Muses Saga

Anger is a funny thing. Early on Sagar had found it to be rather destructive. As he grew older, he learnt how to let the rage brew under his skin and be let out in small bursts. People commended him for his ability to control it. In fact, the worst fit of anger anyone had ever seen with Sagar was three years ago when a criminal got a lowered sentence than what he deserved.

The same criminal sat in front of him.

Even the scoff that left his mouth was inadequate. The anger that rushed through his veins was capable to burning down buildings. He could throw the little rodent in a cell and be done with it. He could throw him in the ocean, though it would do nothing to those half fish creatures. He could-

“Is there going to be any talk or are we just, admiring each other’s faces?”

His anger did not control him, Sagar reminded himself. Even if the thief’s voice was like a grater to his nerves, Sagar could behave rationally. He could figure out how to deal with the problem. 

Alfar, a graven nearing the third decade of life with over fifty thefts to his name but never proven due to the item mysteriously returning back to the owner. That remained ignoring the number of pickpocketing, bribes and knowledge that he kept stored away. Even if he was seen at the scene of the crime, it was impossible to catch him. 

It took Sagar four years and hundreds of failed plans to finally capture the thief, only for him to receive a meagre banishment instead of a lifetime sentence or even a ban.

“I know I am a beauty, but are you really going to keep staring at me?”

He was a beauty. He was charming. The thief had talked sweetly to the King on the day of his trial, a story of dead brothers and poor mother with young siblings limiting his punishment. 

Alfar was also skilled. Sagar had no doubt that he could untie the knots on his hand, no matter how tightly Sagar had bound him. In the game that he bad started, Sagar knew he was always a step back. 

“How did you set foot in the kingdom?” Sagar asked calmly.

The thief grinned, “An invitation came for us.”

“Us?”

“My troupe and I. You must have seen us perform.”

Sagar had. He had also seen Alfar’s back and found himself admiring him before the dance started. When the song began Sagar had been spellbound, like the rest of the people. The tale of two lovers sneaking around to meet after having only exchanged letters was a long loved tale. To see it in performance, that too so well done was a treat. 

That was until his eyes landed on the male dancer and his entire body froze up. 

Sagar licked his lips, looking away, “When did you learn how to dance?”

“Perhpas when I was five, or was it six? I do not remember.”

“And why come here today? What is the purpose of parading in the halls that banished you?”

The thief chuckled, craning his neck, “It’s wonderful, isn’t it? I can do whatever I can. All the punishments are over, soldier. Oh, I meant Chief. What are you the Chief of anyways?”

Sagar ignored him, instead circling him like a predator. Unlike other Bayiks of the Royal Line, who could see into the future, Sagar’s Sight was stuck in the past. He remembered the things that were long gone, that other Bayiks would forget at every turn of the decade. Perhaps that was why he could not let go of the thief. That was why dragging him into the tiny office he shared with Nihar was not enough. Why he knew he was losing the battle even before it began.

And it only angered him more.

“Now, is this how you treat your guests?”

Snarling, Sagar leaned forward, holding the chair handles in a tight grip. When Alfar chuckled, he grabbed his curly hair and pulled back his neck.

It was like a drop of water in a raging inferno.

“Listen here, you piece of filth. You are no guest. You were banished by the King and should not have dared to step foot inside this kingdom.”

The thief was barely an inch away from him, ad he still smirked, “The banishment was for three summers, or did you forget?”

Sagar wanted to. Three summers banishment was ideal for theft, but Sagar felt he should have gotten more.

He left the thief’s hair, ignoring his stupid grin and crossed his arms. Sagar took in a depe breath, then another, before looking at him.  

“So you decided to dance your way in?”

“I told you, an invitation came for my troupe and I.”

“For you?”

“Well not specifically us,” the thief chuckleed, his curls bouncing up and down and laugh lines appearing at the edge of his eyes, “For the entire town. The four of us won the little competition and boarded the ship here.”

Sagar nodded. It was the most explanation he was going to get out of the graven, “And you are here to what? Steal again?”

The thief sighed, as if Sagar was a child asking foolish questions, “Would ya believe me if I said I have left that world behind?”

Sagar would not. So he said nothing.

“Look, you may not trust me,” he says as he pulled his hands on his lap, letting the rope fall to the floor, “And I know I have skills. But to be honest, soldier- Chief- I want to stay in Vyagar and so does my troupe. That’s all that there is to this story.”

Sagar did not believe him. He told him as much, causing the thief to chuckle. Sagar did not have the power to contain him, but he could always look out. And that was what he intended to do.

Still, telling the graven to ‘stay’ as he rushed to get an audience with teh King was thrilling.  

“Jeez, not a dog.”

Sagar smiled to himself. Small victories were all he could take. 

By the time Sagar made his way to the Nrityashala, the thief would have already escaped. Pushing the mockery of his skills deep within his head, Sagar began to scan the room. He needed a distraction. Something that could quell his anger. 

