I am writing after a long break, I know. Three things I would like to say here,
- I am not returning from hiatus.
- The story and plot are fully mine; whereas I have borrowed some characters from the world-famous Bāhubali franchise. Accordingly, I declare here that this is intended as fan-fiction only.
- I hope you read this after watching both movies. It’ll be better that way. (but, it’s not a rule)
I’ve missed you badly, WordPress. And I am going to continue missing you. But, here is a short (long?) story for all the fans of Bāhubali out there.
Without further ado, behold the world of Amarendra Bāhubali.
When Love is All…
“So, what you do you think?” asked Devasena. The fingers on her hands entwined with each other and shivered slightly. The woman in front of her frowned as she held Devasena’s right wrist.
“Shh,” she told the impatient Yuvarani. The veins of her wrinkled hand popped slightly as her grip tightened. The other hand counted rapidly off her fingers.
“Let her count in peace, Amma,” Karthiga whispered in Devasena’s ear. She nodded, but kept up the furtive rhythm on her foot. The many bells of her anklet chimed. A whiff of cool air from the fan Karthiga was waving towards her, made some hair at the back of her neck stand up. She forced herself to relax. The woman was ancient; she should be respected for her age and wisdom.
At once, Devasena stopped her foot-tapping. She let her fingers ease out of their tight hold.
That day had been very eventful. She had woken up at dawn for her usual prayers and had hoped that her husband would return. Her Amarendra Bāhubali was not at their home. He had started running drills with the new recruits for the Royal Army a week ago. Kattappa Ayya was his constant companion since. The prayers were followed by a nasty bout of vomiting. After a tense mental calculation, she had sent for the healer. Amarendra would have turned grave if she had so much as sneezed in his presence. She missed his warming presence. A flurry of emotions shook her as her thoughts strayed to him.
Her husband. It was disarming to call him husband even to herself. It was two months since their wedding, but she hadn’t quite wrapped her head around it. Devasena felt her mind scramble for sanity as she remembered the journey of their love. A neglected simpleton whom she had taken pity on. She laughed quietly. He was everything but a simpleton. The forced stoop to his shoulders had been easy to spot when they had met. But, the simpleton’s ‘Mama’ had vouched for him and she had quelled her doubt. One thing after the other proved that the ‘retarded’ Shivudu was no ordinary man.
“Amma,” interrupted the healer.
She opened her eyes immediately. Her senses fully alert, she managed to stop herself from physically shaking the frail woman.
“Tell me, Ammamma,” she asked softly instead.
In reply, the old woman smiled with a mouth having no teeth, and nodded at her. Devasena leaned back in her chair in a daze. Slowly, her lips widened and a red flush filled her cheeks.
“You have to be careful, Amma,” began the old woman. She held up a hand, and cut her off.
“Ammamma, I will listen to all you say.” She nodded to show her assent. When the woman frowned slightly and held the cup of her palm to her ear, she comprehended her partial deafness.
Devasena bade Karthiga close the door of the room. She raised the volume of her voice to speak to the old woman.
“I will do all that you say to take care, Ammamma. But, you have to give me your word for something,” she started.
“Anything, Amma. Tell me,” she swore and touched Devasena’s feet reverently. She immediately pulled her feet backwards.
“No, no. You are elder to me, Amma,” she admonished and gave her a seat.
“Please do not tell anyone of this right now. I ask you to do this for me,” Devasena begged.
“Of course, Amma. It will be like you ask.” The old woman held her hand and promised her.
“Now you can tell me what I should do.”
Karthiga brought forward a scroll and began to write down all that was said. After the healer left, Devasena asked Karthiga to remain quiet as well. Her prudence at being the Yuvarani of Mahishmati had kept the excitement at bay all along. Only when she had been left alone did the amazing news envelop her.
She was going to be a mother. The thundering heart inside her ribs had caught up to the fact. A small ache revealed itself and her arms wanted to be held in Bāhubali’s arms. His mischievous crooked smile filled her mind. The tingling in her arms intensified.
Her seat felt uncomfortable suddenly, and Devasena leapt to her feet to walk circles about the room. The pale blue silken curtains ruffled in the breeze for the evening had fallen then. One hand curved over her stomach. She looked down at it and smiled.
She retired to her bedroom and ate the food which had been set out by Karthiga. The girl was beside herself in excitement. And since she had been forbidden to talk to anyone about it, she chattered at Devasena. The pillows were fluffed and the sheet smoothed over the bed while Karthiga made a list of possible names for a possible baby girl. Her presence was soothing and she made Devasena giggle.
