There was a soft knock on the door of the royal chambers. Queen Sunayna of Videha nodded to the guards, who pulled the door open. Her personal servant, Maya, entered. “Your highness, the Asura has arrived,” she whispered, her brown eyes wide. The young girl had heard the stories, but she had never actually seen an Asura. And today, she had seen two up close. It was all tremendously exciting. “He brought a boy with him. A demon boy.”
“Maya, please don’t call them demons,” Sunayna admonished her, trying to hide her surprise at the announcement. She stood up and walked towards the girl. “They are our guests.”
“I’m sorry, my lady,” Maya looked down, properly chastened. She shifted awkwardly from one foot to another, unsure of what to say next.
Queen Sunayna smiled slightly. The girl meant no harm. Sunayna gently brushed a strand of hair from Maya’s cheek and wrapped it around her ear. “Thank you. Now, please tell me more of our guests.”
“Oh, my lady,” Maya gushed, relieved that she could reveal everything that she learned. “The grown demon,” at the queen’s raised eyebrow, Maya halted. “Er, Asura,” she corrected herself. “The grown Asura is so dark and handsome. He looks like a prince.” Maya exhaled a long breathe, and rolled her eyes upward.
Sunaya laughed at Maya’s deep sigh of contentment. “Well, he is the King of Mahishuru. So, he is more than a prince.” Her large brown eyes filled with mirth.
“Yes, my lady,” Maya grinned, heady from the queen’s obvious delight. “And he looks the part. He is the largest man that I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“The largest man, you say?” Sunayna chuckled at Maya’s vigorous nod. She tried to turn the girl’s attention to the other guest. “And what of the child?”
“The boy is large too. For his age. And handsome,” Maya continued to chatter. Her eyes lit up at a new thought. “Maybe he’s the Asura’s son. They share a resemblance.”
“Do they?” The queen’s interest piqued. Did Mahish have a son? The great Seer of Mahishuru had taken a vow of celibacy. She kept her tone casual. “In what way do they resemble one another?”
“They’re both dem, er, Asuras,” Maya said. It would take some effort to undo her impulse to call them demons.
“How can you tell?,” Sunayna asked, ignoring the slip.
“The boy has the same golden eyes as the man,” Maya replied.
“And?” Sunayna prompted.
Maya scrunched up her face in deep thought. After a moment, she said, “They are both dark-skinned.”
Sunayna relaxed. The girl hadn’t mentioned any other shared physical traits. “Shared eye color and dark skin doesn’t necessarily mean that they are related,” Sunayna said gently. “All Asuras have golden eyes and dark skin.” She thought for a moment. “Did anyone else accompany the man and the boy?”
Maya shook her head. “No.”
Sunayna nodded. “They will likely stay for at least one fortnight. I believe we have only prepared the guest quarters for King Mahish. Please tell Ayah to ready the nursery. It will suffice for the boy on such short notice.”
“Yes, my lady,” Maya nodded. She turned to walk out of the chambers.
It occurred to Sunayna that the Asura boy may feel slightly uneasy in the strange Deva palace. “Maya,” Sunayna called, just as the girl approached the door.
Maya turned. “Yes, my lady.”
“Please bring the boy to me after he leaves the King’s presence. I would like to welcome him to Videha,” Sunayna said. She tilted her head in the direction of her balcony. “Perhaps I can show him our gardens. It may amuse him to play outside.”
Maya smiled. The queen had a soft heart. Her kindness to the Asura boy wasn’t a surprise. “Yes, my lady. I’ll bring him to you as soon as possible.”
Once alone in her room, Sunayna could think of nothing else. He’s here. Mahishasuru. Sixteen years had passed since the last time Sunayna had laid eyes on him. Mahish was no longer a prince or a king. But that didn’t matter to Sunayna. It never had.
Sunayna’s heart pounded as she changed out of her heavy robes into lighter clothes. Perhaps a stroll through the gardens would calm her nerves. She would preside over the evening meal with her guests. It was important to remain unruffled in his presence.
Two royal guards followed Sunayna out of her chambers. They stopped when she ordered them to stand alert at the garden entrance. She needed solitude to collect her thoughts. Sunayna found her favorite spot in the garden and sat on the ground under a tree. She leaned against the trunk and closed her eyes. All she could see was him.
“Suni?” A deep voice startled her out of her reverie. Shaken, Sunayna stood up and turned around. Mahish stood in front of her. The surprise on his face changed into obvious pleasure.
For one moment, time stood still. Nothing existed but the two of them. Looking into his golden eyes elicited the same thrilling shiver down her spine from her youth. With a sinking feeling, Sunayna realized that neither time nor marriage had changed her feelings. “Your Majesty,” Sunayana managed after a few moments.
Mahish’s eyes widened in surprise. “Are we going to be formal with each other?” he said, laughing slightly. His eyes still crinkled at the he corners when he smiled. Maya had been right. He was too handsome for his own good. “I am no king. Such formalities are unnecessary. Especially between old friends.” Mahish reached out to take her hands. “It’s good to see you again, Suni.”
Her slim, delicate hands were dwarfed by his. Sunayna could feel his heat wrapping itself around her fingers. A treacherous flush stained her cheeks. She snatched her hands out of his. “Oh, forgive me,” she pressed her hands against her cheeks, feigning discomfort. She couldn’t let him know his effect on her. “The heat is making me dizzy.”
“Oh, Suni,” he said, with obvious concern. Mahish bent down to study her face. “You do look flushed. Where are your quarters?” Before Sunayna could protest, Mahish swept her up into his arms.
“Why are you alone like this? Where are your guards?” Mahish strode towards the palace. He scowled when he saw the two guards standing at the garden entrance. “You two. Why are you just standing there?” He barked at the guards. “Your queen is unwell. Please show me to her chambers.”
The two guards didn’t question the Asura. They scurried to do his bidding. Shocked at the complete departure from protocol, Sunayna remained speechless. Mahish carried her across the grass as if she weighed little more than a child’s play thing.