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Rabba ve, my Comrades, Readers and fellow Visitors of the Inn!!
Back after my exams but my brother is coming to celebrate Christmas with me and we will be going to our grandmother's so no connection and no computers and no Forum for one week. I've updated the Indexes of all the three Threads (thanks for the suggestion Hoopoe dear) and if you need to know anything about when I'll update next, always refer to the Index of the current Thread.
I wanted to wish each of you individually but short of time and I can only tell you I have loved and re-read your comments a million times already! The words and love you give me are my strength……and even if it's a one-line comment, it touches my heart to know you care! Thank you!
Welcoming new readers to our Inn: Summaiyasayed, afsha, siamesecat, dear zonera, funloving, Yush, sana2511, Torr, Neevan…….Thank you so much for stumbling across my FF and loving it for what it humbly is…….And also thanks to Reader Anusada, who has been commenting frequently in my First Thread and Second Thread and is yet to reach this thread……
When God does not reside in our hearts, we tend to let the savage beast in our Id to go rampant and instigate shootings in schools and immoral shocking deeds upon helpless girls. Hence as the whole world celebrates Christmas, my prayer is that all of you may prepare your hearts to let the Almighty God of Love be Born in your Hearts! Remember to always keep your head cool and your heart warm…..….this is something my mother taught me when I was a child.
Oh, and the Christmas Father in my DP wishes you a Merry Christmas too! *wink*
The Inn is lit and ready for Christmas Celebrations. May the songs and music lift your spirits as you happily greet each other and then over drinks and cakes, as you listen to the narration…….
Chapter One Hundred Sixteen: In Pursuit for Their Precious
Early next morning, Master Shashi Gupta was helping his sister with the sword-making while his wife mended a torn apron, seating herself on the stairs in front of the backdoor overlooking the backyard where the two of them worked.
Just then the sound of boots running down the stairs within the house was heard and the backdoor opened suddenly to reveal a petrified Payal, winded from the mad run from her room upstairs, and her trembling fingers holding a letter in her hand.
"Babuji, there is something-" and then she paused, unable to word it, and her father walked towards her and took the letter from her extended hand. It was from Lord Akash and her father did not think it noble to read a personal letter of his daughter's but his eyes fell on the word "Miss Kushi" in a paragraph at the end and he could not stop himself from reading that line.
He looked up, blanched, "She left last morning?"
Payal nodded, "Why is she not back yet? It is said that that horrid First Lord is with her. Do you think-"
"Oh my child! My poor child!" wailed the mother, standing up suddenly on hearing the words shared between father and daughter and realizing instantly it had to do with Kushi. The apron and the thread fell to the ground but she didn't bother about them as she rushed to her husband's side and snatched the letter. He pointed out where the girl was mentioned in the letter and the mother pressed the letter to her heart, "My poor child! Alone with that horrendous First Lord! I am certain he's-"
"Hai Re Nandakishore! Stop all this racket will you!" said Buaji suddenly, coming up to stand beside them, "This wailing and discerning will only make time worse."
"Have you no care for the child?" asked Garima, heartbroken.
"Of course I care for her!" said Buaji, appalled, "I care for her enough to tell my brother," and here she shot her brother a look, "to go find her this very instant."
"I need no telling to find my daughter," he muttered and then was swiftly walking through the backdoor. In the next minute, he was dressed and rushing to Master Happy's place to hitch himself a cart and he had barely reached the stable when Payal called out from behind him.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder to find her running up towards her, wearing a hat on her head, "I'll come with you, Babuji, I cannot remain here when my sister is not to be found."
Babuji looked at her, amazed that the girl who rarely ventured out was willing to come to search for her lost sister. He nodded and they together headed forth to fulfill the search of their heart's dearest.
The speed with which Master Shashi rode the carriage was enough to scare anyone sitting beside him, but Payal pressed her fingers on his shoulders and shut her eyes, praying earnestly for her sister to be safe and happy wherever she presently was.
They didn't know where to head for, and decide to scour the path that led from the Castle to the South Village to see if there were traces of the passage of a carriage that way. But it was impossible to ascertain this and so they did what was the best possible option. Enquire at the Castle as to what the entire issue was over.
At the gate, the guard recognized Payal as the sister of Miss Kushi and let them enter. When the cart was halted beside the Castle wall, both father and daughter stepped out and they rushed to the door. The father respectfully hammered the knocker of the huge doors before him and, with his daughter silently distressed beside him, they waited.