It came in the form of a hand grabbing his arm. 

Sagar did not even have the time for a yelp before a golden goblet was thrust into his hand and an animated Princess was whispering furiously in his ear. 

“Someone just questioned if Queen Ira is an obstacle in the line of successions. That is treason, is it not?”

Sagar blinked, “What? Who said that? And to whom?”

“Well, it is a conversation I overheard and I could not recognize the voice,” Princess Finanni stopped, “That is bad. I should know my lords by their voice.”

“No, you should not,” Sagar sighed, “Were you eavesdropping again?”

 “It is not eavesdropping if someone is talking openly in a crowded room.”

Sagar could not argue against that. He drank up teh contents of the goblet, happy to find alcohol to soothe his worries. 

People talking against Queen Ira was no news to him. She was a sorcress. Instead of being born with Sight, or even primeval elemental magic at her disposal like the Gravens or Fashas, she was born with raw magic. She could tame it, use it into spells, potions and what not. 

In short, she was dangerous, and immune to a Bayik’s sight.  

“Did the King hear it?” Sagar inquired, taking another sip. Being the Chief Guard of the Palace came with perks, such as being able to mingle at an event such as this. 

“Not that I know of,” Princess Finanni said, shaking, “What do we do?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Unles…you want to handle this yourself?”

Princess Finnani paled, “Would it include violence?”

“You are a trained warrior,” Sagar muttered, dropping the now empty goblet on a table and massaging his head, “You know your way around a sword. That is not the point. Just, return to the King’s side and maybe alert the Queen.”

“She will be scared.”

Sagar stopped, turning to glare at the Princess, “She is a sorceress.”

“Queen Ira swore off magic when she married Father.”

“She knows her way around a sword as well. Just, go.”

Princess Fina glared, “I am your Princess, you should treat me with respect.”

Sagar snapped, “Alright, Your Majesty. Please join the King’s side and inform the Queen of the conversation. While you are at it, ask him to think twice before sending invitations to criminals. Please.”

The Princess, “Do I look like a pigeon to you?”

“I wish you were, so that I could trap you in a net and throw you off the castle walls. Gods, Fina, you make my blood boil!”

“How dare you speak to the Princess in this way!”

“I have seen you cry over insects.”

“That was a big cockroach!”

“Children!”

Sagar might be nearing his third decade, but the moment the Queen’s voice reached him he felt like a seven year old child. Covered in dirt, an abandoned pile of sticks behind him as he leaned over the pond to observe frogs. 

Both he and Fina straighten up as the Queen glided up. Their childhood memories guided their present, though Sagar doubted Fina realized it.  

There were stories about the Queen of Vyagar. Some said she was an old witch who had used her magic to entice the King. Others called her an old soul, gentle and kind.

Sagar knew better.

Queen Ira was more like an ageless deity. Her expression was always soft but her eyes remained sharp. Nobody dared to look in those eyes, for they carried the depths of stars in them. 

“Why are the two of you bickering about this time?”

“The Princess started it.” Sagar immediately said.

Fina gasped, “I most certainly did not! Somebody is threatening your life, my Queen.”

Ira looked at him. The two shared a smile hidden from the Princess, meetings over tea and sweets already telling them more than enough. Sagar knew all that the Queen needed to tell. Ergo, he knew which lords felt threatened by the Queen. 

“Somebody is always threatening my life, Princess,” She said without malice, reaching out to take Fina’s hand, “You must not worry. We will figure it out.”

The Princess opened her mouth, but a comforting look from the Queen and she was on her way. Queen ira nodded to Sagar before taking her leave too. When a minute later Chakor came running up to tell Sagar that the dancer he had imprisoned was gone and had only left a single golden bell behind, Sagar groaned. 

The hundreds of golden bells in his office drawer from different sites made more sense.  

Sagar’s fingers brush upon his empty left index finger. Three years, and the lack of weight still managed to surprise him. Sagar could feel the anger rising up, and he pushed it down. 

With a shake of head, Sagar turned around and walked out of Nrityashala. Outside the hall, sequins, glass and tiny beads remain spawled, poor craftsmanship reflecting more than they ought to. 

There was no doubt about the fact that the thief and his troupe were brilliant, but they certainly had to be. If Sagar was right- which he usually was- then the song and dance were merely a plot to hide a bigger game. Even if the thief had given up stealing, which Sagar found hard to believe, there other crimes to commit. 

A painful stub to the toe brought Sagar out of his thoughts. He hissed, unhappy to find himself in the same room he had captured the thief from. It was as if his brain knew where to take him. Sagar remembered the Fashas- winged elementals- accompanying the thief. Gravens n and around Vyagar was bad enough. Fashas would be worse.

He needed to get away. Let the defeat of the day stew somewhere far and prepare for the next day when a new mission would shape his life. 

