Chapter 6 - The ball

"He's not going to be pleased." Malcolm cast a look over the aftermath of their chaos - a splatter of papers and scrolls.

Four knocked out Shambala guards were slumped at the entrance. He exhaled deeply, "This was a mistake."

"Perhaps we are in the wrong room?" Gopi said.

"This is the royal archives room and as per my Information this is where the suitors' challenge had been put," Malcolm said.

"The prince is not going to be happy," Malcolm said moodily.

"You're being melodramatic." Gopi a commander, was far more at ease.

"I don't understand why the prince needs the challenges in advance. He is competent enough to win anyway." Gopi continued.

"Careful! Any word against the prince would be treason." Malcolm had a stern expression.

Gopi rolled his eyes. He was apprehensive about their whole stealing the challenge mission right from the beginning. Anbir had got tipped off by some internal source from Shambala that the blueprint of the challenges was stored in the archives.

Hence, he sent his minions to get them. The royal ball was the right opportunity for that. Everyone was busy in the Ballroom and they had a perfect opportunity to nick the challenges. However, someone probably tricked him. There was nothing in the archives and now they had to clean up the mess.


Revati looked at herself in the mirror while a maid brushed her hair until it shone like spun gold. She was wearing a ball gown in demure peach which enhanced her rosy cheeks.

"I can't breathe!" Toshani cribbed making Revati turn her head towards her.

Maria was tightening the chords of her corset while Toshani struggled.

"My lady if your stay still for a minute it would not be so hard," Maria said.

"I don't want to wear this. Why can't I wear my normal breeches and tunic?" 

"Your mother will have a fit if you enter the ball dressed like that! " Maria said.

Revati smiled at her younger sister who was pretending to have a fainting spell.

Revati walked towards the window and looked out. This part of the castle overlooked the city main street. She had seen almost all princes arrive with their entourage. She had not seen their faces, but she knew their countries by their flags and banners.

15 nations vying for her. She was not sure if she was even worth it!


"A rather disappointing showing, don't you think?" Prince Rajendra was saying, as he returned with two goblets in hand, giving one to Toshani. 

"Mother doesn't know right?" She whispered.

"Don't worry cousin, I have taken care" Rajendra grinned.

Although Toshani was of age to drink. However, her mother the queen frowned If she caught Toshani sipping alcohol.

According to her Toshani was already a handful without adding the alcohol effect.

The ball had been wretchedly boring until now. She had walked down in her glittering pale blue dress holding her cousin brother Prince Rajendra's arm.

After smiling for no reason at everyone, finally, she was sitting in a corner looking at a bunch of elves singing.

"Here I was, expecting the dance from the fairies, instead we have that " prince Rajendra cribbed.

He nodded at the next table which was occupied by Prince Leonard of Anatolia.

"What do you think about him Toshani?" 

"He looks like a potato," she remarked. She was tactful enough to speak in low and discreet tones.

Rajendra chuckled, shaking his head. His youthful, handsome features were overcome with a careless kind of smirk. "Does resemble one, doesn't he - that big head of his? Which one do you like?" 

"It's not my svayamvaar, I don't care about any of them," Toshani replied though her eyes had been searching for prince Rudra ever since the ball had started. She did not find him anywhere.

"Have you met prince Anbir, the cousin? He seems to be a royal pain in the ass! hasn't left Revati's side even for a minute." Rajendra asked.

Toshani looked at them dancing. Revati and Anbir both with matching blonde looks. They looked striking together and she recalled Anbir was Rudra's older brother. 

Her interest was piqued.

"Why is the pain in the ass? Is he nasty?"

 "He is a show-off, however, that's not the point."

 Rajendra bent his head and whispered conspiratorily to avoid being overheard.

"His father king Tarekdeo has been attacking other kingdoms and has left an unsavory list of war crimes. Among them the humiliation and enslavement of all those who resisted him. He has gobbled up their southern neighbors so rapidly in its latest greedy expansionism. He is as cunning as he was ruthless, and in all his years spent waging war, he had not yet lost a battle."

Toshani's eyes seemed to turn their way, her nose wrinkling with the stray feelings of disgust. 

"So why did father invite them for the svayamvaar?" Toshani was curious. 

"All qualified princes and kings have been invited. If we did not invite them it would be, an act of hostility. No one wants to provoke the Vatsaya king."

Rajendra said and took a sip from his goblet.

Toshani wondered what kind of person prince Rudra was. He did not seem aggressive like his father thought he was nasty with his head stuck in the cloud-like all obnoxious princes.

