“Good aim! But that sorry-looking insult to all weapons is not going to take you very far.”
Mauri jumped out of her skin. The man who had found her out was a complete stranger. A closer look at him told her he was a Rakshasa. Her first instinct was to make a run towards the exit. It would be only a matter of time before this Rakshasa would go and tell Ghatotkacha. Then it struck her that she had never seen this man in Ghatotkacha’s team! Who was he?
“Your secret is safe with me, little one!” He beamed. The broken canine on his upper jaw could not be missed. He took her arm but she shook him off. “Alright! Remember girl, I am your well-wisher.”
“I don’t even know who you are!” Mauri backed away.
“Someone who can protect you from…,” he smirked and pointed to the gap between the two ornate pillars close to where she was hiding, “them”
Mauri peered through the gap. She could count up to six guards furiously searching for the culprit who had dared strike Krishna Vaasudeva. The foolhardy nature of her attempt struck her now. How had she even dreamt of escaping the heavily guarded palace after doing what she’d done?
“Come with me.” He held her arm. “If you want to escape without being seen, that is.” His voice assumed a lower note. “And if you want to get another chance at your target.”
Unsure and still guided by her frustration, Mauri followed him towards a secluded section of the vast palace garden. When she left the place a good couple of hours later, her mind reeled at the task before her. It was too much, what the Rakshasa had asked of her. But she could not have afforded to be caught by the palace guards. Possibly she could have lied about her aim going wrong when she was trying to get some fruit. The news would still have travelled to Dhatri, though, and who knew how she would react? On the other hand, the prospects that this Rakshasa promised, though at great risk, seemed more welcome. Mauri continued to walk in a daze, aimless and unmindful of the maze of paths. A shrill cry calling out to her brought her back to this world.
“Mauri! Where on earth did you disappear?!”Nandini ran up to her, and not very far behind was Dhatri!
For the first time, Mauri found herself tongue-tied, at a loss for explanations. “I…I came with Ghatotkacha. I lost my way.”
“Any guard would have guided you out of this place.” Dhatri’s voice had traces of annoyance. “And why did you not even inform us before leaving?” She sighed as Mauri slipped back into silence again. “I found us a caravan headed eastward. Let us quickly take leave of our hosts and start this afternoon.”
Mauri followed her without a word. She needed to be in Dhatri’s good books. “Mahadevi…after going back to Kamarupa, can I live with you?”
She saw Dhatri halt in her steps and look visibly delighted. She heard Nandini squeal with joy. Neither had a clue of what was going on in her mind.
When they left Indraprastha later in the day, Mauri looked back at the glorious looking arch receding into the distance. She had not taken leave of Ghatotkacha. It would have been nice to see him just one more time!
Formerly an analyst with a Venture capital firm, Saiswaroopa currently writes Puranic fiction, with a focus on lesser known heroines of Ancient India. Mauri is her third work of fiction after Abhaya and Avishi. Her interests include Carnatic Music, Philosophy, History and Literature of India. She won a state level gold medal from TTD in rendering Annamacharya Kritis. She holds an MBA from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.