“Ah, come into the light, O Flawless Complexion, so I might better relish your beauty,” said Kichaga. Sairindhri took a step forward; complied with his wishes while she worked out a plan of escape.

“Do not be afraid, O Angelic Beauty. Here is a token of appreciation from your best admirer, Generalissimo Kichaga.” He held up an exquisite necklace that sparkled with diamonds. “A flawless work of art for a flawless beauty.” She lowered her head and kept her eyes down lest he recognised the wild anger in them.

“Ah, yes. O Alluring Maiden, forgive me. I’ll dispense with the formality. You can call me dear lord, or even dear will do.” Sairindhri turned away, and he moved close to her. She felt his laboured breath on the back of her neck. Disgusted, she moved again.

“Stop. Don’t be coy, O Divine Human. It’s a perfect night for new lovers. Listen to the mating songs of the insects; what melody they make. Breathe in the scented air from the blossoming flowers. Abandon yourself to their intoxicating teases.”

Sairindhri’s features relaxed; she had decided. Kichaga brought his arms around her and held the weighty necklace before her eyes. She slipped under his arms and shifted away.

“O Radiant Diamond, we’re so suited for one another. A perfect warrior and a perfect beauty. Can there be a better pairing? Why, even Shiva and Shakti will gaze upon us with awe and envy.”

“I can’t, brave general,” said Sairindhri. “I’m already wedded and I fear my husband’s wrath.”

“You don’t have to fear for me, O Butterfly.”

“I fear for myself, conquering general. My husband is a brute and boils with anger all the time. I shudder at what he’ll do.”

“All the more reason, O Ravishing One, that you leave him and seek safety in my arms.”

“Alas, what of the minister and the guards, and the maidservants who know of my presence here? The longer I remain with you, the darker the rumours will swirl.”

“I’ll cut off their tongues and gouge out their eyes to please you, O Temptress Mine. Come, how long more will you see me suffer?”

“I hope to move the accomplished general to grant me a wish, a small one.”

“Say, and it’s granted. Only do not torture me, O Ravishing One, for I will burst with anticipation.”

“Let me return to the women. I shall then sneak away and meet you in the dancehall in the king’s palace.”

He reached to grab her, but she was quicker; avoided his touch. He said, “I only meant to hug you, to laud your enterprise, O Bewitching Lady.”

“Allow me to leave now, undefeated general, before I too lose my restrain.”

“Ah, you too feel the pain? Forgive me, Divine One. It’s my curse that I’ve this effect on maidens. Go then, for now, while I count my heartbeats.”

***

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