Fire of Beauty by L. Adams Beck
Now it was the hour that the Rana should visit her; for since the coming of the Lotus Lady, be had forgotten his other women, and in her was all his heart. He came from the Hall of Audience where petitions were heard, and justice done to rich and poor; and as he came, the Queen, hearing his step on the stone, dismissed her women, and smiling to know her loveliness, bowed before him, even as the Goddess Uma bows before Him who is her other half.
Now he was a tall man, with the falcon look of the Hill Rajputs, and moustaches that curled up to his eyes, lion-waisted and lean in the flanks like Arjoon himself, a very ruler of men; and as he came, his hand was on the hilt of the sword that showed beneath his gold coat of khincob. On the high cushions he sat, and the Rani a step beneath him; and she said, raising her lotus eyes:-
"Speak, Aryaputra, (son of a noble father)-what hath befallen?"
And he, looking upon her beauty with fear, replied,-
"It is thy beauty, O wife, that brings disaster."
"And how is this?" she asked very earnestly.
For a moment he paused, regarding her as might a stranger, as one who considers a beauty in which he hath no part; and, drawn by this strangeness, she rose and knelt beside him, pillowing her head upon his heart.
"Say on," she said in her voice of music.
He unfurled a scroll that he had crushed in his strong right hand, and read aloud:-
"`Thus says Allah-u-Din, Shadow of God, Wonder of the Age, Viceregent of Kings. We have heard that in the Treasury of Chitor is a jewel, the like of which is not in the Four Seas - the work of the hand of the Only God, to whom be praise! This jewel is thy Queen, the Lady Padmini. Now, since the sons of the Prophet are righteous, I desire but to look upon this jewel, and ascribing glory to the Creator, to depart in peace. Granted requests are the bonds of friendship; therefore lay the head of acquiescence in the dust of opportunity and name an auspicious day.'"
He crushed it again and flung it furiously from him on the marble.
"The insult is deadly. The soor! son of a debased mother! Well he knows that to the meanest Rajput his women are sacred, and how much more the daughters and wives of the Kings! The jackals feast on the tongue that speaks this shame! But it is a threat, Beloved - a threat! Give me thy counsel that never failed me yet."
For the Rajputs take counsel with their women who are wise.
They were silent, each weighing the force of resistance that could be made; and this the Rani knew even as he.
"It cannot be," she said; "the very ashes of the dead would shudder to hear. Shall the Queens of India be made the sport of the barbarians?"
Her husband looked upon her fair face. She could feel his heart labor beneath her ear.
"True, wife; but the barbarians are strong. Our men are tigers, each one, but the red dogs of the Dekkan can pull down the tiger, for they are many, and he alone."
Then that great Lady, accepting his words, and conscious of the danger, murmured this, clinging to her husband:-
"There was a Princess of our line whose beauty made all other women seem as waning moons in the sun's splendour. And many great Kings sought her, and there was contention and war. And, she, fearing that the Rajputs would be crushed to powder between the warring Kings, sent unto each this message: `Come on such and such a day, and thou shalt see my face and hear my choice.' And they, coming, rejoiced exceedingly, thinking each one that he was the Chosen. So they came into the great Hall, and there was a table, and somewhat upon it covered with a gold cloth; and an old veiled woman lifted the gold, and the head of the Princess lay there with the lashes like night upon her cheek, and between her lips was a little scroll, saying this: `I have chosen my Lover and my Lord, and he is mightiest, for he is Death.' - So the Kings went silently away. And there was Peace."
The music of her voice ceased, and the Rana clasped her closer.
"This I cannot do. Better die together. Let us take counsel with the ancient Brahman, thy guru [teacher], for he is very wise."
She clapped her hands, and the maidens returned, and, bowing, brought the venerable Prabhu Narayan into the Presence, and again those roses retired.
Respectful salutation was then offered by the King and the Queen to that saint, hoary with wisdom - he who had seen her grow into the loveliness of the sea-born Shri, yet had never seen that loveliness; for he had never raised his eyes above the chooris about her ankles. To him the King related his anxieties; and he sat rapt in musing, and the two waited in dutiful silence until long minutes had fallen away; and at the last he lifted his head, weighted with wisdom, and spoke.
"O King, Descendant of Rama! this outrage cannot be. Yet, knowing the strength and desire of this obscene one and the weakness of our power, it is plain that only with cunning can cunning be met. Hear, therefore, the history of the Fox and the Drum.
"A certain Fox searched for food in the jungle, and so doing beheld a tree on which hung a drum; and when the boughs knocked upon the parchment, it sounded aloud. Considering, he believed that so round a form and so great a voice must portend much good feeding. Neglecting on this account a fowl that fed near by, he ascended to the drum. The drum being rent was but air and parchment, and meanwhile the fowl fled away. And from the eye of folly he shed the tear of disappointment, having bartered the substance for the shadow. So must we act with this budmash [scoundrel]. First, receiving his oath that he will depart without violence, hid him hither to a great feast, and say that he shall behold the face of the Queen in a mirror. Provide that some fair woman of the city show her face, and then let him depart in peace, showing him friendship. He shall not know he hath not seen the beauty he would befoul."
After consultation, no better way could be found; but the heart of the great Lady was heavy with foreboding.
(A hi! that Beauty should wander a pilgrim in the ways of sorrow!)
To Allah-u-Din therefore did the King dispatch this letter by swift riders on mares of Mewar.
After salutations - "Now whereas thou hast said thou wouldest look upon the beauty of the Treasure of Chitor, know it is not the custom of the Rajputs that any eye should light upon their treasure. Yet assuredly, when requests arise between friends, there cannot fail to follow distress of mind and division of soul if these are ungranted. So, under promises that follow, I bid thee to a feast at my poor house of Chitor, and thou shalt see that beauty reflected in a mirror, and so seeing, depart in peace from the house of a friend."
This being writ by the Twice-Born, the Brahman, did the Rana sign with bitter rage in his heart. And the days passed.