Sagar turned, when the glint of something golden caught his attention. When his eyes landed on the tiny baubles of gold tied together with red string, the anger was back, scratching at the surafce of his skin. It was the thief’s, his arrogance leaving Sagar more than a tiny ghungroo.

Sagar snatched it, snarling at the thing. He wanted to tear away the strings, let the bells fall on the ground and tinkle. Something stopped him. 

In the end, the string of ghungroos found a home in his pocket. 

Escaping the labyrinth of the castle was no easy task. Three years meant changed schedules and added security. When Alfar finally found himself in the barn surrounded by horses, he was glad to know at least new construction had not changed the old routes. Finding the dark pathway that led out of the the walled city was like taking a breath of fresh air. 

Moving further south, cobbled streets turned into muddy roads. The sea lapped to Alfar’s right, calling him closer. A song erupted in his heart, twirling in harmony with nature’s own voice. Alfar promised the wind he would return, but it was not the time. 

The thief market was messy. People shouted freely, no soldiers guarding against unlawful practices. The white haveli to the left, closer to the walls, stood out like a sore thumb, but it belonged there as well. The small establishments, made of bamboo and old clothes stood out of sheer free will and magic spells sold in little vials. 

Alfar was glad to find it crowded. King Aarav might be celebrating his birthday with his ‘proper’ subjects within the walls, but even far away his subjects celebrated it as if their own. Between the drunk dancing and offkey singing – which was a feat, considering their magic- Alfar found it easy to disappear. 

In the chaos, Alfar felt at peace. All his senses were engaged, every movement easily traceable. He could make out a few off duty soldiers turning a blind eye to everything, Fashas who did not belong but trying desperately to settle in and Graven crowding every available inch present to them. 

He needed somewhere to lay low for a few hours. Until the night bell rang and the soldier would actively stop looking for him. A part of Alfar knew that if Chief – and wasn’t that a beautiful moniker to call him? – had not re-tied his hands, he was not going to seek him out.

But why tempt a Bayik when time was on your side?

Alfar wondered if he could sneak into the haveli called Gharana and seek out old friends. They would protect him. 

His heart remained unprepared for the ghosts of the past just yet.  

From the moment Alfar had stepped down on land, he had been caught up in a whirlwind of chaos that he was not the center of. Alfar did not quite like the too-perfect buildings of the city-kingdom, the well-to-do nobles judging his art and the perfectly angled roads. 

He was made for the chaos that persisted outside.

His gaze returned to the haveli. Some lamps flickered in the distance and Alfar knew that one step inside and he would be welcomed. Somewhat. 

The thorns below that rose pricked him deeper though. 

With a shake of the head, Alfar turned to the sea. 

Hundreds of Gravens played in the water. When Alfar was traveling, he heard some people call his kind mermaids. It was a beautiful name, but it belonged better to his kind to the east. Mermaids did not shift the moment their bodies stopped touching the water, nor did water react to their will. Perhaps the Sea Gravens could be called such.  

Alfar had a deep urge to jump in the water, to play with the others. Instead, he stood at a distance, watching other dance while swimming, spinning and jumping around. He wanted to do that.

What he needed was a drink. 

Alfar moved through the sea of bodies, ignoring newer pickpockets jumping around. Someone pulled a few of his coins from his pockets and Alfar could only smile. 

The newer generation needed more practice. 

Close to the sea, hidden by rising cliffs stood a single piece of rock that could very well be described as a hill were it not flooded every time the high tide hit. A crumbling ruin rested atop that hill. Once upon a time, it would have been a beautiful house. All that remained was bricks and trees.

The magic lay under.

No door welcomed patrons. A maze of broken rooms led to the basement, hidden by a thick grey wool curtain. Inbibed with spells to confuse the ordinary five sense of every being, it was made to keep out enemies. 

Alfar let the magic wash over him. It felt as if he was flying, swimming and walking all the same time. His eyes clouded, his ears rang and it was not until a hand grasped his arm that Alfar came back to reality. 

“That, has gotten stronger.”

An old Fasha with clipped wings grinned at him, “I got some new spells from down below.”

Kanu Aai was the one responsible for the tavern. She loved Alfar. Her lover, Faruk Da was another matter alltogether.   

“No. You are supposed to be gone.”

Alfar chuckled, “You are not getting rid of me.”

The man scrunched up his nose. It sent a stab through Alfar’s heart, but three years of patience had him replacing that fear with glee. Kanu Aai screamed at Faruk Da while pulling Alfar in and handing him the poison of his choice.

A homemade mead. 

As he let the first drop pass through his throat, he grinned. He was finally home. 

“Back to terrorize our masses, dear heart?”

The woman behind the bar was a beauty. Long, thick brown hair plated down to her waist, sharp eyes and a tint of kajal gracing her eyes. She was one of his old flames, and he could not for the sake of his life remember her name. 

