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First pages

 

Glossary of Words

In Order of Appearance

Surya The Sun.

Matka A metal or clay vessel for carrying water.

Chapattis A traditional Indian flat bread.

Rakshasa Demons

Villie The village herb and root gatherer.

Beti Daughter

Zameendar Landowner

Vythian Doctor

Munsiff Major

Pujari Priest

Pari Angel

Chai Tea

SabjiA spicy vegetable stew.

Panisira A general village servant

The Forging An initiation from boyhood to manhood. Boys are left to fend themselves in the wild until the full moon. If they return they go through the Conversion and become men.

The Divine The Borean God.

Assembly Gathering where Boreans are cleansed and given peace.

Hand A troop of five warriors.

The Enforcer The General of the Borean Force.

Transition A period of respite, like retirement preceding death by eternal flame.

The Voice A vessel through which The Divine speaks.

Shards Borean currency

Conversion The transition from boy to man.

Daku Desert horse-riding bandits.

Lootere Thieves

 

I

ISLE OF THE RED SUN

 

Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.

Jiddu Khrisnamurti

 

 

CHAPTER 1

Branches lashed at her face, tangling in her hair, and yanking it out of its plait. Every breath was focused on catapulting her body down the trail, leaving no breath to scream, no breath to call for help. She could feel them behind her. One, two, maybe more she wasn’t sure, and it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the trail.

This shouldn’t be happening when the sun was high. Surya time was safe. Surya time burned their hides and rendered them blind.

Her heart pounded. Her foot tangled in a root and she stumbled, righted herself, and kept running.

Stupid, stupid, she’d been so stupid.

But then the trail widened. Her heart lifted with hope. She was almost home.

They came from the side, hitting her hard and taking her down. Her nails raked earth as she was dragged backwards, her final bloodcurdling scream cut off by the tearing out of her throat.

 

Priya hoisted the large matka filled with water over the threshold of her hut. Water sloshed onto the floor, and she cursed under her breath. Her ankle-length skirt caught on one of the long iron nails hammered into the sides of the threshold; she cursed again as she ripped it free and stumbled into the kitchen.

Ma looked up from the stove where she was cooking chapattis. Priya sighed. Lord, what she wouldn’t give for some fluffy white bread like Mala and her family baked. They would dip it in thick fragrant meat stew and—

“Stop dreaming, child, and bring it in.” Ma ushered her in, pointing to the clothes basin. “Clothes won’t wash themselves.”

If only.

She did as she was told, filled the basin with water, and grabbed the washboard and soap, beginning to lather up.

“Why can’t I just do this at the river like everyone else?”

“Because I don’t want your head filled with nonsense. Goodness, the gossip of those women, it’s enough to give you earache.”

“I would gladly put up with earache simply not to have to make two trips to the well.”

Ma brandished her chopping knife in Priya’s direction. “Hush your moaning. At this rate the sun will have set by the time those clothes are washed.”

Priya knew when she was beaten. The gossip of the river would have to remain a mystery to her for a little while longer. She washed while Ma cooked, and for a time there was companionable silence. The smell of potato and aubergine curry filled the small space, and despite her irritation with their vegetarian diet, Priya’s mouth began to water.

She’d just finished the last tunic and was gathering the clothes to hang out to dry when the silence was filled with the toll of a bell.

They exchanged shocked glances.

The bell had not been used for at least a year, maybe more.

Dropping the clothes, she ran out of the hut and into the square where people were gathering. They looked dazed, uncertain as to why they had been summoned, even though it should have been obvious.

The bell meant death.

The bell meant Rakshasa.

 

They ate in silence. Priya’s eyes were gritty and swollen from crying, and Ma kept shooting her concerned glances. Papa was solemn. He’d come across the remains while searching for roots and medicinal herbs in the forest in his role as village Villee. At first he’d been confused, unsure of what he saw, but then he’d seen the jewellery. They used that to identify her. Rakshasa weren’t bothered with gold and gems—they craved flesh, and of that they’d left little.

She choked on her food and took a gulp of water.

Beti, are you alright?” Ma asked.

