“Madhu! Madhu! You found a man.”

A group of giggling maidens about the child-woman’s age hurried to the water. Arjuna ducked behind some water brushes. He had not seen them and only lately realized they had been watching the two of them from a pavilion well-hidden among the trees.

“Where did the handsome one go?” said one girl.

“You lot frightened him,” said Madhu.

“Madhu.” Arjuna mouthed the word. It felt good. He felt light; was in love. His friends had spoken of love-at-first-sight. Panchali drew him to her during her swayamvara; but it was the novelty of winning a woman and wife. He liked Panchali and perhaps even loved her.

But this maiden, Madhu, was different. Like her name, Madhu, which meant wine, honey or sweet, she evoked multiple emotions that had laid dormant within him.

“Are you going to hide and peep or come out and introduce yourself?” One of Madhu’s friends had sneaked up on him in the water brushes. She grabbed his arm and pulled. Arjuna allowed her to lead him to Madhu.

“Here you are,” said the friend. “Handsome prince, and you better be a prince if you know what’s good for you, let me introduce Princess Madhulika Chitrangada, the only child of King Chitra Vahana of Manipura. All these lush green lands are her father’s and by extension, her lands. What have you to say for yourself?”

“I’m impressed, O maiden. Pray, may I ask your name?” said Arjuna. He had spoken without thinking; his question a spontaneous response.

“You may.” There was a momentary silence, as the Pandava stood transfixed by Madhu’s beauty. The friend tapped Arjuna’s shoulder and said, “You may.” The women laughed.

Arjuna, unused to the casual familiarity displayed by the damsel, had not grasped her words; his attention vacillated from the princess to her friend. But he recovered his ease and said,

“Oh, yes. What is your name, O precocious one?”

“I’m Saujani. And you may call my friend, Madhu. Not Chitra, or her father, the king, will appear. You don’t want that.”

“Madhu.”

“Yes, Madhu,” said Saujani.

“Madhu.”

“Yes, that’s right. Madhu!” said Saujani.

“Madhu,” said Arjuna.

Saujani came close; inspected the Pandava and said, “I think he has gone mad.” The women laughed. Saujani said, “This, my dear Madhu, is genuine love. The fortune tellers were right. A stranger to these realms will come and clip your wings. Here stands the stranger. Step forward and get clipped.”

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