“Still alive? Princess Rudravalli,” King Lankeshan howled and crushed the glass of wine in his fist.
“Your majesty,” Poorni ran to his rescue. She held his bleeding palm in hers, pulled out a few pieces of glass that had lodged in his skin, and caressed it gently.
“Leave me,” Lankeshan pulled his arm away and ordered, “Go back to your chambers.”
“No, my Lord,” Poorni tore a piece of cloth from her saree and wrapped it around his palm.
He smirked and ripped the cloth apart.
Poorni stared, perplexed.
Lankeshan pulled her closer, washed the dripping blood on her cheeks, “A little blush looks good on your face.”
Lankeshan threw her tiny frame aside and roared, “Minister, prepare the soldiers.”
“But, Your Majesty, as per protocol, we need to send a messenger first.”
Lankeshan’s eyebrows raised as wrinkles crawled his temples, “Follow protocol, is it?”
He walked up to the minister, who lowered his head in terror.
“Tell me, Minister, will you send your son as a messenger if dacoits were standing outside your house?”
“No, Sir. But she…”
“She? Who is she? Come on, spit it out.”
A huge commotion welled outside the gate with loud slogans.
Poorni ran to the balcony. The sight baffled her. She rubbed her eyes and tried to have a better look. Soon, the early morning dark mist cleared the way as she watched a sculpted figure stand outside the fort gate.
Bright gleaming eyes that were fierce than that of Lord Shiva’s third eye, serpent-like black locks that danced down till her hips, a face that would send the divine apsaras to hide in shame. She sat on a white horse with an elephant-like gait and a lion-like ferocity. The young woman held a sword high up in her hands. The sword looked like a bolt of lightning in the background of her dark cloudy attire.
Poorni folded her hands and exclaimed, “Kaali.”
Lankeshan closed his eyes tight and bit his lips to control his anger.
“Poorni,” he shouted.
Poorni was startled but, she had to clear her doubts, “My Lord, who are all these women outside the fort? And look, who is she?” pointing towards the woman.
“She is Princess…” the minister stepped in.
“You imbecile,” Lankeshan growled, “Stop calling that lowly being a princess. And you, Poorni, I ordered you to leave for your chambers.”
“Where the hell is Nityanandji?”
“Keep calm your highness,” Nityanandji walked into the royal chamber.
Lankeshan touched Nityanandji’s feet and ordered everyone else to leave the room.
“I thought she was long dead. And these women with her, where did she gather all of them?”
“I understand your chagrin, my King. Someone surely has been devising a plan behind our backs all these years. But, remember one wrong move, and all your hard work will be wasted.”
“Lankeshaaaa,” a rambunctious outcry echoed from the gates.
Lankeshan and Nityanandji rushed to the balcony.
“Are you afraid to open the gates to my kingdom?” she glared.
“Your kingdom?” Lankeshan lashed.
He turned away from the balcony, “I need to ready my troops at once.”
“Don’t be foolish. They are just a pack of unruly women. They will perish easily. Remember, you still don’t have an heir to the throne. Queen Poorni will deliver anytime.”
“Have faith in Goddess Kaali. All your penance and sacrifice won’t go in vain. Have patience.”
“What do you suggest then? Should I stay put like a coward when she stands at the threshold of my kingdom challenging me?”
“Don’t be naive, my dear King. This is the time to snatch our victory by the might of intelligence and not weapons. I have a plan. Moreover, Kaali desires Kuruthi.”
Lankeshan smiled, “Kaali desires Kuruthi, and I shall bring her an ocean.”
At the gate, Rudra was getting restless. With each minute, she could sense the motivation of her women draining away. She walked into a makeshift tent.
She called her most trusted associate for a quick consult, “Kamala Amma, what do you suggest? How do we proceed from here? It’s been hours, and Lankeshan has not sent his troops, nor has he sent a messenger. Should we barge in?”
“No, my Lady. As per the protocol set by our ancestors, we ought to give our enemy time to come forward. Either, we should send a messenger or wait for theirs.”
“Yes, I understand. But, our troops will lose their patience soon. They were so pumped up to fight when we left. The memento will die away, and our cause will not see the light of the day.”
