Into the Woods
It was a muscular beast with long horns that stood in a loincloth. It laughed, baring its razor sharp teeth and widening its bloodshot eyes. Its long spiky hair extended to its legs.
I was frozen. It was the first time I had seen an Asura.
My mother looked at my 5-year-old self, desperately thinking of a way to get me out of the room.
"Don't worry about the child. You'll be dead by the time I get to her," the Asura said.
Before my mother could make a move, he grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to himself. Savoring the terror in her eyes, he put his forefinger under her chin and pricked the skin with his long nail. Blood oozed out of my mother's chin and trickled onto the floor.
"Maa!" I screamed helplessly.
"You think I'll kill you? Your fate is much worse," he whispered.
As she realized what was about to happen to her, tears rolled down my mother's face and mixed with the blood below.
The monster slammed her onto the floor. She groaned and quivered in pain.
Fear left me as I ran to save my mother. When I got close, the Asura kicked me in the stomach. I flew a few yards away and landed on my head.
"Wait for your turn." It smirked.
When I tried to get up, I started vomiting blood. The lights in my head were dimming. The room darkened. Mustering all my strength, I lifted my head up and saw the monster force itself into my screaming mother before I dropped.
I woke up and saw my servant Kaveri sitting beside my bed. Worry lines showed in her wrinkled face. "You were having that dream. I decided to wake you up."
She put her hand on my cheek. "Go and bathe. Today is lord Indra's birthday, remember? The servants are going to the foothills of the mountains to pluck flowers for the celebration. Why don't you join us?"
"I love that place!" I squealed.
"I know. Go get ready."
I got up and rushed out of the bedroom. It was my father's 50th birthday and I was eager to greet him. Finishing my ablutions and slipping into a grand red saree, I went out. The morning sun lit the distant snow-clad mountains with a painter's vision. The village was bustling with groups of women and men chatting and kids running around. As I walked past them, I greeted back as many people as I could and thanked them for compliments on how I looked in the saree. I pinched the children's cheeks and made faces that had them bursting into laughter. I finally found my father in a meeting with the chiefs of all the villages. They were sitting before the peepal tree. My father was seated on the platform right under the tree. He was decked up in gilded clothes and was wearing his crown which shimmered in the daylight with its precious stones. The chiefs sat in front of him, on the chairs that the servants had arranged for them the previous day.
"What do you mean he saw a ghost again? Horseshit! Double the security there. If sentinels keep spreading rumours, how will we know what's a real threat? Tomorrow, this ghost could actually be an Asura!"
That's when my father noticed me and his mood switched instantly. His grey beard parted to flash a grin.
"Happy 50th birthday, father!"
The chiefs stood up paying their respects to me. I gestured for them to sit down.
"Veena, are you sure it's 50? I don't think mathematics is your strongpoint," he joked.
"If it's not my strongpoint, why do you ask me to audit the budget every year? If I had gotten the allocations wrong, our chiefs here would have rebelled against you."
The chiefs laughed.
"Who needs a warrior-son when they have a daughter who can turn words into arrows?" my father proudly proclaimed.
He turned to me. "I'll meet you for lunch."
This usually meant that he needed my advice on something. For the past five years, since I was 20, vital aspects of administration were discussed over lunch between us. I couldn't participate in the chiefs' meetings openly as I was a woman and traditions had to be adhered to, but everyone knew that lord Indra's most trusted advisor was none other than his daughter.
I went to the servants' quarters which were a group of huts at the corner of the village. Kaveri was waiting there with a gaggle of servants. They were all dressed up and carrying baskets. Kaveri was holding two baskets- one of which was for me. As I came, she handed me mine.
"Alright girls, let's go," I said.
They smiled and didn't budge.
I turned to Kaveri. "What are we waiting for?"
"I sent word to the sentinels at the northern border to come and guard us while we pluck flowers. It'll take time for them to reach the foothills. We should wait for some time and go so that they will join us when we get there."
"Why did you do that? We aren't going that far."
"When the Deva princess accompanies us, every precaution must be taken."
"Are soldiers necessary when you're with me?" I teased. "If an Asura shows up, I know you'll save me like a tigress protecting her cub."
The servants giggled, but Kaveri looked as if I said something scandalous. The worry lines from the morning reappeared on her forehead. She quickly looked away before others could read her face.
"I'll go see if I can get something to eat on the way," she muttered and walked away to her hut.
This was not the first time that something like this had happened. After my mother was taken away as a prisoner by the Asuras 20 years ago, Kaveri had acted weird from time to time throughout my childhood and teenage years. If I had done something wrong, she would reprimand me using harsh words that no other servant would dare use against me. She would later cry about it and apologize. Whenever I memorized or explained something complex that I had learnt from the tutor, she would be bursting with pride for one moment and act indifferent the next. She hugged and kissed me so frequently that my father sometimes looked embarrassed seeing it. When she was depressed or in a bad mood, she would come to me and say cryptic stuff I never fully understood. All these incidents should have led me to the unmistakable conclusion about who she was, but certain things are obvious only in retrospect.
The servants and I began gossiping about a couple in the village who were always fighting and went on tangents about their other family members. By the time Kaveri returned with a basket full of fruits, we had covered 2 generations worth of their family history.
"You girls have such remarkable memories for useless things," she teased.
We decided to start and walked toward the woods leading up to the radiant mountains. I imagined flowers swaying in the morning wind at the foothills as we made our way toward them. We chatted and giggled as the greenery swallowed us.
P.S: I've put a lot of time and effort into this story. So, please vote and spread the word if you like it!