June. The end of spring, the start of summer. The last bit of the transition. I always feel the seasonal cusps more than the seasons, and this one’s been a bit hectic. So I am glad of the chance to get back to Romantic Friday Writers, where exciting changes are afoot and the challenges get more sumptuous with each passing month. Who doesn’t love weddings, or prizes? Only I am stuck in some sort of medieval melodrama mode which I keep stumbling back to, can’t seem to snap out of it. And I seem to have lost whatever little grip I had on word counts too :) so I guess that rules me out of the race, but I’d still love your critiques!
A bit about the context – henna tattoos are applied to the hands of brides in many parts of North India. An ancient tradition still observed today, the designs very elaborate, very beautiful! It is commonly held that the deeper the colour sets on the bride’s palms the more deeply she will be loved by her groom. The Indian Hindu wedding ceremony at its core consists of vows made in the presence of the sacred fire-god, Agni-dev, and sealed with sacrifices and libations.
Here is my entry for the challenge:
The groom’s name had been hennaed, hidden, discreetwithin the exquisite design the bride wore,
and the women joked they’d bar the bridal suite
they’d allow him in, only open the door
if he could find in her hands something his own;
else he’d have to spend the night outside alone.
The bride flushed and looked away, then anxiouslysneaked a look at her palm, would he find his name?
Oh, it was done too fine, this filigree;
it wouldn’t do, she’d never live down the shame!
She cursed the henna-woman, and the age-old jokes
played on bridal couples by rowdy womenfolk.
The wedding was quite out of the common run,it’s not every day that a princess weds;
and this one was a brave heart, a young woman
who could ride and fence and drop her enemies dead
at thousand paces with her unerring aim
and in her hennaed hand was her groom’s name.
The Senapati’s son, Samir – beloved of the gods,his eyes blazing coals, his skin, dark and tanned,
sheathed a supple body keen-edged like a sword
and his was the name hennaed on her hand
and his the face on her throbbing heart tattooed.
They had trained and played together since childhood.
First met when she was six and he was eight,at the royal armoury choosing their bows.
Together they learnt to shoot their arrows straight;
they fenced and parried and evaded deadly blows,
they honed their arms and their weapon skills
to a fearsome point able to defend and kill.
There were other children there, but somehow these two -the young, fearless boy and the little princess
formed a natural team when they were required to,
then fought duels amongst themselves with ferociousness,
relished a deep friendship off mock battlefields,
and on them fought to win, to make the other yield.
She dealt him a blow one day in a late teen yearthe wound too shallow to do any lasting harm;
his blood made her drop her blade and some strange fear
unnerved her heart and petrified her sword arm.
The cut was his, but hers felt the painful sting
and a poignant epiphany that only love can bring.
The days went on and he came back, his wound healedand she who was whole never again felt whole,
she thrust and parried in the arena, rode the fields
with the same ruthlessness and superb control,
but distracted, she slipped whenever Samir was close,
she never dealt him anymore those hard blows.
They fought one day paired again in a free-for-alland a weapon point flashed too near Samir’s face;
she turned pale, and intervened with a concerned call,
her demeanour, and the words, left no trace
of doubt and so finally she stood revealed
and he knew her yearning heart in that field.
He didn’t speak, but his coal-black blazing eyesburnt a hotter flame, a sparking, leaping light
pared his soul during an arms exercise
and awakened to love through sudden insight;
and so the two who were once childhood friends
came to be lovers suddenly at its end.
The king was pleased to bless their unionfor the Senapati was a friend both noble and staunch,
the two old men had seen many battles won.
And so the palace hung garlands and blew the conch;
and so the henna-woman piped paisley designs
and hid Samir’s name within the saffron lines.
Seven vows the groom made to his princess brideand sealed the pledge with libations for entire life,
seven circles around the sacred fireside
their garment ends knotted tight as man and wife,
palm upward, within it his hennaed name
she gave him her hand before the holy flame.
The news came a lightning bolt from the bluethe messenger ran panicked in disarray -
a rebel attack on the fringe, what to do?
they must be stopped at all cost without delay!
The old king left to strategise and oversee
and he was followed closely by his Senapati.
The shehnai took on a newly mournful strain,Samir undid the bridal knot and laid it flat,
“Princess, you will understand I cannot remain
while our fathers lead soldiers into combat.
My darling, please let me go with them now,
I’ll come back to you if the gods allow.”
The merry pace of a happy wedding bandthe fates can flip in an hour to battle march -
a groom came at dusk to claim a hennaed hand
and left a soldier ready to face the enemy charge;
his bride watched him go, her heart aflame
and tight her fist gripped around his hennaed name.
Battles end, soldiers return, lovers reunitebut none return the same, they come back scarred,
and Samir of the blazing eyes, coal-dark and bright,
returned at last after the gods treated him hard;
six slow days and nights he rode on his horse
held steady by kind men on homeward course.
The henna-woman wept aloud, the rest too shockedeyed his many grievous wounds on breast and thighs;
just one whisper rose and fluttered, then was choked,
“Alas, Samir of the blazing coal-black eyes!”
Wordless his bride the princess stood and gazed
disbelieving, at his eyes that no more blazed.
She looked at him then at her hands hennaed deep,the designs refreshed every day since he’d left
and still she didn’t speak, nor did she weep,
though one by one her women lost control and wept,
“Alas, O Samir, beloved of the gods!
Their love counts for nothing at the point of swords.
“And how will he find his name written on his brideand who will press his warm lips to that pulsing spot?”
The bride meanwhile drew a dagger from her side,
and held the point to a torch till glowing hot.
On deeply hennaed hand she branded his name
with scorching steel, in letters of blood and flame.
“Yours the name, my love, my hand will always bear,trace the blood and find yourself in my palm;
and in its corded burn scars too you’ll be there.
Beloved, I‘ll be your eyes and your weapon arm.
Women, hurry, now open and deck the rooms -
he’s found his name, and tonight I have my groom.”
WC - 1049
Senapati - Defence chief (Sena=army, pati=master/lord)
shehnai - a flute-like instrument played during weddings