Sample Chapter 3

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"The ritual Friday worship of Anagheshwari!" Abhaya tugged at Dharmasena's arm. "Did you forget, Janaka?"

Dharmasena smiled to himself, knowing that his ten-year-old daughter had her heart set on the games she played with Katyayana's adopted daughter after the worship at the temple. Pursing his lips, he said, "You will have to do it by yourself today. I am tired after patrolling the highway to Prabhasa all night."

Keeping the highway secure for the travellers was a task his family had religiously followed. By his time, Dharmasena had sufficient military under him to carry out the task. But he made it a point to personally participate in patrolling the way to Prabhasa every two to three months. The recent reports of robbers waylaying the pilgrims and increased crime required his intervention more frequently.

"Should I?" Abhaya asked, raising her brows. Her father's not leading the worship meant a lot of things, the most disappointing of which was that she would not be able to sneak away in the middle. On the other hand, the act of standing beside Acharya Katyayana and participating in the ritual did make her feel incredibly important. She nodded at him. "And Bhrata?"

"Vikram should be coming to the temple directly. He was on highway patrol duty too...." Dharmasena paused looking at the eastern skies through the window. "He might have returned by now."

Abhaya nodded, tossing her long plait over her shoulder. She took her father's leave and made her way to the king's chariot, her personal maid following with a large brass plate containing vermillion, turmeric and other paraphernalia of worship.

"Take the guards with you."

Abhaya slowed down. Taking the guards meant a reduced freedom to play after the Pooja. She pretended not to hear and darted forward, ignoring the maid's plea. Jumping onto the chariot, Abhaya opened one of the jars that had already been placed on the chariot, and the sweet, warm aroma of payasaanna, a dish made by boiling grains in sweetened milk, wafted out.

"This should be enough even for the Nagas," she said. The Nagas, especially the younger ones, hiked to Anagha on Fridays to the temple in the later part of the day. Abhaya had seen her father make sure that there was enough Payasaanna to be distributed to all of them. Dharmasena's Friday worship was a ritual he preferred to complete before sunrise so that the everyday visitors to the temple were not inconvenienced.

Abhaya nodded to herself, and the maid hid a smile. The maid and other women folk who worked in the royal quarters enjoyed seeing the princess inadvertently mimicking her father's mannerisms with comic precision. The chariot rode out of the gates of the inner city. The city of Anagha was yet to start its day. It would take a couple of hours more for he markets to open. When they did, they would bustle with activity as traders from the mainland of Bharata and those who came from the shores of Saurashtra displayed their wares to trade in the outer circle of the city. The lone chariot sped towards the outer gates and turned in the north-eastern direction towards the temple of Anagheshwari. They spotted none on the way to the temple.

The day broke as they reached the temple. Abhaya jumped off the chariot and sprinted towards the temple. As she reached up to ring the bell at the entrance, her eyes fell on a prostrate figure covered with a long yellow cloth. Abhaya could only see his curls as he lay facing the wall of the temple, fast asleep.

Bhrata Vikrama. She desisted from ringing the bell, and her lips curve mischievously. The maid and the charioteer were still unloading the jars of payasaanna, and Acharya Katyayana was still not at the temple. The life size idol of Anagheshwari caught her attention and she brought her finger to her lips, winking at the goddess. . Noiselessly, she approached the sleeping figure on tiptoe. Stifling the giggles that were about to erupt out of her, Abhaya grabbed the dark curls and tugged them hard. The sleeping figure jerked awake.

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