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Arhasia awake... Aura is back, to bring sunshine smiles on your faces with Linny's update!!!
I may not be able to PM you all directly but I am hoping some of our comrades and readers will be able to help me in letting you all know...Sorry for any inconveniences caused. Thank you so much my dear Shas for helping me out. Linny misses you all very badly and conveyed her regards and love to you all. Our exams start on May 23rd and we request all of you to pray for us so that your prayers may accompany us in our efforts...
Aquiline's message: Missing you all tons, my dearest Readers and Comrades. Even my Silent Readers! Aura told me of the new visitor of Arhasia by the name Jahnvi having accomplished the task of acquainting herself with the tale so far. Would love to thank dear Meg for bringing Jahnvi along to the Inn and also thank you dear Jahnvi for enrolling thyself as one of my beloved Comrades. Waiting for the day I can personally welcome you to my timid heart''.
There is a very important thing that I want all the lovers of IPKKND and the readers of this tale to remember. Arnav and Kushi are NOT "star-crossed" lovers. I've seen it mentioned in the Cottage and Inn many times but I never had the right mind to point it out until I saw it somewhere quite recently again and this time I could not hold it any longer. Despite the 'feel' you get of what the words 'mean', if you will 'search' what "star-crossed lovers" really means, you will know that it is truer, safer, better and happier if we do not refer to our lovers as "star-crossed." Literally, the term is not a nice one at all. For an easy search, you only need to search the 'synonyms' of the term. Or maybe an 'example' would suffice: TITANIC. So, pray, kindly refrain yourself henceforth from naming our lead lovers to be "star-crossed."
Chapter One Hundred Sixty: Crossing Paths
The soap frothed and slid down his hand as HariPrakash scrubbed at the collar of the soaked shirt he was holding in the wash tub. He paused his scrubbing for a moment and looked up, blinking across the sun-touched afternoon grass.
He frowned seeing who was coming towards him.
"What are you doing ambling about dreaming, Jay-jan?" Hari Prakash said, nodding at the two pails JayPrakash was holding, "You still not filled them buckets?"
"I'll fill 'em, alright," JayPrakash said impatiently, coming to stand beside his brother near the hand pump, "it's not like the water's going togo on a pilgrimage or something!"
HariPrakash shook his head and resumed his focus on the washing, "You are getting lazier by the day. Om-jan and I can't help wonder what's gotten into you!"
"Well, you two don't worry about me," JayPrakash flashed a boyish smile but HariPrakash was too busy scrubbing the clothes to see it, "You just worry away about the Castle and its affairs."
HariPrakash stopped and frowned at his brother, "We all need to worry about the Castle and its affairs! We are the Prakash brothers, mind! We don't laze around and think the world will take care of itself. It's we who do the taking care around here and so we must be vigilant and always working away."
JayPrakash blinked, "I already know that! Whatever do you mean by rephrasing it for me, Hari-jan?"
"What he means," said a voice from behind them and they looked towards the backdoor of the Castle to see OmPrakash at the doorway, "is that you stop fooling with your time and get those pails filled!"
JayPrakash grunted as he placed the pails on the ground and slid one underneath the hand pump.
With OmPrakash and HariPrakash watching, JayPrakash toiled at the hand pump, trying to fill both the pails with water as was expected of him.
While he was working at the hand pump, OmPrakash walked up to them and peered into the wash tub that was positioned before HariPrakash, "How much longer?"
"A few more minutes," HariPrakash replied, "Why? Is there something else to be done? I thought the Lords had gone to the Industry and the Ladies were taking their afternoon naps."
"That they are," said HariPrakash matter-of-factly, "But Lord Manohar's in the living room and he gave us orders to take the afternoon off from the Castle so we can go to the South Temple and help with the wedding preparations."
JayPrakash stopped pushing the lever of the handpump and looked at them, "I thought tonight was the Full Moon Festival. So ain't the wedding tomorrow night?"
"Yes, it is," said HariPrakash.
"So then why prepare the Temple today itself?" JayPrakash queried, "We need only go tomorrow morning to get it all done, right?"
"We are not going today to prepare the Temple, you love-struck dreamer," said OmPrakash sternly, "We are going to assist Master Gupta to plan what things he needs done before the wedding."
