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SOMETHING TO PONDER OVER !
LOVELY UPDATE DEAR LINNY!
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Chapter One Hundred Eighteen: Home At Last
The sudden downpour brought Garima's apprehension to rise to a terrible notch as she sat before the window, her eyes on the path leading up to the garden.
"Why are they not here yet?" she kept asking herself, "It's been four hours since they left."
"Come, come, now," said Buaji from within, where she was kneading dough for a loaf of bread, "It's raining and they must have taken shelter somewhere."
"They would, wouldn't they?" wondered Garima, and Buaji looked at her, "You are losing your acumen, aren't you? Come away from that window and help me with the dinner, Garima."
"I wish I could," mumbled Garima, as she walked towards her sister-in-law, "My whole family out in the rain, racing over unknown lands, and one of them whose whereabouts we know not of……."
"You worry yourself too much!" said Buaji, "Especially over your youngest. And to think that you expose only your cold shoulder when she is present herself."
"Well, I have never been able to show her the love she deserves," said Garima, sitting down before the kitchen counter and slicing up vegetables for the soup, "She gets into all sorts of mischiefs and makes a poor spectacle of her sister too. I am often hard on her but it's her I love the best, I am afraid."
"Yours daughters are both special, Garima," said Buaji smiling, "One of your blood and the other of your heart."
"And to think one is missing!"
"She will be found," said Buaji, "She's a lucky charm to our family."
Garima snorted, "Lucky enough to have made us sell off the mill and the house."
Buaji frowned, "Well, maybe it was good you could. Maybe it was right you did."
Garima sighed, "I may not find her lucky but I do know I love her and I cannot stop loving her even if she brings in all sorts of hardships and terrible upturns to our family."
"Oh, how complicated this maternal love of yours is!" muttered Buaji and focused on the dough.
Just then the sound of cartwheels was heard through the sound of the rain pounding upon the roof.
Garima dropped the knife into the bowl of sliced vegetables, turned and saw the cart through the window and exclaimed, "It is them!" and lifting up the sides of her gown, opened the door and rushed into the rain.
"The silly woman!" muttered Buaji, hastily wiping her hand on her apron, "Worried her family will catch a cold when she herself runs into the rain hatless." And hatless herself, Mistress Madhumati, rushed out into her garden.
The relieved greeting and hugs and kisses upon the wet, shivering Kushi followed the worried whines poured upon Payal's bruised foot as she was carried into the house in her father's arms was enough to make the neighbors assume that the house was hit by a windstorm.
Once they were all dried, and sitting warmed before the fireplace, drinking hot coffee, the family huddled to hear all the events that took place.
After Payal's "foot" tale was narrated, it was Kushi's turn and, avoiding the dungeon and its aftermath, she simply stated that her need at the Castle had expired for Lady Lavanya was presently a well-flourished woman whom Nani and Lady Anjali had come to like. When asked why she had been delayed by a day in arriving at home, she said that the carriage had broken and they had to take refuge in a hermit's hut before daybreak brought for them a promising line of traveling gypsies and their carts.
"We were riding along the riverside, aiming for the forest, when we saw someone who walked liked her head towards our direction," said Babuji, "Had her climb onto the cart just when it began to rain. We had pondered whether to stop and seek shelter but we decided against expending more time in open grasslands. The quicker we reached home, the safer."
The elders resumed the conversation then, leaving the girls to their little world before the fireplace.
"Was he cruel to you?" asked Payal, leaning towards her sister to brush of a portion of some leaf that was stuck in the younger one's hair.
"No," said Kushi and her mind was filled with memories, making her voice sound faraway to her, "No, he was not cruel at all."
And that was all she said because just then Buaji had announced that dinner was readied.
As they enjoyed the warm soup and the dishes, sitting happily around the dining table, Buaji asked Kushi, "Bitiya, does the General write to you anymore?"
Kushi looked up from her plate and paused before answering firmly, "No, he doesn't."
"Did something go wrong?"
"No," said Kushi, spooning her peas, "It's just that I wasn't quite content with conversing with him anymore. For the good of many and for his good and mine, we seem to have decided to stop our 'written acquaintance' without telling each other."
