Rani of Jhansi

Chapter I

 She would be widowed soon. A tear escaped and ran hot down her cheek. She stared out the window through lacy carved marble that let in air, but kept out the sweltering Indian sun. Lakshmi laced her fingers across her abdomen. No life grew there. No child to make her husband happy. No son to carry on his name and become king after him. No life lived in this room, only death.
 The king’s breathing, shallow and ragged, spewed forth like unsynchronized music. Lakshmi listened with an ear trained to hear her husband’s cadence and knew that by the time the sun rose a third day, she would be alone in the world. 
 Gangadhar stirred. Lakshmi stepped to his bedside and felt the gentle currents of wind from ostrich feather fans. Two of their prettiest servants moved the fans with the grace of dancers. Lakshmi had wanted beauty for her love’s last days. She wanted him to drift from this world to the next with memories of their beautiful country, their beautiful people, and their beautiful ways. She wanted him to forget about the Anglos and their ever present barking English voices that rang harsh in Indian ears accustomed to the whisper of their gods.
 “Rani.” Gangadhar plucked at her fingers.
 “I’m here my king, my life.” Lakshmi bent over the man she’d known as husband for only eleven short years. She had grown to love the powerful and gentle man. She’d grown to love every line in his face, his silver hair. She especially loved his deep brown eyes that always looked at her with a combination of wonder, passion, and respect.
 Today, for the first time, she noticed the whites of his eyes encroached on the deep brown and ringed the irises with a milky color. It had been the same with her grandmother and her grandfather.
 “Rani.”
 “Yes?”
 “I have thought carefully about the Anglos. When I die they’ll come in like vultures to pick our people and our country clean.”
 “Shhhh. Do not worry about ugly things. I’ll take care of the Anglos.”
 “We have no heirs. They will use that as an excuse.” Gangadhar squeezed her fingers. “I want you to visit my sister’s daughter. She will give birth any day. Take the boy child and raise him to be king.”
 “What if it’s a girl?” Rani whispered. She settled herself on the marble floor next to the low bed and wrapped her other hand around her husband’s fingers. They were as cold as the floor.
 “The gods have spoken to me. It’s a boy.”
 “I can’t leave you for such a journey.”
 Gangadhar smiled. “Only your body will leave me. Your spirit will stay with mine. Go today.”
 Lakshmi had never disobeyed her husband, but she wanted to just this once. “Which village?”
 “Bhander. For most people, a ride of an hour and a half. For you, a mere hour. Take Chander with you and two guards.”
 “The guards will slow me.”
 “True. Take Chander and talk with Hanita about her baby. I’ll sleep until you return.”
 “Don’t leave me while I do your bidding.”
 “No.” The king closed his eyes. “I am not ready to leave.”

 copyright 2007-2011 © haley elizabeth garwood, all rights reserved

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