Prologue

Five years ago

The rains lashed the terrain surrounded by the dark Western ghats of the Indian subcontinent. The lightning zipped through the pregnant clouds floundering upon the unsuspecting plains. The panoramic exquisiteness of Jawhar province, which would otherwise entice tourists, now stood before her eyes spelling doom.

Her hands were tied, and her a tape across her lips had prevented her from screaming her lungs out. Her meticulously worn crisp cotton saree had become a rag slithering around her body as she tried to sit straight, soaking in the downpour. She didn’t know how long she lay here in these fort ruins. The fort stood the test of time for the great Marathas and was now in ruins. Nevertheless, she had promised herself to restore it to its past glory. After all, it was handed over to her from her forefathers and eventually would go to her precious daughter.

Thinking about her princess brought a sudden gush of tears as her heart broke. Would her daughter and husband ever know what befell her today? She turned around in the darkness, and her eyes fell on the brutally assaulted limp body of her man Friday. The staccato of the piercing lightning lit up the grotesque body, and she wailed, knowing her muffled cries would go unheard. She cried for the life snuffed out of a loyal man. She cried for being unable to meet her family for one last time… for the danger that lay in store for them… for being unable to protect them.

She looked up at the drenched but stunning form of Maa Bhavani, the presiding Goddess of this dilapidating temple within the fort. She had planned to restart the humble puja offerings to the Goddess once the restorations were done. The magnificent idol with her multiple flagellating-like arms adorned by decorated jewellery motifs, she had hoped to bring in her heirloom, a set of bright gold ornaments to grace the idol.

As she stared at the stone tiger mounted by the Goddess, she hoped her daughter would someday discover her gifts. She had anticipated something amiss and had done her best to conceal all she had gathered and left it with her daughter. She hoped someday the daughter would find it… and use it appropriately to realize her dreams. Dreams that she and her daughter had envisioned together now were shattered. The lone rusted bell hanging from the covering temple ceiling swayed violently, adding to nature’s cacophony around her.

The muffled footsteps she had heard a while ago were now loud and clear, and her blurring vision struggled to make out the forms. The huge man, their leader whom she knew only too well, strutted forward, standing wide-based before her, water dripping from his raincoat, joining the pooling water around her.

 “This is the last warning to you… tell me what I want to know,” The man bellowed, his voice echoing louder within the walls of the ruined fort but still meek before nature’s fury.

“Over my dead body…” She laughed aloud.

She only saw the anger simmering in his eyes erupt as he lashed out at her… The blow on her head was the last she felt, even as the gore poured over her face blending with the water.

‘live well, my…princes,’ she whispered as everything went numb and dark and life left her.

©priyagole

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