“What if it’s a boy, Karthiga?” she winked and asked her. The girl paused and dropped the cup of water she had been holding with a clatter and a splash.
“Oh no! I didn’t think of that at all!” she wailed in apparent distress. Devasena laughed happily at her expression.
“It’s all right, dear. Make another list,” she suggested.
“Yes, you are right, Amma. We can start with the Lord Shiva’s names! It will be perfect!” she had recalled the excitement over her horror. Devasena remembered Amarendra calling himself Shivudu when they had met. Lord Shiva. It would be perfect, she told herself.
‘What am I thinking? Amarendra does not know yet!’ her mind scolded her.
Karthiga kept up the flow of male names till she dismissed her. She had helped her remove some of her heavier jewellery pieces and draped a soft saree around her mistress in order to sleep comfortably.
The lights had been dimmed for only a few minutes when the room turned cold. Every night she had spent alone in Mahishmati had been alike. Her eyes moved to Bāhubali’s pillow. The sight of the empty side of the bed did not help. She sat up and pulled her knees up to her chin.
In her mind’s eye, she saw herself in their verandah. Her new pink saree fell in soft folds around her body. Amarendra was climbing up the steps towards her. The sun was setting softly right behind him. She checked her hurry and waited. Their eyes met. It arrested all motion and they simply stared. His eyes broke the spell and roved over her. The slight quivering in her limbs caught his attention and he started to climb faster.
He was a few feet away when she started to move. She let herself fall into the arms he held up at the right time. Something akin to ice flooded her veins as his fingers tangled in her hair which fell onto the small of her back. Her wrists locked themselves around his neck. The news she had been keeping filled her cheeks with a blush so deep that she placed her cheek against his. She didn’t want to look at his eyes directly.
“Tell me,” his voice rumbled through the whole of his body and she shivered.
“You,” she said.
“Me?” he asked.
She pressed her fingers into his shoulders. He tried to pull her away from his body to look into her eyes.
“No,” she ordered him. His hands stilled.
Her mouth breathed at his ear.
“You are going to be a father, my Amarendra,” she said softly. She let him loosen her grip and look into her eyes. Everything about him smiled. His eyes, his voice, his scent. The happiness oozed out of every pore of his body. She felt herself warmed to her core.
Back in her cold bed, Devasena hurt. She would tell him when he came back, she decided. Curling up into a foetal position, she dozed off.
The lotuses from her favourite pool spilled outside the bowl she had arranged them in. She had ridden long and hard for them. Her room was filled with their perfume. She wandered to the window when she had finished.
The sound of the fountain from the Kuntala palace courtyard was amplified to every corner of the palace. It was designed that way years ago. It was her home. It had been her home for years. When she had been a child, her sweet mother used to feed her food sitting next to the fountain. She smiled at the memory as she watched the droplets scatter into the air.
A soft song was heard as her sister-in-law walked inside. Music always accompanied her and Devasena felt all the sores of a day’s hard riding leave her body. They smiled at one another.
“Lie down and rest yourself, dear,” she said lovingly.
“I’m fine, Akka,” replied she. They had always felt their bond closer than that of sisters-in-law; she felt like her real sister.
The comforting thought shook her awake in the Mahishmati fort like good dreams often do. The sound of birds twittering at the windowsill aided the awakening. She cursed herself for the dream though. The truth was that she never admitted to herself the uneasy feeling her presence in the gloomy fortress caused her. There were only two souls inside the oppressive fort walls whom she trusted. Her Amarendra and their Kattappa. She knew no one else. No one knew her.
It had unsettled her, but she had never alluded to it. The vows he had made to her had rooted her firmly to his side. His love watered the roots consistently.
“Amma, you have to eat more than that,” chided Karthiga.
“Stop babying me, dear,” Devasena rolled her eyes.
“No, eat more,” said Karthiga and she ladled more dal into her bowl.
“I can’t. I’m nearly full,” she said.
“I don’t care. If Ayya was here, what would he say?” she glared. Devasena laughed.
“He wouldn’t know what you were hinting at. He’d probably never notice,” she replied.
“I will tell him word by word until he comprehends,” Karthiga retorted mischievously.
“You crazy girl!” said Devasena in alarm.
“You ought to tell him, Amma. He would celebrate a big festival if he knew!” she exclaimed.
“Just think of all the sweets and music and – “ she trailed off into wondrous thoughts.
“Silly Karthiga! Go and do something else.”