“Of course she’s not alright,” Papa said. “This is unprecedented. It was surya time.” He tutted. “Poor girl. Her parents are devastated, and Guru …he is inconsolable.”

Guru’s name brought a wave of mixed emotions. She swallowed the lump in her throat. “May I be excused?”

“You’ve hardly eaten anything,” Ma chided, but there was concern in her reproach.

“Leave the girl. Go, beti. Go rest,” Papa said, waving her off.

Priya uncurled her legs from under her, stood and escaped to her tiny room at the back of the hut.

She lay on her narrow bed and listened to her parents speak in hushed whispers. Ma worried that Papa had lost a whole day of work. The villagers paid in grain for the herbs, roots, and fruit he gathered from the forest, but the majority of his finds went straight to the Vythian for use on the sick and ailing. Unlike other able-bodied men, Papa was unable to work in the fields for the Zameendar. His damaged leg wasn’t strong enough for field labor, so he paid for his portion of grain by filling a slightly more dangerous role. Every day he went into the forest he risked a Rakshasa attack

Like the one today.

She reached out and traced the words etched into the wall by her bed: Mala, Guru, and Priya. She remembered the day they’d defaced the wall clearly. It had been her eighth birthday. Ma made a real birthday cake just like the ones Mala always had, and Mala and Guru were allowed to sleep over for the night. Ma had made it clear that this would be Guru’s last sleepover. She’d said that soon he’d be a man. Priya recalled looking at him, this skinny boy with floppy hair and a cowlick at the top of his head, and wondering how he could ever be a man like Papa, who was tall and broad with whiskers on his chin. That night they made a pact: no matter what happened they would be friends forever. The etching had been a promise. Even Mala’s betrothal to Guru, although it had stung, did little to diminish their closeness. But now Mala was dead.

Priya covered Mala’s name with the palm of her hand, tears snaking down her raw cheeks. “Sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.” She turned her back on the wall and closed her stinging eyes. One question drifted through her exhausted mind before sleep pulled her under: what had Mala been doing in the forest alone?

 

The next morning she rose at dawn as usual. After washing and lighting the prayer incense, she lit the cooker by stoking the fire underneath. She put water on to boil for tea before rousing Ma and Papa. While they dressed and prayed, she made tea and unwrapped some savoury breakfast biscuits.

Breakfast was always a quick, quiet affair; there was always so much to do, chores and more chores all day long. She missed the school days when Master Chatterji would walk up and down the neatly arranged rows of children, snapping his cane in his palm and glaring at them over the tops of his half-moon spectacles.

School days had been over for years, and now at nineteen she was almost an old maid. It was alright for Mala; she was younger by two years and still at an acceptable marriageable age. The thought of her dead friend brought a fresh wave of grief. She swallowed it with her tea and gathered the cups for washing.

Beti, can you help Papa in the market today? His leg is acting up.”

Priya perked up. The market was a much better prospect than household chores, but one look at her frail mother, and she was riddled with guilt.

“Let me fetch water first and feed the chickens and milk the cows.”

Ma shook her head. “No time. The sun’s up and morning prayers will be over. The stall needs putting up.”

She was already at the door with the bucket. “Then let me fetch water at least. I’ll be quick.” She didn’t wait for permission, but quickly rushed through the village to the well. There was already a queue, and she waited impatiently, tapping her foot.

Nita and Miriam were standing at the front of the queue chatting. Nita worked for the Munsiff of the village, and Miriam was the Pujari’s wife. They were both high ranking women in the community which explained why no one was urging them to wrap up their conversation and be on their way. Priya gnawed on her bottom lip. Up ahead she could see other traders already setting up their stalls. The barber had even claimed his first customer of the day. Being late meant loss of business. Papa grew the best tomatoes and aubergines, healthy and large, and Ma created the most beautiful pots and vases, but if he was late to display his wares then one of the other sellers would get the business.

She craned her neck to look at Nita and Miriam. Nita had already filled her matka and was balancing it on her hip. They were laughing, completely indifferent to the other women queuing for water.

