Mahisha lay naked amidst women in a pool of crystal blue water.
His thick arms flexed and tightened, veins popping up while he casually leaned back, relaxing and observing the fifty-feet high ceiling which had strange, ornate designs his architect had made. Women lapped around him. They kissed him, caressed his cheeks. His mouth. His scarred chest. They giggled. There were five of them.
He had carved out a pool for himself in his royal hall and he should have been enjoying every bit of that, but he was too busy pondering on the days that were yet to come. Defining days, as he was about to make something really important happen for Jambudvipa.
‘Might we ask you something, my lord?’ One of the women spoke up.
This time Mahisha didn’t bother to even look at which one it was. He just nodded mundanely. ‘Why is your skin...green?’ the girl asked. Mahisha shot her a sharp look of contempt. He knew he was green. Or a bit of him was. The skin pigmentation condition he was born with was a strange, rare defect. The village doctor, a bhisak, had told his parents he was malnutritional. Would die any time. But he survived. For some reason, he did. But the skin colour remained the same, splotches of forest green
just here and there, acting as instruments of insecurity.
‘What did you just ask me?’ he said, in a calm, soothing voice.
The girl was frightened. Her pupils dilated. ‘I didn’t mean anything.’
Mahisha knew that the insecurity he felt because of his skin colour wasn’t public knowledge. For them, his skin colour was...well...war paint or just something he did purposefully. ‘No, you meant something, girl.’
‘I was...I was just curious.’
At that, everyone in the pool went quiet. Complete silence. They weren’t touching him anymore. Only the little waves of the pool were heard.
‘Curious?’ he smiled.
The girl did smile back. ‘Yes.’ She was feeling weak, he noticed.
‘No, I get it,’ he nodded to himself. ‘How one could be curious. Don’t fret. I am not angry with you, girl.’ The girl was confused about whether to believe him or not. But he was just plain smiling. And regardless of his skin colour, Mahisha was a handsome man. In his late thirties, he had shoulder length hair which was jet black in colour. Irises were brown as a bark of an ancient grove. A jawline that could cut wood in two.
‘All right,’ she said, coming close to him while the other girls began to giggle again, filling up the silence which had fallen earlier. ‘I apologise if I was out of line.’
He shook his head. ‘No point.’
‘No point in apologising.’
With a quick jab of his elbow, he slammed into her teeth and plunged her head inside the pool. The girl began to struggle. He continued to push her teeth in. The water started to become crimson. The other girls scrambled out of the pool, still naked. The woman thrashed against Mahisha’s thick arms
and strong grip. But she couldn’t do it for long. In a few moments, she stopped moving. He left her, a placid expression on his face as he shoved her in the corner of the pool, where she floated up with her face down in the water.
‘Whore,’ he sighed, as he watched the other women, who had fled to the corners of the room to hide from him. He was in no mood to kill them. It was a waste to kill without reason, even though women in general often irked him. But they were also his distractions. Good at making him forget about troubles and just gratifying him. They were objects of desire.
There was a harsh knock on the doors and while he wished it wasn’t his soldiers, the doors opened as if the man beyond them didn’t care to wait for his summons. If it had been anyone else, Mahisha would have beheaded the person, but it was his guru. The man behind his success. Shukr. A guru, a preceptor and a priest. The purohit of his capital. He was a tactical genius.
Shukr was an old man. Scrawny. Lanky. The robe he had on looked like it was wearing him and not the other way round. His hair was white, and there were grey blotches on his papery-white, frozen skin. He was crouching.
He was about to speak, when he saw the dead woman in the pool.
‘Why?’ he asked with a frustrated grimace.
Mahisha shrugged. ‘Does it matter?’
He pulled himself out of the pool and came to his feet. When he clapped his hands, the frightened women who were hiding in the corner came with sheets of cloth and began to wipe him dry. Each of them, afraid to the core, remained professional as they knew that if they didn’t listen to him, he would kill them too. ‘What is so important?’
‘We have a problem,’ Shukr said.
‘Can it wait? I’m leaving for the borders tomorrow. Let me return.’
Shukr shook his head. ‘We need your input first and then you can leave.’
Mahisha could see the impassive face of the old man and he knew he meant something serious. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here.
‘Let’s go then.’
Excerpted with permission from The Devi Duology - Durga, Kevin Missal, Simon and Schuster.