So Alfar grinned, “Now, why would you think so lowly of me?”

She laughed, “I know you, Alfar. What brings you back to our dear abode?”

She remembered his name. Ah, well. 

“Well, it has been forever since I last heard your sweet voice,” he said, reaching over the bar.

She swatted him back, “Flirt. Your mother said you were gone.”

In response, Alfar drowned his mead, “Ah well, I was. Now I am back.”

“For how long?”

“Long enough,” He grinned, “Now, will ya give me something to alleviate my heavy head or must I please you in some form?”

The woman just shook her head, “Shush. My little Rini is sleeping under here. No unsavoury words from you.”

“But unsavoury actions?”

She leaned forward, “Do you even remember my name?”

No. And that was probably why she had caught his attention. 

Alfar chuckled, “I know it sounds so sweet. Is that not enough?”

She laughed, before producing a wooden mug in front of him, “It has been a while. Drink up. You need to relearn a few things if you intend to be back”

“Oh, well, I am trying not to dip my fins back in those waters.”

“That’s what they all say. When you have to return to Gharan, do tell me.”

“How did you…”

Before Alfar could finish his question, the barkeeper was winking and moving on to the next customer. Alfar chuckled, finishing other drink. 

He had three years’ worth of Vyagar to learn about. Three years of missed heists, three years of actions on the street and three years of drama in the Gharana. All of it was barring the life of Gravens in the Caves. 

When the great bell of the Castle rang to signal the beginning of night, things mellowed down. Gravens who fished rose to say their goodbye. Alfar threw a few golden coins and joined them in song, easily losing himself in the crowd. They sang of the sea, of the moon and of the fish, they sang of a new morning. Alfar laughed.

When the time came to part ways, he had made new friends. 

One kind graven led him to the guest rooms of the King. Alfar did not think he was drunk. He still forgot his way. 

The tiny one-roon cottage was open. Alfar snuck in to find his troupe snoring their worries away. With a huff, he drowned the water from the earthen pot in the corner. Meira only shifted, curling up against Barek. Alfar pulled off his shoes and fell on the bed.

At least the bed was made.   

When Alfar next opened his eyes, the morning bell was ringing. He groaned, burrowing his head deeper into his pillow.

“Alfar?” came Meira’s voice, “When did you come in?”

“We didn’t notice?” That was Barek, “Do we need to start training again?”

Alfar peaked out of the pillow to shush them angrily. Other than a snort, they let them be. By the time Alfar felt strong enough to get out of bed, everyone was sitting in a corner with food. 

“What’s this?” he asked, scratching the back of his head.

“Food,” Meira answered as Alfar sat down, “We got wine yesterday. Didn’t save any.”

Alfar scoffed, “There I was, cooped up in a room with a Chief Guard and all of you were lounging here?”

At Jhuri’s shrug, Alfar threw an apple at her head. Before Jhuri could retaliate, Barek caught her hand and glared at Alfar.

“We were worried at first,” said Meira, “But then we talked to the Minister. He said it would be fine. Although, the Commander looked like he wanted to kill us.”

“He has always wanted to kill Gravens,” muttered Alfar, taking a bite from another apple, “So? Are we getting a chance to perform again?”

Barek nodded, “The Minister said he would handle it. How did your soldier let you go?”

“Not my soldier, and he is a chief now,” snarked Alfar, “And he didn’t let me go, I escaped.”

“Alfar!”

“He is used to it!” Alfar defended, before sobering up, “He better be used to it.”

“So where were then?” demanded Meira, “I was up so long worrying for your well being!”

Alfar cringed. That was a side effect of people caring that he could not quite get used to.

“Meeting up with some old friends,” Alfar said, stretching up, “Well, if you have everything handled, I will go to sleep. Again. Jhuri, where are my ghungroos? I need to put them away.”

Jhuri’s hand stopped, her mouth open and eyes trailed up to Alfar. 

Alfar galred, “Jhuri, where are my ghungroos?

“What do you mean ghungroos?” she signed slowly.

“My ghungroos?? I took them off in that room when the Chief grabbed me!”

“You didn’t keep them?”

“I was being arrested!” Alfar almost screamed, “Well, taken away but you get it. Are you telling me you didn’t take my ghungroos?”

Jhuri sat up, looking guiltily, “You didn’t tell me to!”

Sometimes, Alfar wondered if murder was truly as bad an offense as people made it out to be. 

Throwing his hands in the air, Alfar made his way to the same castle that had trapped him. In the morning light, it looked even grander. However, the hallways were easier to navigate, especially after gaining a name with their performance. Soldiers let him go easily, with no questions, which confused and elated him. 

Finding the room was not difficult. Finding it locked was a mere annoyance. Alfar picked out a pin from his clothes pocket, his toolkit always with him. As he leaned by the door, working the pin in, a shadow loomed over him. 

“What are you doing here?”