Their discussion was cut short by a huge crackling noise.
“My Lady, the gates are open. King Lankeshan has sent a messenger.”
“That’s a start. Send him in,” Rudra ordered, and soon the messenger walked in.
He unrolled a velvet cloth and read out loud, “Dear Rudra, my heart fills with astonishment and love to see you alive. Seeing you at the gate, reminded me of your mother at a much younger age. Sadly, you had to lose your folks at such a young age. My condolences. I, your beloved uncle, would like to invite you to the Sivappu Kottai.
But, I wish to meet you alone. I have always vowed for peace. I assure you that I will never harm you.
Awaiting to welcome you.”
“No, my Lady. You can’t go alone,” turning towards the messenger, “Go, and tell your king, we do not accept his proposal.”
Rudra waved her hand, “Wait, tell him I will be there in an hour. You may leave now.”
“My Lady, how can we let you go there alone? It’s like placing your hand inside a crocodiles’ mouth and expecting it to not bite you. We cannot take the risk. Also, you said our women will lose hope. Yes, they will lose hope without a leader.”
“Kamala Amma, dont worry. I will be fine. Also, you will be there to assist and motivate the troop. I have to listen to what he says.”
Kamala walked closer and cupped Rudra’s face, “Child, you have already gone through so much. Your father’s step-brother Lankeshan not only killed your parents but ruined the kingdom. You had to live a life of exile, for ten long years. You were with your distant relatives, and we thought you will never come back. Yes, he afflicted intolerable pain on our men. All these women had to take shelter in a faraway forest because of him. Yet, we cannot lose you again. Please, think before you take any step. Every move of yours will define the future of these young girls that follow you.”
Rudra took a deep breath, “Yes, I do understand Kamala Amma. But, I don’t know about his prowess or his military strength. If we get access to his fort, it will be easier for us to manipulate his strength and act accordingly. Moreover, he says that he would not harm me. Let’s see.
If I do not return by daybreak, alert the troops, Break the gate open and barge in.
The gates were thrown wide open, and Rudravalli walked in with her sword tied to her waist. There was pin-drop silence. No nobility or ministers were set at the gate to welcome her. Only soldiers were positioned on either of the alleys. This was the place where she was born and spent her childhood. But, it didn’t look the same, nor did it smell or feel familiar. Every corner of the fort was coloured in bright red. She was aware of her uncle’s liking of the colour. But, it seemed a little overboard.
‘What is wrong with him?’ she thought.
As she walked towards the main palace, a soldier approached her, “My Lady, not here. The king will meet you at the end of the road.”
“Why? What place is that?”
The soldier mumbled under his lips, “It’s Bali Koodam.”
“What? Bali Koodam? What a weird name!”
Rudra sighed and turned towards the road. At the end of the road, she saw an entrance. The door itself looked peculiar, carved with snakes and fierce creatures. She pushed the door open. It was a vast hall with pillars aligned to the sides. At the end of the hall stood an enormous Goddess Kaali statue.
Rudra immediately walked up to the statue, bowed down with folded hands.
She held on to her sword tightly as she heard heavy steps approaching.
“Welcome, welcome. My dear niece,” Lankeshan greeted with his hands wide open.
Rudra folded her hands and nodded.
“Come, come inside. This place is not new to you. Just a little modified.”
“Oh yes, a little?” she smirked, “This is my home. It needs no introduction.”
Lankeshan walked ahead and sat on a huge throne. Rudra looked around. There was no sign of another chair in the room. Surely, this was his way of humiliating her.
“Princess Rudravalli, tell me, what brings you here today?”
Rudra stared at him in disgust. After all the years of exploiting his people, he asks a lame question.
“Give my kingdom back. Dissolve your court, and I promise that you will be untouched.”
“Give back?” Lankeshan laughed aloud.
“Silly girl. When was the kingdom yours? Your father, King Sarveshan failed to birth a male heir. So, after their death, the kingdom belongs to me.”
“You murdered them,” Rudra’s eyes went red.
“Technically, yes. But he called for it. Rudra dear, your poor uncle was never thirsty for the kingdom. But your father always came in the way of my happiness.”