Taking a deep breath, Priya called out, “Excuse me? Nitaji, Miriamji, will you be much longer?”

The women stopped talking and turned to look at her, sizing her up as if she were an annoying gnat.

“Who is that?” asked Nita as if she didn’t already know. Being the village gossip meant she was a walking directory of information.

“It’s Priya, the Villee’s daughter,” Miriam said.

“The one with the evil eyes?” Nita asked.

“Nita!” Miriam admonished, looking truly upset. Priya resisted the urge to lower her gaze. Her strange, pale eyes were truly a burden to her. Blue as a clear sky but rimmed in twilight. Nita sniffed. “Tell her that patience is a virtue she must foster if she is to be blessed with a place in heaven.”

Priya resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “At this rate, I’ll be on the funeral pyre before I get any water.”

A couple of other women ducked their heads, chuckling into their hands. Miriam hid a smile.

Nita huffed and hoisted her matka up further. “Well, I never! But then, what can you expect from the lower classes?”

“I better get back to the temple,” Miriam said. She graced Priya with a warm smile. Guru would be hearing of this soon. The thought made her face heat.

Saying their goodbyes, the women parted ways, leaving the well free. Priya watched Nita’s wide butt as it swayed away, and wondered what she ate to get so huge. Most of the women in the village worked so hard that they were all slim, or downright skinny, but Nita was an exception. The queue began to move once more.

Priya was almost at the head of the queue when she spotted Chaya waddling toward her, matka braced on her heavily pregnant belly. Her face was red with exertion; her brow beaded with perspiration. Women like Chaya were another reason why Priya was glad to be an old maid. Chaya had married for love and suffered for it by being cursed with horrific in-laws.

Priya sighed and left the queue, rushing over to take the matka from her. It was made from thick clay, and was heavy even without being filled with water, yet her mother-in-law had sent her to fetch water regardless.

“Priya, thank you, sweetheart.” Chaya smiled, transforming her heart-shaped face from plain to beautiful. She placed her hands on the small of her back, kneading the sore muscles. “I am so ready to get this baby out.” She yawned. “I’ve forgotten what it’s like to sleep through the night.”

Priya chuckled. “Well, there’ll be much less sleep once he or she is here.”

Priya led the way back to the queue, heading for the back, but the women ushered her toward the front. Her good deed was being rewarded. Thanking them, she filled Chaya’s matka and then her own. Placing her own bucket at the side of the well, she hoisted Chaya’s matka to her hip.

“Come, I’ll walk you home.”

“You don’t need to do that,” Chaya protested.

“Yes. Yes I do.” Priya didn’t give Chaya the opportunity to protest any further and set off toward her marital home.

Chaya’s home lay on the south side of the village. Her in-laws were the Zameendars that owned all the land that lay beyond. It was in their fields that most villagers worked, earning grain for their trouble. The shepherd rented land to graze his sheep, and taxes were collected. She glanced at Chaya, round and fair and sweet. It was strange to think that only a few years ago they had both been in pigtails, sitting beside each other on the floor of the dusty old schoolroom. Now Chaya was a wife with a child on the way, and Priya . . . well, Priya wasn’t.

They turned down a small dirt track that led behind the village to the large sprawling farmhouse owned by Chaya’s in-laws. Affluence was judged by whether a home was thatched or tiled, and this one was neatly tiled, screaming wealth.

Chaya grabbed Priya’s elbow. “I better take that. You should go. Thank you.”

Priya frowned. “Don’t be silly. I’m here now. I might as well escort you all the way. Carrying this much weight isn’t good for the baby.” She repeated the words she had heard so many times in the village from other pregnant women. Infant mortality rates were high, and pregnant women and children were prized and treated like royalty in most cases. Priya couldn’t comprehend Chaya’s family’s blatant disregard of her condition, and there were whispers among the other villagers about it too. No one spoke up though, for to do so would alienate their source of wheat, corn, and sugar.

Chaya had stopped walking, her eyes full of panic. “Please, Priya. If she sees you helping me then she’ll be mad.”

Priya shrugged. “So let her be mad. You get a tongue lashing, so what? Isn’t that normal for you?”