The girl jumped out of her reverie at the sound of her mistress’ voice and blushed before walking away with the empty dishes. Devasena was restless. Her young companion had reminded her of her dream from the previous night. If only Akka were here, she wondered. She would wait on her hand and foot. She would forbid her from even lifting up a finger. The idea of keeping her in one place amused her.
There is someone else who would be overjoyed at this, she reminded herself. The Raja Matha’s perfect circle of a face swam to the forefront of her thoughts.
Sivagami Devi. Her Amarendra’s mother. She sighed. She should have been by their side. She would have felt more at home in that grim fortress if Amma had accepted her. One warm look was all she had wanted. Even then, one loving motherly look was all it would take. One hand raised to bless them would be enough.
Amarendra had believed that his Amma would love her as much as she loved him. Little did they know then that she would give them both up. She would choose her pride over her love. Devasena had often thought that it was her who had transformed the palace of her dreams into an oppressive dwelling.
She turned restless. Her head snapped up from its bent position.
‘What is the matter with me?’ she thought. ‘This is the matter of Amarendra Bāhubali’s child. Who am I? Yuvarani Devasena of the Kuntala race. What am I waiting for?’ she asked herself. She rose and called to Karthiga.
“Amma?” Karthiga asked.
“Tell the guards to get the chariot ready. I am going to the Army Headquarters,” she ordered. Karthiga flew outside the door as soon as she heard her words.
Devasena’s bangles clicked together as she wrung her hands. She put on her soft slippers and waited. With Karthiga accompanying her, she went towards the chariot.
“Where to, Amma?” asked her driver Nallu.
“You sit in the chariot. I’m driving,” she replied.
“But – “ started Karthiga. Devasena knew that she was going to allude to her condition and hurriedly shook her head. Nallu was perplexed at the girl’s interruption because he had been asked to step aside from the driver’s seat several times by his mistress. Shrugging, he stepped into the back.
Devasena got hold of the reins. The horses cantered like the winds were chasing them. It was a short ride because their residence, the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mahishmati Royal Army was quite close to its headquarters. She passed the reins to Nallu and bade Karthiga wait there with him.
With every step, there was singing in Devasena’s ears. She forced herself to watch her feet. She knew that Amarendra would be in the training yard behind the building. So, she did not bother to walk to the door. The guards saluted her as she passed. When she reached the archery range, the guard running the drills there stopped the entire body of soldiers.
“Wait just a minute, Amma! I will bring your favourite bow!” He made to run back to the building. She stopped him with a raised hand. Her head shook and she greeted the soldiers with a Namaskara as she walked past them.
The sword-training section was right ahead. The singing in her head swelled to include the music of her Amarendra’s voice.
“You see how I twist the sword away from the enemy?” he fairly shouted to the watching trainees.
“Like this?” There was a clanging sound as a sword was dropped.
“Let us show them again, Krupa,” he said.
The group had converged around him in such a way that she was not visible to the centre of the ring. Some of the boys at the outer fringe spotted her and bowed. The circle slowly parted and silence grew.
“You have to hook your sword in a lock-grip around the enemy’s. That is very important. Do you see?” he was saying. There was no murmur of assent. Puzzled, he looked up to see Devasena standing there.
“Devasena?” he called.
“I do not wish to interrupt – “ she began to say.
“You never interrupt me,” he said, confusedly.
“Amma, when did you come?” boomed a voice behind her. Kattappa rushed up to the scene.
“Soldiers, what disrespect are you showing?” he demanded.
“No, Ayya. I should not disrupt. I will watch the training till it’s over,” Devasena said.
“But, Amma,” said Kattappa.
“I will wait here,” she said. Amarendra began to speak.
“Devasena!” he called. He gently obtained the sword that his partner was holding with an apologetic word.
“Will you join us?” he shouted to her. Her eyes sparkled with pleasure. Within seconds, the pallu of her saree was wound around her waist and the girl who fetched water for the trainees found herself guarding a heap of heavy jewellery. He was holding out the sword hilt-first to her.
The metallic sounds of their swordfight filled the area. The trees around the courtyard swayed with an unnatural breeze. They used the flat of their blades to demonstrate their moves. Bāhubali paused often to describe a particularly clever move of Devasena’s to the trainees. She glowed with pleasure at the incredibly proud look on his face.
All the while, she was having trouble breathing coherently around her husband. It was getting in the way of her prowess.
‘He’ll never stop teasing you if you give in to that!’ yelled her brain. She trimmed her focus hard.