“Jai Kaali Maa,” Nityanandji entered the hall with a skulled sceptre in hand.
“Your father never understood our king,” he bowed down to Lankeshan.
“From a very young age, our king was so troubled. Without his parents, he was always alone, and your father never listened to him. Probably, being an elder stepbrother took away all the love from his heart.
So, when our king complained of his illness and the troublesome nightmares he saw, your father bullied him. He held him unfit of being in the kingdom and threw him away.”
“You are deviating from the truth. My father didn’t do any of it. I am aware of his dreams. Didn’t you say that your tongue tastes of iron, and you dream of women ripping you apart? Didn’t you say that you crave the colour red? Blood red? My father saw you as a threat to yourself and the citizens. ”
An eerie silence prevailed as Lankeshan’s face went pale.
Nityanandji intervened, “That was just a sign. A sign from our Goddess Kaali. She bleeds and demands red. Red is the colour of celebration, it is the colour of birth and the colour of death.
Oh, king! Remember, Kaali desires Kuruthi.”
Lankeshan’s face lit in an instant. He clapped his hands, and a bunch of soldiers appeared.
“Chain her,” he shouted.
The soldiers pounced on Rudra, and in an instant she was chained. She was taken by surprise, and could not react.
“What did you say? You came to reclaim the kingdom? Like father, like daughter. When will you understand the purpose of a woman’s life? Recreation and procreation, that’s all. Your father gave so much importance to you and your mother but forgot me instead. Yes, I murdered them. That was their punishment to never understand me.
Only Nithyanandji could help me. He is the one who found a remedy to my illness.”
Rudra tried to untie herself but in vain, “You devil, what was your remedy? Haan? Exploiting the poor, ruining the lives of young women?”
“Ruining is such a big word darling. I gave women a choice, either entertain me or sacrifice for me.”
“Sacrifice?” Rudra looked stunned.
“Where do you think you are, dear Rudra? This is Bali Koodam, the sacrificial hall,” Lankeshan went up to the Kaali statue, picked a pile of red vermillion in his palms and threw it on her, “Jai Kaali Maa.”
“Be mine, Rudra, and you will be spared.”
Rudra spat at him, “You are my uncle. How dare you?”
“Oh, poor girl,” he walked closer and snatched her hair and pulled her closer, “There are only male and female in this world. All relations are just a cliche. So, either be mine or die.
I give you time till the morning. Think before you make a decision. And also, my soldiers have already surrounded your women. One sign and they may go wild. My troops are hungry for some action, and that too with the opposite sex seems so very exciting.”
Lankeshan had a hearty laugh and left the chamber.
Into the future
Poorni was restless in her chambers. She could not get the sight of the young fiery woman out of her mind. Something was amiss, but she could not place a finger on it.
Poorni had never known or seen anything but the kingdom. She was married off to a much older Lankeshan at a very young age. For her, this was her home. Though Lankeshan never explicitly portrayed his love for her, yet she knew that she must be of utmost importance to him. And why not, she had heard rumours of a palace full of women, who served him Yet, he came back to her always.
Today, it was different. She felt dark clouds hovering over her heart. The unsettling thought of doom engulfed her. She got up from her bed and walked towards the Kaali temple in Bali Koodam.
She walked straight towards the deity and offered flowers at her foot.
“Who are you?”
Poorni turned around to find the same young woman standing in one corner, chained. She walked near her, “Who are you? And, who did this to you?”
“Who else will do this? Your barbaric king, Lankeshan.”
“Mind your words, lady. You are talking about my husband.”
“Husband?” Rudra burst out laughing, “Oh my, that’s a surprise. My uncle hid this important side of his life.”
“Uncle? Who are you?”
“I am Rudravalli, the true heir to the throne. Daughter of King Sarvesan. Lankeshan is my father’s stepbrother.”
“Is it? Great to know that my husband has a brother. But the heir to the throne? Is it possible for a woman to rule?”
“What? Which world do you live in? Yes, anyone of calibre can rule the world. How long have you been with him?”
“I was married off very young. Never seen anything outside the palace. The king says that my duty is to birth a son for him.”