Alfar cursed to every god and goddess that resided in every corner of the known world. Out of everyone, it had to be the Chief. 

Slowly turning on his heels, Alfar looked up with a grimace. 

“Hello Chief, did not expect to see you again so soon.”

Chief Sagar raised one of his perfect eyebrows, looking down at Alfar as if he were the scum of the earth. Alfar ignored that in favour of running his eyes over the Chief’s arms. They were bulging out, beautifully tight against the fabric. 

“Get up.”

Alfar obeyed the order without a single question, smiling all the time. In the madness of teh dya before, he had quite forgotten how good on the eyes the Bayik was. 

“Why are you here, after escaping yesterday?”

“Why?” Alfar grinned, stepping closer, “Are you planning to catch me again?”

Chief Sagar glared at him, “I have been told in certain terms that it would be foolish.”

“Oh?”

“Considering you have completed your tenure.”

Alfar chuckled, resisting the urge to reach out and touch Sagar’s biceps, “As I told you yesterday. I mean no harm.”

“Is that why you were picking a lock early in the morning, thief?”

“Oh this?” Alfar pocketed the pin, “That is a misunderstanding.”

“Enlighten me.”

“You see, when you were so busy dragging me out of the room yesterday, some of my possessions were left inside. I need them. Urgently.” 

The Chief raised his eyebrow. Again. 

It had no reason looking as good as it did. 

“And why should I help you?”

“I am a guest of the Kingdom.”

Scoffing, the Chief stepped back, “Guest? You are worse than the rodents that threaten our kitchens.”

“Oh, that problem still exists? Have you tried employing cats?”

“You speak and I hear reasons to shut your mouth.”

Alfar stepped forward, “Oh, that would be wonderful. Especially if you were to employ your own mouth.”

With a disgusted sneer, the Chief stepped back, “Get new ghungroos for all I care. Get out of here.”

He turned, ready to walk away, when Alfar spoke.

“I never told ya I lost my ghungroos.” Alfar stepped forward, “Do you have them?”

Sagar looked over his back, “And what if I do?”

“Well, give them back!”

“Sure,” Chief Sagar turned, “Give me back my ring.”

Alfar could only scoff in disbelief, “You are still stuck on that?”

“It’s a fair trade.”

“I told ya, I don’t have your ring anymore.”

“Well, I don’t have your ghungroos,” the Chief said simply. “Looking forward to your performances. Yesterday was good.”

Alfar could only watch in disbelief as the man walked away. Only to stop, take a step back and say, “Oh and Alfar? Welcome back.”

“Every time you pull me out of bed before the first bell, it is to my demise.”

Sagar rolled his eyes, “Losing a duel does not equal demise.”

Nihar, Sagar’s oldest, and only friend, send him a dubious look, “For a soldier? It might as well be.”

Sagar did not deem Nihar’s dramatics worthy of a reply. He lived in exaggerations. Between his handsome face and the title of Lord of Waters looming into the future, he had enough admirers to fan his theatrics. 

Grabbing a clean towel from the stand at the corner, Sagar worked on cleaning off the sweat. Nihar was not completely wrong. Sagar had woken him up at the first beam of the day and pulled them into the arena. Any other time would mean spectators ogling their every move. Sagar had spotted a few faces high up in the stands even this early, but it was better than an overflow of people. 

It had been a good practice. Sagar and Nihar were equally matched, receiving the same training since the beginning of their first decade. Duelling with each other meant relieving tensions and preparing for whatever adversary was to come next. It was also akin to play. While Sagar was completely dedicated to the role of the Chief Guard, Nihar was in the Guard Force in name only. Sagar spent entire days patrolling and collaborating with soldiers, while Nihar spent his either shadowing his father to learn of their work or annoying Commander Karn. 

Suffice to say, Sagar found their early morning sessions extremely cathartic. 

“Did I do something to upset you?” asked Nihar, leaning by the rails surrounding the arena, “Is this retribution?”

“Can’t you just be a means to an end?”

“Now,” Nihar chuckled to himself, “I am not that unimportant. What is it?”

Sagar pursed his lips, “Stop bothering the Princess with marriage proposals.”

“Ah-ha!” Nihar clicked his fingers, “My friend, one day you will be my brother-in-law and you will understand how deeply my affections go for the Princess.”

“It is not I who you need to convince.”

“Well, she refuses to give me a chance!”

“And perhaps there is a reason,” said Sagar, pulling down a fresh cotton undershirt, “Nihar, give it a rest. It’s not happening.”

“It’s not happening now. Once I inherit Father’s properties, I will be the most suitable candidate for her.”

“Even more suitable than a Prince?”

“What Prince would leave his kingdom to become a Consort to a Queen?”

He could not argue with that. 

Nihar wrapped an arm around Sagar’s shoulders and leaned dangerously close. Grinning, he muttered, “But that is not all. What else have I done to upset you? Speak freely, I will listen.”