For a change, Amarendra found himself fumbling a lot. His wife used a counter trick to resist him twisting the sword off her hand. Despite his best efforts, her sword stayed on and his slipped loose from his grip for a second. He immediately stopped and had her demonstrate it to his soldiers. A strong rush of pride enveloped him as she did so.
After about an hour of sparring, they stopped. A huge cheer rose from the soldiers for their Commander-in-Chief and his Yuvarani. Kattappa beamed happily from his view on the verandah. The girl brought her jewellery back to her with a cup of water. She flabbergastedly ran away when Devasena offered her one of her rings as a token of thanks.
Amarendra laughed at her shock. She gave him the water to drink. He gulped down a few sips and gave her the rest with such a look of mingled pride and love that her breathing hitched.
“What?” she asked him.
“Nothing. I wish we did this everyday,” he said wistfully.
“What is stopping us?” she demanded.
“Will you really come everyday?” came his question with an eager look. It was then her turn to laugh.
“If you want me to, I’ll be here,” she replied, putting her hand in his.
For a second, he glanced down at their fingers entwined together. He started leading her away from the crowd. A soft breeze came up and the sunny courtyard turned cooler when some clouds blew up across the sun.
“I wouldn’t say everyday,” he said.
She felt stung.
“You don’t want me around everyday?” she questioned.
“Hear me out, first. Today was wonderful. But, it reminded me too much of the day I first met you – “ he began.
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“Devasena, if I think of that day, I’d get d-i-s-t-r-a-c-t-e-d. Obviously!” he replied looking into her eyes.
“Oh, that,” she said, colouring softly.
“Wait one minute here, all right?” He seated her at the roots of the banyan tree and went to speak to Kattappa Ayya. She watched his hair blow back in the wind and smiled to herself. It had gone on long enough. She would tell him as soon as he came back to her. Right there. Right then.
She stood and waited for him. His profile slowly turned and started walking back towards her. She wanted to run and fling herself into his arms. She would scream the happiness at him from right there, she decided. He was only a few feet away.
Time to move, thought Devasena. She took a few jogging steps in Bāhubali’s direction. He smiled at her. He has no clue of the news I bring him, she giggled out loud. Her right foot struck a small protruding rock and she tripped. Of everything that flashed through her mind, she chose the nagging in her arms to fold themselves across her abdomen, protecting the baby.
Amarendra watched Devasena jog towards him. ‘Am I not coming right to her? What impatience!’ he thought as he moved faster. Suddenly, she was falling forward out of balance. The only thought that struck him was when he had held her waist to stop her falling during their boar-hunt in Kuntala. His hands shot forward by instinct to hold her back by the same waist.
“Could you not be careful?” he asked of her when she had steadied. When she did not reply, he went on, “What? Are you going to accuse me of pretending to be a simpleton again?”
She found her mind reeling for a minute. Amarendra was speaking to her and she paid no heed. Her arms were still around her waist. His arms rested lightly on the palms she had placed on either side of her hip.
“Don’t you feel that this is a sword-wielding hand n – “ he was saying when he noticed that his hands weren’t actually on her soft waist. Her hands had wound themselves around her waist and had blocked his own from holding it.
“Devasena, what happened to you? Don’t you remember that you should raise your hands to your head if you find yourself falling?” he asked in scandalised tones.
“So that you protect your head from smashing?” he continued.
She breathed out very slowly. Her arms loosened and caressed the small bump of her belly.
“Are you even listening to me?” Worry and uncertainty laced his voice.
Devasena was recovering from the scare she had had. Her baby would be safe, she thought with relief. He would be fine, her mind told her. With a rush of affection, she realised that it was going to be a boy. ‘How silly had I been to think otherwise?’ she thought. Her heart still thumped nervously. Her surroundings came back to her all at once.
“It’s going to be all right. All right,” she crooned under her breath, both to herself and the baby.
Amarendra’s touch disappeared from her body. She looked up at him. He seemed to be lost for words. A calculating, questioning look appeared in his eyes. He cocked his head to one side and gestured towards her caressing hand.
She smiled. He was surprised by the wink her eyes offered. Dawn alighted into his eyes and they widened with pleasure. Devasena wound one hand around his neck and pulled him closer. He waited with a bated breath.
“You are going to be a father, my Amarendra.”
I very much enjoyed writing this one and I look forward to writing more. I am particularly interested in Bhallaladeva’s background. Let me know in the comments if you guys would like to hear about that! 😀
Update : Check out part two, here.
PS : This pair is my current obsession! ❤
PPS : Do you see the level of craze I have over them? 😀 🙂 ❤