Chapter 4 - Rudra

Prince Rudra yawned as he rode along with his brother Anbir, and the entourage of about 50 soldiers and staff. He was not really interested in the Svayamvaar of princess Revati.

He was just 18, too young to participate anyway. His half-brother Anbir was one of the contestants. Rudra had just tagged along to give him company.

Anbir's mother the former queen had died years ago. The current queen of Vatsaya and Rudra's mother was Queen Chitralekha.

"Rudra are you sleepy? We can take a break if you wish." Anbir said.

At twenty-two, Anbir stood a good six feet one inch tall, only an inch taller than his dad. His body was lean and muscular from his active life. Hunting, riding, and sword training filled his day, as studies in politics, arithmetic, reading, and writing filled his night.

King Tarekdeo doted on Anbir; it is said he deeply loved his former queen Jyoti until a mysterious illness took her away.

He was never the same after that. He used to wander alone in the woods, caves, met several mystics as if still trying to connect with the dead queen Jyoti. 

However, his people sighed with relief once he married queen Chitralekha. She was barely a girl of 18 when Tarekdeo married her and brought her home as the mother of 3-year-old Anbir.

She was much more beautiful and graceful than the former queen. After marrying her Tarekdeo had somehow changed. 

He had become overly ambitious, and bloodthirsty. He started heavily militarizing his empire, evolving into the most powerful king had become his sole purpose of life. To achieve that he had started usurping neighboring smaller nations.

There was a rumor that he was interested in attaining the powerful magical source in Shambala. Getting his son Anbir married to the princess was the start of his mission.

Queen Chitralekha supported him wholeheartedly. She was a shrewd and intelligent lady with a mysterious past. Nobody knew where she came from. She claimed to be a descendant of an old noble family brought up in isolation among female sages. However, she had suddenly turned up when King announced her as his betrothed.

She was a good queen and a good mother to Anbir, and later Rudra hence no one questioned much about her. Those who had doubts were soon pacified by her grace and charm.

When king Sachihero announced the Svayamvaar and invited royalties from different places to try their luck. King Tarekdeo saw this as an opportunity to get close to the Royal family of Shambala. As the son in law of Shambala Anbir would have the right to continue his mission easily.

Provided everything went according to the plan and Anbir won. Otherwise, Tarekdeo always had plan B.

"You have to win this Svayamvaar at any cost Anbir!" Tarekdeo had said to Anbir. 

"I will surely win father." Anbir had replied.

Anbir was just like his father Tarekdeo. Ruthless and ambitious. Now they were riding towards the Imperial palace of Shambala to win the contest.

"I am not tired brother, I am simply bored," Rudra replied.

For his 18 years, Rudra was already very handsome. He was as tall as Anbir with a well-toned body, and chiseled features. Like his brother, he was a trained warrior, and still undergoing education in everything, fit for a prince.

He was supposed to leave for the higher learning center of Sage Bhargav in few months. Currently, he was accompanying his brother to the Svayamvaar to keep him motivated.

"I heard the woodlands of Shambala were enchanted but I haven't come across anything extraordinary yet," Rudra complained.

Anbir laughed.

"What are you expecting to discover Rudra, a wood fairy? Or a beautiful elf?" 

"Anything except these peaky insects," Rudra grumbled while swatting away an insect from his thick muscular arm.

"I hope the princess is worth the effort otherwise it all would be a waste," Anbir commented.

"As if you have a choice," Rudra muttered.

Unlike his brother, Rudra did not follow his father's instructions blindly. He preferred to question everything and was a little rebellious. However, since he was not the crown prince. King Tarekdeo was more tolerant of his antics if it did not directly threaten his authority.

"I had slept with a wood nymph once," Anbir said, being nostalgic.

"And?" Rudra asked curiously.

"They smell like moss down there." Anbir chuckled "they even taste like grass. " Anbir laughed and continued describing his conquest.

Rudra made a face. He was not interested in these trivial pursuits. He was at an age where he wanted things to be ideal.

Like waiting for his ideal love. 

"So, you are still to pop your cherry Rudra isn't it?" Anbir joked.

"That's none of your business brothers! And I am not a virgin." Rudra replied clearly annoyed.

Anbir laughed loudly.

"I have heard girls from Shambala are exceptionally beautiful. Maybe you might get your chance here. We'll be staying for a month after all."

"Yeah whatever" Rudra replied and continued staring at the road ahead.

Despite their harmless bantering, both brothers adored each other. Nobody could tell that they were half-brothers. Anbir was more boisterous one while Rudra was quieter. He preferred reading and had a keen sense of observation. 

King Sachihero was sitting along with his queen, and the Oracle Shrushaw.

The Oracles were Sorcerers who were appointed by most Kingdoms. 

They were learned in magic, mysterious art, and used to help and advice the Kings regarding mystical issues.

The oracle for Shambala was a beautiful woman called Shrushaw.

No one knew how old she was. She always appeared as a sultry 25-30-year-old.

Her heavy-lidded eyes could entice any man however most were afraid of her and avoided offending her.

As the chief Oracle of Shambala currently, she was pouring over the profiles of various suitors who had approached to win Princess Revati's hand.

"All are accomplished brave candidates your majesty however princess Revati will make the final decision," Shrushaw said.

"In that case why are we even holding the contest? We can just ask her to choose the best." King Sachihero asked.

"Princess knows nothing about these suitors. The contest will help her decide the best among them. What I mean is that the winner will be whom her heart desires." The oracle explained.

Sachihero sighed with relief. Revati was his pride, he desired a perfect husband for his elder daughter.

She might be the future Queen someday. According to Shambala laws, the crown did not pass on through the bloodline. Rather the ruler was chosen by the people from some nominees of few prominent families.

Revati and Toshani either of them could be the future ruler as chosen by the people.

Hence technically both were the crown princess. However, not many people knew that the princess Revati was adopted. Despite that as per adoption laws, she had full right to be elected for the crown.

Now her fate lay in the balance as the 15 Princes and Kings assembled to vie for her hand in marriage.

To be continued......

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