Chaya gnawed on her bottom lip, averting her gaze, and Priya stared at her in dawning comprehension. “They beat you?”

Chaya’s head snapped up. She shook her head. “Please, you can’t say anything. If Prabuji finds out, there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Maybe if you told Prabuji what was happening, he might put a stop to it. For God’s sake, what’s wrong with you? Do you feel you deserve this treatment?”

Chaya shook her head and reached for the matka. “Please, Priya. You’ve got a lot to learn about married life. I appreciate your help, but I have to go now.” She tugged, and Priya reluctantly released the matka.

“I’m sorry about Mala. She was a sweet girl,” Chaya said. “Guru would have made her a good match. His family would have adored her.”

Without a backward glance, Chaya waddled slowly up the lane toward her home.

Sighing in exasperation, Priya turned and made her way quickly back to the market. There was so much to do, and she was already late.

 

Papa managed to stay in the stall untill the sun turned red, and then the heat was too much for him. Priya sent him home. Pulling her scarf over her head, she parked herself on a stool under the shadowed canopy of their stall. A few traders were packing up. Not everyone could withstand the heat between midday and late afternoon. It could be unbearable, as if the sun was angry, punishing them for some unrecalled past transgression.

For Priya this was the best time. The heat never really bothered her too much. Ma said it was because she was a pari sent to them from heaven as a boon. She never challenged that idea because it was better than the truth; that someone had abandoned her nineteen years ago at the edge of the forest. If Papa hadn’t found her she would have been Rakshasa food for sure.

The market was at its most serene in these hours, and she took a moment to appreciate her good fortune, for despite its petty annoyances her village was beautiful. The houses were all one-story flat affairs painted white to reflect the sun. On the south side they were surrounded by fields of wheat, corn and sugar cane. On the north side was the river, which provided them with a bounty of fish, and to the east was the forest. She didn’t want to think on that, but focused on what lay beyond – the Blue Road that led to the Capitol; a place of glittering finery and wonders, where a King and Queen ruled and everyone wore silk. At least that was what she had heard; how much was true and how much embellishment was a mystery, but one that she was determined to unravel for herself someday. The West, however, was a mountain range, perilous to cross, beyond which lay the ocean; a vast beast she had yet to set eyes on. Rumours spoke of air filled with the taste of salt and fish as big as a man. She hoped one day to see this ocean and the people who lived side by side with it.

For now this was home, and the most beautiful part was the Temple. Tall and regal it rose from the center of the village like a proud white and gold peacock. Now under the red sun it gleamed with pink and orange hues. A place of more than worship, it was a place of festivities, a place of gathering, a haven to all. It was also Guru’s home.

As if conjured by her train of thought he appeared before her.

“Priya?”

Priya started, almost falling off her stool. “Guru. How…how are you?” Stupid question. She flushed.

He dropped his gaze and nodded, his long thick lashes casting shadows on his high cheekbones. “There’s to be a ceremony this evening for the peace of her soul. Just a few close friends and family. Will you come?”

She nodded vehemently, her eyes welling. “Of course I will.”

Guru nodded and made to walk away. He faltered and turned back. Reaching into his satchel he pulled out a small white bundle. “Fruit from the offerings this morning. I thought you might…” He shrugged.

Priya carefully took the offering, lifting it to her forehead in respect. “Thank you.”

This time he did leave, and Priya watched him go, shoulders slumped, feet heavy. Her chest ached to hold him, to share his grief, but she didn’t deserve to mourn any longer.

 

Papa returned to the stall just as the sun turned yellow. His limp was less pronounced, and he looked rested. Priya noticed for the first time how thin he had become. In her mind he’d always been a large sturdy figure, a behemoth of a man who used to swing her onto his shoulders and carry her high above everyone in the village. Where had that man gone? Years of hard work and lean food had stripped him of muscle, bowed his back, and sunk his cheeks.

“Your Ma needs help at home, beti.” Papa settled onto the stool she vacated. “Did you sell much?”

Priya shook her head. “Just some aubergine, onions and potatoes. Oh and two of Ma’s clay pots.”

