The stallions rode out into the dusk, their hooves pounding the ground, kicking up a red shroud of dust. Chokkanatha Nayak peered at the figure on the horseback in front and kicked the sides of his horse urging it to go faster. A slender figure handled the reins deftly, challenging him, nudging him. He couldn't make out the face, yet he knew this was someone very brave. To beat a Nayak King in his horse race needed plenty of grit and courage. He glanced to his side and found his dear friend Chieftain Achaiya closing in from his right. The two had agreed on a feast after the race- the winner had to indulge the loser with food and drink that night. Where from did this third horse rider enter the fray?
Much to his amazement, the slender figure in the horse in front of him threw a sword at the tree that was supposed to be the finish point of the race and screeched to a halt, circling the tree. Intrigued, with Achaiya close on his heels, Chokkanatha removed his sword from its sheath and aimed at the horse rider. Unfazed, the hooded figure lifted its sword in a salute and Chokkanatha wondered at the swiftness with which the sword whooshed towards him. He could not make out who it was but liked it. He loved challenges as King of Madurai. The one before him made his head spin. A duel always brought out the best in him and his mouth curved in a quirky smile as he flashed his sword. Achaiya watched from a distance, dumbstruck in awe, his mouth gaping at the masked figure.
The horses charged as the two fought, Chokkanatha loved the feel of sweat trickling from his temples. The swords clashed and as he drew his horse for a closer shave at the opponent, he glanced at the eyes- and loved what he saw- anger shooting as daggers from the depths of the dark eyes. The evening rays of the sun formed a halo around the white head cover and he wished to slash open the cloth covering the face, to find out who this opponent was. Someone who dared challenge the Madurai King was indeed brave, very brave. And going by the deftness with which the intruder handled the horse and sword, he could put all his Generals to shame, Chokkanatha thought lazily. So much for indulging in self thoughts, he was startled when the sword's blade whistled past his right ear lobe.
That made him angry- almost seething in anger. Achaiya held his breath as he watched the duel, the two beasts and men on them fighting it out for lives. He better intervene now, he thought to himself and charged towards the other man. The safety of Madurai King was his prime duty, as an aspirant to General post of the Naik army, he mused. The combatant did not expect a third man to charge over him, when suddenly Chokkanatha aimed his sword at the face cover and with a swift movement of the sword, ripped off the cover. The most beautiful and stunning face bathed in the evening sun appeared beneath, complete with a sharp nose, huge jet black eyes and full lips curved in defiance and anger, definitely the feminine features- captivating his interest.
That was when the lady on the horse stuck, Chokkanatha's sword went sailing in the air and her sword rested on his broad chest. Achaiya let out a gasp and started laughing, his laughter echoing through Chokkanatha too. The little Annamuthamma held her ground, her sword nor her eyes, both never wavering a bit. She was now confused as to why the two men were laughing at her expense. She sent a devilish glare at the duo, kicked her horse to motion and strode off in a huff. What a nerve! Men laughing at her- at her expertise in sword fighting and horse riding. They would pay for it, especially that Achaiya! The thought of Achaiya sent a shiver through her spine, her heart raced and pulse kicked up a notch. She needed a bath in the lotus pond and a quick refreshing before meeting him at the mango grove.
Achaiya felt the cool breeze washing him over as his horse snorted impatiently. " Quiet!" he hushed it and turned towards the tree- their love tree whose branches laden with ripe mangoes bent down almost touching the ground. Nimble fingers closed his eyes from the back and he instantly pulled the figure from behind in a slow and sensuous movement facing him. This Annamuthu was his- his own Queen, in their Kingdom- the Kingdom of Love. His gaze roved over her figure clad in a cloudy wisp of a cloth over perfect breasts, a thin waist, voluptuous thighs and legs that were so long that his throat went dry looking at her. When his gaze finally locked on her face, her kohl laden eyes were shooting daggers at him. Achaiya could not suppress his smile at the little spitball, he knew the reason for her anger.
" I would have won the duel without showing my face to Chokkanatha, if you hadn't interfered", she roared. " I am a truthful soldier of the Naiks, Annam, how could i see the King losing a battle to a stranger?" he asked. " It was you who challenged me to win a duel against a brave man, to marry you, do you remember?" she prodded. " That didn't mean the Ruler of Madurai, Annam...", Achaiya answered. Annam turned her back and jumped on to the tree, plucking a mango and tasting one. It was this innocence coupled with immense bravery that drew him to her, Achaiya thought as he neared her for his bite of mango. Annam knew he was coming for his share of the fruit and jumped down the tree, starting for the lotus pond. Achaiya closed in faster, pulled her toward him and muttered- " I love you Annam, soon i will meet your father, General Lingama Nayak, asking your hand". Annam clasped his strong shoulders and raised tip toe for a kiss. After all, Achaiya is going to be her husband shortly.The full moon above hid behind the wafting clouds ashamed by the kiss of the lovers...
Chokkanatha lay on his silky bed in his harem, with the full moon gleaming above. He had been restless the whole evening, the meeting with the lady on the horseback had driven him mad. He longed to run his fingers through the thick mane of her hair. He itched to touch her and see if she was the same spitfire in bed too. A deep longing and yearning started to stir in him. Though he nursed the secret ambition of marrying Malarkodi, the daughter of Thanjavur Ruler Vijayaraghava Naik, the spitfire of a girl he met today had definitely aroused him- beyond words. One more girl added to the Royal Harem would not be a big issue, he thought. But he had to know who she was...may be Achaiya knew her. With heady conviction that he must know who she was the very next morning, he tried to lull himself to sleep, but in vain. The full moon continued its hide and seek...with Achaiya and Annam in each others' embrace and Chokkanatha hatching plans for Annam...the future Queen Mangamma!
TO BE CONTINUED...
p.s.: This story is pure fiction,though it relies heavily on the life history of Rani Mangamma. ( Queen Mangamma).