The door creaked open and the head of the butler looked out. His eyes gazed from the man and then to the girl standing next to him and it was on seeing her that a ray of recognition crossed his face. He smiled, "Ah, Miss Kushi's family. Do come in. I will inform Lady Anjali of your arrival."
The two of them walked in and would have paused to admire the grandiose of the place but presently their hearts were too weighed with nameless woe that they only wanted to get down to what they had come there for.
Footsteps were heard coming from the dining hall and Lord Akash appeared. He caught Payal's eyes and saw the dread in their depths and approached the two of them.
"My lord," bowed Master Shashi.
"Greetings, sir," said Lord Akash cordially and then he was serious, "This unexpected visit beckons me to also wonder why your faces are saddened."
"We received your latest letter to my daughter, sir," said Master Shashi, warily, "We hear that our daughter had left the Castle last morning. But we have not had her come to our house yet. Are you certain she has left?"
"Yes," said Lord Akash, suddenly concerned, "She left presumably with my brother though each didn't know it was the other riding with them."
"Oh dear me," said a voice beside them and they turned to find a well-dressed lady approaching them from a room, "Are you Kushi's family? I am Lady Lavanya, it was for me that she was appointed to serve as handmaid in this Castle."
The two villagers bowed to her and then Master Shashi Gupta looked at her and asked, "My daughter's told a lot about you, Lady Lavanya. Do you know where she might be right now?"
Lady Lavanya paled, "If she is not at home yet, then she might be somewhere on the way to getting there, I suppose." And then she wondered to herself, "Whatever happened to them?"
The butler came just them with two glasses of drinks for the two guests, "Do wait a moment more," he said when they shook their heads at the offer to drink, "Lady Anjali will be right with you."
It was precisely at that moment that they heard the sound of gentle steps climbing down the stairs, and Master Shashi and the rest of them there looked up to see the immaculate Lady Anjali step down towards them, her eyes smiling and, behind her, was Lady Manorama, frowning suspiciously at the proximity at which her son was standing near the female visitor.
No sooner had Master Shashi caught a glimpse of the Lady Anjali who was always confined within the Castle, than he was shocked to recognize her as a fleeting similarity to the painting he had seen on General Jha's worktable though he had only seen it in a flash of a second.
His steps staggered backwards in disbelief as to what he had seen, and he hadn't seen that the butler was still standing beside him with the tray of filled glasses in his hold. A yell of caution from Lord Akash, a gasp from Payal and the two elderly men cautioned themselves from crushing each other. But an unsteady glass on the tray slipped and fell with a loud crash onto the polished floor of the rich Castle.
Wine sloshed on Payal's gown and the scattered glass tinkled as the pieces slid across the floor severally.
"Babuji, are you alright-" Payal asked anxiously and stepped forward when Lord Akash's "Careful!" and the crushing sound of a glass piece slicing through her feet and her yell made the scene more horrific to be real.
"Bitiya!" said the father and his daughter fell onto him. He was about to lift her up, when Lord Akash volunteered and lifted her into his arms, his worried look searching her eyes for possible pain, "Miss Payal, does it hurt?"
"No, thankfully no," she muttered, embarrassed over the scene she was making, and she and Lord Akash looked suddenly at her father. Master Shashi nodded, granting the permission for his daughter to be carried by Lord Akash as long as they remained in his vision's radius.
Lady Anjali was suddenly by their side and her face was stricken with fear, "Is she alright? Has she cut herself? Akash, hold her well," and then she cast her eyes upon the butler, "Get a bowl of water and a clean cloth, quick!"
"It's alright, my lady," said Payal, her arms around Lord Akash's shoulder for balance, "I am not bruised too much that you must worry yourself so. Please."
"Bruises are too common in this Castle but they must always be attended to instantly," she said as she watched the servants come to clear the mess on the floor.
She then turned to the couple and led them towards the guest room and asked Lord Akash to seat Miss Payal on the armchair near the window.
He did so and then he crouched at her feet, wanting to inspect it when his mother said, "And what are you doing there, boy? Are you the new herbalist in this Castle?"
He ignored his mother and lifted the hem of Payal's gown to get a glimpse of her bruised feet.