"I see," said Buaji, "He was a good man but I suppose not good enough for you, then."
Babuji smiled and Garima nodded, relieved, and then proceeded to enjoy their little family reunion. And it was a reunion indeed, for Kushi was no longer needed to leave home again for work at the Castle.
The laughter of her family drowned as she stared, thoughtfully, at the fire crackling in the furnace.
The life at the Castle was to become a thing of the past and she had a whole new future before her. A future where the Castle would no longer be a part of, Kushi's mind was certain, but she knew her heart was not.
Chapter One Hundred Nineteen: The Apparition
He was angry as he walked to and fro, "What was he doing there?" And then he stopped and wondered, "What was she doing there?" Did they...
The General sat on the bedding in his tent, fuming within while picking up his boots to polish them late that night. Two more weeks and he would be back at the Castle but he wasn't thinking of it presently. The only things that were recurring in his mind and making him grit his jaw were Kushi's loveless response and her father's suspicious intrusion to make matters more vexing.
"Nothing seems to work for my agreeable end," he muttered, scrubbing hard at his boots, "Like there is something that stops me from getting rid of this meddling curse!"
In the darkness and silence of the forbidding night, when all the soldiers were fast asleep, here he was, polishing his boots, unable to sleep and wanting to occupy his mind away from wretched thoughts. But they still kept coming back to him.
Just then, out of nowhere, the sensation of a pair of tiny fingers brushed past his ankle and he shot up, panicked, and stepped away from his bedding. His boots were dropped onto the ground as he stared at the place he'd been sitting. There was no one there.
Had he imagined it? Was his over-wrought mind working on him?
And then he saw it. The shadow of a little girl outside his tent flap, illuminated by the candlelight inside his tent.
Without a moment's hesitation, he picked up his sword and drew the tent flap apart.
There was no girl there.
He let the flap fall to shut his tent opening and saw that there was no shadow either.
Am I really hallucinating?
He turned around to place his sword back on his table when he saw, with horrid fear, the little girl from his nightmares sitting upon his tabletop, her legs crossed under her pale frilled frock.
Her hair was let loose, its tips reaching up to her shoulders, and she sat, looking away from him, her eyes on the tiny framed painting that was propped upon his table.
"Who are you?" he asked warily, not moving.
The girl seemed to ignore him and her fingers reached out and picked up the painting of his wife.
"Put that down," he said, more because he didn't want the creepy girl touching his things.
The girl still refrained from looking at him and before he could stop her, she threw the painting down onto the dusty ground with an angry hurl.
General Jha frowned, stepped towards the table hesitantly. With his eyes still on the girl, whose face was in the shadow of her fallen hair, he bent down and picked up the painting.
"You mustn't touch things that do not belong to you," he warned her, and placed the painting back on the table.
He stepped away, his eyes still on the girl and just when he was a few feet away from her, her fingers shot out again, picked up the painting and hurled it more violently to the floor.
He didn't move this time. He only stared, unsure if he should dare to near her. She seemed to be no ordinary child and he knew this was probably a dream. He only wanted to wake up.
The painting had fallen on its back and his wife's gentle face looked up at the ceiling of the tent. But he didn't wasn't looking at the painting. He was looking at the girl.
She had lifted her head to look into his eyes and with sheer terror, he saw how red blood streamed like tears from her glazed eyes. And adding to his mixed horror, the red teardrops slid from the girl's pale face and fell onto the face of his wife's framed picture, marring her pale cheeks and tender eyes with the ominous red drops.
"No!" he yelled and stepped away, tripping on one of his boots that lay on the floor and falling backwards. He groaned when he hit the floor but hastily looked up to see if the child was about to do something.
But there was no child.
He looked down at the painting on the floor. There were no red drops on it.
This cannot be a dream, he knew, and then he frowned into the air, I don't know who you are or what you want, meddling little twit! But I will not let you mess with my head anymore. I will make this curse end and end your visions once and for all!
And then he stood up, placed the painting back on his table and gritted his teeth, "I will make you want me, Kushi. I so will. No one is going to stop me from this."
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