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Though the queen had seen me in the academy, when we met in her private chambers, she studied my person from behind her veil. I bowed my head but saw everything. She liked what she saw. As expected, she recovered well and hid behind her aloof persona.

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My relationship with Queen Devaney started with deference and decorum. But behind the aura of royalty lived, no, existed, a lonely woman unappreciated and starved of love. Within weeks, familiarity replaced formality. She welcomed my company and confessed that my visits were the highlights of her week. We spent long hours talking about this and that and everything. I drew from the sixty-four branches of learning and beyond, and impressed her with simple answers to what seemed complex matters. She clung to my every word.

Besides poetry, the queen loved botany. When the Paramarajah conquered new lands, he sent back exotic plants and singular seedlings. He even uprooted and carted mature trees to her. It was his way of showering love where none existed between them. A vast private garden took root and flourished in the palace grounds of the queen’s wing. And she spent long lonely hours marvelling the brilliant colours, unique leaf formations and sculptured tree trunks. She also enjoyed the company of the variety of colourful singing birds, chattering monkeys and deer that populated the grounds. We devoted many hours in the garden among the sweet scents, captivating sights and enchanting melodies of nature’s creatures.

The queen adorned her hair with different flowers for each day of the week and wore garlands, armlets and wristlets made from matching blooms. She had her favourites, a variety of kurinji, jasmine, lily, orchid, and paalai. When I visited, she adorned me with a garland of the day. There was much symbolism behind her act. I welcomed and looked forward to it but always took care to hide her gift in my bag before departing past the guards.

My weekly visits became a routine. I got to know her handmaidens and became acquainted with officers of the household guard. It is interesting the wealth of state secrets that resided in these faceless nameless servants. The knowledge gained added new dimensions to my power.

The king had in place three centres of power, each wary of the other: the army; the civil administration; and, the Royal Guard.

The Paramarajah stationed his army in outlying fortresses and border regions. But the Royal Guard garrisoned Uraiyur, the capital. Captain Sridhar of the Royal Guard was a brilliant soldier. Courageous. Loyal unto death to the queen. He husbanded dreams but others thwarted his path.

General Harish-Ram, the army commander, viewed the captain as a threat. Prime Minister Quwaenthi-Maan feared the captain too, for the Royal Guard represented raw power within Uraiyur. When the king was away, Captain Sridhar was the sword.

The captain knew I had the ear of the queen. He sought a mentor. I found my champion. Trust? Yes, he trusted me. Friendship? Yes, he judged me a friend. The wise ones say it takes two hands to clap. The fools. One can slap a sword and emit the same sound.

Though trained in the martial arts, I abhorred killing. The smell. Blood has a distasteful smell. The smell did not bother Sridhar. And an unspoken covenant sealed our alliance. I entered doors on his behalf. He guarded the entrance behind me. Queen Devaney held the keys. My reasons for romancing her were not without blemish. That is how it started. But the indifference did not last.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued 7 October, 2019