Short Story: Birds of Prey by Abha Iyengar


The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Maharathi Debdutt saw the hennaed foot, dainty, as the passenger stepped off the palanquin. Then the wheel went over it. His deed was done. He did not hear the shrieks that rent the air. From the beautiful princess who was to be wed, she became the hobbling one, the unwanted one.

Ever since Maharathi Debdutt had set eyes on the little one, Rajkumari Heeramoti, she had fascinated him. Her absolute milk white skin, the fragility of her limbs, her big black eyes and tumbling black curls, were a delight. He would watch her at play from a distance. He was a horse rider and a charioteer, and he was not allowed within the palace.

Rajkumari Heeramoti was soon to be taught horse riding. She had turned seven, and her father Rajbahadur Daljit Singh, The Raja of Petallkout, had chosen Debdutt as the man to teach her. He had not only taught her horse riding but also how to drive a chariot.

Debdutt had tried to rein in his feelings for Princess Heera. He was a charioteer, a horseman, and she was a princess. But her eyes spoke of her love for him, and he had a tough time trying to hold his feelings back. He was older too; thirty to her seventeen. However, that seemed to be of little consequence to them.

The King and Queen were looking for a match for the princess. Rajkumar Bikramdev Singh, the scion of Phalsagarh, was the one finally chosen. From all reports, he had a very good lineage. His blood was not red. It was the deepest royal blue.

Debdutt, driven by curiosity and jealousy, asked a friend, who worked in the King of Phalsagarh’s court, to find out more about Rajkumar Bikramdev Singh. He learnt that the prince, apart from having a penchant for male sexual partners, was also suffering from extreme paleness of skin. He was a surajmukhi, an albino.

Debdutt approached the King for an audience. He was given one. The Queen sat next to the King with her mirror, preening in front of it.

Debdutt bowed low and then said, “Your Royal Highness, Heera should not marry Rajkumar Bikramdev Singh of Phalsagarh!”

“Why, Maharathi?” The King was not amused.

“The Rajkumar does not care for women. He is also a Surajmukhi,” Debdutt blurted out the truth he knew.

The King kept his temper in check. Debdutt was a Maharathi, The Chief of all his charioteers. “Any proof? You know the price of such allegations without proof?”

“No proof, Your Majesty. But my source is directly from the boudoir of the prince.”

The King bristled, “How dare you? No proof except some gossip—and you want me to break up this alliance?” The Queen, with only one thing on her mind, put her mirror away. “Tell me, Maharathi,” she asked, “who is the fairest of them all?”

Debdutt said, “Without a doubt, your step-daughter, Rajkumari Heeramoti!”

The mirror said, “God forbid, man, but that’s the truth. I never told her!” It cracked up with laughter into tiny pieces. The Queen, red with anger, proclaimed, “How dare you come here with your bucketful of lies? Rajkumari will never be as beautiful as me! And she will marry at the earliest. Leave, before we have your beheaded!”

 

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