She affirmed her feeling that she did not like him. Though she could not explain why she was looking for him among the crowd of guests. 

"Brother if you will excuse me. I need some air."

She moved away in a flutter of silken gowns.

Her dark hair had been braided and twisted into an elegant but remarkably simple bun to the side, her tight corset accentuated her small breasts, though they were making her breathless.

This was not her ball in which she needed to stand out, and she could not have been more relieved to bid her time in a corner. Nobody would notice her missing if she temporarily removed herself from a party that had been growing rapidly tedious, as far as parties went. She was tired of feigning interest and awe at talks which made her bored. 

Besides, the currently contesting suitors of bordering states were interested in Revati, not her.

She passed fragrant flower bushes and marble fountains lining her way. She trailed her hand along with a familiar hiding place around a nearby bench and, finally, withdrew her concealed deck of cards.

She took her seat on the bench and began shuffling the deck in her hands, perfectly at ease in her peaceful solitude. 

"I see I'm not the only one taking sanctuary here," intoned a casual voice.

She turned around to face the voice.

"Prince Rudra!" She exclaimed on encountering the familiar face.

"What are you doing here?" She asked.

He smiled.

His smile had a way of being naturally charismatic - probably to do with his easy assurance and the suggestion of subtle humor in his eyes. 

"My lady," he added.

A bow followed, perfectly adequate, though there was something a little satirical in its performance. He looked her over. It was the deck in her hands drew his comment first. 

"Do you often prefer to play by yourself other than rescuing cats?" 

The intrusion was unexpected, but not wholly shocking. These grounds, though secluded in their way, were never meant to be cordoned off to those of the main event. Part of her did mourn the premature loss of her, as he described it, sanctuary.

She had to admit that she would not mind his company though it had nothing to do with the tall cut of his frame, his broad shoulders, or the sharpness of his jaw.

"Only when the game doesn't require a partner, My Lord," she replied.

He seated himself on the bench and observed her building a tower of cards.

"I wonder what his highness is doing here all alone?" She asked without looking up.

"I wonder the same, my lady, why would a lady take efforts to dress in a pretty dress and then miss the party." 

"The party is insufferably boring! " she said.

He chuckled.

"I would agree with that. I was expecting some pretty fairies however I had to put up with those shrill elves."

She giggled.

"That's exactly what my cousin Rajendra said. What is this fascination with fairies? Is this some new fad?" 

"They are pretty...although... I don't care much about them now." He replied gazing at her.

He reached for a few errant cards.

He let out “May I?" slip out before he grabbed a few cards.

She did not protest, but her gaze followed the back of the cards as he made his claim.

She broke the remainder of her deck in two and offered him half, wordlessly setting it within closer reach.

"Do you always carry around a deck of cards, or did tonight's party, in particular, inspire you to come appropriately armed?"

"Oh, I don't carry them," she answered. To demonstrate, she reached outwards with an ankle and pressed her heel against an otherwise unassuming flagstone; immediately the piece of the walkway upturned itself, revealing a small and inexplicably clean repository, currently emptied.

"Wow! A hiding place! How interesting! " he remarked.

" This palace seems to be full of mysteries. What another manner of dangerous things, do you have hidden away in this palace?"

"Few things to kill my boredom, I assure you I have no hidden treasure," she replied, innocently. 

Prince Rudra was placing four cards upon their sides, like a square, each supporting the one prior. 

He glanced at her, a smile lingering in turn. "Still, boredom must have been very prominent, indeed if it prompted you to hide away with your cards."

"Should I apologize for the mediocre entertainment?" She asked.

"Not at all. The entertainment was excellent, " his lips twitching a little. He placed a card carefully at his base.

"My brother seemed very taken with all the festivities, in any case. I think he was impressed. Did you meet him?"

"Only in passing, but I know his highness has been very delightful." She replied recalling his pompous behavior.

She bent her head forward and knit her brows. "Is he often that way? Delightful?"

"I take it you're surprised," said Rudra thoughtfully. 

"My brother is very pleasant and delightful usually. If he is successful in marrying your sister. We'll get to see more of each other." He said pleasantly.

She was not sure how to answer this. 

"Yeah, that would be nice" she replied.

"You don't seem very happy about it." He said putting the last card on his structure.

"Well done." She said looking at the tower he had built.

"Thank you," he said, looking proud. 

He reached out and took a single card from the bottom, which caused the entire structure to crumble and crash.

 "It would be a waste not to put these cards to further use, after the lengths you've gone to in hiding them here. What do you say to a game of bluff?"

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