Vrushali, a satisfied smile on her face, snuggled into Karna’s arms. He has been away for several weeks and she was glad to have him back; away from Hastinapura; away from that woman, Supriya.

“I count the days we get to spend together, my love.” They had spent two uninterrupted evenings, and the auguries were good she will have him for herself for another night.

Married for almost twenty years and yet it seemed like only a year ago when they first met. He had lost control of his horses, and the chariot had wandered and trampled over her flower garden. She was livid. Karna, endowed with a magnificent body armour that was rumoured to be part of his flesh and earring that he never removed because again, or so went the tales, it was attached to his earlobes, was already somewhat of a legend in their little principality of Anga. Years ago, she had seen him from afar and instantly disliked the arrogant boy. He had since turned sixteen and grown into a self-absorbed young man.

“At fourteen he is a perfect match for you,” said her friend, Eshana.

“I can never love him,” said Vrushali.

“Why not?”

“Because he is in love with himself.”

It took but a moment to survey her ruined floral garden. She had spent months nurturing the plants and all her efforts had come to nought. Vrushali pulled up her wrap, tucked a corner of the hem into her waist, and marched to Karna’s house. Everyone knew his father’s mansion; Adhiratha was the village headman, scion of the dynasty that ruled Anga when it was an independent kingdom.

Vrushali called and Karna emerged from his door and stood with arms akimbo. Three steps led up to his porch, and he towered over her. She refused to be intimidated; pushed out her chest, upped her chin, and berated him for his careless and callous behaviour. A servant tried to chase Vrushali away, but Karna stopped the man.

“Continue,” said Karna.

“What?”

“Continue. You were saying how arrogant I was and should make restitution.”

“I’ve said my piece. What have you to say? Or should I bring you to the village council for justice?”

“That will not do, to be brought before the village council and questioned like a miscreant,” said Karna. He had a smirk on his face.

“So, you agree that you’re a miscreant.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What do you say?”

“You look even more beautiful when you’re angry.”

“Stop flattering me.”

“It’s in our culture to praise beauty, is it not?”

“It’s also in our culture to make restitution.”

“Agreed. And I’ll make restitution as soon as you apologise for raising this ruckus.”

“I’ve not raised a ruckus.” Vrushali shouted even louder.

“You’re loud, my child,” said someone behind her.

Vrushali swirled around. A crowd had gathered outside the mansion. The old man who had spoken said,

“It is bad enough you crossed your threshold without a male escort, you could have approached the young prince and spoken softly; befitting maidens of our village.”

The old man’s words found ready acceptance by the crowd. People who knew of Vrushali’s free-spirited behaviour questioned her upbringing.

“Leave my parents out of this,” said the maiden; her eyes blazed.

“Go home, child. Restitution will follow,” said Karna. Vrushali turned to him. His smirk morphed into a smile.

“He called me a child,” said Vrushali when she returned to her home. Her anger had subsided, but for her friend’s sake, she pretended to be angry.

“Well, he brought you down from your elephant, didn’t he?” Eshana sighed. “I wish he had said that to me.”

“What? Said what?”

“You look even more beautiful when you’re angry,” said Eshana, and she closed her eyes and squealed. For a moment, an inexplainable envy seized Vrushali. Karna had besotted her friend too.

“I’m untouched by his charm,” said Vrushali.

“Yes, you are, and don’t you deny your feelings. His words mean he had noticed you when you were not angry.” Eshana sighed again. “I’m so jealous, but am also happy for you. What a pity he does not have a brother; or even a cousin.”

“You’ve gone mad like all the other girls, and that’s why he behaves like a prince,” said Vrushali.

“He is a prince,” said Eshana.

That night, Vrushali could not sleep. She played the encounter over and over in her head. You look even more beautiful when you’re angry. More beautiful. Beautiful. She dozed off with a smile etched on her face.

*** Copyright @ 2021, Eric Alagan ***

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