The paalki came to a halt . Tarini parted the curtains and peeped outside . They were almost at the entrance of the camp . She could see the torch flames flickering . Maybe , 20 or 25 tiny little tents ,fluttering in the wind .
It was not a typical army camp . The vaastu was inauspicious to begin with ( and they were soon going to realize how very inauspicious it was going to be ) .
The barricades were too fragile , almost a formality . And the number of guards at the entry ( and the few lookout posts they had passed ) , were sparse and too relaxed .
She turned her head to the other side . Behind her , five other paalkis had come to a halt . She could see the silhouettes of her sisters in each of them . The night was silent , almost eerily quiet . Warm dusty wind blew against her face .
It was the kind of silence that gave you goosebumps . The silence that preceded the storm .
And , the moon ! The bright full moon hanging in the sky . Full moon nights made her uneasy . She put her head inside the palki again , and closed her eyes . Such vividly painful memories they were .
* * * *
It was a full moon night ,in that tiny hamlet on Uttarapatha . Bharini was barely six years of age . Her eyes dilated with fear ,and tears welled up in them.
She looked back at the fading images of her parents ,standing at the boundary of their tiny hut . Their eyes brimming with tears , yet their chests so full of pride .
Little Bharini didn't understand it then . Tarini knew better , it wasn't everyday that the prime minister Chanakya came over and asked for your daughter .
And when he did , you gave her in . With the sacrifice , came the immense honour of being the father of a Mauryan soldier .
And from there ,the journey had begun. In an enclosed ashram , two days away from Takshila .. Bharini died . In her place , Tarini was born .
The childhood memories were blurred .They were a mixture of body aches , blinding head aches ,dehydration , vomiting ,stomach cramps ,unconsciousness and struggles for breath .
She was not alone . There were many other girls around ,suffering the same fate .
They were taken care of , bathed , dressed and fed every day . With the food came a small portion of that vile potion . Then they retched , and broke in sweats ,some actually cried aloud and begged for death .
The lucky ones , were indeed embraced by Yama himself .
By the time she was ten , Tarini knew she was the unlucky one . She , and a couple of others ,survived the ordeals .
Their bodies had finally grown accustomed to the daily doses of posion .
Every day they drank , venom extracted from cobras , kraits , scorpions , mysterious sea fishes ,toads spiders and plants .
Chanakya had them imported from unknown corners of the world . Exotic snakes , monstrous spiders , multi hued toads and crushed plants . Each of these were tested and mixed by scientists and vaidyas ,sworn to secrecy .
And they brewed new concoctions everyday . Concoctions that she and her friends gulped down , each morning .
And if they thought that their struggles had ended . They couldn't have been more mistaken .
From the time she was ten , Tarini could not remember being free . The day started with 'Astra vidya' .Swords , daggers , whips , arrows ,spears and martial arts . Each one of the maidens as drilled till they could barely stand.
From famed army generals , to Egyptian assassins ,with no shortage of trainers . They ducked , sprang , stabbed and shielded . Bruises and welts were a part of existence back then .
From time to time , Chanakya would come and watch . And bring newer opponents every time . Watch them struggle ,get beaten and ( after a long time ) crush each of his fighters .
The evenings were a trial in themselves . From natya to sangeet to kaamvidya , they were instructed by the finest in each field . They danced till their feel bled . The sword wielding muscles forming those delicate mudras .
The throats that echoed with battle cries , would strain to catch a particular elaborate raaga . The practised the postions of pleasure , read vedas and recited mantras late into the night .
By the time Tarini was eighteen , she was unrecognizable .Her long eyelashes , large soft eyes , full lips and a delicate looking nose had emerged victorious from the clutches of puberty . The slim waist , vessel like hips and heavy bosom added to the charm .
Oh , and she breathed poison . Poion that blended with her very blood and fluids . It pulsed within her , growing stronger with every cup she drank .
One scratch of those nails ,was enough to make a man stop dead in his tracks . Literally . One swipe of he tongue on the lips , and he would be struggling for breath . And a full blown kiss on the lips , would be the death sentence.
And finally , the evening before , Chanakya had summoned her and her sisters . Finally , laid out ....
* * * *
The paalki started moving , pulling her back to reality . The moon shone brightly through the silk veils . She could see the soldiers trying to catch a glimpse of the damsels inside .
What they didn't know was that , there sat vicious monsters behind those veils
TO BE CONTINUED .....
TO BE CONTINUED .....