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When she summoned me, with great audacity I ignored her. But she persisted. And I resisted. I was afraid, not for myself but for how I felt about her. This liaison will only end in tragedy. Even a fool could foresee the inevitable destination of this dangerous journey. But in such matters, men are fools. I was at that stage of my life when I had not conquered foolery.

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The queen again sent her trusted hand-maiden, Alli, with a message. Take the secret passage. Come to me. Your queen awaits you. I relented. Her royal position notwithstanding, I saw her as buxom but easy. After our last encounter, I had grown to feel something more; something pure. These thoughts churned in my head and sent my heart knocking about my rib cage as I hurried to meet the Queen’s—my queen’s—summons.

Over the weeks, we did not talk much but met only to pleasure one another. After each rendezvous, I stole away into the secret passage to emerge again when summoned. Then, one day I found her talkative. The dam breached and her emotions flowed. She said many things, but I remembered only a sentence or two.

‘It was not some diversion to fill emptiness,’ said Devaney. ‘I believe it is something more, the work of fate perhaps. Let this path lead us to him for I am blessed to lean on the strong shoulders of a scholar.’

‘But only in secret, my queen, shrouded by the cloak of darkness, can I study and relish your every line, even as you present a bound book. That pains me.’

‘Then make the most of our present, my love, before dawn exposes us.’

My love? Love? I wondered whether such a lofty emotion affected me.

She gave birth to a son, my son, but the Paramarajah, thinking it was his seed, named the child Veera—brave. I fell in love with her. A cynical voice within sneered again. I convinced myself. Yes, I was in love. When even the vilest creature was capable of love, why deny me my folly?

Devaney gave me a gift, a treasure. Her waist chain, ensconced in a thin silk-lined sandalwood box. Only the Paramarajah and I have set eyes on the waist chain.

‘A family heirloom?’

‘From my mother, handed down from her mother’s mother,’ said Devaney.

‘I am not worthy to receive this treasure.’

‘Husband it, for our granddaughter.’

In that one sentence, Devaney said much. Her words gave me joy. But they also stoked terror. She had spoken of a child unborn, of events unforetold. She closed and opened her eyes in gesture. I could not refuse. I acceded and secreted the box in my waist belt.

Veera was safe from court intrigue. For now. He was not a contender for the throne.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued on 14 October, 2019