Pa nodded his expression solemn. The square was filling again, and in truth most business would be done in the early morning and late afternoon to evening time, so why did Pa look so worried? She opened her mouth to question him, but he waved her away.

“Go, go, your Ma needs you.”

Priya sighed and on impulse pressed a quick kiss to his dry cheek. She caught the flash of his smile before she turned and hurried back through the village toward home.

She was passing the well when she felt eyes on her. Straightening her back she continued to walk, ignoring the burning between her shoulder blades, but the urge to turn and look at him was nearly unbearable. She had almost made it out of the market square when she broke and snuck a peek over her shoulder.

He stood, hammer in hand, torso bare, glistening and streaked with grime. His amber eyes seemed to glow in his soot covered face. Strange eyes like hers, but it did little to lessen her disquiet.

She turned away, suddenly filled with anger and annoyance. What was his problem? Why did he have to stare at her like that, and why did she have to acknowledge him? Ravi the blacksmith was older than her by a good five years, and a total recluse. He never attended any functions, barely spoke to anyone. The girls in the village used to take it in turns to sashay past the smithy in the hope that he would look their way, but he either ignored them or glared menacingly at them, causing them to squeal and run home. Priya was certain that if the Munsiff could find a replacement he would have politely asked Ravi to leave. Although she wasn’t entirely sure that Ravi would honour that request. Ravi made people uncomfortable.

Back home she found her mother up to her elbows in dough.

“Finally, Pujariji has asked us to provide the vegetable curry and the chapattis for the ceremony tonight.”

“Did he provide the flour and the vegetables?” Priya asked.

Ma averted her gaze.

Priya’s temper flared. “So they expect us to use our personal rations? Ma, why didn’t you say something?”

“What? What could I say?” She threw up her flour coated hands. “Mala is dead, and the pujari asked me himself. He’s a man of God. It’s like God himself asking me to do this.”

“God wouldn’t be so callous. He’d know we have to eat too.”

“Priya!”

“If you won’t say something then I will. It’s too much.”

“Don’t you dare!”

Priya pressed her lips together and glared at her mother. She wouldn’t say anything; to do so would be to bring disgrace upon their family. She knew what an honour it was for Ma to be asked to provide the meal. She suspected the Pujari was aware of this too. She wondered why Mala’s family, wealthy merchants that they were, weren’t paying for the meal.

“Stop glowering at me and chop the potatoes. I want them small and square. No, do the onions first, finely.”

Priya blew out a sharp breath to shake off her anger. She washed her hands and settled herself on the floor with the onions, a chopping board and a knife. As she chopped she thought of Mala. Her eyes stung and welled up. She had no right to grieve, so she told herself the tears were from the onions.

CHAPTER 2

The ceremony was a sad affair. There’d been very little left of Mala to burn. After prayers for the peace of her soul had been said, and hymns urging her on to the afterlife had been sung, they moved to the backroom where the floor had been laid with bamboo mats. Everyone took a seat, folding their bodies into the lotus position. Ma ladled out the food onto banana leaves which were placed before them.

Priya ate in silence. She could feel the eyes of Mala’s parents boring into her. If they knew…she couldn’t bear for them to know. She finished her meal and excused herself, more than ready to leave. She was at the door when Mala’s mother stopped her with a gentle hand to the elbow.

Priya took a deep breath before turning to face her. Could she read the guilt in her eyes?

Mala’s mother smiled shakily. “Priya, beti. We know how much you meant to Mala.” She reached up and unclasped one of her necklaces. Priya’s eyes widened. She recognized it. It had belonged to Mala, a sixteenth birthday present and one that Priya had coveted ever since.

Mala’s mother held it out. “You have always been like a daughter to us and a sister to Mala. She would have wanted you to have it.”

Priya stared at the chain as it swayed to and fro in the lamp light. It was truly beautiful, a twisted chain made of pure gold. Priya blinked and met Mala’s mother’s eyes.

“I’m sorry. I can’t…I can’t take it.” She turned and ran from the room, choking on emotions she had thought to be in control.