JayPrakash sighed and continued pumping water into the second pail, "I'll tell you this. I have never felt much like a servant in this place. You know why?" he didn't pause for them to answer and continued talking while pumping the water, "Because for every grand occasion, they need us to grant the efficiencies. Now take for instance the present situation: it's one of our Master's wedding. And who gets to do the major part in the planning and preparations?" Again he paused and hardly a second or two had passed before he answered it himself, "US! It's us that does all the things! It's like we are family. Important members of the family. Let me ask you, what would this place be without us?"
HariPrakash and OmPrakash looked at each other and grinned and then OmPrakash addressed the monologist, "Your point being?"
JayPrakash stopped working on the pump, and stepped forward, "If after all the things we're doing for this wedding, they don't INVITE us to SEE the actual wedding ceremony'.."
HariPrakash raised his eyebrows quizzically, "'...You will? What will you do if they don't invite you?"
OmPrakash suddenly broke into laughter, "You're missing the point here, Hari-jan! What our Jay-jan meant was he HAS to witness the wedding at all costs!"
"Aye?" HariPrakash appeared surprised, "And why is that?"
"Coz he's planning to take it as training for his own little''.." OmPrakash winked at HariPrakash and HariPrakash chuckled, "Of course! How could I have overlooked that! Why else would our dreamer brother want to desperately see the marriage!"
JayPrakash went red in the face, "Oh, knock it off you two! I am here speaking of feeling family with the Castle inmates and you two are teasing with my temperament?"
OmPrakash nudged his elbow against HariPrakash's, "More like tickling his mental romances!"
Both OmPrakash and HariPrkash broke into laughter here and a fuming JayPrakash was so humiliated by the remarks that, in brotherly annoyance, he kicked at the water tub and the soapy water sloshed over HariPrakash's and OmPraskash's pants, halting their humorous laughter.
They frowned down at their wet attire and then scowled up at their brother who smiled impishly and said simply, "It's too bad you two loveless folks have not a girl to run to when you need some loving."
HariPrakash narrowed his gaze, "If by chance you mean that you are the only one with dry pants'.," he kicked at the tub from his side and water spilt over JayPrakash's shoes, who gasped, "My new shoes!" and looked up while HariPrakash and OmPrakash chuckled.
"What are you three doing?" a curious voice asked and they gulped down their laughing in panic and looked towards the backdoor of the Castle, expecting to see one of the Ladies there, but it was only Kushi, stepping down towards them with a cheerful smile.
"Miss Kushi?" HariPrakash smiled in relief, "What are you doing here? Did you come alone or are all the Guptas here?"
"No, I am here alone," said Kush, "You already know that it is forbidden for my Jiji and Lord Akash to meet each other since the loutraceremony is over and we await the marriage. But I was sent here to hand back Lady Anjali's gown that I had borrowed last day and also to tell you three that you were to come with me to my house presently. Besides, Ram dropped me on his way to the North Village so if I must return to the Village, I will need to borrow one of the Castle carriages."
"We'll gladly ride you to the Village, Miss Kushi," smiled HariPrakash, "But if you will excuse us, we need to change our clothes since our appearances are too wet, currently, and not quite presentable outside this territory."
Kushi smiled, "Yes, I see that too much fraternal fun has indeed wetted your pants!"
They all laughed together and JayPrakash winked at her, "Say, Miss Kushi, do you want to join in the fun and wet your pretty gown?"
"No, I daren't," Kushi giggled, "No tricks of that sort or Amma will have me by my ear the moment I walk through our door!"
"I'll say, your gown's too pretty to wet anyway," nodded HariPrakash, "But I liked the gown you wore yesterday better, Miss Kushi'...for the loutra ceremony."
"Which one?" JayPrakash looked at his brother, "She wore two gowns yesterday. And my, if I remember right," he looked at her, "You had wetted your gown last day indeed! So you're the winner in this game being the first to have scored a wet attire!"
They laughed over this and then HariPrakash said, "Well, I suppose if we need to make it to the South Village before sundown, we best stop talking nonsense get changed soon enough."
Kushi watched as the men began heading for the backdoor of the Castle.
HariPrakash, being the last one to trudge back, was passing by when he looked at her and said, "You needn't wait for us here, Miss Kushi. You can go and wait in the stable and because you are a sweet girl, we want you to pick the horses for our carriage ride today."
Kushi smiled, nodding, and headed for the stable.
On reaching the stable, she pushed open the huge barn doors, meeting with the familiar stench of horse sweat and dry hay, as she stepped into the heated barn.
