Chapter 5 - The tree climbing princess

Rudra and his entourage were now in the capital city of Kushan, the home of the royal family, and therefore the capital of the Shambala Kingdom. Looming marble towers grew from the city's center like white tree trunks into the heavens. 

The streets were lined with old trees and bright flowers. The finest artists and craftsmen worked along with them in grand shops and houses. Endless gardens sprawled across the city, interspersed with inns, eateries, and tea houses that took the form of gazebos and houses.

People walking around looked happy and content. 

The palace had architecture like no other in the district. Several centuries earlier the royal family of Shambala had shipped in an architect from an overseas city. 

They wanted something exotic to inspire awe in the population. So instead of the peaks in the roof, it had gold-domed towers. It had an open porch at the front, held up with most ostentatiously detailed pillars, painted in brilliant white and blue. Inside there were no doors on the ground floor, only arches. The flagstone floor had been shipped from Anatolia and it was made with a stone of soft blue hues that had never been seen in the district. 

The palace had been extended over the centuries. It now had four sides around a central quadrangle and over five hundred rooms. It took a small army of servants to upkeep such a large abode, and indeed most of the rooms were never used.

However, they were all full now due to the esteemed guests, their relatives, staff, servants, etc.

"My lord seems like we are the last one to arrive." Their chief bodyguard Malcolm said.

"Most important people arrive last," Anbir replied with a flourish.

Rudra shook his head. Sometimes Anbir was too much of a show-off.

They were received by a shower of flower petals, and the King and Queen themselves. Going by the graceful looks of her majesty Rudra guessed the princess would be beautiful if she took after her mother.

"Welcome Princes to our humble abode" King Sachihero greeted them with folded hands.

"Pleased to meet you, your majesty. I am Anbir and this is my brother Rudra. As per my father's wish, I am here to win Princess Revati's hand in the Svayamvaar."

"We are grateful to have such a brave and illustrious man as a prospective son-in-law. We are truly honored by your presence. Please come in and make yourself comfortable." Suchihero said humbly.

Pleased with the welcome Anbir and Rudra entered the huge white archway.

Rudra liked the palace at first glance. Back home the royal palace of Vatsaya was equally grand. Perhaps even bigger however it was dark and imposing, with dark drapes and high turrets, it was more like a fort, unlike Shambala. 

Because of its open architecture, use of white and blue marble the palace was well lighted and seemed livelier.

Rudra followed his brother towards the guest quarters.

They were given separate rooms.

His room was beige with beautiful murals on the wall, hand painted by someone who knew what they were doing. The scene depicted various mythology and battle scenes. He noticed a similar mural in the entire palace. These people loved their paintings.

The room contained a big bed, with velvet drapes, neatly made.

Two straight-backed chairs and a table was in the center. There was also a bureau with a mirror in the corner.

Purple drapery curtains surrounded a door which he assumed was a balcony. The sunlight poured into the room from the door.

Overall, the room looked comfortable and warm. He liked it.

"My lord I will be your attended for your stay. Would you like to have a bath?" 

A polite man servant bowed and asked him.

"What is your name?" Rudra asked.

"Leo my lord." He replied.

"Thanks, Leo, please draw a bath for me." 

Leo bowed and left.

Rudra walked towards the door which opens into a medium-sized balcony.

It overlooked a beautiful garden.

A row of trees lined the perfect lawn. In the center, there was a pond with flowering lily pads and a wooden bridge that crossed the middle so one could look down at the water lilies, the flower beds were a riot of May color.

Rudra was impressed by the pleasant sight.

After the bath, and a scrumptious lunch with his brother he went on a stroll in the garden. 

He had dismissed his guards because he did not like to be followed around unnecessarily.

Anbir preferred to take a nap hence Rudra went alone. It was just after midday. The blazing sun cast a warm glow over everything. He crossed the bridge over the pond and observed colorful fishes with weird shapes wading in the water below.

He walked towards the row of trees and took a seat under them. Its leafy branches swayed with the gentle wind.

The cool breeze caressed his hair and he fell under a stupor only to be woken by a strange scraping noise. 

He opened his eyes. His hand instinctively went to his sword tucked in his waist. No place was safe enough for royalty. 

Not seeing anyone around he wondered if he had dreamed it. His doubts were shortly dispelled when the scraping noise was heard again along with the sweet voice of a girl.

"Come on Mr. Bushy don't make me come and grab you." A female voice said.

He followed the source and looked up. At first, he could only make out a splash of bright pink among the dense green leaves.

The figure moved and he peered again. Now he could see a mass of black curls falling over a bright pink dress.

"You know Mr. Bushy; you are getting really mischievous. Maybe I should ask father to use your bait in the dragon challenge. Though you would be less than a bite for the dragon." The figure who he had now figured out to be a girl said to no one in particular 

His interest was piqued, and he wondered about the identity of this tree climber.