"It's just a tiny cut to the toe," he said to them all, relieved, and he looked up at her and her eyes glowed with a fondness.
The butler arrived just then and Lord Akash reached out to take the cloth in the butler's hold when his mother exclaimed, "Get out of there, boy! The butler will do this blood business!"
Lord Akash sighed, "Mother, the butler does every work in this house anyway. It would not harm me if I tend to the wounds of Miss Payal."
"Gupta, boy! Its Gupta!" said his mother exasperatedly, "Why address her by her first name as though there is a string of familiarity?"
Lord Akash looked at Payal who shook her head slightly, indicating not to anger his mother.
"The Gupta family have become quite familiar to me now," he said and he looked at Master Shashi who stood beside him, watching his daughter, and the elderly man caught his eye and smiled at him, but his eyes were still sad. While one daughter was missing, here was the other one hurt, though slightly. It was not a happy day for a father to remain in.
The butler stood holding the bowl, while Lord Akash cleaned Payal's wound with the dampened cloth. During this, Lady Anjali and Master Shashi conversed and she was worried to hear that Kushi had not yet reached home.
"I shall send Om Prakash immediately to find where she is, then," she said and was about to hastily move away when Master Shashi said, "Please do not bother, my Lady, I am heading for the forest to look for her and I am certain I will find her."
"I cannot imagine what would have happened," said Lady Anjali wonderingly and then she looked at Lady Lavanya, "Did Miss Kushi appear to be disturbed?"
"She was a lot better when leaving," assured Lady Lavanya, "Only sad that she was saying goodbye forever."
Lady Anjali fell silent, and Master Shashi, who could not help remaining silent about the wretched suspicion in his mind, asked, "Do you have any other brothers other than the First Lord and Second Lord?"
Lady Anjali looked up, surprised not just in the change of the question but in the incompatibility of the idea behind the question, "Why, no! They are the only ones."
"I see," Master Shashi nodded, and he looked at Payal who was smiling down at a very attentive Lord Akash who could not look away from her face.
"Is there something you wanted to ask me?" Lady Anjali asked, knowing there was something more the Master Shashi kept to himself, wanting and not wanting to ask.
Master Shashi looked at her for a moment, saw how her beautiful eyes were always sad and how her face was childlike and glowed with inner innocence. He shook his head, "There is nothing, my Lady. Only a blessing to grant you from a father of two daughters younger than you."
"I shall be happy to have your blessing, sir," smiled Lady Anjali, her eyes warming up.
"Then I give it you," said Master Shashi, meaningfully, "And I wish you find the strength to ride the storms of your future."
Lady Anjali frowned slightly at the words he chose but her smile returned and she nodded, "It is for one's strength that one needs most blessings. I am certain your words will be a shield if storms must knock at my quiet door."
And then, Payal had been mended and Lord Akash carried her to the cart outside, led by her father and after the Second Lord had seated her on the carriage, gallantly like any gentleman, he took her hand and kissed on its back, his eyes not looking away from her face.
Payal blushed and whispered, "Thank you, my Lord." And then she nodded gratefully at the rest of the women standing at the doorway. Lady Manorama was nowhere to be seen. And then the father was riding the carriage away, in search of what he had set out for.
Chapter One Hundred Seventeen: Gypsies and Goodbyes
The line of horse carts loaded with goods and kids and men and women trudged along at a snailing speed through the forest.
A number of children laughed and played around the carts, not wanting to ride on carts when the sunny day beckoned them to laughter, music and play.
Kushi, dressed in a better gown from her box, was sitting in the last cart that contained a few sacks of vegetables and she was watching the kids at paly who were loitering about in the rear of the procession. But occasionally, her mind wandered to the man in her thoughts.
After the way he had been warm to her wishes and the way he had been making her feel attended to, even though it was more out of mockery, what had become of him in the morning staggered her.
She didn't understand why he had suddenly changed overnight.
He was detached and preferred to be unaccompanied.
Kushi had woken up to find herself alone on the floor of the hut, the door standing open to let the early rays of sunlight in. After washing herself up in the river, she had returned to the hermit's clearing again to find only the hermit on the rock, with some fruits he had collected for his two visitors. Fortune was sitting on the hermit's shoulder and on seeing Kushi, flew to her and perched upon hers.
When asked where Lord Arnav was, the hermit said he'd gone for a walk and will return in time for their return. The sore two hours of waiting for her endearing enemy worried her and she wondered what had gone wrong that he would exempt himself from being around.