It was dark in the barn being closed every which way. The afternoon sunlight feebly flitted through the small overhead vents for ventilation and the slightly opened barn door through which she had walked in.
With the help of this generous share of light and her own familiarity with the barn, Kushi made her way through the barn, her boots crunching on the thin layer of dry hay scattered on the floor and the hem of her gown sliding gently over the wooden floor.
As she walked past the closed stalls, her eyes scanned each horsehead that was curiously peering down at her from over short door of each stall, and she was not sure how she was to make a choice.
Suddenly she stopped before a stall and found herself looking up into the eyes of a white horse, the mane of which glowed almost silver in the little light penetrating into the barn.
She blinked curiously, "Why! I think I've seen you before'..." She reached out a hand and paused to see if the horse would flinch. Shadow always flinched. He never liked anyone touching him or riding him expect for his lordly master!
But this white horse stood still, watching her with beautiful watery eyes, and Kushi smiled.
Her hand braved forward and her fingers touched the horse's soft mane.
The horse still didn't move away in fear or annoyance. It stood there, waiting and watching.
In fact, it seemed to like her'...as though she were familiar to it''.
Kushi caressed the silver mane of the horse and whispered, "You are beautiful''.but why is it that I feel as though I know you."
She frowned in thought, trying to remember.
A memory flashed through her mind'...she lay on the grass, wet and dripping from a fall into the stormy river and she was looking up at the handsome man who had saved her and behind him stood the white horse, watching them'..
"Lightning?" Kushi blinked at the horse in shock, "What are you-?"
"You remember''?" a warm voice spoke from somewhere in the barn's darkness and Kushi's shocked gaze swung to find the tall handsome man of memory move from the unseeing darkness towards her, stepping to stand before her so that the light from the door fell upon his frame and his face and she could see him.
"General Shyam?" Kushi was surprised, "How did you come to be here? And your horse-"
She looked at Lightning and then back again at the General, "When did you return from the East?"
"Roughly a week ago''." he said coolly. He was dressed in his soldierly uniform, looking smart and strong, and all the medals on his attire glittered when he casually shuffled where he stood.
"But what are you doing here? At the Castle?" Kushi was too surprised at the unexpectedness, "Of all the places, I would never have expected you to be found in this place."
"And why is that?" he tilted his head inquisitively and a strand of his smartly combed hair fell over his forehead.
"Well''" Kushi didn't know how to answer it and tried again, "Well, I suppose, there is a possibility that one could find soldiers and Generals visiting the Castle with it being the home of the Lords of the land and''." Kushi paused, remembering something, and then her face brightened, "Oh wait! I know! You came here to meet Lady Anjali's husband! I've heard he's a soldier too! Though I don't remember what post he holds'''"
The General's eyebrows rose in surprise, "You are a very clever girl, Miss Kushi, and I must say, one who is bestowed with very good memory too!"
Kushi nodded cheerily, "Babuji always tells me so'..'"
Mentioning her father immediately reminded her of the last night she had seen the General and she frowned at him, "I shouldn't be talking to you, really, General Shyam, what with the scare you gave me that night you sneaked into Buaji's garden."
"I had come there for a reason, Miss Kushi," he said apologetically, "And I am most sorry I offended you by that unfortunate visit of mine. If you will forgive me, I would be grateful, for I wish not to hurt a beautiful angel as you."
"I am sorry," said Kushi, looking at the ground, "But I was most hurt by what you told me. I had never seen you in any other way but as a loyal friend. By that visit, you marred a most wonderful bond. We could have remained close confidantes through letters if you had been more reasonable."
"Forgive me, I beg then, Miss Kushi," the General spoke in a remorseful tone, "After I left you that night, I knew what I had lost. The war was hard upon me and meddled with my senses before coming to you. I should have stopped to think of the consequences, or better yet, thought of how we wished to cherish the purity of our friendship, as you say''"
Kushi sighed, "You do understand, then, General, why I was angry with you?"
"I certainly do, Miss Kushi," said the General, "But tell me, have you forgiven me?"
Kushi looked up at him and felt the white horse beside them nudge at the top of her head, as though beckoning with its Master to get Kushi's forgiveness.
"Alright, you two," Kushi smiled, "I forgive you."
The General was grateful, "You have relieved me of a great sorrow, Miss Kushi, for my heart no more weighs with irredeemable agony that I will lose your kind heart. Though you have no need to forgive Lightning for she was innocent of that visit of mine," the General smiled at his horse.