Pushing Nihar off, Sagar said, “It is truly not you. Things have been…disappointing.”

The sun was settled comfortably in the sky. Soon after, the bell would ring and another day of the same routine would follow. Except this time, the next celebratory night and a thief would rule over Sagar’s mind.

He was not looking forward to that.

“How many gravens hurt you?”

Chuckling, Sagar turned. Despite their differences in lifestyles, Nihar understood Sagar’s frustration better than anybody else. His past was not even his own, but the nightmares he had been able to share.

“Just one.”

“Just one?” Nihar hummed, “I have not seen you this worked up since that thief you put away.”

“Well,” Sagar chuckled dryly, “Guess who came back to terrorize the masses.”

Nihar’s eyes widened, “No! The one who stole your ring?”

His finger felt light as he caressed the empty space. When Sagar nodded, Nihar gave him a sympathetic look and clapped his back. He had been there in the aftermath of the thievery. He had seen the aftershocks of it all. 

“Wasn’t he banished?”

“Banishment’s over,” sighed Sagar, “He is back with a troupe of performers. The trouble is, he is good at it. Says he has changed his ways.”

“A graven? Changed his ways?”

Sagar shrugged, looking past the walls into the open sky.

“I do not understand it,” Sagar muttered, “Everyone knows exactly what kind of people they are. Deceitful, using their beauty and skills to entrap people. They have hurt our kind over and over again. It has not even been a decade since their last attack. Yet, the King continues to welcome them. Opens his arms for people like him and treats them as if they are friends.”

“Well,” Nihar settled beside Sagar, “My loyalty lies with the King, but he does have some sort of love for people with…wrong kind of magical affiliation. Now, I have no complaints about Queen Ira and you know it, and she is a sorceress. The hand of friendship is extending far beyond what should be.”

“The Queen is different,” muttered Sagar, “She saved my life and the King’s. And you know she hasn’t cast a spell, not in the last decade at least. The King loves her. She is just one sorceress. This affection towards Gravens, my heart, I do not know where it comes from.”

“True, true,” said Nihar, “And then you have these Gravens. Fighting for our land since the Moon knows when, and the moment we garnered riches? Look at them flocking our ships. Well, talking about riches, is that the Princess of Lisa coming our way?”

Sagar’s head whipped up, eyes wide and back stiff when his gaze landed on the intruder. 

“Oh,” Nihar chuckled, “She is beautiful. Look at those small eyes and that dainty nose. If my heart wasn’t taken by this Princess, well…”

Sagar knew that, logically, Princess Meyuri of Lisa was beautiful. She was also soft-spoken and kind. He just did not see the appeal.

Five summers ago, she had come to visit Vyagar with her father on an official trip. Sagar was young then, and had momentarily forgotten that a soldier was not supposed to be sitting with the King unless specifically told to.

And so, for the first time in his life in Vyagar, Sagar was introduced as a Prince rather than a ward to another King. 

The result of it was simply that the King of Lisa had found him to be a perfect match for her. Officially no words were exchanged, but Sagar could read between the lines. Especially with the interest that Princess Meyuri showed in him. 

“Hello, Pr-Sagar.”

Sagar forced a smile, ignoring Nihar’s face, “Princess, it is a pleasure. What brings you here?”

“Oh, I was looking for you!” She said excitedly, and Sagar’s heart dropped, “It’s such beautiful weather, though the people were saying it may rain later. I do not want to get caught in the rain. So, could you show me the gardens?”

Before Sagar could even consider the option, Nihar opened his mouth.

“Of course, he can! Sagar has nothing to do until the second bell of the day, isn’t that so? Oh, you must show the Princess the gardens!”

Sagar smiled, but he made a plan to kill Nihar at the earliest. 

He did not even have a moment to change into something respectable. Forced to wear a long coat and flatten his hair, Sagar led the Princess and her two bodyguards through the winding stairs of the arena and into the orchard garden nearby. The Princess spent half of the time chattering and plucking pomegranates, which was sort of endearing.

It would be wrong to say that Sagar hated Princess Meyuri. She was a lovely woman. The conversations they indulged in were interesting, her knowledge of books and philosophy truly fascinating. 

Yet, his heart ached for something else. Something more. Watching women hardly ever enticed Sagar and imagining anything more felt disgusting. 

Perhaps that was why he chose the path of a soldier all those years ago. Living a life of anonymity, while being able to serve his family. He had no interest in taking a wife and continuing a line. Out of every marriage he had been witness to, only his Uncle and Aunt’s were something desirable. 

And Sagar had seen the trials it had taken them to get there. 

Growing up he had heard Nihar go on and on about women’s beauty and then back at home Finanni becoming a blubbering mess in front of whoever caught her attention. Sagar never quite felt that. He could see a face and a body and appreciate the beauty that came with it, but the intense need to be with someone, so much so that he could share his room and his life felt absurd. 