She moved from one branch to another and he caught her side profile. Her face was slightly lighter than ivory with a rose-colored tint to her cheek.

He stood up dusting the twigs away from his breeches still looking at the girl on a tree.

"Hi" he called out.

She was startled and looked down at him.

Their eyes met and he finally saw her face. She had a radiant face with brilliant shine, high arched nose, and the tiny, curved mouth.

The dark hair cascading down her face covered a dimple. Her brows knitted in anger or concentration he was not sure.

"Well hello Sir," she answered back.

"May I know what are you doing up in the tree? It is dangerous. You might break your neck if you fall." He spoke.

"Thanks for your concern sir, but I am a bit preoccupied right now. Mr. Bushy had climbed up and is unable to climb down on his own."

He wondered about the identity of Mr. Bushy as there was no one else on the tree until his eyes fell on a brown tomcat comfortably curled up on one of the higher branches.

"Your Mr. Bushy looks pretty content up there. You are unnecessarily being concerned."

"And what do you know of my pet? He can't climb down, and I don't want him getting injured." She snapped back.

"You were ready to feed Mr. Bushy to a dragon a few minutes back," Rudra said wryly.

"I was just trying to reason with him." She replied.

"Trying to reason with a cat! Interesting!" He smirked.

Toshani glared at the annoying boy down below. The first thing which had struck her was his dark good looks. He was very handsome, and she felt her heart hammering for the first time.

However, her admiration was replaced by dislike because of his temperament. 

"Sir you are scaring Mr. Bushy. If you cannot be of any help, then please refrain from halting my work." She said haughtily and held the branch tighter.

"Oh no!" She suddenly yelped looking at something.

He followed her gaze and turned his head towards whatever made her agitated.

A frantic maid and a guard were running around looking in every bush.

"They are looking for me. If they ask just say you didn't see me ok?" She said and hid among the dense branches.

Rudra looked at her puzzled.

The maid and the guard were soon near him.

"My lord, have you seen the princess around here?" The maid asked Rudra.

He shook his head in a NO.

Which was not a lie? He had no idea who was the girl up in the tree. 

The maid and the guard moved ahead, and Rudra glanced up into the branches again.

She peered down from the branches again.

"Thanks, sir."

"So, she is princess Revati? " he thought.

She seemed too young though. She looked 15-16.

She had managed to grab the cat and was climbing down the tree. Rudra marveled at her agility.

He held her waist and helped her jump down the last branch as she landed finally on the ground. She brushed her hair aside and he finally had a good look at her violet eyes. He had never seen such eyes before. They were mesmerizing.

She cuddled the cat in her arms and looked at him.

"Thank you for your help. If Maria would have caught me, I would have been in trouble. Mother hates it when I climb trees." She said looking up at his towering frame.

"Maria?" He asked.

"She is my governess." She replied.

"Do you like climbing trees? What else do you like to do? " He asked to lean against the trunk.

She was beautiful. He had already noticed that but up close she was exquisite. 

"Lots of things, hunting, riding," She said.

She eyed him curiously. He seemed to be royalty but was too young to be one of the contestants for the Svayamvaar.

"Sirs are you here for the contest?" 

"Not exactly, my brother Anbir is the contestant." He replied.

For some reason that made her happy.

"I guess I didn't introduce myself. I am Rudra, younger brother of Anbir, crown Prince of Vatsaya."

Her eyes grew in surprise.

"Nice to meet you prince Rudra" she replied.

"Are you princess Revati my lady?" He asked.

She chuckled.

"That's my older sister. I am Toshani"

He raised an eyebrow. He did not know the princess had a younger sister. 

"Interesting! " He said.

Me Bushy hissed and jumped from her arms. 

She sighed and watched him slink away.

"Princess there you are!" Maria called out and came running towards them.

Toshani turned to face her.

"Princess please come with me. You have to get prepared for the ball." 

King Suchihero has organized a royal ball so that all the guests would be formally introduced to the court. 

"I don't want to attend the ball. They are boring." Toshani complained.

Rudra twitched his lips. He was not planning to attend the ball earlier but now he was eager.

"It's her majesty's order princess, please come along." Maria almost pleaded.

"I think you should go and not give the maids a hard time." Rudra interrupted.

She shot him an annoyed look.

"I do what I want! " 

"That I could see." He smirked.

"See what?" 

He tilted his head and whispered in her ear.

"I could see up your skirt while you were on the tree." 

Her jaws fell in a shock and her cheeks turned 2 shades rosier.

"That's very nasty of you!" She glared at him angrily after he had straightened up laughing.

"I don't like you." She spoke. Gathering up her voluminous skirt she walked away stamping her feet.

Rudra's eyes followed her until she disappeared into the palace. He was intrigued by the tree climbing princess.

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