“So, were you successful?”
“No, this is my eighth pregnancy. I am hoping for a son this time.”
“Great, so you have seven daughters. Where are they?”
“They are safe with Goddess Kaali,” Poorni smiled.
Rudra was taken aback, either she was a complete nutcase or completely innocent.
“What do you mean by Kaali?”
“The king said, that as soon as I gave birth to girls, Goddess Kaali was so happy that she took my daughters with her. Some day when they are older I will meet them too.”
“How is that possible? How could you be so naive?”
“Why? What have I done?”
“Your husband has been killing your daughters, and you are letting him do that.”
“No, that’s not possible. Tantric Nithyanandji along with my husband perform numerous rituals for me and my kid’s safety. They cannot do something so horrible.”
Their conversation was abruptly halted by footsteps.
“Listen to my advice, lady. The king and the tantric are planning something really devious, try to find that out.”
Poorni left the place, terrified. Several questions ran through her mind. Was it true that her husband was cruel?
She walked straight to his chambers, but he was in discussion with the tantric. Poorni took a few steps behind and eavesdropped on their conversation.
“Nityanandji, my mind is playing tricks with me. I have covered the whole fort red, even my attire, but the dreams won’t stop. Now, my niece is on the doorsteps with a huge women’s army.”
“It will be fine my king. Tell your soldiers to charge at them immediately. No need to wait for Rudra’s approval. Also, this is the queen’s eighth pregnancy. The last girl will be born. Drink the blood of your daughters. Kaali desires Kuruthi, remember. And then permanently you will be relieved of the mental agony.”
Poorni was dumbstruck by the tantric’s advice to the king. Were Rudra’s words true? Was her husband the murderer of her children?
Poorni had to do something immediately. She held her pregnant tummy and ran towards the Bali Koodam as fast as she could.
Huffing and puffing, she walked towards Rudra, “You were right. He needs blood. My daughter’s blood. He is going insane. Says that he dreamt and saw signs full of red. The tantric is helping him. Please, save my child. I have already lost seven. Rudravalli, please save her.”
“Pick the sword.”
“Pick my sword, and cut these chains.”
Poorni nodded and immediately set into action.
In the meantime, they heard huge cries. Cries of bravery, cries of agony, and cries of call for help.
“Queen, be brave. Walk along the road and reach for the gate. I have to rush for my troops now. Try not to be found by your king. I will do my best to save you and your child.”
Poorni wiped her eyes and set her foot for liberation.
Rudra roared and bolted towards the gate, slashing her sword high.
The warrior princess, that she was, it wasn’t difficult for her to slice the soldiers and reach her camp.
King Lankeshan had breached his promise. He had barged a war at her. The terror-struck women surged in action as they saw Rudra approaching the battlefield. They fought with a newfound zest.
As news of Rudra’s escape and her approaching victory reached Lankeshan, he couldn’t contain himself
“Where are you going, my King?” Nityanandji interrupted.
“To finish this nonsense.”
“What? No, don’t go today. The stars are not aligned in your favour.”
“What do you mean? Do you think that twenty-something girl can destroy me?”
Lankeshan left the palace in disgust.
The battlefield was high with the smell of sweat mixed with blood, and the clatter of swords.
Lankeshan spotted Rudra on her horse and rushed towards her.
The fight that ensued was the fight of equals. Rudra was a fighter par excellence. Lankeshan was intimidated by her. He plunged and ripped her skin. Rudra fell to the ground, wailing.
She felt the world around her spinning, and she looked at Lankeshan.
“Poor Rudra, going back to her parents,” he laughed.
He held his sword up in the air, roaring he flung it when midway he halted.
Rudra saw a blade penetrate out of his stomach and retreat.
Lankeshan fell to the ground with a thud. He touched the blood oozing from his stomach and looked around.
“My dream was indeed true. Surrounded by women, in an ocean of red,” he smirked with pain.
He turned towards his attacker.
With a sword in one hand, Poorni stood ferociously. She held the sword up ripped her husband, “Kaali desires Kuruthi.”
- Kuruthi – Blood
- Sevappu – Red
- Bali – Sacrifice
- Koodam – Hall
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