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(This is an article / story contributed by a member of the public. This is a work of fiction. All the names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents in this article are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, and actual events is purely coincidental.)
The Queen stifled a yawn and looked out. The red silk curtains that adorned her palanquin starkly contrasted with the world outside. The road was a splotchy mess of mud and debris, the fields windswept, the people busy removing twigs and dirt from their houses and stalls.
The rain gods are unusually animated this year, she thought. She watched children playing in the canal and reminisced about her childhood and thought of telling the Raja some of her childhood antics when she would reach his palace.
The noises outside started increasing. She realised that she was passing a crowd clustered on the bank of the road.
“What’s going on here?” She called out.
“Two men are lying dead on the field there. They have swords in their hands.” A young boy answered, his voice trembling with fear and bewilderment.
The Queen was known to be impulsive and prone to fits of curiosity, but even she was surprised at her decision to stop the palanquin and go inspect the scene.
The crowd cleared a path for her. She observed two young men lying on the sand, their heads severed, and the ground clotted in blood. Her maid told her that they had killed each other and that the bodies would be removed as soon as the tahsildar (executive judicial officer) reached.
She cursed the pride and ego that fuels people into killing each other, the absurdity of hate and war. She did not wish to remain there any longer and started to walk back.
“Maheswara!!” a resounding wail was heard from within the crowd. The Queen turned to find a noble woman running towards the scene. She fell on her knees in front of the young men and wept uncontrollably. The Queen noticed that she had a tapestry in her hand, on which her son’s images were embroidered.
Her maid continued “they were the sons of Padanayakan (War Commander) Karthikeyan. They went to study in Vadakkan Kalari. Diwan thought they were conspiring with the kingdom of Panthalam and declared them to be traitors. To be arrested and tried.”
“That is absurd!” the queen said in disbelief.
The maid exhaled “they were loyal soldiers of the Raja, running the Valiapadam and Vamanakkara Kalari after their fathers demise. How could they bear the grief of being accused of treason? Those boys were merely pawns in the political game of pride and vendetta.”
“We need to leave before the crowd becomes hostile” her maid reminded. The Queen could not turn her back to the noble woman weeping beside her children. She was a mother too, and this woman’s pain was hers too - both mere spectators in a game where blood and honour are honoured above love and reason.
The Queen walked towards the mother. Bystanders were trying to console her, all in vain.
She wept on quietly, refusing to move an inch, holding on to the bodies of her children resolutely. The Queen placed a hand on her shoulders. The mother looked up at her with bloodshot eyes. She recognized the queen, but her gaze was not accusatory - yet the queen could sense a judgment of a dreadful wrong in that stare. They contemplated for a long time through their eyes, the grief and misery communicated in voiceless words.
The Queen went back to her palanquin and set off to the Raja’s palace.
“Here you are, I was expecting you by the morning” mused the Raja. He was surprised to not find her in her usual high spirits but moody and pensive. She silently disembarked from her palanquin, bowed and walked to their chamber.
Raja was confused, he followed her. She stood in the terrace looking out to the flowing waters of Karipuzha. He didn’t want to disturb her. He walked out the chamber. “Keep an eye on her, but don’t disturb her” the elderly maid who received the instruction bowed in agreement.
The afternoon and evening were busy. Raja had forgotten about the queen until he returned to the chamber in the evening. She was in the same spot that he had seen her earlier at. The Raja walked out to the balcony approaching her gently.
“What is wrong” Raja lovingly embraced her from the back. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
After a long moment of silence, the Queen said, “What if instead of water, it was blood that was flowing in this river?”
Raja turned her around and looked into her eyes.
“Blood flowing… that too in my land?” he shook his head dismissingly and whispered “impossible!”
Queen sighed “Then you don’t know the injustices around you.”
The king squinted “what?”.
A few moments of brief silence.
“Your minister inculpates loyal officers in your army of treason without trial or due process. Today, I saw two sons of a mother, who took their lives from the shame. They had just lost their father who was the Padanayakan of the kathirwadi yudham (war).
“They were innocent boys who fought and bled for our kingdom. And their mother was on the ground, that had consumed all their blood” the queen sobbed.
The king asked perplexed “Who?”
The queen looked down and nodded silently.
The pale light of the oil lamp cloaked the Raja’s shock.
“This blood is not just in your lands. It is on your hands.” The king could not maintain eye contact with the queen’s piercing gaze.
He turned to the balcony, his forearm gripping the railing, and stared at the distant lanterns under the night sky. His mind filled with the image of the crouching mother, broken in grief and holding her sons’ bodies. A tear formed. The boatmen were ferrying the last of the passengers across the river, and their faint songs filled the hefty silence.
. . .