“Priya wait!” Guru caught up to her in the idol room, grabbing her arm and yanking her back. “What is wrong with you? That was cruel.” His face was dark with anger.

“Cruel?” She stared at him dumbfounded.

His eyes flashed. “They offered you a piece of her, and you threw it back in their faces.”

She shook her head, blinded by hot tears. How could she explain to him, how could she make him understand?

“Why? Why would you do that?”

In the center of the prayer room, under the judging eyes of the Gods depicted in their idol forms she found the words. “Why? Because I don’t deserve it, because it’s my fault that she’s dead!”

Guru stared at her in horror, his mouth worked soundlessly. His grip on her tightened, and he pulled her from the room. Down the corridor and outside they went until they were standing in his mother’s tiny herb garden behind the temple.

“What are you saying, tell me what you know?” His eyes were hooded.

Priya squeezed her eyes closed not wanting to relive the memory, but it bubbled to the surface anyway.

“Just admit it, you wish it was you!” Mala said

“Why are you doing this?” Priya asked, heart in mouth.

“Because I’m sick of watching you moon over him. Get it into your head that he’s mine.”

“I never…I don’t-”

“Oh, please everyone knows and Guru, well he thinks it’s hilarious.”

“You talk about me?” She felt sick.

Mala quirked a brow.

It was a hateful look and Priya felt the answering hate bubbling up inside her. “I hate you, I hate you both, I wish you were dead!”

Her last words to her closest friend; a wish made carelessly that had come true.

She wiped the silent tears from her cheeks. She didn’t deserve to mourn, because as far as she was concerned, she had murdered her friend with her horrific wish.

“Priya!” Guru shook her sharply.

Priya looked up at him helplessly. “The day she died…she came to see me. We argued. She said some hurtful things. I was so mad that I…I wished her dead. I wished it, and I meant it, and then she died.” She waited for disgust to paint his features, but he simply stared down at her in confusion.

“Is that all?”

“What? What do you mean, don’t you see. I wished it and it happened. It’s my fault!”

Guru grabbed her by the shoulders, his fingers digging into her tender flesh. “Now, you listen to me Priya, and listen carefully, there may be people in this village who subscribe to such superstitious nonsense, but I’m not one of them. To be honest I thought you were more educated than that. If wishes could come true then I would…” He trailed off shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter, what matters is that Mala’s death was not your fault. She died because she wandered into the forest and the Rakshasa’s got her. They killed her not you.”

Her lips trembled. “Not me?”

Guru shook his head.

It was as if his words had levered the boulder off her chest, and the grief trapped beneath finally erupted from her eyes, her mouth, and her nose. She cried hard and long and Guru held her, rocking her back and forth, offering up his tunic as a handkerchief.

After an age her sobs turned to hiccups and her tears dried up. Her throat was thick and her voice raspy when she spoke. “I don’t understand.”

“What?” Guru whispered into her hair.

“Why she was there, why was she in the forest?”

Guru’s body tensed. He gently extricated himself, holding her at arm’s length. “That’s a question that will have to remain unanswered. If I were you I’d leave it. Mala’s family…we all need to move on, and dwelling on a question we may never know the answer to will only hold us back from finding peace.”

Priya nodded.

Guru looked up at the sky, and Priya realized with a start that the moon was already out. How long had they remained here, locked in each other’s arms like clandestine lovers? Her neck heated in shame.

“I should get home. Ma and Papa will be worried.”

Guru nodded goodbye, but his eyes were glazed, his thoughts elsewhere.

Thinking of Mala no doubt. The woman he’d loved.

 

It was late, her favorite time of the week, a Saturday night. It meant no market in the morning. It meant quality time with her parents. Papa sat by the stove smoking his pipe while Ma worked on embroidering a blanket. It would probably be a present for Papa.

Priya sat by the window carefully stitching sleeves onto her festival dress. She should really be working on the other two dresses she had been commissioned to sew, and there was a whole basket of mending from several villagers to get through, but tonight she wanted to work on something that was entirely hers. She made a meagre wage from her sewing, but it would all add up, and the little tin under her mattress was filling nicely with coin. Maybe in another year she would have enough to visit the Capitol.

