

“I’m telling you now.”

He stared levelly at her. How she wished he would at least raise his voice once! She was sick and tired of this silent little dormouse she was chained to.

“Why was I not informed?” he asked again, a hint of belligerence creeping into his voice.

“Because you have nothing to do with it” she raised an eyebrow at his reaction.

He was almost glaring at her now.

“You have turned me into this rag doll in your hands over the years.” He spat, “Have you no sense of decency? I was made to look like a fool because of you! I never did stop you from anything. I took on the mantle of a cuckold to keep you happy. But you could never just inform me, could you? You never kept me in the loop.”

“And it took you twenty-three years to realise that?”

“Why do you choose to treat me like some dirty piece of cloth? Because I don’t shout back at you? Because I don’t hit you or choose to imprison you for insolence? Is that what it takes to get some respect from you?”

Arthini’s jaw dropped at his words. He still hadn’t raised his voice. He was calmly staring at her; a small jumping muscle at his temples showed that his teeth were clenched in fury. He hadn’t talked like this with her for years…maybe never at all. He was always doing his own thing, and there were times she didn’t see him for weeks together.

She was saved from replying by an attendant rushing in.

“The Princess and her consort from Pratihara have reached the citadel gates.”

The End

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