The Sun and Two Seas

By Vikramajit Ram

‘There is one more matter,’ the Secretary said quietly.

‘Quick. I am tired.’

‘You might prefer to read it for yourself.’

Most unusual. Narasimha eased open the birch-bark document. His eyebrows shot up taking in the signature seal: Sovereign Cadambagiri. With an incredulous laugh, he began to read:

Salutation Sovereign | We offer felicitations on your routing of the Bengal threat and gratitude thereof for retarding his advance towards our country | A visitor at our court speaks of works commenced afresh upon your temple in Chandrabhaga-on-Sea | Our own fortunes as you may be aware have been imperilled since our installation to the throne on the demise of our father and more so with the passing last year of our grandmother the Regent | The past six-month especially finds us engaged in a battle of wits against a section of our kinsmen who are determined to unsettle our position as sovereign | Towards this end these men have ingratiated themselves to the crown prince of Parijatapuri | It is common knowledge that the prince and you are childhood comrades | We recall your presence at the marriage of this prince to my sister the erstwhile First Princess of Cadambagiri | We now seek your good influence to bear upon your compeer to reconsider his affiliations with those of malefic intent | Whether or not he pays heed is secondary | If nothing else it will alert him that one more powered than he is privy to his scheme | If he chooses to disregard your counsel we are prepared for the consequences and so should he be | Our decision to write to you is an impulsive one and may only good come of it | From belated discovery that we have little stationery at hand this late hour of night we needs must still the workings of our mind | In honour and good faith…

He was not unaccustomed to appeals from women—the wives of errant ministers, dispossessed courtesans, effusive young things offering companionship and much else besides—but none had closed her missive with honour and good faith. He set the letter down carefully. As if suddenly self-conscious, it curled into itself. He sat back with his fingers making a temple under his chin.

‘What would she be now? Fourteen? Fifteen?’

The Secretary sniffed. ‘Closer to fifty-one, methinks.’

Narasimha laughed. ‘I promote you to court buffoon forthwith. But yes; it is an archaic style.’

‘She has benefited from the tutelage of the late Regent. They say the elder’s blood flows strong in her veins.’
‘What else do they say?’

‘The visitor she mentions is one of our men. The chance observer may be forgiven for taking her for an adolescent prince.’
‘What, an incipient moustache?’

‘She sports the attire of a man, going so far as to gird her incipient breasts.’

‘You have kept yourself informed! Proceed.’

‘She is competent in the saddle, and equally so on elephant back. An instructor of archery has not yet fully recovered from an injury to an upper thigh some months back; her skills have improved since. She is as yet unwed. She is said to seek counsel of her ministers and then follow her own mind.’

‘What would you do if I sought your counsel and then did as I pleased?’

‘You do already, and yet I don’t turn against the hand that protects.’

‘You could try. But continue: what about her citizenry?’

‘She is well liked. In the parkland behind the palace is a menagerie which commoners may visit for their edification and entertainment. Our observer has seen her in the company of a pet tigress…a cub, admittedly.’

‘I trust his extremities are intact. Was he the bearer of this?’

‘No, a runner is in attendance. Your response is awaited.’

‘Your thoughts on the matter?’

‘May I remind you that you were fortunate—’ He stopped, frowning.

‘Not to have been charred alive?’ Narasimha completed. ‘She was a child then. This is…different.’

‘There is little to be gained from mending the ripped skin of a serpent.’

‘I’ll bear that in mind. However…’ He turned to the Scrivener who was arranging and rearranging his reeds and nibs. ‘Assure the lady that I shall grant due consideration of her request.’

The Secretary shook his head. ‘But—’

‘And one more thing. A gift of stationery might be appreciated. Some of the paper from Chin, perhaps, which we use so rarely?’

The Scrivener smiled. ‘How much shall we send, Excellence?’

‘Enough for it not to reach in shreds.’

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