"True!" said Kushi, and then she nodded at Lightning, "Say, Lightning? If you were here only for a visit, why are you put in one of the permanent stalls?"
The horse blinked incomprehensibly and the General looked at Kushi.
"There are no permanent stalls in this barn, Miss Kushi," chuckled the General, "Whoever gave you that idea?"
Kushi blushed in embarrassment, "There aren't? Oh, it must have been my misreading then. You see, when my family comes to visit, we don't let the horses into the stall. We just keep them waiting here'..outside the stall, but within the barn."
The General smiled, "That is very humble of your family, but I am certain you can let your horses wait in the stall if you want to."
"It's easier to take them out when they are not in the stalls," reasoned Kushi.
The General shrugged, "Might I ask you why you are in the stable presently, Miss Kushi? Do you still work here for Lady Lavanya?"
"Oh no, I don't! You are not aware of the latest happenings, I am certain. You see, it's my sister's wedding tomorrow and I've come to escort the Prakash brothers to help Babuji prepare for the wedding. She is being wedded off to the Second Lord."
"Most marvelous news, indeed! Your sister must be really happy. And it is quite kind of the Raizadas to let you have the Prakash brothers be spared from their loaded Castle work and help out in the Village."
Kushi nodded and then she looked up at him enquiringly, "You sound like you know a lot about the Castle''."
"Why wouldn't I?" the General pointed out, "I probably know this Castle more than you know it, Miss Kushi."
"I highly doubt that," Kushi said cleverly, "Remember, I've worked here as a handmaid to Lady Lavanya, and those few weeks rendered me ample knowledge about the Castle."
"Really?" the General was impressed, "But tell me, do you know about the history of this Castle and all about the Raizada family?"
Kushi was thoughtful, "Well'..no. Such things are private matters and the Raizadas are not quite open folk like those we have at the village."
"That is very true! The Raizadas are a secretive lot," the General nodded seriously, "The Castle itself is a cavern of secrets and mysteries, unknown truths hidden in the darkness''"
Kushi looked at him, amazed, "And I suppose you attained this knowledge from your frequent visits to the Castle'.."
"That is the plus point of being a familiar Castle guest like me," the General nodded with a smile. "I really love listening to you, Miss Kushi and I most sorely missed your letters when they stopped coming but I hope we shall resume our friendship henceforth."
"If you will promise to not give me any more scary visits in the night," Kushi grinned.
The General looked at his white horse, "Did you hear that, Lightning? You are not to let your horse hoofs find themselves clip-clopping up her bedroom."
Kushi chuckled, "I am sure Lightning's a good girl." Kushi patted the horse and the horse neighed warmly at her, "You take of yourself andyour Master, Lightning."
"That she will," the General winked at his horse, "There is no loyal horse to be found as loyal as my Lightning here."
Kushi smiled, "Well, I think Shadow's a mighty loyal one."
The General looked at her, surprised that she knew Shadow.
Kushi assumed that his expression was because he didn't know who Shadow was, "Shadow's the First's Lord horse."
"I know that, Miss Kushi," the General said, "It's just interesting to find that you knew it too."
"Oh, I've ridden on him plenty of times," said Kushi and she frowned at the floor, "Well, actually I was forced to ride him those plenty of times."
"Dire circumstances?" the General looked at her, suddenly interested.
"Accidental circumstances, actually," Kushi confessed.
The General nodded absentmindedly and didn't seem to like what was being discussed. He looked at Lightning and then smiled at Kushi, "Well, I've overstayed my time here. I should part now for I have errands waiting to fulfill. I was just about to take Lightning out from the stall when I heard you enter."
"Well, I best not keep you stalling anymore then," said Kushi, "If encouraged, I am an exceptional conversationalist."
"I am well aware of that, Miss Kushi, and it is a trait anyone would first reckon to admire you for," the General placed his hat on his head and respectfully nodded at her.
Kushi watched as he geared up the white horse, led it out of the stall and climbed up on its back.
"See you later, then Miss Kushi," said the General, looking at her over his shoulder as he picked up the reins, "And I hope we shall not find anything in the future that will mar our renewed friendship."
"As do I," Kushi bowed courteously and then the General and Lightning were gone.
The voices of the Prakash brothers approaching the stable could be heard but Kushi was frowning at the darkness of the empty stall in which Lightning had been standing, "How stupid of me to think that the stalls were for the horses that were permanent to the Family of the Raizada Castle''"
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