She finished the sleeve and stood, holding the dress up against her. In the lamplight the color looked dark plum, but in daylight it would be a vibrant amethyst that would draw eyes.

“Beautiful Priya,” Ma said. “You will surely attract a husband in that.”

Priya dropped the dress.

Papa cleared his throat.

Ma sighed. “Oh for God’s sake she’s hardly an old maid now.”

Papa mumbled something and chewed on his pipe.

“Honestly Ma, I’m happy just like this.”

“Don’t be silly, every girl wants to be married.”

Priya sat down and picked an item from the mending basket at random. Guru’s face flashed through her mind, and she blinked it away. Guru was unattainable. “Not everyone.”

Papa cleared his throat. “So if someone…asked for your hand, you would turn him down?”

Ma sat up straight. “Someone has expressed interest in our Priya?”

Papa hushed her. Priya could feel his eyes on her waiting for a response. Her heart was thudding so hard in her chest she almost pricked her finger with the needle. What did he mean? Had Guru’s family enquired? The minute the thought crossed her mind she dismissed it. Guru was the Pujari’s son, his family revered in the community, and she was a lowly Villee’s daughter. Even if they managed to overlook these facts, they would not be so callous as to organize a new match so soon after Mala’s death.

Her Papa was still staring at her so she shook her head. “No, I wouldn’t.” She looked up at him and smiled. “I have plans remember?”
Ma huffed. “Pah! Your Capitol dream. There is no reason you can’t visit the Capitol as a married woman, it could be your honeymoon.” She looked over at Papa for confirmation, but he dropped his gaze.

“Our Priya is fine as she is. There is no man in this village that I’d deem worthy of her anyway. Maybe she’ll find her match in the Capitol.” He winked at her and she grinned back.

It was moments like this which made her think that her Papa saw and understood more than he let on.

“You two!” Ma got up to fetch more tea.

“Priya, will you sing to us?” Papa asked.

Priya nodded. “What would you like to hear?”

“A story,” Ma said settling herself back into her seat with a fresh cup of chai.

Priya thought for a minute, then put down her mending and began to sing.

Papa closed his eyes, and Ma smiled dreamily as Priya wove a tale of adventure, and love lost then found. She pictured it in her mind, was transported there, and for a few moments she was the brave warrior, the damsel to be saved, and the beast to be vanquished. For a few moments she lived an adventure. But then the story came to a close, the mountains and treasure filled cave melted away leaving her back in her hut.

“You have such a beautiful voice. I have no idea why they have never asked you to perform for the festival.” Ma said.

Papa shot Ma a withering look and she flushed.

Priya gnawed on her bottom lip. Ma often spoke without thinking things through. Mala always sang in the festival, she’d always been center stage. The villagers didn’t even know that Priya could sing. It was a private thing. Every song was unique, created as it was sung. It was a strange talent, one she’d only ever shared with her parents.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I live in Bedfordshire, England, with my three kiddies and very supportive husband. When I'm not writing I'm thinking up new stories, or feeding my imagination with some of the wonderful literature that's out there. I write in a duo under the pen name Amos Cassidy and Forest of Demons is my solo debut.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My dad badgered me to learn more about my Hindu roots for years. When he fell sick I gave in and did some reading. I was inspired by the rich mythology and larger-than-life gods and finished the first draft in time for my dad to read before he passed away. Now I'm ready to share it with others.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
Right now I'm reading The Death House by Sarah Pinborough and enjoying every word. My to-be-read shelf is bulging with great reads that I am determined to get through them. Next on the list is The Martian by Andy Weir.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I was around thirteen years old. I asked my dad for a typewriter and spent hours tapping away at the keys with my index fingers. I still recall the first story I typed, it was called Santa Claws - a murder mystery. Life got in the way for a while. but I finally made it back to doing what I love.

Next in:
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Morrighan's Children
Two bound souls destined to save the world!
Harry Seven
History may repeat, but will their love?
The Lost Queen
Will this queen survive her journey home?