And then the sound of music and bells and many cart wheels trudging through the forest caught their attention and Kushi rushed to the hut, dressed into a gown and prepared to return back home. Her family would not fret for they did not know she was coming and that was a relief to her for the last thing she wanted was a panicked parent coming in search of her.
After the jovial line of gypsy families had greeted the hermit, they offered to carry them across the forest along their journey and the hermit was given a seat in the foremost cart which accommodated the chiefs of the gypsy clan and Kushi volunteered to pick the cart at the end of the parade.
Still worrying about why there was no sign of him, she was about to alight onto the cart when a warm hand held hers and helped her to get onto the cart. She looked over her shoulder as she sat down and saw that it was him but he looked extremely worn-out as though he had spent a sleepless night. She was about to ask him where he had been and if he was alright when he walked away, not once looking at her.
"I don't want to ride on these carts," he stated bluntly to the hermit and to all those who could hear, "I prefer walking."
And with that he walked into the forest and was lost in the trees.
Kushi's heart sank and still remained sunk as the procession proceeded and she sat alone in the cart of vegetable sacks, knowing he had gone and left her. Fortune too seemed glum on her shoulder.
Her only delight was watching the kids at play and after sometime, she slipped out of the cart and rushed to join in their games. They were currently playing on their flutes and tambourines and the kids welcomed her to join in their dancing.
She relieved herself greatly as she flailed her hands in the air and swirled her gown about in childish amusement and Fortune flapped about her, enjoying the music the kids were making, and when he sat on a shoulder or two, some curious kids fondly caressed his white back and he was beginning to like all the attention.
all the gusto and gladness, Kushi didn't see the man walk towards the last cart
and pick up her tiny box. She didn't see him walk towards her. Only when his
hard hold on her hand jolted her back to Earth did she realize he had come back.
He lifted her box so she could see, "You need not come with us anymore. Your home is that way." He nodded to the fringe of trees to his left and she stared at them and then at him.
She looked down and saw that the kids had moved away with the procession and Fortune sat on Lord Arnav's shoulder sensing it was time to say goodbye to the girl.
Kushi took the box from him and waited for him to release his hold on her hand. But he didn't. Instead, he did a surprising thing. He led her through the forest by her hand, not bothering about the gypsy procession he needed to catch up with.
Kushi struggled to hold her box and lift her gown with one hand as he dragged her through the forest, mercilessly pulling at her other hand, not caring if she found it hard to march up to his speed.
"Slow down a bit, please," she said, when she had almost tripped over a protruding root but had not fallen and found her young feet racing after his footsteps.
He neither answered nor turned to look at her. Instead, the speed of his pace increased and his grip of her hand hardened just once, as though telling her not to suggest slowing down, before slackening his hold as he continued dragging her onward.
Kushi remained silent all through the remaining journey, knowing this might be the last time she was seeing him, knowing this was probably what he wanted too. A last few minutes to be with each other……….….though she could not understand why he was not quite gentle upon her.
And then they had suddenly emerged out into the open grassland and, to their left, flowed the river. He let go of her hand and she began to walk away when he called her, "Kushi."
She looked over her shoulder. They remained silent, looking into each other's eyes, remembering the faces one last time before they departed forever.
"You wasted a whole day of mine with your recklessness but I am willing to let it slide by because I won't gratefully be seeing you again," he muttered, "But though you are of no concern to me……….I just want you to be careful of the dark."
Kushi frowned, "Careful of the-? Did something happen last night? Why are you-"
His nostrils flared angrily, "Don't start on me."
She shut her mouth.
He looked to the ground, "The nights are unsafe. Just be careful." And then he turned about and walked away into the darkness of the cluster of trees behind him, and she stood there alone, washed by the sunlight, the mystery of his advice racking in her consciousness.
It is because I will be gone for a week more, than I am giving you more than one chapter. But mark this: These chapters are NOT supposed to be read at a stretch. Each chapter has value and depth and I would suggest that you take it slow, drown yourself in them and understand what is intended in each. You need not be brilliant to understand what is said in these chapters, you just need an open heart to embrace what Arhasia has to give you……
To return to the INDEX
P.S. I will update tomorrow as well and then you will see me only on 27th or 28th. I hate these breaks from Arhasia too but I am helpless.
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