It’s The Princess’s Wish
November 3, 2010 1 Comment
It was a quirk of geography that Mel and Keezh Naadu’s were wedged between the sea on the east and a range of hills on the west and vast uninhabited lands to the north and the south, removed from other kingdoms in the peninsula. Historically the two lands had, for most times, very amicable relations between them. King Sujeeva of Mel Naadu too had very good relations with King Veerasena and his vivacious Queen Saudamini of Keezh Nadu. They were guests often at each other’s residences, going out on hunting expeditions, performing yagna’s, enjoying soirees and reading poetry in private and generally relaxing in each other’s company. There was just one cloud in their sunny sky – Prince Ugrasena, the only son of King Veerasena. He was smitten by his childhood playmate, now a beautiful maiden, Princess Mandakini, also the only daughter of King Sujeeva. Unfortunately for him, the friendly feelings of the Princess towards him did not transform over time into romantic interest. And King Sujeeva would not go against her wishes. The three parents believed and hoped that the Prince would grow out of it in course of time.
King Sujeeva could ignore all the pin-pricks of the Prince, kept in check by his parents. And one day, the news came in of the King Veerasena’s suddenly failing health stricken by some strange ailment. He rushed the best Vaidya’s in his land to go over and attend to the indisposed King. King Sujeeva too made a number of visits to learn at first-hand about the well-being of the bed-ridden King and speak words of comfort to the much worried Queen.
Meanwhile as advised by his ministers, the sick King announced crowning of the Prince as his successor that only stoked the latter’s increasing and unseemly belligerency in his pursuit of the Princess.
King Veerasena never recovered from his illness. King Sujeeva stayed back after the royal funeral for a few days until normalcy returned to the palace and the Queen had recovered from her benumbing grief.
After a period of lull, one day the Prince stormed into the court of King Sujeeva and threatened to whisk the Princess away by force if she did not consent to marriage before the third full-moon – he would wait not for a day more. With King Veerasena dead, the threats held out by the Prince could no longer be ignored. King Sujeeva neither had the will nor a strong enough force to stop his now-dead ally’s son Ugrasena in his stride. He appealed to the Queen to rein in the Prince while in his own mind doubting her capacity to. She bemoaned her son was proving intractable and he was being goaded by a manic cavalry commander into seeing grand visions of lording over both the lands. She warned the King to be careful when he visited them for he could be taken into custody and thrown into a prison by the unscrupulous pair. On a different occasion, she overheard them talking about mobilizing the forces, getting them armed and ready. Both were deeply anguished at the sad turn of events and were aware the outcome whatever would be unpleasant.
King Sujeeva called his council of ministers for counsel. Various options available were discussed, none viable: The Princess could quietly slip away to a foreign land or she could be married off in a hurry to the most suitable man around. Neither course would be of help – the Prince would launch an attack on Mel Naadu and take out his wrath on the kingdom. He was so intent that, God forbid, even if the Princess took her life in desperation, he would still hold the kingdom responsible for his loss. One even suggested kicking off a canard that the Princess’s horoscope has strong malefic planet in the 8th house: She did not have ‘mangalya bhagyam’ implying whoever married her would suffer an untimely death. That was clearly double-edged for no one will marry her thereafter. Also this serious flaw surfacing at the twelfth hour – no one would seriously believe it.
To the King’s dismay, they had little else to suggest – a dead-end it was. Before they dispersed, they had stopped just short of overtly recommending the Princess marry Ugrasena and save the people of Mel Naadu from the ravages of an unequal war.
There were a couple of more such sterile sessions that did not produce any useful thoughts on untying the knot.
The days passed and there was only a week left now before the time ran out. It broke the heart of everyone to see their King dragging himself to and from his court – there was pallor on his face, circles around his sleepless eyes, discernible slouch in his postures and visibly careless with his royal regalia. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ugrasena would make good his threat. If the King stood up and threw his own army at the foe, the outcome would be the same though delayed with additional loss of lives and property. At the same time it would kill him to let his daughter down. The King was a vexed man.
The Princess chose to be confined to her living quarters.
An air of gloom had settled on the palace like winter chill just as uneasiness and uncertainty on the kingdom at large.
On the second night before the Day…
(To be contd.)