“Are you always this quiet?”

Stilling at the interruption to his thoughts, Sagar turned to the princess with a guilty smile, “Ah, I am sorry, Princess. I must be a poor company.”

“Oh, no,” Princess Meyuri chuckled, “I was merely wondering. It’s all right if you prefer silence. It does not make you any less.”

Sagar’s cheek warmed. He wondered if there was truth in the statement or if she was merely trying to win him over. 

“I am afraid the time for my duty creeps closer. Shall I escort you back to your room?”

“Oh,” her smile dropped, “If it is no trouble. Though, I have been hearing noises. Is that common?”

Sagar frowned, “What kind of noises?”

“Oh you know, the sea.”

“Princess, you can always hear the sea in Vyagar.”

“Oh,” chuckled the Princess, “Silly me. Well, let’s return. And perhaps we can meet again? I find your company very suitable.”

With a gulp, Sagar nodded. Even as the Princess’ smile made a part of him happy, Sagar wondered why he kept burying himself into deeper holes.

Waking up, Alfar found, was a rather tiresome process. As comfortable as falling into sleep after a difficult or long day may seem, waking up as a process is rather dull, filled with screams not only within one’s own head but with the screams of those around him. 

Alfar knew that if he pulled out his khanjar and threw it with even the barest of concentration, it would reach Meira. Enough to shock and silence her. 

However, he also knew that his beloved singer had been through multiple courts, charges of attempted murder, heist and spying under her belt. One could never trust her not to lock him in some chest and throw it in the ocean. 

With a heavy heart and a headache welcoming him, Alfar dragged his body out of the bed. 

The headache would have soon gone away if they were to start with practice. The Goddess was upset with him, for the first thing Alfar saw as soon as he walked out of his quarters was the face of the Chief Guard of the Royal Palace. 

“What is he doing here?” Alfar demanded.

Meira merely raised an eyebrow, “First of all, stop stomping around like a petulant child.”

“I am not-”

“Second, you are well aware of the fact that he has taken the duty to guard us for the rest of our stay. In fact, you were the one teasing him yesterday. Whatever changed overnight?”

“He took my ghungroos!”

“You left your ghungroos, the essence of your livelihood, for him to take.”

“Hey,” Alfar pouted, “I was being dragged away and I told Jhuri to take them.”

Jhuri shouted in offence, “You did not!”

Alfar wondered if it is too late to swim away to the destroyed Tapu. 

“Stop sulking, and take out your spare,” Meira said with a huff, “If it were anyone else, I would handle it. However, clearly, you two have history and I, Alfar, want to stay in this city.”

When Barek played his tabla, Alfar closed his eyes and let the beat carry him forward. He thumped his foot with the beat, letting the song buzz through his veins. He tried to lose himself in the song as he usually would, his fingers dancing, his face morphing according to the mood. It was a song that Jhuri would lead, a first for her, and Alfar tried to give it all. However, when on the third practice he misstepped towards the end, everyone knew it was no good. 

The call for the break was the call for freedom. Alfar dropped his second pair- useless, truly- and turned to the Chief. 

“Give me back my ghungroo.”

He huffed, “All right. Give me back my ring.”

The groan he let out failed to encapsulate the absolute range of his tiredness, “Chief, I am this close to committing a crime.”

“Do it,” challenged the Bayik, “Your cell eagerly awaits your arrival.”

“But I don’t do that anymore.” Alfar jumped akin to a monkey, trying to not do something he would regret later.

The Chief snorted, “How noble.”

“What would it take you to give my ghungroos back?”

The Bayik stopped, looking intently at him, “I will let you know as soon as I can think of it.”

Alfar seethed with anger. He wanted to lash back, but he had no idea what to do. When Meira called them back for practice, Alfar shook his head. He needed to calm down and staying with his troupe where the Chief would be staring down at him was not the place to be. 

It is the sound of ghungroos that reached his ears first. Perfectly paired up with the taal, and sped up or slowed as the Master decreed it to be right. As soon as Alfar steps past the doorway, the strong smell of rose and jasmine invaded his nose. He sneezes, twitching his nose, before running a hand through his curls. 

It might have been years, but the Gharana hardly ever changed. 

He walks through the richly decorated corridors, watching candle lanterns hanging at the top and dancers, as well as singers, dispersed through the rooms. Some smiled at him, some looked puzzled, but all knew his strut. It was the strut of the dancer.

Madam Qafir is exactly where he expects her to be, sitting cross-legged on the floor and thumping her hands. The little children are dispersed throughout the hall, some working with their legs, others with their hands and a few with their wings. There were a few even in the water, moving their fins as the taal rippled through the water. 

“You are late,” she says without looking at him.

Alfar grinned, shaking his head and dropping beside her with a flourish. Whatever fear had invaded his mind now remains a distant thought, “I am precisely when I am needed.”

She glared at him from the side of her eyes but melts as soon as he touched her feet and then promptly draped himself across her lap. The young dancers looked at him in shock but did not break the rhythm. 

This batch was going to be good.

“Get up, you delinquent.”

“You love me.”

“I would rather break your nose.”

Alfar scrunched up his nose. It was during one of his first performances that a Lord commented that the best feature was his nose. It had become a point of vanity for him, and Madam Qafir would always threaten him.

“How is your Mother?”

Alfar shrugs, “I don’t know.”

Qafir rolled her eyes, “And you came to see me first?”

“Well, what was I to do?” he pouts, looking as the dancers sped up their footwork, “Ignore you? And let the Ggoddess put her ire on me?”

“The Goddess would hurt your head for ignoring your mother,” Qafir said, putting up her hand. Immediately, all dancers stop. Though some twirled and elegantly moved their hands before coming to a stop. Alfar knew already which ones were going to be promoted to be trained directly under Madam and which ones would be sent to others.

“Good,” She said, “All of you are dismissed. Be prompt for dinner.”

The kids folded their hands, before dispersing into groups, giggling. Alfar watches them go with a smile. Ah, to be young and in awe.

When the old Madam’s hand landed in his hair, he hummed and closed his eyes.

“Alfar?”

“Hmm?”

Whatever she wants to say was forgotten. She sighed instead, pushing him to sit up.

“Come on. There is someone who is more eager to see you than I am. When news spread of a wonderful dancer last night, I had expected you here by midnight.” 

Alfar chuckles, rubbing the back of his neck, “I had an unexpected run-in.”

“So I hear.”

Alfar sighed. It would be foolish to think she would not know anything about him. 

She leads him through familiar hallways. Alfar’s heart beat wildly as she pushed open a door. 

“Who is there?”

Madame Qafir shakes her head, “It is I, my blind Queen.”

“Not just you,” comes the voice, something teasing in her tone, “I sense more than one.”

“Her vision may be lost but her intuition is not,” murmured Madame Qafir.

“I heard that!”

“You most certainly did not!”

Saying so, Madame Qafir walked over to the cot in the centre of the room. 

There she sat, Madame Raina. They said her name came from her once-dark locks that flew all the way to her waist and her twinkling gray eyes. The beauty of her youth, which would have made her sought after was gone, leaving behind a timeless radiance. She wore the wrinkles, greying hair and a bigger body with the same grace with which she would have once worn the clothes and accessories of a dancer. Not that Alfar could say, since he had never seen her. By the time he had come into Madame Qafir’s care, Madame Raina had given up her art. She was just a companion to the Head of Gharana, sometimes assisting in training, but mostly indulging in books and stories. 

When Madame Qafir leaned to nuzzle her beloved, Alfar respectfully turned around. No matter how many times he had seen them get close, it did not make it any less awkward. 

He only turned when Madame Raina hummed, eyes closed, “I can smell you. Wet rocks by the waterfalls, salty fish and hmm, is that cinnamon? Oh, Alfar!”

The moment she opened her arms, Alfar dived in, letting his head rest on her lap. It did not matter where he came from, the care that Madame Raina gave him was unmatchable.

“I thought you were exiled!”

“He was, and then he followed my advice for once in his life and joined the troupers in Asla. Was one of the performers invited by the King for this year’s celebration,” said Qafir.

“Oh, marvellous!”

Alfar grinned, “It is. And Madame Qafir, when have I not listened to you?”

“When you decided to try your hand at stealing.”

“You taught me how to.”

She shook her head, before twisting his ears, “Yes, to work with me. Not to be a pickpocket that barely makes enough and then gets jailed.”

“Ow, ow. You know it wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to, you know.”

“Hmm, and how did that turn out for you?”

Alfar’s face fell.

“Oh, stop torturing our boy! He has come back and you go on pulling him a new one.”

“Someone needs to, since you won’t.”

“That’s because he is my favourite.”

“Masters do not have favorites.”

“Well, good for me I am just the Master’s wife!”

Qafir huffed, “You are no wife of mine.”

Raina gasped in indignation, “Would you listen to that Alfar? You would think running away from the clutches of Sea Monsters with a dancer would give you some credibility and here she disregards my devotion to her.”

“I never said anything about your devotion,” said Qafir, “Only that you are no wife of mine. I would take no wife, only lovers.”

“So do I need to be aware of any more you are hiding now that my eyes have begun to fail me?”

Qafir dropped behind Raina on the cot as Alfar continued to sit on the floor, “Never. Now stop putting allegations that do not exist. I want to hear all about Alfar’s adventures from the past three years.”

Alfar laughs. He truly feels at home as he settles down comfortably and begins to tell Madame Qafir and Madame Raina all that there was to say.

This is a sample chapter from Hear Ye by Shubhr Aakriti…book set to be released on 14th February.

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This post was written by: musessaga